GIBSON ES-335 ES-345 ES-355
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Day Traders

February 24th, 2015 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 3551 Comment »
Fastest selling 345 on the planet is a "first rack" '59 ES-345. These don't last a week when I get them. Sometimes not even an hour.

Fastest selling 345 on the planet is a “first rack” ’59 ES-345. These don’t last a week when I get them. Sometimes not even an hour.

I received an email from a reader who likened the buying and selling of vintage guitars-specifically my guitars-to day trading. He mentioned that they seem to sell very quickly on a “last in-first out” basis. That can be true but to liken the guitar business to day trading is a little off the mark, I think. From a business perspective, you can look at guitar buying and selling from a few diverging viewpoints.

If you’re a player and you want a tool for your playing, you will likely be less concerned about whether you get your money out of the guitar many years down the road. Your emphasis is on playability and tone-not investment potential, although they aren’t mutually exclusive. That’s why “player grade” guitars are such a large part of the guitar business. Unfortunately, player grade has often come to mean beat up and modified (regardless of how it plays) as opposed to a great playing, great sounding guitar that isn’t collector clean or 100% original. I, unfortunately, don’t control the vast nomenclature of the guitar universe. If I did, the term “sustains for days” would not exist. Frequently, a “player grade” guitar will sell very quickly as it affords a newcomer to vintage or someone who just doesn’t have the resources for a “collector grade” guitar access to these great old instruments. It is not unusual for a 60’s ES model to sell for a figure that approaches the reissue Gibsons. Granted, you won’t see dot necks in that neighborhood but I’ve seen plenty of Bigsby 345’s – even some from 64 or earlier-that will cost you about what you’ll pay for a new high end 335. You can argue which one is better among yourselves. I like some of the new ones but it isn’t my field of expertise nor is it my market. Player grade guitars aren’t particularly good investments from a growth standpoint but they are very liquid. I can sell a player grade 64 much faster than I can sell a near mint dot neck. Bigger market by a mile and less hassle too. The cleaner and more original a guitar is, the more scrutiny it requires to make a sale and to make the buyer happy. That’s fine but it will slow down the process.

So, what made my reader make the day trader comment? I think it is due to the fact that some guitars show up on my site and are gone in a day or less. There are two very good reasons for that. One is that I keep a list of buyers who are looking for a specific year and model. They are notified-usually even before I have the guitar in hand-that the guitar they seek is coming in. Usually, those buyers see the photos and description at the same time as everyone else-when I post the guitar for sale. That’s just fairness. Often, the guitar is gone in five minutes and it looks a lot like day trading. I never, ever engage clients in a bidding war. If I list a guitar at $15000 and someone makes me an offer of $14000 and I accept it, the deal is done. If buyer number two the offers $16000, it’s too late. If buyer number one commits and then can’t pay, that’s another story. One note-most guitars show up first on Gbase and occasionally on Twitter if I remember to post them. If there is a particular year you are after, let me know and I’ll try to remember to give you a heads up when it is on my radar. I do occasionally have a guitar that is sold before I even get it in my hands. But then I post it as a hold or sold right away. That probably looks a lot like day trading. There are also guitars that I buy specifically for a particular buyer . Those never make the listings.

At the risk of tooting my horn, which I am generally loathe to do, I price my guitars to sell. If you do a search of a particular model and year 335/345/355, you will find, more often than not, that I have the lowest price apples to apples. The philosophy here is not so much magnanimity but practicality. I’d rather make a small profit on five guitars and have five very happy customers who feel they got a good deal, than have one customer who paid top dollar or more  (after I perhaps sat on the guitar for a year or more waiting for that one buyer at that high price) who may or may not be happy with the price. It seems to work and it allows me to acquire more guitars and serve more clients. I suppose I could make the same profit buying one or two bursts a year and selling them at stupid high prices. It wouldn’t be much fun and wouldn’t keep me that busy. Then I would have to fix stuff around the house that my wife points out on a regular basis (I live in a 300 year old house). “Sorry, dear, I’ve got to go to the shop and sell some guitars…”

Mono 355's don't hang around long either

Mono 355’s don’t hang around long either

The biggest, fastest seller of all-a red 64 "player grade". These are often gone before I get them.

The biggest, fastest seller of all-a red 64 “player grade”. These are often gone before I get them. This one might be a little above a player grade but you get the idea.

Strange Magic

February 15th, 2015 • ES 3458 Comments »

 

Just another mid 60's 345? Not quite. This one has something special going on.

Just another early 60’s 345? Not quite. This one has something special going on.

Almost all 1958-1964 ES-335/345/355’s sound good. Great even. Those that fall a little short can usually be tweaked and be made to fall within a fairly narrow range and that range is really good to really great. The ones that fall short are almost always the ones that have neck, nut, saddle or fret issues. Sometimes that can be fixed, sometimes not. I get asked frequently about the best sounding ones I’ve had and after more than 500 ES’s made between 58 and early 65, I have a few favorites. Up until today, they were all PAF guitars. The top five were (until now) a 59 335, a 58 335, a 62 (dot) 335, a 59 345 and a 59 355 mono. Now, keep in mind that there were dozens more that were extraordinary instruments and of that 500 or so I’ve had, there were maybe 10 true dogs-all with neck problems. And also keep in mind that tone is very subjective stuff and just ‘cuz I think a guitar sounds extraordinary doesn’t mean you will. I play some blues, 60’s rock and tons of Beatles tunes. I play a lot on the neck pickup, emulating as best I can, Mr. Clapton. When I play on the bridge I want Mike Bloomfield for blues and George Harrison in the “Hey Bulldog”, Taxman” and “Paperback Writer” vein. So, you know what I like. So, where’s this magic I’ve teased you with? Well, it’s a beat up 1963 ES-345 with a heavily worn fretboard, passable fret job, new nut, changed tuners and tailpiece and early patent number pickups.

This guitar that doesn’t fit the mold at all. To keep the commerciality out of it, this guitar is already on hold but I spent most of today playing it. I literally could not put it down. I sold this guitar in 2012 and was very impressed with it then but it sold so quickly, I didn’t get much of a chance to play it. What is it about this guitar that makes it so special? I honestly can’t tell you. It’s got it’s original stereo Varitone circuit. It has early patent number pickups in the 7.7-7.9K range, a neck that starts fairly thin but gets quite large by the 12th fret. It is a stop tail and has always been one. The tuners are modern Gibson Klusons although it had Grovers at some point. The bridge is the original ABR-1 with milled nylon saddles. So, what the heck is it about this guitar that makes it sing like a violin? It is among the best 345’s I’ve played. The bridge pickup is good but not quite great. But the neck pickup on this guitar rivals any 335 from any year. If there has ever been a guitar that, for me, at least, puts the “tone sucker” Varitone theory to bed, it’s this guitar. It may even be the later Varitone which actually is a tone sucker. I haven’t looked. So, what’s my theory?

I think one of the factors is a properly cut and installed nut. The original nuts on Gibson from the era are almost always too tight (which is why everybody changed out the tuners in the 60’s). In many cases, when you bend the strings, the nut pinches and they go sharp. And you thought it was the tuners slipping but they can’t slip sharp. Obviously, there is a wonderful randomly great pickup in the neck. I really should take it out and install it in another guitar just to see if the magic is in there. But it could be the wood. It’s a relatively light 345 considering all that electrical stuff in there, weighing in at 8 lbs 5 ounces. The stereo VT circuit is almost 12 ounces heavier than a 335 harness. It’s also kind of a mess-heavily checked and worn-it’s been played long and hard. The red has faded to a brownish tone and it certainly isn’t a pretty thing. But holy crap…shut your eyes and play if you don’t want to look at it.

I’d love to be able to quantify what it is that makes this one so special But tone is a combination of a lot of factors(including the player and the amp).  It’s clear that some changes just don’t matter with regard to tone. Tuners don’t seem to matter. Re-frets done right don’t matter and can even improve tone. Nylon saddles, if they’re the milled ones and cut properly don’t matter (compared to metal) but properly notched saddles are a huge factor for sustain which affects tone. I’d like to say a stereo Varitone circuit doesn’t matter but I’ll just stir up a storm. I’ll just say it doesn’t matter in this guitar. And one more thing-I’m playing it in stereo using a stereo Y cable. And, where you set  your pickup height does matter. Many ES’s have a sweet spot and it’s a trial and error thing. The height of the stop makes a small difference but more in playability than tone. So, without doing a lot of part swapping and experimentation, I’m not going to know all the answers but that’s OK. I’m happy to just call it magic. Strange and wonderful magic.

Keys to the Kingdom

February 6th, 2015 • Gibson General5 Comments »
Got a Lifton or a Gibson badged case with a lock that looks like this? The right key says 6K11 or H345. Note that the lock even says 6K11 on it. So much for security.

Got a Lifton or a Gibson badged case with a lock that looks like this? The right key says 6K11 or H345. Note that the lock even says 6K11 on it. So much for security.

I’ve written about case keys before but I’ve had some reader questions lately and I’ve got a bit more information than I had back when I first wrote about case keys. First off, let me point out that locking your guitar into its case and thinking it’s more secure that way is kind of dumb. If I’m playing a gig in some dive bar and someone in the bar is bent on stealing my guitar, they will not be deterred. You will never hear this statement: “Oh, crap. I was going to steal this guitar but the case is locked so even if I do, I won’t be able to open it.” You all know it takes about ten seconds to break the lock off a guitar case. I think the only function of a working lock on a vintage case is to keep your kids from messing with your prized instrument while you’re at work or out shoveling the driveway. Your kids are probably going to figure out where you keep the key anyway.

As collectors, having the original key in its little manila envelope is a nice thing, along with the little screwdriver and the other nice case candy items that came with the guitar when it was new in 1958. At least 90% of the original keys are long gone by the time these guitars get to me. Probably closer to 95%. But the good news is that all the locks from a given case maker are opened by the same key. Gibson badged cases and Lifton cases have the same lock and the same key will open them I have brown cases from 58-61 and black cases from 61-68 and all can be opened by an Excelsior key numbered either H345 or 6K11. They appear to be identical. They are pretty easy to find and will usually cost you around $15 or so. That key will open most 335/345/355 cases but not all of them.

Cases for 335’s were made by Stone during the 50’s and early 60’s and Ess and Ess in the mid 60’s and later. The Excelsior keys that fit the Gibson and Lifton cases don’t fit these. Stone cases were widely used in the 50’s and a lot of 58, 59  and 60 335’s have them. They are a really good case but, unlike the Gibson and Lifton, they have one spring type latch for the locking piece and usually the springs get broken. The latches usually still work and the key, if you can find one will still work. The key for some Stone cases will also be an Excelsior (which means “ever upward” in Latin in case you care-and it’s the state motto of New York). The key for the Stone case will have the number 301 on it but it is for the type of latch pictured. There are also brown Stone cases with a different spring latch. I don’t know what key opens these.

By the early 60’s Stone Case Co. (of Brooklyn) was either gone or Gibson stopped using their product. If your case is black, it isn’t a Stone. If it doesn’t have a Gibson badge on the outside or a Lifton badge on the inside, it’s most likely an Ess & Ess (also of Brooklyn). These usually have a label inside up by the headstock (but not always) and they also. like a Stone, have a spring type latch for the lock. The key that I have that works on an Ess & Ess has no writing of any kind and it looks like a generic luggage key. Good luck.

After 1969, the cases changed but some of the same keys still work. I have a black with purple interior 70’s case made by Lifton that uses the same H345 or 6K11 key. I have a grey Epiphone case from the early 60’s that uses it as well. Finally, I have seen 335’s from the 60’s in Victoria cases but I don’t believe that Gibson ever supplied them. They were used extensively by Fender for the Coronado series and they will fit a 335 pretty well. I have no idea what key they used, however. If I find out, I’ll revise this post.

Any early 335 may have a case made by Stone. They have a spring latch-usually broken-with a key that is numbered 301.

Any early 335 may have a case made by Stone. They have a spring latch-usually broken-with a key that is numbered 301. Not all Stone cases used the same lock, however. See the next photo.

Here's the lock on another Stone case from the late 50's or early 60's. I don't have a key that fits this type. If anyone has one, send me a photo and I'll update the post

Here’s the lock on another Stone case from the late 50’s or early 60’s. I don’t have a key that fits this type. If anyone has one, send me a photo and I’ll update the post

If your 335 is mid 60's or late 60's or even 70's, you might have an Ess & Ess case. They key is pretty generic looking with no number. It looks like this if that helps

If your 335 is mid 60’s or late 60’s or even 70’s, you might have an Ess & Ess case. They key is pretty generic looking with no number. It looks like this if that helps

Scavengers

January 24th, 2015 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 3558 Comments »
This 61 ES-345 looked pretty darn good but wasn't quite 100% when I got it. Fortunately, I have a lot of spare parts.

This 61 ES-345 looked pretty darn good but wasn’t quite 100% when I got it. Fortunately, I have a lot of spare parts.

Scavengers. There. I said it twice. The guitar marketplace is full of them. It’s the sellers who think you don’t know the difference between a repro part and a real one. It’s the Les Paul guys who want double white PAF’s and no wire bridges for their R9’s. It’s the parts dealers who know that sometimes the parts are worth more than the guitar.  I’m not making a moral judgement here, just putting some facts out there.

There are a lot of parts on a vintage guitar. There are a lot of vintage guitar brands and models and variations and nobody knows everything about all of them. I try to know everything about ES-335’s but I learn new stuff all the time, so I don’t know everything either.  Take a guitar with around 50 different parts and cook over a low flame for 50 or so years. That’s the recipe for errors and omissions right there. It’s actually a surprise when I get a guitar (often sight unseen) that is 100% untouched. For the high end stuff, I always go in person (even to Europe) and check out the instrument myself. Crapshooting on a 58 or 59 is just too much risk. But I get other vintage pieces from individuals and dealers based on a couple of photos all the time. Want to know how many of these guitar have an undisclosed issue? About 90%. Yep. Nine out of ten. Seem high? Buy ten guitars on Ebay and compare what you get to what was advertised. It’s usually because the seller doesn’t know any better but not always.

Sometimes it’s laziness on the part of the seller (or dealer). I’ve been guilty of that myself-you get a guitar that looks just right and you don’t check the pot codes because nothing else has been changed and it’s a huge pain to get in there with a mirror and most of the date codes are covered with solder anyway.  Or the tailpiece looks exactly right so you don’t pull it off and check that the studs are the right length. I’m not talking about a changed saddle (virtually all no wire bridge ES’s have at least one) or a changed pickguard screw here or there. Those are cheap and easily replaced. But get a 345 with a repro tailpiece and studs and you’re out $800 or more for the real deal if you want the guitar to be vintage correct. Or you disclose it and lower the price. Repro stuff has gotten awfully convincing and it just makes it harder to spot them. All the more reason to buy from someone who knows the difference.

Part of the reason I write so extensively about the real geeky stuff is so that you, as a buyer, know what to look for. Here’s a story about a recent purchase. I was contacted by an individual seller with an early 60’s ES-345. I got lots of photos and a very fair price. He said it came from a reputable dealer (a few years ago) and that it was 100% original except for a mono conversion. The photos showed little reason to doubt him. I questioned the tuner tips because it was an early 60’s and the tips looked too good. He didn’t know and so I assumed they were repros (and they were). No big deal-lots of late 50’s and early 60’s ES’s have repro tips. When I got the guitar, it would have been easy to just take the photos and list it as all original except for the tuner tips and the harness. It played  great and sounded great and everything looked right. But I’m not that lazy. I pulled the tuners to make sure there weren’t enlarged shaft holes from Grovers (even though there were no marks on the headstock) and I pulled the bridge and tailpiece. Both looked correct at first glance but the telltale “hump” on the tailpiece felt like it was missing. The bridge was correct but the tailpiece was a long seam 70’s probably off of a Les Paul Custom as were the studs-1 3/8″ rather than the correct 1 1/2″. Some people measure the thread length – 1″ for vintage and 7/8″ for later. The seller didn’t know and I don’t expect him to know. He wasn’t a dealer but he had bought the guitar from a dealer. That begs the question…was the dealer lazy? or dishonest? or clueless? That’s the hard part.

Correct "short seam" tailpiece on the right. Correct "long thread" stud on the left. These parts won't really affect how the guitar sounds but I'm sure you would rather have the right era parts on your expensive vintage guitar.

Correct “short seam” tailpiece on the right. Correct “long thread” stud on the left. These parts won’t really affect how the guitar sounds but I’m sure you would rather have the right era parts on your expensive vintage guitar.

Getting Better, Part 2

January 16th, 2015 • ES 3458 Comments »
This late 2014 ES-345 looks pretty authentic and plays pretty well too. There's still little nitpicky stuff wrong but overall, it's a very nice guitar. It is over $4000 if you're buying from the usual discounters. Gibson stickers it over $6000. You would think they could get the pickup covers right.

This late 2014 ES-345 looks pretty authentic and plays pretty well too. There’s still little nitpicky stuff wrong but overall, it’s a very nice guitar. It is over $4000 if you’re buying from the usual discounters. Gibson stickers it over $6000. You would think they could get the pickup covers right.

Having gone through the well regarded Warren Haynes 61 reissue, I was anxious to get my mitts on a non artist Memphis reissue. The first one to walk in the door happened to be a 2014 ES-345. Not an inexpensive guitar either. These list for over $6000 and sell for over $4000. The blondes are $4299 at the usual discounters. I’ll start with the nitpicky stuff.

The pickguard bracket is wrong as are the pickup covers. The Varitone ring has gold numbers and they should be silver, I think. I’ve actually never had a blonde 345 with a black ring but I’ve seen a couple and the numbers are silver. Easy fix Mr. Gibson. I do think they should know that 345’s didn’t come with plastic strap buttons. 335’s did until 61 but not 345’s or 355’s. That’s a pretty glaring oversight, not that it makes any tonal difference. None of this stuff is a big deal because this isn’t a vintage guitar and even though it aspires to be a reissue, it’s just a facsimile. They could get all of this stuff right but either they just don’t pay attention or they actually don’t do enough research (or they’re too cheap). The switch tip isn’t catalin nor do I expect it to be. It’s amber plastic and it’s inferior to most of the repros out there because it has a big ol’ seam (mold mark). Too much work to smooth it off.

They have gotten some big stuff right, however. The body shape is pretty darn good and the 59 neck profile is closer than ever. Still too much shoulder compared to a real early 59 but closer than ever. I would have been surprised if they had done a vintage Varitone and they didn’t. The technology of a 59 VT is clunky and probably too labor intensive to try to duplicate. It is approximately 20 separate components soldered to that 6 way switch. To Gibson’s credit, the tone is right and it looks like they’ve saved some weight by making the chokes much smaller. It’s also mono which will make most folks happy. That earlier version with the two jacks on the rim seemed to make nobody happy. The bindings are finally correct looking after years of getting them wrong. Kudos. And the guitar feels right. I still hate the VOS finish and the really bad aging on the gold hardware. Why is the neck pickup shiny and the bridge pickup dull? Because somebody sweat on the bridge and not the neck pickup? I’ve seen an awful lot of vintage 345’s with all kinds of pickup cover wear but never one that looked like this one.

Vintage details aside, it plays extremely well and feels very much like a vintage 345. Tone-wise, the neck pickup really sings but the bridge is a little dull. This may be the guitar and not the pickup. This one is brand new and needs a bit of playing time before I can make a fair assessment. At $4000, it had better be a very good guitar. I’ve bought a few mid 60’s 345’s at around that price and once the reissues start creeping into vintage territory price-wise, it’s time to seriously consider vintage. In fact, if you don’t mind the narrow nut, I’d be buying a 66-68 345 before I shelled out $4K+ for a reissue. Of course, you’re out of luck if you want a blonde one. One last complaint. Look at the photo below. That’s some pretty shoddy workmanship. You would think they would take the time to clean up those edges on the guard.

This is simply a lack of attention to detail. Unforgivable on a guitar with a $6000 sticker price.

This is simply a lack of attention to detail. Unforgivable on a guitar with a $6000 sticker price.

Getting Better All the Time

January 12th, 2015 • ES 33516 Comments »
One of these is a real 61 and the other is a Warren Haynes 61 built in 2014. Getting close aren't they?

One of these is a real 61 and the other is a Warren Haynes 61 built in 2014. Getting close aren’t they?

The doomsayers in the vintage market are saying that it’s only a matter of time before there is no vintage market. The word on the street is that after all of us old guys (you know who you are) either get too old to play or simply die, the market will die along with us. The other word on the street is that the reissues are getting so good that nobody will spend the money for the vintage stuff anymore. As an old guy, my response is that I won’t stop playing until you pry my vintage guitar from my cold, dead hands. I have no plans to die in the next 35 years either (my Dad lived to 95). But the other reason is worth looking into a bit more.

I recently took in two guitars that are recent reissues and they are worth commenting on. There have always been a fair number of folks saying how great the Gibson reissues are but I’ve always attributed some of that to commenters who have never played a great vintage one or who just want to feel better about the guitar they bought. I felt that way because I had played the guitars they were raving about and I just didn’t see what they were seeing and I didn’t hear what they were hearing. I had a 2006 Nashville ES-335 that was a wonderful guitar but it wasn’t up there with the best of the vintage pieces. I don’t know if the issue was the pickups, the wood or the construction but it just wasn’t as complex, articulate or as “musical” as my old 58. Now, the Memphis built 335’s (and 345’s) are getting a ton of praise and much of it is deserved. I’m not only talking about whether they got all the details right (they didn’t but they are closer than ever), I’m talking tone and playability.

Not even close. How tough is it to get the knobs right? That's a real 60's reflector on the right. A blind person could tell the difference.

Not even close. How tough is it to get the knobs right? That’s a real 60’s reflector on the right. A blind person could tell the difference.

And just how tough would it be the get this right? The vintage one is one the left.

Well, I certainly can’t tell the difference here. Not. The vintage one is one the left.

My first example is a Warren Haynes ’61 dot neck. It looks like a 61. Really. While they’ve finally gotten the body shape pretty close. Given the variation that the vintage ones have, I don’t think I could tell this from a real 61 very easily until I look at the neck. The way it’s shaped at the headstock is still too sharp and defined-probably because it’s being done by CNC rather than by a human being. They still have some easy details totally wrong like the knobs and the pickguard bracket and, especially, the pickup covers. These are really easy things and it is kind of baffling why they are so far off. But really, who cares as long as the guitar sounds and plays like the guitar it is trying to emulate. One out of two ain’t bad. The guitar feels like the real thing. If I close my eyes, I can be convinced that I’m playing a real 61. But my ears aren’t convinced. Maybe once the wood dries out a bit and a bit more resonance emerges, it will be closer but the guitar sounds a bit one dimensional. It sounds good but it doesn’t sound like the great dot necks I’ve played and loved. You could argue that it’s because the smaller 61 neck doesn’t sound the same as the big 58 and 59’s that I usually play. Fair enough. But I’ve got a 61 here that sounds pretty good and the Haynes isn’t quite up to the challenge. Close. It’s an excellent sounding guitar for sure. I really should get a Rusty Anderson model and compare that. Those are getting some great buzz as well. My feeling is that given a few years and some playing time, these reissues will get better and better. I can’t tell you if they are going to kill the vintage market but I have no intention of buying a load of them and putting them away for a few decades to find out.

Next, we’ll look at a new 2015 ES-345 out of the Memphis shop and see how that stacks up.

This Haynes 61 is looking like the real thing, sort of. Those pickup covers are an easy giveaway though. The edges are way too round. And that VOS finish...don't get me started.

This Haynes 61 is looking like the real thing, sort of. Those pickup covers are an easy giveaway though. The edges are way too round. And that VOS finish…don’t get me started.

Ring in the Old

January 1st, 2015 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 3558 Comments »

 

Star of the show once again is the 59 dot neck. These ran up a good 20% this year and show no sign of weakening in 2015 even with therapy exchange rates for European buyers. Flame tops are nice too but not a requirement for big bucks.

Star of the show once again is the 59 dot neck. These ran up a good 20% this year and show no sign of weakening in 2015 even with the crappy exchange rates for European buyers. Flame tops are nice too but not a requirement for big bucks.

The old guitars that is. Now that 2014 has faded into the rear view mirror, let’s take a minute to see what the year was like for the vintage ES market and what it might look like going forward. First off, don’t look at Ebay asking prices to figure out what your guitar is worth. I can’t tell you how many emails I get that enlighten me about current ES prices. (…there’s a 64 for $100,000 on Ebay…surely my 64 is worth $30K”). Anybody can ask any price they want. I can ask a million dollars for my über rare 59 ES 355 stop tail but I’m not going to get it. Look at the completed listings that actually sold if you want real world sale prices. But even that can be misleading. There are some unscrupulous dealers who will mark a guitar as sold at a high price and then relist it hoping someone sees that a “similar” guitar sold at that inflated price. It happens with relative frequency, so be alert. Or you can just ask me.

2014 was a quirky year. The dot neck market was extremely strong, especially among Europeans until the Euro tanked late in the year. The dot neck market is still strong and should continue to do well. 59’s with no issues are bumping up against $40K with some frequency but the discount for issues has gotten steeper. Folks want no issue guitars when they are spending that kind of money and I don’t blame them. But that makes single issue guitars a bit of a bargain. 59’s with changed tuners can be had in the low to mid $30K range. That’s a big discount for a few little holes that don’t show much. A stop tail 59 with a removed Bigsby with top holes will knock the price down even farther. You should be able to find one under $25K. That’s 15 large for two little holes in the top and four by the end pin. Great if you’re a player. But the no issue guitars are the ones that will lead the market forward. They seem to be getting harder and harder to find. And it isn’t just 59’s that are strong. 58’s (bound and unbound) are right behind the 59’s with prices in the mid $30’s for no issue, clean ones. Early 60 dots with the transitional medium neck are about equal to 58’s. All of these are trending upward at the moment and seem to have done so all year. It’s the thinner neck later 60 and the 61’s that seem to be lagging. Still, it was a good year for dots all around but the thinner necks just seem to sell much more slowly and can’t seem to find their way past $30K unless they are mint. As always, look out for neck issues on the ones with the thinnest necks.

Interestingly, I sold more dot necks than block necks in 2014. That’s a first. It seems that the market for 62-63’s with the thinner necks is slow. Folks want big necks, although I’m not entirely sure why. There is, of course, the school of thought that big neck guitars sound better. My experience doesn’t prove that but it doesn’t disprove it either. One of the best I ever had was a 62 (dot) with a pretty small neck. However, the rest of the top five are 58’s and 59’s. The continued strength of late 63’s and 64’s comes as no surprise then, what with their near perfect neck profiles and consistently excellent tone. Prices for 64’s have definitely crept up-especially stop tails but also Bigsby/Custom Made models. Reds still outsell sunbursts by a wide margin. A really good no issue stop tail red 64 has pushed back to close to $20K at retail. Just a year ago, it was pretty easy to find one in the $16K range. Now the Bigsby/CM’s are in that range. That’s about a 20% increase in just the past year. Pretty impressive. The bargain still remains the big neck 65. You should be able to find one for $8K or less. Just make sure it’s really a big neck. Most sellers don’t know how to read a ruler. Ask for a photo with the ruler or calipers in the shot.

I’m going to skip ahead to 355’s. Mono 355’s have gone nuts. They are hard to come by and don’t last a week when I get one. It doesn’t matter what year either. The 65’s I had this year (wide nut) went just as quickly as the 59’s. Less money, for sure, but still extremely popular and desirable. Expect to spend up to $20K (or even more for double white PAFs) for a 59/60 long guard and in the mid teens for 61-64’s with Bigsby’s. Maestros are less. 65’s are still well under $10K but still strong. We’ll wait for the next post to talk about the stereo 355’s and 345’s. We’ll also take a look at the rarities and at the big issue guitars with refinishes and repairs. That market is pretty interesting as well.

Mono 355's were a big item in 2014. I buy every one I see as long as the sellers leave a little room for me to pay the rent. I'll take a half dozen 59's, sir.

Mono 355’s were a big item in 2014. I buy every one I see as long as the sellers leave a little room for me to pay the rent. I’ll take a half dozen 59’s, sir. I know, the neck pickup is upside down. I fixed it.

Geekfest

December 23rd, 2014 • ES 3355 Comments »

Yikes. Don’t raise the bridge, lower the river. It hadn’t occurred to me that Gibson might have simply shortened the headstock and caused all these other changes. Note the very precise high tech measuring device.

My friend Mike up in Victoria, British Columbia pointed out that the 58 headstock in the 58-59 comparison photo in my last post looked like it was elongated compared to the 59. Another reader (Roger) pointed out that maybe the tuners were moved rather than the inlay. I had mentioned that the truss cover had moved downward in 59. Well, I thought Mike in Victoria was on to something, so I did some measuring. The length of a 335 headstock is pretty consistent among the ones I have here in the shop. Unless it’s a 58.

If you measure from the highest point of the headstock to the nut of a 59-66 ES-335 you will get a minimum of 6 3/4″ and a maximum of 6 7/8″. That’s a range of 1/8″ which isn’t much. I measured 7 different guitars from 59, 60, 64, 65 and 66. Then I measure the 58. It measures 7 1/8″. That’s a difference of a quarter inch or more. Who cares, you ask? Probably no one, but it points out that many of the differences between a 58 and a 59 are due to a longer headstock and not the migration of the various elements. There’s just less real estate and things have mostly only moved relative to the ends of the headstock. The inlay is the exception but the position of the truss cover and the tuners (and the logo) stay the same relative to each other.  Now, I never thought the brass at Gibson was sitting around making microscopic changes to make their product better or cheaper but it starts making sense when one fairly big change starts a chain reaction of smaller ones. So, was the reduction in the size of the headstock a conscious change to make things better or cheaper? I couldn’t say but I can guess. My guess is that these early 335’s were largely hand made. The very neat routing in a 58 compared to the almost always sloppy routing in a 60’s 335 suggests this. I’m not a builder but I’m assuming that jigs were eventually made once the model was deemed successful in order to facilitate the build process. That would also explain the consistent Mickey Mouse ears you see from late 58 through mid 62.

Too geeky by half? I suppose, but after this many posts, one has to start taking smaller bites out of the knowledge pie. There’s plenty of new information coming in the new year. I’ve been compiling a database of factory order numbers rtelative to serial numbers for 58, 59 and 60. It’s actually pretty interesting. I’ve been at this for a few months and I’d like to thank all the readers who sent me serial and FON’s to be included. It’s still ongoing so if you have a 58, 59 or 60 ES-335, 345 or 355, send me the serial and FON along with a little information (what model, color, tailpiece, bobbin color if you know it). Trying to reconstruct the thought and manufacturing processes at Gibson during this era is loads of fun. I suppose if I could find someone who was actually there who was involved in the day to day operations, it would be easier. Not so much fun but easier.

Early 58 to Early 59 Evolution: Part 2

December 13th, 2014 • ES 3355 Comments »

 

Small stuff to be sure. The "crown" inlay is slightly lower in 58 and the truss cover is significantly higher. By the mid 60's, the TRC sits right on top of the nut

Small stuff to be sure. The “crown” inlay is slightly lower in 58 and the truss cover is significantly higher. By the mid 60’s, the TRC sits right on top of the nut

 

OK, this is where I get really geeky. If you’re interested in the really little teeny details, the read on. Does it matter that the headstock inlay is a couple of millimeters lower in 58? Nope. But it is and I’m going to talk about that fact and some other silly little details that set our geeky little hearts aflutter. Just like the Les Paul guys.

Gibson moved the “crown” inlay a few times over the years. The most notable was in late 66 when they lowered it about 3/4″. But between the earliest 58’s and the earliest 59’s the inlay was raised slightly. Not by much-maybe 1/8″ or less but this is what we do.  I can’t imagine why they would do this but I’m sure it had something to do with the ease of the manufacturing process.

There is a block of spruce between the maple center block and the top. Kerfed by 59 but not kerfed in 58. I'm not even certain that it's spruce in 58.

There is a block of spruce between the maple center block and the top. Kerfed by 59 but not kerfed in 58. I’m not even certain that it’s spruce in 58.

The invention of the semi hollow body guitar is a watershed event, I think. Even though the 335 was designed by Ted McCarty, the real credit should probably go to Les Paul. His “log” was, essentially, a 335. The maple center block-which makes a semi hollow what it is, underwent all sorts of changes over the years. It got shorter in the 70’s and lost it’s mahogany end blocks in the late 60’s. It also had a notch cut out of it in the early 60’s to make it easier to thread the harness into the guitar. But in 1958, another change occurred and I thought it might be related to the change in the number of plies in the top. A 59 ES-335 has a kerfed layer of spruce between the maple block and the top (and back) of the guitar. Again, this was probably done to make the manufacturing process more streamlined and thus more cost efficient. This layer is visible inside the pickup routs but that layer in 58 doesn’t appear to be kerfed. Same with my early 59 with the thin top. But my later thin top 59 ES-355 does have the kerfed spruce insert. So my thin top theory is out the window.

It's easy to see the difference in the size of the heel. 58 is the only year they looked like this until the 80's.

It’s easy to see the difference in the size of the heel. 58 is the only year they looked like this until the 80’s.

Another small change is the size of the neck heel. The 58 is taller and rounder. By 59, the heel gets very short and more squared off. There is a fair amount of variation in heel sizes in a given year but they rarely are as large as a 58. I have a 65 that’s as tall but it is square across the top like most 59 and later examples. I don’t think the size of the heel makes a particle of difference in the stability of the neck join or in the tone of the guitar. It’s just another small change that the brass at Gibson thought was an improvement. I’ve read where folks think tenon is larger in these 58’s but it doesn’t appear to be. You can see the tenon in the photo that shows the non kerfed layer in the center block. It looks like most other years to me.

Something that does make a difference to some players  is the fret size. If you’re lucky to have a 58 with its original frets, you will see that they are pretty small. Not as small as “fretless wonder” frets but smaller than your average 50’s Fender by a little. Players who like big jumbo frets probably won’t like the 58’s but even the bigger frets from 59 onward aren’t as large as a modern “jumbo”. I find that if the guitar is properly set up, then the big bends don’t fret out but then I’m not a big bender. I’ve been on a few big benders but that’s another story.

Oh, and something you probably never noticed…the tuners. Both 58 and 59 have single line single ring Klusons but the 58 is more likely to have the patent applied for designation rather than the patent number on the back. No difference, you say? Not true. It seems that someone at Kluson changed the formulation of the plastic for the tip around that time. Almost every 58 I’ve had still has it’s original tuner tips and nearly every 59 has those mummified, shrunken, falling apart tips. So much for improvements.

Also pretty obvious. Little 58 frets frets next to bigger 59's.

Also pretty obvious. Little 58 frets frets next to bigger 59’s.

Early 58 to Early 59 Evolution

December 2nd, 2014 • ES 3358 Comments »
This photo kills a few birds. It's not that easy to see but the ears are different. MM on the bottom and pointier on the top. Also note the tailpieces. The one on the bottom is that odd one with the stubby ends where it wraps around the studs. Bottom is A28363 and the top is A27703

This photo of two unbound 58’s kills a few birds. It’s not that easy to see but the ears are different. MM on the bottom and pointier on the top. Also note the tailpieces. The one on the bottom is that odd one with the stubby ends where it wraps around the studs. Bottom is A28363 and the top is A27703

I don’t get a lot of 58 ES-335’s. That’s mostly because there aren’t that many out there. Being the first year, I guess it took a little while for the design to catch fire with the players of the day. There were 317 335’s shipped in 1958. There were also 10 ES-355’s shipped in 58. By the next year, there were nearly 600 335’s shipped, not to mention the 300 ES-355’s and the 478 ES-345’s. While we tend to focus on year end transitions, it’s noteworthy that some very big changes occurred during 1958 and into 59. It seems they were making changes as they went along.

The most obvious change was, of course, the neck binding. Somewhere around serial number A28365 they switch from unbound to bound. I’ve had A28763 in my hands and it was unbound. I’ve also had A28768 and it was bound. It was also a lefty which may throw things off but that’s as accurate as I can get. I’m really certain as to why the change was made but it probably had something to do with the unbound neck seeming a bit cheap looking at that $300+ price point. Gibson rarely made changes that made their guitars more expensive to produce and there are a number of additional procedures that are required to bind a fingerboard.

This is a very early 58. Unbound fingerboard, thin ABR-1, pointy ears and a few other features you might not be aware of.

This is a very early 58. Unbound fingerboard, thin ABR-1, pointy ears and a few other features you might not be aware of.

The next really obvious (to me anyway) is the cutaway shape. Most of us associate Mickey Mouse ear cutaways with early 335’s but the really early ones are different. More pointy. Not as pointy as a 64 but not those big fat ears we all know and love. The best I can figure is that they made the change around serial number A28000. It’s hard for me to nail down because I haven’t seen any in the A278xx to A279xx range. But A28000 has MM ears and A27788 doesn’t. I should probably be going by FON’s rather than serial numbers but my database isn’t far enough along to do that.

The next change didn’t actually occur until early 59. Most 335s have a 4 ply top that measures around .20″ but all 58’s and some early 59’s have a three ply top that measures only .15″. My 59 ES-355 which has a rather late serial A30877 has the thin top but 355’s were low volume sellers compared to 335’s, so the serial number becomes less dependable as a timeline. The FON on that 355 is S7625xx which is pretty early in 59. ES-335 serial A28950 is an early 59 that has the thin top but it has a 58 FON. So we know the thin top made it into 59. I’m just not sure exactly when the transition occurred. I do know why it occurred, however. Any one who has ever owned a 58 is aware of how easily the jack area cracks. Of the dozen or so 58’s I’ve had, all but three had top cracks, usually at the jack but often in other areas as well. The good news is that it is rarely through all three plies. Usually only the top ply seems affected. But it looked bad and Gibson must have been responding to customer complaints when they switched to the heavier top. It was probably a good thing but I have to say, I love the tone of a thin top 335. More air, less wood.

Then there’s the little stuff. The change from the thin ABR-1 to the “normal” or sometimes factory shaved ABR-1 is just about impossible to determine since almost all of the thin ones collapsed and were tossed in the trash. I currently have A27771 and it still has its original thin bridge but that doesn’t tell us much. The existence of the thin ABR-1 is the result of the very shallow neck angles the early 335’s have. There is considerable range even within 58 but by early 59 the angle had been deepened a bit eliminating the need for the thin version. A28950 is an early 59 but the neck angle is such that the normal ABR-1 sits right on top of the guitar. Shallow angles existed much later but never again so shallow that the bridge had to be shaved. Did you ever notice the neck heel on an early 58? It’s bigger than the later ones. That went away pretty early. The center block changed as well. The early ones don’t have the spruce insert between the maple block and the top. The routs are also different in early 58. They are much cleaner and neater. Then there are the little frets and even a strange stubby looking stop tail version that shows up now and then. And the inlay position. I’ll go into more detail on the small stuff in my next post.

Three ply thin top 58

Three ply thin top 58

Four ply thicker top on a 59.

Four ply thicker top on a 59.