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The Death of Vintage?

April 10th, 2014 • Uncategorized10 Comments »
This 63 Guild Duane Eddy cost less than $4000. Perhaps the younger generations are discovering this (and we aren't)

This 63 Guild Duane Eddy cost less than $4000. Perhaps the younger generations are discovering this (and we aren’t)

Got your attention, didn’t I? I keep reading (on that newfangled interweb) that as soon as the baby boomers (like me) get to be too old to play their vintage guitars, the market will tank and nobody will care about these guitars any more. That is crap, to put it gently. I approach this belief from two positions. First, how old do the folks making these statements think we are? 95? The oldest of the boomers are now around 68 and the youngest, according to most folks who keep track of this sort of thing, are 50. The first question that comes to mind is at what age do the doom sayers think we are going to stop playing? BB King is 88. Chuck Berry is 87 and Buddy Guy is 77. None of them appear to be giving up the guitar until the grim reaper comes to call.  The overwhelming majority of my vintage clientele are between the ages of 50 and 65. So, does that mean the market will tank in 30 years or so? If so, then that’s long enough for me. I hope I continue to play until I die at the ripe old age of 95 or so. My father lived to that age and while he didn’t play the guitar, he would have been capable of doing so almost to the end. I don’t think many of us boomers are thinking of hanging up the old ax any time soon just because we’re getting up there in years. Beyond dumb statements about the baby boomers getting too old to play (and buy vintage guitars), what about upcoming generations of players? Certainly a part of what makes our favorite guitars our favorite guitars is that these were the guitars of our collective youth. The  generation after us wasn’t even born when the Beatles hit The Ed Sullivan Show in 64. That brings me to my second approach to the issue. The generation behind us grew up in an era of Norlin Gibsons followed by pointy headed Superstrats and BC Rich’s.  Hamers too, I suppose and Ibanez’. Are these the vintage treasures of the future? Could be but I don’t think so. I think that, ultimately, there will be an ever increasing appreciation of the guitars that we love so much-Les Pauls, 335′s, Strats, Teles, SGs and so many others built between the early 50′s and the mid 60′s. I base this partly on my experiences with younger buyers. Many, between the ages of 25 and 45 were influenced by their fathers (that would be us old guys). My son, who was born in the 80′s, is drawn to older guitars but not necessarily the same ones we like. He likes Jazzmasters and Jaguars but he plays a Nash Telecaster. I spoke not too long ago with Ben Taylor of Southside Guitars in Brooklyn (home of the current hipster population including my son) and asked him what that generation is playing. “Cheap stuff but good cheap stuff. They don’t have a lot of money for the high end guitars.” True enough but he went on to note the same thing I did-they like the old guitars but gravitate toward the ones that are more affordable like Jazzmasters and Jaguars and maybe Guilds and Gretsches. You know, the ones that are incredible bargains when you look at quality versus price. Maybe they’re smarter than we are. We tend to gravitate toward the most expensive ones (who here doesn’t want a burst?) but there are great, great guitars from the 50′s and 60′s that don’t command prices above $5000. You can get a 60′s Guild Starfire for under $2000. A 60′s Fender Jaguar for around $3000. A Guild Duane Eddy for under $4K. How about a mid 60′s Gretsch Gent or Nashville for under $3K? These aren’t the guitars that collectors are after but they can be incredibly good guitars. They were in high demand back when I was a kid. I would have killed for a Gent back in 64. They just didn’t become the big money collector guitars. With new high end reissues pushing $5000 (and above), I would hope to see a resurgence of these great old classics among the next few generation after us old farts. Eventually, more of them will be able to afford the wonderful instruments that we are currently playing and perhaps even more of them will inherit them when we’re gone. But don’t hold your breath. I’ll be playing for at least another 35 years or so.

 

Still touring at 87, Chuck Berry should serve as an inspiration to all of us old players. You're never too old to rock and roll (but you can be too old to duck walk)

Still touring at 87, Chuck Berry should serve as an inspiration to all of us old players. You’re never too old to rock and roll (but you can be too old to duck walk)

Neck Angle

April 6th, 2014 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 355, Uncategorized2 Comments »
This 64 ES-335 shows about an equal amount of neck under the fingerboard as there is fingerboard. Maybe a little more. This is a pretty typical neck angle for a post 1960 ES-335.

This 64 ES-335 shows a bit more than an equal amount of neck under the fingerboard as there is fingerboard. This is a pretty typical neck angle for a post 1960 ES-335.

Here's an early 59 ES-345 that shows a lot less wood under the binding meaning the neck angle is shallower. Some 58's show no neck at all under the fingerboard. This angle affects how low the bridge needs to be for the guitar to set up properly and comfortably.

Here’s an early 59 ES-345 that shows a lot less wood under the binding meaning the neck angle is shallower. Some 58′s show no neck at all under the fingerboard. This angle affects how low the bridge needs to be for the guitar to set up properly and comfortably.

This is a difficult subject because the effects of various neck angles are impossible to quantify. By neck angle, we’re talking about the angle at which the neck meets the body of the guitar. The easiest way to see this is to look at how much neck is showing under the fingerboard at the area where the neck overlaps the guitars top. A shallow neck angle would mean there is very little neck showing and the most visible result of a shallow angle is that the bridge sits very low on the guitar. A steeper neck angle (raked toward the back of the guitar) will result in the bridge that sits higher off the guitar body. But there’s more to it than that. A shallow neck has a larger area of contact with the body than a deeper angle. Not by much but there are plenty of folks who believe the guitars with the shallow angle sound better. But, again, that’s not the whole story. Let’s look at the most notoriously shallow angle on a 335-the 1958. The neck angle on many (and most) 58′s was so shallow that they needed a thinner bridge to allow a decent string height (action). Those bridges quickly collapsed and Gibson started shaving full size bridges to accommodate that angle. But a bridge that is set as low as it can go actually sits on the guitar top so there is more area of contact than there would be if it was sitting only on the bridge posts. Does that make a difference in tone? Beats me, but it certainly will translate more vibration to the top of the guitar because there is more metal in contact with the top. It’s like when you are sitting in a chair playing (without the amp) and the guitar makes contact with the arm of the chair and all of a sudden, your guitar gets louder because the chair starts vibrating along with the guitar. The question is whether this actually translates into a better sounding guitar. I really like most 58′s. But I really like most 64′s too. They don’t sound the same but I can’t say the shallow neck angle on a 58 makes the difference. It could be the bigger neck on a 58 or the PAFs or the thinner top. There are just too many variables to make some kind of general statement. You can certainly make the argument that more wood equals more vibration equals more tone. That would suggest that big necks might sound better than small ones. Experience doesn’t bear this out with any degree of certainty. I’ve had thin neck 62′s that sound as good as any 59. Similarly, I’ve had just OK sounding early 60′s with a steeper neck angle, a fat neck and PAFs. Throw in variables like poorly cut nut slots, over notched bridge saddles and poorly adjusted truss rods and any 335 can sound worse than it should. These guitars are, quite simply, the sum of their parts. If, at some point, I get two totally well set up, similarly equipped. same size neck 335′s -one with a steep angle and the other with a shallow angle, I can do some kind of side by side. But for now, I will go with my gut and say that the difference is real but it is probably overshadowed by all the other parameters.

This is the bridge on my 59 Epi Sheraton which follows the same rules as a 3x5. It has an extremely shallow angle and the bridge sits as low as I can get it, touching the top of the guitar. This could be a good thing.

This is the bridge on my 59 Epi Sheraton which follows the same rules as a 3×5. It has an extremely shallow angle and the bridge sits as low as I can get it, touching the top of the guitar. This could be a good thing.

Idle Frets

March 31st, 2014 • ES 330, ES 335, ES 345, ES 3555 Comments »

 

"Little" frets on a 58 unbound 335. If the guitar is set up properly, you shouldn't have any trouble bending the crap out of the strings.

“Little” frets on a 58 unbound 335. If the guitar is set up properly, you shouldn’t have any trouble bending the crap out of the strings.

I’m not very adept with a pair of calipers. Today I tried to measure the frets on all the guitars I have in the house (snow day with nothing much to do). I know approximately how big the frets are supposed to be but for some reason my measurements aren’t that close. Of course, the size of the fret wire as it came out of the box 50 years ago (or tube or whatever) isn’t necessarily the size of the fret wire today. Some general knowledge of Gibson’s fret “repertoire” will help. In 1958, Gibson wasn’t using what we now call “jumbo” fret wire in the first 335′s off the line. The first thing I noticed when I picked up the first 58 I ever owned was that the frets looked like vintage Fender frets (I was a Fender guy before I was a Gibson guy). I measured them at .075″ which is pretty close to Fender which, if what I read on the internet is correct, are .078″. Often, when I get a request from a potential buyer for a dot neck, I ask whether they want a 58, 59, 60 or 61. Most want a 59 and when I ask why, they sometimes say “I can’t play on those little frets on the 58″. I’ve been playing a string of 58′s for the past few months and, while I’m not the world’s best player (OK, not even a good player), I find very little difference between the feel of a 58 and the feel of a 59. Big bends seem to work just fine on the “little” 58 frets. I think setup has more to do with bending than fret wire does but perhaps fat frets are more forgiving of a mediocre setup. I’ll have to look into that. I measured a few others as well. The frets on my 59 ES-345 were around .085″ and were extremely comfortable -a bit flatter than the 58′s but that could be from dressing and wear. The 66 I have had about the same size as the 59 only taller. I have an 82 here that measures .092″ so apparently bigger frets were introduced at some point after the 60′s ended. My 59 Epi Sheraton’s frets measured .080 but I’m such a klutz, they were probably the same as those on my 59 ES-345 and I just didn’t a good measurement. These are pretty small differences after all. But, when you compare these “vintage jumbo” frets to modern jumbo frets, they are quite a lot smaller. A .085 today is considered medium. So, what do I specify when I need to have one of my vintage beauties refretted? I’ve had great results with Dunlop 6105 wire (.090″). It’s so close to vintage spec that I can’t tell the difference. I played refrets done with 6100, 6120, Stew Mac 146 and 154 and they all seem pretty good. I will say that I’m completely obsessive about proper intonation and the big wide 6120′s make intonation more difficult and finicky-especially when they need a crown. In fact, all these frets, once they flatten out from wear (“railroad ties” in luthier vernacular) will cause you some intonation issues. It’s simple physics really. The more precise the pressure point on the string (i.e. the top of the fret) the more precise the note. With flat frets, if the string contacts the back edge of the fret, the note will be rather different from the note produced at the middle or front edge of the fret. On a properly crowned fret, there is only a single point at which the string touches the fret. That doesn’t mean you can get away with poor intonation but it allows you to better adjust and control it. So, I’m afraid I haven’t shed that much light on which 335s used which frets-it seems like 58′s used little ones and 59-66 (and later) used what would be called medium today. If anybody is real good with the calipers, I’d be happy to learn what you find. 99% of what I know about these guitars comes from owning them and looking at them.  You can’t get most of this stuff from a book.

These are original 59 frets. Not exactly huge by modern standards but plenty big for me. These measure around .082"

These are original 59 frets. Not exactly huge by modern standards but plenty big for me. These measure around .085″

Deep and Dark

March 19th, 2014 • ES 3352 Comments »
Back in the deep dark 40's, a Gibson sunburst could look like this. Pretty cool, if you ask me.

Back in the deep dark 40′s, a Gibson sunburst could look like this. Pretty cool, if you ask me. That’s a Kalamazoo but you know who made it.

Most of you are aware that the little two on the back of the headstock above (or below) the serial number means the guitar is a factory second…the mark of shame for a guitar that couldn’t pass QC. The problem was usually a little teeny flaw in the finish. But not always. The “2″ designation can mean almost anything. The good news is that, mostly, you can’t even find the flaw and the fact that it’s a factory second doesn’t affect the price or the desirability. Recently, I acquired a very early (probably first week in January) ’59 ES-335 with the “2″ on the back of the headstock.  I have only seen one other factory second this early in the run-a fairly early 58 335 and it wasn’t anything obvious, although the guitar was heavily played so its hard to tell what was going on. But the flaw on this one is sort of glaring-and kind of cool if you ask me. It looks a little like a 40′s J45 with that deep, deep sunburst. Under blacklight, the guitar glows exactly as it should but a flaw shows up under the black near where it transitions to red. So, it would appear that the painter was going deeper and deeper until the flaw disappeared. QC was not amused. The back is, however,  totally normal. I think that, in this case, the “2″ kind of saves the guitar from it’s appearance. I would have said a refinish was possible if not likely if not for the “2″. I’ve been through the guitar from end to end and there is no sign that this finish didn’t come from the factory this way. It is also not the only one like this I’ve seen. There is a late 58 (which I also think is very cool looking) owned or formerly owned by an acquaintance of mine which also has an unusually heavy dark element to the sunburst. No “2″ on that one, however. At least not that I can recall.

One of the great things about these old guitars is all the hand work that is done. Myself, I love to see the great variations that human hands (and human error) can produce on instruments like these. And not just in the finishes. In the neck carves as well. There are certainly guidelines that hold true for Gibson necks of a given year but there are always, and I mean always, exceptions. I recently had a 59 with a neck that would have been more likely found on a 62-barely .82″ at the first fret. Contrast that with this guitar at .93″ at the first fret. Both 59′s. The human touch at work for sure. There are great variations in body thickness, variations in nut width and neck sets and even knob placement and f-hole location. I’m sure they used templates for the latter two so there isn’t much variation but there is some. But these things don’t get you the dreaded scarlet letter-am I being overly dramatic?. OK, the stamped number “2″.

My larger point here is that the guitar with the weird sunburst is something to be enjoyed (and I’m enjoying it plenty). It is testament to hand crafting and to QC, I suppose. And, if you don’t want your dot neck to look like everyone else’s, you might want to seek out one these freaks with the “2″ on their head. It might save you a buck or two and make you stand out in the crowd.

What was there, a special sale on black paint that week? Or maybe the paint guy was still hung over from New years Eve. This guitar is one of the first off the line in 1959.

What was there, a special sale on black paint that week? Or maybe the paint guy was still hung over from New years Eve. This guitar is one of the first off the line in 1959.

58

This 58, while it doesn’t have a “2″ designation is still pretty unusual for a 335. This is one of my favorite sunbursts ever. This guitar has character. And, being a bound 58 is probably very close in serial number to the one above it.

 

 

 

Falling in Love

March 15th, 2014 • Uncategorized5 Comments »
I can't do a post about falling in love without including a photo of my beautiful wife who tolerates calls from buyers during dinner and loud screeching noises coming from the "guitar room".

I can’t do a post about falling in love without including a photo of my beautiful wife who tolerates calls from buyers during dinner and loud screeching noises coming from the “guitar room”.

I haven’t been a guitar dealer for all that long. Up until 2010, I was just kind of a guitar player with a particular affinity for certain old Gibsons. But up to 2010, when I kind of zeroed in on the very narrow range of  58-65 ES models, I played all kinds of guitars and owned a fair number of them. There were certain guitars that I’ve always (since I was 12 anyway) had a deep and abiding longing for and others I could simply take or leave. Obviously 335′s have always been on my radar although I couldn’t afford one when I was gigging in the 60′s and 70′s. But I also liked Epiphone solid bodies, SGs and Stratocasters. I was never a Telecaster guy, although I like them now. Until recently, I had never owned a Gretsch or a Rickenbacker even with my great love for the Beatles and their music. My acoustic for more than 30 years was a 69 Martin D-28 but I never really liked it all that much. I kind of stopped playing from the late 70′s until my son was born in 87. Playing for him on the old Martin (to keep him quiet or just to entertain) really got me back into it. I dabbled in guitars through the 90′s and into the early 2000′s. I bought an Epiphone Crestwood, an Epiphone Wilshire, a reissue ’60 Stratocaster, a Taylor 12 string, a 70′s Les Paul Custom, a Rickenbacker 350, Baker B1 and a 64 ES-335. I didn’t fall in love with any of these guitars (OK, maybe the 335) although I enjoyed them while I had them. I still have the Taylor but the rest are long gone, although I owned the 64 335 for many years until somebody talked me out of it. But I also found that I loved the journey perhaps more than the destination and then found it easier to not keep every guitar I bought that I really connected with.

A well known vintage dealer once told me what he thought it took to be a successful vintage dealer. He said: “DON’T FALL IN LOVE”. Well, I don’t fall in love that often (after all, I’m still with my first wife after almost 30 years) but I’ve had a small number of guitars over the past few years that have really been hard to let go. And recently, I’ve had two that are real heartbreakers. Over the past few years the ones that come to mind are the red ’59 ES-345 and the red 59 ES-335. Their rarity and the great playability of both of them keep them fondly in my memory. I knew they would go when I bought them; simply because I couldn’t afford to keep them, but I wasn’t happy about it. I don’t really like the term “holy grail” but since everybody else seems to use it, I will too. The usage of it in the guitar world is pretty well understood so calling the most sought after guitars something else will just confuse you (golden fleece guitars?). My holy grail (no caps) is probably a stop tail mono big neck red 59 ES-355 with a pair of double white PAFs. Never seen one. I’ve been close with the stop tail stereo version I just sold (and it was hard to let that one go). Blonde 335′s and 345′s are certainly in that category and I’ve let a few of them go but with fewer regrets than those red 59′s. Finally, the last guitar I fell for was one that didn’t even make the “for sale” page on my site. I just didn’t want to let it go. Finally a good friend wanted it even more badly than I did and I made him promise to never sell it unless he sold it back to me. And it wasn’t even a Gibson. well, yes it was but it didn’t say Gibson on it anywhere. It was the guitar you see below. Best playing guitar I’ve ever played. Probably the prettiest too. Best tone? Probably not with those single coils but it sounded great to my old ears. So, the old girl is gone and I miss her already. But, I’ve got a closet full of cool guitars here (and a great old 58 coming tomorrow), so, in the immortal words of Steven Stills…”if you can’t be with the one you love…you know the rest.

Goodbye old girl. I miss you already. It's not like I'm going to find another blonde 59 Sheraton. They only made three of them.

Goodbye old girl. I miss you already. It’s not like I’m going to find another blonde 59 Sheraton. They only made three of them.

 

 

The 70′s Called…

March 8th, 2014 • ES 3354 Comments »
The Seventies got really ugly in a very short period of time. You should have seen this guy in the 50's and 60's.

The Seventies got really ugly in a very short period of time. You should have seen this guy in the 50′s and 60′s.

…and they want their guitars back. Fat Elvis. Annie Hall. Ziggy Stardust. The Fonz. Farrah. Rocky, Tricky Dick. Fewer decades have shown so much range and not in a good way. I contend that the 60′s didn’t start until ’63 and didn’t end until 73 or so. The real 70′s as I recall them, seem to be disco, mood rings, pet rocks and platform shoes for men. There was some great music but it was overshadowed by so much ugly stuff. It was like a 60′s hangover. I mean, we had Steely Dan, Led Zeppelin, Springsteen and Fleetwood Mac. We also had the BeeGees (the disco ones not the early ones), The Carpenters, all those horrible disco acts and Glam Rock. For Gibson, the 70′s began in 1969. Norlin (beer, concrete) bought Gibson that year and started thinking about ways they could make more money than they were already making. Their best effort? Make the guitars cheaper and sell them for more money. Geniuses. Capitalism at its best. Gibson used to be run by people of vision who simply wanted to make a great product  (and a profit) and, in so doing, were creative, inventive and dedicated. With the suits from Norlin at the switch and guitars sales still booming, their approach was to make a great, great product into a mediocre one (at best) that could be produced quickly and cheaply. No wonder they sent Epiphone to Japan. I almost never get 70′s ES-335′s into my hands. I don’t take them in trade and I don’t seek them out. They are simply too inconsistent. I have one here now and I will take you through it. First of all, there are good ones. Really. I freely admit it. There is nothing wrong with the design even with some of the dumb changes they made to cut costs. The 73-74 I have here has only half a center block (up to the bridge). But it doesn’t seem to make that much difference. The resonance is pretty close to an earlier one. The pickups are still pretty good. The neck tenon has all but disappeared and the neck is not as stable. I don’t need a Bigsby-I can do vibrato (not tremolo) by pulling on the neck. I don’t like necks that do that. The volute (the reinforcement bump behind the headstock) is ugly but it doesn’t really make much difference nor does the three piece neck versus the one piece. The fiber headstock overlay is just cheap but it doesn’t change the tone or playability. They could have made all these changes and still made a pretty good guitar. What suffered was the build quality. The fit and finish is just not the same. The glue is sloppy, the neck join is sloppy-things just don’t fit together as well as they did “back in the day.” Not every 335 is poorly constructed but even if 25% of them are, that’s 25% more than there were in the 58-64 era. Out of the 350 or so that I’ve had, not one was poorly built. There is a bit of a range for sure but never poor quality-even the factory seconds. One result of bad build quality is poor sustain-the parts just don’t fit together so well and they don’t seem to vibrate as a unit like the early ones do. Another is less durability. A 70′s ES-335 is more likely to fall apart after 50 years than a 58-68. There’s less glue where glue belongs, more glue where it doesn’t belong and less precisely measured and cut components. If a 59 is like a piece of fine furniture, a 75 is sort of like the bookcase you made in 8th grade shop class (you know what it looked like). There are other elements-like a decline the quality of the woods used, for example. It all adds up to a good design that has been compromised. Vintage prices reflect the difference and I can’t say that a 70′s ES can’t be a relatively good value. Early 70′s seem to be generally better than late 70′s (and they changed the body shape to something that looks weird in 76). Just play it first or buy with a return policy to make sure it isn’t a dog. Actually, I may be insulting dogs.

Early 70's ES-335. Doesn't look that different than a 68 but it is different. Play it before you buy it.

Early 70′s ES-335. Doesn’t look that different than a 68 but it is different. Play it before you buy it.

By the late 70's the waist got thinner, the horns got thinner and Elvis got fatter.

By the late 70′s the waist got thinner, the horns got thinner and Elvis got fatter.

 

Bucket List or Bust

March 1st, 2014 • ES 3553 Comments »
A factory stop tail ES-355 has been on my personal bucket list for years. The fact that it's a 59 is just icing on the cake. If it was mono, I'd be beside myself but this'll do. Love that watermelon red too.

A factory stop tail ES-355 has been on my personal bucket list for years. The fact that it’s a 59 is just icing on the cake. If it was mono, I’d be beside myself but this’ll do. Love that watermelon red too.

I love the rare stuff but I always approach them more than a little skepticism. This week I had two opportunities to buy extremely rare 355′s. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that many sellers-especially those selling Grandpa’s old Gibson-don’t know very much about guitars. So, I assume nothing when I get an inquiry about buying the old girl. Most guitar collectors know that rarity is not a good indicator of value in a vintage piece. There are, after all, over 1000 Les Paul bursts (some say more like 1500) and you know how much they sell for. But I do love the rare stuff and I tend to buy those that come up even if I can’t make a dime on them . It’s the weird collector side of me, I guess-and I’m really not a collector. I only own 4 or 5 guitars and there is perhaps only one I won’t sell (for now anyway).  It was a personal mission of mine to get a red 59 dot neck for years. I finally found one a couple of years ago and was thrilled to have done so. But it was the chase more than the acquisition that got my motor running.

Recently, two very rare birds have flown into my nest. One, a 59 ES-355 with a factory stop and the other, a 63 factory sunburst ES-355. Factory stops are really rare but there are probably a dozen of them, at least. I know of 5, so there are probably a fair number that haven’t surfaced yet. I’ve tried to buy a 60 mono and a 63 mono, only to be outgunned by buyers with more money or more desire. The one I have now is a 59 stereo. The other is a sunburst ES-355 and I only know of two of them. Most of you know that 355′s only came in red unless custom ordered. I don’t know why things come in pairs like this but it’s true. It’s happened over and over again. So, now I have both guitars and it’s a good cautionary tale. I picked up the stop tail 59 ES-355 in person so I was safe there. Even though I drove for a couple of hours, I could still walk away (or negotiate a fair deal) if something wasn’t right. But everything checked out and I have one of my little “holy grails”. It’s for sale, of course, but I can check it off my bucket list and enjoy it while I have it.

The 63 sunburst is a different story. That one actually was Grandpa’s guitar but Grandpa had some work done before he went to rock and roll heaven. I had my suspicions when I got the photos but I really hoped I was wrong. But when I got the guitar in my hands and was able to look in the nooks and crannies, there were traces of red where red didn’t belong. So, instead of being a rare sunburst 355 worth many thousands of dollars, it’s a nicely refinished mono 63 in an unusually red looking sunburst. The reason for that is the red dye gets deep into the wood and the person who did the refinish was smart not to try to sand it all away because you’ll go through the top maple ply nearly every time. It’s still a nice guitar-I love mono 355s but it isn’t collectible-it’s just a nice player. I paid a player price (the deal was contingent on my inspection) so at least I didn’t get hosed. And really, one out of two ain’t bad. In fact it’s pretty good. If 50% of the guitars I bought were exactly as described, I’d be ecstatic. The truth is the number is more like 10% even though the discrepancies in description are usually minor (wrong bridge, changed pot, tuner tips and so on). So, the moral of the story is twofold-go look at the guitar in person if you can before you commit to big bucks for a rarity. And second, hope for the best but prepare for something less. It’ll save you some disappointment. The search continues.

Gibson sunbursts are pretty consistent and this one looked too red but I've seen oddball sunbursts before so I was kind of hoping this one was original. But it isn't. I do like the sticker on the guard (beep, beep). Plays nice and sounds great even with the Maestro. I'd stop tail it since it's a player.

Gibson sunbursts are pretty consistent and this one looked too red but I’ve seen oddball sunbursts before so I was kind of hoping this one was original. But it isn’t. I do like the sticker on the guard (beep, beep). Plays nice and sounds great even with the Maestro. I’d stop tail it since it’s a player.

Economics or Happiness (You Decide)

February 20th, 2014 • ES 3353 Comments »

A would be client of mine (and a friend, although I’ve never sold him a guitar and never met him in person-the internet is a funny place) called me up to ask about a particular ’59 ES-335 he was thinking about buying. It had tons of issues-extra holes under the guard, removed Bigsby, heavy wear and probably BO. But he really liked it and was very concerned about overpaying for it. Nobody likes to overpay for anything but there is a limit, I think. Most vintage buyers have a pretty good idea about what a no issue guitar of a particular type should sell for-although I can think of a few dealers who take the term “should” to whole new levels. But we’ll leave that alone. What bogs so many buyers down is when they find a guitar they like-they like the way it plays, they like the way it sounds and they like the way it looks (and you can’t see under the guard anyway) but they hesitate. They want to know what each hole, each crack, each parts swap does to the resale value. I understand the desire to do this but you really can’t. If you assign a value to each issue, each hole and a value to each changed part, eventually someone will have to pay you to take the guitar off their hands. It’s a little like the reverse of building a car from parts-it’ll cost you ten times the cost of buying the already built car. The general rule about a refinished guitar is that it’s worth 50% of the value of an original. The general rule about a headstock break is the same. So, what if somebody has a 59 dot neck with a broken neck and a refinish for sale? Is it worth 25% of the value of a no issue one? And what if it has a Bigsby-that’s another 15-25% off. And maybe a few filled holes at $1000 each off. I’m not going to do the math (although I could) but you get the idea. There are diminishing returns here. In situations where I’m dealing with a severely impacted guitar, I often work backwards. If the PAFs are intact, that’s $3500 or so. Original parts can add up pretty quickly and even a refinished and repaired headstock husk has “old wood” value.

Pretty nice 61 dot neck, right? Look at the next photo to see why it was a $6500 61 dot neck.

Pretty nice 61 dot neck, right? Look at the next photo to see why it was a $6500 61 dot neck.

 

Yikes. That's pretty horrible. Same guitar as above

Yikes. That’s pretty horrible. Same guitar as above

About 2 years ago, I bought a 61 dot neck that had a headstock break and a Bigsby (and Grovers and a fair amount of wear). I sold it for around $7000 and made a modest profit. It was a decent sounding, decent playing guitar with a terrible repair-it was solid but really ugly and the front of the headstock was poorly re-veneered and painted with no inlay. Pretty cheap for a dot neck-the PAFs and the bridge were worth almost that much. Then the buyer did something sort of miraculous. He did something I almost never consider doing (because it’s usually a bad business decision). He made it into a project. He had a local luthier make a new neck for it using the original binding, fingerboard, inlays and truss rod. And he made a big ol’ 59 sized neck and the repair was just stellar. This was not a small investment either-close to $4000. So now it’s a renecked Bigsby ’61 instead of broken headstock 61 and his investment is around $11K. Is he nuts? I would have said yes at first look-at least from an economics standpoint. A reneck is still considered to be half the value of an original so, in theory, it was worth exactly the same as it was before $4000 worth of work. Except that it wasn’t. It looked perfect, it played beautifully and it now had the neck that everybody wants. When it came up for sale, I hesitated. can it really be worth that much? I remembered how good it sounded even with its broken neck and bought it back. It was a wonderful guitar-good enough to keep (if I didn’t already have a 58). With 59 dot necks well over $30,000 and approaching $40K or more, maybe this was an opportunity for someone to get a big old neck dot for well under half the price of a 59. I listed it at $14500 and had five potential buyers within a day. Four of the five were questioning my pricing and asking me to justify how a renecked 61 could sell for that much. My explanation was that if you want a dot neck with a big neck and you can’t afford a 58 or 59, you can buy a reissue or you can buy one with issues. A smart buyer saved a wad of cash over the cost of a 59. Was it a good investment? Well, the buyer traded it back to me months later for a big neck early 60 and I put it up again for the same price. Gone in a day, again.  The way I see it,  if you can get the guitar of your dreams for a price you are comfortable with that plays and sounds just like you want it to, the smart thing to do is damn the torpedoes and buy it.

And here it is re-necked, stop tailed and ready to rock.

And here it is re-necked, stop tailed and ready to rock.

Neck and Neck

February 13th, 2014 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 355, Gibson General5 Comments »

 

The main reason that the neck profiles are so variable is that they are shaped by hand. As you can see in this photo from the Gibson site, they still are (at least in the Custom shop)

The main reason that the neck profiles are so variable is that they were shaped by hand. As you can see in this photo from the Gibson site, they still are (at least in the Custom shop)

What’s the most often heard request I get?—”I want a 59 (size) neck.” Neck sizes are trendy things. Back in the mid 60′s the trend was for “fast” necks-narrow at the nut  and slim from front to back. You can probably thank Leo Fender for that as Gibson was chasing Leo and followed, when necessary, the leader. The necks at Gibson were still finished by hand so there is bound to be some variation within any given era. That said, we tend to describe ES necks by a year designation. To most of us a 58 neck is big and round from one end to the other, a 59 is also big with a bit more shoulder and widening and deepening going toward the 12th fret. A 60 is wide and flat with almost no taper, as is a 61 and a 62. Most of us perceive a 63 and a 64 as medium chunky with some shoulder and a considerable increase in size going up. That’s a fairly good generalization but it isn’t really all that accurate. It may be accurate for the majority of the ES guitars for those years but it may not be accurate for the one you just bought and that’s the one that counts.

Let’s look at the range for each year as I’ve seen them. 1958: These are pretty big and pretty consistent. I’ve measured perhaps 6 or 7 of them and the measurement at the first fret from the board to the middle of the back is .88″-.90″. By the time you reach the 12th, it’s around .98 which is not much of a taper. 1959: Here’s where it gets really tricky. The range at the first fret in 59 is from around .83″ to over .90″ that’s a big range. Most get pretty big by the 12th fret -a full inch or slightly more. But here’s the problem. They are all over the place. It’s not like you can say that a particular serial number range is going to have a particular neck. It just isn’t so, although the earlier the serial, the more likely you are to get a big neck. Anything in the A28xxx range to A30000 will probably have a big neck but there are no guarantees.  After that, it’s a even more of a crapshoot. For example A30906 (which was my red one) has what I think is a perfect neck. It was, I believe, around .87 at the first and 1.00″ at the 12th. I currently have A31348 with a neck measurement of around .83″ at the first fret and .94″ at the 12th. That’s a nice neck but it isn’t  a size most of us would associate with a 59. I’ve always called that size a “transitional” neck but that one is pretty early-probably early October. I expect that neck in the A31800-A32285 range in 59 and on into 1960 for another 800 or 900 serial numbers. But that’s not consistent either.

1960-1962: It’s a pretty good bet that the neck is going to be pretty flat and stay that way. With the exception of the early 60, you are likely to find some consistency here in that none of them will be particularly large, They will be wide (1 11/16″ more or less) at the nut but the first fret measurement is going to be from .79″ which is blade thin up to around .82″ which is still thin but not glaringly so. I’ve had a number of 61′s that were so thin that there is almost no wood between the truss rod and the back of the neck. You should look out for cracks (and back bows) in these thinnest of necks. The crack is usually from an overtightened truss rod and the back bow is because there just isn’t much wood to counter the string tension and folks keep tightening the truss to compensate until there’s no more range. Then somebody takes the strings off and boinng, you have a back bow. By the time you hit the 12th fret on these, the neck hasn’t gained much heft, Measurements of .87″ are common. As you get into later 62 and into 63, the really thin necks disappear and something like .82″ at the first fret is pretty common.

1963-1964: By mid 63, the necks have gotten pretty big again-even if the first fret  measurements don’t entirely bear this out, there is so much more shoulder in many cases that the neck feels pretty chunky. I’ve played 64′s that measure only .82″ at the first fret that feel huge. That’s the shoulder-a rounder profile as opposed to a flatter one. The range from mid 63 to early 65 seems to be from around .82″ to around .86″ at the first fret which many folks feel is the best of the Gibson neck carves for a 335. I like them myself. And don’t go by the contemporary Gibson “59″ and “63″ reissue profiles. The 59 has a ton of shoulder- much more than a real 59 and the 63 is more like an early 62-at least that’s how they felt to me last time I played one (2012 or so).

These is pretty general stuff and there are going to be exceptions all over the place. If you are very particular about neck size, ask a lot of questions or better still buy from someone who will take the guitar  back if you don’t bond with the neck. Playing the guitar before you buy it isn’t always possible, so go into your deal with a little knowledge. Most of us are pretty adaptable but if you’re spending the kind of money these guitars go for, shouldn’t you have the neck you really want?

The '59 on top measures .89" at the first fret while the '62 below measures .82" which is actually pretty big for a 62. 7/100 of an inch doesn't sound like a lot but it sure looks like a big difference. And it is.

The ’59 on top measures .89″ at the first fret while the ’62 below measures .82″ which is actually pretty big for a 62. 7/100 of an inch doesn’t sound like a lot but it sure looks like a big difference. And it is.

 

Same two guitars at the 10-12th fret. The 59 measures 1.02" which is a lot of neck. The 62 is only .88" . I find both pretty easy to play and I have small hands. I play equally badly on a 62 and a 59.

Same two guitars at the 10-12th fret. The 59 measures 1.02″ which is a lot of neck. The 62 is only .88″ . I find both pretty easy to play and I have small hands. I play equally badly on a 62 and a 59.

 

 

Fifty Years Ago Today, Part 3

February 10th, 2014 • Uncategorized2 Comments »

 

Peter Frampton on a 64 335 along with the very talented Steve Lukather.

Peter Frampton on a 64 335 along with the very talented Steve Lukather.

Adam Levine on a 63 or 64 335.

Adam Levine on what looks like a 63/64 335. Could be a reissue judging from where I’m sitting but maybe not. Wrong tuners but, really, who cares.

Rusty put down the blonde 59 'cuz he needed a whammy and this 59 or 60 ES-355 seemed to do it. Knock of $1000 for the missing pickup cover.

Rusty put down the blonde 59 ‘cuz he needed a whammy and this 59 or 60 ES-355 mono seemed to do it. Knock off $1000 for the missing pickup cover.

There wasn’t going to be a part 3, actually but I feel compelled to write a little more – mostly about the CBS “Tribute” Show that aired last night (Sunday Feb 9). If nothing else, it certainly was an ES fest. Without going back through the show, I would say more ES guitars showed up on stage than any other. Adam Levine on what looked like a 63/64 block, Dave Grohl on the blue Trini, Peter Frampton playing a red 64, Rusty Anderson on his blonde dot neck and what looked like a 59 or 60 ES-355. But the show wasn’t about guitars, although some very fine playing was in evidence. There was also a big dose of nostalgia (always fun), some really dopey choices (c’mon, circus acts up in the air?), unforgivable overproduction and way too many shots of Tom Hanks and Mrs. Hanks. And Yoko Ono but at least she’s part of the family. I always wonder who you have to know to get tickets to events like this or for the Sullivan Show in 1964. When they interviewed some of the “girls” from the 1964 audience, one was named Sarnoff. What a surprise -David Sarnoff owned RCA and NBC (I know-it was on CBS but connections are connections). Sir Paul generally puts on a good show and he was in great form although at his age some of the high notes, as Ringo would say, don’t come easy. Ringo was just wonderful. Same old Ringo having fun and being fun to watch. I should look that good at the age of 73.

As far as the acts went, it was a pretty mixed bag. I’m neither a TV critic nor a music critic although I’m probably a lot more qualified to critique the program as television-40 years as an editor gives me that right. As television, the show was kind of a mess but a fun mess. I enjoyed the Letterman interviews in the Ed Sullivan Theatre (where I worked for almost 20 years). As music, it certainly had its great moments. As something of a Beatles aficionado, I don’t like covers of Beatle songs and I really don’t like “interpretations” of them. As talented as Stevie Wonder is, I didn’t think “We Can Work it Out” was anything more than Stevie does his version of a Beatles tune. Fair enough. The other end of the spectrum, I suppose, was Maroon 5 doing All My Loving. It sounded very Beatles like and I would be happy if my Beatles cover band could do it that well. But there were moments that soared (and not necessarily the ones the real critics are wetting their pants over) and some that landed with a thud. Sorry, Annie Lennox’ “Fool” didn’t do it for me nor did John Legend and Alicia Keys’ “Let it Be” although they all have wonderful voices. I thought seeing Dhani Harrison (hello, Mr Director, there’s a third guy on the stage-how about including him) doing “Something” along with Joe Walsh and Jeff Lynne was quite moving. He looks so much like George, it’s scary. The singing hats doing “Here Comes the Sun” was simply dull. Katy Perry? Don’t get me started. John Mayer and Keith Urban’s guitar pyrotechnics on “Don’t Let Me Down” were impressive but out of character here. So, what did I like? “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” was fab with Joe Walsh, Gary Clark, Jr and Dave Grohl just tearing it up out there. But the high point for me (and probably very few others) of the non Beatles performances was “Hey Bulldog.” There’s a vibe to a Beatles song-it’s not always the same vibe but if you can capture it, it almost doesn’t matter who is performing. The essence of the song was there.  Dave Grohl and Jeff Lynne (and the piano player who was just great) were having a ball out there and the spirit of John was alive and kicking on the stage. Steve Lukather nailed the guitar break but the director totally missed it. Despite that, it was magic.

When it was time for real Beatles, there were some great moments-”Sgt Pepper” being performed live with French horns was wonderful and you knew the famous Ringo was coming out next the moment they started the song. Loved it. The first two numbers “Birthday” and “Get Back” showed us that Paul can still hit the high notes but not without a fight. His band, especially his very hard working drummer, were tight as ever (love the black SG that Brian Ray was playing). Finally, “Hey Jude” was the appropriate closer and everybody looked appropriately exhausted by the time it was over. Even Tom Hanks.

Dave Grohl, who stood out as the guy having the most fun-in the audience, behind the drums and playing guitar. Jeff Lynne didn't look like he was having that much fun but "Hey Bulldog" was the highlight for me. Nice Trini, Dave but not as nice as the one I offered you two years ago.

Dave Grohl stood out as the guy having the most fun-in the audience, behind the drums and playing guitar. Jeff Lynne didn’t look like he was having that much fun but “Hey Bulldog” was the highlight for me. Nice Trini, Dave but not as nice as the one I offered you three years ago.