Archive for August, 2010

Poor Man’s 335

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

The "Poor Man's" 335. This is a 66 with a 1 5/8" nut that has been converted to a stop tail. If you have a sharp eye, you'll notice that the stop is very slightly lower than it should be. The bottom edge of the stop should just about line up with the 3 way switch. Not enough to bother me because, hey, we're not fooling anyone into thinking it's something it's not. It's pretty unusual for a 66 to have this nut width but it's Gibson. Anything is possible.

I’ve heard the term poor man’s 335 or poor man’s ’64  now and then and figured I’d look into the concept. Essentially, the term refers to trapeze tailpiece equipped ES 335s being drilled for a stop tail.  As most of you probably know the very last of the “Golden Era” stops were made in the first few weeks of 1965. That was a year of big transition and the beginning of the great 60’s guitar boom which lasted until around 68. 1965 was also the first year of the narrow neck at 1 9/16″. There are some at 1 11/16″ like the 58-64s and I’ve seen a few at 1 5/8″ but the bulk of 65s are 1 9/16″ which is kind of narrow. The idea of the smaller “faster” neck was likely a product of corporate hype and the folks at Fender who were leading the charge here in the USA for guitar based rock and roll. When I was a teenager (in the 60’s), Fenders were all the rage. Gibsons were too expensive for most of us-we knew they were good and often considered “the best” guitar available but  they were also considered kind of stodgy. Look at the early American rockers-before the discovery of the Les Paul as rock icon. They were playing mostly Fenders. But that’s another subject altogether. Anyway, back in 65 a few other things happened. The headstock angle changed from  17 to 14 degrees probably in the hope that they wouldn’t break off so easily. The bevel on the  truss rod cover went from wide to thin and the hardware transitioned from nickel to chrome. And I could add that they changed the wire that they used to wind the pickups. So, it was a big year for the 335 and that’s one of the reasons that 65’s have become so much more collectible. The wider neck is one of the most sought after elements in old 335s and 345s. the 355s tended to be narrower-maybe because ebony was so expensive. The “poor man’s 335″ refers to one of these wide necked 65s that have been converted to a stop tail.  Essentially turning a 65 into a 64. It can also refer to a later, narrow necked one but those will always be compromised in the minds of many by it’s narrow width. But before you go drilling holes in a $6-$7,000 guitar, think about what you’re doing. Extra holes will kill the vintage value in a big way-even though there will only be 2 of them from the trapeze. Most collectors know that if there are 2 holes by the strap button, the guitar had a trap tail. A Bigsby B7 will show 4 holes. So, here’s my take on it: If you’re looking for a player and you can’t afford $12,500 or more for a stop tail 62-64, then spending, say $5000 on a wide neck 65 with a stop already on it is kind of a no brainer. It won’t appreciate like a stock 65 might but you’ll have what is essentially a 64. It’ll look like one (some 64’s had chrome pickup covers, too), it’ll play like one and it’ll sound like one. The one pitfall to look for is stop tails that have been put in the wrong position. There’s a bit of a range-even at the factory but for some reason, folks seem to want to put them way too far away from the bridge. Not only does it look wrong but it messes up the break angle of the strings. The savings over a stock trap tail can be enormous. I picked up one recently for about half it’s stock value. I also recently came across a 63 that had been equipped with a Bigsby and had been converted to a stop. While the price we came to was decent but the stop was way too low on the guitar and not only did it look dumb but it knocked no less than $8000 off the value.

This is the 63 I mentioned that was originally a Bigsby model but someone who was apparently visually handicapped decided to put the stop tail about an inch and a half too low. If you put it where it belongs, you get 2 huge holes that would need to be filled. If you leave it where it is, it will always look glaringly wrong, even if it functions perfectly. This totally destroyed the value of this otherwise very nice 63. How do you value a guitar like this? Half? One third? These are the tricky ones.

Back in the Saddle Again.

Monday, August 30th, 2010

Here's a set of metal-gold over brass on this ES-345. Note the little "shelf" on top. That's what the originals looked like. Modern saddles tend to be a sharp edge on top.

I have an unusual situation with the guitars I have in the closet right now. I’ve got two early block necks-both stop tails, but one has nylon saddles and the other has metal. It gave me a chance to assess the pros and cons of each side by side instead of having to swap out the saddles which is a tremendous pain. Not as bad as trying to get a harness back into a 345 but hard enough. Tune-o-matic bridges are inherently noisy things. They have way to much movement and when a string vibrates against a somewhat loose metal bridge, you get a lot of additional vibration. That vibration is dissipating some of the energy (meaning sound) that should be transmitted to the wood and to the pickups. The Tone Pros guys built an entire business around that fact. They eliminated the rattle between the bridge and the post by adding a set screw and they lessened the amount of rattle in the saddles by screwing the adjustment screws into the body of the bridge. Gibson’s early solution was to simply use a nylon saddle. It would still vibrate but it wouldn’t transmit that vibration to the bridge itself and was thus a bit more quiet. Great. Except that it seemed to muffle the sound a bit. Some of the metallic “bite” you get from a metal saddle disappeared along with the unwanted saddle rattle. So, what happens when you put the metal saddles up against the nylon? I gotta go with the metal. Annoying as the vibrations are, that extra little bit of attack you get is worth it to me. If the rattle bothers you and you want that extra bite, get a Tone Pros replacement. It looks the same and it will be a bit quieter. There are other bridges that achieve the same end made by Faber and Pigtail and probably a few others. Just make sure you hang onto your original bridge. If you lose your vintage ABR-1, you’ll be out at least $300 for a vintage one when you want to cash out of your vintage “investment”.  On the other hand, I don’t gig with my vintage stuff and if a guitar comes to me with nylon saddles, I’m not really inclined to swap them out. I like playing a vintage guitar in its original form and part of the block neck “experience” are those nylon saddles. If you play your block neck without the amp at all, you’ll appreciate the nylon. I know that when I can’t sleep and I get up to play for an hour or two until I’m tired enough, I’ll go to one of the 335s and play without the amp. In that situation, the lack of rattle is a very good thing. One other thing to note and that is string gauge. If you use medium or heavy gauge strings, the downward pressure on the saddles is much much greater. That additional pressure keeps things much quieter so if you use 11’s or larger, metal saddles will suit you just fine amp or no amp. If you string up with 9’s or 10’s, your metal saddle bridge is going to rattle. I could also mention graphite saddles but I’ve never used them because I refuse to pay that much for a saddle. Feel free to add your experiences with them to the comments. Or send me a set that I don’t have to pay $25 for 75 cents worth of graphite.

Here's a photo of some modern plastic saddles. These are Tusq-which is a very hard bone-like plastic material. I'll bet these would sound pretty good and have all the quiet of nylon and some of the bite of brass. Unfortunately they cost around $40 which is a lot for a set of saddles. It's gotten tough to find the old type of nylon saddle.

Ben…Mr McGuire…Ben…Mr McGuire…

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Here's a sunburst dot neck from Tom H.'s site showing the typical gold bonnet knob-the one everybody associates with the Les Paul 'burst.

OK, another reference to “The Graduate”. The next line? “I’ve got one word…plastics.” So, when last we examined the wonderful world of ES-335/345/355 plastics, I didn’t get to the knobs. They aren’t a very good indicator of anything because they’re so easy to change but, what the heck. I’m gonna run out of stuff to write about eventually so I might as well cover everything before the reruns start. There are bonnets, top hats and witch hats. There are also speed knobs but they weren’t standard on any 335 until the late 70’s and then on oddball iterations like the CRR or the ES-347.  In 1958, most Gibson guitars came with the familiar bonnet knob. You know the one…gold or black plastic with the numbers 1-10 and no shiny insert in the top. Generally, it was gold knobs for the sunburst and naturals and black for the red ones. Since the 355 mostly came in red, they nearly always had the black knobs. However, I know the guy who owns the very first ES 355 ever shipped-a 58-and his has gold bonnets. I think I’ve said this before-at Gibson, anything is possible. In the early months of 1960, apparently the nice folks at Gibson thought that musicians were too dumb to tell the volume control from the tone control. Or maybe they decided that musicians were smart enough to read-I’m not sure which. In any case, they changed the knobs in 1960 wo what are usually referred to as top hats-so named because of the tall straight sides. The top hat knob had a chrome insert in the top that read “volume” or “tone”. Frankly I’m surprised they did this because it probably takes a split second longer to put the knobs on a guitar when you have to make sure you have them in the right positions. Before, it didn’t matter. Over the course of a zillion or so guitars that could add up to, I don’t know…minutes!  Once again, they followed the gold for sunburst and black for red finished guitars. There always seem to be exceptions to the rules but, as I mentioned, it’s pretty easy to swap out a knob. My first ES 345 was a sunburst 1960 with a Bigsby that I got for a song (with the GA 79RVT amp!) and it had black knobs. In true Gibsonian style, the folks there must have decided that Fender was getting too popular so they decided to “borrow” the knobs from their very popular amps and put them on Gibson guitars. I don’t know what they were thinking. Maybe that people would see that the knobs on the Gibson guitar matched the knobs on everybody’s amps (I’m guessing Fender amps outsold Gibson amps by 100 to 1) and perhaps think that the amp was made by Gibson?  Never try to get too deeply into the mind of a corporate big wig-you might not find your way back (it’s big, empty and scary in there). So, late in 1966, they began the transition to the “witch hat” knob, so named because…oh, you get it. OK.  It looks like a big old Halloween…OK, like I said, you get it. They aren’t terribly attractive but they are always black. Sunburst, cherryburst, red, it didn’t matter-they were all black. No more rummaging around the parts bin looking for gold ones. They retained the “volume” and “tone” designations however. As a dating technique, you can bet the ranch that if the guitar has witch hats, it’s a late 66 or later. the reverse is not true though. I can’t imagine anyone putting witch hats on an earlier guitar but plenty of folks take the witch hats off and replace them with bonnets or top hats. They look like amp knobs and they don’t look all that great on a guitar.

In 1960, the top hat knob was introduced and hung around until late 1966. Note that they have writing on them so you know what knob you're turning.

This knob belongs on a Fender amp, not on a Gibson guitar but I don't make the rules. These were in use from late 1966 until well into the 70's.

Gold bonnets on a red guitar, oh my. This is the very first ES 355 ever shipped. It's a 58 and if the owner says the gold knobs are original, I'm inclined to believe him. How cool is this???

Ebay ES of the Week #3

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

This nice looking red 335 is advertised as a 68. But is it?

The first two Ebay listings that we examined were high end collector grade 335’s from the 50’s. Let’s go the other way and take a closer look at what appears to be a very affordable, no reserve auction of a 1968 ES 335. Or is it? Let’s take a look at what we can see in the photos. We can immediately rule out anything earlier than 67 due to the witch hat knobs. It’s got the larger f-holes, so we know it’s at least a 68. Well, that’s what the seller says it is so why go any further. We go further because the seller is mistaken.  There are a couple of aspects of this guitar which make it-without a doubt-a 69.  1968-69 is loaded with transitions so it can be hard to tell them apart but there are a couple of things that allow us to do just that. Look at the logo-no dot on the “i” in Gibson. That’s generally indicates a 69 but I can’t guarantee that there weren’t some of those in late 68. OK, while we’re at it, lets take a look at the serial number which isn’t going to tell us much since Gibson serial numbers during this period were all over the place and are thus not a good indicator of year of manufacture. The serial number looks like 820657 to me. According to my list, that would be a 66 serial number-which it clearly isn’t. There are, however, 69 serial numbers in that range but that, in itself, is not enough information.  The dead giveaway is the neck. It’s a 3 piece and I’m betting that if you took off the neck pickup and looked for a tenon you wouldn’t find one.  Even though Norlin (beer/concrete) didn’t arrive until the end of 1969, the cost cutting began before the takeover occurred and this guitar is an example of the early days of those changes. The fact that the guitar has no “made in USA” stamp and no neck volute shows the guitar to be an example from earlier in the year rather than later but there are plenty of 69 335’s that have all of the 68 features including the one piece neck. Being a no reserve auction, this guitar could go pretty cheap. With asking prices of $8000 or more, the large number of late 60’s ES 335s that won’t sell is staggering. And, while the lack of the long neck tenon (or any neck tenon for that matter) is a concern, it isn’t a dealbreaker to me. If the price of this guitar stays under $3000, you might just get a deal. But, given the fact that I’ve seen 66’s and 67’s sell in the mid threes, you might want to hold out for one of those. You also might want to look at 345’s-they are typically a good 20% less than an equivalent 335. You just have to be prepared to deal with a stereo guitar (which, frankly, is no big deal-just get a Y cable). The market is a little schizo right now. A 1979 which may have been a 1980 went for $2800 recently. I personally wouldn’t have paid half that but someone did. It could have been an excellent guitar but, given the odds on a 70’s 335, it probably wasn’t.

And here's the "tell"-a three piece neck. You can see the seams clearly in this photo. It's not that three piece necks can't be good-they can be just fine. They were, however, a cost cutting measure and there weren't any in 1968. This guitar is, therefore, a 1969.

The Mystery of the Center Block

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

Here's a 63 with the cutout in the center block. I think most 63's don't have it but I need more data.

I’ve touched on this before but now we’ll go into some more detail and I’ll also elicit your help to try to figure out the timeline for this. Originally, the ES-335 (but not the 345 or stereo 355) had solid block down the middle with no cutouts of any kind. There were holes through the block for the pickup wires but nothing else. The harnesses were actually put into the guitar through the f-hole.  At some point, it occurred to the bean counters at Gibson that it was taking rather a long time to get the damned harnesses through that little hole and they intended to do something about it. Someone had the bright idea to cut out a section of the center block so that the pickup cavity was open to the hollow part of the guitar. It probably didn’t require much thought since they had already done this on the 345 to accommodate the varitone chokes-which are those two (connected) big silver boxes that add all the weight to a 345. They are actually transformers for the varitone circuitry-1 for each pickup. The mystery part is that it really isn’t very clear when they started doing this and when they stopped using the block without the cutout. Gibson likes to do things gradually, using up all the “old style” units-whatever they may be-and phasing in the new unit. they did thid with PAFs and patent number pickups, they did it with Mickey Mouse ear bodies, new and old style ABR1 bridges, tuners, tailpieces and just about everything else. The transitions took place over varying lengths of time. The bridge transition seemed to take about a year (65-66), the Mickey Mouse ears a bit less than a year (63) and PAFs around 2 years (early 62-late 63). Well, the transition from solid block to cutout block took even longer. Tom H. who runs the excellent site says the cutout shows up as early as 62, although he’s heard some say that it showed up in some 61’s.  I own a guitar (“The Mexican”) from early 65 that has no cutout. My 64 doesn’t have it either. My 62 didn’t have it. My 63 did. So, if there are any readers who can take a look at your 61-65 335’s and tell me if there is or isn’t a cutout, it would strike a blow for knowledge and understanding in the world of ES-335’s. Interestingly, the existence of the cutout doesn’t seem to make much difference in the sound of the guitar. Even though the ones with the cutout have a bit more hollow “area”, they don’t seem any more resonant. I’ve heard some folks say that the ones without the cutout sustain better which is one of the reasons the early 335s sound better than the later ones. I find that a bit far fetched. I think the bigger difference occurred when they went from the stop tail to the trapeze which seems to follow the existence of the cutout to some degree. It seems that most ES 335s with the stop do not have the cutout. How many more remains unknown. perhaps I’ll get some responses from owners. I tried that on the Les Paul Forum but I got nowhere. I guess that’s why it’s called the Les Paul Forum and not the ES-335 Forum.

Here's the rout on my 65. This is the only 65 I've seen without the cutout. By this time, most ES-335s had a trapeze tailpiece and the cutout in the block.

Making A Case for the 335

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

Here are 3 different Lifton Cases. the brown ones from the 50's and early 60's. The black from the early to late 60's. You can see the badge on the open case.

The subject of ES-335 cases is a dull one. Cases just aren’t that interesting but they can be useful in identifying the era of the guitar in it. the problem is that it’s impossible to tell if a case is original. Oh, there are signs that will tell you it isn’t but none that will tell you it is. The best one is to look at the wear pattern-it should match the guitar in it and have no other wear. If you see wear from 2 different guitars, you can rest assured the case isn’t original. Look at where the strings hit the top and where the tuners hit the sides. The wear should be pretty well defined. But that isn’t what I’m writing about today. I’m going to try to identify all the cases used by Gibson during the 50’s and 60’s and try to make some sense of it. It’s particularly difficult to do this simply because in so many instances, the cases were provided by the music store and not by Gibson. While the shape of the ES-335 wasn’t common in 1958, by the time the end of the 60’s rolled around there were plenty of guitars “inspired by” the success of the 335 . In the early days, nearly all of the guitars were housed in brown Lifton cases with a hot pink interior. I’ve seen 2 different shapes-one with a more “hourglass” figure and the other, more common with a more subdued shape. I don’t know why the handles turn blue on these. There should be a Lifton “built like a fortress” tag on the case pocket. At some point in 1961, Lifton began making a black case with a yellow/orange interior. I’ve seen brown cases as late as 62. I’m sure they didn’t all get used up on Monday and the new ones arrived on Tuesday. Plenty of overlap as usual. The distinguishing mark of a Lifton, besides the badge, is the texture of the covering-a pebble grain, almost elephant grain that is distinctive. Liftons also often have a leather covered metal handle which the others don’t have. As the sales of 335s and their siblings went through the roof in the mid 60’s, more case makers came into play. I’m guessing Lifton couldn’t handle the increased demand. The Victoria Luggage Company of Los Angeles who worked with Fender early on stepped in and made a very similar case. Also black with a less orangey yellow interior, the Victoria case became very common in the mid 60’s. The vinyl covering was much finer with very little raised texture.

Victoria case. All the latches are the same on these. Fender also used these for their "inspired by" 335, the short lived Coronado line

If you have an early 60’s ES and it’s in a Victoria case, chances are it isn’t original. All of the latches on my Victoria case are the flip down type where you push a tab downward to lock the loop in place.  My 66 came in a Victoria, My 64 in a black Lifton. Another player, Ess and Ess of Brooklyn. NY showed up as a supplier in the mid 60’s as well. To complicate matters, their case was black with, you guessed it, a yellow/orange interior. What’s distinctive about the Ess and Ess cases that I’ve seen is that they have a spring loaded main catch while the others didn’t.  They also often had a catch on the back side of the case as well-you know the one you always forget to unlatch when you open the case. Neither my Lifton nor my Victoria cases have that feature.  There is a fourth case that shows up over and over again and I don’t know who the manufacturer is-I’ve always called them Gibson cases because they always have the Gibson badge. They are, once again, black vinyl covered with almost no grain and yellow/orange inside. They never have a manufacturers sticker inside like the other 3 usually have. They are a 5 latch case with the main latch being a flip down loop type and the other 4 are flip up loop types. This is the case that’s often identifiable by its broken handle. If you have one, you know what I mean. The “Gibson” case seems to be most common from 1963 on.  My ’65 ES 335-“The Mexican” came in a Gibson badged case (badges? we don’t need no stinkin’ badges) with a buffalo stenciled on it. Did they even have buffalo in Mexico 9OK, purists, “bison”).

Ess and Ess with a '65 cherryburst trap tail. Note the sprig loaded main latch. That's how they do it in Brooklyn.

The "Gibson" case. Note the badge and the flip down latch. All the others flip up. These are most common in the mid 60's to late 60's

The $10,000 Hole

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

The Bigsby B7 leaves four small holes by the strap button. Collectors hate them but the price differential can make a vintage piece affordable to the player-even one in excellent condition. And you don't have to drill any holes if you want to put a Bigsby on. This was my 62 ES 335 that was a factory Bigsby with "Custom Made" plaque

One of the questions I get asked, perhaps more frequently than most, is what effect does an extra hole or two in a vintage 335 do to the value. It’s a tough question because of a few factors. Factors like: where is the hole?, how many are there? How big is it? and Has it been repaired? I’m going to start with the most common of holes- extra tuner holes. Interestingly, some time in the 70’s, Gibson players, en masse, decided that Klusons were second rate tuners and switched in droves to Grovers and, later, Schallers. The sad truth is that they are, in fact, better tuners, but Gibson was looking for economy over function in many cases. It’s no accident that the higher end model Gibsons almost always sported Grovers. Now, Grover and Schaller both had attachment screws that didn’t line up with the Kluson holes, so new holes had to be made resulting in the “peekaboo” extra holes that peek out behind whatever tuners are currently on the guitar. Many vintage 335s have had the Grovers or Schallers removed and the “original” Klusons put back on. Original is in quotes because much of the time, they are correct but not original. Kluson tuners were used on so many guitars in the 50s and 60s that they aren’t hard to scavenge off a not very collectible Gibson or other make. So, when the “original” Klusons are back on, what about the extra (at least) 6 holes left by the Grovers? How does that affect the value and/or playability of an old 335 or 345? Less than you’d think and that surprises me a bit. It seems that all those holes on the headstock don’t bother folks nearly as much as the 6 holes left by a Bigsby (even if it was a factory unit). It must have something to do with a perceived “sanctity” of the top of the guitar. Even a single hole left by a coil tap or some other 70’s or 80’s fad will diminish the value of an otherwise spectacular specimen in a very big way-thus the $10,000 hole. I recently looked at an absolutely stunning dot neck 335 that had a single, small, well repaired hole between the 3 way and the volume controls. It was barely visible and not much larger than a screw hole from a Bigsby. The seller was looking for close to $25,000 for the guitar and, to be honest, without the hole, it might have been a $30,000 guitar. I appraised it at around $20,000 but I thought it would be a great buy for someone who really wanted a high quality dot neck without mortgaging the house. Collectors, understandably, want the guitar to be as it was when it left the factory and each element that changes that fact will diminish its value and it desirability. The usual formula is 50% for a refinish, 50% for a neck repair (break) but there is no formula for holes. From what I’ve gathered, tuner holes are worth around 10% but Bigsby holes are worth more like 25%-the same as if the guitar had the Bigsby on it. A hole that has been added on the back-like an additional strap button- will hardly lower the value at all-probably not even 5%. A hole in the top like the one I described can easily knock 30% or more off. That seems odd considering a Bigsby B7 leaves 2 holes in the top and 4 at the butt end. I guess because they’re “supposed” to be there makes a difference.  These percentages are not hard and fast because of other factors like the overall condition of a guitar but it can be counter intuitive. If a guitar is heavily worn-dripping with “mojo” as the pimply faced hyperbole goes, an extra hole here or there won’t make much difference in its value. But an extra hole in an otherwise mint specimen will make a huge difference. What that shows you is that the premium for the very highest quality examples of a collectible guitar is a huge percentage of its overall price. I find it interesting that a well played, beat up guitar with no issues will often (and perhaps usually) be worth more than a near mint guitar with a single hole where it doesn’t belong. Unless it’s on the back.

"Peekaboo" holes. Grovers over Klusons. The reverse is more common. Surprisingly, this doesn't diminish value all that much. Maybe because it's so common.

Holes in the top from a Bigsby B7 Model-The usual type to be used on a 335. When well filled, they can be just about invisible.

Ebay ES of the Week #2

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

1958 ES-335 in Natural. I've always been a sucker for a pretty blonde. Just ask my wife (of 25 years)

It’s merely a coincidence that the first two “Ebay ES of the Week” candidates are very expensive, high end 335’s. This is a first year (1958) natural finished ES-335. It has a gorgeous birdseye maple top and back, it’s original PAF pickups and is owned by the son of the original owner. I wrote a post about one owner guitars a while back and there always seems to be something about them that intrigues me. This guitar has been played but never abused-you can tell not only by the condition of the guitar but also by the case. There’s hardly a mark on it and, get this, it has both keys. That’s almost unheard of. I can’t keep a guitar for a week without losing at least one of the keys. I lost the keys to my 2009 Historic 3 days after I got it and I never took it out of the house (I’ll just put them in a safe place…). There is the typical sagging bridge but there are plenty of ABR-1 bridges in the correct no wire/nickel configuration. There is no fix for metal fatigue so a replacement is the only solution. It ain’t cheap but, you know, it’s a once in a lifetime guitar. There were 50 1958 blonde 335’s out there. Another 160 59’s and 60’s. So it’s rare but not ridiculously rare. If I had $75,000 in disposable cash lying about, I’d be all over this guitar.  I absolutely love it. Unfortunately guitar blogging doesn’t pay and my real job covers my living expenses, so unless the seller accepts my $500 a month for the rest of my life offer, I’ll have to do without. Given the fact that there are people who will pay as much as $400,000 for the right 59 Les Paul, it wouldn’t surprise me if someday these guitars caught up or at least got close. At the very top of the market, this was a six figure guitar and there aren’t many of those. Is it actually worth $75,000? I guess it is if you want it badly enough (and I do). This isn’t a guitar you buy with your head. This is one you buy with your heart and if your heart is bigger than your wallet, then you are out of luck (rats).  Today’s market for these isn’t what it was at its peak and most would agree  that the price is a bit on the high side.  There are so few that sell, that there’s no price guide for them. It’s strictly supply and demand. One of the things I love about 58’s is that the top (at least on the ones I’ve seen) is thinner-it has one less ply. This makes the guitar a bit more resonant, in my opinion and gives it a fuller sound-a little more like an archtop and a little less like a solid. It’s subtle, but its there. More so when unamplified but noticeable even on “11”. Please, readers, send me an envelope full of cash so I can have this guitar. I promise I’ll never sell it and you can use it on alternate weekends. Here’s a link to the listing

Check out the figuring in the wood. Flame? anybody can have flame but birdseye? Not so much.

The case looks brand new and comes with both keys which I would lose within 3 minutes of purchase.

Another ES-335 Variant: The ES-150D “Fatso”

Monday, August 9th, 2010

Just about the only red ES 150D I've ever seen. Note the master volume control on the treble cutaway.

In 1969, the Gibson Corporation was taken over by the Norlin Corp. (beer/concrete) and someone let loose with a bunch of less than brilliant guitar ideas. It seems that they acknowledged that the ES 335 was a good example of a guitar and they kept it in the lineup but then they started making various strange (and cheap) versions of their big seller.  In 1969, there was no hue and cry for another Jazz box but Gibson figured they needed one. The ES-175 wasn’t selling all that well and I guess maybe someone got the idea that it was a bit old fashioned. By 1969, the 335 was still selling relatively well and maybe the Norlin brass thought it had become a strictly rock and blues guitar and wanted to broaden its appeal. These are all guesses but there it was, the ES-150D. There was already an ES-150 from back in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s  but that hadn’t been made for some time so I guess Norlin figured they could save money by recycling the name, although I don’t really see how that would save them anything.  Maybe they already had hang tags made or something. The ES 150D looks just like a 335 when it’s lying on its back. But pick it up and it’s a full 3 inches deep and it’s completely hollow-no center block. It, like the 335, has 2 humbuckers, a 3 way switch and a volume and a tone control for each pickup. It also incorporated an element that didn’t appear on the 335-a master volume on the treble cutaway. I’ve never played one but I’m guessing they feed back big time. My 330 did and that was only half the depth and my 175 does and that’s pretty close to being the same guitar. I don’t know who Gibson was really targeting here since the ES 175 continued to be manufactured through the era. The ES 150D was made from 1969 up until some time in 1975 and they seem pretty rare. You never see more than one or two on Ebay and they tend to sell in the $2000-3000 range with the earlier ones in natural getting the bigger bucks. I’ve seen one red one which would probably be worth toward the higher end since there can’t be very many of them. These are not terribly collectible at the moment but if you love the ES 335 and you want a big ol’ jazz box, this might be right up your alley. I have a ’59 ES 175 and to be honest, I rarely play it. I find them a bit clunky to hold but maybe my arms are just too short. I’m also not a jazz guy even though the keyboard player from my old band tried to turn me into one. It didn’t work-mostly because I can’t count the oddball time signatures he was experimenting with. I can barely count to 9, let alone play in 9/4. Let’s see-that’s one two three-one two-one two three four??? I already feel like I’m going to throw up.

Here's a blonde '70. The knobs look to have been changed. These are more common but not as common as the walnut finish that nobody, including me, likes. If you want cheap, buy a walnut.

And speaking of Oddball Colors…

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

How's this for rare? The 1964 Greenburst from Rumble Seat Music's collection. I'm guessing there isn't another like it.

My last post was about the small array of colors that Gibson used to finish ES 335’s 345’s and 355’s and it appears I missed one. There was a discussion on The Les Paul Forum about my newest guitar, “The Mexican” which is very unusual cherryburst 65 stop tail. Unusual, sure, but surely not unique. Let’s see you find another “Greenburst”. This is from the Rumble Seat Music site and is apparently in their permanent collection. I couldn’t tell you if this was done at the Gibson factory but I have a strong suspicion that it was. The guitar in question is a 64 from what I can see and from how Rumble Seat describes it (and they know-they’re a very knowledgeable bunch). My feeling is that the color element is a real Gibson color called Kerry Green. Gibson made a lot more custom color guitars than I mentioned in the previous post but they were mostly Firebirds. It wouldn’t surprise me if ES 335’s existed somewhere in some of these finishes. As I understand it, in the early 60’s, Fender was having some level of success with custom colors-especially on Jazzmasters and Jaguars and Gibson, not to be outdone started doing the same-offering 10 different colors. All were automobile finishes and can actually be seen on many cars from the era. In fact, Kerry Green appeared on the ’61 Buick-not that I remember ever seeing one. You can find some very detailed information here. This particular website might be the basis for most of the vintage guitar knowledge out there. This is perhaps the broadest, most informative vintage guitar site anywhere. I’ve used it as a reference dozens of times and still go there when I’m not sure of something. His information is very accurate and thorough. So, maybe there is a “Heather Mist” 335 out there. Gibson didn’t seem to fare as well as Fender with custom colors since the Firebird didn’t last that long. The custom color FB Reverses command huge premiums these days. The chart below is, by no means every color that Gibson had at its disposal during this period. One need only look at the solid body Epiphone line of the mid 60’s to find an array of others including California Coral, Silver Fox and Red Fox. The “Fox” colors were actually made by filling the mahogany grain with a yellow filler and finishing the guitar in a translucent color. These are not likely to show up on an ES 335 because they aren’t mahogany-well, not usually (see earlier post about one offs).

Gibson's 1963 Color Chart. The chart refers to the available colors for the new Firebird series but I'm sure they would have made you a 335 if you asked nicely. Maybe even "bursted" one for you although I'm not sure how good a "Frost Blue" burst would look.