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Archive for the ‘ES 330’ Category

It Hurts When I do This

Sunday, June 25th, 2017
Lemme just pull these knobs off so I can re-solder the loose wire...huh? Some idiot glued the knobs onto the shafts. Now what do I do?

Lemme just pull these knobs off so I can re-solder the loose wire…huh? Some idiot glued the knobs onto the shafts. Now what do I do?

And the doctor says…”Don’t do that.”

There are a lot of things that guitar players do to their guitars that guitar players shouldn’t do to their guitars. Many of these things (on vintage guitars) date back to when they were simply old guitars and not worth very much. They were practical solutions to everyday problems. If a pot became scratchy, you replaced it. Who cares about the date code anyway? The tuners aren’t working so well, so lets get a set of those fancy new Schallers. The bridge PAF is little weak and a new DiMarzio will sound great. None of these things really mattered when the guitar was simply an old guitar. Few of us (me included) could have guessed that a ’59 335 that cost $600 in 1982 would be worth 60 times as much 35 years later.

None of these things destroy the value, they simply lower it and most of these things are reversible with little damage to the guitar’s vintage value. And some are not. Refinishing always seemed like a good idea if your guitar got so beat up that it was an embarrassment on stage. Adding a Bigsby made sense if the music you played called for one. You know all this stuff and you know to look for these mods when you buy a vintage guitar. You can generally see them in the photos and many, if not most, sellers will disclose them. Then there are the insidious changes that you can’t see that simply cannot be reversed without destroying some expensive vintage parts.

The volume knob is slipping on the pot shaft because the plastic has worn out. You can put a little tape around the shaft and that sometimes works. You can bend the posts of the shaft outward if you’re careful not to break them and that usually works. Or you can super glue the knob to the shaft and that always works. Until you need to get the knob off. And while you’re at it, lets do all four of the knobs since they could all use a little help. And the switch tip cracks and tends to get itself unscrewed after a few gigs. You could take it off and glue it back together, let it dry and screw it back on. Or you could put dab of super glue inside and screw it back down and that will keep that tip on there forever. I can’t tell you how many guitars have arrived at my shop with glued on plastic parts. Dozens for sure. Glued on knobs make it impossible to repair a harness without destroying $400 worth of knobs. Glued on switch tips cause fewer problems unless you need to replace a three way, in which case you will be replacing a $200 catalin switch tip if the guitar is a 60 or earlier.

But wait, doesn’t acetone dissolve super glue?. It does but it can also dissolve the plastic but that isn’t the big problem (and I’ve tried this). The problem is that you can’t get at the acetone to where the glue is. What are you going to do turn the guitar upside down and carefully flow some acetone into the underside of the knob and hope it somehow penetrates only to where the glue is. Oh, and don’t get it on that nice finish. It will dissolve it. So, if someone has glued on the knobs or the switch tip, here’s what you can do: Leave it and hope the pots don’t go south on you. You cannot get them off and you shouldn’t try. You’ll only make it worse. And don’t ever use super glue to solve a problem like that. Get a new set of knobs and put the originals in the case. Or try the tape trick. And if the knobs have already been glued down and you’re selling the guitar, disclose it. And if you’ve never checked, please do before you sell it to me. I don’t think anything annoys me more.

That should be the end of the discussion but I would like to reach out to everyone who reads my blog and ask for solutions to the problem. If you’ve got a way to get a glued on knob or switch tip off, I want to know it. And I want everybody else to know it as well. I thank you in advance. Just don’t experiment on a $35000 guitar with $600 worth of plastic. And if the knobs are slipping on your 335, take the doctor’s advice. Don’t do that.

 

Wolf Notes and Dead Spots

Sunday, November 16th, 2014

 

This 60 Byrdland has a spruce top and is fully hollow. Perhaps the prettiest guitar I've ever owned but it was not the best sounding. Find out why.

This 60 Byrdland has a spruce top and is fully hollow. Perhaps the prettiest guitar I’ve ever owned but it was not the best sounding. Find out why.

I was nosing around the Les Paul Forum today and came upon an older thread that had to do with pickup spacing. That’s a pretty irrelevant subject with 335’s and their brethren because Gibson never messed with the pickup placement on these guitars. Still it’s interesting and you can read it here. I think you can access it even if you aren’t a member. But a few of the posts discuss wolf notes-notes that are louder and more resonant and dead spots which is, essentially, the opposite-notes that are less loud and resonant. Fully hollow instruments have all kinds of vibrations going on and the relationship between these vibrations is key to how the instrument sounds. If the top is vibrating one way and the back is vibrating another, then they can cancel each other out. It’s a little like out phase pickups-certain frequencies are enhanced while others are diminished. There’s tons of math and physics involved in the finer points but the over all gist is that the front and the back should be vibrating more or less together to sound balanced. Violins and cellos have a post inserted between the top and the back (called, cleverly, a sound post) and it transmits some of the vibration from the top to the back helping them to vibrate more in sync.

I remember as a 4th grader taking violin lessons and the “A” was really loud and sounded almost like it was feeding back. You could feel the instrument come alive when you played an “A”. Sort of cool but not a good thing unless the only note you’re going to play is “A” (which probably would have been an improvement for me). My teacher looked inside the cheap rental violin and announced that it had no sound post. He rummaged around in a little box of parts and came up with a small wooden dowel-a sound post. He had this strange little bent metal tool and used it to wedge the post between the top and the back near the bridge. Problem solved-at least for the purposes of a 4th grader. An amplified instrument will make discrepancies like this become glaring. In general, guitars don’t have sound posts.  Carved spruce top arch tops like L5’s, Super 400’s and a few others, can be “tap tuned” – the builder taps the top and carves away wood until the tone of the tap is consistent throughout-and this goes a long way in eliminating wolf tones and dead spots. Whether a sound post would improve it further is up for debate. I don’t get to play a lot of fancy arch tops. Feel free to send me one if you’re not using it.

This brings us to laminate tops like you find on ES models. The tops on all arched ES’s are stamped from a flat sheet of plywood. No carving (or tap tuning) involved. And if the top and the back don’t vibrate at the same rate, tough crap. You get wolf notes and dead spots. That explains the high level of inconsistency I’ve experienced from ES-330’s and ES-175’s. Some are just great but some just suck. In a worst case, half the notes seem dead, a quarter of them normal and the other quarter howling at the moon. Especially when amplified. Recently I’ve had a lot of ES-330’s and mostly, I’ve been lucky. The next time I get one that isn’t sounding right, I’m going to insert a sound post and see what happens. Stay tuned.

Finally, one of the best things about ES-335’s-particularly early ones-is their great consistency of tone. I rarely get a bad one and I find 90% fall into the classification of excellent tone. There are perhaps 5% that are exceptional-those magical ones that I hate to sell. Another 5% might fall into the “ho-hum” (that’s a technical term) classification-these are guitars that just don’t quite have that great 335 tone I’ve come to expect. There are a lot of ways to make a ho-hum sounding 335 better and I’ll write a post about that later. but, to the point, one of the biggest reasons that 335’s sound so consistently great is that big ol’ block of maple and spruce down the middle. It keeps the top from interfering with the back. It is, more or less, a giant sound post.

You've all seen the center block of a 335 but this little detail is kind of important. These spruce "spacers" make sure the top, the back and the maple block are properly attached to each other and not causing dead spots and wolf notes. Gibson stopped doing this for awhile but is apparently doing it again. This photo is from my friend Ken McKay's shop. He makes the best "tribute" 335 out there. I have one myself.

You’ve all seen the center block of a 335 but this little detail is kind of important. These spruce “spacers” make sure the top, the back and the maple block are properly attached to each other and not causing dead spots and wolf notes. Gibson stopped doing this for awhile but is apparently doing it again. This photo is from my friend Ken McKay’s shop. He makes the best “tribute” 335 out there. I have one myself.

Bargain Bin, Part 1

Sunday, October 19th, 2014
This candy apple red dot neck 62 is still one of the best playing 335's I've ever had. Top five for sure out of around 400 of 'em. You could probably find one for around $10K if you're patient. IfI'm recalling correctly, it had no other issues.

This candy apple red dot neck 62 is still one of the best playing 335’s I’ve ever had. Top five for sure out of around 400 of ‘em. You could probably find one for around $10K if you’re patient. If I’m recalling correctly, it had no other issues other than the refinish-maybe a changed part or two.

I get asked this all the time. “How do I get a “Golden Era” player without breaking the bank, upsetting my wife and raiding my child’s college savings?”

There are a few ways-some obvious and some not so obvious. Some will get you a great player but a lousy investment (which is sometimes just fine). Some will get you a beat up piece of crap that sounds and plays horribly. The key word here is “player”.  “Player” doesn’t mean a piece of crap. It means just what it says and that infers a guitar you can actually play (and sound good doing so). Typically, when a guitar goes up for sale in a public marketplace like Ebay or Craigslist, the seller describes it in such a way as to get you to buy it. That often means not disclosing stuff that will stop you from doing so. The lie of omission is rampant so ask a lot of questions. If the seller doesn’t know the answer, get lots of photos and prepare to pass on the guitar. There are certain issues that drop the price drastically and most of you are probably aware of them. The good news is that many of them have nothing-and I mean nothing-to do with how the guitar plays or sounds.

The best way to get a great guitar for cheap is to buy one thats been refinished. That generally cuts the price in half and, unless somebody dumps a vat of poly on the guitar, has little or no effect on the tone. A bad refinish sounds the same as a good one most of the time. You can argue that poly finishes don’t “breathe” and affect the tone of the guitar. I’ll stay out of that for now. Also,  I almost never see poly finishes on refinished 335’s. The next big price cutter is a repair. Any repair. Headstock breaks are good for 50% off in most cases and are often stable and a non issue. I would suggest that you get a lot of photos and show them to your local luthier because a bad repair will affect the playability and possibly the tone of your prospective purchase. The little “smile” crack that is typical is not generally that big an issue. They are relatively easy to repair and often completely stable. You know-the old “glue is stronger than the wood” theory. A headstock that has been broken off and reattached requires a little more scrutiny. I stay away from them but some are quite stable. The best repair? If you can get a good enough deal, get a guitar with a repaired hole somewhere. I recently got a great player for a great price because it had a repaired hole from a mini switch. I also had a dot neck a while back that had a small repair under the pick guard that was as good a player as any $40000 dot. Unless you pulled the guard, it looked just as good, too. It probably saved the buyer $10000 or more. Tuner holes and removed Bigsby holes can save you thousands and don’t affect anything. Changed tuners don’t have much to do with tone and often are an improvement in tuning stability (another story).  These are the obvious ones but there are other things that can save you a ton but might not make you happy.

Changed parts are a good way to save a buck and you can always replace them when you feel like it down the road. A repro ABR-1 sounds the same as an original. A Tone Pros or other aftermarket bridge might sound even better. A repro tailpiece will make no difference in tone nor will changed tuners. Knobs and other plastic is strictly cosmetic but they still can have a big effect on the price. It’s pretty easy to negotiate $1000 off a 58-60 missing its long guard because everybody knows that $1000 is about what they cost. Missing PAFs should really knock down the price of an early example but expect to pay $4000 or more to replace them if you don’t like the pickups that are in the guitar. Most folks don’t care much if a guitar has a vintage correct bridge, tailpiece or plastic as opposed to the actual originals. You couldn’t possibly prove they weren’t original unless the wear patterns are wildly different between components (again, another story). But when the pickups are replaced and the solder broken, folks get concerned. Again, a broken solder joint won’t affect the tone or the playability but it will affect the investment value of the guitar. But you wanted a player, so don’t worry about the investment value. Next, we’ll look at some things to avoid and some not so obvious ways to save a buck or two.

This all original 64 stop tail was a big bargain. No changed parts, no refine, no breaks. I'll tell you why next post.

This all original 64 stop tail was a big bargain. No changed parts, no refinish, no breaks. I’ll tell you why next post.

It’s not the Earth that we Inherit…

Sunday, August 31st, 2014

 

The blondes tend to show the dirt and this one had plenty. Cleaned up nicely, it did.

The blondes tend to show the dirt and this one had plenty. Cleaned up nicely, it did. Cleaner or polish will get into those checks and raw wood, so don’t slop it on the guitar. Put it on a cloth first.

…it’s the dirt. Talk about obscure references, anybody know that one? Pause… OK, it’s a line from the Broadway show Camelot (“The Seven Deadly Virtues”). And speaking of dirt, doesn’t anybody ever clean the crud off their guitars? You can call it “mojo” or “character” or “honest player sweat” but it’s still dirt and it isn’t particularly good for your guitar. I’ve had a slew of ‘em lately that must have 50 years worth of grime, tobacco residue and plain old BO. I’m not real big on cleaning or polishing my guitars either but a bit of maintenance now and then won’t hurt. A damp old tee shirt is a good start but if it’s really gross, then you’ll need a bit of chemistry. I use a product called Virtuoso Cleaner which, generally, does a good job getting rid of the dirt and leaving the finish alone. You can also use naphtha which, by the way, is essentially lighter fluid so don’t accidentally set your 335 (or yourself) on fire because you were smoking a cigarette while cleaning your guitar. Naptha will not react with the finish but will dissolve a lot of things (sweat, grime, grease, etc).

But, before you just slop any chemical on, don’t. Try it somewhere like on the back because it can cause some problems. Like making your guitar look dull and horrible (or duller and more horrible). There are two reasons that I’ve found that render most cleaners pretty well useless. One is easily fixed and that is when there is so much dirt and crap on the guitar that the cleaner takes off just one layer of it and leaves the guitar looking worse than when you started. If you keep at it, you will eventually take off the dirt but it may take a lot of Cleaner and a lot of elbow grease. Or you may have a bigger issue and that’s oxidation. When the elements act on the lacquer, the results are not very pretty. The finish will get dull and look a lot like Gibson’s VOS treatment (which I really don’t like). Cleaning won’t do much for oxidation but if you want to remove what looks like a dull film from your guitar, you’re going to be removing some finish. That’s what polish generally does. It won’t be a significant amount of finish but it will take some. Your guitar will still black light correctly-the finish under the oxidation is still old lacquer and you really won’t be diminishing the guitars value although some might argue that point. I think vintage dirt is like old strings. Worthless. Finally, there is some controversy about using anything with silicone in it. Ask any luthier about that. Avoid it.

There are some other things to note as well if you’re going to try to clean your old guitar up. If the guitar is checked, be really careful not to use anything that’s going to get into the wood. Checks are cracks in the finish and sometimes they go through to the wood and any liquid can get in there and stain the wood. It probably won’t affect how the guitar plays but it can look really horrible. So, don’t squirt the cleaner directly on the guitar-instead put it on that old tee shirt and then apply it. That should keep it from seeping through the checking and into the wood. You should also be aware that if you don’t clean it,  all that dirt is going to make the finish wear faster if you play that vintage beauty. You’re going to rub it deeper into the finish and it’s going to act like sandpaper and take off even more finish. Dirt is abrasive stuff and abrasive stuff and vintage guitars should avoid each other like the plague.

In general, I have no problem cleaning a guitar but I usually won’t polish it and I never buff a guitar with any kind of machine or tool. I’ll go at it pretty vigorously by hand but that’s about it. A nitro finish is pretty thin and the last thing I want to do is screw that up.

When I have to clean, I use this stuff. I don't sell it, so don't go all "paid commercial plug" on me.

When I have to clean, I use this stuff-usually the Cleaner. I almost never use the Polish. I don’t sell it, so don’t go all “paid commercial plug” on me.

Why Would Anyone Do That?

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014
Yikes. Why would anyone do this? Because it was 1972 and this was just a ten year old guitar back then and the owner wanted a cutout and a phase switch. Knock off two or three thousand bucks for each hole.

Yikes. Why would anyone do this? Because it was 1972 and this was just a ten year old guitar back then and the owner wanted a cutout and a phase switch. Knock off two or three thousand bucks for each hole.

How many times have you asked that very question when examining a vintage guitar (or amp)? Somebody puts in mini-switches or spray paints the back of the headstock black or cuts a big hole in the back? The issue is, of course, issues (do I sound like an existentialist?). After decades of ownership (and many owners), most vintage guitars are going to have an issue. Tuner changes are probably the most common on ES’s but there are plenty of others. But issues like that are quantifiable. You know why they were done and they really aren’t hiding anything. You put Grovers on because the Klusons kind of sucked, although your tuning problem was probably not the tuners at all but the nut. Same with ill advised mods like adding a coil tap or putting in DiMarzios. Someone thought they were improving the guitar. That’s all 20/20 hindsight. Who knew back in the day that these old guitars would actually be worth this much money decades later? But what about the issues that don’t make much sense? You know, the ones that seem to be hiding something. I had a refinished 62 335 that had a piece of veneer over the back of the headstock. The guy who did it said it was to cover tuner holes from Grovers. The guy who bought it from me insisted it must be covering a headstock break-which, by the way, it wasn’t. I recently sold a 59 with a nickel sized spot of overspray at the top of the back of the headstock. Why would anyone do that? Maybe he smacked the headstock into a cymbal stand back in 1976 and took a chip out of it. Maybe he set the guitar down and the headstock was in the ashtray and got burned by a cigarette (which is what I think). Sometimes it’s just impossible to know why a repair or mod was done. These are the ones that worry most buyers and rightly so. They worry me a lot less because every issue gets priced in if I’m a buyer or a seller. The point here is that if the issue raises questions, then it’s really hard to quantify when pricing a guitar. If the issue is straightforward and clear, then it’s easier.

What about the ones with the ones with the little “2” on the headstock? They don’t come with a factory explanation as to why they got the “2”. They often have some factory overspray to cover a finish flaw but it could be something else. There is a theory that the “2” meant it went through some part of the manufacturing process twice (like finishing) to correct a flaw and that these aren’t “factory seconds” at all- just guitars that needed a second pass to be made right. Does that count as a repair and therefore a diminished value if it left the factory that way? I would say yes but it really depends on what was done. I’m sure more than one 335 left the factory with a twisted neck but it’s still a dealbreaker issue to me. Another (like that cool 59 I had with the deep, dark sunburst) may have left the factory with a partial factory respray done before the guitar was ever sold. Not a dealbreaker at all but I did discount the guitar pretty substantially even though it blacklighted perfectly. The 330 I have with the factory red paint in the f-holes (likely used for a black and white photo shoot) is actually kind of cool and doesn’t diminish the value at all, IMO.

Clearly, a case by case approach is the best way to deal with the issue of issues. I get asked to assign a value to various issues all the time but I prefer to take the guitar as a whole and evaluate it. Certain issues bother people more than others even though they may make no difference at all to the playability, tone or appearance. It’s pretty subjective, so you, as a buyer, should take the same “whole guitar” approach. If Bigsby holes in the top drive you nuts, stay away from those but if you can handle a big cut out in the back of the body (which is my number one dealbreaker mod), then you can save a lot of money and get a vintage ES that will play and sound as good as one that has no issues at all.

This 59 most likely left the factory like this because somebody messed up the sunburst and had to respray it. It blacklighted perfectly and had the little "2" above the serial number. It was one of the best 335's I've ever owned and went for perhaps 20-25% less than it would have had it been perfect when it left the factory. If I could have proved beyond any doubt that it was factory original, it would have sold for more. Unfortunately, they don't come with an explanation.

This 59 most likely left the factory like this because somebody messed up the sunburst and had to respray it. It blacklighted perfectly and had the little “2” above the serial number. It was one of the best 335’s I’ve ever owned and went for perhaps 20-25% less than it would have had it been perfect when it left the factory. If I could have proved beyond any doubt that it was factory original, it would have sold for more. Unfortunately, they don’t come with an explanation.

Royal Olive (hint: it’s a color)

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014
Royal Olive sunburst, Not the most attractive finish concept from the Kalamazoo folks. But rare? On a Casino, you bet.

Royal Olive sunburst, Not the most attractive finish concept from the Kalamazoo folks. But rare? On a Casino, you bet.

Here it is without that pesky hangtag in the way. This ones a bit faded. It's even uglier when it isn't.

Here it is without that pesky hangtag in the way. This ones a bit faded. It’s even uglier when it isn’t.

 

I don’t always give Gibson/Kalamazoo era Epiphones enough coverage here. They are great guitars and I’ve mentioned how much I love my 59 Sheraton. Recently, I acquired a pretty rare one. It’s a 61 Epiphone Casino. That’s the first year they made them and that’s pretty rare to begin with. Casinos had their own color scheme at the beginning. Most of them were a color called “Royal Tan” which was, essentially, a washed out sunburst. Neither Royal nor tan. But these early Casinos are somewhat different from the “Beatle” Casinos that get all the attention. The headstock was different for the first few years-it was shorter and more Gibson like than the long headstock associated with Epis from ’63 on. Paul’s had the short headstock but John and Georges had the long one. A lot of the features follow a similar timeline as the Gibson 330 which is nearly the same guitar. The inlays on the early ones were dots but they switched to little parallelograms at some point in 62 at around the same time the 330 went to blocks. The pickups went from having black covers to having nickel ones during 63.  Ok, so I got a 61 and there aren’t very many of them. But this one is different from any 61 I’ve ever seen. There was another color in the Epiphone/Gibson palette called “Royal Olive.” Not exactly Royal, but definitely olive. This is a green to yellow sunburst that is pretty strange-a kind of so ugly it’s attractive vibe. Royal Olive Epiphones are not that rare in the Sorrento model (single cut-one or two mini hums-thin body). But this is the first Royal Olive Casino I’ve run across. Sunbursts tend to fade over the years and it would have been easy to have just considered this one an oddly faded sunburst but it is quite distinctly green. As some of you may know, the back of a 330 and Casino sunburst is solid brown. This one is solid brownish green (not sure what they were thinking here). The previous owner wasn’t even aware that the guitar was Royal Olive-he described it as sunburst. But he had the hangtag and it said “Special” with the letters RO written next to it. I pointed this out, of course and arranged to buy it. I won’t say it’s the only one-they made a few hundred Casinos in 61 and I’m sure a few exist in this color. The 61 catalog offers the Casino in Royal Tan or “shaded” finishes. I assume the shaded was a more conventional sunburst while the Sorrento was offered in RO. The 62 catalog touted RO as a “striking new color” but, again, only on the Sorrento. The 62 catalog also shows the Casino with nickel pickup covers and parallelogram inlays. I guess they had a lot of dots and black covers to use up  because just about all of the 62’s I’ve seen have the 61 features. casinos, like 330’s are wonderful old guitars but they have their limitations. They will howl like an impaled werewolf at high volume and the upper fret access isn’t quite like a 335. But, at civilized volumes or just sitting on the couch, they are great. I love the rarities and the oddball colors but any Casino is worth owning. They tend to command a “Beatle” premium which is kind of strange because some iconic Beatle guitars don’t. Country Gents and Tennesseans are downright cheap. Hofner basses aren’t all that pricey either. SG’s are up there but probably not because George played one. And I think the little Ricky 325’s are as high as they are because they are so rare. But a 60’s Casino? That relatively big number (compared to most other Epiphones from the era) is The Fab Four talking.

According to the catalog, Royal Olive wasn't an option. Nor was a trapeze tailpiece. Also the text says shell guard and it's clearly white. Didn't they have proofreaders in 61?

According to the catalog, Royal Olive wasn’t an option. Nor was a trapeze tailpiece. Also the text says shell guard and it’s clearly white. Didn’t they have proofreaders in 61?

Iconic photo of John with the "stripped" Casino on the Apple rooftop.

Iconic photo of John with the “stripped” Casino on the Apple rooftop.

Grovers

Sunday, April 20th, 2014
I did a Google search for Grover CEO and got this pair. Mr. Mt Grover is on the left and his slightly weirder brother, Cookie Monster, is on the right. He was the CFO if I'm not mistaken.

I did a Google search for Grover CEO and got this pair. Mr. Grover is on the left and his slightly weirder brother, Cookie Monster, is on the right. He was the CFO if I’m not mistaken.

 

If you ask me which 335 mod is the most frequently seen, I’d have to say tuner changes. In the  mid to late 60’s, it was almost mandatory to put a set of Grovers on your Kluson equipped Gibson guitar . We all knew that Gibsons went out of tune too easily and most of us thought that it must be the somewhat pedestrian Kluson tuners. After all, even Gibson used Grover tuners on the top of the line 355 until 1964 so perhaps they knew something. Most of us know by now that it wasn’t the tuners knocking these guitars out of tune but a poorly cut nut. Usually, the upper strings stick in the slots and go sharp when you bend them. If the tuners were slipping, the strings would go flat. It took me years to figure this out. I changed the tuners on my 68 SG (back in 68) to Grovers for that very reason. A certain Mr. Clapton had a set of gold patent pending Grovers on his 335 and, considering the number of 335’s that have had these tuners, I would say it was all the rage back then. Then the 70’s brought Schallers which on the plus side are perfectly good tuners but on the minus side, are heavy and ugly and required more holes. At least with a set of Grovers, you could use the existing bottom hole from the Klusons and only have to enlarge the shaft hole. But the damage was done, as they say and now we have to deal with it. My initial thought, with a set of Grovers, is to leave them be. They are good tuners and they look OK. A Grovered Gibson will be a perfectly serviceable guitar but the purist collectors will always discount them (or turn up their collective noses at them). Put a set of Klusons back on with a good set of adaptor bushings-the ones that are “invisible” because the size of the part of the bushing that shows is the same as the real ones and you’re back to collector grade. Sort of. The shaft holes will always be bigger and you can’t hide that (and you shouldn’t). You can repair them but the guitar will always have an issue.

So, how do you price an otherwise collector grade guitar that’s been Groverized. Or Schallerized. Or perhaps Sperzelized. well, it depends on the guitar. You might knock $4000 or more off a $40,000 ’59 but on a 66 ES-335, it might only be $1000. It also depends on how clean the front of the headstock is. Most folks seemed to think you had to tighten down the bushings until the headstock dented. Those marks won’t go away and they diminish the original look. Knock off a few more bucks. Schallers leave an extra hole that will peek out the sides of a set of Klusons. Knock off another few bucks. There really aren’t any rules and that’s what can make buying any vintage guitar a tricky business. My approach is to look at the whole guitar. If, for example, it’s a player grade guitar with changed parts, Bigsby holes and perhaps some player wear, then don’t worry about the Grovers. It’ll be priced in. But if the guitar approaches mint condition with the only issue being the Grovers, then you may be paying a serious premium (for a mint 335) but ending up with a guitar that will always be a cut below an all original one-even one in way worse condition. As I’m fond of saying. Fifty years is a long time for anything to remain unmolested. If the only issue is a set of Grovers and the price is right, then I say go for it. You could find a lot of worse mods than a cheap tuner swapped for a better one.

The dreaded "Grover Shadow" that surrounds the Kluson shaft on a 335 returned to its original tuners. Even with adaptor bushings, you can't run from the shadow.

The dreaded “Grover Shadow” that surrounds the Kluson shaft on a 335 returned to its original tuners. Even with adaptor bushings, you can’t run from the shadow.

 

See those little filled holes on the edges of the tuner housings on the right? Schallers. They have an offset mounting hole so you didn't have to use the existing holes. You just drilled new ones. It's just an old Gibson. Who cares!

See those little filled holes on the edges of the tuner housings on the right? Schallers. They have an offset mounting hole so you didn’t have to use the existing holes. You just drilled new ones. It’s just an old Gibson. Who cares!

Idle Frets

Monday, March 31st, 2014

 

"Little" frets on a 58 unbound 335. If the guitar is set up properly, you shouldn't have any trouble bending the crap out of the strings.

“Little” frets on a 58 unbound 335. If the guitar is set up properly, you shouldn’t have any trouble bending the crap out of the strings.

I’m not very adept with a pair of calipers. Today I tried to measure the frets on all the guitars I have in the house (snow day with nothing much to do). I know approximately how big the frets are supposed to be but for some reason my measurements aren’t that close. Of course, the size of the fret wire as it came out of the box 50 years ago (or tube or whatever) isn’t necessarily the size of the fret wire today. Some general knowledge of Gibson’s fret “repertoire” will help. In 1958, Gibson wasn’t using what we now call “jumbo” fret wire in the first 335’s off the line. The first thing I noticed when I picked up the first 58 I ever owned was that the frets looked like vintage Fender frets (I was a Fender guy before I was a Gibson guy). I measured them at .075″ which is pretty close to Fender which, if what I read on the internet is correct, are .078″. Often, when I get a request from a potential buyer for a dot neck, I ask whether they want a 58, 59, 60 or 61. Most want a 59 and when I ask why, they sometimes say “I can’t play on those little frets on the 58″. I’ve been playing a string of 58’s for the past few months and, while I’m not the world’s best player (OK, not even a good player), I find very little difference between the feel of a 58 and the feel of a 59. Big bends seem to work just fine on the “little” 58 frets. I think setup has more to do with bending than fret wire does but perhaps fat frets are more forgiving of a mediocre setup. I’ll have to look into that. I measured a few others as well. The frets on my 59 ES-345 were around .085″ and were extremely comfortable -a bit flatter than the 58’s but that could be from dressing and wear. The 66 I have had about the same size as the 59 only taller. I have an 82 here that measures .092″ so apparently bigger frets were introduced at some point after the 60’s ended. My 59 Epi Sheraton’s frets measured .080 but I’m such a klutz, they were probably the same as those on my 59 ES-345 and I just didn’t a good measurement. These are pretty small differences after all. But, when you compare these “vintage jumbo” frets to modern jumbo frets, they are quite a lot smaller. A .085 today is considered medium. So, what do I specify when I need to have one of my vintage beauties refretted? I’ve had great results with Dunlop 6105 wire (.090″). It’s so close to vintage spec that I can’t tell the difference. I played refrets done with 6100, 6120, Stew Mac 146 and 154 and they all seem pretty good. I will say that I’m completely obsessive about proper intonation and the big wide 6120’s make intonation more difficult and finicky-especially when they need a crown. In fact, all these frets, once they flatten out from wear (“railroad ties” in luthier vernacular) will cause you some intonation issues. It’s simple physics really. The more precise the pressure point on the string (i.e. the top of the fret) the more precise the note. With flat frets, if the string contacts the back edge of the fret, the note will be rather different from the note produced at the middle or front edge of the fret. On a properly crowned fret, there is only a single point at which the string touches the fret. That doesn’t mean you can get away with poor intonation but it allows you to better adjust and control it. So, I’m afraid I haven’t shed that much light on which 335s used which frets-it seems like 58’s used little ones and 59-66 (and later) used what would be called medium today. If anybody is real good with the calipers, I’d be happy to learn what you find. 99% of what I know about these guitars comes from owning them and looking at them.  You can’t get most of this stuff from a book.

These are original 59 frets. Not exactly huge by modern standards but plenty big for me. These measure around .082"

These are original 59 frets. Not exactly huge by modern standards but plenty big for me. These measure around .085″

Condition Red

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

 

So, Don and Sal, the art director are at odds about the new Gibson ad campaign and are flying to Kalamazoo to straighten out the f-hole issue. Don't even think of making the joke.

So, it’s 1959 and Don and Sal, the art director, are at odds about the new Gibson ad campaign and are flying to Kalamazoo to straighten out the f-hole issue. Don’t even think of making the joke.

Just when you think you know everything, you go and learn something new. Yesterday I picked up a 59 ES-330 from a regular client who asked me to sell it for him. It’s a beautiful example and I was happy to take it. ES-330’s are pretty hot right now-I guess the fact that Gibson reissued them at a relatively high price is making the vintage ones look like the better deal-and they are. Of course, the seller wanted me to come up with a valuation for it and I looked it over. Bone stock but wait a second…there’s red paint in the f-holes!!  What the… ?? I’ve never seen that before and I thought I’d seen everything. The paint is inside the guitar

This real nice 59 ES-330 has red paint in the f-holes. Why would someone do that. Read on.

This real nice 59 ES-330 has red paint in the f-holes. Why would someone do that?

but only where the f-holes are open. The odd thing is that the factory stamps-model number and FON-are on top of the paint. That can only mean they were done at the factory. The FON goes on before the guitar is glued together. So why would the nice folks at Gibson paint the inside of a guitar red? The owner had bought the guitar from a reputable dealer and I asked if he had any insight into the red paint. The dealer’s explanation made pretty good sense. Most of you are old enough to remember black and white photography using this stuff they used to call film (“fillum” where I come from). Well, black and white film is a somewhat finicky medium. Certain colors come out too light and certain colors too dark. This is important in product photography. The inside of the f-holes on a thin body guitar would reflect the light back and look white in a photo. They needed a somewhat darker tone. Remember, there was no Photoshop back then-this the “Mad Men” era. Apparently this tomato soup red color was, as you might expect, pretty handy and apparently gave them a pleasing darker tone that looked right in the brochure and in promotional photos.

I went and found a scan of the 59 catalog and there was no 330 in it at all. The ’60 catalog only shows a single pickup (although it mentions the two pickup model). So, this guitar is apparently not the brochure guitar but the explanation kind of makes sense, so I thought perhaps a little experiment was in order. I don’t have any black and white film (although I still have a film camera) but I do have a couple of ES-330’s that I can shoot digital photos of and turn them to black and white. I know, not quite the same thing but I’m limited by the tools here. The photos below kind of make the point. The one with the red looks better than the one without it to my eye. The raw wood inside the guitar reflects the light and looks a little unfinished while the red one makes the f-holes less obvious so you concentrate on the guitar rather than the f-hole. Whether anyone actually buys into the idea that it makes a particle of difference to the potential guitar buyer is up for debate. They do focus groups on this kind of stuff and it’s a great way for the focus group people to make money. Also a great way for art directors to keep their jobs. Also a way for Gibson to justify a higher price for a guitar to cover their “R&D”.

Here’s the 330 with the red paint. Looks nice in black and white but is the red paint really necessary? Look at the photo below and decide for yourself.

Here's the guitar without the red paint. Compare to the one below with the red paint. Not that different but different enough for the art directors to squawk. I've worked with a lot of art directors and I've seen them storm out of the room over a lot less.

Here’s the guitar without the red paint. Compare to the one above with the red paint. Not that different but different enough for the art directors to squawk. I’ve worked with a lot of art directors and I’ve seen them storm out of the room over a lot less.

Don’t Matter if You’re Black or White

Monday, January 6th, 2014

This white ’65 ES-355 is the only white ES I’ve had. The finish was factory but it’s really tough to tell if it was originally white or a factory refinish. It did have a “custom” truss cover but that, in itself, isn’t enough to convince me it is original.

You thought I was going to write about PAF bobbins didn’t you. Go on, admit it. And it doesn’t matter if they’re black or white (unless you’re buying or selling). But, no. I’m writing about black guitars and white guitars. They made both as custom orders during the 50’s and 60’s but they are rare and they are desirable. Out of 300 or so ES-330, 335,  345 and 355’s I’ve had here since I started this site, I’ve had only two legitimate factory black ones (and a couple of black Trinis but those were actually a stock color, although they are awfully rare).  I’ve had exactly one white one. You would think both those colors would have been more popular but they just aren’t. Gibson made an awful lot of Les Paul Customs in black so it wasn’t like they didn’t have the paint around. They also made a fair number of factory white SG’s-mostly Customs and Specials and a few Jrs. So how is it that these colors rarely found their way onto the other guitars in the Gibson line? Let’s see what’s out there. There’s the very famous Keith Richards ES’s-a black 59 ES-355 (the one in the Louis Vuitton ad) and a white ES-345 which I think is a 64. There’s Alex Lifeson’s white ES-355 but that’s from the 70’s-a 76 I think. There’s a photo of dave Edmunds playing a black dot neck 335 but it has the headstock inlay in the wrong position and I don’t know if it’s factory black. In any case, these custom colors don’t come up very often and I’m always happy to see one when they do. Recently I’ve had two of them – both from ’66 and both done up with fancy bindings (including the f-holes) and gold hardware. The serial numbers are very close as well (two apart) and it’s possible, in fact likely,  they were ordered by the same buyer. Interestingly, they both ended up in the hands of a gentleman in Southern California and then both ended up with me. There’s a black ES-355 that’s been on Ebay lately with the same look. How do you price one of these? Well, it’s not easy given that the supply is minuscule and the demand is, well, there is no demand because most folks think they are totally out of reach. You can figure on a custom color being at least double the price of a red or sunburst of the same year. That doesn’t include “Sparkling Burgundy” which nobody seems to like very much. That also doesn’t include black or white (well sort of white) 335’s from the 80’s. They are actually worth less than their blonde counterparts. If you’re lucky enough to come up with a black or white dot neck 335 from 58-61, then all bets are off because you can pretty much name your price. There are some but I don’t think you’ll find one in your lifetime. Black 59 and 60 ES-345’s and 355’s were made but I’ve never seen a white one from that early. I had a white ’65 ES-355 a few years back and I mentioned Keith’s white ’64 ES-345. Then there are the Trinis.

Who doesn't love a black Trini? This 67 was pretty cool. I hadn't seen one in ten years then had two of them last year.

Who doesn’t love a black Trini? This 67 was pretty cool. I hadn’t seen one in ten years then had two of them last year.

I’ve had a 66 and a 67 in the past year or so and I’ve seen at least two others including the one played by Rusty Anderson (Paul McCartney’s guitar player). But the Trinis were a standard factory color so there may be a lot more of them under beds and in closets. Pelham Blue was a standard color as well but rumor has it there are only 16 of them. I’ve had only one and seen four or five others. Still, a black Trini is going to cost you about double what a red one will cost, so standard issue or not, folks still will pay a big premium for them. The Pelham Blue Trini went for more like three times the cost of a red one but it was practically mint so you have to figure that in as well. There are some black ES-175’s, at least a few black Byrdlands and Kessels (Gene Cornish of the Rascals played one back in the day) and a few black early double necks (which are rare enough in any color). The tricky part is, of course, the “factory” part. There are a number of ways to tell if a guitar was refinished and, frankly, a lot of black ES’s are not factory. Black can be used to cover all sorts of nastiness-headstock cracks being the usual sin but also filled holes and routs. I had a 68 Les paul Custom come to me that looked legit until you got the light to hit it just right and you could see that there was a Kahler rout that had been skillfully filled. So, be extra careful with these beauties. The paint is thick and opaque and sometimes it’s a little scary to imagine what’s under there. But if you find a real one, hang on to it (or sell it to me). There just aren’t that many of them and if they are cool enough for Keith, they are probably too cool for the likes of you (or me).

This bound f-hole and 355 trimmed ES-335 (7 ply top binding and gold hardware) is a 66. I had a 66 ES-330 decked out the same way only 2 serial numbers away from this one.

This bound f-hole and 355 trimmed ES-335 (7 ply top binding and gold hardware) is a 66. I had a 66 ES-330 decked out the same way only 2 serial numbers away from this one.