Archive for November, 2016

First 345’s-Before the “First Rack”

Sunday, November 27th, 2016
This is the earliest ES-345 to surface. there is one earlier one but it hasn't shown up on my radar.

This is the earliest ES-345 to surface. there is one earlier one but it hasn’t shown up on my radar.

Most everybody who cares about ES guitars has accepted the assumption that the earliest one (serial number wise) is A29656 shipped on April 20th 1959. The rest of that “rack” was shipped the next day on April 21st. While I have been told that FON’s are chronological, it seems that the first three racks S8537, S8538 and S8539 could have been done in reverse order since the guitars in S8539 have the bulk of the early serial numbers. A more likely scenario is that they could have made all three racks at more or less the same time and the most accessible was the last one and they got shipped first. But wait, there’s more.

A few weeks ago, I got an email from a reader who said he had a very early 345 with the serial number A29133-a full 500 plus numbers earlier than the presumed first one shipped. Not just 500 numbers but two months earlier. On top of that the FON is 1958. Imagine my surprise. So, I got in touch with my inside guy at Gibson who checked the records to try to find the earliest 345 in the book and, sure enough, four ES-345’s were shipped on February 11th. They are serial numbers A29131-A29134. The FON is very late 58-T7303-xx. Strangely, there is also a rack designated as S7303 and that’s not supposed to happen. Did they forget to change the letter on the stamp (like the Fender amp charts from ’66) and then noticed it part way through the rack? Consider this (this is really geeky): serial number A 29132 and 29133-both 345’s both have the FON T7303. Serial number A 29548 (6 weeks later, more or less) is S7303. The FONs are supposed to be sequential and chronological with the letter changing at the first of the year and the numbers simply continuing. So, 7304 could have been an “S” but 7303 could not since it was already a “T”. Clear as mud. Right?

Anyway, we’ve got four 345’s that I’ll have to call “pre first rack”. They have all of the same features as the typical first rack 345’s-short leg PAF, small rout for the Varitone choke, thin top and huge neck. There are also two others that shipped in the period between Feb 11 and April 20th. One is A29623 which would be the 5th one shipped. There is one other and then the blonde A29656 mentioned in the first paragraph that has been the earliest known for some time. I’ve been compiling a FON database for nearly two years now and the more entries I make, the more confusing it gets. The overlaps at year end is just the beginning but that’s another post. So, were the first four prototypes? Probably not since they shipped to dealers and they had no unusual notes on the ledger page. Were there prototypes before these first four shipped? Hard to know. It’s likely there were but none have surfaced.

Just in case you aren’t confused enough, the first 345 was supposed to have gone to Hank Garland in 1958 but his is serial number A29915 which is a lot later — mid May 59. But, to add fuel to the controversy, I have A29914 in my database (the one right before Hank’s supposed prototype) and it was from the earliest numerical “first rack” (S8537) if you don’t include the recently discovered ones I’m writing about. So, how is that possible? The Garland family’s recollection and “paperwork” is a little slippery, so I wouldn’t put too much stock in their “certificate of authenticity”, signed, not by anyone at Gibson, but by Hank Garland and a Robert B. Garland.  No way to know anything for sure about this, so, let’s put that aside.

In any case, conventional wisdom is once again blown to bits. We have an earlier and probably the earliest run of 345’s there is. Two have surfaced-A29132 is a Bigsby with pearl dots and A29133 is a stop tail. Keep your eyes open for A29131-that’s supposed to be the first. Thanks to the nice folks at Gibson for their help.

This is supposed to be the first 345 but I kind of doubt it is. It's Hank Garland's (the sideways was added later) but it has a mid May 59 serial number so go figure.

This is supposed to be the first 345 but I kind of doubt it is. It’s Hank Garland’s (the sideways was added later) but it has a mid May 59 serial number so go figure.


Politics Anyone?

Tuesday, November 15th, 2016


If I had won the election (and I probably could have), this would be the new seal.

Well, the 2016 election which pretty much consumed most of the attention of the news media for, oh, the last two years or so is over. We are all surprised. Some are elated and some dismayed. I’ll keep my own politics out of it because this isn’t a political blog but politics can affect our interest.

The last time the economy tanked (thanks Wall Street), the vintage market tanked with it. Granted, we were in a bubble (thanks in part to more Wall Street types who decided guitars were a great investment even if they didn’t play them) and the bubble burst and a lot of folks got hurt financially. Those who love their vintage guitars and had no intention of ever selling them weren’t hurt at all. The lesson? Buy what you love and forget about the price the day after you buy it. But some of us buy to play and to invest. Certainly any vintage dealer will follow the same rule that guides nearly all investments—buy low and sell high. If you bought a 335 in 2010 after the bottom fell out of the market and those who were clinging to the slim hope that guitars weren’t affected had thrown in the towel, you did great if you held on. The market for good vintage guitars has been rising slowly and steadily-the way you want a market to rise. A gentle climb makes it somewhat less likely that a steep decline will follow barring some worldwide catastrophe. And speaking of worldwide catastrophes (or not), we circle back to the 2016 election.

There is some concern among the economic mucky mucks that the Trump presidency will tank the economy. It was my concern that if that happens, it will take the guitar market with it but then I gave it some serious thought. What tanks a collectible market is too many folks dumping inventory on the market in a desperate attempt to recover their investment before it loses value. Just like last time. But it isn’t just like last time this time. The Wall Street “investors” never came back in significant numbers-at least not to me. 99% of my clients are players, not investors and of that 99%, nearly all love their 335’s, 345’s and 355’s. And they love their Strats and Teles too.  Of course, circumstances arise and you have to sell stuff but that happens no matter what the economy is like. My point is that the current vintage market seems pretty stable and if our new president does something that adversely affects the economic picture, I think the guitar market will be affected less rather than more. That’s not to say that the market will stay where it is. High end guitars are a luxury item and luxury items don’t follow the same rules as necessities. You could certainly argue that if the Trump tax cuts-which are wildly skewed toward the rich-go into effect, then wealthy folks will have more money to spend on things like high end vintage guitars. Not so true of the middle class who will get something like a $300 break. That will buy you a t-top. So much for saving the middle class.

So, bottom line? Keep your guitars and enjoy them. You already spent the money, so stop worrying about your investment and play your guitar(s). There’s nothing better for taking your mind off of politics.

Bargain Basement

Monday, November 7th, 2016
My Refinished 1961 Dot Neck. I bought it in 2005 for around $9K. I sold it for around $10K a year later and bought it back a few months ago for $9K. Great player, great tone.

My Refinished 1960 Dot Neck. I bought it in 2005 for around $9K. I sold it for around $10K a year later and bought it back a few months ago for around $10K. Great player, great tone.

For most of us, the quest is for tone. Then it’s playability. Or is it the other way around? What good is extraordinary tone if you can’t play the thing? And what good is a guitar that plays like butter but sounds like crap? So let’s call it both. After that, it’s anybody’s guess. Originality? Condition? Rarity? Looks? Provenance? Well, from my experience, it all depends on who is buying. I don’t have a degree in psychology (but I took a psych course in college once-does that count?) but I’ve learned a thing or two about folks who buy vintage guitars. Some play and listen and are sold (or not) on that basis alone. No questions, no worries about its history or provenance and no worries about whether one of the saddles got changed in 1963. Some ask 1000 questions and still can’t decide which guitar is right for them. And I don’t blame them-a vintage guitar can be a huge investment as well as your tool of your trade. But the one thing that all of you can do is take advantage of my experience.

I’ve owned 600 ES-335, 345 and 355’s and played every one of them. Tweaked and set up most of them as well. If I can make it play and sound better before I sell it, then it’s my obligation to do so. Likewise, if it has some changed parts, it behooves me to change what I can to make it as right as possible (and disclose it). But lets go back to the original premise here. I called the post “Bargain Basement” and the reason it’s called that is because you can get the playability and tone of a great 58-64 for half the cost or less. There are some kind of dumb rules that apply (that I didn’t make) to vintage guitars. We all know that originality trumps everything. Neck repair? Half the value. Refinish? Half the value. Bigsby? Knock off 15-25%. Grovers? Knock off $1000-$4000. Refret? I dunno-depends how good the fret job is. Buckle rash? Missing some binding? replaced nut? There are lots of things that affect the value but don’t necessarily change the two big factors of tone and playability.

Let’s take a stop tail refinished block neck-say it’s a 64. If original, that’s a $20,000 guitar more or less depending on condition. The refin drops it to $10000 or maybe a little more if it’s a really good job. $10K for a killer player 64 with all of its original parts that can sound 100% as good as any with an original finish is a bargain. Especially with new ones getting up over $6000. Make it a Bigsby/Custom made version and set it up as a stop tail and you could be at $8000. In 5 years, that brand new reissue you paid $6K for will be worth $4K or less. That $8000 64? I’ll bet you a dot neck and raise you a tweed Bassman that its worth the same or more in 5 years. Headstock break? If properly repaired, it cuts the value in half but most of the time it will have no effect on playability or tone. Add in some other benign changes like Grovers or some good repro parts and you could drop the cost below that of the high end reissue.

Want to save even more? Buy a mid 60’s 335. I’ve seen plenty of 65’s with early patent number pickups (same as a PAF) and I’ve seen plenty of pre T-tops right up to mid 69. If you can manage the narrow nut, you can get a killer player for under $4000 if its refinished or repaired. Don’t like the trap tail? Have your luthier or tech convert it to a stop. You aren’t going to hurt the value any further-just make sure he puts it in the right location. Want to save even more? Make it a 345 or a 355. I’ve picked up some junkers that have played great and sounded great. In fact one of the best sounding 335’s I’ve ever played cost me around $8K less than 5 years ago. It was a refinished early 62 (dot neck). I wish I had it back. I’ve had $40,000 59’s that didn’t sound as good as that one.  I also had a killer 65 with a neck repair that cost me $2500. Not in the top ten but still a great player.

So, ask all the questions, play as many as you need to and, above all else, be happy with the guitar you buy. No, be ecstatic. It should make you play more, play better and play happy. Ultimately, when it comes to the important stuff, buy what you can afford. If the one you can afford doesn’t do all of the above, wait for one that does. They are out there for sure.

This Candy Apple Red refinished 62 dot neck is in my top five ES's. Not my favorite color but my oh my did this baby sing.

This Candy Apple Red refinished 62 dot neck is in my top five ES’s. Not my favorite color but my oh my did this baby sing.