This is a pretty rare guitar. It’s also misidentified, perhaps in more ways than one. Most of you will see immediately that it’s not a 335 at all but a mono 355. I may buy this one for myself, I think it’s so cool. And rare? Whoo baby, they only made 67 monos in 1969 and by 70 the red ones were gone. There are a few really interesting things about this one. Being a mono version, it’s going to sound just like a 335 unless you’re one of those guys who can hear the difference between an ebony board and a rosewood board. Some find an ebony board brighter. I find it a bit slicker-which I like- but I can’t hear a tonal difference. I hear more difference between 2 identical 335s than I hear between an ebony and a rosewood. Look at the body shape. In 1968, the went from the pointy cutaways back to a more rounded cutaway-not quite a Mickey Mouse ear but certainly rounder. This doesn’t have that. These are pointy 64 ears all the way. It also has the older style reflector knobs whereas it should have witch hats-which with Halloween tomorrow would be appropriate. Hmm. Maybe it isn’t a 69 at all. Maybe this is one of those serial numbers that got re-used. The orange label says 806194. It also says ES-355 but I guess the listing party can’t read the fine print or maybe has just too many guitars to list to bother with looking at the details (take a look at his “other items”). My handy dandy serial number guide (which is available on the Gibson web site) says it’s either a 66 or a 69. I’m going to go with 66. Still rare but not as rare (132 shipped). If it’s a 66, it’s going to have a long tenon (good). 69’s sometimes have almost no tenon. It’s probably going to have a set of early patent number pickups-maybe even the purple wire ones that are identical to PAFs. I don’t plan on telling the seller what he has-if he wants to learn, he can read my posts and he will know exactly what he has. I find that when I email sellers to tell them they are wrong, I get one of two distinct responses. One-they tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about and if I don’t want to buy the guitar to just shut up and mind my own effin business. That’s often the smaller dealers and the self proclaimed “experts”. Two-“Thank you for clearing this up. I’ll change the listing to reflect this new information.” Can you guess which is the more common response? I knew you could. So I don’t bother any more. I’m perfectly happy to buy this one as a 69. It’s entirely possible that it is a 69, given the fact that so few of these were selling. I would imagine that its entirely possible that they had some earlier bodies left over and a few sets of reflector knobs in 1969. If the bidding on this one doesn’t get out of control, I’ll probably throw in a bid. How much? I’d certainly go to $3,000-maybe even as high as $4,000. On the off chance that it actually IS a 69, I don’t think I’d go any higher. The problem is that people who aren’t paying attention are going to think it’s a 335 (which is worth more) and are going to bid it up like it’s a 335. Then I’m out.
Archive for October, 2010
For some reason my last few posts aren’t showing up on the site. Not being a terribly web savvy old guy, I’ll have to take some time to figure this out. If any of my readers know why all of a sudden things won’t show up, let me know. They are here in the “dashboard” area of Word Press. Also, I’m getting a ton of spam but only from particular pages. They all cleverly try to disguise their crap by saying something generic like “great post!! keep up the good work!!” or maybe “your site isn’t formatting for my iPhone” or something like that. It’s making this site even more time consuming than it already is, so any help from the reading public would be immensely appreciated. And for the spammers out there…how much Viagra can a man use? Is this what you think men really think about all the time? The ones who do think about it all the time are young and don’t need the Viagra. The old guys have got too many other things to worry about other than does my dick work. So take your your pathetic get rich scheme somewhere else. Or, at least take the time to read what I write. Comment on something relevant and I’ll actually post your comment. Otherwise, find another sucker.
Buying and selling guitars and amps is not my real business. I don’t make a living from it and that’s OK. I get other good things from it. Yesterday, I hit the road for Rhode Island to pick up a 1956 Fender Bassman. I like a good road trip and even though this one was pretty short by road trip standards, it was still nearly 6 hours in a car. I like going to new places-especially small towns and I always enjoy meeting musicians and ex-musicians. Invariably, I get a little bit of history and sometimes a little glimpse into the musicians life on the road that I, perhaps wisely, turned away from at the age of 18. At that time I saw a rock and roll life on the road-not a rock stars life but a working musician. I had played in bands since I was 12 and eventually got into a band that had something of a future. But circumstances and immaturity (and then maturity) sent me to college and another life altogether. That’s another story for another time. “Welcome to Portsmouth.” I read the sign as I drove along what looked like one long strip mall-the same as just about every small city in the East. I was to go to the home of the seller – one “RodneyStrat” according to his Ebay name. I already have one tweed Bassman. It’s too big, too loud and too valuable to take anywhere but there is no better amp in the world. It’s no wonder Jim Marshall used it as the template for his first successful amp-the JTM 45. I really didn’t need another one but I think they are a great investment and I believe that no matter what the boutique makers do, the Fender tweed will never be out of vogue. This was a 2 hole 56 that had been owned by the late blues violinist Don “Sugar Cane” Harris and then by the seller – a lifelong sideman. He showed me a spectacularly sweet sounding ’59 ES-345 that he bought for $300 somewhere on the road. It has an extra hole for a coil tap and was not in very good shape but what a player. I couldn’t pry it from his hands but he knew I wanted it. There is nothing like a PAF equipped guitar through a tweed Bassman. I played for 15 or 20 minutes and then we made our transaction and I was about to leave and he asked me if I wanted a cup of coffee and I said sure and sat down at the kitchen table. Rodney told me a bit about life on the road here and in Europe where he travelled with CJ Chenier’s band. Stories like Rodney’s always remind me that the choice of a stable, somewhat domestic life was a good one and that life on the road, while usually pretty eventful, is not always so good. Not that I’ve stayed at home for the past 40 years. I did spend some time covering wars in the Middle East and other places when I was with ABC but mostly, I’ve been a 9 to 5er. Before I left Rodney showed me some YouTube clips of him playing and I was instantly embarrassed by my mediocre playing. The dude could wail. Go to YouTube and search for Rodney Bartholemew. Interesting guy and a pretty fair bluesman himself.
If you don’t know Orville, then maybe you should get to know him. Back in the 80’s when Fender and Gibson were struggling to improve their quality, both companies decided that it made sense to have the Japanese take a crack at making their guitars. Gibson had a presence in the Far East for years with its Epiphone line but, frankly, most players considered Epis to be second rate guitars. And, in large part (at least then) they were right. But the Japanese were capable of much better. Fender had some guitars made by one of the larger manufacturers in Japan in the early 80’s and, so the story goes, the Fender bigwigs were so impressed with the quality that they had to up the level of the US made guitars to match those made in Japan. The experience at Gibson was, as I understand it, not dissimilar. Interestingly, Gibson got around the problem of competing with themselves by establishing a new line of guitars rather than put their own name on them like Fender did. So, in 1988, I believe, the Orville was born, named for the founder of Gibson. His name was Orville Gibson but I guess you could have figured that out. I have never played an Orville but I’ve seen one up close and the quality looks very high. They were made from 1988-1998 by Yamano Gakki. These are typical of the well known Japanese ability to copy high end products made elsewhere. They were better, in fact, than the 335’s that Gibson was turning out at the same time even though they were priced between the Gibson and Epiphone lines. They didn’t quite get it right-the body shape is almost dead on 64 but the necks are dot marker. The hardware was nickel and looked great and I believe the pickups were (at least later in the run) American made Gibsons. Fit and finish are typically excellent and, I’m told, they play and sound like a Gibson. Who’d a thunk it? A few years ago, these were selling for a lot less than the $1200-$1600 they command today but the word got out and the word was that these guitars are a bargain. They’re still a few hundred dollars less than a used Memphis 335 and might be just the “in between” model to get you started.
When Gibson debuted the semi hollow ES-335 in 1958, the folks at Gibson decided it was going to be the beginning of a whole new era in guitar design. The semi hollow line was meant to be just that-a full line of guitars with a low end, a middle and a high end model. There would be 3 models, each with it’s own level of ornamentation and options, all sharing the same basic design. Gibson typically used the dot marker for the bottom of each of its guitar lines because it was cheap and because it was cheap. And did I mention it was cheap? They must have figured that they had to get the folks into the tent so the bottom of the line was as stripped down as they could make it and at a list price of $265 (although the 58 catalog has it at $267.50), they seem to have succeeded. The binding was the simplest single ply and the pickups (at least it had 2 of them) would be controlled by the cheapest, simplest device-the 3 way switch. To give you some perspective, $267.50 in 1958 is the equivalent of around $2300 today. That’s not “entry level” kind of money by any means and the buyers were largely pro players. The middle of the line was the ES-345 which got the very attractive and much more elaborate split parallelogram (let’s see you spell that with a spell checker) inlays, a 3 ply binding, gold plated hardware, a stereo circuit and the vaunted Varitone switch. An ES-345, at it’s introduction in 1959 was priced from $345 to $395 depending on the finish. The top of the line, the ES-355 got the big, elegant block inlay, 7 ply binding, an ebony fingerboard, Grover or upgraded Kluson tuners, a fancy split diamond headstock inlay and a standard Bigsby. The tremolo was an option on the other models according to the 1960 catalog which appears to be the first time these guitars were all included. The ES-355 was priced at $550 to $600. That’s nearly $4,000-$4,500 in 2010 dollars. So, the 335 for half the price of a 355 seemed like a good choice and it was, by a considerable margin, the most popular. All seemed right as the line took off in popularity. But as more and more players opted for the simpler 335, they also started to complain that here was a relatively expensive guitar that was being made out to be some cheap bottom of the line student model and, clearly, at just under $300, it wasn’t. Consider that you could buy a bottom of the line ES-125 for about half the price of a 335. So, the 335 players started to squawk about paying big bucks for an overly simple guitar and, finally, by early 1962, Gibson got the message and began shipping the ES-335 with the small block markers we know and love. Ironically, the collectors have fallen hard for the original dot necks and even in this diminished market, the price differential between a dot and a block neck is $10,000 at a minimum and as much as $40,000. You can pick up an excellent stoptail 62 for around $14,000 or less if it has patent number pickups. A ’61 or early 62 dot neck is going to cost you at least $25,000 and probably more. A blonde dot neck still commands $40,000 or more but there was a time not long ago when they approached and possibly surpassed $100,000. By comparison, the most expensive ES-355 I’ve seen recently that has sold is in the $18,000 range. Asking prices are still all over the lot, however.
Above is the elusive 1958 Catalog which was sent to me by Joe Campagna. Thanks!
Instead of looking at an ES model this week, I’m going to go after something that bugs me more than perhaps it should. This vintage stuff is pretty esoteric but given the cost of some of these things, it cannot be ignored. I can go out and buy a used Burstbucker-the pickup Gibson uses in its Les Paul models-for $50. It’s an excellent pickup and will serve you well in whatever you ask it to do. They put a “Patent Applied For” sticker on them to remind you that its a copy of the pickups used from 1957 to 1963 or so. There are a lot of physical differences that allow you to tell a Burstbucker from a real PAF but, apparently, not everyone gets it. I don’t expect Joe the Plumber to get it but I do expect a Music Store to take the time to learn these things. Especially when a real PAF pickup costs as much as $4,000. This week I’m looking at a single PAF. The first thing I look at is the seller. Then I look at the label. Then the feet and the cover if it has one. If any of these things look suspicious, then I usually don’t buy. I’m sure I’ve missed one or two real PAFs but I have only been burned once and that was for $720 by a pickup that was a fake but was built on a real PAF base with a real sticker. There are some pretty good fake stickers out there now but that’s for another day. Here’s the Ebay auction in question. The label on a real PAF is a rather condensed font and the closed letters (P,A and R) are usually filled or partially filled. Use the photos as a guide. Also, the
lettering is slightly raised-hard to see in a photo, easier in person. Can I say without question that this supposed PAF is a fake? Well, no I can’t. Perhaps someone had a real PAF that the label fell off of and they wanted folks to know it was a PAF and they got a reproduction label and stuck it on. Likely? No. Possible? Barely but possible. My problem is actually not just that the music store whose listing this is says it’s a PAF-it’s that even if it is a PAF, they should clearly state that the label is wrong. Then the buyer can move on to all the other stuff that tells me this isn’t for real. Like the tooling marks on the feet. I emailed the seller and got the following reply “we have researched this product and the spacing is just under 2 inches from center to center as 1 15/16 to be exact all vintage paf websites say that it should be and the sticker is yellowed at the borders and font is less clear and raised as all websites say that it should be. we have also brought it to several local vintage shops that also verified its being legit. that you for your concern and have a great day”
Oh, now I get it. If it’s the same size as a PAF, it must be a PAF. Oh, and the border is yellowed.
Compare the PAF in the auction to the PAF in this other auction. If you can’t see the difference, maybe you should open a music store. Just don’t sell any vintage stuff.
I’m going to do something here which I don’t usually do. I’m going to compare 2 guitars that have recently been on Ebay. Both are ’64 ES-335’s and both were Bigsby equipped with the “custom made” plaque. The first one was listed without a reserve, the second with a reserve. ES-335 number 1 had changed tuners which weren’t disclosed in the auction and the listing mentioned that the “electronics” were not functioning. I emailed the seller and got no response to my question about the “electronics”. Not functioning could mean a loose wire or it could mean both pickups need rewinding. There was no mention of what parts were original or what had been modded. It was a very non descriptive listing. Those usually scare me a little. The second 64 ES-335 was mine. I noted that it was 100% original and that it was completely functional. I called it a “no issue” guitar and I meant it. I didn’t do a long elaborate description since I didn’t think it needed one. It was, after all, a no issue guitar. The kind collectors want. Exactly as it left the factory some 46 years ago. To make a long story shorter, you would expect guitar number 2 to have sold for somewhat more than guitar number one given the fact that they were identical and number one had some potentially serious issues. Even if the “electronics” had been 100%, it still had changed tuners. A set of single line double ring tuners can set you back $400-$500. At the very least, you would have to go in and check all the connections and if you aren’t a do-it-yourself type, that could cost you another $200. That doesn’t take into consideration the possibility of changed pickups, open pickups, broken pickups, changed pots and any number of other possibilities that made this guitar (guitar number one) a little scary. On top of all that, guitar number one didn’t have it’s stop tail or studs included, or at least it wasn’t mentioned. Guitar number 2 had both. But, to be honest, I put in a bid on it even though I have one exactly like it. I bid it up to $8900 but it went for $9500 or so. Given that, what do you expect the same guitar with no issues to go for? Another thousand? Another $1500? maybe $2000″ Certainly $11,500 isn’t out of the question for a ’64 ES-335 with no issues. A non Bigsby version sold for $15,000 that same week. So, even using the 25% discount for a Bigsby version (which doesn’t quite apply to the “custom made” version since it also has a stop tail), the no issue guitar would have been expected to fetch $11,000. OK, I’ve held this up long enough. Guitar number 2 topped out at around $8400. More than a thousand dollars less than the one with issues. Had I not put a reserve on it, someone would have gotten the bargain of the month. How is one to deal with a market that is so incredibly A: Inconsistent, B: Ignorant, C: Illiterate or D: All of the above. There are a lot of smart, informed buyers out there and probably just as many who don’t take the time to read carefully (guilty of that myself) and perhaps a few that just don’t know any better. So ” D” all of the above looks like the answer. The inconsistency of the market is probably driven by extremely low demand. There’s a bad economy and people aren’t buying things like vintage guitars. You will likely kick yourself when the market turns back up for not taking advantage of this “buyers” market. It is entirely possible that the buyer of guitar number one felt that he got a good deal, hoping that there were no major issues with the “electronics” and was thus taken out of the bidding for guitar number 2. There aren’t that many buyers to begin with and the fact that the high bidder on number 2 was a dealers speaks volumes. It says, there are very few or no buyers at retail. That is why it’s a buyers market. That’s also why sometimes a reserve is unavoidable. But, at the same time, the reserve could be the reason more potential buyers didn’t bother bidding. Catch 22.
I was just about to buy a 1961 ES-345 today from a nice gentleman in California. He and I were discussing the guitar and its history and he mentioned that the neck was thin. I said, “well, it’s a 61, it should have a thin neck” but then he said,”well, it isn’t real wide like a 59…” and I stopped in my tracks. A 61 is very bit as wide as a 59 and so I started looking a bit more closely at the photos. The owner said he had taken the guitar to Norman’s Rare Guitars-a very reputable dealer-and they went over it. Because of that, I felt it had to be what the owner said it was but when I looked more closely, I saw that the headstock inlay was in the lower position-like a 67. Well, if the guitar had been renecked in 67, it would have a neck that was very thin with a headstock that has the “flowerpot” inlay in the lower position. Sure enough, even though the photos were about 100×100 (thumbnails), I could see that the logo was in the lower position. There are other things to look for if you suspect a guitar has been renecked. If it’s done at the Gibson factory, they usually (and I stress usually) restamp the headstock with the same serial number that’s on the orange label except that they use a larger and/or bolder font. Now, if you have no other Gibson to compare it to, that doesn’t tell you very much. If the guitar is from the era when the serial numbers began with the letter “A” and there was no headstock serial, then it’s easy. In that case, there will be a serial number with its letter A right there on the back of the headstock. Size, in this instance, doesn’t matter. You can also take a peek in the neck pickup rout. Usually, there is very little glue in there and a small gap between the end of the tenon and the pocket that it sits in.
If it’s full of glue, it may be a reneck. If there is any appearance of residue from the old neck or its removal, it could be a reneck. These are not very good tells because it may have just been a sloppy job on the original neck. But if you have doubts because the neck feels wrong for the era or has the wrong logo or anything else that tips you off, it might help you decide to buy or pass. The next inevitable question is what a reneck does to the value of a vintage guitar. I guess that depends on a few things. If you’re a collector, it’s a dealbreaker. A renecked guitar has little or no collector value. If you’re a player and you like the way it feels and sounds, then pay a player price and be happy. In this case, the parts are pretty valuable but not worth what the seller wants for the guitar-the PAFs have been opened and since the guitar once had a Bigsby, the stop tail could be from a later guitar. It seems odd that the folks at Norman’s didn’t mention the possibility of a reneck to him. Most dealers are very quick to point out all the things that give them a good reason to pay you less money for your guitar. Is it possible that a ’61 has the lower position? Anything is possible at Gibson. Is it likely? I don’t think so. Until I get better photos, I’m going to have to pass on the purchase. Perhaps if it were a 64 neck on a 61 guitar, I would say OK-I love the neck. But a skinny 67 neck is not for me. I would have to say that a reneck like this-a 67 on a 61 would drop the value by at least 50%-keeping in mind that the intrinsic value of the PAFs and other original parts may raise that a bit. It would certainly be worth the value of its parts and then some. The question is how much is “then some”. In the case of a 67 neck on a 61 body? Not very much.
Is it seven weeks already that I’ve been doing this? This week we’ll turn over a few rocks to find one of Gibson’s more baffling models: The ES-340. (note that I’m now linking to earlier posts). I wrote about these earlier anf they’ve been coming up a lot lately with some pretty big prices on them. There are no less than 3 blondies on Ebay right now. I chose the least expensive which happens to be a blonde ’69 that you can find here. Look at the others too while you’re there. I can’t recommend any of them because they seem very high priced to me but this auction allows you to make an offer and it looks like a nice one. I’m sure Gibson was trying to save money and the 340 may reveal some of their intent. This is the first ES to have a maple neck (and a multipiece one at that). Maple is cheaper than the high grade mahogany Gibson had used up to this point and little pieces of wood are always cheaper than big pieces. The extra step of gluing together the neck pieces must have been offset by the price of the wood. The 69 model year is the only one with no volute .
For that reason, I would go with a 69 over any of the later years. The next thing you need to do is to rewire it like a 335 unless you like the wild and wacky wiring that Gibson thought was a good idea at the time. The three way did this: Both pickups on, both pickups off and both pickups out phase. That meant that if you wanted to go from the neck pickup to the bridge pickup quickly, you had to pot one down and pot the other up. And this was supposed to be an improvement how? I guess the out of phase thing has some use but they could have just put a switch in for that. Let’s assume that a 69 335 is worth $2500-$3500. I’ve seen some go as high as $4000 but for that you might as well buy a 68 or a 67 since you’ll have a better chance of getting a better guitar-some 69’s have no neck tenon and three piece necks-not to mention the pickups will usually be T tops in a 69 and pre T tops in a 67 or even a 68. The other interesting feature is that the tops are supposedly birch instead of maple. Birch and maple can be hard to tell apart but these have some very big grain which is typical of birch. Maple tends to be tighter and often with some figuring-however slight. The catalog calls it birch as well, if I recall correctly. So a 340 should be worth less than a 335 and yet, here they are at well over $4000. Note that they aren’t selling very well. In fact, as I think I’ve mentioned, about 6% of ES’s on Ebay actually sell. That’s pitiful and its all because folks just can’t wrap their heads around the idea that the value of something can go down as well as up. Wake up. The fact that these are blonde might make them a bit more desirable to some but $4500? Nah. Properly wired, these could be really nice guitars but if you can get a 335 for the same price and you’re not dying for a blonde with a maple neck, get the 335. At least when they finally go back up, you won’t be left in the dust.
On occasion, I write about specific ES years that I like and it occurs to me that I’ve never written about one of the best and most interesting-1963. I was 11 then and it was a year of big turning points-for me, for the 335 and for the USA. The Dodgers beat the Yankees four straight in The World Series, The Beatles released their first album in the UK, Lawrence of Arabia got Best Picture, TAB was launched by Coca Cola, Martin Luther KIng delivers his “I have a dream” speech and, if you were there, you know where you were-JFK was assassinated. For me, besides the great disappointment of the Yankees losing, I was in the fifth grade and was discovering what girls were for. I was not yet a guitar player. Gibson, however was making some changes. The early 63’s still had their Mickey Mouse ears and PAF’s but by the end of the year, both would be gone. The neck was wide and flat at the start but got bigger and fatter by the end of the year. The red ones were much more popular than the sunbursts by an even larger margin than the year before with 807 red 335s shipped and only 349 sunbursts which explains why you don’t see very many of them. But while the 335 was getting more popular, the 345 was slipping with 117 sunbursts and 161 red ones. There are only 163 ES-355s from 1963 and they are all red (according to Gibson). There’s a lot to like about the early block neck 335’s and the 63’s are among the best. I prefer the neck on the late 63 to all others except the 64, which is the same. Tuners were always single line double ring Klusons on the 335s but the 345s could still be single ring. The bridges could be wired or unwired and the saddles were mostly if not all nylon-apparently after some complaints about string breakage from the metal saddles. So, there are lots of different shapes and equipment complements on the 63’s but they all sound great. I’ve never played a bad one and since the early Patent number pickups are identical to PAFs except for the sticker, they all have that great PAF tone but with a bit more more consistency due to improved manufacturing techniques. It is not unusual, in ’63, to find one PAF and one patent number pickup as Gibson used up their stock of old stickers. The pickups were made side by side but I expect that the workers were told to use up the PAF stickers by using one per guitar. Interestingly, the PAF guitars go for a good bit more money than the non PAF and that’s a good thing to know. Because they are the exact same pickup, you can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars by buying a 63 with Patent number pickups. Same pickup-different price. If I had my choice of any 63, I guess I’d go for a Mickey Mouse ear, fat neck, metal saddle wired bridge and PAFs. Why PAFs after what I just said? Because I’m a sucker for their mystique just like most other Gibson aficionados. But if price was an issue, I’d go right for the patent numbers. The very last 63’s are identical to the the 64 and, with their pointy ears and fat necks, are one of the best incarnations of the 335 on the planet. It’s a fact that a 63 often sells for less than a 64 and there are a couple of reasons for that. The biggest reason is a man named Eric Clapton who famously played a 64. The other
reason is that so many of the 63’s have that very flat neck that has fallen out of favor these days-even though my old guitar teacher, Mr. Orsini of Schenectady, NY hated thin necks. He hated Fenders because the necks were too narrow but loved his old Gibson L5 with the wide flat neck. And so, he was very upset when I showed up with a Fender Duo Sonic in 1964. Currently, a good player grade 63 can be found for around $10,000-$12,000 usually with a Bigsby or Bigsby holes at that price. Clean, 100% original examples aren’t too much higher right now but were once well over $20,000 and approaching $30,000. The dealers are still asking stupid high prices but they might be more negotiable now because they have to sell guitars if they want to eat. Ebay prices are all over the place with most folks hoping for 2007 prices and not selling.