As I write this, I’m sitting (in coach) on a Delta flight to Las Vegas with the single mission of picking up a very rare and very expensive ES-345. It’s a first rack black stop tail and is almost certainly the first black 345 ever made and maybe the first black ES ever made. Let’s see, it took me 2 hours to get to the airport and another hour for security and boarding and another 5 hours and change to get to Las Vegas and who knows how long before I check into the hotel. Then make the deal with the seller-check out the guitar and do the whole trip in reverse.
Ever wonder why dealers need to mark things up? Let’s see…36 hours out of my life, $500 for airfare, $70 worth of parking at JFK, $150 for a room and probably another $75 for food. So, why not just send the guy the money and have it shipped? What could possibly go wrong? (go wrong…go wrong…). Well, there are a few things to consider. When buying from an individual seller, you can’t always count on the dealer amenities you expect from a reputable dealer-like an approval period, professional packing and a full disclosure of every part, ding, scratch and issue with the guitar. Sometimes it isn’t reasonable or fair to ask a seller to take out the pickups and look at the stickers. Sometimes the seller knows nothing about guitars and wouldn’t know a broken headstock from a broken toilet. This seller happens to be fairly knowledgable but this is a very expensive guitar and whoever buys it will certainly expect me to have gone through it with the proverbial fine tooth comb. That’s why I’m on an airplane and not at home with my beautiful wife and lunatic dog.
There’s another factor to consider as well. Black is a tricky color. It photographs terribly. The good news is that it usually looks better in person than it does in the photos. The bad news is that opaque colors are a good way to hide a break or a refinish. More good news. I have the shipping ledger page for this one and it indicates factory black. I’m pretty good at sniffing out a refinish but it almost impossible to do it from a photo, especially on a black guitar. My method requires having the guitar in hand (and no, it isn’t a black light, although it’s a good tool especially for revealing overspray).
When you can’t assume the option to return a guitar if it isn’t as described, then a road (or plane) trip is almost mandatory at the high end of the market. I have had plenty of $30,000+ guitars shipped to me. One has gotten broken. A surprisingly high number have had undisclosed issues from repro switch tips to changed pots to non functioning truss rods to twisted necks. It is generally not malicious. Most folks simply don’t know how to tell a real catalin switch tip from a good repro. Even fewer folks know when a truss rod is no longer working. Fewer still can pull a harness to check the date codes (or even read the date codes). Scary? You betcha. I have to admit that being a vintage guitar dealer is fun and often rewarding but it can be pretty stressful on the buy side. So, maybe 12 hours in an airplane and 2 hours in airports and 4 hours in the car is worth it. Well, look at it this way, it’s worth it if I come home with the guitar. What happens if something is wrong and the seller won’t alter the agreed upon price? Then I go home empty handed about $800 poorer (assuming I stay away from the craps table) but maybe I don’t take a huge loss on a guitar that isn’t what it was cracked up to be.
I expect this to turn out well though. I have a lot of photos and I have spoken to the seller many times (it took a very long time to make this happen-I knew about this guitar in 2014). He is a pro player and even played on a few hit records back in the 60’s. Still, this one wasn’t going to be shipped sight unseen. Too much stress and too much money at stake. I’ll post photos when I have it.