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Archive for the ‘ES 345’ Category

First 345’s-Before the “First Rack”

Sunday, November 27th, 2016
This is the earliest ES-345 to surface. there is one earlier one but it hasn't shown up on my radar.

This is the earliest ES-345 to surface. there is one earlier one but it hasn’t shown up on my radar.

Most everybody who cares about ES guitars has accepted the assumption that the earliest one (serial number wise) is A29656 shipped on April 20th 1959. The rest of that “rack” was shipped the next day on April 21st. While I have been told that FON’s are chronological, it seems that the first three racks S8537, S8538 and S8539 could have been done in reverse order since the guitars in S8539 have the bulk of the early serial numbers. A more likely scenario is that they could have made all three racks at more or less the same time and the most accessible was the last one and they got shipped first. But wait, there’s more.

A few weeks ago, I got an email from a reader who said he had a very early 345 with the serial number A29133-a full 500 plus numbers earlier than the presumed first one shipped. Not just 500 numbers but two months earlier. On top of that the FON is 1958. Imagine my surprise. So, I got in touch with my inside guy at Gibson who checked the records to try to find the earliest 345 in the book and, sure enough, four ES-345’s were shipped on February 11th. They are serial numbers A29131-A29134. The FON is very late 58-T7303-xx. Strangely, there is also a rack designated as S7303 and that’s not supposed to happen. Did they forget to change the letter on the stamp (like the Fender amp charts from ’66) and then noticed it part way through the rack? Consider this (this is really geeky): serial number A 29132 and 29133-both 345’s both have the FON T7303. Serial number A 29548 (6 weeks later, more or less) is S7303. The FONs are supposed to be sequential and chronological with the letter changing at the first of the year and the numbers simply continuing. So, 7304 could have been an “S” but 7303 could not since it was already a “T”. Clear as mud. Right?

Anyway, we’ve got four 345’s that I’ll have to call “pre first rack”. They have all of the same features as the typical first rack 345’s-short leg PAF, small rout for the Varitone choke, thin top and huge neck. There are also two others that shipped in the period between Feb 11 and April 20th. One is A29623 which would be the 5th one shipped. There is one other and then the blonde A29656 mentioned in the first paragraph that has been the earliest known for some time. I’ve been compiling a FON database for nearly two years now and the more entries I make, the more confusing it gets. The overlaps at year end is just the beginning but that’s another post. So, were the first four prototypes? Probably not since they shipped to dealers and they had no unusual notes on the ledger page. Were there prototypes before these first four shipped? Hard to know. It’s likely there were but none have surfaced.

Just in case you aren’t confused enough, the first 345 was supposed to have gone to Hank Garland in 1958 but his is serial number A29915 which is a lot later — mid May 59. But, to add fuel to the controversy, I have A29914 in my database (the one right before Hank’s supposed prototype) and it was from the earliest numerical “first rack” (S8537) if you don’t include the recently discovered ones I’m writing about. So, how is that possible? The Garland family’s recollection and “paperwork” is a little slippery, so I wouldn’t put too much stock in their “certificate of authenticity”, signed, not by anyone at Gibson, but by Hank Garland and a Robert B. Garland.  No way to know anything for sure about this, so, let’s put that aside.

In any case, conventional wisdom is once again blown to bits. We have an earlier and probably the earliest run of 345’s there is. Two have surfaced-A29132 is a Bigsby with pearl dots and A29133 is a stop tail. Keep your eyes open for A29131-that’s supposed to be the first. Thanks to the nice folks at Gibson for their help.

This is supposed to be the first 345 but I kind of doubt it is. It's Hank Garland's (the sideways was added later) but it has a mid May 59 serial number so go figure.

This is supposed to be the first 345 but I kind of doubt it is. It’s Hank Garland’s (the sideways was added later) but it has a mid May 59 serial number so go figure.

 

Somebody Famous was Here

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016
I once had a white '65 ES-355 with BB Kings autograph on it. It probably would have sold for more without it but the buyer was a BB King fan, so I left it.

I once had a white ’65 ES-355 with BB King’s autograph on it. It probably would have sold for more without it but the buyer was a BB King fan, so I left it.

I get a lot of emails from folks buying and selling ES models and one of the most frequently encountered subjects is guitars that have been autographed. While this is not my market, I feel it’s worth writing a post about. The assumption by most sellers is that an autographed guitar is worth more than one that isn’t. I don’t entirely agree.

Well, let me clarify. Right now there are no less than four Gibson “Lucille” models for sale of Reverb.com. One is $60,000, another is $15K, one $14K and one at $8000. The guitars, without the autographs, are nice guitars but they aren’t particularly old nor are they particularly collectible. I can pick up a 90’s or 2000’s Lucille for $2500 or so. So, do the sellers believe that the autograph is worth $5500 to over $50K?  OK, the really expensive one comes with some tour swag but $60K seems like a really big number. So do all the rest of them. Let me tell you a fairly short story. A few years ago, I was contacted by the widow of the owner of a pretty nice 1958 ES-335. I flew to Nashville to meet with her and discuss the value of her late husband’s guitar. We hadn’t finalized a price but we had established a range pending my inspection of the guitar. I ended up offering around $25000 for it and her reaction was “…but it’s autographed by BB King.” My clever rejoinder? “OK, $24000.”  I explained to her that the first thing I would do when I got back home was to remove the autograph.

My point is that a collectible guitar is not made more collectible just because its autographed by someone famous. In addition to the great BB King, I have removed Eric Clapton’s autograph, Les Paul’s, various members of Kiss and quite a few others. If you must get your vintage guitar autographed, have them sign the pick guard-preferably on the back. Or bring along a new (cheap) guitar and have them autograph that. A lot of these guys sign thousands of guitars and the value of the autograph is very small. If you’ve got a Beatle or Elvis, then leave it alone. A Rolling Stone? I’d probably remove it from a vintage Gibson unless it was a Firebird VII autographed by Brian Jones. That would be worth something.

OK, well how about if the guitar was owned by somebody famous? That’s a whole ‘nother ballgame if you’ve got good documentation. And he (or she) can’t just have played it once. It has to have really good provenance. An album cover photo is good provenance. A signed letter by the artist with a photo will probably do. A letter from a friend of the friend who got it from the famous player’s ex-wife’s cousin isn’t good enough. A photo of the famous player holding the guitar isn’t good enough either. I’ve had plenty of famous players in my shop and if a photo of them with one of my guitars was worth something, I’d be snapping photos all day.  Be careful though. Provenance is pretty easy to fake. That’s why the album cover photo is great provenance. And make sure the guitar that’s in the provenance is the same guitar as you’re considering buying. Wood grain is pretty much like a fingerprint. If the grain doesn’t match, walk, no, run in the opposite direction. We all know what the Clapton guitars have sold for and the Dylan Strat and the Lennon J160. It’s some serious dough which is why I generally stay away from that market. The price of admission is high and the rate of fraud is up there as well.

EC's autograph on an '84. I think I left this one on too. It didn't affect the value at all.

EC’s autograph on an ’84. I think I left this one on too. It didn’t affect the value at all.

FON or Serial Number?

Friday, September 30th, 2016

 

Here's aa 59 FON. The letter is the year T for 58, S for 59, R for 60 and Q for 61 and then they stop. The number that follows is a three or four digit number and that designated the "rack"-usuall 30-40 guitars. The last number is the "rank" or the guitars number within the rack. Confused?

Here’s a 60 FON. The letter is the year T for 58, S for 59, R for 60 and Q for 61 and then they stop. The number that follows is a three or four digit number and that designated the “rack”-usually 30-40 guitars. The last number is the “rank” or the guitars number within the rack. Confused?

Pet peeve warning…I’ve talked endlessly about how so many sellers will look up their guitar serial number and when they see multiple years come up will usually pick the earliest year. Understandable? Yes, I suppose but not particularly honest and pretty easy to debunk. Trying to get more money for your guitar by misrepresenting the year and making it look justified is wrong. Either disclose the possible years or learn how to tell the difference. Pretty straightforward, right? Good. Now try this:

From 58 to 61, there was both a serial number and a factory order number for all 335’s, 345’s and 355’s. FON’s existed way before 58 but since 335’s didn’t, we’ll look at only those 4 years. There is no debate that, in general,  a 59 335, 345 or 355 is worth more than any other year, assuming the condition and originality is equal. Usually, the FON and the serial are from the same year. But not always. So, how do we assess the value of those guitars that have a factory order number from one year and a serial number another? I recently bought a J200 for a client that was advertised as a 59. When I got it, I noted that the serial number was very early 60. I currently have a 59 ES-335 with a 58 FON and I recall a blonde 60 345 with a 59 FON. One thing you won’t see is a FON from a later year than the serial. This is simply because the FON goes on the guitar first.

So, I have this 59 ES-335 with a 58 FON. That means it was built (or at least started) in 1958. It could have been completed in 1958 as well but there is no absolutely foolproof way to know for sure. But there are clues. It has the thin top of a 58, so that tells us that it’s got some 58 aspects. It’s got a pretty good neck angle-no thin bridge or shaving required-so that’s kind of a 59 thing but there were very late 58’s with that feature. The tuners are patent numbers rather than the patent applied tuners that nearly all 58’s had which leads me to believe that it was built in late 58 and assembled in 59. Why the completed body sat around from sometime in late 58 until April of 59 is a mystery. I had another 335 with a 58 FON that didn’t ship until August of 59. Maybe they built a load of 58’s and put them aside because Gibson was getting complaints about the cracks around the jack (typical of 58’s). Then, perhaps they were selling more than they could built in mid 59 and raided this cache of 58’s. I’ve spoken to a couple of Gibson employees from the era but none could shed any light on this.  My point is-do I consider it a 58 or a 59? It is to my advantage to call it a 59. But what about that 60 with the 59 FON? Again, I’m probably going to get more for it if I call it a 59. So, it works both ways. But you can’t have it both ways, can you? My hard rule is that I go by the serial number, i.e a 60 serial means it’s a 60 regardless of the FON. I’ll mention the FON in all cases if it’s different so I’ll list the guitar for sale as, say, a 1959 ES-335 with a ’58 FON. That’s about as honest as I can be.

I’ve been compiling a FON database for a couple of years now and I’m still filling in some of the blanks before I post it. There are lots of surprises and ambiguities. It seems that the more I learn, the more confusing it becomes. I’ve never run a large manufacturing business, so I have little insight into the day to day operations of a factory. Especially a factory operating more than 50 years ago. I’m convinced that they worried less about paperwork and more about filling orders. I’ll post the database when I have enough information for it to make some sense because now, with around  130 entries (all 335, 345 and 355’s) it’s about as clear as mud. Feel free to continue sending me data-serial, FON, model, finish and configuration (stop or Bigsby). No names will be entered.

This is an April 59 serial number 335 with the 58  factory order number T7281 24.  I call it a 59.

This is an April 59 serial number 335 with the 58 factory order number T7281 24. I call it a 59.

Top Ten List

Saturday, June 25th, 2016
58's are tricky because of the neck angle but the chances of getting a great guitar a pretty good. Two of my top five are 58's.

58’s are tricky because of the neck angle but the chances of getting a great guitar a pretty good. Two of my top five are 58’s.

I keep a mental top ten list of the best ES guitars to pass through my hands and, while the list is pretty diverse, there are some factors that are becoming meaningful. As I get to play more and more of them, I re-evaluate the things that make some of them simply good, others great and a few simply extraordinary.

It’s interesting that the current top ten (or maybe top 12) includes guitars from 58, 59, 60, 62 and 64. I try to keep personal preference out of the equation-like the fact that I like guitars with necks that start medium and get really big by the 12th fret. I’m really talking about tone. And that’s personal preference too,  I suppose,  but we all like a guitar that has great sustain and that singing almost vocal quality that some 3×5’s have and some don’t. Some of that is setup but some of it is simply the wood, the strings and the electronics and the relationship between them. I can’t totally explain why this 335 sounds so much better than that one but there are some common denominators that I can quantify and only because I’ve played (and set up) so many.

Common denominators: All are 58-64 which doesn’t tell you much. All are stop tails. All have PAFs or early patents. Nearly all were re-fretted at some point. But there have been dozens and dozens that fit that description so there must be something more to these standouts. Four of the top ten have thin tops. If you aren’t a regular reader, you should be aware that all 58’s and some 59’s have a three ply top that is 25% thinner than the four ply tops that were used from 59 on. Of course, that means that 6 of the top ten had the thicker tops. But wait. There’s more. If we go to the top five, three of the top five have the thinner tops which tells us something. The top five are as follows–#1 late 58 335, #2 thin top 59 335, #3 refinished 62 dot neck, #4 59 first rack 345 and #5 unbound 58 335. So, I’m going out on a limb and saying the thin top early 335’s seem to have an edge when it comes to great tone. Looking at the next five on the hit list #6 is a first rack 59 345, #7 is a 59 355 stop tail, #8 is a 64 335, #9 is a 59 335 and #10 is an early 60 335. This is out of perhaps 500-600 that I’ve owned. There are perhaps another 75 that I would call contenders-an extraordinary one isn’t that much better than a great one. Most 58-64 3×5’s are simply excellent guitars. We’re talking microns here.

This list is rather fluid and I’m always replacing one with another as I play more of them. It is tricky to compare a guitar I have today to one I had five years ago (or more) but I consider the top ten to be kind of interchangeable. I’m sure that if I had all of them in a room, I would put them in a different order but they would all still be great. What would be really useful is if I could predict which ones would be the standouts before I even picked them up and played them. It would be nice to be able to tell folks to look for a particular factory order number or group of features that make for great tone but, alas, no such information exists. I’ve had 59 dot necks that are uninspiring. I’ve had trap tail 65’s that would give any of the top ten a good run for their money. There are a lot of variables and too many aren’t easily quantified.

There are a few consistencies that have occurred to me, however. First rack ES-345’s are generally excellent. What’s a first rack? Read this. It’s actually three racks but they all share certain characteristics and these characteristics seem to translate to great tone. Late 58’s and early 59’s are also fertile ground for great tone-again, the thin top is a possible factor. The shallow but not too shallow neck angle could also be in play here. The big neck? Maybe but there’s a 62 in the top 5 that had a skinny neck (and a refinish). Here’s another factor that throws a monkey wrench into the mix: On a given day, a particular guitar can sound great and on another day, it doesn’t sound so great. Humidity is a big factor and probably the state of my playing ability is another.

So, what can you take away from this? Well, mostly that you should play a guitar before you buy it. Just buying a 59 dot neck that you like the looks of will probably get you a great guitar but it may not be an extraordinary one. Buying a beat up refinished 62 could get you one of the best players you ever had. But you can’t know for sure until it’s properly set up and you sit down and play it.

This Candy Apple Red refinished 62 dot neck is in my top five ES's. Not my favorite color but my oh my did this baby sing.

This Candy Apple Red refinished 62 dot neck is in my top five ES’s. Not my favorite color but my oh my did this baby sing.

 

Rare as a Warm April Day in 2016

Sunday, April 10th, 2016
It doesn't get much rarer than this. This is the only known 63 stop tail ES-355 Mono (or stereo, for that matter). If perhaps you know of another, I'd like to know about it.

It doesn’t get much rarer than this. This is the only known 63 stop tail ES-355 Mono (or stereo, for that matter). If perhaps you know of another, I’d like to know about it. Thanks to Roger in California who was kind enough to offer this beauty to me. I was so close to getting this one last time it sold.

Those of you who live in the East have noticed that Spring has taken a vacation. It was warm for a minute and a half in March but Winter isn’t letting go. My beautiful magnolia trees were just blooming and bam!, 14 degree weather and all the flowers are dead. Bummer. This has nothing to do with the post but I’m pretty bummed about those trees. So, warm April days have been rare this year and rare is the subject today.

You know, if you read my posts regularly, that I love the rare stuff. I’ve had the most unbelievable luck  finding rare 3×5’s over the past year. I’ve found two of the four black 59 ES-345’s, a factory blonde 63 block neck 335, a red 59 dot neck with a a factory Varitone, three blonde 335’s and three stop tail 355’s. Now, I’ve got the only stop tail 63 ES-355 known. This guitar is a pretty interesting story on its own. There are only 6, maybe 7 known stop tail ES-355’s. I’ve now owned 4 of them. A stereo 59, a mono 59, a stereo 60 and now a mono 63. My friend Tom in Texas has a mono 60 (and the stereo 60 that I had). There’s a stereo 60 in Sicily and that’s about it. There are probably a few that haven’t surfaced yet but it’s still one of my “holy grail” guitars, especially the mono ones.

The stop tail 63 showed up on Craigslist (if I’m recalling correctly) in North Jersey three or four years ago. I got on it right away and made what I though was a fair offer. The seller apparently thought so too and agreed on the price. This was a Friday. I told him I would make the drive on Monday to pick it up. I had a conflict and asked if I could pick it up Tuesday. He told me he had gotten a better offer and it was sold. I would have gone higher (I really wanted this guitar) but he said the deal was done. I thought the deal with me was done three days earlier but sometimes integrity goes out the window when an extra grand flies in.

A couple of days later, one of my most avid readers tells me how he scored a 63 stop tail 355. I couldn’t blame him-he didn’t know that the seller had already accepted another deal. I immediately started my subtle campaign to get this guitar from him. Four years later (more or less), in an email with the subject line “temporary insanity”, the 63 stop tail was offered up to me. I dropped a hefty 40% markup over what he paid and the guitar was mine. At least for now. And it’s just great. Of course, I’ll sell it but I’ll play it and get to know it for awhile before I do. Once again, I have to go back to the old rule…something about not falling in love with guitars.

I’m sure a lot of you think it’s weird to seek out these rare birds only to turn around and sell them. It IS weird. But I can’t afford to keep them and all of them go to folks who truly appreciate the rarity (and the craftsmanship and playability and tone). I know where every single one lives and I generally ask the buyers to offer them back to me before selling them elsewhere. I’ve had the great fortune of playing and owning some of the rarest of the rare. Here’s a list of the ones that stick out in my mind:

’59 ES-345 in red. The first red one made. ’59 red dot necks-I’ve had two-one with a Bigsby and a stop tail with a factory Varitone. A Pelham Blue Trini Lopez, two black 59 ES-345’s, a blonde block neck 63, four stop tail ES-355’s, two blonde ES-345’s, that little blonde ES-140 with the PAF and 8 blonde ES-335’s. I was also lucky enough to find a 59 dot neck with a pair of reverse zebra pickups. Oh, and the white 65 ES-355. Then there’s “The Mexican” which is one of perhaps two or three cherry sunburst stop tail ES-335’s made in 1965. I would have kept every last one of them if i could afford to. They have all been great. Some better players than others for sure, some prettier than the others but ll interesting and, oh yeah, rare.

To many collectors, rarity doesn’t matter much. If the model isn’t popular, then rarity doesn’t matter at all. I’ve had two of only 11 blonde Byrdlands made in 1961 but they are really not worth much-rare or not. Why? Because nobody seems to want archtops these days. But when you get a rare version of a sought after model, it’s a different thing all together. They command a pretty serious premium and you start getting emails from billionaires and rock stars. Nice to know people are paying attention.

They didn't make any block neck 335's in blonde. Except this 63 and a lefty 64. One of my favorite rarities. This came out of Scotland.

They didn’t make any block neck 335’s in blonde. Except this 63 and a lefty 64. One of my favorite rarities. This came out of Scotland.

Then there's this 67 Pelham blue Trini Lopez I had back in 2010. Near mint. Bought it off of Ebay. I think there are 16 of them. Not a great player but it sure looked cool.

Then there’s this 67 Pelham blue Trini Lopez I had back in 2010. Near mint. Bought it off of Ebay. I think there are 16 of them. Not a great player but it sure looked cool.

 

Guitar Adventures

Monday, March 28th, 2016
I am dead certain that this is the very first black ES-345 made and maybe even the first black ES thinline. It is a first rack (short leg PAF and huge neck) and was shipped in April of 1959. It is awesome.

I am dead certain that this is the very first black ES-345 made and maybe even the first black ES thinline. It is a first rack (short leg PAF and huge neck) and was shipped in April of 1959. It is awesome.

As I write this, I’m sitting (in coach) on a Delta flight to Las Vegas with the single mission of picking up a very rare and very expensive ES-345. It’s a first rack black stop tail and is almost certainly the first black 345 ever made and maybe the first black ES ever made. Let’s see, it took me 2 hours to get to the airport and another hour for security and boarding and another 5 hours and change to get to Las Vegas and who knows how long before I check into the hotel. Then make the deal with the seller-check out the guitar and do the whole trip in reverse.

Ever wonder why dealers need to mark things up? Let’s see…36 hours out of my life, $500 for airfare, $70 worth of parking at JFK, $150 for a room and probably another $75 for food. So, why not just send the guy the money and have it shipped? What could possibly go wrong? (go wrong…go wrong…). Well, there are a few things to consider. When buying from an individual seller, you can’t always count on the dealer amenities you expect from a reputable dealer-like an approval period, professional packing and a full disclosure of every part, ding, scratch and issue with the guitar. Sometimes it isn’t reasonable or fair to ask a seller to take out the pickups and look at the stickers. Sometimes the seller knows nothing about guitars and wouldn’t know a broken headstock from a broken toilet.  This seller happens to be fairly knowledgable but this is a very expensive guitar and whoever buys it will certainly expect me to have gone through it with the proverbial fine tooth comb. That’s why I’m on an airplane and not at home with my beautiful wife and lunatic dog.

There’s another factor to consider as well. Black is a tricky color. It photographs terribly. The good news is that it usually looks better in person than it does in the photos. The bad news is that opaque colors are a good way to hide a break or a refinish. More good news. I have the shipping ledger page for this one and it indicates factory black. I’m pretty good at sniffing out a refinish but it almost impossible to do it from a photo, especially on a black guitar. My method requires having the guitar in hand (and no, it isn’t a black light, although it’s a good tool especially for revealing overspray).

When you can’t assume the option to return a guitar if it isn’t as described, then a road (or plane) trip is almost mandatory at the high end of the market. I have had plenty of $30,000+ guitars shipped to me. One has gotten broken. A surprisingly high number have had undisclosed issues from repro switch tips to changed pots to non functioning truss rods to twisted necks. It is generally not malicious. Most folks simply don’t know how to tell a real catalin switch tip from a good repro. Even fewer folks know when a truss rod is no longer working. Fewer still can pull a harness to check the date codes (or even read the date codes).  Scary? You betcha. I have to admit that being a vintage guitar dealer is fun and often rewarding but it can be pretty stressful on the buy side. So, maybe 12 hours in an airplane and 2 hours in airports and 4 hours in the car is worth it. Well, look at it this way, it’s worth it if I come home with the guitar. What happens if something is wrong and the seller won’t alter the agreed upon price? Then I go home empty handed about $800 poorer (assuming I stay away from the craps table) but maybe I don’t take a huge loss on a guitar that isn’t what it was cracked up to be.

I expect this to turn out well though. I have a lot of photos and I have spoken to the seller many times (it took a very long time to make this happen-I knew about this guitar in 2014). He is a pro player and even played on a few hit records back in the 60’s. Still, this one wasn’t going to be shipped sight unseen. Too much stress and too much money at stake. I’ll post photos when I have it.

 

Questioning the finish? Folks always do, so this ought to put your mind at ease. Not sure who J.H. is but he ordered a black guitar 57 years ago.

Questioning the finish? Folks always do, so this ought to put your mind at ease. Not sure who J.H. is but he ordered a black guitar 57 years ago.

I believe there are only four black 59’s (the 60 with a 59 FON is still a 60). Here are two. They are from the same factory order 13 numbers apart.

No Rules

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Market Wrap 2015, Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll Have Mine Rare, Please.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Take Off a Buck

Monday, October 26th, 2015

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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