Archive for the ‘ES 345’ Category

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.

Strange Magic

Sunday, February 15th, 2015


Just another mid 60's 345? Not quite. This one has something special going on.

Just another early 60’s 345? Not quite. This one has something special going on.

Almost all 1958-1964 ES-335/345/355’s sound good. Great even. Those that fall a little short can usually be tweaked and be made to fall within a fairly narrow range and that range is really good to really great. The ones that fall short are almost always the ones that have neck, nut, saddle or fret issues. Sometimes that can be fixed, sometimes not. I get asked frequently about the best sounding ones I’ve had and after more than 500 ES’s made between 58 and early 65, I have a few favorites. Up until today, they were all PAF guitars. The top five were (until now) a 59 335, a 58 335, a 62 (dot) 335, a 59 345 and a 59 355 mono. Now, keep in mind that there were dozens more that were extraordinary instruments and of that 500 or so I’ve had, there were maybe 10 true dogs-all with neck problems. And also keep in mind that tone is very subjective stuff and just ‘cuz I think a guitar sounds extraordinary doesn’t mean you will. I play some blues, 60’s rock and tons of Beatles tunes. I play a lot on the neck pickup, emulating as best I can, Mr. Clapton. When I play on the bridge I want Mike Bloomfield for blues and George Harrison in the “Hey Bulldog”, Taxman” and “Paperback Writer” vein. So, you know what I like. So, where’s this magic I’ve teased you with? Well, it’s a beat up 1963 ES-345 with a heavily worn fretboard, passable fret job, new nut, changed tuners and tailpiece and early patent number pickups.

This guitar that doesn’t fit the mold at all. To keep the commerciality out of it, this guitar is already on hold but I spent most of today playing it. I literally could not put it down. I sold this guitar in 2012 and was very impressed with it then but it sold so quickly, I didn’t get much of a chance to play it. What is it about this guitar that makes it so special? I honestly can’t tell you. It’s got it’s original stereo Varitone circuit. It has early patent number pickups in the 7.7-7.9K range, a neck that starts fairly thin but gets quite large by the 12th fret. It is a stop tail and has always been one. The tuners are modern Gibson Klusons although it had Grovers at some point. The bridge is the original ABR-1 with milled nylon saddles. So, what the heck is it about this guitar that makes it sing like a violin? It is among the best 345’s I’ve played. The bridge pickup is good but not quite great. But the neck pickup on this guitar rivals any 335 from any year. If there has ever been a guitar that, for me, at least, puts the “tone sucker” Varitone theory to bed, it’s this guitar. It may even be the later Varitone which actually is a tone sucker. I haven’t looked. So, what’s my theory?

I think one of the factors is a properly cut and installed nut. The original nuts on Gibson from the era are almost always too tight (which is why everybody changed out the tuners in the 60’s). In many cases, when you bend the strings, the nut pinches and they go sharp. And you thought it was the tuners slipping but they can’t slip sharp. Obviously, there is a wonderful randomly great pickup in the neck. I really should take it out and install it in another guitar just to see if the magic is in there. But it could be the wood. It’s a relatively light 345 considering all that electrical stuff in there, weighing in at 8 lbs 5 ounces. The stereo VT circuit is almost 12 ounces heavier than a 335 harness. It’s also kind of a mess-heavily checked and worn-it’s been played long and hard. The red has faded to a brownish tone and it certainly isn’t a pretty thing. But holy crap…shut your eyes and play if you don’t want to look at it.

I’d love to be able to quantify what it is that makes this one so special But tone is a combination of a lot of factors(including the player and the amp).  It’s clear that some changes just don’t matter with regard to tone. Tuners don’t seem to matter. Re-frets done right don’t matter and can even improve tone. Nylon saddles, if they’re the milled ones and cut properly don’t matter (compared to metal) but properly notched saddles are a huge factor for sustain which affects tone. I’d like to say a stereo Varitone circuit doesn’t matter but I’ll just stir up a storm. I’ll just say it doesn’t matter in this guitar. And one more thing-I’m playing it in stereo using a stereo Y cable. And, where you set  your pickup height does matter. Many ES’s have a sweet spot and it’s a trial and error thing. The height of the stop makes a small difference but more in playability than tone. So, without doing a lot of part swapping and experimentation, I’m not going to know all the answers but that’s OK. I’m happy to just call it magic. Strange and wonderful magic.


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, Part 2

Friday, January 16th, 2015
This late 2014 ES-345 looks pretty authentic and plays pretty well too. There's still little nitpicky stuff wrong but overall, it's a very nice guitar. It is over $4000 if you're buying from the usual discounters. Gibson stickers it over $6000. You would think they could get the pickup covers right.

This late 2014 ES-345 looks pretty authentic and plays pretty well too. There’s still little nitpicky stuff wrong but overall, it’s a very nice guitar. It is over $4000 if you’re buying from the usual discounters. Gibson stickers it over $6000. You would think they could get the pickup covers right.

Having gone through the well regarded Warren Haynes 61 reissue, I was anxious to get my mitts on a non artist Memphis reissue. The first one to walk in the door happened to be a 2014 ES-345. Not an inexpensive guitar either. These list for over $6000 and sell for over $4000. The blondes are $4299 at the usual discounters. I’ll start with the nitpicky stuff.

The pickguard bracket is wrong as are the pickup covers. The Varitone ring has gold numbers and they should be silver, I think. I’ve actually never had a blonde 345 with a black ring but I’ve seen a couple and the numbers are silver. Easy fix Mr. Gibson. I do think they should know that 345’s didn’t come with plastic strap buttons. 335’s did until 61 but not 345’s or 355’s. That’s a pretty glaring oversight, not that it makes any tonal difference. None of this stuff is a big deal because this isn’t a vintage guitar and even though it aspires to be a reissue, it’s just a facsimile. They could get all of this stuff right but either they just don’t pay attention or they actually don’t do enough research (or they’re too cheap). The switch tip isn’t catalin nor do I expect it to be. It’s amber plastic and it’s inferior to most of the repros out there because it has a big ol’ seam (mold mark). Too much work to smooth it off.

They have gotten some big stuff right, however. The body shape is pretty darn good and the 59 neck profile is closer than ever. Still too much shoulder compared to a real early 59 but closer than ever. I would have been surprised if they had done a vintage Varitone and they didn’t. The technology of a 59 VT is clunky and probably too labor intensive to try to duplicate. It is approximately 20 separate components soldered to that 6 way switch. To Gibson’s credit, the tone is right and it looks like they’ve saved some weight by making the chokes much smaller. It’s also mono which will make most folks happy. That earlier version with the two jacks on the rim seemed to make nobody happy. The bindings are finally correct looking after years of getting them wrong. Kudos. And the guitar feels right. I still hate the VOS finish and the really bad aging on the gold hardware. Why is the neck pickup shiny and the bridge pickup dull? Because somebody sweat on the bridge and not the neck pickup? I’ve seen an awful lot of vintage 345’s with all kinds of pickup cover wear but never one that looked like this one.

Vintage details aside, it plays extremely well and feels very much like a vintage 345. Tone-wise, the neck pickup really sings but the bridge is a little dull. This may be the guitar and not the pickup. This one is brand new and needs a bit of playing time before I can make a fair assessment. At $4000, it had better be a very good guitar. I’ve bought a few mid 60’s 345’s at around that price and once the reissues start creeping into vintage territory price-wise, it’s time to seriously consider vintage. In fact, if you don’t mind the narrow nut, I’d be buying a 66-68 345 before I shelled out $4K+ for a reissue. Of course, you’re out of luck if you want a blonde one. One last complaint. Look at the photo below. That’s some pretty shoddy workmanship. You would think they would take the time to clean up those edges on the guard.

This is simply a lack of attention to detail. Unforgivable on a guitar with a $6000 sticker price.

This is simply a lack of attention to detail. Unforgivable on a guitar with a $6000 sticker price.

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.

Bargain Bin, Part 2

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014
Who buys a fat neck dot for under $15K? Smart, savvy buyers, that's who. A re-neck kills the vintage value but can get you a great guitar for a reasonable cost

Who buys a fat neck dot for under $15K? Smart, savvy buyers, that’s who. A re-neck kills the vintage value but can get you a great guitar for a reasonable cost

OK, so I covered the usual stuff-refinishes, repairs, holes and changed parts. Most of you probably knew most of what I pointed out. But there are other elements that can put a guitar into the bargain bin that aren’t as obvious. Re-necks are not uncommon and when done correctly can give you a guitar every bit as good as an original at around half the price. I have two good examples of this. One was a 61 dot neck that I bought that had a bad neck break. Everything else was pretty much stock; the repair was ugly but stable on the typically flat profile neck. I sold the guitar as is and the next buyer had a luthier make a new neck for it using the 59 profile which is, of course, much more popular these days. In fact, the only reason a 60 or 61 costs any less than a 59 is the neck. Everything else is pretty much the same unless you want to talk about short magnets (mid to late 61) vs long magnets. I took back the 61 with its new neck in trade and sold it for about half the price of an equivalent big neck dot marker 335. I think that was a pretty good score. The buyer got the equivalent of a 59 dot for the price of a renecked 61. Great player too. The other example was a 64 that was done at Gibson a few years ago It was re-necked when I got it using the Memphis fat neck. To be honest, I don’t like that particular profile-the shoulders are way too big and the neck feels clunky to me. But, plenty of players love it and that neck on a 64 was pretty appealing especially at half the price. In the first case the buyer saved around $10,000 and in the second, around $7000. Each one played and sounded like a completely stock vintage guitar.

Another way to save a bunch of money requires a bit more of a leap of faith. These guitars are not broken, refinished nor do they have changed parts. They are guitars that have altered serial numbers. This sends up a big fat red flag to many buyers because most guitars with altered serial numbers have probably been stolen at some point. I’m not going to make a moral judgement here because there are factors that you just cannot know. For example, I bought a 64 ES-335 (the one in the photo in the last post) from a Canadian gentleman who bought the guitar used (from a music store) in 1966 and the serial number was partially defaced when he got it. It may have been stolen or it may have been altered to avoid Customs in some way. But he had the guitar for nearly 50 years and I had no doubt that he was telling the truth about its origin. That guitar sold at a very large discount. The only problem will be when the current owner is ready to sell it and he has to make all the same explanations I had to make. It makes it harder to sell for sure and it pretty much kills any collector value. I have a 60 right now that has black marker inside the f-holes and a repro label. That could mean that someone was trying to cover the serial and the FON. Or not. I’ve seen black paint in the f-holes a few times over the years with the serial number fully intact.  Most thieves aren’t even aware that there is a FON in there. Many owners don’t even know about it. I’ve also seen plenty of ES’s that the label has fallen out of.  It still calls the guitar into question and that question has to be priced in. It is worth noting that the seller wasn’t aware that the label was a repro and I considered returning it because of that. But it’s a great guitar and you just price it into the mix. It’s a slippery slope for sure and I’m always more than a little hesitant to accept any guitar that has a serial number issue.

One more road into the bargain bin and that is excessive wear. The Fender people are at an advantage here because their guitars are solid and bolt together. An abused, road hard and put away wet ES-335 can have all sorts of hidden issues like deteriorated glue and delamination. As long as the guitar isn’t literally falling apart, excessive wear shouldn’t affect the tone or, as long as the frets, the nut and the bridge are good, the playability. I don’t like a lot of neck wear but some folks aren’t bothered by it. Just make sure the neck isn’t twisted or backbowed and that the top or back isn’t separating from the sides. Oh, and look at the neck join. There should be no space between the heel and the body. The lacquer may be broken but no gaps. A true beater can play like a dream and save you $5000-$10000 on a high end 335 from 58 to 64.

This 61 dot was played hard and was pretty beat up but it sold for under $12K. Still, it had no issues other than wear and two tine mystery holes behind the tailpiece.

This 61 dot was played hard and was pretty beat up but it sold for under $12K. Still, it had no issues other than wear and two tiny mystery holes behind the tailpiece.

Bargain Bin, Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fingerboard Oddities

Friday, October 10th, 2014
This is a 60 ES-335 with what is purported to be a factory installed ES-345 board. Very cool. I wish I owned it.

This is a 60 ES-335 with what is purported to be a factory installed ES-345 board. Very cool. I wish I owned it.

We all know that a dot neck has a dot marker fingerboard, a block neck has little blocks, a 345 has parallelograms (yes, I can spell) and a 355 has big blocks. But supposing someone wanted a 335 with parallelograms or a 345 with dots? Is that something Gibson would do? Or even farther out of the box, say Super 400 markers on a 335? Maybe an ebony fingerboard on a 335? I’ve always said that anything was possible at Gibson during the “Golden Era” and that leaves some wiggle room for anomalies like this. It is fairly well known that some owners were upset when Gibson changed from dots to blocks in 1962. No one knows how many dots were returned to Gibson to be “upgraded” to blocks but I’ve seen a few. The serial numbers were pretty reliable during the dot neck era so if you see a block neck with a 58-61 serial number, you can be pretty certain that it was redone at the factory.

Here's a 68 ES-335 with a 355 board. I've never seen it in person so I don't know if its an ebony board or just big 355 inlays. Probably a factory one off.

Here’s a 68 ES-335 with a 355 board. I’ve never seen it in person so I don’t know if its an ebony board or just big 355 inlays. Probably a factory one off.

But what about other fingerboard anomalies? When I’m confronted with one of these oddities, I always assume at the outset that it didn’t come from the factory that way. After all, it isn’t that hard to change a fingerboard. It isn’t easy, either but plenty of luthiers can do it properly. But some are definitely factory one offs. The trick is knowing how to tell a factory custom board from one that was changed later. We are fortunate that some pages of the Gibson logs still exist (although Gibson isn’t real good about making them public). They were pretty good about noting special orders in 59 and 60 but by 61 there seems to be less documentation, so the best method is to look closely for anything that might suggest that the original fingerboard was removed and get in there with a magnifying glass or a camera with a macro lens. The camera will always see stuff that you can’t see with the naked eye. You are looking for breaks in the lacquer between the binding and the neck itself. You are looking for excess glue where it doesn’t belong. If the fit isn’t perfect, it was probably added later. Factory boards tend to fit pretty much dead on.

So, what’s out there? I’ve seen a few 335’s with a 345 board. How do I know it isn’t a 345 with no Varitone? The body bindings are multi-ply rather than single and the hardware is gold. How about a 345 with a dot board? I was recently told by a fellow dealer that he had one and that it looked legit. I’ve never seen one but I couldn’t deny its possible existence. He’s promised me a photo. I have seen a 355 with a Super 400 board but I can’t find the photo. Gruhn Guitars had a ’62 335 with bowtie inlays (like a Kessel Custom) not too long ago but I’m pretty sure it was done somewhere other than the Gibson factory. It’s all part of the fun of Gibsons from the 50’s and 60’s. The truth is that you can find almost anything because if Gibson didn’t offer an ES–335 with a Varitone and an ebony dot fingerboard with factory Grover Imperials, somebody probably wanted one at some point and had Gibson make one up just for them. And if Gibson wouldn’t do it, there is always somebody who will.

One further point. I’ve been asked what these rarities are worth and it is a very good question (and up for debate). We all should know that rarity and price are not directly proportional. That’s why a 62 Byrdland in blond (10 made) isn’t worth more than a ‘burst. Or a sunburst 62 ES-335 for that matter. There just isn’t much demand. I think one offs are great but they tend to ask more questions than they answer. No one wants to explain why their collectible guitar doesn’t follow the “rules” because, unless they have factory documentation, it will always be questioned by collectors. Even with factory docs, most collectors want a bone stock classic-not a one off. My opinion? Much as I like the 345 and 355 inlays, I’d rather have a stock 335. I don’t think I’d be willing to pay a premium for a custom board on any 335, 345 or 355. Still, that blonde with the 345 board is awfully cool.

This one has bowties like a Kessel Custom. I can't tell if it's factory or not.

This 62 has bowties like a Kessel Custom. I can’t tell if it’s factory or not. I’m guessing not. It also has a bound headstock.

The Only Consistency in Inconsistency

Monday, September 29th, 2014
An early 59 on the bottom and a fairly late 59 on top. It's hard to see a .1" difference but you can sure feel it. Most players can feel a difference of .03" That's 3 hundredths of an inch. That's the usual difference between a 62 and a 64.  The difference between an early 59 and a typical 60 is three times that.

An early 59 on the bottom and a fairly late 59 on top. It’s hard to see a .1″ difference but you can sure feel it. Most players can feel a difference of .03″ That’s 3 hundredths of an inch. That’s the usual difference between a 62 and a 64. The difference between an early 59 and a typical 60 is three times that.

I probably touched on this a few times before but I’m struck by the huge variation in neck sizes in a particular year. And that year is the oft venerated and sought after 1959. Everybody talks about that perfect 59 neck but the truth is, I don’t know which 59 neck they think is so perfect. Right now I happen to have a lot of 59 guitars. I have three 335’s , two 355’s and a 330. These guitars and a few others I’ve measured have wildly differing neck profiles. A28950 is a very early 335-January 59 and has that baseball bat neck like a 58 on steroids. It is around .93″ measured front to back behind the first fret and is 1.03″ at the 12th. That’s big. I have a 56 Les Paul with the same measurement. A31172 is a 335 from early September, I believe, and has the 59 neck that I associate with that “59 neck”. It measures .88″ at the first fret and around .98″ at the 12th. I also have A30877 which is a 355 and has the same profile (but has a much earlier FON-probably April). Another 59 ES-355 is A31525 which measured only .82″ at the first .91″ at the 12th. I have a 335 in the same serial number ballpark with serial number A31627 which has a first fret depth of .84″ and a 12th of  .93″. It’s worth noting that 335’s and 355’s don’t follow the same timeline. The 355’s got thinner much earlier in the year.

Most of us don’t get to play that many 59’s, so we tend to remember the ones we have the privilege of playing. The conventional wisdom is that a 59 has a big neck and a late 59 has a “transitional” medium neck. But as you can see, it isn’t that simple. The 59 range (at the first fret) is .83″ to .93″.  That’s more range than any other year. 1960 is a good example. That same conventional wisdom says a very early 60 has a medium neck and a later one has a thin neck. That’s also generally true except that the transition comes very early in 1960. Serial A33009 is one of my all time favorites and it measures .85″ at the first fret. But just 500 numbers later is only .81″. That’s only 4 hundredths of an inch but you can certainly feel a big difference.

There is a problem using serial numbers to gauge the manufacture date, however. Especially in the case of ES-355’s which were a much lower volume seller. Factory order numbers present a little more accurate timeline. I have had a lot of 59’s from the S8xxx range and nearly all have had .88″ first fret necks. That includes the “first rack” 345’s (S8537) that have become so sought after. They are usually in the A296xx to A 299xx range. But the 59 ES-355 I mention above has a FON of S7625 but the serial is way later at A30877. So, perhaps we should be looking more closely at FONs to get a better idea of the evolution of the 59 neck. That ’59 ES-335 with the big fat .93″ neck has a 58 FON of T5490. I have been keeping a database of FONs and serial numbers and, so far, it’s not showing me much consistency in terms of features following a predictable timeline. I’d like to be able to say that big necks ended at FON S9xxx or so but it isn’t that easy. Remember FON’s go to 9999 and then start over again at 100. So, the year 1959 starts in the S66xx range and goes through S9999, restarts at S100 and ends at around S1765.  In case you’re confused, read my post on FON’s here.