GIBSON ES-335 ES-345 ES-355
RSS

PAF Theory

March 14th, 2019 • Gibson General7 Comments »

The $1000 sticker. make sure it looks like this or you’re getting ripped off. There is something unusual about the bottom PAF. Anybody see it?

PAF. P-A-F. Call it what you like but it conjures up visions (or the audio equivalent of a vision whatever that is) of legendary rock and blues tones. I don’t think there is anything that shares the legendary status of this pretty simple piece of electronics. Folks have taken to calling anything with a sticker a PAF and, of course, that’s not really accurate. A PAF says “Patent Applied For” on the back. Otherwise-even if everything else is exactly the same, it ain’t a PAF unless it’s got a stainless steel cover and is from 1957. It’s understandable. After all, an early patent number pickup is identical but for the sticker. I’ve written about the “thousand dollar sticker” before, so that’s not what this is about. I want to put out a theory about some early PAFs.

There are, essentially, four versions of the PAF pickup. The early PAF was made in 1956 and fitted in some steel guitars. It had a stainless steel cover and no sticker. By 57, it was being used in a few “spanish” models-the Les Paul, the ES-175 and various other arch tops. By the end of 57, it had acquired the usual nickel plated cover and the very coveted PAF sticker. The next version showed up around the middle of 59 and was identical except that one or two of the bobbins were white instead of black. The reason for this has generally been acknowledged to be a temporary shortage of the black plastic used to make the bobbins. It wouldn’t matter, thought the brass at Gibson-nobody will ever see the bobbins anyway and even if they did, nobody would care whether they were white or black. A less true statement has never been made. Before I get into the white bobbin theory, I’ll mention the last version of the PAF. Versions one (no sticker), two (black bobbin with sticker) and three (white bobbin(s)) all had what we refer to as a “long magnet” which was usually an Alnico 2 (or 4) that measured roughly 2.5″. The last version was an Alnico 5 and measure 2.25″. Alnico 5’s are stronger, so the shorter magnet was, essentially, the equivalent of the weaker long magnet. This final version showed up in 1961 and lasted until around 64 in the nickel version and was generally gone around the same time in the gold version but the gold ones pop up occasionally in 65 and, so I’m told, as late as 67. I’ve never seen one after 65 but I’m sure someone has.

So, there are 4 versions of the PAF. The sound of a PAF is not consistent. The winding was done by machine but there was no stop or counter on the machine. They simply wound them until they appeared full. This was around 5000 turns and got you a pickup with a DC resistance in the range of 7K to 8K. There were a few with higher DCR’s and some with lower DCRs. Doing stuff by hand will always give you some variation.

Everyone agrees that white bobbin (and zebra bobbin) PAFs are more desirable and folks always say, with a chuckle, that the white ones sound better. Rational folks know that the color of the bobbin can’t possibly make a difference in the tone, right? Well, yes, except that, in a somewhat indirect way, it actually does. Really. I’m not nuts. Here’s the theory. First off, I happen to think pickups with a somewhat higher DCR sound better to my ear. In my player 345, I have a 8.75K double white in the neck and a 8.4K reverse zebra in the bridge. That’s backwards from what folks do-most folks want the higher DCR in the bridge. But that’s not the point. I’ve tested perhaps 80-90 double white PAFs over the years and nearly all of them have higher than average DCR’s. Why is this? Well, clearly, it isn’t caused by the white bobbins-the bobbins are electronically inert. But it is caused by the white bobbins. Need an explanation? I thought so.

The windings in a PAF are enamel coated copper wire and are a very dark brown or purplish brown. Against a black bobbin, the wire is very hard to see. So, if you are winding a pickup using a black bobbin and you don’t want to put on too many windings because if you do, they will fall off the sides and you’ll have to either start over or trim some wire off. That will slow you down and I’m guessing the winders had a daily quota to fill. So, I’m certain that they erred on the side of caution and left a pretty fair amount of room on the bobbins resulting in the 7K to 8K DCRs. DCR is directly related to the number of winds. But if they are winding the pickup on a white bobbin, the dark colored wire is very easy to see and you can add hundreds of additional windings to the white bobbin and still clearly see that the wire isn’t going to “overflow” the bobbin. That results in the higher DCR’s that are very common on white PAFs.

So, do white PAFs sound better than black ones? They often do if you like “hotter” pickups. Is it worth an extra $4000 per pickup? That’s your call. A black bobbin PAF will cost you from $2000-$2800 in today’s somewhat inflated market. A double white will cost you at least $5000 and as much as $6000. I’ve seen them listed as high as $7000 but I don’t think they sell at that price. Zebras and reverse zebras are somewhere in between, although reverse zebras are crazy rare (I’ve seen 6 ever).

I love it when somebody lists a vintage guitar and says that the pickups COULD be double white or zebra. Right. Like they didn’t check. Ask them and they’ll say, “the covers have never been off so I can’t tell”. Ever hear of a screwdriver? If you want to know, you can also tun the pickup over and take out the bobbin screws-that way you can see each bobbin. It’s a small hole and it’s dark in there but shine a bright light and you’ll see the white. 

 

Life Changing Moment.

February 10th, 2019 • Uncategorized14 Comments »

I was eleven. Eleven and a half, to be precise. The rule in my parents house was no TV in the living room, so the big old black and white Zenith was in the basement playroom (remember basement playrooms?). We didn’t get a color TV until a few years later and most of the programming was in black and white anyway. As I recall on February 9, 1964, there were four of us sitting in front of the TV to watch the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. My brothers Bob, Frank and Brian and me. My oldest brother, Ben, was a classical music snob and wanted no part of the “noise” made by these British interlopers (Oddly, he was a big Elvis fan 5 years earlier when he was 11). My parents were not interested although my father generally watched the Ed Sullivan Show and made a short appearance in the basement to offer his opinion. “You call that music?” and he stomped off up the stairs (he did a lot of stomping off). I was enthralled.

It’s easy to look back and try to analyze what goes through the mind of an eleven year old boy. While you would think eleven was a little young to want young girls screaming for you, I can assure you that at age eleven, I was well aware of the attraction of the opposite sex. We knew the music already. It had been on the radio since the Fall of 63 and the four brothers were already, to varying degrees, fans. I loved the music and, as most of you know, I still do. I can play 95% of the catalog with relative competence. I know every word to every song and can sing the harmonies to them. I can recite the American album songs in order from memory (and I can’t remember what I had for breakfast this morning). I remember sitting a foot from the screen, trying to read the brand name on the headstock of Lennon’s little guitar and it sure looked like Rickenbacker to me, although I’d never heard of the company but then that’s no surprise because at the age of eleven, I hadn’t taken up the guitar. Not yet, anyway. That’s where the life changing moment comes in.

I knew, at the moment the first notes of “All My Loving” left Paul’s lips, that I was going to be a guitar player. Not a bass player, not a drummer, maybe not even a rock star, but I was going to play guitar. It was, in part, the screaming young girls or to expand, the adulation from nearly all sides or, more simply, the sheer attraction of being noticed and appreciated. It’s worth noting that when you grow up as a middle child in a family of nine (yeah, nine) brothers, a little recognition and a small bit of praise goes a long way. There was precious little of that. Of course, I loved the music but the visceral desire to play that instrument was so much more than that. It was more like a calling and I planned to do something about it.

I was eleven. I had no income. My father didn’t believe in the “allowance” so saving money was next to impossible. The only money earning options were a paper route (I tried that and failed miserably-too early in the morning), raking leaves for my parents-they paid 10 cents an hour (seriously) and shoveling snow (it was February in upstate New York so there was plenty of that). I’d walk around the neighborhood with a snow shovel over my shoulder ringing doorbells. For a buck, you’d get your walk shoveled. That didn’t exactly pay off either, so I took the next most promising approach. I started bugging my father to buy me a guitar. And, to my surprise, he came home one day in March or April with a Kay flat top that cost him $15 at Woolworths (remember Woolworths?). “Learn how to play this and I’ll get you a better one…and you have to take the garbage cans out to the curb for the rest of your life.” Deal. By the way, a family of 9 kids generates a lot of garbage. I was on my way to something..stardom? adoring fans? a musical career? OK, none of the above but my life would have been very different without the guitar. Very different and not nearly as good.

So, it started with the words “Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you…” It ends the day I stop breathing. The guitar takes a back seat only to my wife, my son and his wife, my brothers and my dog. And it fits very nicely in the back seat, so I’m happy with that arrangement.

Blondes Gone Wild

February 7th, 2019 • ES 3359 Comments »

I’ve always said, surround yourself with blondes and life will be good. If it’s already good, it will be better. These beauties cost as much as your first house cost and while your house has a back door, you can’t play “Back Door Man” on it.

OK, now that I have your attention, the blondes I’m talking about are not the ones you were thinking about (or are they?). I keep a pretty close watch on the 335 market and, since I have a good sized piece of it, I have to reflect real world prices and trends. Over all, the 335 market has been really strong for anything from 59 but 58’s and 60’s have been pretty flat this year. Unless, of course, they happen to be the model designated as the TDN. Yep, the blondes. The ones that drop your jaw when you see them and drop it even further when you see the prices.

The big problem is that there are so few of them. They only shipped 211 335 blondes in 58, 59 and 60. Only 50 345’s in 59 and 60. There are a couple of known block necks-one from 63 and another (a lefty) from 64 but that’s all I know of until 68 when a few more show up. They have always commanded a premium-the price guides always suggested they are worth double what the typical sunburst of the same year sells for. Well, that ship has sailed. When I last looked, there were only five on the market. A stop tail 59 in New York at $130,000-now gone and a stop tail 60 in LA at $100,000. The rest are Bigsby’s and range in price from $40K (cracked headstock ’60 and other issues-a consignment that I have) to a Bigsby 60 in Nashville that just moved that was listed for $50K to a Bigsby 60 in Chi with 345 inlays for $77,500. It’s clear to me that all the “rules” are out the window. A Bigsby used to be a 15-25% discount. Now it’s closer to 40% on a blonde 335. I know of two blondes that have sold well in excess of $100K recently on the private market – both 59’s, both stop tail, both collector grade. With a good sunburst 59 in the $40K range and an exceptional one at maybe $45K, the “double the sunburst” rule is out as well.

I knew the market was going to get really thin. Every big collector I know has at least one blonde 335 and with only 71 59’s ever shipped (and a lot of them Bigsby’s), it was only a matter of a very short time that they would all be spoken for. Collectors sell off guitars now and then, so the market will still be somewhat active but I don’t expect to see more than one or two stop tails a year and maybe 3 or 4 Bigsby’s. When you consider the number of bursts out there (I know-it isn’t apples and apples), you wonder how high the blonde market can go. The burst market (with, what 1600 or so examples shipped?) is pretty healthy. Imagine if there were only one eighth as many made. When folks talk about the most collectible electric guitars on the planet, the five that come up most often are the ‘burst, the gold top, the Explorer, the blackguard Tele and the blonde 335. I’d throw in the Flying V as well. The rarest is the Explorer and next is the blonde 335. There are so few Explorers (32 made?) and Flying V’s (100 or so) that it’s almost impossible to put a value on them. I keep hearing $750K for a well documented no issue 58 Explorer. You all know where ‘bursts are these days. It seems to me that a blonde stop tail 335 has a lot of room for appreciation. A 60 can still be had for well under $100K. A 58 will probably run you $100K for a bound one and a 59 has passed the $125K mark. I think they have plenty of room to appreciate. After all who doesn’t appreciate a blonde?

By request-the only 63 blonde I know of. There a lefty blonde 64 owned by a gentleman who lives 35 miles from me. How weird is that?

 

Internet Guitar Police

January 13th, 2019 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 3559 Comments »

I actually bought this one-advertised as a 64 or 65 ES-355. It turned out to have been re-necked in 69 or 70. Probably should have kept it anyway. It’s still a pretty cool guitar but I paid for one that was all original and this one wasn’t.

I spend a pretty fair amount of my time looking for the next guitar I’m going to buy (and sell). I search the obvious places like Reverb and Gbase and Ebay and Craigslist and I find lots of nice guitars-more often than not overpriced but some very nice guitars. I make offers, I ask questions, I do my homework in the hope that what I’m buying is actually what I’m getting. Sometimes, it can be pretty tricky like when Grandma is selling her long deceased husband’s guitar and has no idea what it is or when it was made. I try to be of assistance and I can almost always tell most of what I need to know from a few photos. But it’s always a crapshoot. I can’t really ask Grandma to break out the screwdrivers and check the PAF stickers for me or get me pot codes. So, you take your chances and try to minimize the risk any way you can. But I’m at a big advantage when it comes to 335’s and the like. I know what every year looks like pretty much at a glance. I can tell a real PAF from a fake at twenty paces and usually a repro tailpiece or bridge without having to turn it over. But what can you do if you haven’t seen enough 335’s to make an informed decision? Well, you can always ask me and, better yet,  you can get a return commitment so if something isn’t right, you can return it. But Grandma just wants to get paid and be done with it. I would never ask a seller for a return policy if it’s a non player selling a guitar he or she knows nothing about. But, every once in a while, I do something else and I’m always really hesitant to do it and I don’t do it that often. Sounds ominous, right? On occasion and not very often and only when the crime is so egregious, I can’t stand it…I am the internet guitar police. I admit it. Guilty with an explanation.

OK, so what does that mean? It means I see a guitar that’s listed as something it clearly isn’t and I feel compelled (that’s right compelled) to call out the seller and set him straight. Arrogant? I try not to be. Know it all? Well, you’re reading my stuff so I know more than you do (until you’ve read it all and then you can take over for me). It always feels like a really obnoxious thing to do but if I save some poor buyer from paying the price of a 62 for a 66 or buying a Chinese fake that’s breathlessly listed as “Gibson ES-345 Mono / Stop Tail 1967 Natural RARE!, then I think I’ve done some measurable good. The reason I decided to establish this blog in the first place was because so many listings were wrong about the year of the 335 they were selling. There are some very legitimate reasons for getting it wrong. They used the same serial numbers over and over from 65 to 69, sometimes as many as four times. And, even to the trained eye, a 65 doesn’t look all that different from a 67. I can point out about a dozen differences but they aren’t obvious to anyone who hasn’t studied them. So, I understand the difficulty and I generally don’t write to you to tell you that you have the year wrong, especially when the values aren’t all that different (like between a 66 and a 68). But if you tell me the PAFs on your Grandaddy’s 58 are original and I can see they are fakes, somebody is going to get hurt.

I’ve been called all kinds of names. “Dot neck snob” is a recent one. “Douchebag asshole” is another. “Know it all scumbag” and the like. On the other hand, I get as many as twenty emails a week asking me if the 335 being considered by you and not being sold by me is everything the seller says it is and is it a good deal? I answer every one of them. I want folks to get what they pay for. My offering up free advice is good business. Being nice and helpful is good business. Making sure a buyer has a good first experience with a 335 can often mean that same buyer will be coming to me later when it’s time to spend some very serious money on their next 335 (or the one after that). Happens all the time and I’m grateful for it. The other side of that is when I have to tell a 335 owner that the 62 he bought for $20,000 has fake PAFs and a repro tailpiece. “But the dealer told me it was 100% original…” or “but the seller said he bought it new and it was never worked on…” People forget. People lie. People get burned by the last seller and simply perpetuate the lies.

So there it is. I am the internet guitar police. Or I should say The Internet Guitar Police. Or at least for 335’s, 345’s and 355’s. I’ve mentioned before that around 90% of the guitars I get have an undisclosed issue that can’t be seen in photos. It’s usually something pretty minor and it’s usually not out of dishonesty-it’s out of a lack knowledge and of good information. That’s why I’m here. To help. Take down my badge number and know this… I’m watching.

This is the guitar that started me writing this blog. It was represented as a red 59. It had a cut center block (started in 61) and a few other oddities that caused me to go on my (now 8 year) crusade against misrepresented ES models.

Year Ender 2018 Part 2: 345’s and 355’s

January 8th, 2019 • ES 3457 Comments »

Why is the guitar on the left worth twice what the one in the middle is worth? It’s a mystery but it’s the truth. An ES-345 no matter what year, is worth half of the same year 335. 355’s follow the same rule with the exception of the super rare stop tails.

I’ve mentioned many times that the vintage market for 335’s, 345’s and 355’s is “upside down” with the 335’s being worth around twice what the higher end 345’s and 355’s are worth. The good news for collectors and players who don’t have unlimited budgets is that it’s still “upside down”. When you consider that a collector grade (but not mint) 59 stop tail 335 will cost you between $35K and $40K, it is almost unbelievable that a 59 345 stop tail will cost you about half that. So, you’re saving $20,000 to endure the indignity of fancier bindings, fancier inlays and largely obsolete stereo/Varitone wiring. For around $200-$300, your can convert the electronics to 335 spec. The obvious next question is whether that hurts the vintage value or not. I can tell you from vast experience that it doesn’t as long as you keep all the original parts. You can be a purist and keep it stereo-it’s still a great guitar but if you’re buying a 345 because you don’t want to spend double for the same year 335, it’s a no brainer.

So, looking back at the 345 and 355 market for 2018, the news is mostly good. Like the 335, 59’s are still the benchmark especially the early “first rack” 345’s with the giant neck profile and unusual rout under the bridge pickup (short leg PAF-look it up). 59’s were up this year with first racks topping $20K and pushing $25K for excellent examples. Later ones (smaller neck, bigger rout) are approaching $20K. 59 355’s (Bigsby) were also really strong with big neck monos leading the way pushing into the $25K range. Lots of 59 355’s have smaller necks but the 59 year is still magic. The stereo 59’s are less than the monos but are also in the $20K range. Remember that stop tail 355’s are super rare and command a huge premium-double the price of a Bigsby. I only know of 12 of them.

What about the other years? 2017 was not a good year for 345’s. 60-64’s were pretty much stalled all year. 2018 was better but 61-64’s were still slow but showed a little appreciation. They are still a pretty tough sell. I’m not sure why but I can sell a half dozen 59’s in the time it takes me to sell one 61. You can get into a 61-64 345 or stereo 355 for $11K-14K-less if it has issues. That’s a bargain. The surprise, to me, of 2018 is the increase in popularity of 1960 ES-345’s. I see two reasons for this. The availability of the red finish is a big part of it. There are only 9 red 59’s and they are pricey, so if you want a long guard, long magnet PAF equipped red 345, the 60 is your only choice. I think the 60 345-red or sunburst-is currently the best bargain in this market. A collector grade early 60 will cost you in the $15K-$17K range. A little more if its mint (or has double whites or zebras which is relatively common in early 60). Yes, the neck profile is slimmer than an early 59 but an early 60 is identical to a late 59. So, are 59 bragging rights worth $5000 to you? Didn’t think so.  A later 60, which will have the very slim “blade” neck, will be even less. It will still have the long guard and the long magnet PAFs. The “transitional” 59/60 neck seems to slim down around the late Spring of 60. Look for A32xxx-A33xxx for the larger neck. No guarantees since the change in profile didn’t occur overnight but after A34000, they all seem to be very slim, like a 61.

I will make the further point that asking prices for 345’s and 355’s are all over the place. I’ve seen 61-64’s listed for close to $30K by sellers with big dreams and no sense of reality. It is human nature that most sellers think their guitar is worth way more than it will actually sell for and that hurts the market. On the other hand,  it helps sellers who ask fair prices; prices based on something more than wishes.

Lastly, let’s consider blondes since they were the big winner in the 335 market. All blonde 355’s were special orders so they are among the rarest of the rare. I’ve sold two in the past 10 years and I’ve seen only two others. Blonde 345’s were available from 1959 to 1960 but were made in very small numbers. Gibson made only 32 59’s and 18 60’s. After 60, they were special order only and I’ve seen one 61 and a few from the late 60s. I can’t tell you how blonde 345’s did in 2018 because none of them came on the market as far as I know.  My opinion is that they should be on a par with blonde 335’s. After all, there are four times as many blonde 335’s as there are blonde 345’s. I know a number of big collectors who own multiple blonde 335’s but have had no luck finding a blonde 345. My main player is a 59 blonde 345 (with some big issues) and I would have to say that a blonde 345 is my favorite guitar. Period.

What’s not to love? The 345 is a beautiful guitar that sounds as good as any guitar Gibson ever made. The blondes are big money but the sunburst and reds will cost you half what a 335 from the same year will cost. The middle one here is a finish called Argentine Grey. Rare but not popular. Got a black one? Lucky you. There are only 6 known.

 

 

Year Ender 2018 Part 1 335’s.

January 4th, 2019 • ES 3358 Comments »

The blondes were the big winners in 2018 rising double digits year over year from 2017 to 2018. These are all 59 and 60. OK, the one in front is a 345. 

Every year, I examine the past 12 months of sales and try to predict the future a little in the 335 market. Well, it seems that we’ve survived into 2019 and it’s time to assess 2018. From a non guitar viewpoint, it was a most unusual (strange, bizarre, scary) year. From the vintage vista, it was a little strange too.

The year started off in fine fashion-everything was selling and the prices on most models (335, 345, 355) were continuing to climb slowly. Of course, the overly optimistic sellers were still asking stupid money for their guitars (and that includes a lot of dealers) but the realistic sale prices were solid and improving. Then, when the Summer rolled around, the market simply died. It was slow from July until the end of October for most dealers. Part of it was simply the market getting ahead of itself-you know, the old standoff where the sellers ask too much and the buyers won’t pay it. I say that because my sales were fairly good until October (probably because my prices are generally lower than the cockeyed optimists). Another element may have been the political culture that has marked the USA since we elected the “stable genius” our president. Further explanation will not be offered. I’ll just say that people who are scared don’t buy guitars at the same rate as they do when the aren’t. October was really slow as was November but it picked up before Christmas and looks good going forward. We’ll see soon if that’s the case.

Dot necks were strong in 2017 and continued their strength in 2018 as long as it was a 59. 58’s, 60’s and 61’s still sold well but showed little, if any increase over the course of 2018. 59’s, if fairly priced sell really well and continued to climb in value, especially for no issue collector grade examples. Player grade 59’s also sold really well. That said, there are plenty of sellers and dealers who are creeping toward the $50K mark for a sunburst 59. There’s your market standoff. They simply aren’t there, at least not yet. Block necks had a great year after being a bit sluggish in the past few years. Especially red ones. In 2017, I found the $20K range to be the top for a stop tail 62-64 but this year that barrier has fallen and the best PAF examples are edging toward $25K but aren’t there yet. More like $22K.  Bigsbys did well with clean examples pushing to $15K and beyond.

I’ve noticed something this year that wasn’t so obvious in previous years. Folks are beginning to avoid guitars with the most common issues and spending a little extra to get all original examples. Most folks on a limited budget seemed to prefer no issue guitars with player wear over cleaner guitars with issues like changed tuners or extra holes. In 2018, a 335 with heavy wear was an easier sell than a 9/10 335 with Grovers (even if they were removed and correct Klusons were installed). More buyers are looking for guitars with original frets which, frankly, I don’t get-a good re-fret is often better than the original frets and playability and tone to me is still king. Guitars with holes from a changed tailpiece are getting pretty hefty discounts lately. I used to call them the $1000 holes because each one knocks about a grand off the price on a high end example. It’s still around $1000 per hole unless they are in the top-then its more. 335’s with stable headstock repairs are strong-that 40% discount is shrinking for good examples. Refinished 335’s are always a tough sell but if done well, can fetch 70% of the price if an original finish although 50-60% is more likely.

I think my big surprise this year was the blondes. There weren’t a lot to be found in 2018 and the prices of the best examples proved that there is still plenty of room for growth. I sold a very clean 59 (double white PAFs) for well into 6 figures and a near mint 60 (zebras) close behind it. With a total output of only 211 blonde 58-60 335’s, it appears that the collectors have most of them ‘cuz there ain’t many showing up on the market . Uncirculated blonde 58 and 59’s are all but gone, it seems. This was made more striking by the fact that the 59 stop tail I sold recently was gone in a few days. The 60 sold a week after I posted it. I don’t expect you will find a blonde stop tail 59 again for under $100K unless the market turns downward. The fact that a blonde 59 is still “only” half the price of a decent burst seems counter intuitive to me. I know which one I’d rather play.

After a sluggish 2016-2017, block necks, specifically red, PAF equipped stop tail 62’s were very strong and very popular. I sold a load of them this year.

Christmas at OK Guitars (Again)

December 18th, 2018 • Uncategorized6 Comments »

OK Guitars (not at Christmas) but this is the place where it all happened

I was going to write a new Christmas poem this year (like I promised last year) but I re-read the one my wife and I wrote in 2015 and threw up…my hands and said, “I can’t do any better than this. I know my limitations”. So, for the third time (first time if you’re new to the site this year) here is “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas at OK Guitars”

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the pad

I was playing my Gibson- not great, but not bad.

I remembered a blues lick and played it with flair

Just like in the days when I had all my hair.

The block necks were hung not too tight or too loose,

As I waited for Santa inside my caboose.

I had them all tuned and I played every one.

The truss rods were perfect, the strings tightly strung.

All of a sudden on the roof of my shop,

I spied an old fat dude just reeking of pot.

He fell off the roof and into the snow.

I asked him right in. Why he came, I don’t know.

There was ice in his beard and mud on his boot,

And I thought only rock stars could wear such a suit.

He took down a red one, just like Eric C.

His fingers flew faster than old Alvin Lee.

It was wailing and screaming all over the town.

I could hear my Dad yelling, “Turn that damn thing down!”

Who knew this weird guy, such a flash with a pick

And a love of guitars, would be old Saint Nick?

I couldn’t believe all the sounds in my ear.

He said, “You get good working one day a year.”

Now Jimi, Now BB, Now John, George and Paul

Would bow to this master, the best of them all.

“You remember that Christmas back in ’63?

When you found a new six string left under your tree?

You started to doubt that I was the truth,

But my gift to you then was a link to your youth.

So for all of the years that would come in between,

Way deep down inside, you’d still feel like sixteen.”

He picked up some cases by Lifton and Stone,

Some old Kluson tuners and a worn out Fuzztone.

“Now, Charlie Gelber you must hear my pitch,

‘Cause this is my time and payback’s a bitch.

The 335 please, the red 59.

I gave you your first one, now this ax is mine”.

And quick as a flash it was stuffed in his sack,

And he waved a goodbye as he snuck out the back.

He jumped in his sled and sparked up a j,

Flew into the sky and was off on his way.

So if feeling sixteen is what sets you right,

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

 

By Charlie and Victoria Gelber

With apologies to Clement Clark Moore

The Guitar Tax

December 10th, 2018 • Gibson General12 Comments »

I used to pay, depending on gauge, $75 to $85 for a bulk pack of strings (25 sets). The trade war has bumped them up to $109. That’s nearly a 40% increase. If the tariff is 25%, why has the price gone up 40%?

In the 8 years or so I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve largely steered clear of politics. My politics and your politics need not be aligned for you to read my posts and for me to write them. There are certainly political aspects to music-compare “Eve of Destruction” to “Ragged Old Flag” and about a zillion other songs from the left and right and more than a few in the center. But we don’t really discuss music here, we discuss guitars. The tool of the music trade. If I did a writers blog, I’d be talking about pencils. The topic simply isn’t that deep. But politics has entered our little world of guitars and I am not happy about it.

Guitars are expensive, especially vintage guitars but I think the level of enjoyment is remarkable and the cost is, in the long run, easy to justify. Vintage guitars have held their value over the long term. Even after the crash of 2008, most guitars have slowly made their way back to pre 2008 levels. New guitars still drop in value the day you walk out of the store but the used market is pretty robust. But there’s a new fly in the nut sauce. Tariffs.

The current occupier of the White House has started a trade war with China and those tariffs affect guitar players. Most of the steel comes from China and there is now a big tariff imposed by the president. I go through a lot of guitar strings which are, of course, made largely of steel. How bad is it? Well, I buy in bulk and a box of 25 loose sets of D’Addario XL’s used to cost me $75 to maybe $85. And this wasn’t some dealer wholesale price-I used to buy them off Ebay from one of the big retailers. Now, the price has risen by a few points more than the 25% tariff on steel. I now pay $109 for the same strings. That, to me, is a tax and it’s unfair and its unnecessary and it’s short sighted. I’m no economist but the economy was doing pretty well even with the big trade deficits we’ve had for as long as I can remember. It’s simple, Mr. President. We buy more stuff from them than they do from us. Their stuff is cheaper and Americans are likely to buy things that cost less. Making their stuff cost more isn’t helping us. It’s costing us money. I remember lots of times when “buy American” was a part of the political agenda. But nobody was forcing us to pay more-they were simply appealing to the possibility that folks were patriotic enough to buy American for the perceived good of the economy. Well, news flash. I am buying American. Its simply that the raw materials came from somewhere else because we don’t make a lot of steel here in the USA any more.

And it isn’t just strings. There’s a lot of steel in a guitar. And aluminum too. And wood which is now subject to a tariff as well. 20% for Canadian and 25% for certain Chinese wood including guitar standards like maple and ash. American companies make huge profits and the government just massively cut corporate taxes. So, as if the tariffs themselves aren’t bad enough, now many American companies use their increased costs an excuse to raise prices even further which hurts the consumer, not big business. They aren’t simply passing on the cost of the tariffs. Did you ever notice that when the cost of raw materials goes up 20%, the cost of the product goes up 25% (or more). Or why the gas tax goes up by three cents, the price goes up by five? There isn’t much to be done about it other than vote the current incumbents out (the midterms were a good start). I’m all for businesses doing great but I’m more for the American consumer (and musician) to get a fair shake. And we are not getting one. This administration is costing us, the consumers, while it should be protecting us and not big business. And how’s that big tax cut working out for you?

A 335 doesn’t have a whole lot of metal in it but there are now tariffs on wood as well and not just from China. Wood from Canada has been singled out as well. With the 25% tariff on steel, it’s a good thing I don’t buy and sell these.

 

The Death of Vintage

November 30th, 2018 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 35514 Comments »

This 58 was bought by a 24 year old. Who says millennials don’t buy vintage?

Got your attention now, don’t I? OK, nobody is dying but the conventional wisdom has been that the vintage market will die as soon as the baby boomers (born 1946-1964) stop buying guitars. Where did this so called conventional wisdom come from? Well, not from me, that’s for sure. It’s most likely the result of simple logic. Most of the folks buying guitars from the 50’s and 60’s are folks who coveted those guitars as teenagers. It’s the same logic that the vintage automobile market  clung to until it simply didn’t pan out that way. There is some truth to the logic but it isn’t the big picture.

I’ve been buying and selling vintage guitars for about twenty years now. I started back in the mid 90’s, when the internet and, specifically, Ebay, opened up a worldwide market . It was a hobby until around 2006 when I started getting serious and my main source of income since 2010. From the mid 90’s until now, it is absolutely true that my biggest and most frequent customers have been between the ages of 50 and 65. Interestingly, the age of the clientele stayed about the same between then and now. Of course, if you were 50 in 1995, you are now at the top end of that range and if you were 65, you are probably not buying guitars any more (or anything else for that matter). I believe those who subscribe to the conventional wisdom about the vintage market have their data correct but they have misinterpreted it. I believe it has more to do with disposable income than it has to do with what guitars you grew up wanting. At around age 50-55 a lot of things in your life can change. Your mortgage may be paid off, your kids are out of the house and you may have downsized, college expenses are finished and your income is higher than its ever been. It doesn’t take an economist to figure this out-you simply have more money to spend.

But it doesn’t end there. The belief that the generation behind the baby boomers won’t be interested in guitars from the 50’s and 60’s is faulty. Guitars from the 50’s and 60’s (and some 30’s and 40’s) are better instruments than most of them being made now. There is no doubt that there are some extremely good guitars being made today-especially from boutique builders. But the market still loves the classics and that’s what those conventional thinkers have missed. Disagree? here are some hard facts.

I sell around 100 guitars a year. I keep track of the demographics of who is buying what. The big surprise this year was that nearly half of the high end vintage guitars sold by me were bought by folks under the age of 50. That still means lots of 50 and 60 somethings are buying guitars but, as they say in the commercials, wait..there’s more. It’s a little nitpicky but i sold a lot of guitars to buyers in the range of 50-55. Now, I don’t ask everybody how old they are when they buy something but I get a pretty good sense of it from the conversations. Note that a 50 year old in 2018 is not a baby boomer. I sold six vintage guitars in November. Only one buyer was over 60. One was 24. Two were in their 40’s and two were in there 50’s. The demographics are very similar for the entire year. Last year was a bit different-more boomers. Same with the year before. So, is 2018 a fluke or a sustainable change in the market place? Stay tuned. I’m betting on the latter.

This stunning 59 didn’t go to a millennial but it didn’t go to a baby boomer either.

Headstock Variables ES-355

November 11th, 2018 • ES 35510 Comments »

I recently wrote a post talking about how the ES line is “upside down” which dealt with the real world fact that 335’s are more valuable than their upscale brethren, the 345 and the 355. I posted a photo of two 59 ES-355’s side by side and I received a comment about how one of the 355’s had a shorter headstock than the other and that this was a known characteristic of Les Paul Customs (which have the same headstock design). I was aware that there was some variation among headstocks in 335’s but never really dug too far into it. Back in 2014 I made note of the fact that the 1958 ES-335’s often had a slightly elongated headstock when compared to 59’s. You can read about it here. But I was never aware that there was a significant variation in the 355 headstocks as well. A little research reveals the reason (and I already covered that)

In 2017, I wrote a post called “Stinger Things” which revealed the reason for many, if not all stingers found on ES-355’s (the most common ES with a headstock stinger). You can read that post here. If you’re too lazy to read another post, I’ll give you the short version. Most 355’s with a stinger have necks that were converted from 335 or 345 necks. The headstock of a 355 is wider and longer than a 335 headstock. The discrepancy in 355 headstocks is in these conversions-all of which have a stinger. The two 355’s in the photo in the “Upside Down” post that was commented on by the sharp eyed reader shows two 59 ES-355’s. One has a bigger headstock than the other. Fortunately, I still had both of those 355’s in my shop and I took a closer look. Here’s the photo:

You can sort of see that the headstock on the left is a little smaller than the one on the right. Look at the truss cover-it is closer to the diamond inlay and closer to the nut on the one on the left. I know, the perspective is making it look greater than it is but that’s the photo I have.

As it turns out, the one on the left has a stinger and, as I showed you in the “Stinger Things” post, that stinger covers a veneer that covers a set of tuner holes that were spaced for a 335 or 345. Since the front of the headstock gets a different overlay and inlays, you don’t see the old tuner holes on the front. In order to cover them on the back, the veneer was placed there. To cover the veneer, they just painted on a stinger. But wait, the 355 headstock is a good bit wider than a 335 or 345 headstock. Easy fix. A 335 and 345 headstock is really three pieces-the middle piece is the neck itself but there are two wings on either side that give the headstock its width and shape. So, to make a 355 headstock, knock off the 335 wings and add a bigger set of 355 wings. The one thing they couldn’t change was the length of the headstock when converting a 335/345 to a 355. Thus, the discrepancy in headstock length on the two 59’s. I’ve seen it in 1960 as well but since I don’t see as many 61-64 ES-355’s, I’ve never measured a stinger version vs a non stinger on an example from those years. Feel free to help me out.

What’s all this then? What they did here was to take a 335 neck-already drilled and ready to go and cut the smaller wings off the sides and put big 355 wings on it. Then the doweled the holes and re-drilled them located for a 355. Then they put a piece of mahogany veneer over it and painted on the stinger. The only tuner holes you see are the original Grover holes. Definitely factory but definitely a little shorter than the usual 355 headstock. Mystery solved.