RSS

Archive for February, 2016

Ten (or Eleven) Years After

Monday, February 29th, 2016
Here's the real one before he changed the knobs (and probably the tuners).

Here’s the real Clapton 335 before he changed the knobs (and probably the tuners). I used to have the same strap definitely not the shirt.

Even though Alvin Lee (Ten Years After) played a red 335, this post isn’t about him. It’s about the now more than ten year old “Crossroads” ES-335. In 2004, Eric Clapton’s 64 red block neck was sold by Christies Auction house for $847,500. The folks at Guitar center who bought it hyped it mightily as the “Crossroads” ES-335 even though most believe that the recorded version of “Crossroads” was played on an SG. Sounds like an SG to me. In any case, the guitar was used as the basis for the “Clapton” Crossroads Reissue. That was nearly 11 years ago now.

It’s interesting that the iconic guitars of these 60’s masters weren’t even this old when such great music was played on them. If “Crossroads” had been actually played on that 64 ES-335, it was not even four years old at the time of the Winterland Ballroom show in San Francisco (although we all grew up thinking it was The Fillmore). Now the Clapton reissue is close to eleven years old and since I have number 25 of 250, I thought it was worth another look.

I first played a Clapton 335 in 2006 when a guy who was buying a guitar from me brought one along for me to check out. Immediately liked it and felt that it captured the look and feel of the real thing. I had a lot less experience with vintage 335’s at that time but I had been buying and selling them for awhile on a very small scale. I would buy and sell 6 or 7 guitars a year from 1998 or so until 2010 when I really started getting serious writing this blog and buying 50 or more a year.  I’m going from memory here but I recall a couple of things-I thought the guitar looked particularly authentic. And I thought it played great and sounded quite good.

Gibson, until recently, hasn’t been able to get the body shape right (MM ears and later pointy ears). I still contend they aren’t quite there but they are close. Interestingly, these Claptons are almost dead on. I had #25 next to a real 64 on the “A” rack in my shop and a potential buyer came in to play the 64 and I inadvertently handed him the Clapton. I realized I had done so before he took the guitar from me (I noticed the Grovers and knew I had erred). But I gave it to him anyway just to see if he would notice. He didn’t until I mentioned it. He really liked the guitar and I have to agree with him. The rumor is that the guitar bodies were built by Terada in Japan. If so, kudos to the Japanese-they got it right.

The body is right, the neck is right, the bindings are darn close, the pickup covers are screamingly wrong. Wrong? Yes, Gibson doesn’t seem to be able to get the pickup covers right. They’ve been reissuing 59 335’s for 35 years and they still can’t get the covers right. That aside, the feel is right. It would be even better if folks would actually play these guitars and get a little real player wear into the mix but they seem to be more popular with collectors than they are with players. I get that. They were expensive in 2005 at $12000. They have held their value relatively well but are still expensive and they certainly haven’t gone up in value. But when you look at the street price of Gibson’s top 335 reissue now at $6000+, maybe the Clapton cachet and playability isn’t such a bad deal. If the new reissues are equally good at $6000 and a Clapton will cost you $10,000-$11,000, is it worth the extra $4000 or $5000? I think it is because in 10 years, a 59 reissue is simply going to be a 10 year old reissue that they will probably still be making and it will probably cost a few thousand more. The Clapton will be 20+ years old and still be a limited edition of 250 with EC’s autograph. It will likely be worth at least what it is worth today. I don’t think it will matter if it sits in the case for the next ten years or you play the crap out of it. It will still be what it is and you’ll probably enjoy it a lot more if you play it.

Lastly, I’ll mention the tone. While the playability and feel are very close to a 50+ year old honest to god 64, the tone is good but not quite the great tone of a 64. Maybe in another ten years, it will be there. If I was really, really curious, I would drop in a set of 64 pickups just to see how it sounded then but collectors are funny about certain things. If I break the original solder in order to try a set of early patent numbers, somebody is going to be unhappy when they find out the pickups have been out. So, it will stay as is and I will continue to enjoy playing it until somebody comes and buys it. Don’t even ask about the case.

Not vintage yet but on its way. Even if Gibson simply called it a 64 reissue, it would be a really good guitar.

Not vintage yet but on its way. Even if Gibson simply called it a 64 reissue, it would be a really good guitar.

Unless British exports got a totally different case (or he changed it out), the reissue case is nothing like a real 64 case. It's a perfectly good case but it if I got a vintage 64 in this case, I would make a stink about it.

Unless British exports got a totally different case (or he changed it out), the reissue case is nothing like a real 64 case. It’s a perfectly good case but it if I got a vintage 64 in this case, I would make a stink about it.

Bein’ with Bacon

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016
Tony Bacon has written more guitar books than I can count. There must be at least 50.

Tony Bacon has written more guitar books than I can count. There must be at least 50.

telebook

Tony Bacon has written so many guitar books that I’ve lost count. Dozens for sure. The very first guitar book I ever bought was his “Ultimate Guitar Book” back in the early 90’s. He has written about just about every guitar there is. Gibsons, Fenders, Gretsches, Rickenbackers, Ibanez and plenty of general books about guitar history. He has written about specific guitars like the Telecaster, Stratocaster and Les Paul. No other writer has published anywhere near the number of guitar books and they are generally very well conceived and executed. I received an email from Tony a few weeks ago asking me to share some of my knowledge of the semi hollow ES models (335, 345, 355) for his next book.

Why another ES-335 book? I’d like to take a little credit for being the head cheerleader for the model over the past decade or so. They have never been more popular than they are today. The only 335 book on the shelves today is Adrian Ingram’s “The Gibson ES-335: It’s History and It’s Players”. I don’t know Mr. Ingram and I don’t know the circumstances behind the writing and publishing of the book. My opinion about it is somewhat mixed. I thought it looked cheap and rushed. The photography was horrendous and amateurish in many cases. But, on the positive side, he covered a lot of ground and I give him credit for getting into some very arcane details. While Tony Bacon’s books are usually extremely well photographed and well written, he usually doesn’t dig deeply into the really small stuff. I appreciate the fact that Mr. Ingram did. Perhaps not to the extent that I have in my blog but I’ve never tried to cover the entire history of the model. I don’t think I’ve ever written about 335’s from the late 80’s and 90’s at all. I don’t write much about the Norlin era either (other than the 81-85’s). So, to answer my own question, another 335 book-with great photos and a comprehensive history would be a welcome addition to the guitar enthusiasts library. Is that what Tony Bacon is doing? I hope so and,  based on his bibliography and the fact that he is reaching out to me,  I’m optimistic that it will be excellent.

OK, I know what you’re thinking. “Why aren’t you writing the book?”  Pretty simple, really. The only book I could write is a book about the “Golden Era” of 335’s. My expertise is based almost entirely on my hands on experience with the guitars. I’ve owned somewhere around 500 ES 335’s, 345’s and 355’s built between 1958 and 1965. Add in a few dozen from 66-68 and from 81-85 and I probably approach 600 or so. I’ve taken every single one apart. So, I know what parts showed up when and I know what changes were made and when they made them. But ask me what changed between 1974 and 1975 and I’ll have to change the subject. I just don’t know because I haven’t seen that many.

I have had two long phone conversations with Tony and a few emails to clarify some of the more arcane stuff. You know I love the small stuff. In fact, the very first thing Tony and I discussed was why I became “obsessed” with the 335 (his word, not mine). I explained that it was the guitar I really coveted as a teenager that I could never afford (I played a 62 ES-330 as a kid). When I finally decided to buy one (in the early 90’s), I started reading about 335’s online. The internet was pretty new and search engines weren’t too highly developed but I found Clay Harrel’s very comprehensive and informative Vintage Guitar Info site. I probably learned as much from him as I did from taking 600 guitars apart. But there was a hitch and that hitch set me on the path to learning everything I could about 335’s. I wanted a 335 with a wide nut and I didn’t want to spend a ton of money either. I had a young son and a mortgage and a brand new business and money was pretty tight. I learned from that site that the nut width went to 1 9/16″ in 65 and widened back out to 1 11/16″ in 1968. 64’s were pretty expensive, so I figured I would acquire a 68. After looking at about a dozen of them, I concluded that the information was erroneous. 68’s don’t have a wide nut. So, I knew that there was more information to be learned and I set out to do so. I still write posts about new stuff I’ve learned and I continue to learn.

I don’t expect to be writing a book any time soon, so talking to Tony was a good thing. I appreciate when someone of his stature in the guitar community acknowledges that he doesn’t know everything (nor do I) and his reaching out to me shows that he is serious about writing an accurate and comprehensive book about 335’s. I hope it turns out great and sells a zillion copies (and no, I don’t get a percentage-just a mention and a link).

Another Rare One

Sunday, February 7th, 2016
At first glance it's just an ES-140 with a PAF instead of a P90. But look closer and you'll see about a dozen upgrades.

At first glance it’s just an ES-140 with a PAF instead of a P90. But look closer and you’ll see about a dozen upgrades.

In an earlier post, I wrote about the diminutive ES-140. You can find that here. They are fun little guitars, great for travel and far from being some toy. They were, however, fairly low priced “student” grade guitars. They were also popular with women who didn’t want to wrestle a huge ES-175 or other big guitar. None of the manufacturers were making a high end short scale or “3/4″ guitar. Gibson made the ES-140 and 3/4 size Les Paul Jrs, ES-125’s and the occasional Les Paul Special (I’ve seen one). Fender had the Duo Sonic and Musicmaster (and later, the short scale Mustang). The other big makers had similar choices but nobody made anything that approached a pro players guitar. Enter this little unit.

Clearly, a custom order, this 1961 ES-140 looks like somebody shrunk  a blonde single pickup ES-350 or 175. While the stock ES-140 had a P90, this one has a PAF. The neck on a stock 140 was unbound mahogany. This one has a three piece flame maple neck with fancy multi ply binding like a Byrdland. The body on a stock 140 has single ply binding. This one has multi ply binding on the body like a 345 (front and back unlike a 345) and the same fancy parallelogram fret markers except that these are real mother of pearl as opposed to celluloid. But wait. There’s more. Check out the star inlays on the bridge base. Pretty cool and definitely custom. Factory Grovers, upgrade headstock overlay and a multi-ply guard as opposed to the single layer tortoise guard on the stock version. Did I mention the bound f-holes? Somebody really wanted a very special little guitar.

pope

Is that the Pope? Sure looks like his hat.

Back in the 60’s, the Gibson folks were very accommodating to professional musicians and well heeled players. They would make you just about anything you could think of. There are, as you’ve probably seen, ES-355’s with the players name inlaid on the fingerboard, snazzy headstock inlays including one that looks suspiciously like the Pope. While Gibson maintains a “custom shop”, they don’t really do true customs there as far as I know. I looked at the Gibson web site and saw no mention of the kind of custom work they did back in the day. They do the “artist” models and a lot of the reissues but it really seems like an excuse to charge more for what is simply a slightly upmarket guitar. Maybe it’s more a factor of the artists not wanting to be quite so ostentatious these days, although I rather doubt it. I’m a huge fan of custom guitars-it speaks to the history of the instrument and of the artist. There are a pretty fair number of custom inlaid guitars out there with the names of some pretty obscure (mostly country) artists. You just don’t see that very much these days.

And more’s the pity. I like personalized guitars. They carry their provenance with them forever and, in a small way, immortalize the original owner. Elvis had one but he didn’t need an inlaid fingerboard to become immortal. I don’t know who JS Peterson was but he thought enough of himself to have his guitar do the job of immortalizing him (on an admittedly small scale). That’s the Pope headstock inlay. Sorry it;’s a fuzzy picture.

JS Peterson-a name that will live on for as long as somebody is playing this guitar. The Custom Shop really was a custom shop back then. That looks like a 64 ES-355.

JS Peterson-a name that will live on for as long as somebody is playing this guitar. The Custom Shop really was a custom shop back then. That looks like a 64 ES-355.