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.