GIBSON ES-335 ES-345 ES-355
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A Day Late (and more than a dollar short)

January 17th, 2017 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 3554 Comments »
This near mint 61 sold for $25K. If it was a 60, it would have sold for at least $30, if not $32K. It's 100% identical to a late 60 and that's something worth knowing.

This near mint 61 sold for $25K. If it was a 60, it would have sold for at least $30, if not $32K.
It’s 100% identical to a late 60 and that’s something worth knowing.

Guitars are not automobiles. Buyers seem to forget that sometimes and that can cost you. Let me elucidate. Cars have always had what we all call “model years”. I remember when I was a kid, my Dad would take us around-usually in the Fall around Halloween-to all the local car dealers to see the “new models”. Back in the late 50’s and through the 60’s and well into the 70’s, cars got a fairly extensive redesign every year or two. Go look. A 55 T-bird looks a lot like a 56 but a 57 is different and a 58 is even more different. A 59 looks a lot like a 58 as does a 60 but a 61 is totally different again. Cadillacs from the era are another good example. Look how the fins grow to humongous from 55 to 59 and shrink back through the 60’s. It was good marketing but it was expensive. Unlike the guitars of the era, cars are a big ticket item costing thousands. A few hundred dollars got you a 335, so complete retooling every couple of years didn’t make much sense. But, and I’m as guilty as you are, guitar players and collectors alike treat guitars as if they had “model years” as well and, at least during the period from the 50’s through the 60’s, they simply didn’t.

There were plenty of changes but nearly all of them occurred during a given year-not on some predetermined date that would designate these guitars as “59” or “60” or whatever. We can accurately (more or less) date the guitars we so desire but the fact that a particular guitar from a particular year is worth x dollars and a guitar from the following year is worth y dollars is a big flaw in our system of valuation. Year dating is very convenient but what I would call feature dating is more accurate. I recently sold a really clear example of this phenomenon.

A near mint, no issue mid to late 1960 ES-335 stop tail is a $30,000 guitar plus or minus a few grand depending on how close to mint it is and some squishy stuff like tone and playability. So, why is a 61 so much less? It isn’t like they changed anything on January 1. Gibson didn’t make changes that way. They made changes when changes were needed or wanted and they often phased them in over weeks or even months. It is actually extremely rare for a change to have been made at year end. So, back to the 61. I had a near mint 61 from early January. Nice neck-wide but sort of flat, just like a 60. It had a white switch tip-just like a late 60. It also had a long guard-I thought that added considerable value to this particular 61 because the short guard is one of the reasons folks don’t pay big bucks for a 61. Interestingly, there are late 60 335’s with short guards and early 61’s with long guards. That transition thing I mentioned. It isn’t all that logical, but there it is. The 61 sold for $25000 which, I think, was a $5000-$7000 savings over a guitar that was made a few weeks earlier with all the same features. The buyer was smart. He looked at a 60 that was priced much higher and chose the 61.

This phenomenon exists on a few other instances-more dramatically with 335’s than 345’s or 355’s. An interesting one is the difference between a late 59 and an early 60 dot neck. There is no difference. None. zip. They are absolutely identical except for the price. A mint late 59 will cost you close to $45K. A mint early 60? Maybe $38K on a good day. So, a day late for that 60 will be more than a dollar short. It will be more like $7000 short. But the guitar community reveres 59 Gibsons. Again, I don’t make the rules.

A late 58 will save you a few thousand over an early 59-not as much as the 60-61 or 59 to 60 but enough. Similarly,  a very early 65 is exactly the same as a late 64. It still has the stop tail at least through January and into February, so there are more than a few. A stop tail 64 is approaching $20,000 if a good clean, no issue example. The same with a 65 serial number will be at least $5000 less. 66 to 67 isn’t very dramatic, nor is 67 to 68. After that it starts getting tricky due to the major design changes that occurred when the nice folks at the Norlin Corp (beer, cement) took the wheel and drove Gibson into a sink hole. Just like an automobile.

This completely stunning early 60 sold for $32000. If this was a late 59, it would have been at least $40K. Maybe more. If you picked it up, it would feel and look just like a late 59 because it is the same in every way.

This completely stunning early 60 sold for $32000. If this was a late 59, it would have been at least $40K. Maybe more. If you picked it up, it would feel and look just like a late 59 because it is the same in every way.

Sometimes It’s Just Firewood

January 11th, 2017 • Gibson General6 Comments »
Is this going to be Fender necks? Maybe Les Paul tops? Or is it going to heat my house?

Is this going to be Fender necks? Maybe Les Paul tops? Or is it going to heat my house?

The Les Paul guys all go nuts over their beautiful flame maple tops. “Mine’s AAAAA.” Oh, yeah? Mine’s AAAAAA. I don’t know what any of that means but sometimes you have to wonder about all the fuss about figured maple. It’s pretty wood-no doubt about that and it makes a real attractive top for a Les Paul. It’s not terribly common on ES models and those that have it get a lot of attention but really don’t command much of a premium, if any, on the open market. Figuring doesn’t improve tone but there’s more to wood than its tonal qualities. I like figured wood a lot but it’s really hard to split.

Yes, that’s firewood in the photo. I get my wood from a local landscaper and I always ask for maple (because it smells nice and burns well). And I always find a few logs of figured maple. It really isn’t that uncommon up here in New England. In fact, I can’t recall a year when I didn’t get any in my usual cord or two of firewood. There are a few points to be made here. One, wood is just wood. What talented folks can do with it separates a Les Paul top from that stack of firewood. I’m told that the figuring in maple is the result of some kind of stress on the tree-like a virus. I’ve also been told it has nothing to do with that. I read a good article about it written by collector Mike Slubowski who runs the Les Paul Forum. Here’s a link. Read it. You’ll learn something. The next point is that when used in a guitar, it is ornamental. How important that is has to do with how you see your guitar. Is it a work of art? A thing of beauty? A tool of your trade?

That’s one of the very cool things about guitars. They are all of those things. Or none. They can be monumentally ugly (reverse flying vee) or stunningly beautiful (too many to list). A beautiful guitar can play like crap. An ugly guitar can play brilliantly. There is no doubt that beautifully figured wood is a large part of what makes a guitar a work of art. Figured maple, koa, macassar ebony, bubinga, cocobolo and a zillion other species make for stunning guitars.

It also makes a pretty good fire. Stay warm.

Flamey ES's can be pretty stunning and the equal of any Les Paul. This 59 ES-345 was actually a refinished sunburst.

Flamey ES’s can be pretty stunning and the equal of any Les Paul. This 59 ES-345 was actually a refinished sunburst. I don’t think it will burn that well though.

Year Ender: 345’s and 355’s

December 27th, 2016 • ES 345, ES 3555 Comments »
Post 59 ES-345's are still cheap. A few years ago, I could have sold this very clean watermelon red 60 for $16K. Today, it's $13K. It's got a couple of changed parts but still, $13K? For this? I must be nuts.

Post 59 ES-345’s are still cheap. A few years ago, I could have sold this very clean watermelon red 60 for $17K. Today, it’s $13K. It’s got a couple of changed parts but still, $13K? For this? I must be nuts.

If you read last year’s year ender, you would have noted that 345’s were really in the dumper. Stereo 355’s were in the same leaky boat. But that was then and this is now. And, somewhat surprisingly, they are pretty much right where they were then only now… it’s now. Still a tough sell and still a smart buy. I get that they aren’t as good an investment as a 335. I get that they aren’t as desirable as a 335. But I also get that they are every bit as good (and often better) than a 335 and they cost about half as much. Leave the stereo VT circuit or pull it out. I don’t care (as long as you put the original harness in the case). I sold a stop tail 64 this month with no issues-just some wear-to a smart buyer in Italy for under $10K. That same guitar, had it been a 335, would have been at least $17K. Stereo 355’s are the same story only maybe a little worse since there aren’t more than a handful of stop tails and the Bigsby (or sideways or Maestro) only makes it harder to sell. As these guitars dip below $10K, they become a pretty amazing deal. Most gold hardware guitars made up through 63 have PAFs and some 64’s do as well.  At the current market value of over $2000 each for PAFs, these guitars are no brainers.  When you consider the cost of a brand new Gibson, these make even more sense. They are a steal. Truthfully, I don’t see much more downside and I’ll likely be buying well priced stop tail 345’s as they come up. Yeah, there are still plenty of buyers who think their 60 is worth $20K or more but they either must not want to sell them or they are delusional (or both).

The exception to the above are the 59’s and the mono 355’s. Especially the early ones. An early big neck mono 59 355 or a “first rack” stop tail 59 ES-345 is a hot, hot guitar. I can sell as many as I get. I just can’t get that many. Both have cracked the $20K mark and sell very quickly-often in a day or two. Later 59’s are also strong but not quite at the level of these rarefied fat boys. A transitional neck 59 345 stop tail will be in the mid teens for sure and a really collector clean one might hit the high teens. Knock off 15%-20% for a Bigsby version. Since virtually all 59 355’s are Bigsby’s, the discount is built in. A 59 355 stereo falls somewhere below a stop tail 345 and a Bigsby 345. I still can’t figure out why a late 59 is worth more than an early 60, which is identical in every way, but I don’t make the rules.

And speaking of early 60’s, what is keeping the prices so low on 60-64 ES-345’s and stereo 355’s? There has been a quiet trend toward slimmer necks. Not everyone can play the real fatties but everyone seems to like to talk them up. I recently switched from playing a huge neck 58 to playing a transitional 60. As my hands get older, my ability to move quickly with all that wood diminishes. So, maybe with so much of my clientele over 50, it’s just the arthritis talking. But it’s talking fairly loud. Even so,  the prices remain fairly depressed. I remember selling a Bigsby 60 back in 2010 for $12000. I’d be lucky to get anywhere near that much today and the overall market is well up from then. If, indeed, the slimmer necks are getting more love these days, then the 60-63 market is poised to move upward. And it should. Even the slim neck 345’s and 355’s can be spectacularly good. There is a school of thought that equates fat necks with great tone and while I agree to an extent, it is not a rule. I recently had a 62 that was stunningly good and there is another 62 in my all time top five.

So, get out there and find the bargains. They are out there for sure. A 60-64 ES-345 or 355 is calling your name. I think I can hear it now. Or maybe that’s just my ears ringing from diming that tweed Bandmaster I’m so fond of.

Of course all bets are off if the 345 in question happens to be factory black. These went for some pretty big bucks in 2016. I hope I find another pair.

Of course all bets are off if the 345 in question happens to be factory black. These went for some pretty big bucks in 2016. I hope I find another pair.

Year Ender-335’s

December 21st, 2016 • ES 3354 Comments »

 

Dot necks continued to be the leader of the group.  They were strong all year with the 1960 models showing considerable growth, especially the early ones with the 59 features.

Dot necks continued to be the leader of the group.
They were strong all year with the 1960 models showing considerable growth, especially the early ones with the 59 features. This is a 61.

Well, that just about wraps up another calendar year and that means it’s time to look back and assess what happened. Specifically, I want to look at the vintage guitars market. We will leave politics alone. I have some pretty strong opinions but they are largely irrelevant when talking about old guitars.

2016 was, to a great extent, an “up” year. Values for nearly all vintage guitars were up incrementally. Most have kicked up value wise in the single digits-10% or less. A few have dropped a bit (like 50’s and 60’s Strats) and a few have shot up significantly (like blonde 335’s). Even though I’m pretty active in vintage guitars that aren’t 3×5’s, I don’t think I sell enough of them to identify major trends in value based solely on my own experience. While it’s true that I sold around 10 vintage Strats this year and felt a clear and present downward pressure on price, I will leave it at that. No analysis, no insight beyond simple observation. But the 58-64 335 market is my market.

There are lots of dealers who are way bigger than I am-by orders of magnitude bigger. I keep, at most, 50 guitars in stock at all times-mostly ES335’s, 345’s and 355’s from 1958 to 1964. There’s an occasional mid or late 60’s example and maybe an 81-84 here and there but you can count those on two hands.  There are dealers with many hundreds of vintage guitars and a few with over a thousand. But, I don’t think you’ll find another who bought and sold nearly as many early vintage ES models as I did this past year: More than 70 on the buy side and 65 on the sell side. That puts me in a position to identify and quantify the trends in this very narrow market.

Most striking is the scarcity of really good original early 335’s. Collectors and players have been enthusiastically buying up the good ones for more than twenty years and there is a very finite number of them and it isn’t a big number. When you take away the ones that have been broken, refinished or heavily modified, the numbers are all the more striking. There were only around 600 335’s built in 1959. Given the number of guitar players out there, that’s not a big number. How many are left in the “wild”? Judging by my experience this year, not very many. The majority of the 59’s I saw this year came from collectors or players thinning their herds. That’s fine-it keeps the market moving but to find an uncirculated one owner 59 has become a once or twice a year experience. My experience this year with 58’s was largely the same. As you move into the 60’s, the numbers go up and by 64, Gibson had made more than 1200 335’s which is probably why I see so many more of them. So, which 335’s did what in 2016?

The big story this year is the incredible scarcity of blonde 335’s. I saw only 3 this year. A very nice bound 58, a near mint 60 (which I still have) and a Bigsby 59. I know of a sale of a 59 at $90K at the high end and a sale of a 60 Bigsby (by me) with a few issues at $40K. My stop tail 58 sold at $82K. That’s up nearly 20% over last year. Asking prices have reached $100,000 (and that’s a 60).

Early dot necks (58-early 60) were very strong this year but too many dealers are being overly “ambitious” in their pricing and the guitars are sitting for months (or years). This hurts the market because the individual sellers think their guitars are worth the asking price they see on Reverb.com or Ebay or Gbase. So, I get offered average sunburst 59 335’s at $40,000 or even more, which, of course, they aren’t worth. I don’t know what others get for their guitars, but I know what I get. Top dollar for a sunburst 59 is around $45K. And that’s for a no excuses, hundred percent original guitar in near mint condition.

Later 60 and 61 dot necks are, of course, less popular due to the thinner neck but that seems to be changing. The trend toward huge necks seems to be reversing. I think folks talked up the big necks and made them a big deal but practicality has overtaken the “mine’s bigger than yours” attitude that has prevailed for years. I’m seeing more players asking for slimmer necks and that recent trend is driving up not only those those years but 62’s and 63’s as well. 2015 was pretty flat for 60-63 but 2016 has seen a pretty good bump both in stop tails and Bigsbys. Stop tail 60 dot necks are well into the $30K plus range and 61’s are approaching $25K or more. As always, a mint example is going to command a premium.

Early blocks from 62-63 (small necks) were up as well. The real world price hasn’t cracked $20K despite what so many sellers are asking. I sold around 15 62 and 63’s this year and never once cracked $20K. Finally the venerable 64, still the easiest 335 to sell, has bumped up in value in 2016. The red stop tails are the leader but sunburst stops are just as valuable-they just don’t sell as fast. Even though the vast majority don’t have PAFs, they still command prices equal and sometimes greater than the 62-63s with them. Bigsby’s in top condition have passed $15K and are heading up and top condition stop tails are likely to push past $20K any day now.

Next we’ll look at 345’s and 355’s.

Block necks have broken out of their 2015 doldrums. This is a mint 64

Block necks have broken out of their 2015 doldrums. This is a mint 64

More One Off Fun

December 1st, 2016 • ES 35510 Comments »
Not your run of the mill 355. This is a late 1960 special order.

Not your run of the mill 355. This is a late 1960 special order.

Call them customs, call them one offs, call them special orders, call them late for dinner-it makes no difference to me-I just love them. Whether it’s somebody’s name inlaid into the fretboard (whom you’ve never heard of), a custom order color, short scales, tenors, weird cutaways-it doesn’t matter. They are still the coolest guitars out there. They represent, to me, a more accurate and detailed snapshot of the era. Instead of buying what Gibson was selling, the folks who ordered these specials wanted what they wanted and were willing to pay extra and wait a long time (usually months) to get them .

We see more custom orders at the higher end of the market-ES-5’s, L-5’s, Super 400’s and the like probably because these were the guitars played buy the pro players with a steady (and sometimes considerable) income. Considerable egos too, sometimes. This custom is a 1960 ES-355 that was just offered to me (and I bought it) and it’s a beauty. So what’s special here. Well, lots. There are no less than 4 custom elements here. See if you can spot them before I spill the beans. Look at the close ups at the bottom of the post for better detail.

Well, it’s a 355, so there ought to be a Bigsby. Stop tails are crazy rare but how about a trapeze? And it says Byrdland on it. I don’t know if that’s the one Gibson put on the guitar but there are no extra holes so if there was a different one the day it was built, the holes lined up perfectly. No telltale “snakebite” Bigsby holes in the top. This baby came with a trapeze for sure. And what about those Super 400 inlays. The big pearl block inlays on a 355 are pretty nice but these really pop. Beautiful. Let’s see, what else is there…look at those f-holes. Not only are they bound but they are bound with multi ply binding. My Super 400 didn’t even have that. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that on a Gibson-correct me if you have. And then there’s the fingerboard binding-multiply again-this time like a Super 400. So, it’s kind of a 355 mono with S400 elements but not quite. The original buyer must have been very specific about what he wanted and probably paid a huge premium for it.

What is great about this one-beyond the unusual and wonderful custom elements is that it’s very clear that these weren’t aftermarket mods. It’s not too hard to put bindings on the f-holes or change out a fingerboard with different inlays and binding. I’ve got a guy in my area who can do that with one hand tied behind his back. But the trapeze? Can’t fake that. The holes are always the giveaway. No stop tail holes, no Bigsby holes, no sign of anything but that big ol’ trapeze. The other cool thing is that the label says “Custom” written in ink right next to the 355. My inside guy at Gibson took a peek at the shipping log page for me and confirmed that it says “custom” next to the entry but no details.

So, do these one offs have a different value than the standard issue 355? That’s a tough question because some do and some don’t. I don’t mind an owner’s name in the fingerboard, although most collectors find it off putting and the price reflects that. I kind of like it, in fact. You sometimes see a 58-60 335 that should have dot markers with a 345 fingerboard. That one is actually worth a bit less, in my opinion because you buy a dot neck for what…the dot neck. Now, if you bought a 355 for the block markers, then S400 markers would be a negative but you buy a 355 because it’s a bit of a pimpmobile and the fancier, the better is kind of the whole idea. While not quite the pimpmobile that a Gretsch White Falcon is, the 355 is still pretty tarted up. So, to take the most appealing element of a 355 Mono-(the fancy stuff-otherwise, you’d just buy a 335) and make it even more appealing is, well, pretty appealing.

And the old rule–“don’t fall in love” still applies. Like I always say, I’d own 200 of these if I didn’t abide by the rule.

 

OK, this is too obvious.

OK, this is too obvious.

Must be a custom - it says so right on the label.

Must be a custom – it says so right on the label.

First 345’s-Before the “First Rack”

November 27th, 2016 • ES 3454 Comments »
This is the earliest ES-345 to surface. there is one earlier one but it hasn't shown up on my radar.

This is the earliest ES-345 to surface. there is one earlier one but it hasn’t shown up on my radar.

Most everybody who cares about ES guitars has accepted the assumption that the earliest one (serial number wise) is A29656 shipped on April 20th 1959. The rest of that “rack” was shipped the next day on April 21st. While I have been told that FON’s are chronological, it seems that the first three racks S8537, S8538 and S8539 could have been done in reverse order since the guitars in S8539 have the bulk of the early serial numbers. A more likely scenario is that they could have made all three racks at more or less the same time and the most accessible was the last one and they got shipped first. But wait, there’s more.

A few weeks ago, I got an email from a reader who said he had a very early 345 with the serial number A29133-a full 500 plus numbers earlier than the presumed first one shipped. Not just 500 numbers but two months earlier. On top of that the FON is 1958. Imagine my surprise. So, I got in touch with my inside guy at Gibson who checked the records to try to find the earliest 345 in the book and, sure enough, four ES-345’s were shipped on February 11th. They are serial numbers A29131-A29134. The FON is very late 58-T7303-xx. Strangely, there is also a rack designated as S7303 and that’s not supposed to happen. Did they forget to change the letter on the stamp (like the Fender amp charts from ’66) and then noticed it part way through the rack? Consider this (this is really geeky): serial number A 29132 and 29133-both 345’s both have the FON T7303. Serial number A 29548 (6 weeks later, more or less) is S7303. The FONs are supposed to be sequential and chronological with the letter changing at the first of the year and the numbers simply continuing. So, 7304 could have been an “S” but 7303 could not since it was already a “T”. Clear as mud. Right?

Anyway, we’ve got four 345’s that I’ll have to call “pre first rack”. They have all of the same features as the typical first rack 345’s-short leg PAF, small rout for the Varitone choke, thin top and huge neck. There are also two others that shipped in the period between Feb 11 and April 20th. One is A29623 which would be the 5th one shipped. There is one other and then the blonde A29656 mentioned in the first paragraph that has been the earliest known for some time. I’ve been compiling a FON database for nearly two years now and the more entries I make, the more confusing it gets. The overlaps at year end is just the beginning but that’s another post. So, were the first four prototypes? Probably not since they shipped to dealers and they had no unusual notes on the ledger page. Were there prototypes before these first four shipped? Hard to know. It’s likely there were but none have surfaced.

Just in case you aren’t confused enough, the first 345 was supposed to have gone to Hank Garland in 1958 but his is serial number A29915 which is a lot later — mid May 59. But, to add fuel to the controversy, I have A29914 in my database (the one right before Hank’s supposed prototype) and it was from the earliest numerical “first rack” (S8537) if you don’t include the recently discovered ones I’m writing about. So, how is that possible? The Garland family’s recollection and “paperwork” is a little slippery, so I wouldn’t put too much stock in their “certificate of authenticity”, signed, not by anyone at Gibson, but by Hank Garland and a Robert B. Garland.  No way to know anything for sure about this, so, let’s put that aside.

In any case, conventional wisdom is once again blown to bits. We have an earlier and probably the earliest run of 345’s there is. Two have surfaced-A29132 is a Bigsby with pearl dots and A29133 is a stop tail. Keep your eyes open for A29131-that’s supposed to be the first. Thanks to the nice folks at Gibson for their help.

This is supposed to be the first 345 but I kind of doubt it is. It's Hank Garland's (the sideways was added later) but it has a mid May 59 serial number so go figure.

This is supposed to be the first 345 but I kind of doubt it is. It’s Hank Garland’s (the sideways was added later) but it has a mid May 59 serial number so go figure.

 

Politics Anyone?

November 15th, 2016 • Uncategorized3 Comments »

 

If I had won the election (and I probably could have), this would be the new seal.

Well, the 2016 election which pretty much consumed most of the attention of the news media for, oh, the last two years or so is over. We are all surprised. Some are elated and some dismayed. I’ll keep my own politics out of it because this isn’t a political blog but politics can affect our interest.

The last time the economy tanked (thanks Wall Street), the vintage market tanked with it. Granted, we were in a bubble (thanks in part to more Wall Street types who decided guitars were a great investment even if they didn’t play them) and the bubble burst and a lot of folks got hurt financially. Those who love their vintage guitars and had no intention of ever selling them weren’t hurt at all. The lesson? Buy what you love and forget about the price the day after you buy it. But some of us buy to play and to invest. Certainly any vintage dealer will follow the same rule that guides nearly all investments—buy low and sell high. If you bought a 335 in 2010 after the bottom fell out of the market and those who were clinging to the slim hope that guitars weren’t affected had thrown in the towel, you did great if you held on. The market for good vintage guitars has been rising slowly and steadily-the way you want a market to rise. A gentle climb makes it somewhat less likely that a steep decline will follow barring some worldwide catastrophe. And speaking of worldwide catastrophes (or not), we circle back to the 2016 election.

There is some concern among the economic mucky mucks that the Trump presidency will tank the economy. It was my concern that if that happens, it will take the guitar market with it but then I gave it some serious thought. What tanks a collectible market is too many folks dumping inventory on the market in a desperate attempt to recover their investment before it loses value. Just like last time. But it isn’t just like last time this time. The Wall Street “investors” never came back in significant numbers-at least not to me. 99% of my clients are players, not investors and of that 99%, nearly all love their 335’s, 345’s and 355’s. And they love their Strats and Teles too.  Of course, circumstances arise and you have to sell stuff but that happens no matter what the economy is like. My point is that the current vintage market seems pretty stable and if our new president does something that adversely affects the economic picture, I think the guitar market will be affected less rather than more. That’s not to say that the market will stay where it is. High end guitars are a luxury item and luxury items don’t follow the same rules as necessities. You could certainly argue that if the Trump tax cuts-which are wildly skewed toward the rich-go into effect, then wealthy folks will have more money to spend on things like high end vintage guitars. Not so true of the middle class who will get something like a $300 break. That will buy you a t-top. So much for saving the middle class.

So, bottom line? Keep your guitars and enjoy them. You already spent the money, so stop worrying about your investment and play your guitar(s). There’s nothing better for taking your mind off of politics.

Bargain Basement

November 7th, 2016 • ES 3353 Comments »
My Refinished 1961 Dot Neck. I bought it in 2005 for around $9K. I sold it for around $10K a year later and bought it back a few months ago for $9K. Great player, great tone.

My Refinished 1960 Dot Neck. I bought it in 2005 for around $9K. I sold it for around $10K a year later and bought it back a few months ago for around $10K. Great player, great tone.

For most of us, the quest is for tone. Then it’s playability. Or is it the other way around? What good is extraordinary tone if you can’t play the thing? And what good is a guitar that plays like butter but sounds like crap? So let’s call it both. After that, it’s anybody’s guess. Originality? Condition? Rarity? Looks? Provenance? Well, from my experience, it all depends on who is buying. I don’t have a degree in psychology (but I took a psych course in college once-does that count?) but I’ve learned a thing or two about folks who buy vintage guitars. Some play and listen and are sold (or not) on that basis alone. No questions, no worries about its history or provenance and no worries about whether one of the saddles got changed in 1963. Some ask 1000 questions and still can’t decide which guitar is right for them. And I don’t blame them-a vintage guitar can be a huge investment as well as your tool of your trade. But the one thing that all of you can do is take advantage of my experience.

I’ve owned 600 ES-335, 345 and 355’s and played every one of them. Tweaked and set up most of them as well. If I can make it play and sound better before I sell it, then it’s my obligation to do so. Likewise, if it has some changed parts, it behooves me to change what I can to make it as right as possible (and disclose it). But lets go back to the original premise here. I called the post “Bargain Basement” and the reason it’s called that is because you can get the playability and tone of a great 58-64 for half the cost or less. There are some kind of dumb rules that apply (that I didn’t make) to vintage guitars. We all know that originality trumps everything. Neck repair? Half the value. Refinish? Half the value. Bigsby? Knock off 15-25%. Grovers? Knock off $1000-$4000. Refret? I dunno-depends how good the fret job is. Buckle rash? Missing some binding? replaced nut? There are lots of things that affect the value but don’t necessarily change the two big factors of tone and playability.

Let’s take a stop tail refinished block neck-say it’s a 64. If original, that’s a $20,000 guitar more or less depending on condition. The refin drops it to $10000 or maybe a little more if it’s a really good job. $10K for a killer player 64 with all of its original parts that can sound 100% as good as any with an original finish is a bargain. Especially with new ones getting up over $6000. Make it a Bigsby/Custom made version and set it up as a stop tail and you could be at $8000. In 5 years, that brand new reissue you paid $6K for will be worth $4K or less. That $8000 64? I’ll bet you a dot neck and raise you a tweed Bassman that its worth the same or more in 5 years. Headstock break? If properly repaired, it cuts the value in half but most of the time it will have no effect on playability or tone. Add in some other benign changes like Grovers or some good repro parts and you could drop the cost below that of the high end reissue.

Want to save even more? Buy a mid 60’s 335. I’ve seen plenty of 65’s with early patent number pickups (same as a PAF) and I’ve seen plenty of pre T-tops right up to mid 69. If you can manage the narrow nut, you can get a killer player for under $4000 if its refinished or repaired. Don’t like the trap tail? Have your luthier or tech convert it to a stop. You aren’t going to hurt the value any further-just make sure he puts it in the right location. Want to save even more? Make it a 345 or a 355. I’ve picked up some junkers that have played great and sounded great. In fact one of the best sounding 335’s I’ve ever played cost me around $8K less than 5 years ago. It was a refinished early 62 (dot neck). I wish I had it back. I’ve had $40,000 59’s that didn’t sound as good as that one.  I also had a killer 65 with a neck repair that cost me $2500. Not in the top ten but still a great player.

So, ask all the questions, play as many as you need to and, above all else, be happy with the guitar you buy. No, be ecstatic. It should make you play more, play better and play happy. Ultimately, when it comes to the important stuff, buy what you can afford. If the one you can afford doesn’t do all of the above, wait for one that does. They are out there for sure.

This Candy Apple Red refinished 62 dot neck is in my top five ES's. Not my favorite color but my oh my did this baby sing.

This Candy Apple Red refinished 62 dot neck is in my top five ES’s. Not my favorite color but my oh my did this baby sing.

Somebody Famous was Here

October 25th, 2016 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 3556 Comments »
I once had a white '65 ES-355 with BB Kings autograph on it. It probably would have sold for more without it but the buyer was a BB King fan, so I left it.

I once had a white ’65 ES-355 with BB King’s autograph on it. It probably would have sold for more without it but the buyer was a BB King fan, so I left it.

I get a lot of emails from folks buying and selling ES models and one of the most frequently encountered subjects is guitars that have been autographed. While this is not my market, I feel it’s worth writing a post about. The assumption by most sellers is that an autographed guitar is worth more than one that isn’t. I don’t entirely agree.

Well, let me clarify. Right now there are no less than four Gibson “Lucille” models for sale of Reverb.com. One is $60,000, another is $15K, one $14K and one at $8000. The guitars, without the autographs, are nice guitars but they aren’t particularly old nor are they particularly collectible. I can pick up a 90’s or 2000’s Lucille for $2500 or so. So, do the sellers believe that the autograph is worth $5500 to over $50K?  OK, the really expensive one comes with some tour swag but $60K seems like a really big number. So do all the rest of them. Let me tell you a fairly short story. A few years ago, I was contacted by the widow of the owner of a pretty nice 1958 ES-335. I flew to Nashville to meet with her and discuss the value of her late husband’s guitar. We hadn’t finalized a price but we had established a range pending my inspection of the guitar. I ended up offering around $25000 for it and her reaction was “…but it’s autographed by BB King.” My clever rejoinder? “OK, $24000.”  I explained to her that the first thing I would do when I got back home was to remove the autograph.

My point is that a collectible guitar is not made more collectible just because its autographed by someone famous. In addition to the great BB King, I have removed Eric Clapton’s autograph, Les Paul’s, various members of Kiss and quite a few others. If you must get your vintage guitar autographed, have them sign the pick guard-preferably on the back. Or bring along a new (cheap) guitar and have them autograph that. A lot of these guys sign thousands of guitars and the value of the autograph is very small. If you’ve got a Beatle or Elvis, then leave it alone. A Rolling Stone? I’d probably remove it from a vintage Gibson unless it was a Firebird VII autographed by Brian Jones. That would be worth something.

OK, well how about if the guitar was owned by somebody famous? That’s a whole ‘nother ballgame if you’ve got good documentation. And he (or she) can’t just have played it once. It has to have really good provenance. An album cover photo is good provenance. A signed letter by the artist with a photo will probably do. A letter from a friend of the friend who got it from the famous player’s ex-wife’s cousin isn’t good enough. A photo of the famous player holding the guitar isn’t good enough either. I’ve had plenty of famous players in my shop and if a photo of them with one of my guitars was worth something, I’d be snapping photos all day.  Be careful though. Provenance is pretty easy to fake. That’s why the album cover photo is great provenance. And make sure the guitar that’s in the provenance is the same guitar as you’re considering buying. Wood grain is pretty much like a fingerprint. If the grain doesn’t match, walk, no, run in the opposite direction. We all know what the Clapton guitars have sold for and the Dylan Strat and the Lennon J160. It’s some serious dough which is why I generally stay away from that market. The price of admission is high and the rate of fraud is up there as well.

EC's autograph on an '84. I think I left this one on too. It didn't affect the value at all.

EC’s autograph on an ’84. I think I left this one on too. It didn’t affect the value at all.

FON Follow up.

October 17th, 2016 • ES 3352 Comments »
Huge neck, pat applied tuners, thin top, "T" FON...58, right? well maybe not. The serial number is 1960 in the A331xx range. What do I call it?

Huge neck, pat applied tuners, thin top, “T” FON…58, right? well maybe not. The serial number is 1960 in the A331xx range. What do I call it?

Just when I make my big point about FON’s and serial numbers, a guitar comes along that makes me feel like I just shot myself in the foot. Generally, conflicting FON’s and serial numbers are on the cusp of the years they straddle. So, you might have a late 59 FON and an early 60 serial. I’d call that a 60. There are 58 FONs that show up in mid 59 which is strange. There’s a whole lot of them, in fact.

My database shows that 1959 serial numbers A30247, A30248, A30251, A30268 and A30659 have “T” FON’s which means they were at least started in 1958. All show certain 58 only features like the thinner top. Some, but not all,  have the shallow neck angle. Another 58 feature is patent applied Klusons rather than patent number. Interestingly, none of the 59’sn with 58 FON’s had them. That leads me to believe the bodies and necks were made in 58 but the guitars were assembled in 59 with 59 parts. None had shaved bridges or the low profile bridge (most of which have collapsed by now. These are June 59 (and later) 335’s. Were these bodies somehow left over after Gibson made the changes? There were complaints about cracks in the tops and collapsing bridges, so maybe they put the unfinished 58 bodies aside until the complaints died down (or they got too busy) and decided to sell them anyway.

That brings us to today’s subject guitar. The serial number is March 1960. That means the guitar sat for at least 15 months. The guitar has a relatively early (for a bound 335) 58  factory order number and shows all of the late 58 features including the pat. applied Kluson tuners, the shaved bridge and extremely shallow neck angle, thin top, “rolled” plastic truss cover (gone by mid 59). So, using the policy I laid out in my last post that says the serial number designates the year, it’s a 60. The problem is that everybody associates an early 60 dot neck with a smaller “transitional” neck profile. This one has the biggest neck I’ve ever measured on a 335-.94″ at the first fret and over 1″ at the 12th. Most 58’s are .88″ or so at the first fret. The biggest 59’s are usually .90-.93″. Calling it a 60 does the guitar an injustice but as a compromise, I’m calling it a 58/60 with a 58 FON and 58 features.

This isn’t the first time I’ve come across a big gap in FON/serial number but its the first one that so clearly shows it’s FON heritage. I had a 62 block neck that somehow got an “R” FON designating a 60 build. But in that case, the guitar wouldn’t have been completed in 1960 as it had a block neck (started in 62) and patent number pickups (a completed 60 would always have PAFs). That one had a darker overspray at the endpin but it didn’t cover anything up. I just assumed it was covering some amateur paint work. maybe that’s why it didn’t ship when it was built.

As I’ve said before, buying and selling vintage guitars requires a bit of amateur forensics and some imagination. You have to ask why something like that would occur and come up with a reasonable scenario beyond “uh, it must have been a special order…” Gibson seems to have been in a state of constant change throughout the period from 56-65 or so. That is perhaps why anomalies come up from time to time.

Looks like a 62 but there is hidden weirdness going on. It has a 1960 Factory Order Number and has the thinner body of a dot neck.

Looks like a 62 but there is hidden weirdness going on. It has a 1960 Factory Order Number and has the thinner body of a dot neck. No one has a good answer for why this occurs.