GIBSON ES-335 ES-345 ES-355
RSS

Takes a Knockin’ and Keeps on Rockin’

February 17th, 2018 • ES 3457 Comments »

Before: neck shaved and broken in two places, two big ol’ holes in the top, wrong pickups and electronics, wrong guard. But original finish and that’s why I bought it.

Every once in a while, I get an intriguing guitar offered to me that isn’t a one owner mint 62 or an ultra rare blonde 355 or an oh so desirable black 59 first rack 345. It’s a beater. Played to death and worth next to nothing unless someone comes to its rescue. I’ve had a few of these guitars and have put up the money to bring them back to the hands of appreciative players. It’s also very rewarding to bring a guitar back from the dead.

Taking a true beater (busted or twisted neck, holes in the body from added mini switches, all changed parts and any number of other indignities) and bringing it back to life is not an inexpensive proposition and, to be honest, generally won’t make sense with any 335 other than a dot neck or maybe a blonde 345 or a stop tail 355. Why not bring back a 64? Well, it’s a really expensive proposition and the finished reclamation guitar generally isn’t worth even half what a no issue one would be. So, if you don’t get the beater for really cheap, don’t waste your money. A luthier built new neck is going to cost you $3000-$4000 to get it done right using the original board, inlays and truss rod. Gibson will re-neck a guitar for you but they won’t use the original usable elements (and it’ll still cost you $3-$4K).  The good news is you can take a busted 61 that had a little teeny blade neck and put whatever size neck you want on it. I did that with a late 61 335 and also with a 60 335 and both came out great. But, say you get a beater 64 for $7000. By the time you’ve re-necked and put on correct hardware, you could be into it for $13,000.  I’ve bought no issue 64’s for that price, so it’s not good economics in that case. But, say you find a broken 61 for 9K with some original parts and you spend $4500 to resurrect it. Then you’ve got a dot neck with the neck you want for $13500. You won’t be able to sell it for much more but you could have a great guitar at a great price (considering a no issue 61 will cost you around $24K and have a neck you might not like).

So, meet my latest beater turned great player. I don’t suggest you go quite as nuts as I did on this one. This true beater 59 factory blonde ES-345 had nothing going for it except for an original finish nd a great top. The neck was shaved and then broken twice. The PAFs were gone. The bridge was original and studs were correct as were the tuners. It had two big fat holes in the front as well. So, it needed the two big holes filled and it needed a new neck. There are many good luthiers who can do the work but Gord Barry of 12th Fret in Toronto has done a few for me and he gets it. The CITES nightmare has made getting repairs done in Canada a real pain but we managed to get it done. Here’s what was done: New neck carved to my 59/64 spec-that’s around .86″ at the first and 1″ at the 12th. A little smaller than a 59. A little bigger at the first fret than a 64. He used the original headstock inlays, original fingerboard and the original truss rod. Only the mahogany was new. He filled the holes with cross grain maple dowels and did as little finish work as possible. New stock frets and new neck bindings which were thinned and rolled were done.

Hardware-wise, it’s getting double white PAF and a zebra, a new harness (335 not stereo 345) a no wire ABR-1 and a correct stop, original studs and tuners. The only repro part will be the guard until I can source a long guard with the holes in the right place (they vary a lot). What’s it worth when its done? Well the hardware, plastic and pickups alone are worth around $15K but it’s a bit over indulgent to put $10000 worth of pickups into a resurrected beater. But even with a set of double black long magnet PAFs, you’re looking at an original finish all correct blonde 59 ES-345 with a new neck and some filled holes. A no issue blonde 59 345 is a $55000 guitar. Is this worth half? I think so. I’d rather have this than a red or sunburst one that was refinished in blonde. The cool factor alone is off the charts on this one. It’ll be done in a day or two. It’s strung up now with no pickups and sounds great acoustically. I have very high hopes for this born again beater. UPDATE: It’s a monster and I’m keeping it for myself for now.

After: New neck using original fingerboard, headstock inlays, truss rod. A double white and a zebra PAF and some vintage plastic and it’s ready to rock. Converted to 335 spec. Tailpiece is a later 60’s one but I’m on the hunt for a worn short seam stop tail. Guard is a repro. Everything else is correct vintage. Killer player too.

Red Dot Necks and FONs

February 16th, 2018 • ES 3351 Comment »

Very early 60 red dot neck. Nice, right? It’s got all the 59 features including the transitional neck but the factory order number is a little odd. Factory Order Number? What’s a factory order number?

Red dot necks are not rare. They made 448 of them. OK, that’s rare when you compare it to Stratocasters and other Fenders but for 335’s it’s not that rare. 1958 red dot necks are super rare. There’s one or at least one that is known. 1959’s are stupid rare, there are perhaps 6 (I’ve had two). 1960’s are less rare with 21 shipped but 60’s have to be looked at a little differently because changes were afoot during 1960 and they didn’t all happen on January 1. In fact, none of them did. They mostly happened around mid year. We’ll get to those after I totally confuse you with the concept of Factory Order Numbers (which I keep a database of).

For those of you who aren’t complete geeks like I am, there is a number inside the body of a 58-61 ES-335 that isn’t the serial number. It goes on (supposedly), the day the assembly of the guitar begins. Assembly-not manufacture. The tops, necks and backs would have been made earlier than the FON indicates but when the folks at Gibson gathered the components together for a “rack” of guitars to be assembled, they stamped a number in there with a letter prefix to indicate what year they were built and what number the guitar is in the rack (usually 35 guitars, usually but not always of the same model). I’m only going to include 335 FON’s because the others make even less sense. The numbers are sequential-they start at 100 (although I’ve never seen one lower than 600) and they go to 9999 and then start over. “T” means 58, “S” means 59 and “R”means 60 and “Q” means 61 until they stopped using them at some point in 61.

So, pay attention. This gets kind of convoluted. At the end of the years, there is some weird overlap. Theoretically, say the last FON of 58 was T7303 (which is the latest I’ve seen). So, the first rack of 59 should have been S7304 (which it isn’t). I had a 335 with the FON S7303 which is odd since 7303 is a T rack. Maybe someone forgot to change the year like they did on some Fender amps in 66. To make matters worse, there is a rack designated S6525 which shouldn’t exist as an S rack unless they went all the way through 9999 and back to 6525 which they didn’t. Unfortunately, it gets worse, not better.

At the end of 59, the last 335 rack looks like S1765. It’s lower than the first S rack of the year because the numbers went through 9999 and started over in 59. But hold on, rack number 1762 is an R-the first R I’ve found. So is rack 1765 earlier or later than rack 1762? It should be earlier since the numbers are supposed to be sequential but it’s not an S (59) rack. Who cares, you ask? Well, me for one and here’s why. I recently bought one of those 21 red 335 dot necks from 1960 with all of the 59 features. Lucky me. I was ready to bet that it was a 59 FON and a 60 serial-it’s a very early 60 and I’ve had another 60 like this one with a fairly close serial number to this one with a much earlier 59 FON. 60 335’s with 59 FONs are essentially 59’s that got shipped in 60-that’s why I care. This one isn’t quite that even though the guitar is totally identical. As I mentioned, the changes didn’t start on January 1, 1960. I’ve had a few other 60 red dots with later 60 FONs well into 1960, all with at least some 60 features like double ring tuners, smaller neck, reflector knobs and at least one with a short guard in late 60.

So, I’m going to ignore the features and odd FON and call the guitar a 60 rather than what I usually designate as a 59/60. But make no mistake, if I put this guitar next to any 59 made after September or so, it’s identical. The last serial of 1959 is supposedly A32285. This 60 is A329xx. The last 60 red I had was A328xx and had a 3rd quarter 1959 FON. No wonder I’m confused.

Here’s a later 60 FON. The letter is the year T for 58, S for 59, R for 60 and Q for 61 and then they stop. The number that follows is a three or four digit number and that designated the “rack”-usually 35 guitars. The last number is the “rank” or the guitars number within the rack. Confused?

2017 Year Ender Part 2

January 24th, 2018 • ES 345, ES 3551 Comment »

This is a “first rack” ’59 ES-345-these are a little different than later ones and command a premium and sell for $20K or more if collector grade. Later ones with the black VT ring are up there too. Later 59’s with the gold ring are strong as well, in the high teens. 60’s are catching up too. Bigsbys are weak and can be a good deal right now.

This post will look back at 2017 with regard to ES-345’s and ES-355’s. 2017 started out with 345’s and stereo 355’s pretty much flat and pretty much not selling with the notable exception of 59’s. Owning a 59 of almost any model seems to continue to hold some voodoo cachet that no other year can quite match. Don’t get me wrong, 59’s are great but do they deserve the kind of reverence they seem to inspire? Maybe, but that’s a different post which I will get to.

At the beginning of the year, I swear, I couldn’t give away 345’s from 1960 on. I’d have been better off parting them out they had become so stagnant. I look back at my records for the year and I see the 59’s flew out the door at strong prices-hitting $20K (or more) for clean early 59’s and the high teens for later (transitional neck) 59’s. But the 60-64’s were just not going anywhere. I had a gorgeous red stop tail 60 with no issues other than a repro guard ($1000 part) for $13K and it took months to move. And Bigsby 345’s? Anything over maybe $11K was going nowhere and I simply stopped buying them. I don’t think I sold any in 2017. By year end, the stop tails had perked up and PAF 345’s are selling well again. Bigsby’s are still a tough sell but that makes them a relative bargain if you can find a seller who hasn’t dug in his heels. And therein lies the problem. Nobody wants to lose money on a vintage guitar so few owners are willing to sell at a loss. They simply sit there in standoff mode.

Stereo 355’s were no better than 345’s but monos were strong all year. Since 355’s, as a rule, always have a tremolo (Bigsby, sideways, Maestro), they can be a tough sell as well. Again, 59’s were the easy sell with prices pushing $20K for monos and stereos back in the mid to upper teens. Double white PAFs can tack on a few thousand. One 59 mono stop tail showed up this year and it sold at a serious premium (I only know of three) and a stop tail 60 sold recently as well from another dealer although I don’t know the price. In general mono 355’s sell very well and even those from 61-64 don’t hang around for long, although they  don’t show up very often either since they didn’t make that many. Again, mid teens for clean examples seems to be the norm right now. A 60 mono will be a few thousand higher. Stereo 355’s from 60 onward were pretty flat and seem to remain so. There aren’t ever that many on the market so a true assessment is difficult. I didn’t sell more than a few, mostly from 60. A footnote to 355 sales is that more of them have shipped overseas. With CITES regulations over rosewood getting tougher and more countries enforcing them, I’ve started shipping more ebony board 355’s to folks who want an ES but don’t want to deal with the paperwork (which, by the way, isn’t that complicated).

The OK crystal ball likes mono 355’s for 2018 and it also likes 59 and 60 ES-345’s. If you haven’t figured it out yet, late 59’s (gold Varitone ring) and early 60 345’s are virtually identical. The fat neck was largely gone by the early Fall and didn’t really get super thin until the late Spring of 60. So unless the 59 voodoo makes you woozy and opens your wallet, look for a fairly early 60. Any serial in the A33600 or lower range is bound to have the medium(ish) neck of a late 59. The blade thin neck is the rule after that right through most of 63. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to neck profiles, though. I’ve had fat 60’s and super thin 59’s.

There is nothing to stay away from. Vintage is still a good buy and ES-345’s and stereo 355’s can be real bargains. Do your research and don’t pay stupid prices. If you still aren’t sure, email me and ask. Even if it’s a guitar being sold by another dealer or individual. If I think it’s a good deal, I’ll tell you so. If it isn’t, I’ll tell you that to. It’s not always easy to tell everything from photos, so get an approval period of at least 24 hrs. 48 is better. And if you think I’m wrong, you don’t have to listen to me. It is, after all, your money.

This 59 mono stop tail ES-355 showed up in 2017 and sold to a rock star. But I don’t kiss and tell. 59 mono 355’s (Bigsby) ruled the 355 roost in 2017 and will continue to do so in 2018.

Year Ender 2017

January 16th, 2018 • ES 3358 Comments »

Red dot necks are one of my favorites. Rare but not impossibly so, unless you want a 59. This mid 60 went to a well known rock star in 2017

Contrary to popular belief, guitar dealers actually talk to one another once in a while. And, to have heard them talk last Summer and Fall,  you would have thought the bottom had fallen out of the market. There was all kinds of moaning and complaining going on. “Nothing is selling.” “Seller are asking stupid prices.” “The are too many Strats on the market…” and so on. I don’t generally speak to the broader market-I simply don’t sell enough of anything other than ES models to have any real street cred. OK, maybe big tweed amps but that’s a different market from guitars in so many ways.

First, what the heck gives me the credentials to analyze this market? Well, look at the market itself for ES models. I would say that the average big dealer might sell ten 58- 64 ES models a year and perhaps out of that one two or maybe three dot necks. The smaller dealers with 5o guitars or less in inventory, might sell half or a third as many. I sold 47 1958 to 1965 ES semi hollow guitars last year. Seventeen were dot necks. Right now, there are 29 1958-1964 ES-335s on the market. One third are mine. So, I know the market based not on research but on my own real world numbers.

Dot necks can’t really be looked at as a single category any more because the 58’s and 59’s have diverged in a big way from the 60’s and 61’s (and the handful of 62’s). You can lump early 60 335’s in with 59’s but these two markets have not acted the same at all. The 58 to early 60 market was strong all year with prices climbing through the first two quarters, stabilizing through the Summer and Fall and starting on up again in Q4. The problem is folks asking too much for them has stagnated much of the market. A sunburst 58 or 59 335 is not, in my opinion, currently a $45-$50000 guitar and yet four out of seven on the market right now are in that range. The other three? They are in the $32K-$39K range and all three belong to me. So, either they are wrong or I’m wrong. The difference is that my guitars are selling and theirs appear not to be. I think the current range for no issue 58 and 59 stop tail ES-335’s is $35,000-$45,000 depending on condition and other factors (double white PAFs adds a few thousand, figured tops add a few as well). More than $45K? Not yet unless its a blonde.

The later dot necks have not been nearly as strong. It’s still the big neck vs skinny neck thing. By mid 60, the necks were very slim-still wide-but slim from front to back. A 61 dot only occasionally reaches $20K. A super clean one might hit $23K and asking prices can be much higher but the sale prices are in block neck territory. I don’t sell that many 61’s because I don’t buy that many. That market is relatively stable right now. The sleeper in the dot market is the early 60. It is 100% identical to a late 59. Everything…the knobs-still bonnets, the neck profile-still medium “transitional”, the pickups-still long magnets, the tuners-still single ring, the caps-still bumblebees. All that changed by June but the early 60 averages $5000-$10,000 less than a late 59. But the “magical year” of 59 has some kind of voodoo cachet that commands the big dough.

Block necks are the interesting group this year because the dealers and most individual sellers somehow have gotten the impression that a clean block neck is a $25,000 guitar and an average one is a $20,000 guitar. For what it’s worth, I’ve sold at least a hundred blocks in the past five years and I’ve never, ever gotten more than $20K for one and that one was mint. Somebody else surely has gotten more-there are folks who don’t pay much attention to price when they really want something but that’s the exception, not the rule. But the market is trending upward and I have acknowledged that. I have a 62 PAF block for sale right now for over $20K. I hope I get it. Bigsby/Custom Made blocks have crept into the $15K range this year and exceptional examples even higher. That’s way up from last year. 64’s are the most popular due to the bigger neck but I think PAF 62’s are the one to watch. I find them consistently excellent and many have neck profiles that are what I would call medium rather than slim (.83″ at the first and .90″ at the twelfth). Some of those late dots are .79″ and .87″ which is really slim.

I’m running out of space, so I’ll cover 345’s and 355’s separately. There were some pretty striking changes over the year in these guitars.

Figured tops are not the norm on a 335 but every once in a while, one pops up. They command a premium for sure but not a ridiculous one. This 59 sold for well under $40K early in the year. I think figured dot necks are a great investment guitar.

 

Case in Point

January 10th, 2018 • Gibson General8 Comments »

That’s wrong with this picture? No, it’s not the price of the guitar, it’s the price of the case. Read on.

I’ve written about cases before and I actually find them pretty interesting but this isn’t about the arcane, geeky finer points of vintage cases. This is something that occurred to me when I recently bought a 62 ES-335 that had the price tag in the case. A red stop tail ES-335, in 1962, cost $327.50. Cheap, right? Well, in 2018 dollars, that 327.50 is $2654 which is a lot for a guitar but doesn’t compare at all to the $5800 Gibson wants today for it’s (almost) equivalent. So, on top of the 710% inflation, Gibson has more than doubled the price of a 335 over 1962-up a whopping, uh, I dunno, 1400%? Seems like a lot but that hides the real issue, to me.

A good quality guitar case today is around $240 for a high end TKL. You can spend $600 on a Cedar Creek or other high end case. You can also spend around $100 for a decent molded plastic case that will protect your guitar relatively well. Or you can buy that $5800 59 reissue and get the case for free. Good deal right? Well, it’s a good deal when you consider that in 1962, the cost of the case was more than 15% of the cost of the guitar. Yikes. The inflation calculator says that 1962 case would cost $425.54 today. And the cases weren’t all that great. It’s a little like the drinks at a McDonalds. They probably make a nickel on that Big Mac but they make it up big time on the drinks at whatever drinks at McDonalds cost these days. But let’s take it a step farther. If your local Gibson dealer was marking everything up equally to how it was marked up in 1962, that case would cost you  close to $1000 (figuring 16% or so of the purchase price of the guitar).

So, somebody was making some pretty serious money. In fact, if you consider inflation, that $400 vintage black case you just bought for your 335 has actually gone down in value since it was new. How does this work? The guitar is up by 900% or so but the case is down by 25 bucks. Just thought I would bring this up while I wrote my “year ender”.

This Lifton case cost the 2018 equivalent of $425 in 1962.
Today, it’s worth about the same but the guitar has gone up by 900%. Go figure.

 

 

Nickel or Chrome. Metallurgy 101

December 27th, 2017 • ES 33510 Comments »

Well this is nice and shiny, must be chrome right? Nope. This near mint 62 has nickel parts but they spent the last 50 years or so in the case so they never tarnished. Without a chrome item in the same photo, it’s hard to tell the difference.

OK, I’m a fraud. I know nothing about metallurgy but if you look at enough pickup covers and bridges, you get pretty good at telling nickel from chrome. I’ve covered this in an earlier post but I keep getting emails asking about this, so I’ll do another. And it lets me show a photo of this incredible 62 I just got with shiny nickel hardware.

Nothing gives away a changed part like being the wrong metal. Any time somebody wants to sell you a 64 with chrome pickup covers, walk away. There weren’t any. But, how the heck do you tell the difference, especially from a photo?

First, there’s nothing wrong with chrome. It’s a very nice looking metal and it doesn’t tarnish or discolor over time. It’s a great choice for bathroom fixtures and the kitchen faucet. It isn’t bad looking on guitars either but it’s a little boring (I could have said a little dull but chrome never gets dull). Gibson switched from nickel plated parts on 335’s to chrome plated parts in 1965, phasing it in slowly over the course of the year. They weren’t being subtle, they were simply using up the parts they had in stock. Gibson didn’t think anybody could tell the difference between nickel and chrome because they mixed the parts in 65 with no regard whatever for how they would age. They generally made both pickup covers out of the same metal, so at least they had an inkling that it might be noticed by some astute metallurgist, like me. But they mixed bridges, tailpieces, pickguard brackets-everything metal except the tuners which stayed nickel through the 60’s. I’m told by guys who worked at Gibson that there were complaints from customers about the metal tarnishing and that’s why they made the change. I wonder if one was cheaper than the other?

So, how does one tell the difference. Well, there’s the easy way and the hard way and it has nothing to do with how good you are at telling the difference. The easy way is if it’s dull and tarnished, it’s nickel. Chrome can get pretty crapped up with dirt and sweat but a wipe with a damp cloth will bring it back to its factory shine. You can bring back nickel too but it will take some elbow grease and metal polish which, by the way, I don’t recommend. Results are pretty variable and it ends up looking like somebody tried to clean the nickel. Ever try to clean an old coin? It never looks right. Don’t clean the nickel. Then there’s the hard way. supposing the nickel is brand new and as shiny as a new dime? Then you need to call on a bit of very old technology-your brain. Your brain can determine the difference between the reflected color of chrome and the reflected color of nickel. It takes a little practice and it’s not so easy without having both metals in the same photo. A photograph is as variable color wise as the two metals. I should know, my job for about a million years was a a film and video colorist. That’s the guy who makes sure all the shots in a film match. It’s really annoying when Scarlett Johannssen’s sweater is red in the wide shot and maroon in the close up. Yes, somebody actually has to fix that. It’s a real job.

It’s hard but it’s simple. Huh? Chrome reflects blue and shiny nickel reflects green. If you see them next to each other, it should be sort of clear unless you are even the slightest bit color blind in which case, ask somebody. It’s not a true blue or a true green-it’s a bluish cast on the chrome and a greenish cast on the nickel. See if you can get your hands on a nickel pickup cover and a chrome one. Then stare at them side by side. You’ll get it. It doesn’t take an expert in metallurgy, just a working brain.

One of these is nickel. The other is chrome. They look totally different to me and should to you. If they don’t, they have handy labels to help you.

Christmas at OK Guitars, Redux

December 22nd, 2017 • Uncategorized4 Comments »

No visions of sugarplums dancing in this head. Just waiting for Old St. Nick at OK Guitars.

I never re-run posts and I was going to write another Christmas post and try to be clever and make you all smile. Just for laughs, I pulled up the poem my wife and I wrote while on vacation in Mexico back in 2015. Well, no trip to Mexico this year and maybe I’m less creative in the cold and the snow, so I’m not going to write another Christmas post because this one says what needs to be said (and my very creative wife helped me-or maybe I helped her). So, here’s my first ever re-run. I promise, I’ll write a new Christmas poem next year.

‘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

In case you can’t decide what to get yourself this Christmas, here’s the “A” rack at OK Guitars. Why is it called the “A” rack? Because all guitars whose serial numbers start with “A” a hung here (and a few that don’t)

The Least Popular ES Model

December 14th, 2017 • Uncategorized10 Comments »

Gibson basses never exactly set the world on fire. Here’s an EB, couple of EB-2’s and an EB-0 courtesy of Tom H. who runs the es-335.net site.

While the 335 is not the most popular guitar in the history of the Gibson line, it has been in production the longest. They’ve been in production since they were first introduced in 1958. 1958 saw the introduction of another innovative model that hasn’t exactly set the world on fire. Call it the 335 bass if you like. It is the never popular Gibson EB-2. EB stands for electric bass in case you’re wondering. Perhaps it would have done better if they had called it a 335 bass. In any case, it was not a rousing success.

It is, in most ways, a 335 bass. Like the 58 335, it had an unbound fingerboard, a full length center block, the same body and finish options but it had some differences as well. It had a single pickup mounted at the neck and, in 58, it was a single coil. There was a volume control and a tone control. The tuners were Kluson banjo style with plastic buttons. It was a pretty basic instrument but then, so was the leader of the pack- Fender Precision.

Like most Gibsons, changes were made along the way and, while they largely improved the model, it still wasn’t exactly selling very well. In fairness, Fender had a virtual lock on the bass market all through the 60’s and with only slight competition from Rickenbacker, into the 70’s. Hofner sold a lot of basses in the 60’s but not so much among the pro players. That was McCartney’s trademark bass and few others played them on stage. Alembic made big inroads in the late 70’s and was popular into the 80’s. Gibson was still largely absent. Quick, name one bass player who played a Gibson bass? OK, Jack Bruce played an EB-3 and Chas Chandler (Animals) played an EB-2 (and an Epiphone Rivoli which was nearly identical). I can’t think of any others off the top of my head. In 59, they changed the pickup to a humbucker, known by it’s nickname, The Mudbucker, for obvious reasons. They added a notch filter that they called a “Baritone Switch” which cut some of the low end from that huge pickup. And then it was gone. By mid 1961 or so, Gibson had enough and discontinued the EB-2.

But fast forward to 1964 and it was back just in time for the “guitar boom” caused by the Beatles and others in the mid 60’s. The 64 had the pointy cutaways like a 335 and the banjo tuners were gone, replaced by the usual elephant ear tuners that you see on Fender basses. Unlike the 335, the dot markers stayed.  A chrome pickup cover replaced the black plastic one and you could get an EB-2 in red but no longer in blonde. Still no binding on the neck but a string mute was added. By 66, a second pickup was optional (EB-2D) with a second volume and tone and a three way switch. The “Baritone” switch remained. By 66, in my opinion, it was a pretty good bass. The second pickup made up for the narrow tonal possibilities of the Mud bucker and, with the popularity of the 335 by the mid 60’s, I would have expected it to have been more successful. That’s not to say to was a flop. It wasn’t. In 1959, they sold 263 EB-2s. By 67, the number was 2746. That’s a ten fold increase. The 335 between 59 and 67 saw a similar increase, so you really can’t call it a flop unless you consider Fenders numbers which don’t appear to exist but I’m willing to bet they were at least 10 times the number of Gibson basses sold.

If you’re in the market for a vintage bass, you probably aren’t looking at Gibsons but maybe you should. I find the EB-2 easy to play (30.5″ scale as opposed to Fender’s 34″ scale which I can’t play at all with my small hands). If you can tame that pickup with an amp that has some good headroom, you can get some great tone out of it or look for the two pickup version. EB-2s  are not terribly expensive with prices topping out at around $8000 for a blonde 59. EB-2D’s from the mid to late 60’s can be found in the $1500-$2500 range and are readily available. You can get a 58-60 EB-2 for under $5000 although many have had their tuners changed from the banjo tuners to elephant ears.

Bum bum, bum-bum-bum-bum-bum…remember the opening notes to “We Gotta Get Outta This Place” by the Animals? That’s Chas Chandler playing an EB-2.

Secret Sauce Part 2

November 28th, 2017 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 3556 Comments »

This unusual Mickey Mouse ear 66 ES-345 throws a monkey wrench into a lot of my theories. This guitar, if not a top twenty, was very close. Best post 64 I ever had. It wasn’t played much (one theory gone), it’s not a stop tail (another theory gone), it’s not from the “Golden Era” (and another), it has a Varitone (ditto).

I’ve given this post a fair amount of thought and have concluded that logic doesn’t serve us very well here. Logic says the larger the sample, the more valid the results. Let’s see. OK, let’s start with the largest possible sample-all the 335, 345 and 355’s that I’ve owned. My top ten list or top twenty list is compiled from approximately 500 guitars that I’ve owned and sold over the past 10 years or so since I started doing this seriously. Looking at the “also rans” might be illustrative.

Where do all the later ones fall? Well, there aren’t that many later ones because I don’t generally buy them. There could be spectacularly good 66 and later 335’s but I don’t get to play very many of them. It’s not that I don’t like them, it’s more that I wanted to keep my “niche” fairly small. I’ve owned a few dozen 66-69’s, so I have a pretty good handle on those but I’ve owned less than 5 from the 70’s. So, my opinion on 70’s guitars is no more informed than yours. The ones I’ve had have been playable, decent sounding guitars but none has impressed me and all were kind of heavy and perhaps less “335” sounding than earlier ones. Could be the changes in construction that occurred in the 70’s. Not much to be learned there. The 66-69’s have generally been pretty good. I don’t like the narrow nut but that aspect doesn’t affect tone. Nor does the Indian rosewood board on these. I’ve had folks tell me they can tell the difference in tone between the rosewoods but I can’t. The pickup changes that occurred during this period may be a factor-66’s generally have poly winding pre T-tops but by 69, most have T-tops. Later pre T-tops seem to lack some of the complexity of the early ones and T-tops, while very consistent, sound kind of thin to me. My conclusion? PAFs and early patents are a factor for sure. Short magnet or long magnet? Well, I’ve swapped out magnets more than a few times and I don’t hear that much difference between a long A2 or A4 and a short A5. I find short magnet PAFs to be more consistent but a great long magnet PAF seems to be best of all. I’ll take a good short magnet over a not so great long magnet though (yes, they exist).

I’d also like to point out how much difference a proper setup makes. I recently had a Bigsby 61 brought to me as a trade. It had a Bigsby bridge installed rather than an ABR-1, a worn out set of strings (10’s) but other wise it was a pretty typical 61. Thin wide neck, PAFs, “normal” neck angle. But it sounded dull and lifeless. No sparkle in the bridge pickup, not much in the way of overtones or harmonics and crappy sustain. New strings made a difference but a few other tweaks made a marginal 335 into a really excellent one. I added a vintage ABR-1 with metal saddles (which I prefer over nylon). I raised the pickups setting them very close to the strings which seems to be the ideal setting on 335’s. I made certain that the saddles weren’t slotted too deeply-this is really important for sustain-and did the same for the nut. Finally, the neck was dead flat-it played fine that way but I dialed in a bit of relief. This allows the strings a little more room to vibrate freely and I find it makes a difference-especially for folks who like really low action. So much of the tone seems to flow from how freely the strings vibrate. Consider the things that affect this-saddles, nut, pickups (magnets can affect this), relief and the strings themselves. Getting these things right made quite a big difference in the 61 in question.

What about the build quality? I believe that the guitars built after the “guitar boom” of the mid 60’s are marginally inferior to earlier ones. Instead of cranking out hundreds a year, Gibson was building thousands. In 1958, there were 327 semi hollow ES guitars built. By 1967, there were around 7300 built. Not only did ES shipping numbers grow exponentially but all the other models did as well. That had to affect the build quality and, if you take a look at the amount of glue slopped around in a typical 67, you’ll get the idea.

Finally, what about the quality of the wood used in the early days? I’m no expert here but I would guess that the quality of the wood in 1958 was not significantly different than the quality of the wood in 1966.

What’s it all mean. It means that a great guitar is the sum of its many parts. You need 5 things. A great design, great wood, great build, great electronics and a great setup. Add a few decades of “seasoning” and a good amp and I think you’re there.

Don’t let the shallow neck angle scare you. Unbound 58’s are always up there in tone and usually in playability as well once you get the setup right.

 

Thanksgiving 2017

November 23rd, 2017 • Uncategorized5 Comments »

I’m thankful for my dog, Zoubi who doesn’t really appreciate my playing that much.

As usual, I have plenty to be thankful for this year. There’s the usual things-my wonderful wife (who takes very good care of me), my son who has not “borrowed” a guitar from me for years now and his fiancee and my dog (Zoubi) and my eight brothers who have always been there for me and my health (OK, I’ve got back surgery coming up but after that, I should be lifting Twin Reverbs again). Then there’s the other stuff.

I am very fortunate to have the business that I have. I worked for 45 years in the film and TV business and, while I was a very well regarded editor and sometime director, I sometimes struggled to keep it fun and engaging. Some of my clients were, predictably, difficult and some were incredibly cheap. Because editing was the last step in the production process, I simply didn’t get paid sometimes. The producers simply ran out of money and didn’t bother telling me. Happily, that doesn’t happen in this business. I’ve been a guitar dealer full time for 6 years now and I have had very few bad days. This is my retirement but it doesn’t feel like it. It’s a lot of work but I love every day of it. Gotta be thankful for that.

My clients (and readers) are the nicest, most knowledgable and most appreciative people in the world. I have many here in the USA and all over the world. I just checked–I’ve sold guitars in 21 different countries and I have readers in every country in the world except for seven countries in Africa (c’mon Somalia, get with it). I’ve sold guitars in every state and every Canadian province. Player, collector, beginner, hack (like me)…it doesn’t matter. The love of guitars makes us all the same. The common ground brought to us through these instruments is priceless. Whether you spend $300,000 on a 59 Les Paul or $900 for an old ’61 Epiphone Olympic, the anticipation and the joy when you open that box that shows up at your door after way too long in transit is the same. Gotta be thankful for that. Even after many hundreds of “new” guitars, it’s still like Christmas morning every time one shows up at my house or my shop.

Please feel free to continue to email me to ask questions about 335’s and the like. I’ll try to help with other guitars but there are plenty of other dealers who know more than I do. Also, feel free to email me about a 335, 345 or 355 that you are considering buying and I’ll do my best to make sure you don’t make a mistake. Of course, it’s hard to know everything from a photo but I’ll make sure you know what questions to ask. There are no inside secrets here. If I know something, you know it too. And if I disparage your 1979 ES-345 and you love yours, please don’t take it to heart. There are good ones and there are not so good ones. Your guitar only needs to speak to one person. You. Gotta be thankful for that, too.

The “A” rack at OK Guitars today. It changes a lot and often. I’m thankful for the A rack.