Halloween is supposed to be about scary stuff and I think I had my share of it this year. Buying guitars sight unseen and having the gorillas from Fedex ship them is about as scary as it gets around here. Let’s take a look at what scared me this year. I bought a 64 ES-335 that was supposed to be “oversprayed” on the front with clear lacquer. It had red in the f-holes and on the pot shafts and was clearly totally refinished on the front-and I paid top dollar for it. The guy wouldn’t take it back (name on request). Just be careful when you buy from ” a guy in Santa Fe”. I got hosed on it because I sold it (as it should have been sold in the first place) as a refinish. I bought another 64 from a guy in San Luis Obispo, California and I had my doubts about whether he was legit. So, I asked for the “hostage” photo-you know the shot of the guitar with todays headline in the picture? He sent that. I asked for what amounted to an “in hand” description over the phone and he gave me a convincing speech (with a guitar in his hands). So, I sent him a wire for many thousands of dollars. No guitar. It turns out the guitar was in a music store in his town and he was getting the photos from the owner of the music store-posing as a buyer. He probably got the text for his “in hand” description from him too. There is currently a warrant out for his arrest. I don’t take kindly to being robbed. Then, of course there was Fedex breaking the SG. But there is always little stuff as well. A bridge that’s supposed to be original that says “Japan” on the bottom, the trem arm that’s supposed to be in the case that isn’t, the missing screws, the repro guards, the undisclosed cracks and the splices in the pickup wires. All those things happened to me this year (and a lot more). I was compensated for many of these things but not all. The key thing is that most sellers are describing their guitar “to the best of their knowledge” even though they make blanket statements like “100% original”. In most cases, the intent is not to cheat but its simply that they don’t know (which has a lot to do with why I write this). There was an elderly gentleman in North Carolina from whom I bought a ’60 ES-345 that he owned since new. He was a gospel and blues player all his life and played the heck out of the thing. A few years ago, he told me, the tuners started slipping and were swapped out for him by a “friend”. But either the “friend” or an unscrupulous repair shop decided to swap out the PAFs for DiMarzios as well without telling the owner, so he thought they were original. He compensated me for them but nobody compensated him for his thieving friend. That’s scary too. None of this stops me from doing what I do, however. It’s just part of the cost of doing business and I expect to have these problems fairly regularly. I just would like to have them less regularly. Finally, in the spirit of the season, did you ever wonder what kind of guitar Dracula played? I was sent this photo by a reader who showed that Dracula has the good sense to play a 345 . It seems to be missing it’s neck binding. Maybe he bit it and it fell off.
Archive for October, 2011
I was talking to one of my NY guitar buddies today and we were discussing how the price drop that has occurred in the guitar market in the past 3 years has, somehow, not penetrated the crania of many, many dealers. We talked about how they must be into the guitars at the top of the market and don’t want to take the loss or perhaps they’re just waiting for an overseas sucker to buy into the hype. I learned a long time ago (back when I used to invest my money in things like tech stocks) that hoping for a loser to come back is a bad idea. If you sell the loser and invest what’s left in something that’s a winner, you can make your investment back a lot faster and make future investments. Or you can sit there with your loser and lose. I’m no economic genius by any stretch but I get the market. I’ve had people email me asking what’s wrong with a particular guitar because I’m selling it for a third the price of another dealer. The typical response when I tell them the other dealer is way out of line is, “Really???-they’re so reputable”. Reputable has nothing to do with price. Many of these same dealers are as honest as the day is long but somehow, they just can’t bear to take the loss. Perhaps it feels like an admission of failure. I’ve seen some guitars on the market going on four years now. Some, granted, are consignments over which the dealer has no control. Some dealers are highly negotiable but you never know which ones and besides, most people aren’t very good negotiators. The disconnect between guitar and market price is sometimes mind blowing. Here’s an example: I just sold a near mint ’64 stoptail 335 to a gentleman in the UK for $9500. One PAF, one patent number and no issues other than a repro tailpiece. I think I listed it at $9999. Let’s go to Gbase, shall we…OK, I’m back. There’s a red 63 that is listed as mint, (so mine was close) at $29,995. That’s triple the price (do the math, really). Fluke? Nope. There’s a Bigsby/stud ’64 for $25,000. And a stoptail sunburst 64 for $19,500. Oh, and a 63 Bigsby/stud model for $9200. Oh, sorry, that one’s mine. I’m not trying to be self serving here. Well, actually, I am but there are larger points to be made. Don’t let the “big” dealers tell you what a guitar is worth. Do your homework. You want a real education? Call one of them up and tell them you have a mint 63 ES-345 to sell and see what they offer you. Maybe they just do business differently than I do. Some of them have been around a lot longer than I have. But I see the same guitars week in and week out, year in and year out. I like having lots of guitars to play but I like seeing them go out the door even more-even if I don’t make a 200% markup. Besides, I know that if I paid $29,995 for a 63 ES-345, I wouldn’t have nearly as much fun with it as I would if I paid $9200. I’d be too scared to play it, let alone take it on a gig.
Fedex broke a 64 SG that I had shipped to me by a seller. The guitar was adequately packed and it appears that someone put a forklift through the box. According to Elliot at Dan Erlewines Guitar Shop, the guitar appeared to have been broken forward and then backward. Dropping a guitar won’t break it in two opposite directions. Hitting it with a forklift going in and then out might do just that. Fortunately, the guitar was repairable and no wood was lost. The neck was not broken off. I put in a claim to Fedex for $2876. That was to cover the repair, the shipping and the devaluation of the guitar. Because the value had already been compromised by a neck reset (no break), I went with $2500 for the devaluation. I’ve seen plenty of near mint 64’s with resets selling for $13,000. Here’s the timeline: I received the guitar on September 19th. I reported the break the same day. The Fedex folks asked me to repack the guitar and my (very nice) Fedex guy picked it up. I pointed out the big hole in the box and he said “looks like a forklift went through it.” I sent documentation and waited. And waited. On October 3rd, I received a letter stating “…after reviewing your documentation…we cannot honor your claim. The shipment was not adequately prepared…” Granted, I didn’t ship it but the guitar was well packed in a good hard case that was then wrapped completely in 3 layers of bubble wrap. There were “airpaks” filling the voids in the box along with a quantity of wadded paper. There was a layer of foam peanuts lining the bottom of the box and a fitted foam “cap” filling the top of the box. Perfectly adequate even to a perfectionist like me. So I called on October 3rd to get more information and, of course, I got the “Fedex Policy” speech. So, I went to look into the Fedex policy. You should know that Fedex does NOT insure guitars. You may state the value and pay a huge premium for allowing them to ship your $25,000 dot neck but they are only liable for $1000 worth of damage no matter what you write in the little space that asks you its value. You thought you were insuring it? Well, to quote Hope Iverson of Fedex who is an executive and also Krysti Wyke, the Claims Representative, “Fedex does not provide insurance coverage of any kind.” That’s it. You read it here but I should have read it on the Fedex site. You need to insure your guitar using an outside source like Heritage. After complaining loudly to the aforementioned Fedex employees, I was able to convince them that they had some responsibility. On October 17th I received a check for $443.71. The fact that they sent me a check for $443.71 is an admission of liability. The BS about “inadequately packed” is just that. If it wasn’t adequately packed, why did you send me a check? Guilt? I doubt that. If they have $443.71 worth of responsibility, then they have $2876 worth. Either they broke it due to negligence or they didn’t. I strongly suggest that any of my readers who have to ship a guitar think about outside insurance and think about using someone other than Fedex. Here’s a link to the page that explains their “responsibility.” Note the large print at the top that says: WE DO NOT PROVIDE INSURANCE COVERAGE OF ANY KIND. To my horror, I’ve paid in close to $3000 in “declared value” premiums this year alone. A total waste of money that Fedex should not even collect. They should have a pop up box that warns you that their liability is limited to $1000 and that to put any higher value in that space is you throwing your money right into the bottom line at Fedex.
Depends on the name I guess. If it’s Eric Clapton and you’re auctioning off an iconic 335, then the name is worth a little over $800K. But if you’re Richard Gere, it would be worth a bit less. I can understand Gere fans paying for his boxer shorts from “Pretty Woman” or at least paying more than the usual price for a pair of used undies but for his guitars? I dunno-and I like Richard Gere-he was in one of my favorite movies of all time-Terrence Malick’s “Days of Heaven”. But let’s consider what the name is worth. As an example, we’ll use a 67 ES-335 that sold for a little over
$11,875 including the BP. The estimate was $4000 to $6000 which was probably a bit high considering it had the wrong Bigsby. I would have paid maybe $3000 but I’m a cheap bastard, so let’s say it was worth $4K. So, the name Richard Gere was worth $7800 to someone or an additional 200%. Not exactly Clapton territory but, hey, the guy wasn’t an musical icon. He’s as actor-right above lawyers and politicians in the grand scheme of things. Let’s look at the guitar that I was after. It’s a 1960 ES-335 in natural finish with four extra Bigsby holes in it. In the condition that it was in, this would have been a $40,000 guitar had it not had a non original Bigsby on it at some point. That, to me pretty much does what a factory Bigsby does-knocks it down 25% plus, say, another 10% because it didn’t come from the factory that way. That puts it at $26,000 which was where I drew the line on this one. Had it been a 59, maybe I’d have gone a bit higher but a 60 with 59 features is still a 60 (I’ve got the 59/60 345 to prove it, too). So, the “star” premium was $21,000. That’s less than the 200% of the 67 but still a ton of money. I truly don’t get it at this level. If someone brought me a nice vintage piece that was once owned by a former President, I may be willing to pay a bit more-after all, how many Presidents play guitar? But an actor? How about a reality TV star…the Kim Kardashian Strat for a huge premium? It doesn’t compute, does it. In 100 years, folks will probably know who Eric Clapton was and his guitars will have considerable value. They may or may not know who Richard Gere was but they won’t care enough to pay a price for his guitar. But I can guarantee that unless she shoots somebody really important, the name Kim Kardashian will garner a quizzical look and a big “huh”? Let’s look back 100 years to 1911. What would you pay for an instrument owned by Irving Berlin or Gustav Mahler? How about Charlie Chaplin or Mary Pickford? How about Edward Smith? Who? Ed. Ed Smith. He was much more famous than Kim Kardashian, at least for a few days. he was the captain of the Titanic. I don’t think I’d pay extra for his guitar, though, unless it went down with the ship. And yes, I understand that the proceeds went to charity and that a good and noble thing but I’m guessing it didn’t totally account for the high prices on these guitars.
Ever notice how the misled looks like it should be pronounced myzled (like grizzled with a sharp “i”)? It always looked wrong to me. Be that as it may, Gibson’s Historic ABR-1 bridge is so close to the original that it seems easy to be fooled and many, even those who shouldn’t be, fall for them as the real thing. I saw two Ebay listings this morning-both by reputable dealers that listed bridges as original 60’s ABR-1’s. What’s a little distressing is that this one is generally pretty easy. Most of you are aware that the earliest ABR-1 had no retainer wire and said “GIBSON ABR-1″ on the underside followed by an odd shape which is the mark of the foundry who cranked these things out. By 62 or so, the wired bridges started showing up but they still had the same marking on the bottom. The switched over chrome in ’65 but there were still bridges with the same markings. Then, some time in ’65, the changed the ABR-1. They got a little beefier and they no longer said ABR-1 and they no longer had the foundry mark. They said simply “GIBSON PAT. No. 2,740,313. There are both nickel and chrome (and gold ones) which points out that the transition occurred over a pretty long period. In 65, there are actually 4 different possibilities for a 335’s ABR-1. A nickel one with foundry mark, a chrome one with the mark or nickel or chrome with the patent number. Confusing, huh. When Gibson started getting serious about the accuracy of their Historic lines, they finally reproduced the bridge to a very close approximation of the original. I personally cannot tell the difference without a magnifying glass. The only thing I see that’s different is the thickness of the metal lip that the screws fit into on the back side (not the screw head side) of the bridge. It was pretty thin on the originals and tended to get bent up a bit. It’s a very slight difference but you don’t even need to look that close. The Historics, until this year, I believe, didn’t have the foundry mark. There was an early repro -made by Pigtail, I believe, that reproduced the foundry mark but I’ve only seen a couple of those and, apparently, they don’t make it any more. But, recently, Crazy Parts, who make a lot of repro stuff or import it from Japan (they are in Germany) sells an aged version of the Historic ABR-1 that includes the foundry mark and pretty much nails the typeface. In this case, look at the area surrounding the words. If the left and right edges of the “surround” are squared off, it’s real. If there is a smooth downward curve on the right and left and the corners are rounded, it’s a repro. So, if you aren’t sure whether the ABR-1 you’re about to shell out $350 or more for is the real vintage deal, just look for the foundry mark. Look at it this way-it’s a $50 bridge and a $300 mark. Then, if it’s there, look at it even more closely. If you see the curves, then see yourself to the door.
No this isn’t a post about old guitar cases which really do have that smell and I haven’t gone on a Lynyrd Synyrd bender. I really should write a post about how to get rid of that smell but I haven’t yet figured out how to get rid of it. What I’m really talking is about is what makes a vintage guitar, well, vintage. The smell actually has something to do with it. I believe that a lot of what makes vintage guitars so revered is in our collective heads. If you blindfolded me and played an old guitar and then a new guitar-through the same amp-I’d be hard pressed to tell you which one was vintage. I could tell you which one sounds better but it won’t always be the vintage one. I bring this up because, in our quest for the GHT (Guitar Holy Trinity-Tone, playability and appreciation) we often get a little caught up in our own passion. Here’s an example: I don’t mess with modern pickups very much because I don’t mess with modern guitars very much. When I bought that blonde ES-345, the seller threw in a couple of Sheptone PAFs which he had lying around and had no use for. I put them in the parts bin and didn’t give it another thought. A couple of weeks ago, I bought a 62 SG husk (with the sideways and the plastic) and decided to put it back together using all correct parts. It had a great neck and feel but had had some minor work done on the neck joint (what else is new?). I had all the correct parts including a pair of PAFs which I loaded up. If I’m recalling correctly, these came out of a trashed 62 335. I’d never heard them in a 335 but they didn’t blow me away in the SG. So, I went to a pair of early patent numbers that I know sounded good in a 335 because I had them in a converted 59 345 for months before I came up with a set of PAFs for it. But in the SG, they just sounded ehh. So, wtf, I thought to myself. Is this just a bad sounding piece of old wood or do some pickups sound better in one guitar than they do in another? So, what the heck, it’s easy to swap out pickups in an SG and I put the Sheptones in and boi-oi-oing-there was the tone. The guitar still felt like vintage with the rounded over binding and smooth as a baby’s butt frets and ‘board. It still smelled vintage-that combination of old wood, mildew, sweat, nitro and cigarette smoke and now, with its non vintage pickups, it sounded vintage. OK, vintage isn’t really a sound. It sounded great. So, I’ve decided that perhaps a good bit of the vintage cachet really is the feel and the smell. I’ll bet not one of you readers could tell the difference in tone playing a vintage 335 with modern hardware vs one with original hardware. I even think we could sneak in a good set of modern PAFs like Jim Rolph’s or Shep’s or Throbaks and you still might not hear it. There may be something to the “old wood” concept but I think there more to “vintage feel” than most of us are willing to admit. Hey, a 1978 ES-335 is “old wood” and it feels vintage (sort of) but I don’t see anybody ponying up $15K for one. All right then, what is it we’re looking for? I think it’s relevant that 90% of my clients who buy guitars from me are between the ages of 50 and 62. So, is it possible that they are merely trying to recapture a piece of lost youth? Of course it is. On the other hand, I’ve played a 78 ES-335 and it sounded like shit and weighed a ton. I’m sure there’s a lot more to say about this and I intended it to be a bit controversial, so comment away. I can take it. After living with that damn smell, I can take almost anything.
Guitar players, especially vintage guitar players will try almost anything in their quest for “that” tone in their heads. It’s often a tone that was born many years ago-at a concert or maybe on a stage one night when everything came together; the right guitar, the right room, the right amp and settings and the right frame of mind. I haven’t gigged in something like 38 years but I still remember a night or two or three when, for some reason, everything sounded exactly right. The guitar sustained forever, the tone was rich and fat and complex and I wasn’t playing through any pedals. I still have it in my head today. I remember what I was playing on a few of those nights and I’ve tried to replicate it and I haven’t been able to. I got it with a 64 ES-335 through a 64 Super Reverb and, another time I got it with an Epiphone Wilshire (P90s) through a Fender single Showman. We were loud but, in the case of the Showman, the gig was outdoors and I had it cranked up to around 7. The guitar was just on the edge of feedback and it took on a life of its own. I’ve tried dozens of amps and I’ve owned hundreds of guitars and I’ve come very close to that tone but I’ve never quite nailed it. Part of that is the fact that I don’t gig any more and that, I’m sure, has a lot to do with it. I mostly play at home with much smaller amps at much lower volumes. But I’ve recently noticed something else that I hadn’t paid much attention to. The strings. The strings? Yep, the
strings. They don’t sound the same as they used to. Back in the day (the day being the period when I played regularly with a band from 1964 to 1973) I used whatever strings were available (and cheap) at Hermies Music Store or Drome Sound in oh so cosmopolitan Schenectady, NY. It didn’t seem to matter that much back then-they all seemed to sound pretty much the same. I guess they were all made more or less the same way. Apparently that’s no longer true. I’ve been using D’Addario’s for years and years because they are cheap and I can buy them in bulk. They sounded fine to my ears and I never saw any compelling reason to switch. Then, I read an article that explained that strings aren’t made the same way as they used to be. Machine made strings use a hexagonal core whereas, back when I was performing, they used round cores. Apparently the hex core allows the machines to wind the string with more consistency. But I felt compelled to try a set of round core strings, so I bought a set of Pyramid pure nickel handwound strings. The quest for tone is an incremental search and every little teeny improvement is noted-things like capacitors, pots, nut material and at least a dozen other things. Whenever I put on a set of new strings, they always sound too “metallic”…it isn’t twang so much as a “liveliness” that sounds wrong. It goes away in a few days but some of the brightness and sustain seems to go away with it. Enter Pyramid strings. I put a set of 10’s on my wonderful blonde 59/60 ES-345 and there it was. The sound of what my guitar used to sound like. It put a big smile on my face because it’s one of those things that when it’s wrong you know it but you don’t know why but when it’s right, you know it’s right and you don’t care why. There are other brands that sell strings made the old fashioned way and I urge you to try them-after all I’m not on the payroll at Pyramid. I don’t know why they sounded right but they certainly did. Now all I need is a big outdoor gig where I can crank up the ol’ tweed Bassman to “11” and make that 345 sing.