Archive for the ‘ES 335’ Category

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.


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.


Saturday, January 24th, 2015
This 61 ES-345 looked pretty darn good but wasn't quite 100% when I got it. Fortunately, I have a lot of spare parts.

This 61 ES-345 looked pretty darn good but wasn’t quite 100% when I got it. Fortunately, I have a lot of spare parts.

Scavengers. There. I said it twice. The guitar marketplace is full of them. It’s the sellers who think you don’t know the difference between a repro part and a real one. It’s the Les Paul guys who want double white PAF’s and no wire bridges for their R9’s. It’s the parts dealers who know that sometimes the parts are worth more than the guitar.  I’m not making a moral judgement here, just putting some facts out there.

There are a lot of parts on a vintage guitar. There are a lot of vintage guitar brands and models and variations and nobody knows everything about all of them. I try to know everything about ES-335’s but I learn new stuff all the time, so I don’t know everything either.  Take a guitar with around 50 different parts and cook over a low flame for 50 or so years. That’s the recipe for errors and omissions right there. It’s actually a surprise when I get a guitar (often sight unseen) that is 100% untouched. For the high end stuff, I always go in person (even to Europe) and check out the instrument myself. Crapshooting on a 58 or 59 is just too much risk. But I get other vintage pieces from individuals and dealers based on a couple of photos all the time. Want to know how many of these guitar have an undisclosed issue? About 90%. Yep. Nine out of ten. Seem high? Buy ten guitars on Ebay and compare what you get to what was advertised. It’s usually because the seller doesn’t know any better but not always.

Sometimes it’s laziness on the part of the seller (or dealer). I’ve been guilty of that myself-you get a guitar that looks just right and you don’t check the pot codes because nothing else has been changed and it’s a huge pain to get in there with a mirror and most of the date codes are covered with solder anyway.  Or the tailpiece looks exactly right so you don’t pull it off and check that the studs are the right length. I’m not talking about a changed saddle (virtually all no wire bridge ES’s have at least one) or a changed pickguard screw here or there. Those are cheap and easily replaced. But get a 345 with a repro tailpiece and studs and you’re out $800 or more for the real deal if you want the guitar to be vintage correct. Or you disclose it and lower the price. Repro stuff has gotten awfully convincing and it just makes it harder to spot them. All the more reason to buy from someone who knows the difference.

Part of the reason I write so extensively about the real geeky stuff is so that you, as a buyer, know what to look for. Here’s a story about a recent purchase. I was contacted by an individual seller with an early 60’s ES-345. I got lots of photos and a very fair price. He said it came from a reputable dealer (a few years ago) and that it was 100% original except for a mono conversion. The photos showed little reason to doubt him. I questioned the tuner tips because it was an early 60’s and the tips looked too good. He didn’t know and so I assumed they were repros (and they were). No big deal-lots of late 50’s and early 60’s ES’s have repro tips. When I got the guitar, it would have been easy to just take the photos and list it as all original except for the tuner tips and the harness. It played  great and sounded great and everything looked right. But I’m not that lazy. I pulled the tuners to make sure there weren’t enlarged shaft holes from Grovers (even though there were no marks on the headstock) and I pulled the bridge and tailpiece. Both looked correct at first glance but the telltale “hump” on the tailpiece felt like it was missing. The bridge was correct but the tailpiece was a long seam 70’s probably off of a Les Paul Custom as were the studs-1 3/8″ rather than the correct 1 1/2″. Some people measure the thread length – 1″ for vintage and 7/8″ for later. The seller didn’t know and I don’t expect him to know. He wasn’t a dealer but he had bought the guitar from a dealer. That begs the question…was the dealer lazy? or dishonest? or clueless? That’s the hard part.

Correct "short seam" tailpiece on the right. Correct "long thread" stud on the left. These parts won't really affect how the guitar sounds but I'm sure you would rather have the right era parts on your expensive vintage guitar.

Correct “short seam” tailpiece on the right. Correct “long thread” stud on the left. These parts won’t really affect how the guitar sounds but I’m sure you would rather have the right era parts on your expensive vintage guitar.

Getting Better All the Time

Monday, January 12th, 2015
One of these is a real 61 and the other is a Warren Haynes 61 built in 2014. Getting close aren't they?

One of these is a real 61 and the other is a Warren Haynes 61 built in 2014. Getting close aren’t they?

The doomsayers in the vintage market are saying that it’s only a matter of time before there is no vintage market. The word on the street is that after all of us old guys (you know who you are) either get too old to play or simply die, the market will die along with us. The other word on the street is that the reissues are getting so good that nobody will spend the money for the vintage stuff anymore. As an old guy, my response is that I won’t stop playing until you pry my vintage guitar from my cold, dead hands. I have no plans to die in the next 35 years either (my Dad lived to 95). But the other reason is worth looking into a bit more.

I recently took in two guitars that are recent reissues and they are worth commenting on. There have always been a fair number of folks saying how great the Gibson reissues are but I’ve always attributed some of that to commenters who have never played a great vintage one or who just want to feel better about the guitar they bought. I felt that way because I had played the guitars they were raving about and I just didn’t see what they were seeing and I didn’t hear what they were hearing. I had a 2006 Nashville ES-335 that was a wonderful guitar but it wasn’t up there with the best of the vintage pieces. I don’t know if the issue was the pickups, the wood or the construction but it just wasn’t as complex, articulate or as “musical” as my old 58. Now, the Memphis built 335’s (and 345’s) are getting a ton of praise and much of it is deserved. I’m not only talking about whether they got all the details right (they didn’t but they are closer than ever), I’m talking tone and playability.

Not even close. How tough is it to get the knobs right? That's a real 60's reflector on the right. A blind person could tell the difference.

Not even close. How tough is it to get the knobs right? That’s a real 60’s reflector on the right. A blind person could tell the difference.

And just how tough would it be the get this right? The vintage one is one the left.

Well, I certainly can’t tell the difference here. Not. The vintage one is one the left.

My first example is a Warren Haynes ’61 dot neck. It looks like a 61. Really. While they’ve finally gotten the body shape pretty close. Given the variation that the vintage ones have, I don’t think I could tell this from a real 61 very easily until I look at the neck. The way it’s shaped at the headstock is still too sharp and defined-probably because it’s being done by CNC rather than by a human being. They still have some easy details totally wrong like the knobs and the pickguard bracket and, especially, the pickup covers. These are really easy things and it is kind of baffling why they are so far off. But really, who cares as long as the guitar sounds and plays like the guitar it is trying to emulate. One out of two ain’t bad. The guitar feels like the real thing. If I close my eyes, I can be convinced that I’m playing a real 61. But my ears aren’t convinced. Maybe once the wood dries out a bit and a bit more resonance emerges, it will be closer but the guitar sounds a bit one dimensional. It sounds good but it doesn’t sound like the great dot necks I’ve played and loved. You could argue that it’s because the smaller 61 neck doesn’t sound the same as the big 58 and 59’s that I usually play. Fair enough. But I’ve got a 61 here that sounds pretty good and the Haynes isn’t quite up to the challenge. Close. It’s an excellent sounding guitar for sure. I really should get a Rusty Anderson model and compare that. Those are getting some great buzz as well. My feeling is that given a few years and some playing time, these reissues will get better and better. I can’t tell you if they are going to kill the vintage market but I have no intention of buying a load of them and putting them away for a few decades to find out.

Next, we’ll look at a new 2015 ES-345 out of the Memphis shop and see how that stacks up.

This Haynes 61 is looking like the real thing, sort of. Those pickup covers are an easy giveaway though. The edges are way too round. And that VOS finish...don't get me started.

This Haynes 61 is looking like the real thing, sort of. Those pickup covers are an easy giveaway though. The edges are way too round. And that VOS finish…don’t get me started.

Ring in the Old

Thursday, January 1st, 2015


Star of the show once again is the 59 dot neck. These ran up a good 20% this year and show no sign of weakening in 2015 even with therapy exchange rates for European buyers. Flame tops are nice too but not a requirement for big bucks.

Star of the show once again is the 59 dot neck. These ran up a good 20% this year and show no sign of weakening in 2015 even with the crappy exchange rates for European buyers. Flame tops are nice too but not a requirement for big bucks.

The old guitars that is. Now that 2014 has faded into the rear view mirror, let’s take a minute to see what the year was like for the vintage ES market and what it might look like going forward. First off, don’t look at Ebay asking prices to figure out what your guitar is worth. I can’t tell you how many emails I get that enlighten me about current ES prices. (…there’s a 64 for $100,000 on Ebay…surely my 64 is worth $30K”). Anybody can ask any price they want. I can ask a million dollars for my über rare 59 ES 355 stop tail but I’m not going to get it. Look at the completed listings that actually sold if you want real world sale prices. But even that can be misleading. There are some unscrupulous dealers who will mark a guitar as sold at a high price and then relist it hoping someone sees that a “similar” guitar sold at that inflated price. It happens with relative frequency, so be alert. Or you can just ask me.

2014 was a quirky year. The dot neck market was extremely strong, especially among Europeans until the Euro tanked late in the year. The dot neck market is still strong and should continue to do well. 59’s with no issues are bumping up against $40K with some frequency but the discount for issues has gotten steeper. Folks want no issue guitars when they are spending that kind of money and I don’t blame them. But that makes single issue guitars a bit of a bargain. 59’s with changed tuners can be had in the low to mid $30K range. That’s a big discount for a few little holes that don’t show much. A stop tail 59 with a removed Bigsby with top holes will knock the price down even farther. You should be able to find one under $25K. That’s 15 large for two little holes in the top and four by the end pin. Great if you’re a player. But the no issue guitars are the ones that will lead the market forward. They seem to be getting harder and harder to find. And it isn’t just 59’s that are strong. 58’s (bound and unbound) are right behind the 59’s with prices in the mid $30’s for no issue, clean ones. Early 60 dots with the transitional medium neck are about equal to 58’s. All of these are trending upward at the moment and seem to have done so all year. It’s the thinner neck later 60 and the 61’s that seem to be lagging. Still, it was a good year for dots all around but the thinner necks just seem to sell much more slowly and can’t seem to find their way past $30K unless they are mint. As always, look out for neck issues on the ones with the thinnest necks.

Interestingly, I sold more dot necks than block necks in 2014. That’s a first. It seems that the market for 62-63’s with the thinner necks is slow. Folks want big necks, although I’m not entirely sure why. There is, of course, the school of thought that big neck guitars sound better. My experience doesn’t prove that but it doesn’t disprove it either. One of the best I ever had was a 62 (dot) with a pretty small neck. However, the rest of the top five are 58’s and 59’s. The continued strength of late 63’s and 64’s comes as no surprise then, what with their near perfect neck profiles and consistently excellent tone. Prices for 64’s have definitely crept up-especially stop tails but also Bigsby/Custom Made models. Reds still outsell sunbursts by a wide margin. A really good no issue stop tail red 64 has pushed back to close to $20K at retail. Just a year ago, it was pretty easy to find one in the $16K range. Now the Bigsby/CM’s are in that range. That’s about a 20% increase in just the past year. Pretty impressive. The bargain still remains the big neck 65. You should be able to find one for $8K or less. Just make sure it’s really a big neck. Most sellers don’t know how to read a ruler. Ask for a photo with the ruler or calipers in the shot.

I’m going to skip ahead to 355’s. Mono 355’s have gone nuts. They are hard to come by and don’t last a week when I get one. It doesn’t matter what year either. The 65’s I had this year (wide nut) went just as quickly as the 59’s. Less money, for sure, but still extremely popular and desirable. Expect to spend up to $20K (or even more for double white PAFs) for a 59/60 long guard and in the mid teens for 61-64’s with Bigsby’s. Maestros are less. 65’s are still well under $10K but still strong. We’ll wait for the next post to talk about the stereo 355’s and 345’s. We’ll also take a look at the rarities and at the big issue guitars with refinishes and repairs. That market is pretty interesting as well.

Mono 355's were a big item in 2014. I buy every one I see as long as the sellers leave a little room for me to pay the rent. I'll take a half dozen 59's, sir.

Mono 355’s were a big item in 2014. I buy every one I see as long as the sellers leave a little room for me to pay the rent. I’ll take a half dozen 59’s, sir. I know, the neck pickup is upside down. I fixed it.


Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014

Yikes. Don’t raise the bridge, lower the river. It hadn’t occurred to me that Gibson might have simply shortened the headstock and caused all these other changes. Note the very precise high tech measuring device.

My friend Mike up in Victoria, British Columbia pointed out that the 58 headstock in the 58-59 comparison photo in my last post looked like it was elongated compared to the 59. Another reader (Roger) pointed out that maybe the tuners were moved rather than the inlay. I had mentioned that the truss cover had moved downward in 59. Well, I thought Mike in Victoria was on to something, so I did some measuring. The length of a 335 headstock is pretty consistent among the ones I have here in the shop. Unless it’s a 58.

If you measure from the highest point of the headstock to the nut of a 59-66 ES-335 you will get a minimum of 6 3/4″ and a maximum of 6 7/8″. That’s a range of 1/8″ which isn’t much. I measured 7 different guitars from 59, 60, 64, 65 and 66. Then I measure the 58. It measures 7 1/8″. That’s a difference of a quarter inch or more. Who cares, you ask? Probably no one, but it points out that many of the differences between a 58 and a 59 are due to a longer headstock and not the migration of the various elements. There’s just less real estate and things have mostly only moved relative to the ends of the headstock. The inlay is the exception but the position of the truss cover and the tuners (and the logo) stay the same relative to each other.  Now, I never thought the brass at Gibson was sitting around making microscopic changes to make their product better or cheaper but it starts making sense when one fairly big change starts a chain reaction of smaller ones. So, was the reduction in the size of the headstock a conscious change to make things better or cheaper? I couldn’t say but I can guess. My guess is that these early 335’s were largely hand made. The very neat routing in a 58 compared to the almost always sloppy routing in a 60’s 335 suggests this. I’m not a builder but I’m assuming that jigs were eventually made once the model was deemed successful in order to facilitate the build process. That would also explain the consistent Mickey Mouse ears you see from late 58 through mid 62.

Too geeky by half? I suppose, but after this many posts, one has to start taking smaller bites out of the knowledge pie. There’s plenty of new information coming in the new year. I’ve been compiling a database of factory order numbers rtelative to serial numbers for 58, 59 and 60. It’s actually pretty interesting. I’ve been at this for a few months and I’d like to thank all the readers who sent me serial and FON’s to be included. It’s still ongoing so if you have a 58, 59 or 60 ES-335, 345 or 355, send me the serial and FON along with a little information (what model, color, tailpiece, bobbin color if you know it). Trying to reconstruct the thought and manufacturing processes at Gibson during this era is loads of fun. I suppose if I could find someone who was actually there who was involved in the day to day operations, it would be easier. Not so much fun but easier.