GIBSON ES-335 ES-345 ES-355

Pick of the Pocket

June 29th, 2015 • ES 335, ES 3452 Comments »
The folks at Gibson loaded up the case with lots of fun stuff back in the day. This 59 has just about everything except the Varitone instructions and the polishing cloth. It even has the "pick of the stars" pick case and the original plastic bag for the stereo cable. It probably had two keys but c'mon, I lose stuff in a month let alone 56 years.

The folks at Gibson loaded up the case with lots of fun stuff back in the day. This 59 has just about everything except the Varitone instructions and the polishing cloth. It even has the “pick of the stars” pick case and the original plastic bag for the stereo cable. It probably had two keys but c’mon, I lose stuff in a month let alone 56 years.

Even after 500 or so ES-335, 345 and 355’s, I still find it exciting to open up a case and see what’s lurking in the pocket. There are two categories of case pocket stuff-the stiff that was in there when it was new and the stuff that ends up in there after 50 years or so. The latter category is more common: I’ve got a big assortment of straps, capos, polish cloths, strings, harmonicas, business cards from lawyers (these are surprisingly common), picks, set lists and union cards. It’s like finding a time capsule from the 50’s or 60’s. And there are other items that perhaps don’t belong there. Combs, roach clips, nail clippers and, in one case, a pair of extra clean socks. The strangest thing I ever found in the case was a semi-nude photo of  Margaret Trudeau (wife of the Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who famously had a fling with Mick Jagger). That kind of proved that most individual sellers don’t bother looking to see what’s in there before it goes out the door. I’ve never found any drugs in a guitar case which just proves that musicians will use their drugs up before they sell their guitars or that musicians don’t use drugs. Pick one. I’m always happy to find 60’s and 70’s straps. My non playing customers love to buy them for their guitar playing husbands, sons and daughters. Old strings aren’t terribly useful-they are usually not in good enough shape to use so I usually leave them with the guitar when I sell it. They’re still kind of cool. None of this really gets my motor running me but the other stuff you can find in a case does.

The stuff that was in the case when the guitar was new that has somehow stayed in the case for 50 or 60 years is just astounding to me. I recently bought a one owner 59 ES-345 with very nearly a full complement of case candy. Original brown strap, ABR-1 instructions, PAF instructions in their original manila envelope, original case key in its envelope, the string hang tag, the care and feeding hang tag and the original warranty hang tag with the serial number. The tags still had their strings attached. And that little envelope with the instructions still had the little screwdriver that came with these guitars. Switchcraft stereo cable in its little polythene bag? Yep. The only thing that was missing were the Varitone instructions.

Me? I can’t keep paperwork for a month let alone 50 or 60 years. How does this stuff not get lost? I’m going to take an educated guess here. Obviously, having one owner increases the chances of finding this stuff. If the owner isn’t a gigging musician but someone who mostly played at home for his or her own enjoyment, then the chances of everything staying together in the case increase geometrically. A gigging musician just doesn’t have the space in there for all of that. He needs the case pocket for the everyday items that are required for the life of a musician on the road. Things like his lawyer’s business card in case the local police didn’t like dope smoking, hippie freak, long hair guitar player types.

String Theory

June 12th, 2015 • Gibson General7 Comments »
I don't know what gauge strings Jimi used but I'm guessing he had tuning problems with that SG Custom. Maybe that's why he ended up playing mostly Strats.

I don’t know what gauge strings Jimi used but I’m guessing he had tuning problems with that SG Custom. Maybe that’s why he ended up playing mostly Strats.

Back in 1958 when the 335 was first built, people were thinner and guitar strings were fatter. I was 6 years old but I was probably 14 by the time folks started playing with really light gauge strings. My first electric guitar (a 63/64 Fender Duo Sonic) came strung with a wound G-string and probably a .12 E string. Maybe even .13. I remember this because I wanted to bend strings and my guitar teacher-who was a jazz guy-said I needed lighter strings (and that he would be happy to sell me a set for $8 (that’s probably $50 in today’s dollars). He was always trying to sell me something. He probably didn’t make much of a living at $5 a lesson back in 64. Anyway, back to the string thing.  Back then 12’s were considered light gauge. Guitar bridges had a range of motion forward and back limited by the depth of the ABR-1. With a wound G string and a set of 12’s, there was plenty of room to get the string lengths right. That means the guitar will be in tune all over the fingerboard (well, more or less but that’s another post).

Now, it’s 1966 and the music is getting more inventive. The Brits have reinterpreted American blues and the Americans have gone psychedelic. Players are bending strings and making guitar noises that have never been heard before. Predictably, it’s easier to bend a light string than a heavy one, so early adopters started seeking out lighter strings for their guitars. I know guys who used banjo strings because they couldn’t get guitar strings light enough for their style of playing. Eventually, the string makers caught on and they started selling 11’s, 10’s, 9’s and eventually 8’s. My recollection is that Ernie Ball was early to the party. I remember buying a set of “slinkies” fairly early on in my gigging days (’67?) and wondering why I hadn’t done it sooner.

Then the fun started. I never quite understood intonation until I understood a bit of physics. So, I was out of tune a lot when I played and it drove me nuts. I was playing a ’62 ES-330 at the time and I couldn’t get it to tune with a plain G string. Odd thing was that I always thought it was the B string that was so far out. Eventually, I figured out that I had to turn around the saddle on the G string and set it as far back as it would go. That got me pretty close but I was playing with 9’s back then. I still can’t get 9’s to work on a vintage ES. 10’s usually require the (.17) G string to be set all the way back with the saddle reversed, so that seems be the limit. Gibson’s change to the Nashville type bridge added enough range for lighter strings but it came kind of late. Very late, actually. Besides, Nashvilles look wrong on a 335 anyway. Not as bad as the “harmonica” bridge they put on SG’s but still…

What I do now is if a buyer wants 9’s on his 335, I put on a set of 9’s but I use a .17 G string. Most 9 sets have a .16 G and that usually won’t intonate. It will be noticeably sharp at the 12th fret and above. You can compensate a bit by going slightly sharp on the B and E but if you have an ear for this kind of stuff, it will drive you up the wall eventually and you’ll spend more time tuning than playing. The best solution? Well, on a vintage ES, 10’s or 11’s are the way to go. I don’t gig any more so I use 11’s. Lead guitar pyrotechnics are for the youngsters anyway. Old guys like me look a little silly trying to be Jimi Hendrix. We looked silly back in 1968 too but we were too young to notice.

Just Play it

June 3rd, 2015 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 3552 Comments »


Being refinished didn't stop this early 62 from being an extraordinary player. One of the best ever. When in doubt, play it. You might be surprised.

Being refinished didn’t stop this early 62 from being an extraordinary player. One of the best ever. When in doubt, play it. You might be surprised.

I get a lot of emails from readers and I appreciate them. By all means keep them coming. The email I get most is “should I buy this guitar?”. Imagine how hard it is to answer that question considering I’m not you.

The concerns are myriad. Is it priced right? Is it all original? Is that a good year? Is the finish original? Are those PAFs? Will I like the way it sounds and plays? Is it a good investment? Will it appreciate in value? There are plenty of others but they are almost all very  subjective. I do my best but I just can’t always come up with a satisfactory answer.

I can help you with a general price range for a specific year and model but I can’t always tell if a guitar is original. I certainly can’t tell from a single photo of the front of the guitar. I can tell you if I see something that looks wrong but I couldn’t tell a PAF from a patent number from a T-top if its covered (although the cover itself will tell you something). If you can’t see it-as in the case of the harness -then I can’t see it. I would also note that repro parts are getting to be very accurate and you really have to look extremely closely to know in the case of the better bridges and tailpieces. I can tell more about a stop tailpiece by feeling it than by looking at it. If anyone other than the original owner of a 50 year old tells you that every part is 100% absolutely certainly original, I would suggest that you take that with a grain of salt. Any part that can be removed can be replaced with a vintage correct part. I don’t think that’s a big deal as long as the part is correct and the wear isn’t glaringly different. A mint tailpiece with a worn and tarnished bridge and pickups isn’t going to look right even if it is vintage correct.

I can be a great help if you aren’t sure of the year as long as it’s a vintage piece. I’m not that great with 90’s and later. I just don’t see enough of them and therein lies the key to my so called expertise. If you see enough of anything, you get a sense of what is typical and what isn’t. Judging by the number of repro switch tips I see on 58-60’s, I could conclude that they are factory. I’m guessing the Les Paul guys have appropriated them. I’ve had perhaps 500 58-65 ES-335/345/355’s and, seeing that many, I get a pretty good sense of what’s in the realm of the possible and what isn’t. Things like short guards in 1960 are possible as  are long guards in 1961. PAF’s in gold hardware guitars show up into 64 and maybe even 65 although I’ve never seen one. Double white PAF in a 62? I’ve seen one in a 355. White switch tips are the norm in 61 but show up on occasion in late 60. And on and on and on.

Bottom line here is there are 100 things that can be “wrong” with a used guitar especially a really old one. But, no matter what is wrong, there is always one irrefutable criterion that will never fail you. Play it. If you like it and the price seems reasonable for what it is, then buy it. I’m happy to help you zero in on a good price (and no, it doesn’t have to be one that I’m selling but it does have to be an ES model). The other thing you can do is to buy from someone who will allow you to return it. Nearly every dealer will give you at least 24 hour approval. I give 48. That should give you enough time to play it and go through it to see that everything looks right. If you buy it from the widow of the cousin of the original owner on Craigslist, expect that you are going to find something you don’t like. The older the guitar, the more likely it is that something has changed. The good news is that even with a dozen changed parts, a refinish, a headstock repair and 29 holes from a back pad, an arm rest and three different tailpieces, the guitar can still play and sound great.

This 64 ES-335 actually had something like 29 holes in it from a back pad, arm rest a few tailpieces, a moved bridge and a couple of sets of tuners. Still sounded excellent.

This 64 ES-335 actually had something like 29 holes in it from a back pad, arm rest a few tailpieces, a moved bridge and a couple of sets of tuners. Still sounded excellent.

Geekfest Circa 1965

May 18th, 2015 • ES 3355 Comments »
"The Mexican" An original stoptailed 65 in cherryburst. Ever seen another? Found this one in old Guadalajara

“The Mexican” An original stoptail 65 in cherryburst. Found this one in old Guadalajara. This had all the 64 features-even the wide bevel truss cover.

Gibson serial numbers are notoriously worthless once you hit 1965. It’s not just that they started using the same numbers over and over again for the next ten years. It’s that the features of the guitars don’t always seem to follow the serial number chronology. Granted, it’s tough enough to figure out if the 335 you have (or want to buy) is a real 65, but once you’ve established that it is, you’ve only scratched the surface. 65’s come in more configurations than any other year. Whaddya mean? It’s a 335, isn’t it? Well, yeah, but there were so many changes made during that year that it’s like having two or three model years in a 12 month period.

The very first 65’s had a stop tail and all nickel parts. They were virtually identical to a late 64. They are also rare and expensive and priced like a 64. That’s the easy part. Where it gets tricky is right after they went to the trapeze. The first trap tails were also (other than the trapeze itself) pretty much the same as a late 64. Double line Klusons, nickel ABR-1 with no patent number, nickel covered patent number pickups and that big ol’ neck profile and wide nut. The only change beyond the tailpiece was the truss cover. Virtually all 64’s have the wide bevel and nearly all 65’s have the narrow bevel. Then, sometime in the Spring, things started to transition-by fits and starts and with no consistency whatever. It’s like they dumped a load of chrome parts into the nickel parts bin and stirred it around. The mix of nickel and chrome that followed defies logic. Some had one chrome pickup cover and one nickel. Chrome tailpieces and nickel bridges are pretty common. The nickel pickguard bracket seems to have lingered right into 66-they must have had a lot if them around. Nickel and chrome look somewhat alike when new so folks probably didn’t notice until years later when the nickel tarnished and the chrome didn’t. To make matters even more complicated, they changed the neck profile from a chunky carve with a wide 1 11/16″ nut to a slimmer carve with a 1 5/8″ nut for about a minute and then to a 1 9/16″ nut and a fairly slim profile.

Not complicated enough for you? OK, how about the fact that there is no clear correlation between the changes and the serial numbers. My general rule for 65’s is that if the serial number is under 340xxx, then it’s bound to have some nickel parts and the bigger nut. I’ve had plenty of wide nut 65’s in the serial range of  250xxx to as late as 340xxx. I used to think around 329xxx was the start of the transition but I’m wrong. I have one in that range that is all chrome and the small nut. I would venture to guess that in the 329xxx range, it is possible to get a 1 11/16″ nut, a 1 5/8′ or a 1 9/16″ nut in any and all combinations of nickel and chrome. One other important note-no T-tops in 65. I know, everybody who is selling a t-top will tell you it’s a 65 but I’ve never seen one. The pre T is actually pretty consistent through 66 and into 67. I’ve seen them in 68 and even 69 when the t-top was well established.

The larger point is that when you’re looking into a 65, make sure you are getting what you think you are getting. Ask for a photo of the nut with a ruler next to it or better yet, calipers. Don’t just ask the seller to measure it. Most people can’t read a ruler. Look closely at the hardware. If nickel hardware is important to you, don’t ask the seller. Again, most folks can’t tell the difference between nickel and chrome. Ask if its tarnished. Look at the photos and see if its tarnished. And remember this-an early big neck wide nut trap tail 65 is worth up to $2000 more than a later narrow nut. The narrow nut 65 is going to sound just as good and can be a great bargain but you’ve got to be comfortable playing one.

This is the other end of the 65 spectrum. All chrome parts, small nut width and a narrow bevel truss cover. And yet the serial is 329xxx which is well within the mostly nickel and wide nut range. Go figure.

This is the other end of the 65 spectrum. All chrome parts, small nut width and a narrow bevel truss cover. And yet the serial is 329xxx which is well within the mostly nickel and wide nut range. Go figure.

Bye Bye, BB

May 16th, 2015 • Uncategorized6 Comments »
Don't matter what guitar you play if you play like BB.

Don’t matter what guitar you play if you play like BB.

A lot of folks with a lot more guitar cred than I have already weighed in on the loss of the great BB King. He certainly was the common denominator that links most blues players, would be blues players and wannabe blues players together. We all stole licks from him and we all tried to emulate his wonderful economic style. BB could play one note that said more than any 20, no, any 100 I could play.  But his skill and technique also points out something that vintage aficionados hate to admit. I was just listening to a clip from 1972 wherein BB was playing an early 70’s 355. It could have been custom but I doubt it. It looked like an off the rack walnut finished 355. And, in case that isn’t enough, he was playing through a solid state (non tube if you’re under 25 and never heard the term “solid state” before) amp-it looked like an Acoustic Control. Vintage guys like me don’t like 70’s Gibsons very much. The quality suffered under Norlin and, while there are still good ones, there seem to be more bad. Not for BB.

I think he proves better than almost anyone that the player transcends the instrument. For hack players like me, I can say that there are guitars that make me a better player and they are mostly old. But for a man like BB King, the guitar is merely the link between the player (and his experience) and the audience. His tone comes from within, not from that wooden box with the strings on it and all the little electronic bits inside. Those of us who play the blues because we know the notes aren’t doing the same thing as a bluesman.

What does a guy from suburban upstate NY from a middle class family know about the blues? Yes, we’ve all had some hard times but that doesn’t make me a bluesman. I don’t know what it takes but I know it when I hear it. Those British kids in the 60’s who co-opted American blues did us suburban white kids a favor. They introduced us to a genre that was right in our backyard that we barely knew existed. There was a time not that long ago when mainstream radio (it was AM back then) wouldn’t play black artists playing what was then called “race music”. They would have white guys (like Johnny Rivers) do covers and those were the songs that made the airwaves up here in the North. By the mid 60’s that was changing but I’m willing to bet that I couldn’t have found BB King on the radio in Schenectady, New York in 1963.

I saw BB King a few of times over the years and he was always entertaining and sometimes mesmerizing. I saw him in his 50’s, his 60’s and his 80’s and while he may have lost a note or two near the end, he still had great command of both his guitar and his audience. And he looked like he was having fun. The blues is rooted in misery but playing the blues is a joy. BB knew that and taught us more than just the notes. So, goodbye Mr. Riley B. King and thanks for the lessons.

This is a little more up my alley. BB with a mid 60's ES-355. No whammy bar necessary.

This is a little more up my alley. BB with a mid 60’s ES-355. No whammy bar necessary. He called the oft maligned Varitone the “magic switch”.

Mothers Day

May 10th, 2015 • Uncategorized3 Comments »
Liz Gelber circa 1946. Bye, Mom. And thank you. I miss you already.

Liz Gelber circa 1946. Thanks Mom.

Did your Mom yell at you to turn that thing down? Did she tell you that there was no future in being a guitar player? That maybe you should be a doctor or a lawyer or maybe a nice accountant? Mine did not and that’s just the beginning.

My mother had nine children (all boys in case you think it was going to be easy). She’s been gone since 2011 but I think of her much more often than one day a year in May. She always encouraged her sons to play a musical instrument. In fact, I’m pretty sure it was mandatory. We had a spinet piano in the living room which she played often and competently. She could sight read like you read the newspaper but she wasn’t going to be mistaken for a musician. Still, there were show tunes coming from the living room. Each of my brothers played at least one instrument. None of us were good enough to make a living at it but most of us stuck with it. I took violin starting in the 4th grade. I wasn’t very good. My parents added an organ to the living room when I was around ten (not a chord organ either-a real dual manual, no fooling’ around pedal board pro Allen) and I took lessons on that too. I wasn’t very good. My oldest brother, Ben-who also played violin, took to it and then there was Bach coming from the living room.

The Beatles showed up in 64 and I bugged my father endlessly to get me a guitar and he came home with a flattop Kay that cost $15. I started guitar lessons and quit the organ. I still had to play the violin in the school orchestra (I switched to upright bass that same year). Mom made sure I practiced like she did with every other brother and every other instrument. The big surprise was that I was pretty good at it. They agreed to get me an electric guitar (Fender DuoSonic and Princeton amp in 1964) and my younger brother, Brian, who already played the oboe, albeit not that well, took over the Kay. He would take over the DuoSonic when I got the Fender Jaguar in 65. I would often practice in the living room with the amp turned up to somewhere around 11. And then there were Beatles songs coming from the living room. My Dad would come home from work and yell at me to turn it down but Mom never did.

When she was in her 50’s, Mom decided it was time to learn another instrument. She asked me to help her find a cheap and playable guitar and we ended up with a German Framus flattop that had good action and she taught herself to play. I helped her with chord charts but she wouldn’t have it. She had to read music – not some chart. That was cheating. Just the notes please. She never got that far but she was never one to shrink from the task at hand. Mom had no fear. She learned to windsurf in her 60’s, built a path down to the lake behind our house, wallpapered the bathrooms, made a quilt out of my Dad’s old neckties and about a zillion other “projects”. She never excelled at any of them but showed a level of determination and ingenuity that has influenced me throughout my life. If someone says that something is so simple “…even your Mom could do it…”, they didn’t know my Mom.

So thanks Mom. Thanks for the encouragement, your example and your unwavering support. And thanks to my wife, too, for carrying on the tradition of superb mothering. Our son is a pretty good guitar player and can play the piano better than my Mom thanks to the support of his Mom. In our house, there was Chopin and Gershwin and Lennon and McCartney coming from the living room.

Liz Gelber circa 2005 Thanks again, Mom.

Liz Gelber circa 2005 Thanks again, Mom.


Red 335 Number Two?

April 26th, 2015 • ES 3355 Comments »
Red dot neck. 59 serial. 58 FON and a factory Varitone.   Probably the second red dot neck made.

Red dot neck. 59 serial. 58 FON and a factory Varitone.
Probably the second red dot neck made.

I have a couple of Holy Grail guitars and the one that generally tops the list is a red dot neck from 1959. Of course, they are as rare as hen’s teeth (do hen’s even have teeth?) and Gibson says they didn’t make any. Although I know of at least 5 ’59’s and one 58, I don’t believe any are indicated in the shipping logs. But they exist for sure. I’ve got one right here with me. The well known 58 in the photo at the bottom of the post is considered to be the very first red 335 with a serial number of A28800 and a ship date of  December 15th.

The one at the top of this post just arrived at my shop from France. It has a later serial by quite a bit-A29553 with a ship date of  April 1, 1959. The FON is T6473 which means it was built in 58. That means it could actually be the very first one built but until I find out the FON of the one shipped in 58, I won’t know for sure-not that it really matters in terms of value. It’s just bragging rights. The 58 is a Bigsby with a stereo circuit but no Varitone. This one is a factory stop that has both the stereo circuit and a Varitone. It appears to be factory-everything is just as it should be-shielding cans on three pots, disc caps, cut center block to accommodate the choke. Aftermarket Varitones tend to have sloppy routs and almost always skip the shielding cans. I have a copy of the shipping log page for this guitar and it neither indicates stereo, Varitone or red. But the finish is absolutely a no doubt factory original finish and the logs are notoriously sketchy at times. And, while the ship date usually has little to do with the build date, the guitars logged (and supposedly shipped) the same day as this one were almost all red ES-355’s. Only two 335’s were logged that day but at least 20 ES-355’s were and a couple of 350’s and 175’s. A single EB-2 and a J-185 also went. I wonder if they were red? You can click on the log page to blow it up so you can read it.


All of this is speculation, of course. Someone who was in charge of the shipping records back then is probably laughing hysterically at the geeks (like me) who see these things as some kind of sacred text. But, you have to take this with a healthy dose of skepticism. They just weren’t that meticulous over at 225 Parsons Street in Kalamazoo. But let’s take a look at the guitar itself; it is interesting in a few ways. The 58 that is considered the first red 335 has gold knobs. This one has the solid black ones. The very first 355’s had gold ones but they also switched to the solid black ones fairly early on. The finish on the 59 is barely faded. It isn’t displaying the watermelon fade that almost all 58-early 60 red ES’s show. That could mean they were still fooling around with the dye formulation-the red 58 isn’t a watermelon either or it could mean the guitar didn’t see a lot of sunlight. Another interesting feature is the frets-they appear to be original but are the larger 59 style. That makes sense-it’s a 59 but most 335’s with a 58 FON and a thin top have the smaller frets. I own A30248-also a 59 with a 58 FON but it has the small frets. Go figure.

I wonder if this is a prototype for the soon to be released ES-345 SVT? I’ve seen one 58 ES-335 with a Varitone but I don’t know if it was factory as I never inspected it. The first 345’s were shipped around three weeks later. What I don’t know is when the first stereo VT ES-355’s were released. We know that all the 58’s were mono and the early 59’s were as well. The earliest 59 SVT ES-355 I’ve had is later than the “first rack” 345’s but, frankly, I haven’t had that many.

This 58 is generally considered to be the very first red dot neck. I don't know the FON but it was likely the first to leave the factory in any case.

This 58 is generally considered to be the very first red dot neck. I don’t know the FON but it was likely the first to leave the factory in any case.

Liquid Assets 335 Edition

April 9th, 2015 • ES 3355 Comments »
Easiest ES to sell is a 64 with a Bigsby and Custom Made plate. They fall in the sweet spot price wise for many buyers, they sound great and play great and they have the bigger neck that everybody seems to want. Priced correctly, these don't last more than a week or two. Usually more like a day or two.

Easiest ES to sell is a 64 with a Bigsby and Custom Made plate. They fall in the sweet spot price wise for many buyers, they sound great and play great and they have the bigger neck that everybody seems to want. Priced correctly, these don’t last more than a week or two. Usually more like a day or two.

Over the course of years, ES-335’s from 58 to 64 have proven to be a pretty good investment. Yes, the bottom fell out in 2008 as it did in the real estate market and almost every other market but the recovery has been slow and steady and most models continue to rise. There are exceptions and there are standouts. Bear in mind, I’m not an investment counselor but I know this market so I have some street cred.

There are a couple of things to look at if you are going to convince yourself (and your wife) that the expensive vintage guitar you are looking to buy is an investment. First is, of course, how much can you expect it to appreciate over time. That’s the one nobody can really predict. That’s where the big boys tell you that “past performance is no guarantee, blah, blah, blah”. Professional ass covering is what it is but it’s true. There is no crystal ball. But there are trends, though and the trend has been a steady upward climb in prices for 335’s. That’s the safer kind of price rise. The “irrational exuberance” of 2006-2008 is not happening this time and as long as it doesn’t, the rise could continue back to 2008 levels. And it might not.  One thing I can say with some confidence is that the cream of the crop will rise faster than the player grade stuff. There is simply less of it and the demand is still fairly high for collector grade guitars from the fifties and sixties. Note that they ain’t making any more. After 50 or more years, it only makes sense that the number of collector grade guitars not already in the hands of collectors is diminishing. So, don’t look for bargains. The likelihood is that the collector grade guitars that come to market are coming from the collectors themselves.  Player grade guitars can be a good investment as well for reasons you might not expect.

That’s where liquidity comes in. Lots of players who buy guitars from me are stretching their finances to get something from the era that has some issues but is still a decent investment that will at least hold its value and perhaps appreciate ahead of inflation. The question that often arises from buyers like this is “what if I have to sell it?” Here’s a good example. You’ve got $12000 to spend and you can buy a Bigsby 64 with some further issue like Grovers on and off or maybe a wrong part or two-nothing drastic like a refinish or repair. For that same $12000, you can buy a no issue 61 ES-345 stop tail in really good shape. Not mint but, say, a 9.0. Which is the better investment? I would say the 64 for this type of buyer. First, he’s going to play it, not put it in a closet and that 9.0 condition 61 may not stay 9.0 forever. Moreover, and this is key, the 64 is way easier to sell. There are many more buyers for a well priced 64 335 than any well priced 345, even the very sellable and desirable big neck early 59. You may ultimately get more dollars for that nice 61 ES-345 but you won’t necessarily get them quickly and sometimes speed is more important than actual dollars. Another great example of this is rare one offs. I love one offs and rarities and have trouble resisting them. I’ll take any black 335 (or Pelham Blue Trini) that comes along and not worry that it might take me a year to sell it. That way I get to play it for a year. But for you as an investor? Maybe not such a great idea unless you know you’ll never have to sell it.

So, which 335’s are the easiest to sell? Red 64 ES-335’s are the easiest for sure. It doesn’t even matter what condition-there are buyers for mint ones and buyers for beaters. Bigsby/Custom Mades are less desirable than stop tails but they sell faster because they can be thousands of dollars less. Late 63 335’s too. Next, even though the price range is totally different, are 59 dot necks. 58 335’s are up there too. That leaves 60, 61, 62 and early 63’s. Great guitars-all of them and good investments too. They will rise with the market and always have buyers but simply not as many buyers as the others. The reason for this is simple. Big neck guitars sell better than slim necked ones. I’m not sure more players actually prefer them but the investor does for sure. You’ll pay a premium but you’ll also have an easier time recouping your investment should the need arise. And you can play your investment. Let’s see you play “Steppin’ Out” on an Apple stock certificate.

One offs and oddities tend to be much less liquid but often more valuable.  I love them. This is a very early red 59 with a factory Varitone. This is probably the second red dot neck made. How cool is that?

One offs and oddities tend to be much less liquid but often more valuable. I love them. This is a very early red 59 with a factory Varitone. This is probably the second red dot neck made. How cool is that?

To Scavenge or Not to Scavenge

April 4th, 2015 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 3555 Comments »
I love getting a guitar with double whites especially when it wasn't disclosed. It's like an early Christmas. It also tells me that its unlikely anyone has messed with the guitar. I'lll never pull the covers but isn't it great to know they are in there.

I love getting a guitar, like this killer 59 with double whites especially when it’s a surprise (it wasn’t on this one). It’s like an early Christmas. It also tells me that its unlikely anyone has messed with the guitar. I’ll never pull the covers but isn’t it great to know they are in there.

I’m not sure what other dealers do unless they are in the parts business but I have a problem with scavenging parts from less popular models. The time will likely come when every 57-63 ES-175 that isn’t in the hands of a collector will have its PAFs removed and put into another guitar-probably an R9 Les Paul but that’s another story. This story is about when its OK to scavenge parts and when-in my opinion, of course-it isn’t. As a bushiness person, the temptation can be compelling. Somebody brings in an all original ES-175 with a pair of double whites and you know you won’t get as much for the guitar in its original state than you will if you drop in a pair of blacks and scavenge the whites to sell separately. After all, a set of nickel covered, sealed double whites can sell for $9000-maybe even more. That’s the most dramatic of the scenarios but there are plenty of others. No wire ABR-1’s seem to disappear at an alarming rate from the less expensive early models like 175’s and 330’s. The repros have gotten really convincing and the price of an original no wire is nothing to sneeze at ($700 or more). The repro will look and sound as good and probably won’t diminish the value that much. But swapping out the bridge and selling the original just doesn’t seem right sometimes.

When is it OK and when isn’t it OK? Good question-glad I asked. Again, my opinion…I’m neither moralizing nor claiming the moral high ground. I’m just telling you how it works for me. If the guitar is already compromised-busted headstock, refinish, other changed parts, then I have no problem swapping out a bridge or even pickups. All of this is disclosed to the next buyer and is reflected in the price. But to start scavenging an all original guitar-even if its one that isn’t all that popular, then I think you are doing the guitar culture a disservice. There was a time when ES-345’s and ES-355’s were treated like a 175 is treated today. I can’t tell you how many of these I’ve seen with pickups (and stop tails) swapped out. And it’s hard to tell on a 345 or 355 stereo because the pickups are soldered to the three way and not to the pots. It’s very easy to scavenge the double whites or zebras and drop in a set of blacks and make it nearly invisible. Couple that to the fact that so many are changing the stereo circuit to mono anyway so the original solder to the three way becomes irrelevant. It’s just too easy. A 50’s or early 60’s gold stop tail can sell for $1000 with a set of long studs. A 70’s stop with short studs can be found for $200. That’s a potential $800 profit for the scavenger and the next owner may not even notice. Learn the difference and ask a lot of questions and look over the guitar the day you get it. Every single part.

Scavenging parts is part of the culture and has been for quite some time but the larger lesson here is to make sure the supposedly “all original” guitar you just paid a lot of money for is just that- 100% original. A ’59 335 with a pair of black PAFs is vintage correct but if it had double whites when it came from the factory, then I don’t think 100% correct is quite the same as 100% original. I could get into the “original solder joint” debate which most agree can be a bit over the top but at the kind of prices some of these guitars are commanding, I have no problem with checking the solder for any buyer who needs to know. In fact, the only way to know with any certainty whether your PAFs have ever been rewound is to buy the guitar that has pickups that are still sealed with their original solder both on the cover and on the pot or three way. Why both? Well if you want to be 100% certain, the solder on the covers isn’t enough. A talented tech can resolder totally convincingly as long as the covers aren’t bent (that’s an easy give away). If I’m paying $20,000 or more for a vintage 335, I want to know everything I can and just because scavenging is common doesn’t mean I accept it as OK. As I’ve said before fully 90% of the guitars I buy from individuals have some undisclosed issue. Sometimes as simple as a changed knob but sometimes as drastic as a changed harness. That’s why I keep a big stash of parts. Vintage correct isn’t the same as “all original” but it’s a lot better than repro this and later year that.


Weird and Wonderful One-Off

March 21st, 2015 • ES 35511 Comments »
What the....??? No, it isn't a Barney. It's a one off '63 ES-355 with Venetian cutaways.

What the….??? No, it isn’t a Barney. It’s a one off ’63 ES-355 with Florentine cutaways.

Back in the olden days, before Gibson was overrun by beer and cement makers (Norlin), they would make just about any variation of a catalog model you wanted. For a price, of course. Odd colors, fancy or personalized inlays, different bindings…really just about anything. The result is guitars like the “greenburst” 335, or the red 59 dot neck with a varitone or Tommy Mottola’s no f-hole sunburst 355 and plenty of others. I’ve written about most, if not all of the ones I just mentioned but a reader sent me another, perhaps weirder than any of the others.

The owner says it’s a 63 and the serial number bears that out although you really can’t tell much from the guitar itself. It’s had more than its share of mods done over the years. It is, essentially, a stereo VT ES-355 with Florentine cutaways and bound f-holes. I’ve seen bound f-holes on a few custom made ES models including the black 66 335 I had. But Florentine (sharp) cutaways? Thats a new one for me. There seems to be no record of it in the Gibson shipping ledger although I have seen entries that read “spec. cutaway” before. It looks, essentially, like a thinline Barney Kessel-not my favorite design but I’m not a big archtop guy. I’d say this one is about as close to one of a kind as you’ll get. Too bad it’s been so heavily modded. What did they do?

There are few obvious changes like the 70’s harmonica bridge and the extra switch at the treble side cutaway. Possibly a kill switch or a coil tap. It looks like it came from the factory with a Bigsby like most 355’s and that was removed and a stop tail installed (a bit low). Perhaps the most unusual mod is a separate-probably mono-output jack. You don’t see that one very often. It’s got Grovers but looks to have been shipped with Kluson wafflebacks which is correct for 63. Finally, it looks like the headstock had a “smile” crack that was repaired and oversprayed. As I’m fond of saying, 50 years or more is a long time for a guitar to stay stock. It just takes one owner with “improvements” in mind to, let’s say, “take it out of collector grade”.

Still, I’m always inclined to want one just like it because it’s just so different. I love 355’s and there’s nothing like a one off to get a conversation going. Like it or hate it, it’s just too interesting to ignore. Somebody really wanted this-enough to pay some very serious dollars for sure. ES-355’s were really pricey to begin with. By 63 they were pushing $1000 with the optional case which is close to $8000 in 2015 dollars. And that’s for a stock one. I wonder what this cost? Big thanks to David P. for letting me write up his guitar.

Nice flame on the back too. I can't figure out why so many had flame backs and plain tops.

Nice flame on the back too. I can’t figure out why so many had flame backs and plain tops.