I don’t actually have a topic that is New Years related but I thought this might be a good time to take a look at the vintage market with regard to ES 335, 345 and 355s. I really can’t look ahead since I don’t have a crystal ball so, assuming the Mayans are wrong and the world doesn’t end in 2012, we’ll all have to be content to look at the market over the past year. You sure can’t tell anything from the majority of the dealers. When I go through the 335s on Gbase, I have to laugh. If you looked at the guitars that were listed at this time last year and the ones that are listed today, I would guess that at least half of them are still for sale. In the fourth quarter, the market for stop tail 335s got very strong. The market for Bigsbys? Not so much. But the term strong is relative. When I see 62-64 block necks both on Gbase and Ebay north of $30,000, I understand why none of them sell. Unless the guitar is dead mint, that’s not a reasonable price. Dot necks have held their value better with 59’s leading the way, of course. But, the average dot neck has crept below $20,000. The one’s that are fetching the lower prices are usually 60, 61 and 62’s. The 58 and 59’s are doing somewhat better. My sales range this year for 1958-1964 ES-335s (excluding refins, repairs and exotic colors) is $9000 to $25,000. Average no issue stoptail block was around $16K. Average Bigsby/studs version was around $12,000. I only sold perhaps 6 or 7 dot necks this year and no 58s and only one 59, so my average will be skewed downward. But I can tell you this, the stoptail dot necks, while not flying out of the dealers are still a very desirable guitar. I believe the only reason they are sitting unsold is that the owners are asking 2007 prices. The old cliche that says an item is worth what someone will pay still holds true and I’m sure some very high dollar 335’s changed hands this year. But I think we have a face a basic truth about the economics of 2011: The 1% with all the money is going to spend whatever it takes to get whatever they want. The players and the small collectors are going to look for the deals. That’s pretty much how it went for me. On the ES-345 front, the market was softer and the bargains have been fast and furious. A PAF equipped ’60 for under $9K? A stoptail near mint 64 for under $9500? These are reasonable post bubble prices that I got for 345s. I prefer not to name names but c’mon $29,999 for a red ’63 ES-345? Go check Gbase. This years crop of 1959-1964 ES-345s ranged from $6500 for a Bigsby/stud ’64 to $18,000 for a near mint ’60 stop. We’ll leave the red 59 and the blondie out of the equation. I didn’t sell a whole lot of 355s this year-maybe 8? The mono 355s are very strong-they are out the door sometimes before I even get them. The foreign market is nuts for 355’s. I had one go to Japan, another to Australia, one to the UK and another to Germany. This is probably a good thing since I don’t have to worry that the US Government is going to confiscate them due to the use of Brazilian rosewood. The range for 355’s this year was $6500 to $15,000. The top seller was a mono 59 in excellent condition. My intent here is to keep you from spending more than you have to in order to get the guitar you want. be patient and when the right one comes along at the right price, don’t give it too much thought because someone else is going to snag it from under you. Whether you buy from me or from someone else, you will be a lot happier knowing the price you paid is what the guitar is worth not someones idea of what it was worth 5 years ago. Oh, and Happy New Year and thanks to all 35,624 of you for reading what I write and helping me to enjoy another year of guitar buying, selling, playing and just yakking about them.
Archive for December, 2011
I thought I had done this already and went through the old posts and somehow I never did a post looking specifically at the 62 model year for the ES-335. And it’s a pretty interesting one because it was the year that Gibson switched from dot neck to block neck. Most folks assume that 61’s are dots and 62’s are blocks. Au contraire. Gibson made the transition to the block neck during 1962 probably in the Spring. I’ve never seen a stat that says how many dot necks and how many block necks were shipped but based on what I’ve seen in the real world, it’s got to be perhaps 8 blocks to every dot. They made nearly 900 335s that year and it was the first year that cherry was the more popular color (by more than 2:1). What’s really odd is that I’ve only had one red 62 block and I’ve had a least 8 or 9 62 block necks. I have two more I’m buying and they are both sunburst as well. I have no explanation. Of course, 62 is also the year Gibson started phasing in the patent number pickup. Most of you know that the early patent and the late PAF are identical. Only the sticker is different but that doesn’t stop folks (including me) from charging a $1000 to $2000 premium for that sticker. Nobody ever said that collectors were sensible. A couple of other things occurred during 62 as well-although I’m going to get an argument from someone on this because it isn’t entirely clear. The saddles changed to nylon. “Hold it”, you say…”the saddles changed in 61-I know because my SG has them”. And you would be right but they didn’t change on 335’s until 62. In fact of the 8 or 9 62’s I’ve had and quite a number of others I’ve seen, most of them still show metal saddles. The other change during 62 was from the no wire ABR-1 to the wire version. This is trickier to figure out because alot of people swapped out their no wire bridge for the wire type for the simple reason that they got tired of chasing their saddles around the bandstand every time they broke a string. It seems to me that most are no wire and that the transition occurred late in the year. Lastly, 62 was pretty much the last year for the brown case. Although I’ve had a 63 SG in a brown case, I haven’t had a 63 335 in one. That doesn’t mean they aren’t out there. As I’ve mentioned aboout 100 times, the cases were often supplied by the music store and if they had a brown one kicking around the back room in 63, they wouldn’t hesitate to put a 63 335 in it. The 1962 is a fairly popular year for players and collectors because it is usually the least expensive “Golden Era” 335. Surprised? It has to do with the neck profile more than anything. While it is the same (more or less) as a 60 (except the earliest ones) and a 61, the 62 block isn’t a dot neck so it isn’t worth as much. OK, why is it worth less than a 63…after all it’s more likely to have 2 PAFs, right? That’s true but many 63’s have the big 64 size neck which to many buyers trumps a PAF. I would say a 62 and an early 63 are the “bargains” of the era. Stop tails in great shape should be from $15K-$18K depending on the condition. Don’t go looking on Ebay-the dreamers have them as high as $32,000 and be careful on Gbase as well. There are 62/63s for as high as $25K. The average among the dealers in still over $20K but those guitars aren’t flying out the door-some have been listed for 3 years now. A Bigsby or Maestro version will be thousands less. You should be able to find one for as little as $10,000 but it’ll probably be a Maestro. Make sure the string break angle isn’t too shallow. It will cause big string benders all kinds of problems because the strings will fly right out of the saddles. From a tone standpoint, most are excellent. These are extremely consistent and well built. If you can deal with the slim (front to back) neck, you can save a lot of money and have a guitar that be the equal of almost anything out there. The best guitar I owned this year from a tone standpoint was a 62 (but it was a dot neck).
Yes, another Steely Dan (Aja) reference. Can you actually tell chrome hardware from nickel? It’s easy when it’s old but not so easy when it’s new. And why do folks today like nickel on their guitars so much better when the world was all but demanding chrome back in the early 60’s? It’s a pretty interesting story and illustrates how tastes change and how people perceived their guitars. For reasons known only to Gibson, the first humbuckers had stainless steel covers but by 1958 they had switched to nickel plated covers. In fact, all of the brightwork on the first 335s was nickel plated (which probably isn’t really nickel, by the way, but nickel-silver which, by the way has no silver in it, it’s copper, nickel and zinc). Pure nickel is pretty corrosion and tarnish resistant and, whatever it was Gibson was using, wasn’t. So, I’m guessing nickel-silver (or German silver). And the tarnish and corrosion was the problem. Within a couple of years, especially among performers who tend to sweat a lot, the pickup covers, stoptails, bridges and anything else that got sweated on or came in contact with the players hands, started looking pretty crappy. From 58 until 64, every ES-335 had a nickel plated bridge, stoptail (if it had one), pickup covers, pickguard bracket and tuners. You can see on most vintage pieces from this era that they get pretty dull. Back before the days of “relics” and “VOS” and all the other trendy fake worn guitars, people wanted their brightwork to look bright and they took care of their guitars usually getting visibly upset when they smacked the headstock into a cymbal or dinged up the body. Gibson was getting lots of complaints. Somehow it took 6 years for someone to listen but eventually (by 1965) Gibson started a slow transition to chrome plating. The pickup covers seemed to be the first component probably because the covers showed the most discoloration. By early 65, the stoptail was history and the trapeze was substituted and they were often the next item to go chrome followed by the bridge and even later, the pickguard bracket. The tuners stayed nickel throughout the 60’s. It interesting that you can still find nickel pickguard brackets into 1967 (I guess they had a lot of them on hand). The transitions were not consistent nor were they short in duration. It seems that they even used one nickel pickup cover and one chrome cover on occasion which probably looked OK when new but would shortly take on a mismatched appearance. The chrome plated parts stayed bright and shiny pretty much forever or until the plating wore off. But chrome is pretty durable so most of the 65 and later 335s you see still have shiny brightwork. It pits and corrodes eventually but it doesn’t tarnish. It’s sort of surprising that most of us now prefer the look of tarnished nickel. I’m guessing because most vintage players like their “naturally aged” vintage pieces and nickel allows that to happen. I, on the other hand, really like the way nickel looks-especially when it’s still shiny. Most people have chrome plated bathroom fixtures. Mine are all nickel. It can be pretty hard to tell chrome from nickel until you put them next to each other. The nickel will have a greenish warmer cast while the chrome will be bluish (funny you don’t look bluish) and cool looking. Cool as in not warm, not as in “what a cool looking pickup cover”. Gibson has long since listened to their consumers and gone back to nickel plated parts but I suspect that it might be a slightly cheaper process. they probably would have used chrome from the beginning if it saved them a buck or two. Cost consciousness has always been a somewhat unfortunate part of the Gibson credo, after all. Still is.
Wow. Check this out on Ebay! I had already written today’s blog entry but I put it aside for this bit of news. It’s a very nice 64 stoptail that’s in wonderful condition and all original too. I would sell you this guitar for around $16,000 or $17,000 but this seller wants…wait for it…A HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS!! Why do you suppose it would command that kind of money? Was it played by a very, very famous musician? Nope. Is it a custom made for somebody famous? Maybe it’s NOS-never left its case in 47 years? Nope. It’s…it’s (gasp) 92 serial numbers away from the Clapton 335. Seller says it’s EXACTLY like Eric’s. But then, so is just about every other 64. OK, if it was one number away on either side, then maybe a premium. But I can tell you from experience that close don’t count. I had the 64 23 numbers from Claptons and that one was shipped the very same day as Clapton’s. Did I get a premium when I sold it? Not even close. I mentioned it but didn’t tack on a $84,000 extra just because it’s within 2 weeks of the Clapton 335. The truth is that any 64 commands a small premium precisely because EC played one. That’s why they run slightly more than big neck 63s. They are great guitars, make no mistake about it. Most of my regular readers know that my all time favorite is a red 64. And just to be accurate, the guitar being sold isn’t exactly like the Clapton 335 because the Clapton 335 had some changed parts. Do you suppose if the seller put a patent number bridge on his and a “custom” truss rod cover that he might get $125,000? Still a relative bargain when you consider what Eric’s sold for. But it didn’t sell for $800K+ because it was a 64 335. It sold for that because it was THE guitar that he performed with on stage for many years-even if it isn’t the “Crossroads” guitar. Noteworthy provenance works like this: If an item was owned by someone notable or famous, the item will accrue additional value. But look at it this way, if I paid $772,500 for President Kennedy’s golf clubs (Arnold Schwartzenegger owns them) and you wanted to sell the golf clubs that belonged to his dog walker, you’d get about the same premium that this guitar deserves. Maybe even more because JFKs dog might have peed on them. OK, I’m being pretty cynical here (which shouldn’t surprise anyone) but really, $100K because it was made 2 weeks after a guitar that’s famous? I don’t understand what some people are thinking sometimes. I know Ebay is full of dreamers and nutcases but here’s a guitar that I would actually buy if he put a sane price on it. And I’m not necessarily calling the seller a nutcase. I’ll just call him a dreamer. There has been an alarming trend in the past 10 years that seems to say that it is OK to dream as big as you want because dreams can and do come true. The truth is they come true for someone else.
I wonder why it is that the only inlays that ever cause any trouble are the block inlays on 335s. I’ve had at least 80 ES-345s and not one has had a problem with the inlays. Yes, they shrink but they don’t curl or fall out. The dot markers on the early 335’s have only one small problem and that is that they fall out once in a while. So, you glue it back in. Of all the 355s I’ve had, I’ve never had any problem with the big block markers. They don’t seem to shrink or curl or fall out. I wonder if they are mop rather than some kind of low tech plastic? I never looked that closely. Anybody want to help me out here? UPDATE: Yes, I’m told the 355 inlays are MOP or some other non plastic material. But the markers on the 62 – 65 (and later) 335s can be a nightmare. They shrink, they curl, they wear down and turn brown and transparent and the fall out. Or they don’t fall out, they just stick up and are very difficult to glue back down because you can’t get the old glue residue out without removing the inlay which is often impossible to do without breaking it. Granted, I’m not Dan Erlewine but, hey, it’s a piece of plastic glued to a piece of wood. How tough can this be? Well, it’s plenty tough because the inlays wear down to the thickness of a piece of construction paper. So, what do you do? I guess you could replace the inlays that are sticking up but they won’t look right because the wear and color will be different. You could replace them all but they will probably look too new. You could send them to a talented repair person who will probably be able to age a replacement to match the rest of them. The thing that puzzles me here is why folks seem to get so bent out of shape when an inlay has clearly been replaced. Most buyers won’t bat an eye when they spend $30,000 on a 59 dot neck with shriveled tuner buttons. They either replace them with a set of Uncle Lou’s or other repros or they just get a set of repro tuners and put the shrunken ones in the case. But tell a buyer than the inlays are coming up or one has been replaced and they immediately start looking elsewhere for a 335 with original inlays. Don’t get me wrong, I like my guitars to be 100% original but when it comes to the natural deterioration of plastic parts, I look at it the same way I look at frets. I would much rather have a properly refretted guitar than a guitar that has its original frets and badly needs a fret job. Similarly, I’d rather have a guitar that has had its shrunken and lifting inlays replaced than one that has inlays that impede proper play. I don’t believe a replaced inlay should have too much of an impact on the value of an otherwise original guitar. I do believe a replacement should be disclosed but I also believe that if you buy a block neck 335, you should be aware that the inlays may be a problem. To make matters worse, it’s something that nobody mentions in their listings. Make sure to ask before you buy.
The angle of the headstock on the ES models changed in 1965. It went from 17 degrees down to 14 degrees. Surprisingly, I get correspondence, whenever I have a 65 to sell, asking whether it has the 14 degree or 17 degree headstock angle. Before I address this, let’s take a look at why the folks at Gibson decided to do this. It seems (and most of you know this) the headstocks were breaking off at an alarming rate and the brass at Gibson needed to find a way to keep this from occurring. By lessening the angle of the headstock, they felt that it would be less likely to break off in the event of a fall. The logic seems sound but the reality was different. The headstocks still broke at a somewhat alarming rate. Interestingly, you don’t see broken headstocks on Fenders. The headstock angle on a Fender is zero. Or maybe it was the maple rather than mahogany necks. So, in any case, it didn’t fix the problem. So, why do so many vintage guitar lovers only want the 17 degree headstock angle? If you go back to the post about the break angle from the bridge to the tailpiece, you will probably get your answer. It seems there is a feeling that the more extreme the break angle (at either end), the better the guitar will sound. Totally untrue. There are some who say that the string tension changes. Simple physics says it doesn’t. The idea of “compliance” which is how easy or hard a string would be to bend to a given pitch is real and does change when the break angle changes. But the change from 17 degrees to 14 degrees isn’t going to be perceptible. The way you wind your strings will probably have as much effect on compliance as the 3 degree change in the headstock angle. Finally, here’s what Gibson says on their website: The headstock is carefully angled at 17 degrees, which increases pressure on the strings and helps them stay in the nut slots. An increase in string pressure also means there is no loss of string vibration between the nut and the tuners, which equals better sustain. OK, how many of you have had strings jump out of the nut on your Gibson? Nothing like making a problem where one doesn’t exist. Sustain? From more fractionally more pressure on a nylon nut? Sounds like hype to me. The Fender folks would have something to say about this as well. Me?, I think it’s more a matter of taste than anything else. The most desirable 335s have a 17 degree angle, so that’s what people want. I get it. It makes sense. It’s the same as the chrome/nickel thing. There is no change in tone but one looks different from the other. Truthfully, if they aren’t side by side, it’s hard to tell 17 degrees from 14 degrees. Now, the only time this matters is of you’re considering buying a 1965 ES-335. 345 or 355. 1965 is the only year that both angles were available-and big necks and little necks and chrome and nickel. That’s what happens in a transition year. But if I wanted a big neck ’65 because I want to save thousands of dollars over a 64, I’m not going to worry about whether the headstock angle is 14 degrees or 17 degrees. I’m going to pay more attention to how it plays, how it sounds and how it speaks to me.
As a vintage dealer with a very narrow product line, I get to see trends in a kind of microcosm. The trend I’m seeing is that refinished vintage pieces are becoming awfully popular. It seems every time I get a “Golden Era” 335/345/355 in the house and I price it at the usual 50% off that a refin has typically commanded, the guitar is gone in a day. Let’s figure out why that would be. The antique automobile industry accepts repainted cars without batting an eye while the antique furniture folks are almost as rigid as the guitar collectors. What’s wrong with a refinish and why does it merit such a drastic reduction in price? To answer that, I think we need to examine what it is that makes these “original” guitars so desirable. First off, I don’t buy into the idea that a refin wrecks the tone. If you can tell the difference in tone between a 50 year old nitro finish and a 20 year old one, then you have much better ears than I do. And, while I don’t recommend buying a 335 with a thick poly finish, I’m not sure how different it would sound. I’ve never seen or heard one. But consider this-a 59 dot neck might currently sell in the high $20K range (although plenty of dealers still think $40,000 is the right price). Is a refin (especially a good nitro pro refin) worth a $14,000 reduction? If that’s true why then is a 64 refin only compromised by $7,000 or so. If you buy guitars with the idea of investing, then you are probably bound, to an extent, by the conventions of the collector, meaning the finish is going to count for 50%. But if you buy them to play and to appreciate how good these old guitars are, I don’t think a properly executed refinish is going to diminish your enjoyment by very much if at all. The best vintage dot neck I’ve had this year was a refin. One of the better block necks was also a refin. That refinned block neck went for only slightly more than a new Historic. There was no comparison to any modern Gibson. It was an absolute gem and somebody bought it for about half it’s non refinished value. Even if the guitar is refinished, it’s going to rise and fall with the market. let’s say I bought a brand new Historic for $4700 and I bought, say, a refinished big neck 65 for the same price. Which one will be worth more in five years? The 65 by a wide margin, IMO. In fact, the Historic probably won’t catch up to the 65 for 40 or 50 years. Which one is going to sound better? I dunno, depends on the guitar but I think the odds favor the 65 (even if its a trap tail). There are an awful lot of people who feel that they can hear the most subtle differences in tone caused by things like the finish or the type of rosewood in the fingerboard or the tailpiece. I’m not going to cast doubt on their perceived abilities, I’ll just say that I have very good ears and I don’t hear it. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that a pro refinished 64 is probably going to sound the same as an original one. An amateur refinish might sound as good as well but it will probably look like crap and that has to count for something. So, as desirable as an all original finish 58-early 65 “Golden Era” 335 is, if the only way you’re going to get your hands on one is to buy one that’s compromised, a pro refinished one can be an excellent (but not the only) choice. One word of caution-be wary of solid color refinishes because they can hide a lot of other problems but just because a guitar is painted a solid color doesn’t mean it’s been broken. Just be aware that it’s a possibility. I know a doctor who x-rayed his refinished SG Custom to see if the neck had been cracked. It worked and the guitar was intact. We’ll look at other “compromised” 335s in the weeks ahead in the hope of connecting you with the guitar that you can afford. And I’ll leave you with a question. Considering the conventional wisdom, if a vintage guitar has had a headstock repair and a refin is it’s value diminished by 50% for the break and another 50% for the refin?
I wrote a pretty complete entry about ES-335 cases a while back but it’s time to go into a little more detail. Ask yourself this question: What’s the easiest part of a guitar to change? The case. Because cases were often provided by the music store, the “proper” or “original” case for almost any Gibson during the 60’s is a very hard thing to pin down. I’ve now seen vintage 335s that the owner insists have the original case in about 10 different varieties. Some of these owners were original. Let’s start with brown v. black (no its not a Supreme Court case-but we are talking about cases here). I’ve never seen a 58 -60 in a black Gibson case that was original. All of them should be, I believe, brown. The earliest black case I’ve seen was a 61 but the latest brown case I’ve seen was a 63. That’s a very long transition but when you put the music store factor into the equation, it makes some sense. By that I mean the fact that guitars were sometimes shipped without cases and the cases were supplied by the dealer. There seem to be at least 3 different brown hard cases for 335s (2 different Liftons and the Stone) but there seem to be maybe 8 different black cases that show up with little rhyme or reason from 61 on. The early ones are a little easier to pinpoint. Look for a leather covered metal handle. They move to the plastic handle with what looks like real stitching in 64 or so at least on the Gibson badged cases. If your 62 comes in an “original” case with a plastic handle, you can rest assured it isn’t original. The later black cases have “simulated” stitching molded into the plastic. Something else I’ve noticed but it could be a coincidence. I’ve had 3 ES-355’s recently-all from 1965. Every one of them had an Ess & Ess case and I think I know why. By the way, you can tell an Ess and Ess because they are usually badged inside with the Ess & Ess logo and they have that annoying back latch. The headstock of a 355 is slightly longer than a 335 and the Ess & Ess case is slightly longer as well. I put one of the 355s into a GIbson badged case from the period and the headstock actually touched (barely) the end of the case. That is not a good thing. So, my theory is that when a dealer had a 355, he probably used the case that fit best. Then there’s the 63 ES-335 and the 64 ES-345 I got in a grey cases with blue interiors. These are standard Epiphone cases and, since Gibson was owned by Epiphone at the time, that doesn’t surprise me either. The 64 ES-345 was bought from its original owner and he insisted the case was original. The one oddity here is that he said he bought the case a couple weeks after he bought the guitar. Interestingly, I did the same thing when I took a trip to NYC to Manny’s in January of 1969 to buy an SG Standard. I had what I thought was the exact amount I needed in my pocket-maybe $275 (Manny’s used to discount pretty heavily). It turned out that the case was sold separately and I took the guitar home in the sort of triangular shaped shipping box. It had come from Gibson without a case. I carried it around in that stupid box until I could afford a case. So what’s the original case? The one I bought from a local music store in Schenectady (where I lived) or the shipping box or the one that I didn’t buy at Manny’s? These are the big cosmic issues that occupy my brain. That and whether a PAF without a label is a PAF or an early Patent number. Finally, I’ve gotten 335’s in Victoria cases. These were used by Fender for the Coronado series and while they fit a 335 well enough, I don’t believe they were ever a Gibson vendor. But that wouldn’t stop a dealer from putting one in the case closest to the door that fit the guitar.