GIBSON ES-335 ES-345 ES-355
RSS

The Lomax (with apologies to Dr. Suess)

August 22nd, 2014 • ES 3353 Comments »

 

This well played 59 ES-335 was owned by Peter Green, Victor Brox and Jackie Lomax. Jackie Lomax played it for more than 40 years.

This well played 59 ES-335 was owned by Peter Green, Victor Brox and Jackie Lomax. Jackie Lomax played it for more than 40 years.

…”and deep in the Grickle-grass, some people say, if you look deep enough you can still see today, where the Lomax once stood just as long as it could before somebody lifted the Lomax away.” Jackie Lomax died in September of 2013. His obit appeared in Rolling Stone and went like this:

Lomax was part of the thriving Liverpool music scene that launched the Beatles in the 1960s, playing with the Merseybeat band the Undertakers in the U.K. and the U.S., and later signing to the Beatles’ Apple Records for the release of his 1969 album, Is This What You Want? Tony Bramwell, a former publicist for Apple, said  John Lennon persuaded Lomax to sign with the label, and three Beatles (and Eric Clapton) backed Lomax on his 1968 single “Sour Milk Sea,” which George Harrison wrote. ”He was a great rocker, a solid out-and-out rock and roller…”

Jackie Lomax with his 59 ES-335. Not sure when the photo is from.

Jackie Lomax with his 59 ES-335. Not sure when the photo is from.

Jackie Lomax was on the scene for a very long time and he pretty much played the same guitar for decades. This is something the great players do when they find a great guitar. Larry Carlton is another example-he’s played that late 60′s 335 forever. McCartney and his Hofner, Stevie Ray’s “Number One”, James Burton and his 53 Telecaster and lots of others. Like they say–”the great ones get played.” Jackie wasn’t a guitar god or anything, but he surely is part of the history of British rock.

I’ve been asked by the Lomax family to evaluate and possibly sell the guitar for them. So how do I quantify the value of a guitar that was played by Jackie for decades and before that was owned by British bluesman Victor Brox who bought it from Peter Green?  Simple. I don’t. You do. If you don’t care who owned a guitar before you-and many, many players and collectors don’t, then it’s just a very cool, well played 59 335 blondie with some changed parts. If history and provenance are important to you and, judging by the prices some famous guitars bring, there are some of you out there as well, then perhaps the guitar is worth a bit more. I wrote in my last post that history, provenance and context are important factors in determining whether a guitar is simply a vintage piece or a piece of history. While this guitar was never an icon, like the Dylan Strat, nor was it used on any mega hit records by a guitar god like Blackie, Brownie and that red 335, it is still an interesting and well documented example of what is probably the most desirable guitar this side of a Les Paul burst. I’ve found You Tube footage of the guitar being played in 1970 and as late as 2004. Unfortunately, I can’t find ’68 footage of “Sour Milk Sea” which is a great song and a showcase for his great voice (as well as George Harrison’s writing chops and Eric Clapton’s guitar). Jackie Lomax didn’t play guitar on it but I’m he used this old 59 to perform the song many, many times during his career.

 

History, Provenance and Context

August 12th, 2014 • Uncategorized5 Comments »
Two nice 59 ES-345's. Both worth about the same even though the one on the left was supposedly played by Duane Allman. Why isn't it worth more (hint-it isn't the Grovers)

Two nice 59 ES-345′s. Both worth about the same even though the one on the left was supposedly played by Duane Allman. Why isn’t it worth more (hint-it isn’t the Grovers)

…”my ’64 335 is 4 numbers away from Claptons…” my ’59 345 was once borrowed by Duane Allman…” my ’58  335 was played (for 20 seconds) by BB King and autographed…” Does any of this have anything to do with the value and desirability of your guitar? Good question. I get it all the time and I usually avoid it. It’s a pretty slippery slope but it is worth looking into since celebrity guitars are a pretty big business. With Dylan’s Strat selling for  $965K recently and Claptons “Blackie” selling for $959K and his 335 selling for $847K, the value of a celebrity owner can’t be denied. There are a great number of factors involved in what makes an historic guitar worth that kind of money and it’s not easy to quantify (or predict). The estimate by Christies auction house on the Clapton 335 was $60K-$80K. Oops.

The three examples mentioned at the top are the low end of the celebrity guitar phenomenon and I owned all of them. The Clapton serial number thing is kind of a joke, since Gibson guitars often weren’t numbered sequentially so for all you know, the guitar wasn’t within a month of Clapton’s. I had a 335 that was 4 numbers away and was shipped the same day and got no premium at all for it. To a huge fan, it might be worth a few bucks for the bragging rights or something. I did own a 58 335 that was played for a minute and autographed by BB King. The first thing I did when I got it home was remove the autograph. The guitar was worth more without it. And I owned the “Allman” 345. This is perhaps the most interesting of my celebrity guitars. It was a very fine 59 ES-345 that had some minor issues but was a great player. When I got it the Allman connection was mentioned by the seller but it didn’t really affect the price. I paid what I would normally pay for a ’59 345. If that seems surprising, it shouldn’t. You see, there was no provenance. Providence? No, provenance-the “proof” that it is what you say it is. All I had on the Allman 345 was a conversation with an old friend and very early bandmate of Duane’s who said that Duane borrowed the guitar from him for awhile. No photo of him with the guitar and no corroboration from anyone else. That’s pretty thin provenance and not enough to affect the value. I sold the guitar with a mention of it’s supposed history and got what I would expect to get for a slightly modded 59 ES-345.

So, those are the ends of the scale. Huge bucks for a guitar owned and played by a great in an historic context (recording, concert, career) and little or no added value for a guitar with a casual or unproven association with a great. So, I conclude, it is largely the historic context and provenance that gives the guitar the great value. But there is a large-and I mean huge-middle ground here. A guitar autographed by all four Beatles will probably be worth the value of the autographs plus the value of the guitar. The ’64 SG owned by George and played on “Paperback Writer” (and others) would be worth six figures. What about a less famous (but still relatively well known) player?  Well, this came up recently and I’m still wrestling with it.

This week, I got an email from a nice lady in the UK who asked me to provide some information about her late father’s guitar which she and her sisters inherited. You can’t deny its appeal. It’s a 59 ES-335TDN which is considered by most to be the top of the 335 heap. Price range is $30K for a beater to over $75K for a very clean one. These peaked at well over $100K in 2008. This one has clearly been played and modded. Grovers, changed bridge, changed neck pickup, Bigsby on and off, speed knobs-all pretty typical mods often made by players. Nice wood and a great vibe for sure but there’s something else. This guitar was a real workingman’s guitar-played throughout much of a 50 year career by a very interesting guy and owned by a few other interesting guys. The guitar belonged to Jackie Lomax and was his main player for many years. Look him up if you don’t know who he is. We’ll discuss this guitar in detail in my next post and you’ll find out  more about this gem (and who else owned it before him).

Nice, huh. '59 ES-335TDN. Got some issues for sure but it's got some vibe too. And some history, provenance and context.

Nice, huh. ’59 ES-335TDN. Got some issues for sure but it’s got some vibe too. And some history, provenance and context.

Pride (in the name of Gibson)

July 29th, 2014 • ES 3553 Comments »
Great workmanship extends to all things made by humans. This Colnago bicycle is exquisite and expensive. See how this relates to your guitar.

Great workmanship extends to all things made by humans. This vintage Colnago bicycle is exquisite and expensive. See how this relates to your guitar.

I think there’s a lot more to be said about 355′s. Outside of being under appreciated, they are also a very interesting sub group in the ES family that is set apart from the rest of the crowd in more than a few aspects. You could argue that the body is identical to a 335 and that it’s basically a tarted up 345 with some fancy bindings and inlays and an ebony fingerboard. But somehow, Gibson was able to get more than twice the price of a 335 for a top of the line 355. As I said in my last post, a 355 in 1960 was a $675 guitar and a 335 was a $335 guitar. Translated to 2014 dollars, a 335 would be the equivalent of  $2655. That’s a lot of money even today for a base model but, clearly, Gibson gets that and more at retail. You can pick up a Memphis dot for around $3000 new. A new 355 would still have the same upgrades as a 1960 but it sure doesn’t cost twice as much. A 1960 ES-355 in todays dollars would be $5350. If you use the simple logic approach, Gibson should be getting $6000 for todays ES-355 (double the 335 price). I’m pretty sure Gibson isn’t even making a 355 any more other than the “Lucille”. Custom Shop ES-355′s which they made until recently had all the bells and whistles of the early ones (except the stereo/Varitone) and they cost about the same as a Custom Shop 335. So, why did it cost twice as much in 1960 and it costs about the same now? Or is there more to a 355 than just some fancy window dressing. I contend that there is more than just cosmetics here.  And it’s all about the build quality.

A short detour, if you don’t mind…When I was in college, I worked at an upscale(ish) bicycle shop assembling the racing bikes that came in. We got base model Schwinns and Peugeots but we also got Cinellis, Colnagos and Masis and other exquisite hand made European bikes. Yeah, I put together the $80 Schwinns competently and the $125 Peugeots all worked adequately when I got them ready to sell but I was so much more meticulous with those $1000 exotics (this was 1971, so that’s almost $6000 today). Even though they went together more easily (more precise parts-the same as why it’s easier to set up a Gibson than it is a Teisco), I spent more time with them. Why? Because I respected the fact that someone was going to shell out some seriously big bucks and I wanted that person to get a seriously well assembled and tuned machine. The Schwinn guy? Hey, whaddya want for 80 bucks?

Well, I think that applies to the factory workers at Gibson as well. Pride in one’s workmanship is pretty universal among people who build stuff. Or at least it used to be. If you get the chance, look inside a 335. There’s usually glue squirting out along the kerfing and the center block. The routs are sometimes less than neat and the tuners don’t quite line up right on occasion. Then look inside an early 355. Neat as a pin, usually. It’s simply a higher build quality. Whether the better builders were assigned the higher end guitars or whether pride in workmanship was the reason, it is something worth your consideration. And I don’t mean to diminish the superior materials used either. The inlays in a 345 and 345 are cheap celluloid and they get pretty crapped up over 50 years and they shrink and fall out-especially block 335′s. The inlays in a 355 are real mother of pearl and they never fall out and they never shrink. Ebony used to cost a lot more than Brazilian rosewood and was considered superior (it certainly wears better). The quality of the plywood was often better too. Nicer grain, better figure, fewer flaws.

All that said, a 355 doesn’t sound any better than a 335. Some sound better, some sound worse and most sound pretty much the same. Some would contend that an ebony board sounds different but I can’t hear it. I can feel it but I can’t hear it. But damned if 355′s don’t seem to be better cared for and generally in better shape than 335′s. It’s like the guy with the $80 Schwinn. He probably tossed the bike in the dumpster in 1986 after it got left out in the rain for three years and rusted. The guy with the $1000 Colnago probably kept it in his living room and it treated like his baby. And when he was done with it in 1986, he gave it to his nephew who rode it in the Tour de France.

I never get tired of 355's. This is a big neck 59 and they are not easy to come by. They made the neck smaller on 355's long before they did it to the 345's and 335's. Workmanship is superb.

I never get tired of 355′s. This is a big neck 59 and they are not easy to come by. They made the neck smaller on 355′s long before they did it to the 345′s and 335′s. Workmanship is superb.

 

ES-355. The Road Less Traveled.

July 17th, 2014 • ES 3557 Comments »
This is the only mono big neck ES-355 I've had. I've had a number of 59 monos but most had a pretty thin neck-wide but thin front to back

This is the only mono big neck ES-355 I’ve had. I’ve had a number of 59 monos but most had a pretty thin neck-wide but thin front to back. This one had a 58 FON but a mid 59 serial. I know, the neck pickup is upside down.

I have a kind of love/hate relationship with ES-355′s. I’ve called them a “335 tarted up like a cheap hooker” but I’ve also called them a “335 in a red tuxedo”. Yes, they can be heavy (Bigsby with a sideways) or they can be relatively light (mono version with a stop tail-rare but not unheard of). Interestingly, the ones I find are generally in unusually good condition. There is a pretty good reason for this. In the 1960 catalog, an ES-335 cost (duh) $335. A 355 was not, however, $355. It was more like $675. In 2014 dollars, the 335 would be $2655 but the 355 would be $5350. That’s a lot even today but the comparison of the 335 and 355 is the more important point. Would you pay double the price for some fancy bindings, ebony board and real MOP inlays? OK, maybe the wood was a little higher quality but it’s still a plywood guitar. The guts are the same as is the quality of the construction, although I could make an argument there which I’ll do in another post. The original selling price has a lot to do with why you find them in such good shape so much more frequently than you find 335′s in great shape. Look at it this way…who could afford a $675 guitar in 1960? Adults, that’s who. An adult who spends that much on a high end guitar is more likely to take care of it than a kid who bugged his parents to buy him an electric guitar. More 355′s are still in the hands of the original owners or their families than 335′s. That usually means better care has been taken.  The same is probably true if you compare a vintage Rolls Royce to an old MG. High end stuff gets cared for. That’s just human nature.

ES-355′s are also less desirable these days than 335′s. Everybody knows that-just look at the prices for 59′s. A 59 335 Bigsby (apples to apples here) in 9.0 condition is currently over $30,000. A 59 ES-355 in the same condition would be more like $18K-maybe $22K if it has double white PAFs and is a mono rather than the SVT version. These are retail prices and vary greatly dealer to dealer. Selling prices and asking prices vary as well. But let’s look deeper. The big deal with 59′s is the neck. A great majority of the buyers want a 59 ES 3×5 for the big fat neck. The later 59 ES-335′s with the “transitional” neck are a lot harder to sell than the early ones. In fact, I can move a 58 with a big neck faster (and for at least as much money) as a thinner necked 59-even though the mere mention of the year ’59 seems to carry some voodoo magic for some. But most of you want the neck. And that’s a problem with 355′s. You see, they didn’t follow the same timeline as the 335s and 345s. You want a big fat neck 59 ES-355? Good luck. The 335′s and 345′s necks started thinning out in the Fall of 59. Many and perhaps most 335′s and 345′s in the A31xxx and later range have a medium to thin neck, although fat necks can be found (in my experience) as late as the early Spring of 60. I’m sure there are later ones-they were hand shaped and anything is possible. But a 59 ES-355 probably isn’t going to have a big neck because the folks at Gibson started thinning the necks on them much earlier, although I couldn’t tell you why. I’ve had perhaps a dozen 59 355′s and, so far, only two have had that big ol’ 59 neck we all want so much. One of those two had a 58 FON but a later serial A306xx. The other is in the late A29xxx range. The 58′s all have big necks but good luck finding one-they only made ten of them. There aren’t a whole lot of 59′s out there to begin with and finding one will probably take awhile. It’ll take even longer if you want a mono. But if you want a mono 59 with a big neck, you better have some real patience. It’s pretty close to a Holy Grail. Oh, and a mono 59 big neck stop tail? I’m speculating here but I think there may have been three of them made. I know of one. If you happen to have the other two, I’ll take both of them please.

This is the only stop tail 355 I've had. It's a 59 in the A314xx range. Nice guitar for sure but the neck was decidedly medium/thin.

This is the only stop tail 355 I’ve had. It’s a 59 in the A314xx range. Nice guitar for sure but the neck was decidedly medium/thin.

 

Why Would Anyone Do That?

July 8th, 2014 • ES 330, ES 335, ES 345, ES 3552 Comments »
Yikes. Why would anyone do this? Because it was 1972 and this was just a ten year old guitar back then and the owner wanted a cutout and a phase switch. Knock off two or three thousand bucks for each hole.

Yikes. Why would anyone do this? Because it was 1972 and this was just a ten year old guitar back then and the owner wanted a cutout and a phase switch. Knock off two or three thousand bucks for each hole.

How many times have you asked that very question when examining a vintage guitar (or amp)? Somebody puts in mini-switches or spray paints the back of the headstock black or cuts a big hole in the back? The issue is, of course, issues (do I sound like an existentialist?). After decades of ownership (and many owners), most vintage guitars are going to have an issue. Tuner changes are probably the most common on ES’s but there are plenty of others. But issues like that are quantifiable. You know why they were done and they really aren’t hiding anything. You put Grovers on because the Klusons kind of sucked, although your tuning problem was probably not the tuners at all but the nut. Same with ill advised mods like adding a coil tap or putting in DiMarzios. Someone thought they were improving the guitar. That’s all 20/20 hindsight. Who knew back in the day that these old guitars would actually be worth this much money decades later? But what about the issues that don’t make much sense? You know, the ones that seem to be hiding something. I had a refinished 62 335 that had a piece of veneer over the back of the headstock. The guy who did it said it was to cover tuner holes from Grovers. The guy who bought it from me insisted it must be covering a headstock break-which, by the way, it wasn’t. I recently sold a 59 with a nickel sized spot of overspray at the top of the back of the headstock. Why would anyone do that? Maybe he smacked the headstock into a cymbal stand back in 1976 and took a chip out of it. Maybe he set the guitar down and the headstock was in the ashtray and got burned by a cigarette (which is what I think). Sometimes it’s just impossible to know why a repair or mod was done. These are the ones that worry most buyers and rightly so. They worry me a lot less because every issue gets priced in if I’m a buyer or a seller. The point here is that if the issue raises questions, then it’s really hard to quantify when pricing a guitar. If the issue is straightforward and clear, then it’s easier.

What about the ones with the ones with the little “2″ on the headstock? They don’t come with a factory explanation as to why they got the “2″. They often have some factory overspray to cover a finish flaw but it could be something else. There is a theory that the “2″ meant it went through some part of the manufacturing process twice (like finishing) to correct a flaw and that these aren’t “factory seconds” at all- just guitars that needed a second pass to be made right. Does that count as a repair and therefore a diminished value if it left the factory that way? I would say yes but it really depends on what was done. I’m sure more than one 335 left the factory with a twisted neck but it’s still a dealbreaker issue to me. Another (like that cool 59 I had with the deep, dark sunburst) may have left the factory with a partial factory respray done before the guitar was ever sold. Not a dealbreaker at all but I did discount the guitar pretty substantially even though it blacklighted perfectly. The 330 I have with the factory red paint in the f-holes (likely used for a black and white photo shoot) is actually kind of cool and doesn’t diminish the value at all, IMO.

Clearly, a case by case approach is the best way to deal with the issue of issues. I get asked to assign a value to various issues all the time but I prefer to take the guitar as a whole and evaluate it. Certain issues bother people more than others even though they may make no difference at all to the playability, tone or appearance. It’s pretty subjective, so you, as a buyer, should take the same “whole guitar” approach. If Bigsby holes in the top drive you nuts, stay away from those but if you can handle a big cut out in the back of the body (which is my number one dealbreaker mod), then you can save a lot of money and get a vintage ES that will play and sound as good as one that has no issues at all.

This 59 most likely left the factory like this because somebody messed up the sunburst and had to respray it. It blacklighted perfectly and had the little "2" above the serial number. It was one of the best 335's I've ever owned and went for perhaps 20-25% less than it would have had it been perfect when it left the factory. If I could have proved beyond any doubt that it was factory original, it would have sold for more. Unfortunately, they don't come with an explanation.

This 59 most likely left the factory like this because somebody messed up the sunburst and had to respray it. It blacklighted perfectly and had the little “2″ above the serial number. It was one of the best 335′s I’ve ever owned and went for perhaps 20-25% less than it would have had it been perfect when it left the factory. If I could have proved beyond any doubt that it was factory original, it would have sold for more. Unfortunately, they don’t come with an explanation.

Royal Olive (hint: it’s a color)

July 1st, 2014 • ES 33010 Comments »
Royal Olive sunburst, Not the most attractive finish concept from the Kalamazoo folks. But rare? On a Casino, you bet.

Royal Olive sunburst, Not the most attractive finish concept from the Kalamazoo folks. But rare? On a Casino, you bet.

Here it is without that pesky hangtag in the way. This ones a bit faded. It's even uglier when it isn't.

Here it is without that pesky hangtag in the way. This ones a bit faded. It’s even uglier when it isn’t.

 

I don’t always give Gibson/Kalamazoo era Epiphones enough coverage here. They are great guitars and I’ve mentioned how much I love my 59 Sheraton. Recently, I acquired a pretty rare one. It’s a 61 Epiphone Casino. That’s the first year they made them and that’s pretty rare to begin with. Casinos had their own color scheme at the beginning. Most of them were a color called “Royal Tan” which was, essentially, a washed out sunburst. Neither Royal nor tan. But these early Casinos are somewhat different from the “Beatle” Casinos that get all the attention. The headstock was different for the first few years-it was shorter and more Gibson like than the long headstock associated with Epis from ’63 on. Paul’s had the short headstock but John and Georges had the long one. A lot of the features follow a similar timeline as the Gibson 330 which is nearly the same guitar. The inlays on the early ones were dots but they switched to little parallelograms at some point in 62 at around the same time the 330 went to blocks. The pickups went from having black covers to having nickel ones during 63.  Ok, so I got a 61 and there aren’t very many of them. But this one is different from any 61 I’ve ever seen. There was another color in the Epiphone/Gibson palette called “Royal Olive.” Not exactly Royal, but definitely olive. This is a green to yellow sunburst that is pretty strange-a kind of so ugly it’s attractive vibe. Royal Olive Epiphones are not that rare in the Sorrento model (single cut-one or two mini hums-thin body). But this is the first Royal Olive Casino I’ve run across. Sunbursts tend to fade over the years and it would have been easy to have just considered this one an oddly faded sunburst but it is quite distinctly green. As some of you may know, the back of a 330 and Casino sunburst is solid brown. This one is solid brownish green (not sure what they were thinking here). The previous owner wasn’t even aware that the guitar was Royal Olive-he described it as sunburst. But he had the hangtag and it said “Special” with the letters RO written next to it. I pointed this out, of course and arranged to buy it. I won’t say it’s the only one-they made a few hundred Casinos in 61 and I’m sure a few exist in this color. The 61 catalog offers the Casino in Royal Tan or “shaded” finishes. I assume the shaded was a more conventional sunburst while the Sorrento was offered in RO. The 62 catalog touted RO as a “striking new color” but, again, only on the Sorrento. The 62 catalog also shows the Casino with nickel pickup covers and parallelogram inlays. I guess they had a lot of dots and black covers to use up  because just about all of the 62′s I’ve seen have the 61 features. casinos, like 330′s are wonderful old guitars but they have their limitations. They will howl like an impaled werewolf at high volume and the upper fret access isn’t quite like a 335. But, at civilized volumes or just sitting on the couch, they are great. I love the rarities and the oddball colors but any Casino is worth owning. They tend to command a “Beatle” premium which is kind of strange because some iconic Beatle guitars don’t. Country Gents and Tennesseans are downright cheap. Hofner basses aren’t all that pricey either. SG’s are up there but probably not because George played one. And I think the little Ricky 325′s are as high as they are because they are so rare. But a 60′s Casino? That relatively big number (compared to most other Epiphones from the era) is The Fab Four talking.

According to the catalog, Royal Olive wasn't an option. Nor was a trapeze tailpiece. Also the text says shell guard and it's clearly white. Didn't they have proofreaders in 61?

According to the catalog, Royal Olive wasn’t an option. Nor was a trapeze tailpiece. Also the text says shell guard and it’s clearly white. Didn’t they have proofreaders in 61?

Iconic photo of John with the "stripped" Casino on the Apple rooftop.

Iconic photo of John with the “stripped” Casino on the Apple rooftop.

Old Means Old.

June 26th, 2014 • Uncategorized4 Comments »
Great old 61 but it was in pretty tough shape. The buyer was aware of the flaws and the price reflected them. Happy buyer. Happy seller. Ain't life grand?

Great old 61 but it was in pretty tough shape. The buyer was aware of the flaws and the price reflected them. Happy buyer. Happy seller. Ain’t life grand?

I am not a ranter by nature. This doesn’t quite qualify as a rant either but I’m getting dangerously close. I’m older than any ES-335 out there and I’ve had my share of bumps and bruises over the decades. That, folks, is going to be true of any musical instrument that is fifty or more years old. Of the 400 or so ES models I’ve sold over the past few years, I think there is only one or two that could truly be called “no issue” guitars. Surviving fifty plus years completely unscathed is completely against the odds. I bought a 62 ES-335 that had been in a closet-untouched for 47 years. The finish was checked because the closet wasn’t heated and the neck needed a lot of work to undo 47 years of gravity (the guitar was on its back on the floor). I’ve also bought guitars that were played every day for fifty years that had fewer issues than the one that sat in its case. Fortunately, most vintage buyers understand that the guitar they are spending so much of their hard earned money on has been around for awhile and the forces of nature, along with the forces of guitar players (and their whims) can wreak havoc on them. But there’s big havoc and little havoc. I had a 59 with a touched up cigarette burn on the back of the headstock that I felt was a non issue. The buyer disagreed. End of sale. Funny, but on a Stratocaster or an amp, that’s almost a badge of honor.

Of course, a guitar with issues is going to be less money than a guitar without issues. But the expectation that a $30000+ fifty five year old guitar is going to be perfect is a bit naive. I have never used the term “dead mint” when describing a guitar more than ten years old. There may be a few out there but i’ve never had one. I had a 60 ES-345 that was truly a no issue guitar but it had a little ding in the headstock. Is a ding an issue? Well, if I call it “dead mint” it sure as hell is. I can’t control the other sellers (the individuals are much worse than the  dealers in this regard) who use the term “mint”: so loosely. I can only try to describe my guitars as accurately as possible. That means long, boring descriptions but it also means no guitars coming back because the buyer saw something that I may have thought to be typical wear and tear. I recently sold a 59 ES-335 to a buyer who asked for the most complete description I could give him and I think that was sensible. I counted every ding and described every possible element that may have caused the buyer to question the condition. This can be taken to the extreme but I think it’s in the best interest of the buyer to do just that. “The pull ribbon inside the case is wrinkled and frayed.” Too much information? Maybe, but I had a buyer ask for compensation because the spring on a case latch was broken. But that’s an old ploy. Find something undisclosed, no matter how trivial and turn it into a reason for a partial refund. How much does a broken spring latch diminish the value of a guitar? Beats me but it can’t be much. “Knock off a hundred bucks” was the request. “Send the guitar back” was the response.

Sure, if you find an incorrect part, you are entitled to the right one or a partial refund. I try not miss stuff like that. The whole point is that there can be 100 different little issues and I can mention them all in a listing but you probably won’t read it. That’s what the condition scale is for. If I call a guitar a “9″, then it’s going to have a few dings and maybe a scratch or two. Maybe even a cigarette burn. If it’s an “8″, then there will be player wear and perhaps a veneer crack in the top (although I would probably mention that).  Most buyers are really happy with their purchases. My goal is to make everybody happy. If that means a little extra reading on your part, then so be it.

On another subject, OK Guitars will open it’s brick and mortar shop tomorrow June 27th in Kent CT (the motorcycle capital of New England). It’s a 11 Railroad Street in “the caboose”. I’m open Friday through Sunday. Other days, if I’m there (and I probably will be but call if you’re coming a long way), then I’m open.

OK Guitars opens in Kent CT June 27th. Cool guitars, cool spot. C'mon by and play.

OK Guitars opens in Kent CT June 27th. Cool guitars, cool spot. C’mon by and play.

First Class/Third Class

June 10th, 2014 • Gibson General18 Comments »
For $500 and change, this looks pretty good. OK, the sunburst is way off but whaddya want for $500?

For $500 and change, this looks pretty good. OK, the sunburst is way off but whaddya want for $500?

Noel Coward (yes, that Noel Coward) once said: “I’ll go through life either first class to third but never in second.” There’s a certain wisdom to that and I have adhered to the notion for a very long time. when I travel, I either stay in the best hotel in town or I stay somewhere really cheap. Dinner? Four stars or the local diner. There is a logic that is inherent to the concept. If you get the best and pay the price for it, you know you are getting the best. You are also, generally getting what you pay for. Whether it’s the best service, the best food, the best guitar or the best car. By going third class, you also know that you are getting what you pay for. Bottom dollar equals bottom quality but at least you know what you are paying for and hopefully it isn’t much. Second class is trouble because it’s trying to be first class but it fails. It costs more than third class and often turns out to be just as bad. Second class is never first class. That’s why they call it second class.

Of course, I’m going to apply this logic to ES-335s and the like ‘cuz that’s what I do. A first class 335 is pretty easy to quantify. It’s not just a 59 dot neck either. A 65 is a first class guitar too, especially an early one. So’s a good 68. So, what’s a second class 335? There are plenty of them and, unless I want to make a ton of enemies, I’m not going to list the ones I think are second class. There are a lot of them. But third class…third class gets real interesting. There are plenty of players who really want a 335 and I can’t blame them. One of the reasons I’m so fond of them is because when I was a kid, I couldn’t afford one. All through high school, I wanted one but they were way out of reach (they cost almost double what a Strat cost back then). In the 70′s, I was in college and played mostly acoustic and didn’t like the new ones anyway. By the 80′s, I could afford to buy one but wasn’t playing much so I didn’t. There were no cheaper alternatives back then. As far as I know, nobody made a cheaper version of a 335 until the Japanese manufacturers started to copy the American makers. Now, there are some first class Japanese guitars out there-I’ve played Japanese Strats and Teles and Orvilles and even the Clapton 335 supposedly had the bodies shipped here from Japan (no wonder they got it right). So, where’s my third class 335?

Not the neatest joinery I've ever seen but there is a neck tenon in there and everything is pretty solid.

Not the neatest joinery I’ve ever seen but there is a neck tenon in there and everything is pretty solid.

Recently, I picked up a Chinese made Epiphone Sheraton. Cost around $500 brand new without the case. Don’t get me started on selling guitars without the case included-it gets ugly. Let’s take a closer look. Fit and finish looks pretty good, overall. The sunburst is a little funky but it’s well executed. No runs, drips or errors. The bindings are tight and properly scraped. taking a look inside, you start to see where the corners are cut, however. There’s no kerfing between the top and sides or the back and sides. There’s also no glue showing anywhere. I’m not sure how strong a bond there is without the kerfing but it seems pretty solid. Let’s look in the neck pickup rout and see if there’s a tenon in there. Good news. There is what most would call a “transitional” tenon. That’s not quite as long as a long tenon like you would see from 58-early 69 but not as small as a 69-81. It’s pretty solid though and while the work in there is a little sloppy, the work in the mid to late 60′s can be pretty sloppy too. The fingerboard wood looks kind of cheap but the functionality is there. The fret work is pretty good too. I don’t like the fret ends over the binding but that’s mostly a matter of taste. The ends are well finished. I’m pretty impressed with the inlays. Maybe the Chinese have a special skill in that area because it’s really clean looking and a Sheraton has some pretty fancy inlay in the headstock. It’s probably plastic but there appears to be some abalone in there too-just like my 59 Sheraton. Well, sort of like. Let’s plug this bad boy in and see what it sounds like.

OK, through my little ’54 Supro which is about as clean as Pigpen, it sounds pretty decent. I put it up nest to a 2003 LP R9 I have here and it holds up pretty well. The Epi isn’t as fat sounding as the LP but a couple hundred bucks for a set of Seymour Duncan’s or similar will take care of that. Intonation was as good as most modern Gibsons. Sustain was just OK. Where I think the Epi falls down is that it isn’t terribly articulate or complex. Again, the electronics may have something to do with that but also, the guitar sounds more like a solid body than a semi. Unplugged, it is really quiet with almost no acoustic resonance at all. That could be a function of the construction or the wood or even the newness but the guitar doesn’t sound as much like a 335 as it does a solid like a LP. Not a bad thing unless you really want that kind of woody, airy 335 thing. Then maybe its time for an upgrade to first class.

This inlay is so neat I think it might be done by a computer or a laser or something. Is that real MOP and abalone? Beats me.

This inlay is so neat I think it might be done by a computer or a laser or something. Is that real MOP and abalone? Beats me.

It Takes a Train…

June 1st, 2014 • Uncategorized9 Comments »
This will be the new home of OK Guitars-at "The Caboose" in Kent, CT. I will be open weekends starting June 15th and during the week by appointment for now.

This will be the new home of OK Guitars-at “The Caboose” in Kent, CT. I will be open weekends starting June 15th and during the week by appointment for now.

Everybody said “don’t do it.” Everybody said “you’ll be sorry.” Everybody said “you’ll have no life.” Everybody is probably right. So I went ahead and did it anyway. As of around June 15th, there will be an actual OK Guitars shop that you can come to and play all of the great guitars that you see on my site. The location of OK Guitars is 11 Railroad Street in Kent, CT better known as “The Caboose.” Yep. OK Guitars is in a caboose. On a railroad track. When you think about it, how many types of businesses could actually work in a railroad car? Fortunately, guitars are pretty thin so a narrow space works just fine. The shop will be open on weekends for the Summer – Friday/Saturday/Sunday and by appointment any other time so if you happen to be driving up Rt 7 in Western CT and you want to come by, just give a call or drive the 50 yards or so off the main road and see if I’m there. If I’m there, I’m open. I’ll post my hours on the site once I figure them out. I’ll be keeping it small and still concentrating on the ES models from the Golden Era but I’ll be expanding a bit into other guitars from the 50′s and 60′s. A Strat here, a Tele there, maybe a Rickenbacker or a Mosrite might show up. That’s nothing new, really-I’ve had a few of each most of the time. The internet business will continue unchanged, of course. One of the reasons for taking this unlikely step is that it’s very hard to buy a guitar without playing it first. If you’re anywhere near New York, it’s a real nice day trip out into the country. If you’re driving, figure on 90 minutes to two hours depending on traffic. There is a train (Wingdale Station on the Harlem Line) that’ll get you close-then a 15 minute cab ride. Granted, I don’t expect my California or European clients to make a 3000 mile trip every time they are interested in a guitar but I think if you’re going to spend some serious money on a dot neck, you might be wise to make the trip and try a few. And besides, it’ll be fun. The Litchfield Hills (where Kent is) is a beautiful place. The Housatonic River runs through it as does the Appalachian Trail. There’s kayaking and hiking and Kent Falls and lots of guys on motorcycles. I’m looking at it as a grand adventure. So, c’mon down to “The Caboose” in beautiful Kent, CT. Play a few guitars, make some music, find out that I write better than I play-you know, fun stuff. Then go out for a hike. You could use the exercise and the fresh air will do you good. Just like your Mom always told you.

Kent Falls is right up the road.

Kent Falls is right up the road.

ES-335, 2013 Style

May 26th, 2014 • ES 33515 Comments »
A very recent (2013) '63 Anniversary ES-335 reissue. Close. Real close. But those ears. C'mon, really, that's the best you can do?

A very recent (2013) ’63 Anniversary ES-335 reissue.
Close. Real close. But those ears. C’mon, really, that’s the best you can do?

First off, sorry for the recent radio silence-I’ve been renovating and moving into my new (actually really, really old) house here in beautiful Litchfield County, Connecticut and haven’t had much time to write. My apologies. It’ll get back to the usual 5 or 6 posts a month pretty soon. Today, I thought I would write about something that I keep getting emails about–folks seem to want my opinion of the newest Gibsons. I usually respond that I haven’t played them and that I’m really a vintage guy. But I wrote about the “Nashville” Custom shop models a while back when I got a couple in trade. Now I have a ’63 50th Anniversary 335 from the Memphis facility that a lot of folks are saying good things about. It is a 2013 (50 years from 1963 but you knew that). There are things I like and things I don’t like. First and most important is how does it play and how does it sound? The good news is that it feels like the real thing. The neck profile is fairly close, the feel of the finish is right (this is more important than you think) and the frets feel decent as well-a little on the high side but the guitar isn’t 50 years old yet. The frets will have plenty of time to get low. My big gripe about new Gibsons is that they don’t ring out and sustain very well. That could be an age factor-new wood isn’t as dry as old wood and old wood seems to be more acoustically active. More resonant, if you prefer. On the other hand, the quality of the woods might have been better back in the day but, hey, it’s a plywood guitar. How much difference is it going to make. Well, actually, it could make a pretty big difference because so much of the tone comes from the center block and the neck. In the past, these guitars felt kind of heavy and that may also have been related to the wood. Most 50′s and early 60′s 335′s weigh in around or slightly below 7.5 lbs. Some hit 8 lbs but most don’t. Don’t count 345′s and 355′s-Bigsby’s and Varitone chokes are heavy. The ’63 Anniversary I have in my hands weighs 7 lbs 6 ounces which is what it should weigh and  very comfortable for an old dude like me. This guitar sounds pretty darn good too. Lots of bite in the bridge pickup (a Burstbucker) and no mud in the neck (also a Burstbucker). Nicely balance and the middle three way position doesn’t sound almost exactly like the bridge pickup which I’ve found in a lot of modern 335s-it’s actually a pretty useful tone.

So what don’t I like? Well, it sure doesn’t look like a 63. They made the ears pointy but they are way wrong. There was a later iteration of the pointy ears that you saw in 67 and on a lot of Trini’s. Some folks call them “fox ears”. They are short and pointy and kind of stumpy looking. That’s more what these look like. It’s strange that Gibson got the Clapton reissue almost dead on and they couldn’t nail this one. The rumor is that the Clapton bodies were made in Japan where they know how to copy stuff. Next, the neck heel is way too big-how tough would it be to get this right? Really. The knobs are way off and the pickup covers are too. These are easy to change if you’re so inclined but, again, you’d think they could source accurate parts. I can source accurate parts, so I don’t see why Gibson can’t. Lots of great repro stuff out there. For some reason the three way switch tip is black and the owner of this guitar insists that’s how it came from the Gibson dealer. And how about correct vintage length stop tail studs? These are the short ones. I hear the Nashville ones that you pay a couple thousand more for have the long ones. I haven’t checked recently. They’ve finally gotten the bindings better but the headstock inlay (the crown/flowerpot) is a bit odd. These are kind of nitpicks I suppose but it would be so easy to fix them. Fit and finish, by the way, are excellent. I had a Memphis “fat neck” back in 2009, I think, that looked like it was routed with a chain saw. These new ones are smooth and clean inside. Nicely done. The important thing is that they are sounding and playing pretty well and if they can keep the price from going up every year, they just might make sense for a lot of buyers who were hoping to find vintage in that $3000 range. Myself, I’d still take an 81-85 over this guitar but not because they sound any better. Only ‘cuz they’re old and I like old.

This is a real one. Do those ears look the same to you? They sure don't to me. These are longer and they stand up straighter. And the knobs. How tough can it be to copy the real ones??

This is a real one. Do those ears look the same to you? They sure don’t to me. These are longer and they stand up straighter. And the knobs. How tough can it be to copy the real ones??