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Archive for August, 2015

Investment Grade 335

Monday, August 24th, 2015
Here's a good investment. A 59 dot neck with an issue or two. Same price as 335 shares of Apple stock at today's price of $104 a share as of 3 o'clock today.

Here’s a good investment. A 59 dot neck with an issue or two. About the same price as 335 shares of Apple stock at today’s price of $104 a share as of 3 o’clock today.

With the Dow down 1100 points this morning, it might be time to take a closer look at your investment strategy. Today, you can buy a pretty nice dot neck 335 for the same price as 335 shares of Apple stock. That would be around $35000. That won’t get you a mint 59 but it will get you a near mint 58, 60 or 61 or a really nice (but not mint) 59. So, which would you rather have?

Note that I didn’t say “which is the better investment?” If I knew that, I’d be rich and I wouldn’t be selling vintage guitars I’d be collecting them. Certainly, Apple and a lot of other stocks have been really good investments for the past 7 years or so-pretty much since the market last tanked in 2008 thanks to a bunch of out of control and greedy banks and investors. These same investors took down your home and your vintage guitar collection too. The end of the vintage guitar bubble coincided with that unfortunate market turn. But what about now?

I’m going to use the dot neck market as my reference point. 59 dot necks hit $50,000 in 2008 and blondes were flirting with (and probably exceeded) $100,000. The 335 dot market got hit by 30-35% while the Dow took a 50% nosedive from it’s October 2007 high of 14,164 down to 6594 in March of 2009. If you hung in there with your stocks, you were rewarded with a 6 year bull market and your portfolio probably added another 30% from its 2007 high. If you stayed with your 59 335, you probably got back close to where you were in 2008 but if you bought before that, you are probably, once again, way ahead. The 335 market is still not at the level it was at the peak of the bubble but it is pretty close. Right now, it’s too early to know what the Dow is going to do next and it’s too soon to see if the current downturn is going to affect the vintage guitar market. But I have some thoughts on the matter.

The pundits are saying that the Chinese economy has taken a serious downturn and that has affected the US markets. When stocks go down, money leaves the market and goes elsewhere. It goes to cash, it goes to bonds, it used to go to real estate and maybe some of it goes to collectibles. It has to go somewhere. The downturn of the Chinese economy in and of itself, isn’t going to affect the vintage guitar market because the Chinese don’t buy American vintage guitars. They copy them but they don’t buy them. I haven’t sold a single guitar to anyone in China. Of course, the effects of the Chinese downturn as it applies to American investors may affect the vintage market to a degree.  After all, most buyers of vintage guitars are using disposable wealth-money that isn’t currently needed to live on. The same money that goes into stocks often goes into vintage guitars. I heard time and again that a buyer “needs a day for two to sell some stock” to fund a guitar purchase.

With the market tanking, you might be inclined to liquidate some holdings. You might be inclined to simply hang on. I’m not going to tell you that a 59 ES-335 is a better investment today than buying 335 shares of Apple. But it might be a safer one. People want Apple stock because they feel they can make some money from it. People want 59 dot necks because they really want to own a 59 dot neck. That doesn’t go away when the value dips. A 59 335 is going to be someone’s dream guitar until my generation is dead and buried. Whether subsequent generations will continue the love affair is yet to be seen. But I just don’t hear folks talking about how they can’t wait until their Apple stock arrives so they can – what, look at the stock certificate? Nobody even gets stock certificates any more. You can’t touch Apple stock. You can’t play Apple stock. You can make money and you can lose money. Apple could, conceivably, go to $12 a share. I know-I once owned it at that price. On that day 335 shares of Apple would be worth $4020. Your 59 ES-335 will never be worth $4020. And if it is, let me know. I’ll buy it from you. Oh, and you can’t play the blues on a stock certificate but you can certainly sing the blues if that’s where your money is today.

For the price of 335 of these, you can have the guitar at thetop. What's it gonna be--play the blues or sing them?

For the price of 335 of these, you can have the guitar at the top of this post. What’s it gonna be–play the blues or sing them?

Bigsby and Only Bigsby

Tuesday, August 11th, 2015
You gotta admit...this is great looking guitar. Uncluttered and organic. I just bought it so if you want it, call me.

You gotta admit…this is great looking guitar. Uncluttered and organic. I just bought it so if you want it, call me. It’s a very early 60 with a big neck.

Not long ago a collector asked me to find him a dot neck with a Bigsby. OK, no big deal, there are plenty of them-I see them all the time. I sent him some photos of the ones that were available-some had the pearl dots in the stud holes and another had the “Custom Made” plaque over the holes and another was currently set up as a stop tail with the Bigsby in the case. He rejected all of them because he wanted one that came from the factory as a “Bigsby Only”. No stud holes.

OK, I’ve seen a fair number of those over the years and I went to my archives to see how many Bigsby only dot necks I’ve had. Not many-I found only two out of dozens of 58-61 dots that have passed through here. There were a few block necks as well but most were 65 or later when no guitars got stud holes. Finding a 62-64 block with just a Bigsby isn’t all that easy either. I just did a search on Gbase and the only one I found is a 64 which is mine. Reverb had one-a 60 dot neck. Because these guitars are not the most sought after 335’s, I tend to ignore them but they are, in fact, rare birds. Now, I get it…rarity doesn’t matter that much in the world of vintage guitars. I had one of only three blonde Epiphone Sheratons made in 1959 and nobody really cared. I had one of only 11 blonde Byrdlands from 1961. Again, nobody really cared. They both sold for very reasonable prices. The difference here is that 335’s are very sought after, popular guitars. So, why so little love for the Bigsby only version?

I’ve always found it incomprehensible that a tremolo equipped (OK vibrato, if you want to be technically correct) Stratocaster is worth more and is more desirable than a hard tail. Similarly, SG’s have considerable value and virtually all of them have some sort of tremolo tailpiece. But a Bigsby (or worse, a Maestro or sideways) on a 335 knocks 15 to 25% off the value. Does this make sense? It would if nobody wanted anything but a stop tail but I get plenty of folks wanting to put a Bigsby on their vintage 335’s. I advise against it if the guitar has never had one because, uh, the value will drop like a stone. And it will drop by a percentage, not by a fixed number. Theoretically, if you really want a 59 with a Bigsby, you best find one that already has one because the value could drop by as much as $10,000.

Fortunately, there are plenty with both studs and a Bigsby that will cost you less than a stop tail. That one gives you set up options that are attractive. But if you use a Bigsby and you have no plans of converting to a stop tail at some point, you will do well to seek out a Bigsby only 335. There is a simplicity and clean look of a 335 with a Bigsby and no plaque or other cover for the stud holes.  I’ve always liked the looks of the mono 355 with a Bigsby-all that clean space between the Bigsby and the bridge is attractive. And a Bigsby is a good unit. It’s no surprise that the design has been virtually the same for 60 years or more. They hold tune well if you don’t go nuts on them and they only add about 5 or 6 ounces to the overall weight (if you subtract the weight of a stop tail and studs-you gotta have something to hold the strings). So, if you want something rare and unusual, look for one these beauties. The price won’t ruin your marriage and playability will surprise you.

Here's a 64. Somebody stuck a Custom Made plate on it but there are no stud holes-just two little pinholes from the little nails that held it in place. I have this one too,

Here’s a 64. Somebody stuck a Custom Made plate on it but there are no stud holes-just two little pinholes from the little nails that held it in place. I have this one too.

Guitar Royalty

Sunday, August 9th, 2015
Bucky Pizzarelli stops by OK Guitars for a little talking' and picking'. Yes, that's me in the background trying to figure out what chords he's playing.

Bucky Pizzarelli stops by OK Guitars for a little talkin’ and pickin’. Yes, that’s me in the background trying to figure out what chords he’s playing.

There are a lot of perks to actually running a brick and mortar guitar shop. Yeah, there’s rent and insurance and security and all kinds of headaches that go hand in hand with retail shops. Not so fun stuff like the drunks from the local bar who show up to be entertained, marauding bands of 5 to 10 year olds who have somehow gotten away from their parents and dogs with giant wagging tails that put every guitar on a floor stand in great danger. Then there is the fun stuff. There are the instruments that walk in the door-a 63 335, a mint 70 Strat, a 1913 F-4 mandolin and quite a few others. And then, there are the guitarists who walk in the door.

Today I had a visit from the venerable Bucky Pizzarelli, a jazz legend at the age of 89. He played with everybody-Benny Goodman, Les Paul, Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show Band, Tal Farlow and tons of others in his 70 plus years of performing. He played for the Nixons, the Reagans and the Clintons. His children are well known musicians as well and he had his daughter, also a guitarist, with him. While generally associated with a seven string guitar, I asked him to make do with a couple of six strings.

He was drawn to a beat up black Gibson L-47 from the forties and played that for a while and then I brought out a big Gibson arch top from 1952 and he immediately said “Super 400″ and he was right, of course. He enjoyed that one and commented on how big it is. “This thing is huge”, he said and proceeded to play chords that I, even after 50 years of playing, didn’t recognize. It was effortless. He talked about the guitars he had around the house. “I’ve got a six string Danelectro bass somewhere-I think it’s in the attic…I haven’t seen that one for a while.” He pointed to a 60 Tremolux and said “I had one of those too, way back. Single twelve inch, right?” Right again. Then he played an early 50’s J-45 commenting about how loud it was. “Don’t need an amp with this one”, he said with a big smile on his face.

Then he asked me to play something. Yikes. I’m kind of a hack player but I know what I know. Our mutual friend George Potts, who arranged for Bucky to come by, was at the shop and he and I sang and played a few Beatles tunes. My playing was adequate at best and George’s was better but Bucky commented (favorably) on our harmony and seemed to enjoy the impromptu (and totally unrehearsed) performance. All in all, he was a wonderful and gracious guest and I was thrilled to have him visit.

Yeah, there are a lot of little hassles that go along with having a shop but they are all overshadowed when someone like Bucky walks in the door. He reminds me that there is a lifetime joy in doing what you love. I hope to be playing when I hit 90. His pal and neighbor Les played until he died at 94. Maybe the guitar is the reason these guys live so long. and so well.