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Archive for the ‘ES 335’ Category

No Rules

Saturday, January 30th, 2016
Very unusual 66 ES-345. Look at those ears...M-I-C-K-E-Y you know the rest. Stranger things have come along but not many.

Very unusual 66 ES-345. Look at those ears…M-I-C-K-E-Y you know the rest. Stranger things have come along but not many.

I write frequently about how to identify the various years and models of ES guitars and, mostly, they follow a pretty predictable set of rules. Except when they don’t. Just when you think you’ve got it nailed down, something comes along and you say to yourself…”see, anything is possible at Gibson in the 60’s…” And, by and large, it is. I’ve written about a number of oddballs over the years.

Recently, I bought a 66 ES-345. It’s the third one I’ve seen with Mickey Mouse ear cutaways. Those were gone by mid 63, so the idea that they were left over bodies is remote. But there they are. I’ve seen some kind of rounded, almost MM ear 66’s and with the hand work that went on, I suppose some variation is likely but this one is dead on. OK, big deal, I wrote up the first one a couple of years ago. Everything else about that one was typical 66. The neck was 1 9/16″ at the nut and the depth was a pretty typical .80″ or so at the first fret. Not this one. First off, the nut is 1 5/8″. Not unusual on a 65 but not usual at all on a 66. Being a fairly low volume model, the neck could have been left over from 65. But then there are the other measurements. This one is .87″ at the first fret and a whopping 1.02″ at the 12th. That’s 58-59 territory. Not even the 64’s reach .87″. Custom order? Maybe but there was no “Custom” truss rod cover which is pretty consistent on custom orders. Employee guitar? I have been told by a Gibson employee from the 60’s that the employee guitars had to have “2” stamps (even if they weren’t “seconds”). Somehow, that neck is outside the “normal variation” bell curve that 60’s ES’s seem to exhibit. An outlier, if you will.

That’s one of the things that is so much fun about 60’s Gibsons (I still say “so much fun” rather than “so fun”-that still sounds wrong to me) is that there are these rule breaker guitars. When I buy a guitar sight unseen from an individual, it’s still an adventure (or a crapshoot depending on your attitude)-even after many hundreds of them. It still feels a little like Christmas morning when I open a guitar box-especially one bought from Ebay or Craigslist. Mostly, the surprises are not so good-changed harnesses, wrong bridges, changed pickups and on and on. When the widow or the family is selling the guitar, it really isn’t fair to ask them to start taking the guitar apart. You look at the two or three photos they provide and hope for the best. Sometimes you get a bad surprise, sometimes you get a good surprise. It would be nice to say that the good surprises outnumber the bad ones but they don’t. That’s simply part of being in this business. But, to be truthful, the good surprises usually outweigh the bad ones. Getting a set of double white PAFs in a 61 when you didn’t even ask if the guitar had PAFs is a good surprise. Getting a 76 harness in a 59 dot neck is not. And, really, you can’t point a finger at the widow of the original owner and say “you didn’t disclose this…” There are no returns in these cases. You simply make the best of it and hope you get it back to being correct and playable.

The point here is not so much that Gibson was full of surprises back in the day. They weren’t. Most of the guitars I get follow the timeline pretty well. But then there are some that don’t and sometimes they don’t in a wonderful way. It’s often a big gamble when you’re spending thousands of dollars on a guitar that you’ve seen perhaps 6 photos of and have no hope of recourse from the 86 year old seller. But, in this case,the Mickey Mouse ears were right there for everyone to see. So how come I was the only one interested? Well, it’s that crapshoot thing again. And besides, that’s why I’m here.

Speaking of unusual, my friend Richie just bought this very rare and very cool 64 Bigsby only. These are are rare to begin with but this one has ears that don't match. How cool is that?

Speaking of unusual, my friend Richie just bought this very rare and very cool 64 Bigsby only. These are are rare to begin with but this one has ears that don’t match. How many martinis did you have for lunch?

 

Market Wrap 2015, Part 1

Monday, January 4th, 2016
Bigsby 345's had a tough year. That makes them the great bargain going forward. PAF guitars for under $10K WooHoo.

Bigsby 345’s had a tough year. That makes them the great bargain going forward. PAF guitars for under $10K WooHoo.

Well, the doom sayers have it wrong again. There are folks who predict the vintage market will fall apart any minute because the only people buying vintage guitars are really old (like 50 or, gasp, even 60). 2015 was a very strong year for sales over all and, for some models and years, approaching 2007-2008 in values. While the doom sayers are largely correct about who buys the guitars, the market for younger buyers is expanding all the time. I get twenty somethings in my shop all the time and they love the old stuff. Even if they can’t afford it today, my feeling is that they’ll be back as soon as they can afford it. The older Gen Xer’s have already started buying the high end stuff and that bodes well for the market going forward. So what sold in 2015 and what didn’t?

Blondes were hot. It’s gotten so hard to find them that when a good one comes up in the market, everyone takes notice. I’ve heard predictions of the $100,000 ES-335 being imminent (in fact there is a 59 on the market for that price but it hasn’t sold). I know of a 59 that sold for $95000 this year as well. The blonde 59 ES-355 that emerged earlier in the year changed hands for some serious money as well, although I don’t know the exact amount. Rumor has it that it was in the $90K range but that’s rumor. As far as I know, no blonde 345’s emerged this year at all-there are only 50 of them.

In a recent post on the Les Paul Forum about a certain black 59 ES-345 (that happens to be mine), Joe Bonamassa made the prophetic statement that “black is the new blonde”. And perhaps he is right. Three black 345’s have emerged recently. One is a late 59 or early 60 Bigsby, the other two are “first rack” ’59 stop tails. One has an added Bigsby, the other is stop tail only. There are so few of these its really hard to put a price on them. Big price aside, everybody seems to love a black ES probably thanks to the black 59 ES-355 played by a certain Mr. Richards. It is a market phenomenon that when the prices get high enough, the rare stuff comes out from under the bed.

Speaking of 345’s, this was not their year. 59’s, especially early ones (black VT ring, big neck) have been strong and other 59’s have been stable but later ones have really languished. Bigsby 345’s from 1960 and later are, at least for now, dead. I’m sure they will come back but these guitars were well into the $12K range not long ago and now I’m seeing them for $8000 and even less. The big dealers are Ebay sellers are still holding out hope that they can get $15K for a Bigsby and $20K for a stop tail but that’s wishful thinking unless the guitar is dead mint. I sold a 9.0 stop tail no issue (converted to mono) 1961 for $10,500 and it took me a year to sell.  That makes them the bargain going forward. These are great guitars and are a deal and then some under $10K considering what the new stuff is going for.

355 Monos had a great year. I can’t keep them around-especially 59’s. They are wonderful guitars and have crept up in value all year. A really clean mono 355 has certainly hit the $20K mark (and lots of the 59-61’s have double white PAFs). 355 stereos are stronger than 345’s but they haven’t got the “easy sell” liquidity of a mono. They also don’t have the big price. These, like the Bigsby 345’s are a great deal in ES’s right now. Liquidity is important. A valuable guitar isn’t all that valuable if it’s time to sell and there’s no market for it. Tried to sell a big archtop lately? Big numbers, no buyers.

This is getting long so we’ll split it into two parts. Next, we’ll look back at 2015 for 335’s. Dots were hot. Blocks, not so much.

Joe Bonamassa says "black is the new blonde" and I think he might be on to something. Watch black guitars in 2016. They will be smoking' hot.

Joe Bonamassa says “black is the new blonde” and I think he might be on to something. Watch black guitars in 2016. They will be smokin’ hot.

Well Red

Thursday, December 17th, 2015
I found this early 60 ES-335 in red earlier this year but couldn't convince the owner to sell it. So I kept up the search

I found this early 60 ES-335 in red earlier this year but couldn’t convince the owner to sell it. So I kept up the search

Many of the rare ES model guitars that I write about are one offs or customs but there are production models that can be extremely rare as well. Blonde 345’s are a good example. The total number for 1959 and 1960 is just 50 units and they have sold for some really big bucks (over $80,000 or so I’m led to believe). I’ve had three of them and haven’t quite hit that number.  I’ve said more than once that rarity doesn’t  translate to value in many, many cases. Look at Byrdlands and other really low volume models. They just don’t command the big bucks that you would expect that kind of rarity to generate.

I just acquired a 1960 ES-335 in red. It doesn’t occur to many ES players and aficionados that a red 60 would be particularly rare. Red dot necks aren’t particularly rare-there are hundreds of them, right? Yes. But almost all of them are 61’s or early 62’s. Red wasn’t officially a 335 color until 1960, although one 1958 red 335 exists and perhaps 6 59’s have surfaced (I’ve had two). But what about a 1960 in red? Rare. Rarer than any other production 335. Rarer than a 58, 59 or 60 blonde 335.  Not as rare as a black one but black was a special order color, not a regular production color.

Why would you want a 60 in red over the much more common 61? After all, they made 420 of those and an average 61 can be acquired for around $20,000.  A near mint example will cost a few thousand more but the average price for a 61 is the same for red and sunburst and a lot less than a 60. They made about the same number of each. So, what’s the deal on a 60? Why would it command a premium over the much more common 61? What is different about it?

1960 was a pretty transitional year. The necks started out pretty big but became really slim (still wide) by the year end. The amber catalan switch tip disappeared at the end of the year as did the very desirable long pick guard. While red 335’s are über rare in 60, there were plenty of red 345’s and 355’s and most of them had that wonderful red that fades away over the years to a watermelon reddish pink or even orange. That also went away by the end of the year although a few 355’s with that finish lingered into 61. Single ring Klusons gave way to double rings and bonnet knobs were replaced by reflectors. In fact, an early 60 ES-335 is pretty much the same as a late 59. And a very late 60 is a whole lot like an early 61. So, here’s the point. If you want a watermelon red dot neck with a long guard and amber switch tip, you have a tough search. If you add together all of the red dot necks that ever existed with this color and configuration you would come up with around 28. If you want a big neck with that, you might find perhaps a dozen if you look long and hard enough.

I spent nearly ten years searching for a red 59 dot neck stop tail. I finally found a Bigsby version that had once had Schallers. Then I found a stop tail in Paris but it had a Varitone. I bought and sold both of them. Now, I’ve found a stop tail red 60 and managed to buy this one. It is almost the holy grail. If the neck was 4/100ths of an inch bigger, I’d be keeping it.

Later 60 but still a long guard, watermelon red and still stupid rare. Serial number is actually the FON on this one. Gibson did this for a short period in 1960.

Later 60 but still a long guard, watermelon red and still stupid rare. Serial number is actually the FON on this one. Gibson did this for a short period in 1960.

 

 

 

Learn Something New

Saturday, November 21st, 2015
I've never seen a  blonde 68  335 with a maple neck. I've seen 69 ES-340's like this but this is new to me. Plenty of 68 features that don't exist on the later ones. The custom made plate isn't factory.

I’ve never seen a blonde 68 335 with a maple neck. I’ve seen 69 ES-340’s like this but this is new to me. Plenty of 68 features that don’t exist on the later ones. The custom made plate isn’t factory and I took off the witch hat knobs (because they’re ugly).

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know everything about these guitars. I am frequently surprised by the evolution (and long downhill slide) of these guitars. The guitar pictured above is a somewhat modified ES-335 from 1968. I’ve never seen one quite like this. There are ES-340’s that were brought to market in 1969 that had birch plywood bodies and maple necks. They can be very attractive and are decent guitars even if the circuit is a little wacky. What I didn’t know is that there were ES-335’s released in 1968 that had the same birch bodies and the same multi piece maple necks. Birch is pretty similar looking to maple. The grain is a bit more assertive and there is generally no figuring beyond the grain. It makes for a pretty attractive blonde guitar.

When I saw this guitar (which I now own), I just assumed it was a 69 ES-340 that had been erroneously given a 335 sticker (and that it was a 69). I had seen a 340 with a 335 label before and figured this was just another. Except that the owner had the original sales receipt and it was dated July 1968. That’s proof enough that 68 birch 335’s with maple necks exist. This one also has the dot in the “i” in the Gibson logo which most, if not all ES-340’s are missing unless they have the later “pantograph” logo. It also has the factory hang tag that states that it is a 335TDN with the word “birch” following the model name. If I’m recalling correctly, the first mention of a birch guitar is in the 1969 catalog and it’s only the ES-340 that gets the birch mention. It’s also interesting that my usual sources for Gibson serial numbers don’t show 980xxx anywhere. We know by the sales receipt that it can’t be later than mid 68. So what is this? Prototype?

I don’t think this is a special order but it may be a prototype or the very first run of guitars in this birch body/maple neck configuration. I had a  ES-330 like this but it was a 69 but at least that shows that guitars other than 340’s got this neck and body. It’s not that unusual that there is no mention in the 68 catalog since Gibson made mid year changes pretty frequently and they would simply show up in the following year’s catalog. But the 69 and 70 catalogs show that the 335 was offered in sunburst, cherry and walnut. No blonde. The ES-340 is shown in blonde and offered in walnut. Gibson certainly could have been experimenting with the new materials and later selling them. The fact that they came out with the 340 in the next year hints at that. It’s also relevant that ES-340’s in blonde, while not plentiful, are far from rare. You can usually find two or three at any time on Ebay. I checked all the 69 340’s out there (maybe 5 or 6 right now) and none have the dotted “i” in the Gibson logo.  I have looked at a few and none had the long tenon that this one has (although I haven’t looked at many that closely).

It’s unfortunate that so many mods were made to this guitar. The only one that is irreversible is that some nitwit added a stop tail (which is fine) but put it way too low. He must have had the same luthier as Larry Carlton.

There it is in stunning black and white. 68 ES-335TDN. And not even late 68. I don't know how long it took for guitars to get from Kalamazoo to Brooklyn but I'm guessing this guitar was made weeks or even months earlier. Sold it pretty cheap too. I remember (I'm really old) 335's being closer to $400 by then. I know, I couldn't afford one.

There it is in stunning black and white. 68 ES-335TDN. And not even late 68. I don’t know how long it took for guitars to get from Kalamazoo to Brooklyn but I’m guessing this guitar was made weeks or even months earlier. Sold it pretty cheap too. I remember (I’m really old) 335’s being closer to $400 by then. I know, I couldn’t afford one.

I’ll Have Mine Rare, Please.

Sunday, November 8th, 2015
This is a one off '63 ES-355 with Venetian cutaways. Even if it wasn't heavily modded, I don't think this guitar would command a serious premium over a stock 355. Nobody is thinking "...gee, I wish they had made these with pointy cutaways like a Barney Kessel.

This is a one off ’63 ES-355 with Venetian cutaways. Even if it wasn’t heavily modded, I don’t think this guitar would command a serious premium over a stock 355. Nobody is thinking “…gee, I wish they had made these with pointy cutaways like a Barney Kessel.

The vintage guitar market is a strange place (have I mentioned this before?). I can have a one of a kind or “one off” and nobody will care if it isn’t a popular model. I posted a photo of a heavily modded but probably unique ES-355 with pointy (Florentine) cutaways like a Barney Kessel. I was asked by the owner what I thought it was worth and I really couldn’t say because I have no basis for comparison and I didn’t really think anyone would be that interested in it. This is partly due to the mods but also partly due to the oddity of it (it looks a little strange to my eye).  I recently bought a blonde 61 Byrdland. they made only 20 of them which makes it rarer than a 58 blonde dot neck by a lot (there are 50 of them). But Byrdlands aren’t all that popular so there isn’t much added value for a rare blonde one. There just aren’t enough buyers.

So when does rare actually matter? When the non rare version of a guitar is popular, generally the rarer version of it is worth more. Sometimes a lot more. Blonde 335’s are worth double what a sunburst is worth. There are perhaps four times as many sunbursts as blondes from 58-60. Blonde 345’s are so rare that they are valued at as much as 5 times what a sunburst 345 is worth. It’s actually very hard to put a value on them because they come up for sale so infrequently. I know of stop tail blonde 59 ES-345’s that have sold from $45K to reputedly more than $80K.  There’s a black ES-345 for sale at over $90K. I’m not sure the seller will get it for a Bigsby 59 in black but you never know if some rock star or Wall Street master of the universe might just really, really want one. Of course on sold on Ebay for $22K recently, so I’m thinking $90K might be a little ambitious. But it will certainly command a premium over a sunburst-no doubt about it. There are plenty of folks out there who can afford these guitars. Whether they will pay that kind of premium is hard to predict.

Today, I bought a very rare guitar. It is the only stop tail mono 1959 ES-355 that I know of. There certainly could be another out there – I know there’s a 63, a 61 and two 60’s. I had a stereo 59 stop tail not long ago but I always felt that a mono 59 stop was a holy grail guitar. Is this one of the rare ones that commands a premium? I can tell you this-every mono 59 Bigsby 59 ES-355 I get goes out the door in a matter of days. They are very desirable and not easy to come by. So, what is a mono 1959 355 stop tail worth? Well, the premium of mono over stereo is around 30%. The premium for a stop over a Bigsby for a 335 is around 20% but stop tail 335s are common. I think double the value of a mono Bigsby 59 is pretty close. Add in a premium for double white sealed PAFs and what you get is a very valuable guitar. Recently,  a blonde 59 ES-355 surfaced and was offered to me.  It was a stereo Bigsby version and it supposedly sold to a well known collector for more than a blonde 335 would go for.  And why not. It’s not like they made very many of them. I know of two from 59.  I didn’t sell it so I really don’t know how much it sold for. I do know what the asking price was and it was way up there.

The larger point is that popularity trumps rarity every time. If I had a 59 Les Paul Burst that someone had special ordered with a double cutaway, I don’t think the world would be beating down my door with offers well in excess of the usual 59 Les Paul. Just because it’s rare (or unique), that doesn’t make it more desirable than the one everybody wants. But if it’s a popular model and the custom elements don’t make it into a “different” guitar (like the Florentine 355), then you could be looking at a serious premium.

Conversely to the top photo-plenty of folks have wondered why Gibson didn't make stop tail 355's. The Gibson logbook shows at least four stop tail 355's in 1959 but it doesn't differentiate between  mono and stereo. I've owned one of the stereos and now I have what could be the only stop tail mono 59.

Conversely to the top photo-plenty of folks have wondered why Gibson didn’t make stop tail 355’s. The Gibson logbook shows at least four stop tail 355’s in 1959 but it doesn’t differentiate between mono and stereo. I’ve owned one of the stereos and now I have what could be the only stop tail mono 59.

 

How Much is That Doggie?

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015
This ES-335 59 reissue is listed on Ebay for around $6500. It looks a lot like a real 59 (except the pickup cover are still wrong). That's a lot for a new guitar. I'm sure a fair number of man hours goes into them but still, I imagine Gibson is making a few bucks on these.

This ES-335 59 reissue is listed on Ebay for around $6500. It looks a lot like a real 59 (except the pickup covers are still wrong). That’s a lot for a new guitar. I’m sure a fair number of man hours goes into them but still, I imagine Gibson is making a few bucks on these.

I don’t pay enough attention to new Gibson 335’s. I get a lot of questions about them and I see a few but I must be out of the loop a little bit. I just got a catalog from one of the very large musical instrument sellers and was sticker shocked by the current price levels of the top of the 335 line-the 59 dot neck reissue from Memphis. This particular seller wants $6199 (and up!).  Is it me or does that seem like a lot for a new 335? Granted, a real 59 will cost you at least $18000 and up to over $40,000 but here’s the rub…like a new car, the moment you take your brand spankin’ new 59 dot reissue out of the showroom, the value will drop by at least 30%. So, make sure you really like it before you walk out the door with it. With a vintage guitar, assuming you buy it from a reputable seller who is giving you exactly what you are paying for, it’s going to be worth at least what you paid for it for more than the 3 minutes it takes you to walk out the front door of the store. Maybe even more over time.

I have a policy of taking back any vintage guitar I sell for full value if you decide to trade up within a year but even without this kind of assurance, you aren’t likely to lose money any time soon on a vintage 335. Yes, the bottom fell out in 2008 after the bubble burst but if you look at how 335’s have come back since then, you might be reassured that the same thing isn’t imminent. 2008 was a true bubble and even without the Wall Street masters of the universe collectively trashing the economy, the bubble was bound to burst. Interestingly, 335’s didn’t get hit all that hard (nor did bursts). The Jrs and Specials and Strats still haven’t recovered but Teles are doing well and SG’s have recovered a good bit as well. A sane recovery is a good sign that these strong performers might still be a good investment. At the very least, they will likely hold their value in the near term. I’m betting my livelihood on it, so you can take some reassurance from that. So, given that a new 335 will cost you up to $6199, what are the vintage alternatives?

Well, there are loads of them. I’ve found big neck 65’s with some minor issues for around $6500 and if you can handle the smaller nut width, you can get a pretty close to mint 68 for less than that. 68’s don’t get as much respect as they deserve sometimes. The build quality is generally quite good and the neck can be pretty hefty. You just have to be able to deal with the narrow 1 9/16″ nut. And don’t dismiss the narrower nut out of hand. I’ve never liked it but after about a half hour of playing, I barely notice. There is some misinformation out there about the nut width on the 68’s. A well known and much loved vintage guitar site states that:  “Neck size increases back to 1 11/16″ with a decently size back shape. ” It doesn’t. The back shape gets pretty big but the nut is still 1 9/16″. There are plenty of other choices in the price range that will make you a happy player.

I found a 61 dot neck with a nasty neck break for $6500. It was ugly but it played great. I found a refinished 62 for around the same price (no not that great sounding dot neck 62 that was candy apple red-that was more). There are excellent early to mid 70’s 335’s out there for way less than a new Gibson but-like a new Gibson-make sure you play it before you buy it. The 70’s 335’s can be really awful. They can also be quite good. Still has the narrow nut but so does a $30,000 Stratocaster. The 81-85 335 dot reissues are generally pretty good with some minor mods to improve tone. They’ve always played well, they just need some minor work to sound their best. Read this if you want to know more. Bottom line is that you can get a really great player for less than a new reissue. I knew that day would come eventually but it seems to have come sooner than I expected.

So, I’m not saying a $6000+ Gibson ES-335 59 reissue isn’t worth $6000+. I’m just saying that you could spend the same $6000 and get pretty close to what you are trying to emulate with that $6000 reissue. And, to be fair, there are much less expensive new 335’s and I’ve been pretty impressed with some of them (Warren Haynes 61 and Rusty Anderson 59). So, there are further options. When I get a chance to play the $6199 one, I’ll let you know what I think. If the nice folks at Gibson would like to send me one to test drive, I’ll be happy to give my impressions.

I recently sold this near mint 68 ES-335 for $5500. It had been re-fretted and the binding were a little beat up but otherwise it was really clean. What would I rather have? A new 59 reissue for $6500 or a vintage 68 and $1000 in my pocket. Hmmm.

I recently sold this near mint 68 ES-335 for $5500. It had been re-fretted and the binding were a little beat up but otherwise it was really clean. What would I rather have? A new 59 reissue for $6500 or a vintage 68 and $1000 in my pocket. Hmmm.

Take Off a Buck

Monday, October 26th, 2015

 

This near mint 59 335 had been re-fretted probably because it originally had small frets. It still was a top dollar guitar. And yes, the nickel is a little tarnished on the neck pickup cover. Take off a buck.

This near mint 59 335 had been re-fretted probably because it originally had small frets. It still was a top dollar guitar. And yes, the nickel is a little tarnished on the neck pickup cover. Take off a buck.

There are a lot of things that can be done to a vintage guitar that can trash the collector value. You could start by drilling holes. Holes are the value killer. Schaller holes can knock as much as $10,000 of the value of a guitar although $3000-$4000 is more typical. Bigsby holes are even worse. Coil tap holes are worth thousands each even if they are well filled. I don’t make the rules but, in general, anything that is permanent is big trouble. But there are some exceptions.

Bear in mind that these are my opinions-I don’t make the rules but I have to come up with values for all the guitars I buy and sell and I’m still in business so I must be doing something right. The title is my usual response when somebody complains that there is something wrong with a guitar that just doesn’t make much difference. Let’s say I have a near mint 335 from 59 that has had a saddle or two changed. Take off a buck. The sad reality is that any guitar with a no wire bridge is almost certain to lose a saddle or two over 50 plus years. And the fact that original saddles aren’t that hard to find makes it into a kind of non issue. I’m sure you don’t expect original strings after 50 years, so lower those expectations a little and be aware of the stuff that happens over multiple decades.

For example, tuner tips shrivel up and fall off. If I’m selling any 59 with Klusons, it’s bound to need a set of repro tips. It’s nice to get an original unshrunken set but it’s not likely and the value isn’t going to be affected very much because everybody expects it. And therein lies the key to the “take off a buck” issues.

If everybody expects certain aspects of an instrument to change over time, then it’s really not that much of an issue. Checking in the finish is like that. The likelihood that a 50 plus year old guitar is going to have no finish checking at all is pretty slim. An unchecked guitar might command a premium but a checked guitar doesn’t generally get it’s value lowered just because of checking. Again, everybody expects it. Re-frets are not quite in the same league but I think that any guitar that’s been played can be expected to have a re-fret and I don’t think it does much to the value as long as its done well. Again, a mint guitar with a re-fret might raise an eyebrow but the truth is that many of these guitars are incredibly well cared for even if they are played every day for 50 years. Especially one owner guitars owned by non professionals.

Original solder. This became a big deal when vintage guitars started getting really pricey. I think it was meant to be more of an indicator that your pickups hadn’t been messed with but it turned into a thing. I get asked it all the time-“are the solder joints all original?” The answer is usually yes on ES models because nobody likes to mess with the harnesses on the early ones but sometimes you just can’t tell. I’ve resoldered a bad joint using the original solder and if I’m careful, I don’t think you could tell. What I think is really going on is that buyers want some assurance that the pickups have never been out of the guitar and that they have never been re-wound. I get that and it’s important. But if the ground wire got knocked off and somebody resoldered it? Take off a buck.

Finally, worn hardware. Especially on gold hardware guitars like 345’s and 355’s. And tarnish on the nickel ones. There is so little gold on those tailpieces and pickup covers that most of them were worn by year two. Don’t expect to find perfect gold plating on a vintage guitar. I’ve seen some but it usually means that either the guitar wasn’t played which can present its own set of problems or it means they were replated. A little wear on the gold is pretty much inevitable and I don’t deduct much value although I might add some value in the rare instance that the gold is perfect. I wouldn’t know because I’ve never seen it.

This 60 is as close to mint as it gets and there is still some wear on the pickups covers. Not much but feel free to knock off a buck-aaah what the heck, take off a buck for each one.

This 60 345 is as close to mint as it gets and there is still some wear on the pickups covers. Not much but feel free to knock off a buck-aaah what the heck, take off a buck for each one.

Pet Peeves Ebay Edition

Wednesday, September 9th, 2015
How do I know that this is a 65 and not a 66,67, 68. Lots of ways leaving zero doubt even without seeing the serial number. Read on.

How do I know that this is a 65 and not a 66,67, 68. Lots of ways leaving zero doubt even without seeing the serial number. Read on.

Apparently I missed that day in class when everybody else learned that if you have a Gibson ES model built between 1965 and 1969 and the serial number on it is used over and over again, the guitar is always from the earliest possible year. If the guidebook shows a number was used in 65, 67 and 69, then the guitar is automatically a 65. It doesn’t matter that it has witch hat knobs (started in late 66) or big f-holes (68) or the more rounded cutaway horns (also 68). Dammit, it’s a 65 ‘cuz it’s this serial number and it says 65 right here in the official blue book. And it’s official-says it right there in the title. Really. That’s what I hear if I try to correct anyone (so I don’t). How about “were you there at the factory to see that no low inlay 335’s left Gibson in 65?”  I’m surprised no one has said “vas you dere, Charlie?” OK, not even I’m old enough to remember radio comedian Jack Pearl’s Baron Munchausen character but you get my point. I wasn’t there but when you see a few hundred 65-68’s and they all show certain characteristics, it becomes pretty easy to tell them apart. I don’t expect every seller to be an expert but I do expect that if you don’t know with any certainty what year the guitar you’re selling was made, then say what it says in the book. It’s either a 65, 66 , 68 or whatever. I know, the value of a 65 is higher but insisting it’s a 65 when perhaps it isn’t makes you dishonest. I’ve had more than a few trade offers and sale offers presented to me as an earlier year and when I tell the seller/trader that his 65 is really a 69 (sorry, where’s the neck tenon?), they always say the same thing…”the guy (or dealer) I bought it from said…”

You really only need to know a few things. Inlay position-high in 65 and most of 66. Low in late 66 and later. Pick guard-wide bevel 65-66. Narrow 67 and later. F-holes-little 65-67. Big 68 and later. Knobs-Reflectors 65-late 66. Witch hats late 66 until 81. Pointy cutaways-late 63 until 67. We could talk about the pickups but if they are sealed, you can’t tell much. OK, let’s talk about them anyway.

The conventional wisdom is that T-tops started showing up in 1965, so everybody (so it seems) with a patent stickers T-top says its a 65. I’ve uncovered about a zillion pickups in 335’s and I’ve never (and I mean never) seen a T-top in a 65. In fact the last few 68’s I’ve gotten that have had open covers have had pre T-tops. I’ve seen t-tops in late 66 and later 335’s but, in general, they don’t become all that common until 68. The general assumption is that if the bobbin screws are slotted, it’s a t-top but that’s pretty accurate, although not 100%. It’s the other side of that theory that causes trouble-the idea that if the screws are Phillips, then it’s a pre t-top. Not true. Plenty of t-tops have Phillips screws. It’s simple, really. Unless you don’t know the year of the guitar the pickup came out of, don’t designate a year. I defy anyone to tell a 68 t-top from a later (stickered) one.

PAF’s aren’t immune from “date creep” either. Every covered PAF seems to have come from a 59. When uncovered, every long magnet PAF seems to have come from a 59. At least the value of  a 60-61 PAF is the same as a 59 to most buyers. Again, unless you know what guitar it came out of, you don’t know for sure what year it is. Off center sticker? Conventional wisdom says short magnet. Not true. I’ve seen them in 59’s.

Tuners? Again, why it that all (or most all) double line Klusons get designated as 64’s? Yes, there are 64 335’s with double lines but they are pretty rare and very late in the year. Same syndrome, I think. A 64 tuner must be worth more than a 65, right? So, it’s a 64. Except it probably isn’t and it doesn’t make any difference in the value. By the way, I’ve never seen double line Klusons on a 64 345. So, don’t list your gold double lines as 64’s any more. Call them 65’s. No one will care and you’ll be more accurate.

OK, end of rant. I feel so much better now.

And this isn't a 65. Knobs can be changed but the size of the f-holes can't be. Big f-holes, low inlay, rounded ears says 68. Could be a real early 69 but it can't be a 65-66 or 67.

And this isn’t a 65. Knobs and guard can be changed but the size of the f-holes can’t be. Big f-holes, low inlay, rounded ears says 68. Could be a real early 69 but it can’t be a 65-66 or 67.

Gibson Never Made This

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015
No red 335's shipped in 59 according to Gibson and yet, here's one right here. Bought this from a guy in Joisy sold it to a guy in Virginia.

No red 335’s shipped in 59 according to Gibson and yet, here’s one right here. Bought this from a guy in Joisy sold it to a guy in Virginia.

Gibson history can be a little sketchy. There’s a lot of speculation, extrapolation and simply filling in the blanks. Their record keeping back in the Golden Era (1957-1964-more or less) was less than stellar and the current administration’s knowledge of what went on back then is sketchy as well. I don’t blame the current owners, certainly. They’ve taken enough heat on other issues (like self tuning guitars, reverse Flying Vees, two piece fingerboards and the fact that they still can’t get the pickup covers right). One of my favorite pastimes (I bore easily) is finding guitars that Gibson never made.

They didn't make any block neck 335's in blonde. Except this 63 and a lefty 64. There also a blonde 68 345 out there.

They didn’t make any block neck 335’s in blonde. Except this 63 and a lefty 64. There could be others but they’re still under a bed somewhere and yet to surface.

There are always rumors around the guitar community about guitars that aren’t supposed to exist. The ever elusive stop tail 355’s, red 58-59 dot necks, blonde block necks, blonde 355’s and red 59 345’s. Now that I’ve actually owned one of each of these, perhaps it’s time to look for another favorite pastime. In the early days of the internet, when guitar forums were new and we all wanted to be part of these new communities, most of us gave more than a little consideration to what we were going to call ourselves. The possibilities were endless-ES-335Lover? Mr 335?, Dr 335? Professor 335? I chose Red59Dot which I still use on a few sites. The reason I chose it was because I had heard that red 59 dots exist but I had never seen one and didn’t know anybody else who had seen one and had documented it. So, in 1998 or so, that became my screen name and my holy grail.

I found my red dot neck in 2011-a guy from Jersey called me and asked me to meet him with a bag of cash near the waterfront in Jersey City. Sounds like the opening scene in an HBO mob drama. But I did just that and a 59 red dot neck was mine. I sold it a month later. Before that, in 2010, I saw an ad on Craigslist for a 1960 ES-345 in red. It was way overpriced but was a one owner guitar and wasn’t too far away in Utica NY. Again, a bag of cash was a requirement but Utica isn’t much of a location for a crime drama so I was a little less apprehensive (and it was a little less money). I got there and it was a very pretty 345 and as I inspected it more closely realized it was a 59. Overpriced no more, I paid the man and drove away a happy camper. No, I didn’t drive away in a happy camper. I was a happy camper and I drove away in a Prius.

Here’s the problem. It’s really easy to fall in love with a guitar-whether it’s because it’s rare or a great player or just too pretty for words. And I have a rule. Don’t fall in love with the merchandise. If I kept every guitar I felt a strong attachment to, I’d have 100 guitars and no business. I think the 345 was the hardest to sell. I was just starting out in this second career of mine and was really nervous about having that much money tied up in one guitar. But it looked so cool and played so great and had zebra PAFs and it was the very first red one and I had to keep it. I just had to. But I didn’t. A month later I sold it and flew the guitar, in person, to the buyer in Denver. Spent 20 minutes with him at the airport, collected a big pile of cash (or maybe it was a bank check) and flew back to New York. I hated to see it go but rules is rules.

Why am I telling you all this. because yesterday, I got an email from that buyer asking if I wanted to buy it back. He was “thinning the herd” and wanted to know if I was interested. In what might have been the fasted deal ever made, I will have the guitar in my hands in less than 12 hours. You probably think the end of the story is I keep the guitar and never let it out of my sight again. Nope. Rules is rules and it will be out the door in a week. But I get to play it again. And look at it and almost love it. Almost. You know the rule.

Nope, none of these either. This is the 59 red 345 that's on its way back to me. Like reconnecting with an old girlfriend that you can't figure out why you left in the first place (probably because she left you)

Nope, none of these either. This is the 59 red 345 that’s on its way back to me. Like reconnecting with an old girlfriend that you can’t figure out why you left in the first place (probably because she left you)

Bigsby and Only Bigsby

Tuesday, August 11th, 2015
You gotta admit...this is great looking guitar. Uncluttered and organic. I just bought it so if you want it, call me.

You gotta admit…this is great looking guitar. Uncluttered and organic. I just bought it so if you want it, call me. It’s a very early 60 with a big neck.

Not long ago a collector asked me to find him a dot neck with a Bigsby. OK, no big deal, there are plenty of them-I see them all the time. I sent him some photos of the ones that were available-some had the pearl dots in the stud holes and another had the “Custom Made” plaque over the holes and another was currently set up as a stop tail with the Bigsby in the case. He rejected all of them because he wanted one that came from the factory as a “Bigsby Only”. No stud holes.

OK, I’ve seen a fair number of those over the years and I went to my archives to see how many Bigsby only dot necks I’ve had. Not many-I found only two out of dozens of 58-61 dots that have passed through here. There were a few block necks as well but most were 65 or later when no guitars got stud holes. Finding a 62-64 block with just a Bigsby isn’t all that easy either. I just did a search on Gbase and the only one I found is a 64 which is mine. Reverb had one-a 60 dot neck. Because these guitars are not the most sought after 335’s, I tend to ignore them but they are, in fact, rare birds. Now, I get it…rarity doesn’t matter that much in the world of vintage guitars. I had one of only three blonde Epiphone Sheratons made in 1959 and nobody really cared. I had one of only 11 blonde Byrdlands from 1961. Again, nobody really cared. They both sold for very reasonable prices. The difference here is that 335’s are very sought after, popular guitars. So, why so little love for the Bigsby only version?

I’ve always found it incomprehensible that a tremolo equipped (OK vibrato, if you want to be technically correct) Stratocaster is worth more and is more desirable than a hard tail. Similarly, SG’s have considerable value and virtually all of them have some sort of tremolo tailpiece. But a Bigsby (or worse, a Maestro or sideways) on a 335 knocks 15 to 25% off the value. Does this make sense? It would if nobody wanted anything but a stop tail but I get plenty of folks wanting to put a Bigsby on their vintage 335’s. I advise against it if the guitar has never had one because, uh, the value will drop like a stone. And it will drop by a percentage, not by a fixed number. Theoretically, if you really want a 59 with a Bigsby, you best find one that already has one because the value could drop by as much as $10,000.

Fortunately, there are plenty with both studs and a Bigsby that will cost you less than a stop tail. That one gives you set up options that are attractive. But if you use a Bigsby and you have no plans of converting to a stop tail at some point, you will do well to seek out a Bigsby only 335. There is a simplicity and clean look of a 335 with a Bigsby and no plaque or other cover for the stud holes.  I’ve always liked the looks of the mono 355 with a Bigsby-all that clean space between the Bigsby and the bridge is attractive. And a Bigsby is a good unit. It’s no surprise that the design has been virtually the same for 60 years or more. They hold tune well if you don’t go nuts on them and they only add about 5 or 6 ounces to the overall weight (if you subtract the weight of a stop tail and studs-you gotta have something to hold the strings). So, if you want something rare and unusual, look for one these beauties. The price won’t ruin your marriage and playability will surprise you.

Here's a 64. Somebody stuck a Custom Made plate on it but there are no stud holes-just two little pinholes from the little nails that held it in place. I have this one too,

Here’s a 64. Somebody stuck a Custom Made plate on it but there are no stud holes-just two little pinholes from the little nails that held it in place. I have this one too.