I don’t pay enough attention to new Gibson 335’s. I get a lot of questions about them and I see a few but I must be out of the loop a little bit. I just got a catalog from one of the very large musical instrument sellers and was sticker shocked by the current price levels of the top of the 335 line-the 59 dot neck reissue from Memphis. This particular seller wants $6199 (and up!). Is it me or does that seem like a lot for a new 335? Granted, a real 59 will cost you at least $18000 and up to over $40,000 but here’s the rub…like a new car, the moment you take your brand spankin’ new 59 dot reissue out of the showroom, the value will drop by at least 30%. So, make sure you really like it before you walk out the door with it. With a vintage guitar, assuming you buy it from a reputable seller who is giving you exactly what you are paying for, it’s going to be worth at least what you paid for it for more than the 3 minutes it takes you to walk out the front door of the store. Maybe even more over time.
I have a policy of taking back any vintage guitar I sell for full value if you decide to trade up within a year but even without this kind of assurance, you aren’t likely to lose money any time soon on a vintage 335. Yes, the bottom fell out in 2008 after the bubble burst but if you look at how 335’s have come back since then, you might be reassured that the same thing isn’t imminent. 2008 was a true bubble and even without the Wall Street masters of the universe collectively trashing the economy, the bubble was bound to burst. Interestingly, 335’s didn’t get hit all that hard (nor did bursts). The Jrs and Specials and Strats still haven’t recovered but Teles are doing well and SG’s have recovered a good bit as well. A sane recovery is a good sign that these strong performers might still be a good investment. At the very least, they will likely hold their value in the near term. I’m betting my livelihood on it, so you can take some reassurance from that. So, given that a new 335 will cost you up to $6199, what are the vintage alternatives?
Well, there are loads of them. I’ve found big neck 65’s with some minor issues for around $6500 and if you can handle the smaller nut width, you can get a pretty close to mint 68 for less than that. 68’s don’t get as much respect as they deserve sometimes. The build quality is generally quite good and the neck can be pretty hefty. You just have to be able to deal with the narrow 1 9/16″ nut. And don’t dismiss the narrower nut out of hand. I’ve never liked it but after about a half hour of playing, I barely notice. There is some misinformation out there about the nut width on the 68’s. A well known and much loved vintage guitar site states that: “Neck size increases back to 1 11/16″ with a decently size back shape. ” It doesn’t. The back shape gets pretty big but the nut is still 1 9/16″. There are plenty of other choices in the price range that will make you a happy player.
I found a 61 dot neck with a nasty neck break for $6500. It was ugly but it played great. I found a refinished 62 for around the same price (no not that great sounding dot neck 62 that was candy apple red-that was more). There are excellent early to mid 70’s 335’s out there for way less than a new Gibson but-like a new Gibson-make sure you play it before you buy it. The 70’s 335’s can be really awful. They can also be quite good. Still has the narrow nut but so does a $30,000 Stratocaster. The 81-85 335 dot reissues are generally pretty good with some minor mods to improve tone. They’ve always played well, they just need some minor work to sound their best. Read this if you want to know more. Bottom line is that you can get a really great player for less than a new reissue. I knew that day would come eventually but it seems to have come sooner than I expected.
So, I’m not saying a $6000+ Gibson ES-335 59 reissue isn’t worth $6000+. I’m just saying that you could spend the same $6000 and get pretty close to what you are trying to emulate with that $6000 reissue. And, to be fair, there are much less expensive new 335’s and I’ve been pretty impressed with some of them (Warren Haynes 61 and Rusty Anderson 59). So, there are further options. When I get a chance to play the $6199 one, I’ll let you know what I think. If the nice folks at Gibson would like to send me one to test drive, I’ll be happy to give my impressions.