Archive for November, 2010

The ES 345 Market Today

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

Here's a nice 64 that's currently listed for around $15,000. That's way high for a 64. Maybe for a stop tail PAF equipped 59 but not this.

I’ve actually been asked to write on certain topics. I’m flattered to death that folks like my writing. My college English professors were very fond of the B- over C+ whatever that means. Maybe because I was writing about Elizabethan drama and not about guitars. Anyway, I’ve been asked a lot about the 345 market recently, probably because of the odd alignment of the stars in the 335 market. the 335 market has a built in brick wall and that is the difference between the dot neck and the block neck. While the block neck market right now is hot, hot, hot, the dot neck market is not (not, not). That’s because you can pick up a really good 62-64 for between $10K and $15K. It might have a Bigsby or Bigsby holes but you won’t touch a dot for under $20K no matter what’s wrong with it other than a broken neck or a refin (yet). The 345 market doesn’t have this hard and fast turning point and acts differently. We all know that the 335 was the lower end guitar but that it is the more popular (and therefore the more expensive) of the two. The 345 has, since the beginning of the vintage guitar boom, been a relative bargain since it can do everything a 335 can do and more. And it’s a prettier guitar (IMO, of course).

It got the better wood and perhaps a little more care by the builders. The 345 market has a break point too but it’s a lot later than the 335 break point. The 345’s from 59 through 64 are all excellent guitars. the differences in price are based on something a little more substantive than dots vs. blocks. The price differences of the 345 are based on usable elements like neck size and pickups as well as condition and originality. The great 59 neck and a pair of PAFs is going to command a premium over any other year. Period. It just is and always will be. 1959 is considered the pinnacle of Gibson “Golden Era” and the guitars I’ve owned from 59 bear this out. The only difference between a 59 and a 60 is the neck and the color of the Varitone ring.

Here's gorgeous Bigsby only 59. You know, the ones that don't exist. This was sent to me (the photo, not the guitar) after I posted my stop tail red 59. You won't get this for $15,000. It's a 59. And it's red. Can you say rare?

But that thinner neck will save you $3K-$4K.  Recently, a 59 ES 345 sold on Ebay for $13,100. It was in average condition with double black PAFs and a stop tail. I believe it had changed tuners as well. So, let’s price a no issues 59 with black PAFs at $14K. Ebay doesn’t lie-it is the best indicator of true market value in an open and competitive marketplace. That would make the top of the 59 range somewhere around $18K for one in great condition with double whites or zebras. Let’s ignore red and blonde 59’s because their rarity changes all the rules. A similarly equipped 60 will likely drop about $3000 at the low end and as much as $5000 at the top end. Blonde 60’s are still very rare but red 60’s are pretty common and would probably be on a par with sunbursts. By 61, the neck is awfully thin, the blondes are gone and the reds become the more common color. The neck size comes back a bit in 63 but not quite to the size of the vaunted 64 neck. It appears that the market makes almost no distinction between 61-64 stop tail 345’s. You should be able to get any one of these years for around $10-$12K for a stop tail with PAFs and around $8,000 for a Bigsby with patent number pickups. Just because there are sellers asking from $9400-$15400 for ES 345s -all from 1964 doesn’t mean they will sell. The likelihood is that they won’t. Let’s look at what’s listed right now. The $9400 one is a Bigsby only. No chance that it’s worth $9400.  The one for $10,500 is in the UK and is also a Bigsby although there are no photos-won’t sell. The other 2 at around $15K look like near mint, excellent stop tail examples. They are both too high by at least $3000 and perhaps as much as $5,000. The only way to know for certain what a 345 is worth is to put one up in a no reserve auction, describe it accurately and completely and see where it goes. It won’t be going for $15,000 unless it’s a 59 with some really nice PAFs in zebra or white.

Tips for the Collector

Friday, November 26th, 2010

One of these 4 Catalin switchtips is fake and I paid 50 bucks for it. I thought I was getting a bargain but even I get burned. Which one is it?

You thought this post was going to be chock full of interesting tidbits of information for the ES 335 collector, didn’t you. But, alas, that isn’t the case at all. The case is that big black or brown thing you put your guitar in when you have to take it somewhere. I’m talking tips here. When I talk about guitar minutiae, the item that always raises the eyebrows of non collectors is the switch tip. These little guys can cost up to $250. Yes, we ARE crazy. There haven’t been a whole lot of changes over the years of switch tips but there have been a few. The most obvious occurred in 1960 when the catalin plastic was phased out and a new type of plastic which didn’t turn yellow was substituted. There have been other changes to the plastic switch tips over the years but they haven’t been of much interest since the appearance remained largely the same.  In addition to being one of the smallest components on the guitar, it’s also one of the most often faked ones as well. probably because a lot of money could be made with very little effort. After all, there are no markings to speak of which would have to be duplicated. No tooling marks or stickers or brand names. Just a plastic elongated button with some threads inside it.  The repros have gotten so good that most of us don’t pay much attention any more. The original catalin tip has some distinct characteristics that are due to the chemical makeup of the material. Catalin is a “thermoset” plastic made of formaldehyde and phenol. It comes in all sorts of colors but the Switchcraft switchtip used by Gibson from 1958 to 1960 was off white. They turn that butterscotch yellow color when exposed to UV rays. The best way to test the tip to see if its real is to run it under very hot water and smell it. If it smells like formaldehyde, it’s the real thing or else someone is making fakes using real catalin-which I doubt. You can also test it with 409 cleaner. If you spray a little 409 on a Q tip and rub the switchtip with it, the Q tip should turn yellow. The other good test and the easiest is if you see a seam or tooling mark of any kind, it isn’t real. The real tip has no marks of any kind. By 1961 Switchcraft had switched to a plastic called Plaskon which didn’t change color. The early white tips also had to seams or tooling marks. It seems that by around 1965 or so, tips with seams (around the top) appeared. I’ve never seen any information about this and there is little consistency on the guitars I’ve seen. Apparently people changed switchtips a lot because I’ve seen a lot of seamed white plastic tips on 61-64 ES 335s and very few non seamed. It appears to me that the early non seamed white ones chipped very easily and since it’s a 10 cent part, no one thought much about what they were replacing it with other than if it fit.  The catalin tips are very durable and are usually intact with the occasional crack. However some of the repros are so good that you can’t tell by looking-only by smelling. Fender also used Switchcraft switches on some models and the tip on a 58-60 Jazzmaster is the same as the one on a 335. By the way, the fake one is on the far left of the photo at the top of this post. It has thinner walls than it should and it flunked the smell test.

The one on the left is a cheap white plastic tip. One of the other 4 is a fake but I can't tell from this angle which one it is. The one with the dark line is cracked but real. All of the real ones are from 58-60 Gibsons.

No Dogs in This Show

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

This 61 caught my eye and played great even though I found the neck a bit flat which is typical of a 61.

At the Philly Guitar Show, I had the opportunity to play a number of 335s, 345s and 355s in a very short span of time. This allowed me to make a new and interesting assessment. I’ve always believed this but I think I have better proof now. I figure I’ve played somewhere in the neighborhood of 125 335s, 345s and 355s but always one or two at a time. At the Philly show, I played about a dozen in a space of a few hours. Some were near mint but another had been nearly smashed to bits by an irate girlfriend. So there was a pretty big range available for me to make my hypothesis. Here’s what I played: A 59 ES 355 Mono, 61 ES 345, 58 ES 335, 61 ES 335 (smashed but playable), another 61 ES 345, 59 ES 345, 63 ES 335 and a 60 ES 335. I didn’t get to play all of them through an amp but I find you can judge the playability of a guitar pretty well without one. You can’t necessarily get a sense of the tone but let’s concentrate on how well the guitar plays. Does it tune properly? Intonate? Hold tune? It’s not always easy when the dealers don’t even bother tuning their guitars but for the most part, the guitars were well set up and well tuned. I checked the intonation on all of them, I checked the neck for proper relief, I looked to make sure that there was enough travel left in the saddles to get the intonation right if it wasn’t spot on. I looked at the build quality-the fit and finish, the neck angle and even the paint job. My conclusion? Interestingly, there was a lot of consistency in the craftsmanship-something you don’t see so much any more. Perhaps because they were only making a few hundred of each model a year up until the mid 60’s when the “guitar boom” happened. Even the early guitars that had the shallow neck angle played well and had no problem other than a rather low sitting bridge. The 58 and 59 that I played both had that shallow angle and both played beautifully. I also noticed that the 345s and the 355 had more interesting wood-something I had heard of but never really had the opportunity to check out that closely. What really struck me was that these guitars were carefully crafted-no glue drips all over the inside, no sander marks, none of the things that are common on newer Gibsons. These guitars were made with a great deal of pride. I am happy to report that there wasn’t a dog in the bunch-every single guitar played well and looked like it was built by folks who truly believed in what  they were doing.  I’ve always felt that Fenders were assembly line guitars-often great assembly line guitars which speaks to the genius of Leo Fender-but that Gibsons were something beyond that. Gibsons were guitars made by luthiers-at least at that time. That may no longer be true and probably ceased to be true by the early 60’s. But the guitars of the “Golden Era” show a level of consistency and quality that are unmatched today by any volume builder. It also speaks to the great design of the semi hollow guitar and the genius of Ted McCarty. If you get the chance, take a flashlight and look around the inside of your 1958-1964 ES. Then do the same for any modern ES. Until Gibson makes it so I can’t tell the difference, I’ll stick with the old ones.

Random Musings: Getting Silly in Philly

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

I don’t get to a lot of guitar shows. Not because I don’t enjoy them because I do. I like driving too. Nothing like a road trip with some high volume singing along with the radio (or the ipod) to loosen up the rust and burn the carbon off the brain matter. I don’t go because I never seem to have any time. Between my real business (GTV, Inc.) and my little guitar business (Opporknockity Tunes Guitars), I barely have 5 minutes to spend with my wife of 26 years (with whom I still really like to spend time). Somehow, however, the stars aligned and off I went to the Fall Philly Show. I brought along the 59 ES 345 in red that I recently acquired to get a bit of a read on what the big dealers thought and if someone made me a big fat offer, then just maybe…The first thing I noticed when I walked in was how many men there were between the ages of, say, 52 and 62. What would you think 30%? 20%? I mean, we’re a big part of the population but who would have imagined that 80% of the people at the show were around my age (58). And male. Not a whole lot of girl watching to be done at a guitar show. Interestingly enough, I don’t think these guys (myself included) would spend any time looking at them. It seems a 50 year old guitar trumps a 22 year old hottie with this crowd. It occurred to me that someone should set up a prostate exam booth. Big bucks to be made here.  Where else are you going to find such a concentration of sedentary middle aged men? I saw a lot of other folks brought guitars with them to show off and, ultimately, sell. They were smart enough to know the trick of putting a description of what’s in the case on the outside of the case. I didn’t know that trick and so was asked about 150 times, “whaddya got there?”. It seems bringing an old brown Gibson case gets you a lot of attention. What was most interesting was the way the dealers reacted to the guitar. To set the stage, it’s a rare and beautiful guitar. I would be willing to bet that there wasn’t more than a dealer or two there who had ever seen a red 59 ES 345, let alone one in near mint condition. There were two very distinct reactions. The first, which came from the overwhelming majority of the dealers was “wow, what a gorgeous guitar” or “cool fiddle” or “great old axe” or something like that. Then they would ask if I was selling it and ask how much I wanted to get for it. The conventional wisdom is that a dealer, if he’s interested, should make you a reasonable wholesale offer and you negotiate from there-not ask “how much are you looking to get?”  Not one dealer did that. Not surprising, given the economy, everybody wants to make a score.  Most of the dealers felt my price was fair and made it clear that this is a tough time to sell a 345-especially a high dollar one which I agree is true. They were most appreciative that I shared it with them and all said they would love to have it. Then there was another type of dealer. These guys-and they were in the minority-were negotiating before the case was even opened. ” How much you want for it?” I would give them my price and they would make a face…”Gee, the handle on the case is a little frayed…Then-and this kills me-they open the case and immediately start telling you what’s wrong with the guitar. Now, to remind you, this is a 9.5-9.8 condition guitar but still, they were ready to nitpick. “Uh-oh, the tuner buttons are all shrunk…” And isn’t that the wrong Varitone ring? (which it isn’t)” “those frets sure could use a dressing…” I’m sure that if the tuner buttons weren’t shrunken the guy would have said “Uh-oh, the tuner buttons must be repros because they would be shrunken if it was a real 59.”  This only happened a couple of times but I closed the case and walked away without another word. I guess there are going to be a small number of douchebags in every large gathering. But the vast majority of the guitar show attendees were polite, gracious, appreciative and nice. I got a very nice offer from a Japanese buyer which I turned down. This guitar should stay here in the good old US of A where it was made, I think. And the offer was just a bit low. I didn’t bring a camera to the show and I wish I had because there were some very cool guitars there. I played a wonderful ’60 Les Paul ‘burst and a ’52 goldtop that was converted to a 57 that just sang. There was a 59 red 355 mono that I was coveting and a ’58 blonde 335 with enough holes to fill the Albert Hall. But my favorite of all-a bit overpriced at $8500 was a ’61 dot neck 335. What?!! a 61 dot neck for $8500?? Well, I wish I had a photo.  Apparently, the girlfriend of the previous owner was somewhat annoyed with something he had done. I don’t know-slept with her best friend? ate the last popsicle? spilled cereal on the couch? forgot to put down the toilet seat? Anyway, she was ticked off about something and took his guitar by the neck and bashed it against the corner of the kitchen counter in no less than 5 times-most of which were right at the center block so instead of the guitar smashing to bits which she must have figured it would do, it just has three or four long , deep, narrow dents in it. She did manage to get one hit in by the f-hole that did some real damage. But the neck was still perfectly intact and it played just fine. Maybe it was worth the $8500-after all, the finish was original, it had PAFs and there were no repairs. Most of the Ebay sellers would call that “never broken or repaired!! tone for days with some player wear!! Great mojo! “Mint condition for its age!!!”  and maybe “One owner!”  But for all it’s dents and cracks and splinters, I’ll bet it got more attention than that 20 year old blonde in the miniskirt that was smaller than some of the ties in my closet.

Ebay ES of the Week #12

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Should I buy this guitar? It sure looks good in the photos.

I’m starting to feel like Andy Rooney on “Sixty Minutes” based on the fact that I seem to complain a lot about Ebay and those who sell their ES 335’s/345’s and 355’s there without doing any due diligence. If it’s not that, it’s the outrageous asking prices or the overstated condition (dead mint! Except for the broken headstock and the paint).  OK, having said that, here’s what appears to be a well priced 1961 ES-355

Nice. A '61 ES 355. But wait, is it really what it says it is? And what makes a 61, a 61? Is it just old wood?

. Buy it Now is $5500 which would be a very good price for a 61 355 except what is it really? Well, the top was refinished and the buyer states that right up front. OK and the refret is a bit dodgy. Then he mentions, in passing, that the rfinish is a bit thick, perhaps to cover the holes from the removed Bigsby. OK, so know we know it had a Bigsby (it is a 355 , after all and we should all know that).  But don’t stop reading because there’s more. He mentions that the pickups aren’t original either which, again, is fine as long as you mention all the issues. Except that he says one of them has a 60’s serial number but there are no serial numbers on Gibson pickups. So, I suppose it could be just about anything. The other is a 57 Classic worth maybe $25-$50. He goes on to mention the serial number and the weight and then, and I quote, he states : “I didn’t mention that as well as the pickups, the bridge, string stop and pickguard are replacements. As I said, it is all reflected in the price.” So, let me get this straight. You want over $5000 for what is essentially a refinished 61 355 husk with a bunch of repro parts on it, What is it about this guitar that IS original? Looks to me like the tuners and the knobs. Just calling this a ’61 is a bit of a stretch, don’t you think?  I guess if I had all of the correct parts in my parts bin, I might consider it but $5500? Let’s knock off the value of the repro or newer stuff-what do we have a couple -three hundred bucks? A set of gold grovers is probably another hundred and a set of 61 knobs might be another. So let’s say there’s $500-$700 worth of parts. So, we’re looking at $4800 for a refinished husk. Yikes. A little high, don’t you think? I don’t mean just the price-I mean the seller for asking that much. A refin typically cuts the value in half, so, by extension and extrapolation, an original finish 61 ES 355 husk is worth $11,000. Nope. It ain’t. I think this is a suckers guitar. I think the only fair way to sell one of these is a no reserve auction-then the suckers will pay a true market value which I might define as “whatever the suckers will pay”.

More ES One Offs

Monday, November 15th, 2010

This is purportedly a 65, although I think its a bit later. I'm told it was built for Tony Mottola. I found it on the "We Buy Guitars" website a couple of years ago. It is a 355 with a trap tail and no f holes in sunburst.

In the past few weeks, I’ve received emails from readers who have some pretty cool customs.  Not cool customs like dancing around the May Pole or busting open a pinata, but cool custom Gibsons. Gibson seemed to be pretty amenable to giving the customers what they wanted as long as it didn’t require any retooling or buying any new paint or parts. They were more than happy (for a price, of course) to put gold hardware on a 335, nickel hardware on a 345, Varitones on

Here's a 59 dot neck with a Varitone. Supposedly there are no red 59 dot necks.

335s, non stock tuners, custom engraved truss rod covers and any number of combinations and permutations of the three core ES models.  Verification of originality can be tricky since it’s pretty easy for a decent luthier to make additive changes to a guitar that will look absolutely factory. As long as it doesn’t require major surgery, it’s very doable as a post sale modification. The good news is that one offs are usually worth less than their bone stock counterparts, making the creation of “fake one offs” a fool’s errand. But what about a guitar that was modded before the concept of the vintage guitar even existed. Say it’s 1967 and the guitar player for the Blues Magoos finds that he’s bored with his 335 and wants his tech to add a Varitone. If it’s placed where it belongs, then it will be hard to prove it wasn’t done by the factory without some pretty invasive detective work. There is sometimes documentation available from Gibson and sometimes even a mention on the label. I’ve seen a 335 with the word stereoVT on the orange label. I don’t think you’ll find any documentation of a set of waffleback tuners on a 335 but I was sent a photo of one. The reader who sent it wanted to know if it was a factory mod or if it was done later to enhance the guitars “rarity”. I thought it was factory but as I mentioned earlier in this post, one offs don’t usually command a premium. Rarity doesn’t figure into it all that much either.  The last post I did about one offs concentrated largely on special guitars made for artists. You can find it here. The guitars I’m showing here are most likely special orders from players who liked certain features of one model and certain features of another and wanted a guitar that was a cross between them.  The one that shows up most is the Varitone on a 335 and perhaps the use of gold hardware on a 335. Interestingly, I’ve never seen a 345 built without a Varitone. That would be a pretty cool guitar.

Here's another 335 with a Varitone. This one has waffleback tuners as well. It all looks original to me.

And another dot neck with a Varitone also from the WBG site. It looks great with its gold hardware. This sold for .considerably less than a stock dot neck would have at the time it sold

This Guitar Doesn’t Exist

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

How cool is this? A 59 ES-345 in RED. According to "The Gibson ES-335" by Adrian Ingram, this guitar doesn't exist. I think it does.

According to the only book dedicated to the ES 335 and its siblings, there were no red ES-345s made in 1959. Tom H. has one on his website and now I have one. I’m in good company since the only other one I know of is the venerable “Red Dog” which belongs to Elvin Bishop .  This thing is so close to mint, I’m thinking about dumping bourbon on it and making juleps. The finish is perfect. Not a mark on it. The gold has a bit of wear-it was owned by a professional jazz player, so it was played but cared for. I bought it from the nephew of the original owner. It’s mind blowing, it’s so clean. You can see that the tuner buttons have shrunk which happens a lot to 59’s in particular which have been in their cases for long periods of time. This one sat undisturbed for more than 20 years. It always astounds me when something that’s nearly as old as I am survives the slings and arrows for so long. How do you play a guitar for 20 years and not smack into a cymbal or a mike stand. I guess because jazzers usually sit when they play, they don’t knock into stuff as much. I’m not sure what

The red finish in 59 was a bit more orange than in later years. Early 355s are usually this shade.

I’m going to do with this one. I’m certainly going to play it.  It’s too nice to take out of the house but it’s a great player for home. I’m always a little scared of guitars in this kind of condition. Even the case is in great shape. One of the great joys of collecting, buying and selling guitars is that you meet so many interesting people. I almost always drive when I pick up a guitar that’s within 8 hours of home. I spent 8 hours in the car today and was fully prepared to turn around empty handed if it didn’t check out.  I drove 6 hours to New Hampshire to look at a ’60 blonde 345 that turned out to be refinished. I walked. This guitar was sold the moment I saw it. As long as it wasn’t broken, I was going to own it. And this points out a very important element of buying vintage ES-335s/345s and 355s. If you can, go see it before you commit to it. Make an offer and make it contingent on it being everything the seller says it is. It limits your range, unless you have a private jet or loads of flyer miles, but it can pay off in so many ways. While there are very few bad pre 1969 ES guitars, it is still very hard to ascertain condition from photos. This one looked like an 8.0 from the photos. The finish was dull and looked to be faded. When it turned out to be a 9.5+, I was pleasantly surprised and since I had already made my offer, I was even more pleased. But had something been wrong-a cracked headstock? Changed pickups? There are a hundred things to look for and it just isn’t possible to check everything out from a photo. I’ve certainly done that dozens of times but I’ve had my share of surprises-including a cracked headstock that didn’t show in the photos that the seller insisted must have happened in shipping (right and did the glue get into the crack while it was in the hold of a 747)?  Then there’s playability. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read about “sustains for days” and “screaming PAFs” and “Clapton tone” and who knows what else. It may have all those things but you won’t know it until it’s in your house if you buy it without playing it first.  It’s nice that many dealers-including me-offer you a period of time to check the guitar out and play with the option of returning it.  But you still have to pay for the shipping-both ways if you return it.  So, go out and buy yourself a new old guitar. It can make your week and you might even meet some nice people while you’re at it. And see new places, too. Who knows, maybe you’ll find the guitar of your dreams.

Can you say "figured maple"? OK, it's plywood but it's still maple and figured.

Nice case too

Ebay ES of the Week #11-“Psst, Wanna buy a bridge?”

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Here's the real thing. Note the little mark after the word ABR-1

The price of admission into the exclusive “Golden Era” 335 club just keeps going down. A recent Ebay auction of a ’62 335 broke under $10K. Eighteen months ago, I sold my Patent number ’62 Bigsby/Custom Made for a little under $12,000 and was surprised at how cheap it went. The 64 I had on Ebay was only bid to around $8500-fortunately I put a reserve on it and it has since gone across the pond to the UK for a number closer to reality.  There are two important points to be made in light of this. One is that Ebay sets the “true market value” only to a point. I’m finding that many buyers don’t trust Ebay and I can’t say that I blame them. I did an informal survey of all the mid 60’s ES-335s on Ebay today and nearly a third of them have something that is wrong in their listing. It’s usually the year but also the originality. The earlier ones are better described-in general-because they are being sold by dealers or more knowledgeable sellers who know what they have. Before I go too far afield, the other point is that there is a marketplace outside of Ebay that is still fairly robust and that still will pay top dollar for pre 65 ES 335s and 345s as long as they know they are coming from a reputable seller who knows what he has.  These are the folks who have been burned on Ebay and they are justifiably pissed.  Our Ebay ES of the week will point out the problem. This week, it’s a bridge. I was looking for a nickel ABR-1 bridge yesterday for a client and saw one for sale by a small and presumably reputable dealer. The bridge was off of a Gibson Historic and not a vintage piece at all. I wrote to the dealer and asked if he knew that he was misrepresenting what he had. It is very easy to tell a repro from the real thing. I could teach a 4 year old how to tell the difference.  Oh, and do you want to know what the dealer’s response was? None. He didn’t change his listing either and now it’s my listing of the week. Go here and see the auction. he says it’s a 64 wired type ABR-1. It isn’t. It’s a reproduction ABR-1. Here’s how to tell the difference. The repros say Gibson ABR-1 on the bottom and that’s it. The real vintage piece says the same thing but also has what I call a “makers mark”. It’s a little logo that, as I understand it,  indicates the manufacturer of the piece. Even if that isn’t what it actually is, it’s a very good way to keep yourself from being taken by unscrupulous sellers or by dealers who should perhaps find another line of work. I don’t mean to come down too hard on the dealer in question but this is pretty much inexcusable. Like I said, I could teach a 4 year old how to tell the difference. Just because it’s dirty and beat up doesn’t mean its old. If you believe that this is a vintage piece, I’ve got a 59 Les Paul that I’ll sell you for way less than the $200,000 the dealers are asking.  Got the same bridge as you see in the picture up above, too. I suppose I could say, “psst, wanna buy a bridge..?” and you wouldn’t be the first sucker to fall for it.  UPDATE: Good news-the seller got back to me and admitted that he was in error and said that he had taken down the listing. He said it was an honest mistake and he was gracious about it so I have no reason to believe otherwise. No one likes to be called out on stuff like this but if you ever see one of my listings (charliegtv) and something seems wrong, by all means call me out on it. If you’re wrong, I’ll still like you. If you’re right…well I dunno.

Caveat Emptor: Part Deux

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

I recently received an email from a gentleman who had bought a 64 ES-335 on Ebay-it may well have been the one I spoke of in the post titles “Ebay Catch 22″). He got the guitar and it was as described except that it had a skinny little 66 type neck on it. The listing said nothing about the neck and the buyer assumed that meant that it was the original 64 neck. After all, that’s the biggest reason there is to buy a 64. They are, in fact, more expensive that 62’s or 63’s with Pat # pickups. The Clapton thing doesn’t hurt either. There was some discussion on the Les Paul Forum of the guitar in the “Ebay Catch 22″ post and a few people mentioned that the neck join looked suspicious. I agreed with that assessment. Since I don’t know if the guitar in question is the same one, I can’t comment specifically on it but I can make a general statement regarding Ebay auctions. Ask questions. Just because the seller doesn’t mention a reneck doesn’t mean it’s original. Some folks don’t know. Others choose not to mention it-just in case you don’t notice. That goes for everything on the guitar. If there’s a photo of the pickups and they look like real PAFs, it doesn’t hurt to ask if the PAFs are real. If the seller says they are real, then you should not have to ask. That way, if they aren’t you can file a claim that the guitar wasn’t as described and you can usually get a refund. But if the seller doesn’t disclose the problem, then it’s YOUR problem. Errors of omission don’t count unless you make them count by asking specifically about them. If the seller says a guitar is all original, you should be able to take him (or her) at his word and if it isn’t, then file your claim. If you are willing to take the risks inherent in buying an expensive vintage guitar sight unseen on Ebay, you should be smart enough to ask the right questions and take advantage of the protections built in to the Ebay site. This poor chap spent around $10,000 for a guitar worth maybe $4,000.  Another thing you should be aware of is that the full protections offered by Ebay require you to use the Paypal payment option. The seller pays the fee for it, so there is no reason why, as a buyer, you shouldn’t  get the protection you deserve. It wasn’t always like this but complaints by Ebay customers (and shareholders) like me forced these programs into existence. I got burned on a Fender Bassman and, after a lot of bitching, moaning and general histrionics, I got back $2,000 from Paypal. This was before the “buyer protection” program was in place. I got it by pointing out that Ebay and Paypal should do something to earn the fees they were charging other than providing a website to sell stuff. So, take advantage of what’s available. Or better yet, ask a lot of questions so you don’t have to.

ES-335 or ES-345?

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

I love 345s. I'm going to pick up another 59 this weekend if everything checks out.

There seems to be no shortage of folks looking for vintage  ES-335s. I keep getting emails from frustrated would be buyers complaining about the ridiculous prices being asked on Ebay and other places. I’ve explained, more than once, that there is something of a standoff between sellers who have read all the hype about the value of vintage guitars and the buyers who are aware that the market has tanked in a big way. All I can say is that sometimes you have to be patient. When sellers need to sell, the prices will fall in lime with the demand. There is, as you might expect, an alternative. A lot of buyers neglect the ES-345 and it’s undeserved reputation as an inferior guitar. First of all, it is often a superior guitar. It is common knowledge that the 335 was the bottom of the line and that the 345s got the better wood and maybe a little more “builder pride” than the 335s. I remember when I was in college, I worked in a bicycle shop as a mechanic. Besides doing repairs and building wheels, I also assembled the new bikes that came into the shop. I would build the cheap 99 dollar imports one day and the $1000 plus Italian and French racers the next. Remember this was 1972 when a thousands bucks was some serious dosh for a bicycle. Invariably, I would be more careful and pay much more attention to detail on the expensive bikes. First, because I knew they would be ridden by someone who knows the difference between a toy and a real sophisticated machine. Second, because everything fit together so much better. You never had to force screw holes to line up with the screws because the higher end stuff was made with much closer tolerances. Also forged alloy versus stamped steel makes a difference as well. Anyway, I think the same theory would hold at Gibson back in the 50’s and 60’s. I just think the builders would take more pride in the higher end product. So, back to the 345 as an alternative. Even though it was the more expensive guitar, the 345 just doesn’t command the same price as an equivalent year 335. Some years-particularly the mid 60’s, the difference is pretty small-maybe a thousand dollars or even less. But go back to 59 or 60 or 61 and you’re talking a huge difference-$10,000 or even $20,000. A 59 dot neck in near mint condition can still command $30,000 or more. The equivalent 345 can be had for $12,000-$16,000. An average 64 with a Bigsby sold this week for just under $7,000 and I know of a 61 that went recently for around $8,000. So why the big difference in price? While there are those who insist the Varitone circuit ruins the tone, there are many -like me-who really like it. In the bypass position-while playing through a stereo amp (the 345 is a stereo guitar) I hear no difference. The only thing left in the circuit in bypass mode is a 100K resistor, I believe. That isn’t going to ruin anybody’s tone. What ruins the tone is that folks use a cable to mix the stereo down to mono and, since the pickups are out of phase on a 345 (and not a 335), they get what’s called phase cancellation which thins out the tone and makes it sound hollow and nasal. The simple solution, is use a 2 channel amp and a stereo cord or a stereo amp. The other solution is to pull the Varitone circuit out by buying a new harness. Put the original aside so you can return it to stock if you ever want to sell it. Put in the new 335 type harness and viola! (I know , it’s voila! but I thought I’d make a musical joke) it’s a 335. Oh, and you have to flip over one of the pickup magnets unless you like the “Peter Green” out of phase sound. So, for thousands less, you have a 335 with really cool inlays and gold hardware. Don’t like the gold hardware? So change it to nickel. All the parts are readily available-cheap too if you use repro parts. Remember repro tunes, tailpiece and bridge aren’t going to affect your tone, so don’t waste your money on the real thing. So, if you don’t want to spend $5000 for a 66 ES-335, you can probably get a 66 ES-345 for a thousand bucks less. Better still, instead of a 59 335 for $25,000 find yourself a 59 345 for $10,000-$15,000.