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Archive for the ‘ES 335’ Category

Double Reverse

Sunday, July 19th, 2015
Hey, get some pickup covers. Nobody wants to see naked zebras. But naked reverse zebras? That's another story.

Hey, get some pickup covers. Nobody wants to see naked zebras. But naked reverse zebras? That’s another story.

I like to think I don’t miss much but sometimes I do. Maybe there’s a wire bridge on a guitar that should have a no wire or maybe a repro tailpiece that looks real even when I look closely. Actually, I miss stuff all the time-especially when I’m trying to buy guitars from widows and orphans. I hate to ask them to pull the pickups or even remove the bridge. But when buying a guitar in person, I shouldn’t miss anything. But I did this time.

I always feel a little bad for the seller when I start pulling his (Grandpa’s) guitar apart in front of him. Often, they have never turned a screw or even done more than strum a chord or two. The seller had disclosed a few issues and had also recalled that the pickups were zebras. I’ve heard that before only to find a pair of double blacks (“I could have sworn they were zebras!”). In one case, the seller insisted the original double whites were in there only to find that his scumbag luthier had swapped them out for DiMarzios when the guitar was in for a setup in the 80’s. In the case of the 59 I picked up this week, the seller was right. They were zebras all right. The covers were chrome and wrong but I pulled the bobbin screws and saw the white showing and that was that. I found a few other undisclosed issues but no dealbreakers and negotiated a fair price. End of story, right?

I got back to my shop and pulled off the chrome covers-I certainly wasn’t going to sell it with those and started rummaging around for a set of nickel ones. I had only one and I really wanted to get this guitar up on my site and on Gbase, so I just left the covers off and put it up that way. I took the “look…zebras” approach and thought nothing more of it. I’d get another cover and reshoot it later with its covers and leave up a shot with those zebras showing just to prove they were in there. Then I get an email from a regular reader.

“Hey…cool…reverse zebras.” Somehow I completely missed it. The guy said they were zebras, I saw the white bobbin from the back and I pulled the covers. Yep, zebras. Reverse zebras never entered my mind because they are so freaking rare. How rare? I’ve had 500 ES models and at perhaps 100 were from the era when whites and zebras were more common. Know how many reverse zebras I’ve seen? Three. Two on a first rack 345 and one on a ’60 ES-355 . I saw one on Ebay once but it looked like a fake to me since the seller disclosed that it might have been rewound. Something that occurred occasionally was to take a trashed double white and a double black and make two zebras out of it. One would be the usual slug coil zebra and the other would be a reverse. I had learned to pay very close attention to reverse zebras because most are fake-made from parts. I don’t know why they are so rare but they are.

I do think the premium paid for double whites and zebra PAF’s is a little silly but plenty of things that vintage collectors do are silly. And I love getting a set of double whites or zebras in a guitar. It’s like Christmas in July. It’s a little like the window dresser in “Kiss of the Spider Woman”. He insisted that there should be a Balenciaga scarf in the mannequin’s purse even though no one would see it because he would know it was in there (and “she” would have one in there). Even under the pickups covers, I know they are there. And I like that.

Slug coil zebras are fairly common-I've had dozens of them.

Slug coil zebras are fairly common-I’ve had dozens of them.

Cool to find a single reverse zebra in a 335 but two? Anybody else got one like this?? There's a 345 on Clay H's vintage guitar site with two of them so I know they are out there.

Cool to find a single reverse zebra in a 335 but two? Anybody else got one like this?? There’s a 345 on Clay H’s vintage guitar site with two of them so I know they are out there.

Anatomy of a 72

Sunday, July 12th, 2015

 

There a big fat section of the center block missing from 70's ES-335's. That's not such a good thing. There is nothing from the bridge to the lower edge of the neck pickup.

There a big fat section of the center block missing from 70’s ES-335’s. That’s not such a good thing. There is nothing from the bridge to the lower edge of the neck pickup. Note the Phillips screws on the backs of the pickups. Most folks think that means pre T-tops. Nope. Those are T-tops. I checked.

I don’t get to see a lot of 70’s ES-335’s because I don’t generally buy them mostly because I don’t generally like them. But they are ES-335’s and they are made by some of the same folks who made the early ones, so maybe it’s time we looked under the hood and took some notes while we’re at it.

I had to ask myself…”what makes a 335 sound like a 335?” Certainly the electronics are part of that but it’s the construction of the guitar that is the big player. Otherwise, a 335 would sound just like a Les Paul which has the same electronics. The guitar I have in my hands is a 1972 ES-335 made by Gibson during the much maligned Norlin Era. Norlin was in the business of making a profit (as was Gibson) but there was a difference-or at least one that can be perceived from their respective products. Gibson-especially under ted McCarty, wanted to make money AND make great guitars. Gibson-under Norlin- wanted to make money. Period. There were no notable innovations during the Norlin years but there were some serious cost cutting measures that made the business profitable but hurt the guitars.

A 335 is not the easiest guitar to build. The center block alone of the original version had four separate components-the maple block-two mahogany end blocks and a kerfed spruce “spacer” on top of the block. Apparently, assembling all those components was too costly and time consuming for the Norlin (beer/cement) bean counters and they “simplified” the design. The 72 I have has no mahogany end blocks and the maple is missing about a 5 inch space from the bridge to the back edge of the neck pickup. You would think that this had the upside of decreased weight but this one weighs 8 lbs which is pretty average. It is more resonant unplugged but that makes it less like a 335.  And then there’s the neck. While it’s probably less work to make a one piece neck, it’s more expensive because you need bigger pieces of mahogany. So, in 1969, Norlin went to a three piece neck. More money for us, less quality for you. Actually, I don’t really have a problem with a three piece neck from a tone standpoint. I’ve play many multi piece neck guitars that sound great. But I’m sure they were saving a few bucks on every guitar.

Where I think the 70’s 335 falls even farther is in the neck join. The long tenon is gone and the loss of all that wood coupling the neck to the center block causes what I find to be a clear change in the tone and sustain of the guitar. I’m sure the missing 5 inch chunk of center block has something to do with that as well. I’m not getting the same richness of tone-the complexity and harmonics that I get from the early 335’s. Maybe it’s the pickups? I dunno, it’s got T-tops and I’ve heard some great T-tops that have made their way into early 335’s and some 67’s and 68’s with them that could give a dot neck a run for its money. T-tops are often a bit thinner sounding but they can still be an excellent pickup, so I don’t think the pickups are the problem. If I dropped a pair of 59 PAFs into this guitar, it might sound better, but it wouldn’t sound like a 59. And, by the way, just because you see Philips screws on the back doesn’t mean they aren’t T-tops. This 72 has them and I looked. T-tops.

There are plenty of other differences but they are largely cosmetic. The neck volute annoys most of us but it probably doesn’t change the tone of the guitar. The bigger headstock just looks funny as does the “pantograph” logo. The binding on the neck tends to crack at the fret ends but I don’t know what’s actually different about it. Different plastic formulation? Still, it doesn’t change the tone. The overall construction of the body is pretty similar outside of the changed block characteristics, so that isn’t the thing making it sound different. So, I can conclude that the real difference in tone comes from the center block and neck tenon changes. That’s not to say that a 70’s 335 can’t be an excellent guitar. It just won’t sound like a 59-68.

Where's the neck tenon? Not where it usually is on the 58-68's. It's missing a couple inches. Also not a good thing.

Where’s the neck tenon? Not where it usually is on the 58-68’s. It’s missing a couple inches. Also not a good thing.

Pick of the Pocket

Monday, June 29th, 2015
The folks at Gibson loaded up the case with lots of fun stuff back in the day. This 59 has just about everything except the Varitone instructions and the polishing cloth. It even has the "pick of the stars" pick case and the original plastic bag for the stereo cable. It probably had two keys but c'mon, I lose stuff in a month let alone 56 years.

The folks at Gibson loaded up the case with lots of fun stuff back in the day. This 59 has just about everything except the Varitone instructions and the polishing cloth. It even has the “pick of the stars” pick case and the original plastic bag for the stereo cable. It probably had two keys but c’mon, I lose stuff in a month let alone 56 years.

Even after 500 or so ES-335, 345 and 355’s, I still find it exciting to open up a case and see what’s lurking in the pocket. There are two categories of case pocket stuff-the stuff that was in there when it was new and the stuff that ends up in there after 50 years or so. The latter category is more common: I’ve got a big assortment of straps, capos, polish cloths, strings, harmonicas, business cards from lawyers (these are surprisingly common), picks, set lists and union cards. It’s like finding a time capsule from the 50’s or 60’s. And there are other items that perhaps don’t belong there. Combs, roach clips, nail clippers and, in one case, a pair of extra clean socks. The strangest thing I ever found in the case was a semi-nude photo of  Margaret Trudeau (wife of the Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who famously had a fling with Mick Jagger or was it Keith or maybe Ronnie). That kind of proved that most individual sellers don’t bother looking to see what’s in there before it goes out the door. I’ve never found any drugs in a guitar case which just proves that musicians will use their drugs up before they sell their guitars or that musicians don’t use drugs. Pick one. I’m always happy to find 60’s and 70’s straps. My non playing customers love to buy them for their guitar playing husbands, sons and daughters. Old strings aren’t terribly useful-they are usually not in good enough shape to use so I usually leave them with the guitar when I sell it. They’re still kind of cool. None of this really gets my motor running but the other stuff you can find in a case does.

The stuff that was in the case when the guitar was new that has somehow stayed in the case for 50 or 60 years is just astounding to me. I recently bought a one owner 59 ES-345 with very nearly a full complement of case candy. Original brown strap, ABR-1 instructions, PAF instructions in their original manila envelope, original case key in its envelope, the string hang tag, the care and feeding hang tag and the original warranty hang tag with the serial number. The tags still had their strings attached. And that little envelope with the instructions still had the little screwdriver that came with these guitars. Switchcraft stereo cable in its little polythene bag? Yep. The only thing that was missing were the Varitone instructions.

Me? I can’t keep paperwork for a month let alone 50 or 60 years. How does this stuff not get lost? I’m going to take an educated guess here. Obviously, having one owner increases the chances of finding this stuff. If the owner isn’t a gigging musician but someone who mostly played at home for his or her own enjoyment, then the chances of everything staying together in the case increase geometrically. A gigging musician just doesn’t have the space in there for all of that. He needs the case pocket for the everyday items that are required for the life of a musician on the road. Things like his lawyer’s business card in case the local police didn’t like dope smoking, hippie freak, long hair guitar player types.

Just Play it

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015

 

Being refinished didn't stop this early 62 from being an extraordinary player. One of the best ever. When in doubt, play it. You might be surprised.

Being refinished didn’t stop this early 62 from being an extraordinary player. One of the best ever. When in doubt, play it. You might be surprised.

I get a lot of emails from readers and I appreciate them. By all means keep them coming. The email I get most is “should I buy this guitar?”. Imagine how hard it is to answer that question considering I’m not you.

The concerns are myriad. Is it priced right? Is it all original? Is that a good year? Is the finish original? Are those PAFs? Will I like the way it sounds and plays? Is it a good investment? Will it appreciate in value? There are plenty of others but they are almost all very  subjective. I do my best but I just can’t always come up with a satisfactory answer.

I can help you with a general price range for a specific year and model but I can’t always tell if a guitar is original. I certainly can’t tell from a single photo of the front of the guitar. I can tell you if I see something that looks wrong but I couldn’t tell a PAF from a patent number from a T-top if its covered (although the cover itself will tell you something). If you can’t see it-as in the case of the harness -then I can’t see it. I would also note that repro parts are getting to be very accurate and you really have to look extremely closely to know in the case of the better bridges and tailpieces. I can tell more about a stop tailpiece by feeling it than by looking at it. If anyone other than the original owner of a 50 year old tells you that every part is 100% absolutely certainly original, I would suggest that you take that with a grain of salt. Any part that can be removed can be replaced with a vintage correct part. I don’t think that’s a big deal as long as the part is correct and the wear isn’t glaringly different. A mint tailpiece with a worn and tarnished bridge and pickups isn’t going to look right even if it is vintage correct.

I can be a great help if you aren’t sure of the year as long as it’s a vintage piece. I’m not that great with 90’s and later. I just don’t see enough of them and therein lies the key to my so called expertise. If you see enough of anything, you get a sense of what is typical and what isn’t. Judging by the number of repro switch tips I see on 58-60’s, I could conclude that they are factory. I’m guessing the Les Paul guys have appropriated them. I’ve had perhaps 500 58-65 ES-335/345/355’s and, seeing that many, I get a pretty good sense of what’s in the realm of the possible and what isn’t. Things like short guards in 1960 are possible as  are long guards in 1961. PAF’s in gold hardware guitars show up into 64 and maybe even 65 although I’ve never seen one. Double white PAF in a 62? I’ve seen one in a 355. White switch tips are the norm in 61 but show up on occasion in late 60. And on and on and on.

Bottom line here is there are 100 things that can be “wrong” with a used guitar especially a really old one. But, no matter what is wrong, there is always one irrefutable criterion that will never fail you. Play it. If you like it and the price seems reasonable for what it is, then buy it. I’m happy to help you zero in on a good price (and no, it doesn’t have to be one that I’m selling but it does have to be an ES model). The other thing you can do is to buy from someone who will allow you to return it. Nearly every dealer will give you at least 24 hour approval. I give 48. That should give you enough time to play it and go through it to see that everything looks right. If you buy it from the widow of the cousin of the original owner on Craigslist, expect that you are going to find something you don’t like. The older the guitar, the more likely it is that something has changed. The good news is that even with a dozen changed parts, a refinish, a headstock repair and 29 holes from a back pad, an arm rest and three different tailpieces, the guitar can still play and sound great.

This 64 ES-335 actually had something like 29 holes in it from a back pad, arm rest a few tailpieces, a moved bridge and a couple of sets of tuners. Still sounded excellent.

This 64 ES-335 actually had something like 29 holes in it from a back pad, arm rest a few tailpieces, a moved bridge and a couple of sets of tuners. Still sounded excellent.

Geekfest Circa 1965

Monday, May 18th, 2015
"The Mexican" An original stoptailed 65 in cherryburst. Ever seen another? Found this one in old Guadalajara

“The Mexican” An original stoptail 65 in cherryburst. Found this one in old Guadalajara. This had all the 64 features-even the wide bevel truss cover.

Gibson serial numbers are notoriously worthless once you hit 1965. It’s not just that they started using the same numbers over and over again for the next ten years. It’s that the features of the guitars don’t always seem to follow the serial number chronology. Granted, it’s tough enough to figure out if the 335 you have (or want to buy) is a real 65, but once you’ve established that it is, you’ve only scratched the surface. 65’s come in more configurations than any other year. Whaddya mean? It’s a 335, isn’t it? Well, yeah, but there were so many changes made during that year that it’s like having two or three model years in a 12 month period.

The very first 65’s had a stop tail and all nickel parts. They were virtually identical to a late 64. They are also rare and expensive and priced like a 64. That’s the easy part. Where it gets tricky is right after they went to the trapeze. The first trap tails were also (other than the trapeze itself) pretty much the same as a late 64. Double line Klusons, nickel ABR-1 with no patent number, nickel covered patent number pickups and that big ol’ neck profile and wide nut. The only change beyond the tailpiece was the truss cover. Virtually all 64’s have the wide bevel and nearly all 65’s have the narrow bevel. Then, sometime in the Spring, things started to transition-by fits and starts and with no consistency whatever. It’s like they dumped a load of chrome parts into the nickel parts bin and stirred it around. The mix of nickel and chrome that followed defies logic. Some had one chrome pickup cover and one nickel. Chrome tailpieces and nickel bridges are pretty common. The nickel pickguard bracket seems to have lingered right into 66-they must have had a lot if them around. Nickel and chrome look somewhat alike when new so folks probably didn’t notice until years later when the nickel tarnished and the chrome didn’t. To make matters even more complicated, they changed the neck profile from a chunky carve with a wide 1 11/16″ nut to a slimmer carve with a 1 5/8″ nut for about a minute and then to a 1 9/16″ nut and a fairly slim profile.

Not complicated enough for you? OK, how about the fact that there is no clear correlation between the changes and the serial numbers. My general rule for 65’s is that if the serial number is under 340xxx, then it’s bound to have some nickel parts and the bigger nut. I’ve had plenty of wide nut 65’s in the serial range of  250xxx to as late as 340xxx. I used to think around 329xxx was the start of the transition but I’m wrong. I have one in that range that is all chrome and the small nut. I would venture to guess that in the 329xxx range, it is possible to get a 1 11/16″ nut, a 1 5/8′ or a 1 9/16″ nut in any and all combinations of nickel and chrome. One other important note-no T-tops in 65. I know, everybody who is selling a t-top will tell you it’s a 65 but I’ve never seen one. The pre T is actually pretty consistent through 66 and into 67. I’ve seen them in 68 and even 69 when the t-top was well established.

The larger point is that when you’re looking into a 65, make sure you are getting what you think you are getting. Ask for a photo of the nut with a ruler next to it or better yet, calipers. Don’t just ask the seller to measure it. Most people can’t read a ruler. Look closely at the hardware. If nickel hardware is important to you, don’t ask the seller. Again, most folks can’t tell the difference between nickel and chrome. Ask if its tarnished. Look at the photos and see if its tarnished. And remember this-an early big neck wide nut trap tail 65 is worth up to $2000 more than a later narrow nut. The narrow nut 65 is going to sound just as good and can be a great bargain but you’ve got to be comfortable playing one.

This is the other end of the 65 spectrum. All chrome parts, small nut width and a narrow bevel truss cover. And yet the serial is 329xxx which is well within the mostly nickel and wide nut range. Go figure.

This is the other end of the 65 spectrum. All chrome parts, small nut width and a narrow bevel truss cover. And yet the serial is 329xxx which is well within the mostly nickel and wide nut range. Go figure.

Red 335 Number Two?

Sunday, April 26th, 2015
Red dot neck. 59 serial. 58 FON and a factory Varitone.   Probably the second red dot neck made.

Red dot neck. 59 serial. 58 FON and a factory Varitone.
Probably the second red dot neck made.

I have a couple of Holy Grail guitars and the one that generally tops the list is a red dot neck from 1959. Of course, they are as rare as hen’s teeth (do hen’s even have teeth?) and Gibson says they didn’t make any. Although I know of at least 5 ’59’s and one 58, I don’t believe any are indicated in the shipping logs. But they exist for sure. I’ve got one right here with me. The well known 58 in the photo at the bottom of the post is considered to be the very first red 335 with a serial number of A28800 and a ship date of  December 15th.

The one at the top of this post just arrived at my shop from France. It has a later serial by quite a bit-A29553 with a ship date of  April 1, 1959. The FON is T6473 which means it was built in 58. That means it could actually be the very first one built but until I find out the FON of the one shipped in 58, I won’t know for sure-not that it really matters in terms of value. It’s just bragging rights. The 58 is a Bigsby with a stereo circuit but no Varitone. This one is a factory stop that has both the stereo circuit and a Varitone. It appears to be factory-everything is just as it should be-shielding cans on three pots, disc caps, cut center block to accommodate the choke. Aftermarket Varitones tend to have sloppy routs and almost always skip the shielding cans. I have a copy of the shipping log page for this guitar and it neither indicates stereo, Varitone or red. But the finish is absolutely a no doubt factory original finish and the logs are notoriously sketchy at times. And, while the ship date usually has little to do with the build date, the guitars logged (and supposedly shipped) the same day as this one were almost all red ES-355’s. Only two 335’s were logged that day but at least 20 ES-355’s were and a couple of 350’s and 175’s. A single EB-2 and a J-185 also went. I wonder if they were red? You can click on the log page to blow it up so you can read it.

1959GibsonES335FONrecords

All of this is speculation, of course. Someone who was in charge of the shipping records back then is probably laughing hysterically at the geeks (like me) who see these things as some kind of sacred text. But, you have to take this with a healthy dose of skepticism. They just weren’t that meticulous over at 225 Parsons Street in Kalamazoo. But let’s take a look at the guitar itself; it is interesting in a few ways. The 58 that is considered the first red 335 has gold knobs. This one has the solid black ones. The very first 355’s had gold ones but they also switched to the solid black ones fairly early on. The finish on the 59 is barely faded. It isn’t displaying the watermelon fade that almost all 58-early 60 red ES’s show. That could mean they were still fooling around with the dye formulation-the red 58 isn’t a watermelon either or it could mean the guitar didn’t see a lot of sunlight. Another interesting feature is the frets-they appear to be original but are the larger 59 style. That makes sense-it’s a 59 but most 335’s with a 58 FON and a thin top have the smaller frets. I own A30248-also a 59 with a 58 FON but it has the small frets. Go figure.

I wonder if this is a prototype for the soon to be released ES-345 SVT? I’ve seen one 58 ES-335 with a Varitone but I don’t know if it was factory as I never inspected it. The first 345’s were shipped around three weeks later. What I don’t know is when the first stereo VT ES-355’s were released. We know that all the 58’s were mono and the early 59’s were as well. The earliest 59 SVT ES-355 I’ve had is later than the “first rack” 345’s but, frankly, I haven’t had that many.

This 58 is generally considered to be the very first red dot neck. I don't know the FON but it was likely the first to leave the factory in any case.

This 58 is generally considered to be the very first red dot neck. I don’t know the FON but it was likely the first to leave the factory in any case.

Liquid Assets 335 Edition

Thursday, April 9th, 2015
Easiest ES to sell is a 64 with a Bigsby and Custom Made plate. They fall in the sweet spot price wise for many buyers, they sound great and play great and they have the bigger neck that everybody seems to want. Priced correctly, these don't last more than a week or two. Usually more like a day or two.

Easiest ES to sell is a 64 with a Bigsby and Custom Made plate. They fall in the sweet spot price wise for many buyers, they sound great and play great and they have the bigger neck that everybody seems to want. Priced correctly, these don’t last more than a week or two. Usually more like a day or two.

Over the course of years, ES-335’s from 58 to 64 have proven to be a pretty good investment. Yes, the bottom fell out in 2008 as it did in the real estate market and almost every other market but the recovery has been slow and steady and most models continue to rise. There are exceptions and there are standouts. Bear in mind, I’m not an investment counselor but I know this market so I have some street cred.

There are a couple of things to look at if you are going to convince yourself (and your wife) that the expensive vintage guitar you are looking to buy is an investment. First is, of course, how much can you expect it to appreciate over time. That’s the one nobody can really predict. That’s where the big boys tell you that “past performance is no guarantee, blah, blah, blah”. Professional ass covering is what it is but it’s true. There is no crystal ball. But there are trends, though and the trend has been a steady upward climb in prices for 335’s. That’s the safer kind of price rise. The “irrational exuberance” of 2006-2008 is not happening this time and as long as it doesn’t, the rise could continue back to 2008 levels. And it might not.  One thing I can say with some confidence is that the cream of the crop will rise faster than the player grade stuff. There is simply less of it and the demand is still fairly high for collector grade guitars from the fifties and sixties. Note that they ain’t making any more. After 50 or more years, it only makes sense that the number of collector grade guitars not already in the hands of collectors is diminishing. So, don’t look for bargains. The likelihood is that the collector grade guitars that come to market are coming from the collectors themselves.  Player grade guitars can be a good investment as well for reasons you might not expect.

That’s where liquidity comes in. Lots of players who buy guitars from me are stretching their finances to get something from the era that has some issues but is still a decent investment that will at least hold its value and perhaps appreciate ahead of inflation. The question that often arises from buyers like this is “what if I have to sell it?” Here’s a good example. You’ve got $12000 to spend and you can buy a Bigsby 64 with some further issue like Grovers on and off or maybe a wrong part or two-nothing drastic like a refinish or repair. For that same $12000, you can buy a no issue 61 ES-345 stop tail in really good shape. Not mint but, say, a 9.0. Which is the better investment? I would say the 64 for this type of buyer. First, he’s going to play it, not put it in a closet and that 9.0 condition 61 may not stay 9.0 forever. Moreover, and this is key, the 64 is way easier to sell. There are many more buyers for a well priced 64 335 than any well priced 345, even the very sellable and desirable big neck early 59. You may ultimately get more dollars for that nice 61 ES-345 but you won’t necessarily get them quickly and sometimes speed is more important than actual dollars. Another great example of this is rare one offs. I love one offs and rarities and have trouble resisting them. I’ll take any black 335 (or Pelham Blue Trini) that comes along and not worry that it might take me a year to sell it. That way I get to play it for a year. But for you as an investor? Maybe not such a great idea unless you know you’ll never have to sell it.

So, which 335’s are the easiest to sell? Red 64 ES-335’s are the easiest for sure. It doesn’t even matter what condition-there are buyers for mint ones and buyers for beaters. Bigsby/Custom Mades are less desirable than stop tails but they sell faster because they can be thousands of dollars less. Late 63 335’s too. Next, even though the price range is totally different, are 59 dot necks. 58 335’s are up there too. That leaves 60, 61, 62 and early 63’s. Great guitars-all of them and good investments too. They will rise with the market and always have buyers but simply not as many buyers as the others. The reason for this is simple. Big neck guitars sell better than slim necked ones. I’m not sure more players actually prefer them but the investor does for sure. You’ll pay a premium but you’ll also have an easier time recouping your investment should the need arise. And you can play your investment. Let’s see you play “Steppin’ Out” on an Apple stock certificate.

One offs and oddities tend to be much less liquid but often more valuable.  I love them. This is a very early red 59 with a factory Varitone. This is probably the second red dot neck made. How cool is that?

One offs and oddities tend to be much less liquid but often more valuable. I love them. This is a very early red 59 with a factory Varitone. This is probably the second red dot neck made. How cool is that?

To Scavenge or Not to Scavenge

Saturday, April 4th, 2015
I love getting a guitar with double whites especially when it wasn't disclosed. It's like an early Christmas. It also tells me that its unlikely anyone has messed with the guitar. I'lll never pull the covers but isn't it great to know they are in there.

I love getting a guitar, like this killer 59 with double whites especially when it’s a surprise (it wasn’t on this one). It’s like an early Christmas. It also tells me that its unlikely anyone has messed with the guitar. I’ll never pull the covers but isn’t it great to know they are in there.

I’m not sure what other dealers do unless they are in the parts business but I have a problem with scavenging parts from less popular models. The time will likely come when every 57-63 ES-175 that isn’t in the hands of a collector will have its PAFs removed and put into another guitar-probably an R9 Les Paul but that’s another story. This story is about when its OK to scavenge parts and when-in my opinion, of course-it isn’t. As a bushiness person, the temptation can be compelling. Somebody brings in an all original ES-175 with a pair of double whites and you know you won’t get as much for the guitar in its original state than you will if you drop in a pair of blacks and scavenge the whites to sell separately. After all, a set of nickel covered, sealed double whites can sell for $9000-maybe even more. That’s the most dramatic of the scenarios but there are plenty of others. No wire ABR-1’s seem to disappear at an alarming rate from the less expensive early models like 175’s and 330’s. The repros have gotten really convincing and the price of an original no wire is nothing to sneeze at ($700 or more). The repro will look and sound as good and probably won’t diminish the value that much. But swapping out the bridge and selling the original just doesn’t seem right sometimes.

When is it OK and when isn’t it OK? Good question-glad I asked. Again, my opinion…I’m neither moralizing nor claiming the moral high ground. I’m just telling you how it works for me. If the guitar is already compromised-busted headstock, refinish, other changed parts, then I have no problem swapping out a bridge or even pickups. All of this is disclosed to the next buyer and is reflected in the price. But to start scavenging an all original guitar-even if its one that isn’t all that popular, then I think you are doing the guitar culture a disservice. There was a time when ES-345’s and ES-355’s were treated like a 175 is treated today. I can’t tell you how many of these I’ve seen with pickups (and stop tails) swapped out. And it’s hard to tell on a 345 or 355 stereo because the pickups are soldered to the three way and not to the pots. It’s very easy to scavenge the double whites or zebras and drop in a set of blacks and make it nearly invisible. Couple that to the fact that so many are changing the stereo circuit to mono anyway so the original solder to the three way becomes irrelevant. It’s just too easy. A 50’s or early 60’s gold stop tail can sell for $1000 with a set of long studs. A 70’s stop with short studs can be found for $200. That’s a potential $800 profit for the scavenger and the next owner may not even notice. Learn the difference and ask a lot of questions and look over the guitar the day you get it. Every single part.

Scavenging parts is part of the culture and has been for quite some time but the larger lesson here is to make sure the supposedly “all original” guitar you just paid a lot of money for is just that- 100% original. A ’59 335 with a pair of black PAFs is vintage correct but if it had double whites when it came from the factory, then I don’t think 100% correct is quite the same as 100% original. I could get into the “original solder joint” debate which most agree can be a bit over the top but at the kind of prices some of these guitars are commanding, I have no problem with checking the solder for any buyer who needs to know. In fact, the only way to know with any certainty whether your PAFs have ever been rewound is to buy the guitar that has pickups that are still sealed with their original solder both on the cover and on the pot or three way. Why both? Well if you want to be 100% certain, the solder on the covers isn’t enough. A talented tech can resolder totally convincingly as long as the covers aren’t bent (that’s an easy give away). If I’m paying $20,000 or more for a vintage 335, I want to know everything I can and just because scavenging is common doesn’t mean I accept it as OK. As I’ve said before fully 90% of the guitars I buy from individuals have some undisclosed issue. Sometimes as simple as a changed knob but sometimes as drastic as a changed harness. That’s why I keep a big stash of parts. Vintage correct isn’t the same as “all original” but it’s a lot better than repro this and later year that.

 

Mods to Rockers

Saturday, March 14th, 2015
Good mods and bad mods. An added stop tail when properly placed (by someone else) can be a good mod. On a 355 or a 65 and later trap tail, it can make the guitar more desirable and somewhat less expensive.

Good mods and bad mods. An added stop tail when properly placed (by someone else) can be a good mod. On a 355 or a 65 and later trap tail, it can make the guitar more desirable and somewhat less expensive.

Not those mods, with their fancy Carnaby St. clothes and their scooters. Nope, I’m talking mods to vintage guitars that kill the value for the collectors but make them affordable for the players. This is about the modifications that make a valuable vintage guitar less valuable and don’t affect the tone or the playability. The kind of mods this rocker likes.

Stop tail conversions done by someone else are always welcome but you don’t want to do it yourself because it diminishes the value. On the other hand, it sometimes makes for a better player. The big problem is that they are so frequently put in the wrong place. Your idiot brother-in-law who is real good with a drill press but knows nothing about guitars puts the stop where the trapeze cross piece was and thinks its right. Nothing bugs me more than a stop that’s a mile off (that means yours Larry Carlton). It will still play just fine but it looks way wrong. A stop tail conversion on a 65-68 will knock off $1000 or more and you won’t care a bit.

Grovers. Not Schallers. Both are perfectly good tuners and both are better tuners, if you ask me, than Klusons. That’s why so many players made the switch back in the day. They simply work better even if they are heavier. But the Schallers usually have that offset screw that requires an extra hole for each tuner. Not good for the value. Most Grovers can use one of the Kluson holes, so no new holes. Both require enlarged shaft holes but that’s invisible. The other reason I don’t like Schallers on vintage 335’s is because they look too ’70’s. They just don’t seem to belong on a 50’s or 60’s guitar. Grovers are at least correct for the era and they work real well. A tuner conversion can mean savings of perhaps $1000 on a mid 60’s but as much as $5000 (maybe more in some cases) on a dot neck.

Then there are the refinished ones. Refins, especially well done ones, will save you a boatload of dough and won’t affect the tone and playability one iota (what is an iota, anyway). The idea that a refin knocks off half the value-the same as a busted headstock-seems a little nutty to me. Especially now that so many of the Les Paul aficionados are sending their factory finished R9’s to Kim at Historic Makeovers for a pricey, better-than-Gibson refin. Who’da thunk. When HM starts offering busted headstocks as an upgrade, then I’ll freak out but in the meantime, I’ll go on about what a great deal a refin can be. Granted, there aren’t that many people who can do a really convincing dot neck style sunburst, but you see them on occasion, so they are out there. Also blondes and blacks. You know you can’t afford a blonde dot neck or find a factory black one but you might find a refin for a price that doesn’t require a mortgage and, if you’re a player, will look very cool on stage and not require an armed guard between sets. I’m not going to get into the nitro/poly thing. I don’t know if poly affects the tone or not but I suggest you look for a refin that was done in the correct nitro lacquer. It just looks better and is much more authentic.

Patched holes from mini switches, coil taps and other 70’s forays into stupid are another mod that will keep the green in your wallet. The range of competence with which they are repaired runs a gamut but a well patched extra hole or two will save you thousands. Your guitar won’t appreciate like a collector grade guitar will but it should hold its value and serve you well as a player. And besides, you can’t really see that patch from more than five feet away anyway.

I generally stay away from busted necks or headstocks. Some, like the “smile cracks” can be totally stable and will save you major bucks. But I suggest you play it before you buy it. Some headstock breaks are trouble and I can’t tell you which ones because it could be any of them. A splined repair usually means the break was major and while they can be perfectly stable, I’d still be wary.

This refinished 62 dot neck is in my top five ES's. Not my favorite color but my oh my did this baby sing. A smart buyer saved himself about ten large over an original finish.

This refinished 62 dot neck is in my top five ES’s. Not my favorite color but my oh my did this baby sing. A smart buyer saved himself about ten large over an original finish.

 

Day Traders

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015
Fastest selling 345 on the planet is a "first rack" '59 ES-345. These don't last a week when I get them. Sometimes not even an hour.

Fastest selling 345 on the planet is a “first rack” ’59 ES-345. These don’t last a week when I get them. Sometimes not even an hour.

I received an email from a reader who likened the buying and selling of vintage guitars-specifically my guitars-to day trading. He mentioned that they seem to sell very quickly on a “last in-first out” basis. That can be true but to liken the guitar business to day trading is a little off the mark, I think. From a business perspective, you can look at guitar buying and selling from a few diverging viewpoints.

If you’re a player and you want a tool for your playing, you will likely be less concerned about whether you get your money out of the guitar many years down the road. Your emphasis is on playability and tone-not investment potential, although they aren’t mutually exclusive. That’s why “player grade” guitars are such a large part of the guitar business. Unfortunately, player grade has often come to mean beat up and modified (regardless of how it plays) as opposed to a great playing, great sounding guitar that isn’t collector clean or 100% original. I, unfortunately, don’t control the vast nomenclature of the guitar universe. If I did, the term “sustains for days” would not exist. Frequently, a “player grade” guitar will sell very quickly as it affords a newcomer to vintage or someone who just doesn’t have the resources for a “collector grade” guitar access to these great old instruments. It is not unusual for a 60’s ES model to sell for a figure that approaches the reissue Gibsons. Granted, you won’t see dot necks in that neighborhood but I’ve seen plenty of Bigsby 345’s – even some from 64 or earlier-that will cost you about what you’ll pay for a new high end 335. You can argue which one is better among yourselves. I like some of the new ones but it isn’t my field of expertise nor is it my market. Player grade guitars aren’t particularly good investments from a growth standpoint but they are very liquid. I can sell a player grade 64 much faster than I can sell a near mint dot neck. Bigger market by a mile and less hassle too. The cleaner and more original a guitar is, the more scrutiny it requires to make a sale and to make the buyer happy. That’s fine but it will slow down the process.

So, what made my reader make the day trader comment? I think it is due to the fact that some guitars show up on my site and are gone in a day or less. There are two very good reasons for that. One is that I keep a list of buyers who are looking for a specific year and model. They are notified-usually even before I have the guitar in hand-that the guitar they seek is coming in. Usually, those buyers see the photos and description at the same time as everyone else-when I post the guitar for sale. That’s just fairness. Often, the guitar is gone in five minutes and it looks a lot like day trading. I never, ever engage clients in a bidding war. If I list a guitar at $15000 and someone makes me an offer of $14000 and I accept it, the deal is done. If buyer number two the offers $16000, it’s too late. If buyer number one commits and then can’t pay, that’s another story. One note-most guitars show up first on Gbase and occasionally on Twitter if I remember to post them. If there is a particular year you are after, let me know and I’ll try to remember to give you a heads up when it is on my radar. I do occasionally have a guitar that is sold before I even get it in my hands. But then I post it as a hold or sold right away. That probably looks a lot like day trading. There are also guitars that I buy specifically for a particular buyer . Those never make the listings.

At the risk of tooting my horn, which I am generally loathe to do, I price my guitars to sell. If you do a search of a particular model and year 335/345/355, you will find, more often than not, that I have the lowest price apples to apples. The philosophy here is not so much magnanimity but practicality. I’d rather make a small profit on five guitars and have five very happy customers who feel they got a good deal, than have one customer who paid top dollar or more  (after I perhaps sat on the guitar for a year or more waiting for that one buyer at that high price) who may or may not be happy with the price. It seems to work and it allows me to acquire more guitars and serve more clients. I suppose I could make the same profit buying one or two bursts a year and selling them at stupid high prices. It wouldn’t be much fun and wouldn’t keep me that busy. Then I would have to fix stuff around the house that my wife points out on a regular basis (I live in a 300 year old house). “Sorry, dear, I’ve got to go to the shop and sell some guitars…”

Mono 355's don't hang around long either

Mono 355’s don’t hang around long either

The biggest, fastest seller of all-a red 64 "player grade". These are often gone before I get them.

The biggest, fastest seller of all-a red 64 “player grade”. These are often gone before I get them. This one might be a little above a player grade but you get the idea.