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Archive for March, 2011

Come See Us in Brooklyn

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Steely Dan sang about it (but so did Neil Diamond) and you’ve heard of the Dodgers (who haven’t been seen there since 1957). I’m talking, of course, about the borough of Brooklyn. As most of you who regularly read this blog already know, I recently became a dealer in 335’s and their brethren (plus anything else I find that I like). Of course, one of the best ways to find cool vintage stuff is to get up off the couch (step away from the computer) and go to a guitar show. I’ve been to a number of them as a buyer but never as a seller, so The First Annual Brooklyn Spring Guitar Show will be my first. Since many of you know that Brooklyn is the “Hipster Capital of the World”-ask my friends at Southside Guitar, they’ll corroborate, the show promises to have all manner of extreme hipness going on. My son lives in Brooklyn (and he’s so anti-hipster that he’s actually hipper than most of them) and when I go to visit, I get to see for myself just how terminally hip it is. Williamsburg has gotten so hip that the hipsters can’t afford it any more and are moving to Bushwick and Crown Heights. But enough about Brooklyn. Let’s talk about me for a while. I’ll be bringing some very cool instruments along with my trusty little Fender tweed Deluxe (or maybe the Tremolux) so you can play them and, even if you’re not buying, you can see just what the heck I’m talking about when I say these guitars are amazing. Here’s the lineup unless something sells before Sunday: 196o ES-345, 1961 ES-335, 1961 Epiphone Wilshire, 1964 ES-335, 1968 Les Paul Goldtop and maybe a Fender or two. If my ES-350T comes back in time from Dan Erlewine’s that’ll be there as well.  Wait ’til you play that one. You’ll throw all your archtop preconceived notions right out the window. Not a rock guitar? Just wait. I’ll be there handing out, uh, business cards? M&Ms? OK Guitar picks? I dunno, I better think of something between now and Sunday. The Show is Sunday April 3rd from Noon until 6 PM and it’s free. Not much is free any more. The venue is Brooklyn Bowl at 61 Wythe Ave (between N11th and N12th sts). I’d tell you how to get there but I haven’t figured it out yet, either.

Crack, Check or Scratch?

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

No, this isn’t a dilemma about how to pay for your drug habit. It’s all in the punctuation, you see. That would be Crack: Check or scratch? Or simply Crack. Check or scratch? Nope. This is about that thin line in your guitar that looks like one thing but might be another. I suppose I could even add in grain separation. The thing is that it’s sometimes really hard to tell-even under a microscope. So, the dealer tells you it’s a scratch. You’re luthier thinks it’s a crack and it might just be a check.  What do you do? Well, there are other things to looks at to help you decide if it’s a dealbreaker or not. Where on the guitar is it? Is it a place -like the neck join, where there is a great deal of stress? I had a terrific ’64 SG that had a half dozen finish cracks at the neck join but none in the wood that got heavily discounted because everyone was afraid the wood was cracked. Finally, the guy who bought it got a great deal and simply had the neck reglued-which most SGs from this period need anyway. The stress cracks came from the fact that the glue had given up and the neck moved a lot. If the guitar is heavily checked and you see what looks to you like a crack somewhere, it’s probably a check. Checks can be open or closed and an open check (one that goes all the way to the wood) can look a lot like a crack. Let’s say you’re convinced that it IS a crack-meaning the wood has split. Where is it on the guitar? If it’s in a place that gets a lot of stress like the heel or the base of the headstock, then you might want to pass it by. If it’s on the side of the body or even in the top or back and doesn’t move, then it’s probably not an issue. Wood can separate along the grain lines and still have complete function and integrity (ask any Martin owner). The beautiful 59 red 345 that I sold had a small crack along the side in one of the cutaways. The buyer didn’t have any problem with it and it was a non issue because it wasn’t in a place that made any difference to the tone or integrity of the guitar. Fifty year old wood is not inert. It still reacts to heat, cold, dampness and dryness. There are very few 50 year old guitars that don’t show the results of their environment. I had a 66 with a 10 inch crack down the middle of the back and discounted it heavily. The buyer, who knew a lot about wood, realized that it was just a grain separation in the plywood along an area that was kept intact by the center block. He knew it would never be a problem. He got a great deal. I sold a guitar with a 4 inch very thin line down the middle of the back of the neck. I looked at the line with a very strong magnifying glass and saw that the lacquer was jagged along both edges-it appeared to have been torn away by something (like a capo). But, I’ve seen cracks in that location as well-often from an overtightened truss rod.  But, again, look at the damaged area. Is it along a grain line? Is the guitar heavily checked elsewhere? Does it affect the integrity of the guitar? Is it active (showing movement when stressed)? You need to be a bit of a detective but no matter what conclusion you draw, you need to ask the next question. Does it matter? Does the price reflect the issue? Is it a small problem that’s going to become a large problem? This is where you have to show some trust in your dealer or your tech or both. Fifty years takes a pretty big toll on just about everything. It sure has on me. I used to be able to run 26 miles. Now, I can barely crank out three. Your 50 year old guitar is going to show some ravages of age. Just pay attention and use a little common sense and you can get a great deal on a guitar that is 100% functional even after all that time. And don’t pay for your crack with a check. The paper trail will come back to you.

Shootout at OK Guitars

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

OK. I would be willing to put together some kind of definitive shootout between a great 335 and a great 345 or a few of each. I’m in New York and I would be happy to put my ’60 against any 335 anyone in the area has. I have readers in LA who would do the same. I think it’s time we did this in order to stop people from trashing their 345s by turning them into 335s with the idea that they are “improving” them. maybe we get Vintage Guitar involved in some way since they have a lot more readers than I do. We could do it by posting clips but that is terribly subjective due to the use of different amps (and different players). What we need is a really good player (that wouldn’t be me) and maybe a half dozen 345s and 335s. Play a couple of different types of tunes on each and do a blind test. Now tone is very subjective but I think I have a pretty good idea of what everyone seems to be after. We can make up categories like neck pickup, bridge pickup, both pickups, distorted and clean. No pedals allowed. Everything gets done through the same amp or do it twice-once through a high gain amp like a Marshall and again through something more Fenderish like a BF Deluxe or Tweed Deluxe. The idea is to make it fair. The 345’s would be played in stereo through 2 channels. The 335’s, of course in mono. Bone stock guitars only. Same setup (all stop tails), same strings (I vote for 10’s). We could record the whole thing and let the readers decide for themselves. I have the space at my other business (GTV) to do this, although it would have to be in the evening as it would probably get loud. I’ll supply the food and beer. So, who’s on board? We could do one in LA and one in NYC if we get enough guitars on board. I have no ax to grind here, so to speak. I’ve owned plenty of each and have no reason to prefer one over the other. It’s just that, in my experience, the best sounding ES 3×5’s seem to be 345’s. I’m not saying the Varitone is what makes them sound better either-the varitone would be in position 1 (bypass) for the shootout. That way the only difference is the circuit and the pickup phase. So, whaddya say? Any takers?

The ES-345 Resurgent

Monday, March 21st, 2011

I think not. I don't use it all that much but the tone of a good 345 is as good or better than any 335 if it's used the way Gibson intended for it to be used. If you are just jumping on the bandwagon, beware. We have tests to prove it. I would like to hear from people who actually own one who believe that when used as designed, the tone sucks.

Not long ago, I wrote a post entitled “The Evil Tonesucker” which linked you to a paper written by one of my readers who knows about things electric. It discussed the much reviled Varitone and the fact that most of the guitar playing community (many of whom have never owned nor played a 345) think that the Varitone makes an otherwise very nice guitar sound like crap. And they’re right if you don’t use the guitar in the manner it was designed to be used. I’ve been getting a lot of emails praising the tone of the properly wired and played 345 and I have to agree. I’ve A-B’d these things to death. Through 2 different amps, through 2 channels of the same amp, through a Pete Cornish designed splitter box and through a “summing” stereo to mono cable. The phase issue has been explained over and over and the fact that the circuit is very clean when bypassed has been covered. Chris W. who wrote the paper and posted the video on You Tube with the true bypass A-B’d with the “number one” position on the Varitone, made it pretty clear that you gave up nothing when you played a 345 in stereo.  I keep hearing how it’s too much of a hassle to bring along a box or to bring 2 amps to a gig or any of a half dozen other reasons why the 335 is the superior guitar.  Well, it ain’t. Get a Y cable and use a 2 channel amp and you won’t have to bring anything to your gig other than a cable which you would have been bringing anyway. The “bandwagon” effect is huge here because there are some very knowledgeable folks around the internets who keep burning the 335 flame even in the face of overwhelming evidence. In my experience, the two best ES 3×5 guitars I’ve played are 345s. Number 3 is a 58 335 and number 4 is another 345. It’s common knowledge that 345s generally got the better wood and that the build quality was often better (if you’ve ever worked in manufacturing or assembly, you’ll understand why). The pickups are the same and only the circuit is different. I’m not going to start counting capacitors and resistors in the circuit-Chris has done that in his paper. I’m going by my ears. I’m always mildly amused by internet discussions of “tone.” I read one yesterday by folks who felt they could hear a difference between Gibson’s steel stoptail studs and an aftermarket stud. C’mon, folks, it’s a screw. It’s the same size and the same material. Do a blind test and then I ‘ll believe you. Maybe it’s these folks and the one’s who swear they can hear the difference between Indian rosewood and Brazilian rosewood fingerboards who have been badmouthing the 345 all these years. But, ya know, there is a huge upside to this. There is also a downside. A large percentage of 345’s have been stripped of their varitone circuitry and will never again be what they once were. That’s the downside and it’s a shame. Folks will tell you that they kept the Varitone harness in the case but there aren’t many who will endeavor to put it back in. It’s a fiddly, difficult and frustrating process. I’ve done it twice and I will never do it again. The upside is that 345’s cost less. Sometimes a lot less. I know of a beautiful 1960 (not the red one I just bought ) that is for sale for $9000. That’s about a third of the price of a 335 from the same year. I may have to buy it for myself. Keep the pro 345 emails coming. They make my day.

Going, going…YIKES!

Friday, March 18th, 2011

Oh, ain't she sweet. This was never my cup of tea but, accidentally or not, it's mine and I'm really enjoying it. Think these things can't rock? Ask Steve Howe and Ted Nugent.

I accidentally bought a guitar in a recent auction. No, not an Ebay auction which really isn’t an auction but a real auction. I bought another guitar intentionally, but this one just kind of snuck up. The auction was run by Heritage Auctions and, outside of the fact it took awhile to get the guitars, they did a good job of describing and a great job packing the guitars for shipment. In fact, it took me nearly an hour to uncrate two guitars. As with most auctions these days, you can bid three ways. You can go in person, you can bid on the phone, live, and you can bid on the internet, either in advance or live. This is where I went off the rails. The danger of actually being there is that you can get caught up in a bidding frenzy and pay more than you want to for something you really want. I saw a bit of that at the Clapton auction at Bonham’s in New York. The Heritage Auction was held in Beverly Hills, so I wasn’t there (I’m allergic to California-or to LA, at least). So, I was on the internet. I dropped in some early lowball bids and then kept a close eye on the 2 or 3 guitars I really wanted. By the time the one I really wanted came up (the 60 ES-345), I found that I had somehow bought a 58 ES-350T. Somehow, it went for my lowball price and it wasn’t until later -like when I got the guitar-that I realized why. It’s spectacularly beautiful: flamed, blonde and big. It’s got 2 virgin PAFs and the gold is completely there. Most unusual for a guitar this old. When I realized that I all of a sudden owned this guitar-this guitar that was a throwaway bid, I had to go back and read the fine print. I have a terrible habit of not reading descriptions as carefully as I should. On the other hand, I caught an awful lot of little issues on the other guitars that kept me from bidding but I missed one on this guitar. When I re-read the description, I saw mention of a crack in the side. OK, so it has a crack. I’ve seen guitars with cracks go for tens of thousands of dollars-old guitars crack sometimes. As I said, it took awhile to get the guitars and I didn’t think much about the ES-350 since I was eagerly anticipating the other guitar-which, of course, I opened first. Then I opened the ES-350. I unwrapped the mile or so of packing tape from the 100 yards of bubble wrap that shrouded the brown Stone of Brooklyn case. Then carefully pulled it from it box, spreading over a million styrofoam peanuts all over my driveway. In the rain. You see, my wife doesn’t let me open guitar boxes in the house if they are packed in styrofoam. Not a bad policy, actually because if I do, she makes me clean them up and they don’t clean up easily. Anyway, I finally wrestled the thing free of its carton and brought it inside. I opened it up. Wow. This was just about the prettiest guitar I have ever seen. Considering how little I had paid for it, I was expecting some beat to hell POS. Then I took it out and tuned it up. It played beautifully too. What was going on here? I had, of course, forgotten why I got it so cheap. I didn’t see any problem, so I went to the computer and looked up the listing. Oh, yeah, the crack. So I looked. Sure enough, on the side from the waist to the strap button was a crack. A “glue it in twenty minutes and clamp it” crack that did nothing to diminish the sweet sound of this fully hollow jazzer. I’m not a jazz guy and I’m not a hollow body guy but I just figured out what Ted Nugent and Steve Howe see in these big ol’ jazz boxes. This thing can rock. Sometimes it pays not to read the fine print.

Oh, yeah. The crack. It looks worse than it is. This'll close right up and you'll hardly know its there. I was going to do the fix myself but I think I'll ask the great Dan Erlewine to take a stab at it (note: I didn't say take a crack at it)

Ebay ES of the Week-Update

Monday, March 14th, 2011

My Favorite Year. I really like 64s and I like early 65's too. This one shows features of both.

I haven’t done this for awhile and so I thought I would once again take a look at some interesting stuff on Ebay. It’s always interesting when a no reserve auction of a desirable guitar happens. It is my belief that The truest indicator of a guitar’s value is a no reserve auction. Last week a very, very nice 64 ES 335 came up with no reserve. It was red, of course, and was an original stop tail with no issues and a lot of the original paperwork or “case candy”. The seller made herself out to be someone named “Lilly” but I’m told it was a veteran collector who knows plenty about vintage guitars. I won’t out him here because there is no law against doing that. It’s the old saw “on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”  It was in excellent shape. Not mint. Not near mint but really really excellent. It has some minor finish damage from a coil cord but nothing of much significance. It went for the highest price I’ve seen for a 64 since the market tanked. It sold for $18,400. That’s probably a good thing for those who are waiting for the market to go back up before they sell the family “heirloom” guitar. That long runup leads me to the “Ebay ES of the Week” I used to number these but I forgot what number we’re up to so, no number. This is another 64 stoptail in excellent condition. No case candy this time but still a beautiful 64. Or is it?  The serial number indicates that the guitar is, indeed, a late 64. But what makes a guitar a certain year? Is it the serial number? Gibson is notoriously unreliable. Is it the actual shipping date? there are guitars that sit around for years before they ship. You heard right. Years. These guitars are not usually 335s or 345s or even 355s. They are more typically low volume high end models like Tal Farlows or Byrdlands. Even the parts can be from widely different years. I’ve seen what appears to be a 63 body with a 66 serial number and mostly 66 hardware. I’ve seen nearly every “rule” broken in one way or another with these guitars. This guitar has a few features that indicate that, despite its 64 serial number, the guitar was possibly assembled and shipped sometime in 65. Let’s look a little closer. The most notable feature are the tuners. It’s accepted that 64’s have single line Klusons. Double lines began in 65 according to just about everyone. Is it possible that they took delivery on January 1, 1965 of a load of Kluson double line tuners? Well, they could have. I have no way of knowing. I do know that you don’t generally see them on 64’s. It is also pretty generally accepted that the narrow bevel trussrod covers are a 65 feature and yet this guitar with its 64 serial number has that too. I had a ’65 335 not long ago that I bought from a guy in Mexico (“The Mexican”) It had a 65 serial number, an original stop tail, a narrow truss rod cover bevel and single line Klusons. Does that make it a 64? I didn’t think so.  Another interesting element here is the center block. On my 65, it was uncut-like they were from 58 until around 62 when they started cutting them on some guitars. This 64 is cut. So, my 65 had 2 earlier features than this particular 64. I sold that guitar for around $12,000 which I thought was a pretty fair price for an original stoptail 335. Gil Southworth, the well respected vintage dealer had an original stop on his site that he called a 64/65 meaning that it had a 65 serial number but 64 features. These transitional guitars are every bit as good as a “real” 64 but they don’t command the same prices. The Clapton Connection of the ’64 may be responsible for some of this. I’m not going to call this particular listing a 64/65. I’ll let you judge for yourself. I’m not going to comment on what I think it’s worth. I will say its from an era that I think is among the best of the best. Note that it’s missing its pickguard ( a $400 part) and it has a non original black switch tip. The fact that it’s a no reserve auction means the price will be fair and reflect the marketplace. Added 3/17/11- I had my doubts about the finish but kept them to myself because if I’m wrong, I can really hurt someone. I will only state the most clear and obvious features on these Ebay guitars for that reason. If I suggest that a guitar may be refinished and I’m wrong, then I devalue it in the eyes of my readership who may have otherwise bid on it and that is not my intention. I  will do a separate post on what to look for that might reveal whether an ES guitar has been refinished. It can be very tricky because Gibson used more than one technique for painting red guitars. As a refinished 335, you can cut the price in half-that’s the conventional wisdom here. I think refins are a great way to get your hands on a guitar you might otherwise not be able to afford. It will be interesting to see where this one ends up.

The one on top is a 65 with no cutout. The bottom is the 64 in the auction which has it.

How to Be a Better Guitar Player by Helping the Japanese

Saturday, March 12th, 2011

I write about guitars. It seems somehow trite and maybe a little acquisitive to write about something so wildly expensive that regular folks don’t have the opportunity to play or enjoy the guitars I write about. In the wake of the natural disaster in Japan, it all seems a little self indulgent and trite. I’ve always taken a bit of pride in the fact that I have readers in something like 83 countries. I have 251 readers from Japan and a few of them in the very hard hit city of Sendai. I would like to extend my condolences to all those who lost family members and friends. I would also like to reach out to the guitar community and ask you to please send a donation to one of the many relief organizations that have offered their help and support. I’ve donated 10% of my next guitar sale and hope that you can spare a few bucks for the Japanese people who so desperately need help.  The Japanese are big fans of American vintage guitars and have bought up a lot of the Strats and Mosrites that seem to be so popular there. While Japan has never been much of a hotbed for 335 and 345 collecting, I’ve sold a few there over the past year and have sent emails to each of the buyers to see if there was anything in particular we could do to help. It was a gentleman who bought a 69 Goldtop from me (I told you, they aren’t big 335 collectors) who suggested that I ask the guitar players and collectors to pitch in and help the Japanese people who have been so badly hurt by the earthquake and tsunamis. So, what’s a few hundred bucks when we’re all talking about guitars costing $10,000 or more?I’m sure you can spare a little of it to help. It will make you a much better guitar player. I promise. You won’t sound any better but you’ll be a better guitar player.  I have that on good authority. Really.

The Clapton Theory

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

This is what I came for. The prototype "Crossroads" 335's that went for $30K-$35K or so. I bailed out at just under $20K

If EC played it on stage, it went for big bucks. As long as you could carry it. This 1948 L5 was the highest seller at around $83,000

I like theories. Conspiracy theories. Relativity theories. Theory of evolution. Theories make stuff fit into little boxes and keep the world a little less random and a little more organized. Then there’s The Eric Clapton Sale of Guitars and Amps auction held today at Bonham’s in New York. I went early and got a good seat right in the thick of it. I knew things were going to go at inflated prices and I wasn’t disappointed. Earlier Clapton auctions to benefit the Crossroads Centre had the big guns like the “Crossroads 335″ and “Blackie” that approached a million dollars and attracted real guitar aficionados as well as Clapton fans who just wanted a piece of the man to remember him by. That sounds like he’s dead. Let’s say to honor the man instead. Anyway, I went because I wanted to buy one of the three “prototype” Gibson “Crossroads 335s”. I’ll get to that later. What throws any theory of why things sold for what they sold for into the crapper is the fact that none of it made any sense. First item was a Fender Blues Junior from 2005. That’s about a $400 amp. The Clapton Blues Jr. went for $8400 (including buyers premium). Yikes.

How about $39,000. It'll fit in your briefcase too.

Thats somewhere in the neighborhood of 2000% over it’s value because EC used it on stage. Later, another Blues Jr came up but it wasn’t stage used and it went for $1680 or around 400% over retail. Eric’s 2008 12 string Martin went for $70,000 (with B). That’s a $1500 guitar. So, the Eric premium on this one was nearly 5000% over its retail value.  So my theory that starts emerging is that if EC played it, it goes for some huge premium. If he just donated it and didn’t play it onstage, it’s only maybe 4 times the normal price. Except when it doesn’t hold true. A lot of 4 JCM 800 Marshalls and 2 cabinets went for $7500. Supposedly, these were his stage amps in the 80’s. That’s only slightly more than retail. Break that set up and sell them separately and you could make some serious money from ES fans, I think. I didn’t. So, now my theory is shot. So, maybe it’s only stuff you can easily carry out that gets the huge premium.  A blues JR in a “woody” cabinet used onstage went for $24,000, so small and stage played seems to be the key. But wait, a pair of custom built Fender Tweed Twins goes for $$42000. Not exactly something you can carry out with you. His real modded ’57 Tweed Twin went for $38,400. That, I think was the real iconic piece at this show-perhaps as iconic as some of the six figure guitars of the earlier auctions. I was as familiar with this beat up old tweed as I was with Blackie. This amp saw a lot of stage time. I expected it to break $75,000. A Japanese Zemaitis copy for $80,000 and not used onstage? Clapton’s stage used L5 from 1948 should have been double that but nope-about the same -$83,000. So, I have no theory. I don’t get it. On another subject, what about the bidders. They were a pretty dull group. There was some heated bidding but almost no enthusiasm. One gentleman threw his hands up in victory after winning one of the amps, I think. That was the only outburst of any kind. Maybe senility was settling in. This was not a young crowd. Like the Philly Show last Fall, I should have had a booth for prostate exams. Mostly men-mostly 50-62. And what about the guitars I came for? Well prototype 001 wasn’t a prototype at all. It was just a 2001 335 given to EC by Gibson. It was nothing like the Crossroads reissue as it had Kluson tuners and an ES-345 fingerboard. So why did it go for more than the 2 real Crossroads prototypes? That one went for $34,000 while the real prototypes both went for $30-32K which I thought was a pretty good deal if you have the money to spend. Finally, there were the awards like gold records (almost $40,000) and BMI awards for “only” $4,000 or so.  So, where’s my theory? I don’t have one. It seemed to make little sense in terms of consistency. In fact the most consistent element of the auction was the apparent boredom of most of those in attendance.

This isn't even a real "woody". It's a made in Mexico Blues Junior in a woody cabinet. Only $24,000.

By far the most iconic piece in the show, IMO. The tweed Twin that was modded by the late Cesar Diaz. $39,000 didn't even seem that high. A young girl bid on this and one other lot. Got them both and promptly left. She wouldn't tell me who she was bidding for. The suit he's wearing here went for $7200. I'll bet it would have fit me, too.

My Guitar Has Issues (The Doctor is IN)

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

A black ES-345 from 1963 that has almost no original parts other than the guard and the truss rod cover. What's it worth and is it worth owning?

I get a lot of emails. Many of them ask me how much a particular 335 or 345 is worth. Most readers are disappointed with the numbers because they go to Gbase and see the big dealers putting stupid, unrealistic prices on the same guitar and I have to gently talk them down from their dollar sign induced euphoria. With reputable dealers putting prices of $30,000 on a 59 345 OR $55,000 on a ’60 dot neck, it’s time for another reality check.  As if it isn’t tough enough to convince them of the real world value of the model and year that they have, most of them also have issues that seriously affect the value in the downward direction. I recently acquired a guitar with a boatload of issues. I had planned to fix most of the issues and resell it but after playing it, I figured it was really good just the way it was and I didn’t want to potentially make it worse. It’s the guitar in the photo. It’s a 1963 ES-345 with all sorts of wrong parts and issues. Dating it was pretty easy what with the Mickey Mouse ears, high headstock inlay position, wide bevel pickguard and TRC and a 1 11/16″ nut. The 1963 serial number didn’t hurt. If this was an average NO ISSUE stoptail 1963 ES 345 that was all original I would probably put a price of around $13,000 on it. So first, the issues. It was refinished black-nicely done but still a refin. It had chrome Grovers, a chrome Nashville bridge with redrilled posts and a chrome stoptail that had also been slightly moved. The PAFs/Pat# pickups were gone. The harness is vintage but from the 70’s. The bridge pickup is a 15K “Dirty Fingers” and the neck pickup is a hand made PAF copy (8K), nicely done by a friend of mine. OK. What’s left that is original? Not much. Old wood. Pickguard and truss rod cover. So, how do I go about evaluating this one? Conventional wisdom says knock off 50% for a refinished guitar. That drops us right down to $6500. What I usually do next is add up what it will cost to put everything back to it’s original configuration.  A set of gold  Klusons $350. a pair of gold patent number pickups $1500, a 63 harness $250, wire ABR1 in gold $175, set of correct knobs $150, Varitone chokes $85 (the switch is still there) and a gold lightweight stop tail $450. Each price I’ve put on the components is a real world price that I have paid within the past year for that item. That comes out to $2960 which gets subtracted from the $6500. That puts us at $3540. The parts we would be taking off have some value-not much but let’s call it $400. The pickups are probably worth $250 (I paid $200 for the neck pickup and it was almost unused and a double white Dirty Fingers has to be worth $50 to someone-it sounds pretty good, to be honest). The Grovers maybe $50, The aluminum stop tail $65 and everything else, another $50. So we add in another $465 so we’re back up to almost $4,000. It’s going to cost you some money to rewire it as a 345 and stuff that harness in, so we’ll say $150. That leaves us at $3850. Easy, no? Well there are other factors that aren’t so easily quantified. What about the quality of the refin (pro, on this one), what about “mojo” that quality of player wear that so many folks seem willing to pay in excess of $1,000 for, and what about playability? If it plays and sounds like crap, then how do we factor that in? If it plays brilliantly, what about that? Simple-if it plays like crap, it’s worthless to me and I stay away. So, call this the “clinical” approach but the truth is, it kind of works. The guitar was sold to a friend who has a mint ’63 ES-335 that he plays at home (and very carefully). He wanted a guitar that played just like it but that he could take out of the house and be a bit more reckless with it. That’s why they call these things “players”.  He plans on keeping it just the way it is and not bringing it back and I have to agree with him. It plays wonderfully and sounds excellent, if not quite like a “normal” 335 due to that 15K bridge pickup that’s pretty nasty. I think if I have a choice for a player between a used Historic or a refinished, great playing “Golden Era” 335 or 345 I’m going to go for the refin hands down.

OK, Something from the 70’s

Friday, March 4th, 2011

Here's a late '70's model with the pinched body shape, TP6 and the other "amenities" that graced this long lived variant. Are these the "next big thing"? I don't think so but, as my wife tells me "you're not always right, ya know".

Having lived through the 50’s as a child, the 60’s as a teenager and the 70’s as an almost adult, I can tell you from experience that the 70’s were the nadir of American design. From fashion to automobiles to guitars, the 70’s sucked. The music, which was so great in the 60’s didn’t suck from day one but by 1974, it sucked pretty badly. The curse of disco got it’s ugly claws into no less than The Rolling Stones (see what Keef says about that in his book) and Led Zeppelin. I  understand ya gotta sell records but c’mon, what happened to your self confidence? Anyway, the design nerds at Gibson/Norlin weren’t much better. By making the guitars cheaper, they also ruined the design. The body shape of the 335 got pinched to a truly ugly look. But there are devotees out there of the 70’s Gibsons and I should at least give them their due. So, we’ll look at a guitar that I have had almost no experience with. The ES-347. I played one at the Guitar Center in Orange, CT not long ago. It was a blonde ’79 that weighed about 12 lbs and sounded like someone had thrown a quilt over it. I guess they all aren’t like that. Built from 1978 until 1992 or so, somebody must have bought them because that, for Gibson, is a pretty long run. In fact, according to “The Gibson 335″ which is so often wrong, they shipped 1642 of them in 1979. It doesn’t say how many actually sold, however. Some say it was introduced to replace the aging 345 but that doesn’t seem right since the 345 survived until 1982. Same with the 355. So what is this beast? Well, I guess you would characterize it as an ebony fingerboard, big block markered, coil tapped, gold hardware 335. The one somewhat innovative addition was the TP6-the stoptail with the fine tuning keys that works very well. As a complete nut about tuning, I appreciate the fact that Gibson finally acknowledged how hard it is to keep these in tune. If the TP6 was a good idea, the tuners with the built in “crank” was one of the dumber ones. I’m not even going to describe them they were such a dumb idea. Talk about inventing something nobody needs (uh, like a self tuning “robot” guitar). Just because I haven’t played a good one doesn’t mean there aren’t any. I gotten a few emails from a guy in New York starting a 347 collection. Now on his third, he believes the 347 will be a seriously collectible and valuable instrument. He could be right.  I, for one, wouldn’t give you $1,000 for a ’70’s 3 bolt Strat but they’re out there for $5,000 or more so why not the 347?  The 347, I’m told, started off with regular patent number pickups but evolved into the overwound “Dirty Fingers” pickup and maybe even the Bill Lawrence circuit backs by the time they were gone. It still generally has a 3 piece neck with a big fat volute but I’m guessing that disappeared by the end of the run as well. Like I said, I don’t see many of these. The prices in today’s market are in the $2500-$3000 range which seems to be in line with what you get for your money. You may have to consider that someday the 70’s will be revered as some kind of renaissance when conventional design was stood on it’s head and all the change fell out of its pockets.

Here's a later 80's version with an interesting "Brockburst" kind of finish. It looks better on a Les Paul but doesn't look bad here. The TP6 seems to have disappeared.

This one appears to be a later one. Note that the body shape has unpinched itself and it's starting to look like the real thing again. But the TP6 is back and the coil tap has moved down to near the three way. And the hardware isn't gold any more and it's red.