GIBSON ES-335 ES-345 ES-355
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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 33514 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??

ES-335 Neck Woes

May 15th, 2014 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 35510 Comments »
This was kind of a beater to begin with but you can see what happens when the board is planed and the binding is planed with it. The dots wind up at the top of the binding.

This ’64 was kind of a beater to begin with but you can see what happens when the board is planed and the binding is planed with it. The dots wind up at the top of the binding.

Don’t freak out.  The neck on your vintage Gibson may change shape on its own. I think the thing vintage buyers worry about most is the neck-especially on set neck guitars like 335s. Wood is not a particularly stable material. It expands and contracts with the weather, it is certainly subject to the forces of gravity and it breaks when stressed. The lack of stability can also be a good thing, I suppose.  But, as I’ve mentioned about a zillion times in the past, 50 or 60 years is a very long time and bad stuff can happen. The heat goes out while you’re off skiing in Kitzbühel and your guitars are at home. Or maybe somebody forgets to take the guitar out of the back of the car after an overly arduous gig in July and remembers the next afternoon when he’s finally over that hangover. And it’s 200 degrees in there because it’s Phoenix in July. Fifty years is 19,150 days. It only takes one day of bad luck to mess up the neck on a vintage guitar.  That good thing about wood being unstable? You can fix almost anything that happens to a guitar neck. Sometimes it’s just a truss rod adjustment. Sometimes a fret level will do it. More severe issues require more severe (and invasive) procedures but there is almost always a way to fix it. As a dealer, I try to avoid guitars with neck issues. I’ve written about some of the troubles I’ve had with 61′s and truss rod cracks and back bows. The less wood there is in the neck, the less stable it’s going to be. But what happens to the value of the guitar when neck work is required? Well, an unplayable guitar isn’t going to make anyone happy, so from the get go, any improvement will be, uh, an improvement. A wise man once told me that you play the frets and not the fretboard so that if the frets are level, a bit of unevenness in the fingerboard won’t be a problem. The “off ramp” problem where the fingerboard rises a bit where it meets the body is usually taken care of with a simple fret level. A rise in the middle of the fingerboard can sometimes be adjusted out using the truss but it depends largely on where the hump is. The truss seems to do the most toward the middle of the neck-simple physics tells me that. A hump in the lower frets can be tricky. Sometimes a fret level will fix that too. Some luthiers (and I stress, I’m not a luthier) have had success with steaming the neck and, essentially, bending it back into straightness. Seems kind of scary to me but I know of folks who swear by the process. Another approach that is used frequently and is very effective is reshaping the neck by sanding or planing. The problem with this procedure is that most luthiers sand or plane the fingerboard and the bindings until the hump or dip is gone. It works but it can be very obvious-worst case, I suppose, is when the bindings get so thin that the side markers end up at the top of the binding instead of in the middle where they belong. I suppose, from a non luthier’s point of view, it would make more sense to remove both the binding and the fingerboard and plane the neck itself. I’m guessing that doing that would have its own set of consequences. The piece of mahogany that is the neck doesn’t know that its warped or bent or twisted. Its simply taking on a shape that is dictated by the conditions to which it is subjected. Once returned to its straight and true shape, it should be fine for another fifty years. What I really need to stress is that most vintage Gibsons don’t have perfect necks. In fact, based on my experience, about 20% of them have perfect necks. Perhaps another 75% have necks that function perfectly but have some small issue that won’t affect playability for most players. A buzz at the 21st fret won’t bother someone who never plays up there. These issues simply come with the territory. While I try to disclose each and every quirk or hump or dip or high fret or low fret in every guitar I sell, sometimes I simply don’t notice it. I rely more on my ears than my eyes. If the guitar plays well and doesn’t buzz or fret out, then I don’t worry too much about whether its dead straight because the likelihood is that it isn’t. I might mention that it will play better with a bit of relief-so it shouldn’t be dead straight to begin with. I also might reiterate that it’s fixable.

This 61 dot neck had terrible neck issues including a break so drastic action was taken and the result was brilliant. The luthier made a new neck using the original board, dot markers and truss rod. Only the neck itself was changed. It was a $4000 repair but a big 59 sized neck was installed and the guitar was pretty amazing. There are no lost causes.

This 61 dot neck had terrible neck issues including a break so drastic action was taken and the result was brilliant. The luthier made a new neck using the original board, dot markers and truss rod. Only the neck itself was changed. It was a $4000 repair but a big 59 sized neck was installed and the guitar was pretty amazing. There are no lost causes.

Sloppy Paint

May 8th, 2014 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 3555 Comments »
Nice TDN but not the neatest paint around the f-holes. It's really common on early 335's.

Nice TDN but not the neatest paint around the f-holes. It’s really common on early 335′s.

Didja ever notice how crappy the paint around the f-holes is on a 335? Particularly on the early ones? There’s a reason for this and it isn’t because everybody’s hung over on certain days, although I’m sure there was some bad paint that could be attributed to that particularly common malady. If you look at an early 335 with the bridge pickup out of it, you will see that there is no cut in the center block to facilitate the installation of the harness. Stereo guitars and most mono 355′s have a big chunk cut out of the center block which makes the harness go in relatively easily. Note, I said relatively. It still isn’t easy to get that Varitone  switch into place nor is it easy with those big shielding cans over the pots. Don’t try this at home if you can possibly help it. The reason that so many early 335s have crappy paint around the f-holes is because the folks who installed the harnesses had to stuff them in through the f-holes. I’ve done it dozens of times and while there is a trick to doing it cleanly, it is still a somewhat fiddly procedure. So, what happens is the paint gets scraped off the edges of the f-holes by the harness installation people. On a sunburst, you’ll see that the paint around the f-holes is a medium brown. The red 335′s get a fairly well matched red and the blondes get white. I’m told that the harness ladies (it was mostly women-I don’t know why although I could wager a sexist guess) kept a pot of paint (to two or three) at their station for the express purpose of touching up the scrapes and abrasions caused by this process. But that’s not the whole story because there are 345′s with terribly sloppy paint too and no harnesses went through the f-holes. I don’t have a logical reason for this and would appreciate any insight anyone might have. The photo at the bottom of the post is one of the worst I’ve seen. Note that the paint on that one is black. That’s because it isn’t your usual sunburst. It’s called Argentine Grey.

The 335′s eventually got the cutout in the center block and the problem largely went away but the f-hole edges continued to have the same slightly off color paint around the f-holes. Strangely, the cutout was an unusually long transitional element for Gibson. The earliest 335 I’ve seen with the cutout was a 61 but for those of you who remember the stop tail ’65 I called “The Mexican” (because I bought it from a guy in Guadalajara), it had an uncut block. That’s a four year transition which seems kind of long. By early 65, all of the 335′s had the cut block. I’ve had folks question the originality of the finish on a guitar because the paint around the f-holes looked so amateurish. Don’t. The harness ladies were paid to stuff harnesses into guitars, not paint them. They were probably paid somewhere around the minimum wage to do a job that none of us guys would want. Go ahead, try stuffing a harness in through the f-holes. And don’t do it on a 68 or later-the f-holes are bigger. And make sure you have a pot of paint available.

Not the neatest paint job. Oddly, it is a 345 and it's sloppy on both f-holes. This proves my theory half wrong.

Not the cleanest paint job. Oddly, it is a 345 and it’s sloppy on both f-holes. This proves my theory half wrong. That’s an Argentine Grey 345.

Leftovers

April 27th, 2014 • ES 3554 Comments »
From here, this looks like a typical 65 ES-355 mono. But it isn't.

From here, this looks like a typical 65 ES-355 mono. But it isn’t.

Everybody knows the urban myth that ’68 Les Pauls were supposedly made from leftover bodies from the 50′s and most of us know that it isn’t actually true. But there are guitars that don’t seem to reflect the year in which they were shipped. It’s actually easy to identify these “leftovers” up until 1961 because the guitars were stamped with a factory order number when the guitar’s build was initiated. A good example of this is the 62 block neck I had not long ago with a 1960 FON. It had a number of earlier characteristics that would have indicated it was a leftover even if it didn’t have an FON to prove it. The body depth was thinner (like an early dot neck) and the neck angle was very shallow. It also had a finish flaw that added some credibility to the leftover concept. One could assume it was somewhat poorly painted (which it was) and was put aside and used either when needed like when someone ordered a solid color and it could be painted over or when they had more orders than they had bodies ready. Once Gibson discontinued FON’s, it gets a little trickier. That’s where knowing the features of the various years becomes valuable.

My example is a ’65 ES-355 mono. The serial number is relatively early in the year, perhaps February or maybe March but the guitar presents itself as a 64, judging by its features. But didn’t early 65′s have a lot of 64 features anyway? We all know about big neck 65′s-some even with stop tails and nickel parts. But this is a little different. By 1965, a 335 is a very high volume guitar for Gibson. Not as high as a Melody Maker but still, a lot higher than a 355. In ’64, approximately 1250 ES-335′s were shipped. Only 54 1964 ES-355 monos exist though. So, finding a 65 with 64 features doesn’t seem far fetched at all since Gibson’s bean counters must have anticipated a few more sales than that. In fact, in the entire ES semi hollow line, the only guitar to decline in sales from 64 to 65 was the ES-355 mono. So a ’65 ES-355 walks in the door. It’s pretty close to mint, the gold is near perfect and I groan when I see the Maestro but it’s a 355 mono and that’s a guitar I always sit up and pay attention to. And besides, they can still play well with a Maestro-they just look wrong to my eye and the string break angle can be a problem if you don’t set it up properly. As soon as I grab hold of the neck, I know this isn’t the typical 65. It’s pretty darn big. Full 1 11/16″ nut and a good .83″ at the first fret. That’s 64 335 territory. Like the other guitars in the line, the very thin necks of 60 -63 were beefed up in 64 and the 355 was no different. It’s just that 64′s are so rare, you never see them. In fact ES-355′s took on a slim profile as early as mid 59, so finding any big neck 355 is a rare thing. The typical early 60′s ES-355 is more like .79″ or even .78″ at the first fret.

A few other things changed in ’65 and they don’t show up on this one which leads me to believe it was built in 64 and wasn’t just a leftover body. It has the very boxy and shallow depth pickup covers-like a PAF cover where the edges are very squared off. It has a wide bevel truss rod cover which says “Custom” on it. The truss cover leads me another possible explanation. Was this a custom order? Gibson would do almost anything you asked them to do in this era. If I called up and asked for a mono ES-355 with a bigger than normal neck profile, they would build it for me. It is a possibility.  But it all goes to the nature of Gibson in the 50′s and 60′s… unlike General Motors or Ford, product changes were not made on a calendar basis in most cases at Gibson. And changes in parts were not made on a given day. Everything was transitions over time. But given the odd history of the 355 mono, this one probably is, in fact, a 64 leftover. And a pretty nice one too and I don’t generally like leftovers-just ask my wife.