Archive for July, 2013

Neglected Stepchild No More

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013
Here's a real nice 59 I had last year. Watch out for repro bridges, knobs and switch tips as folks are scavenging them for their reissue Les Pauls (and others). There are a couple thousand 59's out there. Get one before the price gets any higher.

Here’s a real nice 59 I had last year. Watch out for repro bridges, knobs and switch tips as folks are scavenging them for their reissue Les Pauls (and others). There are a couple thousand 59’s out there. Get one before the price gets any higher.

I don’t make a lot of predictions about the ES market (although I make a whole lot of observations-not the same thing). Here is the prediction: The early (dot neck) ES-330’s are going to get mighty popular mighty fast. They are the best vintage deal on the planet if you ask me. While the ES-335 market has been kind of flat lately, the ES-330 market has been inching up for the past year or so. The popularity of the relatively new reissue ES-330 has fueled this resurgence to a degree. With the sticker price of the reissue pushing 5 grand and a street price of around $3400, you might want to consider a vintage ES-330. That, I believe is part of the reason the 330 market is so strong. I can’t think of another instance where the vintage price and the reissue price are neck and neck (that’s a joke). I’ve written about 335’s in such fine detail that you probably know the width of the pickguard bevel by now. I haven’t really covered the 330 to anywhere near the same degree. So, now’s a good time to start. It’s pretty simple, really , because the 330 follows the 335 in many respects. While the 335 started in 58, the 330 didn’t follow until 59. The 59 ES-330, like the 335, came in sunburst (on the front anyway) and natural. No (official) reds until ’60. Dot necks followed pretty closely as well making the transition to block in 62. Neck sizes, while not wildly consistent followed a similar timeline with the big necks being the rule in 59, transitional necks at the beginning of 60 and flatter necks by late 60 and continuing until late 63. Tuners follow a similar pattern as well. While the buttons didn’t change (like single to double ring on a 335), the tuners did go from single line to double line in late 64 and into 65. Mickey Mouse ears? You bet– from 59 until mid 63 when they went to the pointy ones just like the 335. But there are things about the 330 that follow their own path. While pickup covers changed on the 335 from nickel to chrome in 1965, the covers on the 330 changed from black plastic to nickel plated in 63 and then to chrome at some point in 65. The rest of the hardware went from nickel to chrome following the same timeline as the 355. The biggest change occurred in 1968. On the original 59-67 ES-330’s, the neck joined the body at the 15th fret. In ’68, they changed them so that they joined at the 19th fret-like all 335’s do. This improved playability but the “long neck” 330’s tend to be a bit unstable at the neck join. This isn’t the case with 335’s because the neck is attached securely to the center block but on a 330, there is no center block and the neck attaches at the heel like any hollow body and gains some of its strength from the length of fingerboard that overlaps the body. Less fingerboard on top of the body means less glue and a less stable join. It’s not like the necks fall off or anything, they just seem a little “whippy”-they tend to move when you stress them (so don’t stress them). Because there are so many shared parts between a 335 and a 330, these less expensive guitars tend to get scavenged for their bridges. So, if you’re buying one, make sure the bridge hasn’t been swapped out. The tuners get swapped out as well. Even though the buttons are different, a set of single line Klusons with the buttons removed are still worth a lot of money. early hard cases tend to disappear as well. More later on these.

This is a 68 "long neck" ES-330. OK, the neck isn't any longer, it just joins the body at the 19th instead of the 15th fret. That's just what folks call 'em.

This is a 68 “long neck” ES-330. OK, the neck isn’t any longer, it just joins the body at the 19th instead of the 15th fret. That’s just what folks call ‘em.


Unusual Truss Rod Cover

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013
No, not this one. This is the usual "small" font stereo TRC.  This is a later 60. I don't see any "roll marks" but they don't photograph well.

No, not this one. This is the usual “small” font stereo TRC. This is a later 60. I don’t see any “roll marks” but they don’t photograph well.

How small can I get? How minute can a detail be before it becomes insignificant? I wrote about gold painted varitone knobs, didn’t I? I’ve written about the smallest screws on the guitar, haven’t I? So, I can get pretty small. The very first ES-345’s, like all the ES-345’s that followed were wired in stereo. There was no designation on the early 59’s; nothing to herald the new “stereo” era. By the end of the year, someone at Gibson decided it would be wise to show the world that these guitars were indeed stereo and in a surprisingly subtle way, they did so. They simply engraved the word “stereo” into the truss rod cover. OK, you knew that but, as it turns out, there are two distinctly different early truss rod covers. One is very common and the other is quite rare. The one you’re used to seeing has a rather small font and the one you don’t see has a larger font. Like I said, how small can I get? The first large font “stereo” TRC came to me on a broken 65 ES-345 that I parted out, so I thought it was something that might have started in the mid 60’s. I didn’t think much of it because a lot of things were in transition in ’65 and I guessed it was a batch that had been made by a different supplier. Then I saw the same cover on a ’60 and then another ’60 and I decided to look a little closer. I still had the one from the 65 in my parts bin and pulled it out for a closer look. In case you’ve forgotten, the truss rod covers on the 58-60 ES 335/345/355’s have “roll marks”-those horizontal lines that are the result of the manufacturing process of rolling out the plastic like a pie dough. The process changed-probably in late ’60 or ’61-and the roll marks disappeared. Curiously, the large font “stereo” TRC has the roll marks, leading me to believe that it must have come from an earlier guitar. Once I saw the two ’60 345’s with the same cover, I was convinced that it was used for a very short time in 1960. There is often no rhyme or reason to the timeline of Gibson features and this is the case here. I have had perhaps 15 ’59 ES-345’s and probably 20 1960 ES-345’s. Early 59’s almost never have the stereo TRC. Late ones are hit and miss but, again, generally don’t have them. Early 60 examples sometimes don’t have it but later ones always do. I believe that many 59’s that have it were added later-they often don’t have the roll marks. So which came first? The big font or the small? I’m going to say the small because there are enough 59’s that have the cover that some must have come from the factory with it. Why it’s so inconsistent is anybody’s guess. The two 60’s I’ve seen with the large font truss cover were both fairly early-probably April or earlier. Another unsolved Gibson mystery.

The roll marks make it an early one, the big font is a mystery. I've seen three of these and don't quite know what to make of them.

The roll marks make it an early one, the big font is a mystery. I’ve seen three of these and don’t quite know what to make of them.


Why So Cheap?

Sunday, July 28th, 2013
A very rare "watermelon" ES-330. This is the only one I've ever seen. They started making red 330's in 1960 at about the same time they changed the red dye so there can't be very many out there.

A very rare “watermelon” ES-330. This is the only one I’ve ever seen. They started making red 330’s in 1960 at about the same time they changed the red dye so there can’t be very many out there.

ES-330’s are a great deal and have been for some time. I don’t know if it’s because it was  considered a “student” model or whether the comparison to a 335 kept it out of the spotlight. It can’t be the P90’s-who doesn’t like P90’s? You can pay some very serious money for a gold top with the exact same pickups, so I don’t think it’s that. Maybe the fully hollow body causes some to turn away. But there are folks who spend big money on Byrdlands and ES-350’s and other thin hollow body electrics. I don’t think it’s the spartan appointments that make it worth less than half of what a comparable year 335 is worth. After all, 335’s are worth more than 345’s and 355’s and they have more appointments than a shrink in September.  They don’t sound like a 335 (not worse-just different) but they still sound good. Plus, there’s no better “couch guitar” to be had. It can’t be beat for casual noodling without an amp while watching a ball game. Loud enough but not too loud. It won’t even annoy your wife. They are not so great when played very loud in a gig situation unless you are very careful about where you are in relation to your amp. My very first Gibson was a 62 ES-330 that I bought used in ’67 for $175 (I probably overpaid). I played that guitar for at least a year, gigging every weekend and gigging loud-Fender Showman loud. It could be a problem on the  neck pickup but the bridge pickup mostly behaved as I recall. I really wanted a 335 but couldn’t afford one. It had a Bigsby which I didn’t like very much because it made the guitar go out of tune but it never occurred to me to swap it for a trapeze. I can’t tell you where the market is going to go for 330’s. I’m not much of a prognosticator about these things but I can tell you that the market has been strong and getting stronger for dot neck 330’s. The blondes are well up over $10K-they were around $8K a year ago. That’s a 25% bump. The 59’s with the big necks will always command a bit of a premium over the others but can still be found for under $6K. I’m a sucker for the red dot necks, especially the early ones. They only made 98 red ones in ’60 and they are pretty tough to come by. The “watermelon” you see in the photo is the first one I’ve ever seen with the old red. Old Red? Ask any Les Paul guy about the red in their burst. They’ll regale you with how wonderful their “lemon burst” or “faded cherry burst” or “unburst” is due to the natural fading of the red dye used in the finish. They’ll also sometimes disparage the ’60 “clown burst” with it’s vivid red element. Well, the ES models used the same dye and the change from the one that fades to the one that doesn’t occurred in mid 1960 or so. That means there aren’t very many 330’s, 335’s or 345’s that have that unstable red. There are a lot of 355’s since they made the reds with the old red throughout 59 and well into 60. Is the “watermelon” red worth more? It is to the Les Paul guys. I like it better than the later red but that’s a personal preference. What I do know is that Gibson hasn’t been able to duplicate it on a 335 or hasn’t tried. The most common ES-330 is, of course, sunburst but the ES-330 sunburst is different from a 335 sunburst. Not the sunburst itself-that’s pretty much the same but the back is different. It isn’t sunburst, it’s brown. Another money saving gambit by the nice folks at Gibson. I’ve really written very little about these guitars and will expand on this soon. The ES-330 went through a lot of changes from 59 to the end of its run in the mid 70’s. It was also more popular than the 335 from 1959 through 1966.


Here’s the back of an early ES-330 sunburst. Talk about an “unburst”, Gibson did this to save money. The lack of an upper strap button probably saved them another 7 cents per unit.




More 58 Stuff

Friday, July 19th, 2013

This is A27703, a very early 58 ES-335. Note the cutaway shape-not Mickey Mouse ears. Actually closer in shape to a 64 than a 59. There's more.

It sure is loads of fun to get a new old guitar. I flew to Erie, PA this week (insert joke here)  to pick up another unbound 58. There are certain places in the USA that you just can’t get to easily. Too far to drive in a day (950 miles round trip) and too close to fly without making really terrible connections. So, I flew. I spent 3 hours in four airplanes and 10 hours waiting in airports. I do give a tip of the hat to the nice folks at USAir who let me carry the guitar onto the plane on both legs of the flight, although the guy at the gate in Philly said I couldn’t, the guy who takes your baggage said I couldn’t but the flight attendant said I could. I admit I’m being a bit self serving writing about guitars I have for sale but, as you might have guessed, nobody pays me to write. But there is some pretty interesting evolution going on once you get to see enough early unbound 58’s. The unbound neck I sold last month, A28100, had Mickey Mouse ear cutaways. This one, A27703, has sort of pointy ears but not quite like a 64. Only the earliest 58’s seem to have them. There are other unique aspects of the early 58’s that are a little less obvious. It appears that a lot of handwork was done on the first batch-you can see it in the routs for the pickups. They are unusually neat and tidy compared to later guitars. There’s little stuff like the inlay is lower than it is on the later ones but it isn’t a low as a 67. The truss rod cover is higher on a 58 than any other year. The Kluson tuners can be a little different too. The 59 and 60’s are notorious for the tips disintegrating while 58’s seem more able to survive. There was a change in the formulation of the plastic sometime in 58, I believe that caused the problem. The patent was granted to Kluson at around this time so you might get “patent number” or “patent applied for” -look on the back-or you might get three of each. They are identical. Here’s an interesting one-on all 50’s and 60’s ES-335’s, the maple center block has a strip of spruce on the top of it. On all of them except the very earliest 58’s, that spruce piece is kerfed-probably to make it easier for it to follow the arch of the top. The earliest 58s have the spruce piece but it isn’t kerfed. It appears that they were still developing the design while the guitar was being manufactured-and this isn’t that unusual. It takes a little trial and error to get any assembly  process running smoothly. Gibson was clearly trying to get the guitar out to the retailers but they were also trying to streamline the process to increase productivity. If a particular procedure was taking too long, the bean counters would ask that some other methodology be used in order to keep the line moving. Fewer procedures and less time on those procedures meant higher profits and that was, in large part, was companies like Gibson worried about. If you ever tried to stuff a harness into an f-hole, you’ll know what I’m talking about. The simple center block cut under the bridge pickup, used intermittently between 61 and 65 before it became the norm, probably saved minutes on each guitar. It’s hard to mentally backward engineer what I see on the early 58’s – especially elements like logo positions and cutaway shape. I have no clue why they changed the shape from what you see in the photo above to the classic “Mickey Mouse” ears. I’m going to guess that these early ones were done before the forms were complete, so there is some inconsistency in the shape due to increased hand work. Again, that’s a guess. Once the MM ears came in, they are very consistent. The tops, as I’ve mentioned are 25% thinner on most, if not all 58’s-not just the unbound ones. I’m not sure when Gibson decided to add the extra ply but I’m sure the bean counters weren’t happy about the increased expense. The tops were probably cracking at an alarming rate and Gibson had to do something to keep the customers happy. Many 58’s have a crack somewhere on the top-usually around the jack. But that thin top gets to vibrating better than the later ones and this gives these first 335’s a tone unlike any that followed. These may not be the most coveted 335 (that would be the 59) but they are the best sounding if you ask me. More on this to come.

That's the 58 on the left and a 63 on the right. Note the position of the logo and inlay. Also note the bottom of the truss rod cover-much higher on the 58 but it also looks like the tuners are a little higher on the 58 as well because the TRC's are the same size and the tops sit in the same position relative to the tuners.

Patent Applied Kluson on the left, patent number on the right. The earlier ones used a different plastic formulation that is less prone to off gassing and shrinking and crumbling to dust. The transition from Patent Applied and patent number occurred in 1958.

Get Your Kicks in Stepney

Monday, July 15th, 2013

Big Ben. Any lyrics pop into you head? And no, I'm not going to bore you with vacation photos. OK, I shot this photo. I'm a tourist. Get over it.

Going to the UK is like taking a trip through the lyrics of the 50 or so years since the “British Invasion”. There are dozens of references that once meant nothing to a Yank like me. The Stones mention Knightsbridge, St. Johns Wood and Stepney in “Play with Fire”, The Beatles mention Bishopsgate, the Kinks, Soho and Willisden Green (where my son lived during his term abroad). On the Underground,  every time I saw a stop with a neighborhood that had been mentioned in a song, the song got stuck in my head and drove me a little nuts. And it wasn’t just British invasion stuff either. There was a Donovan song called “Sunny South Kensington” which somehow I knew and, as I left the tube to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum (at South Kensington station), I was doomed to have the only line I remembered from the song go ’round and ’round in my head (Come take a walk in sunny South Kensington any day of the week. Something something something something. You know she ain’t no freak…). The missing lyrics will drive you batty. I visited a client on the Isle of Wight while I was there (“every Summer we can rent a cottage in The Isle of Wight…) and learned that the “ride” in “Ticket to Ride” probably refers to the village of “Ryde” on the Isle of Wight.  Always room for Beatles in my head but it wouldn’t last. After we left Wight, we took the train from Southampton to Waterloo station and up popped Abba (and it isn’t even the same Waterloo). Worse, a really old country song, also called “Waterloo” by an artist dubiously named Stonewall Jackson came out of nowhere to bounce Abba out. Not sure which was worse. Since this was my first trip to London (surprised?), I did the usual tourist stuff like The Tower of London, Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace. Oh, no not “England Swings” (like a pendulum do) by Roger Miller. Didja ever notice how many brain cells you’ve wasted with the lyrics of songs you could never really stand? “…Bobbies on bicycles two by two. Westminster Abbey, the tower of Big Ben…” Or, on a happier note: I saw a werewolf with a chinese menu in his hands, walkin’ through the streets of Soho in the rain…thanks Warren. I needed that. Then there’s Jethro Tull who was a favorite of mine in the 70’s. Plenty of London locations sprang to mind. On the Picadilly Line, you go through a few. They mention Picadilly Circus (and Hampstead) in “Mother Goose” and Leicester Square in, uh, “Jeffrey Goes to Leicester Square”.  These are all the ones I can remember off the top of my head but there were probably others. Oddly enough, some of the songs start making a little more sense now that I’ve seen the neighborhoods. In Play with Fire”, I figured that St. John’s Wood and Knightsbridge were kind of upscale and that Stepney wasn’t. I figured right. I also learned that Abbey Road Studios are in St. Johns Wood and that Harrods is in Knightsbridge. I’m pretty sure Mick and Keith (or Nanker Phelge, if you prefer) weren’t referring to either of them.

London Calling

Friday, July 12th, 2013


Denmark Street in London. I spent a little time in the shops this week but I didn't take the photo. In fact, Hanks has moved to where Music Ground used to be and I don't know where they went.

In case you were wondering why I haven’t written anything lately, it’s because I was off to the British Isles for some rest, recreation and, of course, guitars. My wife was with me so the guitar stuff was kept to a minimum but I did get to make the trek to Denmark Street in London and visit some of my long time British clients. Denmark Street is the London version of 48th Street in Manhattan.  Back in the day, 48th street was the guitar capital of the world. I recall no less than a half dozen guitar shops ranging from a little place with a few dozen pieces all the way up to the venerable (and recently lost) Manny’s who had everything. Names like Terminal Music, Alex Music, We Buy Guitars, Rudy’s (still there), Silver Horland and 48th St. Custom come to mind but they are all gone except for Sam Ash and Rudy’s. But Denmark Street in London is a bit like going home to 48th Street in the 60’s and 70’s with a few notable changes. The shops, like most of them on 48th in the 60’s and 70’s are mostly small “guitar shops” as opposed to “music stores”. Lot’s of new stuff with the vintage pieces are right out there in front but I was pretty disappointed in the selection. There were are few overpriced vintage Strats, a few old Epiphones but not a single 50’s or 60’s ES 335, 345 or 355 anywhere to be found. SG’s and Firebirds? Nope. There were an awful lot of Gretsches and Hofners-maybe that’s what everybody bought back then in London so that’s what comes back to the shops. To be fair, it was tough to get most American guitars in the UK back in the 60’s which probably means that any that are there now were imported by individuals sometime after the 60’s. One of the striking things about 48th Street in the 60’s was the complete disinterest they showed to customers who didn’t look like they were going to buy anything. In London, here in the present, I looked more or less like an American tourist (in my baseball cap and shorts) and was pretty much ignored. I asked every shop whether they had any 335s and was shown a 60-something Epiphone Riviera (same thing!) and an ES-325 from the 70’s. The sales staffs were very young and very tatooed and seemed to really want to sell some new guitars. I didn’t really get the sense, like I do at my favorite NYC shops (like Southside in Brooklyn and Rivington Guitars in Manhattan) that these guys really cared much about old guitars. They cared about guitars but not the ones their Grandads might have played. Sad, really. The Brits I met from my generation, however, couldn’t stop talking about guitars. It’s like we were all infected with the same virus in the 60’s and it never went away. I visited a few of my UK clients while I was there and we lived and breathed guitars for a few days (while the wives did whatever wives do). I did a lot of stringing and setups and played some of my old stock and had a great time. I visited my old 60 blonde ES-345 on an island in the English Channel and even a couple of Strats I once owned. The star, however, was an old Vox AC-10. I think it was a 58 or 59 and it sounded just great with a 58 dot neck that happened to be lying around. It also sounded great with a 59 LP Special and a couple of Burns’s from the 60’s. Maybe it’s the European voltage or something. I was never a big Vox fan but this one was special. Maybe it’s just that when you’re in the UK, you have to play through a Vox (or a Marshall) to get the the feel for the place. John, Paul and George seemed to be looking over my shoulder and maybe Eric and Keith and Ronnie and a few others too. Playing guitar in the UK is a little like breathing. You don’t have to do it but you aren’t alive unless you do. I forgot to take a photo of the amp but I’ll see if I can get one.

These are just a very few of my friend Graham's awesome amp collection. There were Watkins and Selmers and Parks and Marshalls and all manner of limey stuff. I could tell you where he lives but then I'd have to kill you:). The little AC-10 single in the middle row on the left was THE one. Or was it the one on the right? And check on the Burns boys over on the right.