Archive for the ‘ES 345’ Category

Gibson Never Made This

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pick of the Pocket

Monday, June 29th, 2015
The folks at Gibson loaded up the case with lots of fun stuff back in the day. This 59 has just about everything except the Varitone instructions and the polishing cloth. It even has the "pick of the stars" pick case and the original plastic bag for the stereo cable. It probably had two keys but c'mon, I lose stuff in a month let alone 56 years.

The folks at Gibson loaded up the case with lots of fun stuff back in the day. This 59 has just about everything except the Varitone instructions and the polishing cloth. It even has the “pick of the stars” pick case and the original plastic bag for the stereo cable. It probably had two keys but c’mon, I lose stuff in a month let alone 56 years.

Even after 500 or so ES-335, 345 and 355’s, I still find it exciting to open up a case and see what’s lurking in the pocket. There are two categories of case pocket stuff-the stuff that was in there when it was new and the stuff that ends up in there after 50 years or so. The latter category is more common: I’ve got a big assortment of straps, capos, polish cloths, strings, harmonicas, business cards from lawyers (these are surprisingly common), picks, set lists and union cards. It’s like finding a time capsule from the 50’s or 60’s. And there are other items that perhaps don’t belong there. Combs, roach clips, nail clippers and, in one case, a pair of extra clean socks. The strangest thing I ever found in the case was a semi-nude photo of  Margaret Trudeau (wife of the Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who famously had a fling with Mick Jagger or was it Keith or maybe Ronnie). That kind of proved that most individual sellers don’t bother looking to see what’s in there before it goes out the door. I’ve never found any drugs in a guitar case which just proves that musicians will use their drugs up before they sell their guitars or that musicians don’t use drugs. Pick one. I’m always happy to find 60’s and 70’s straps. My non playing customers love to buy them for their guitar playing husbands, sons and daughters. Old strings aren’t terribly useful-they are usually not in good enough shape to use so I usually leave them with the guitar when I sell it. They’re still kind of cool. None of this really gets my motor running but the other stuff you can find in a case does.

The stuff that was in the case when the guitar was new that has somehow stayed in the case for 50 or 60 years is just astounding to me. I recently bought a one owner 59 ES-345 with very nearly a full complement of case candy. Original brown strap, ABR-1 instructions, PAF instructions in their original manila envelope, original case key in its envelope, the string hang tag, the care and feeding hang tag and the original warranty hang tag with the serial number. The tags still had their strings attached. And that little envelope with the instructions still had the little screwdriver that came with these guitars. Switchcraft stereo cable in its little polythene bag? Yep. The only thing that was missing were the Varitone instructions.

Me? I can’t keep paperwork for a month let alone 50 or 60 years. How does this stuff not get lost? I’m going to take an educated guess here. Obviously, having one owner increases the chances of finding this stuff. If the owner isn’t a gigging musician but someone who mostly played at home for his or her own enjoyment, then the chances of everything staying together in the case increase geometrically. A gigging musician just doesn’t have the space in there for all of that. He needs the case pocket for the everyday items that are required for the life of a musician on the road. Things like his lawyer’s business card in case the local police didn’t like dope smoking, hippie freak, long hair guitar player types.

Just Play it

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015


Being refinished didn't stop this early 62 from being an extraordinary player. One of the best ever. When in doubt, play it. You might be surprised.

Being refinished didn’t stop this early 62 from being an extraordinary player. One of the best ever. When in doubt, play it. You might be surprised.

I get a lot of emails from readers and I appreciate them. By all means keep them coming. The email I get most is “should I buy this guitar?”. Imagine how hard it is to answer that question considering I’m not you.

The concerns are myriad. Is it priced right? Is it all original? Is that a good year? Is the finish original? Are those PAFs? Will I like the way it sounds and plays? Is it a good investment? Will it appreciate in value? There are plenty of others but they are almost all very  subjective. I do my best but I just can’t always come up with a satisfactory answer.

I can help you with a general price range for a specific year and model but I can’t always tell if a guitar is original. I certainly can’t tell from a single photo of the front of the guitar. I can tell you if I see something that looks wrong but I couldn’t tell a PAF from a patent number from a T-top if its covered (although the cover itself will tell you something). If you can’t see it-as in the case of the harness -then I can’t see it. I would also note that repro parts are getting to be very accurate and you really have to look extremely closely to know in the case of the better bridges and tailpieces. I can tell more about a stop tailpiece by feeling it than by looking at it. If anyone other than the original owner of a 50 year old tells you that every part is 100% absolutely certainly original, I would suggest that you take that with a grain of salt. Any part that can be removed can be replaced with a vintage correct part. I don’t think that’s a big deal as long as the part is correct and the wear isn’t glaringly different. A mint tailpiece with a worn and tarnished bridge and pickups isn’t going to look right even if it is vintage correct.

I can be a great help if you aren’t sure of the year as long as it’s a vintage piece. I’m not that great with 90’s and later. I just don’t see enough of them and therein lies the key to my so called expertise. If you see enough of anything, you get a sense of what is typical and what isn’t. Judging by the number of repro switch tips I see on 58-60’s, I could conclude that they are factory. I’m guessing the Les Paul guys have appropriated them. I’ve had perhaps 500 58-65 ES-335/345/355’s and, seeing that many, I get a pretty good sense of what’s in the realm of the possible and what isn’t. Things like short guards in 1960 are possible as  are long guards in 1961. PAF’s in gold hardware guitars show up into 64 and maybe even 65 although I’ve never seen one. Double white PAF in a 62? I’ve seen one in a 355. White switch tips are the norm in 61 but show up on occasion in late 60. And on and on and on.

Bottom line here is there are 100 things that can be “wrong” with a used guitar especially a really old one. But, no matter what is wrong, there is always one irrefutable criterion that will never fail you. Play it. If you like it and the price seems reasonable for what it is, then buy it. I’m happy to help you zero in on a good price (and no, it doesn’t have to be one that I’m selling but it does have to be an ES model). The other thing you can do is to buy from someone who will allow you to return it. Nearly every dealer will give you at least 24 hour approval. I give 48. That should give you enough time to play it and go through it to see that everything looks right. If you buy it from the widow of the cousin of the original owner on Craigslist, expect that you are going to find something you don’t like. The older the guitar, the more likely it is that something has changed. The good news is that even with a dozen changed parts, a refinish, a headstock repair and 29 holes from a back pad, an arm rest and three different tailpieces, the guitar can still play and sound great.

This 64 ES-335 actually had something like 29 holes in it from a back pad, arm rest a few tailpieces, a moved bridge and a couple of sets of tuners. Still sounded excellent.

This 64 ES-335 actually had something like 29 holes in it from a back pad, arm rest a few tailpieces, a moved bridge and a couple of sets of tuners. Still sounded excellent.

To Scavenge or Not to Scavenge

Saturday, April 4th, 2015
I love getting a guitar with double whites especially when it wasn't disclosed. It's like an early Christmas. It also tells me that its unlikely anyone has messed with the guitar. I'lll never pull the covers but isn't it great to know they are in there.

I love getting a guitar, like this killer 59 with double whites especially when it’s a surprise (it wasn’t on this one). It’s like an early Christmas. It also tells me that its unlikely anyone has messed with the guitar. I’ll never pull the covers but isn’t it great to know they are in there.

I’m not sure what other dealers do unless they are in the parts business but I have a problem with scavenging parts from less popular models. The time will likely come when every 57-63 ES-175 that isn’t in the hands of a collector will have its PAFs removed and put into another guitar-probably an R9 Les Paul but that’s another story. This story is about when its OK to scavenge parts and when-in my opinion, of course-it isn’t. As a bushiness person, the temptation can be compelling. Somebody brings in an all original ES-175 with a pair of double whites and you know you won’t get as much for the guitar in its original state than you will if you drop in a pair of blacks and scavenge the whites to sell separately. After all, a set of nickel covered, sealed double whites can sell for $9000-maybe even more. That’s the most dramatic of the scenarios but there are plenty of others. No wire ABR-1’s seem to disappear at an alarming rate from the less expensive early models like 175’s and 330’s. The repros have gotten really convincing and the price of an original no wire is nothing to sneeze at ($700 or more). The repro will look and sound as good and probably won’t diminish the value that much. But swapping out the bridge and selling the original just doesn’t seem right sometimes.

When is it OK and when isn’t it OK? Good question-glad I asked. Again, my opinion…I’m neither moralizing nor claiming the moral high ground. I’m just telling you how it works for me. If the guitar is already compromised-busted headstock, refinish, other changed parts, then I have no problem swapping out a bridge or even pickups. All of this is disclosed to the next buyer and is reflected in the price. But to start scavenging an all original guitar-even if its one that isn’t all that popular, then I think you are doing the guitar culture a disservice. There was a time when ES-345’s and ES-355’s were treated like a 175 is treated today. I can’t tell you how many of these I’ve seen with pickups (and stop tails) swapped out. And it’s hard to tell on a 345 or 355 stereo because the pickups are soldered to the three way and not to the pots. It’s very easy to scavenge the double whites or zebras and drop in a set of blacks and make it nearly invisible. Couple that to the fact that so many are changing the stereo circuit to mono anyway so the original solder to the three way becomes irrelevant. It’s just too easy. A 50’s or early 60’s gold stop tail can sell for $1000 with a set of long studs. A 70’s stop with short studs can be found for $200. That’s a potential $800 profit for the scavenger and the next owner may not even notice. Learn the difference and ask a lot of questions and look over the guitar the day you get it. Every single part.

Scavenging parts is part of the culture and has been for quite some time but the larger lesson here is to make sure the supposedly “all original” guitar you just paid a lot of money for is just that- 100% original. A ’59 335 with a pair of black PAFs is vintage correct but if it had double whites when it came from the factory, then I don’t think 100% correct is quite the same as 100% original. I could get into the “original solder joint” debate which most agree can be a bit over the top but at the kind of prices some of these guitars are commanding, I have no problem with checking the solder for any buyer who needs to know. In fact, the only way to know with any certainty whether your PAFs have ever been rewound is to buy the guitar that has pickups that are still sealed with their original solder both on the cover and on the pot or three way. Why both? Well if you want to be 100% certain, the solder on the covers isn’t enough. A talented tech can resolder totally convincingly as long as the covers aren’t bent (that’s an easy give away). If I’m paying $20,000 or more for a vintage 335, I want to know everything I can and just because scavenging is common doesn’t mean I accept it as OK. As I’ve said before fully 90% of the guitars I buy from individuals have some undisclosed issue. Sometimes as simple as a changed knob but sometimes as drastic as a changed harness. That’s why I keep a big stash of parts. Vintage correct isn’t the same as “all original” but it’s a lot better than repro this and later year that.


Mods to Rockers

Saturday, March 14th, 2015
Good mods and bad mods. An added stop tail when properly placed (by someone else) can be a good mod. On a 355 or a 65 and later trap tail, it can make the guitar more desirable and somewhat less expensive.

Good mods and bad mods. An added stop tail when properly placed (by someone else) can be a good mod. On a 355 or a 65 and later trap tail, it can make the guitar more desirable and somewhat less expensive.

Not those mods, with their fancy Carnaby St. clothes and their scooters. Nope, I’m talking mods to vintage guitars that kill the value for the collectors but make them affordable for the players. This is about the modifications that make a valuable vintage guitar less valuable and don’t affect the tone or the playability. The kind of mods this rocker likes.

Stop tail conversions done by someone else are always welcome but you don’t want to do it yourself because it diminishes the value. On the other hand, it sometimes makes for a better player. The big problem is that they are so frequently put in the wrong place. Your idiot brother-in-law who is real good with a drill press but knows nothing about guitars puts the stop where the trapeze cross piece was and thinks its right. Nothing bugs me more than a stop that’s a mile off (that means yours Larry Carlton). It will still play just fine but it looks way wrong. A stop tail conversion on a 65-68 will knock off $1000 or more and you won’t care a bit.

Grovers. Not Schallers. Both are perfectly good tuners and both are better tuners, if you ask me, than Klusons. That’s why so many players made the switch back in the day. They simply work better even if they are heavier. But the Schallers usually have that offset screw that requires an extra hole for each tuner. Not good for the value. Most Grovers can use one of the Kluson holes, so no new holes. Both require enlarged shaft holes but that’s invisible. The other reason I don’t like Schallers on vintage 335’s is because they look too ’70’s. They just don’t seem to belong on a 50’s or 60’s guitar. Grovers are at least correct for the era and they work real well. A tuner conversion can mean savings of perhaps $1000 on a mid 60’s but as much as $5000 (maybe more in some cases) on a dot neck.

Then there are the refinished ones. Refins, especially well done ones, will save you a boatload of dough and won’t affect the tone and playability one iota (what is an iota, anyway). The idea that a refin knocks off half the value-the same as a busted headstock-seems a little nutty to me. Especially now that so many of the Les Paul aficionados are sending their factory finished R9’s to Kim at Historic Makeovers for a pricey, better-than-Gibson refin. Who’da thunk. When HM starts offering busted headstocks as an upgrade, then I’ll freak out but in the meantime, I’ll go on about what a great deal a refin can be. Granted, there aren’t that many people who can do a really convincing dot neck style sunburst, but you see them on occasion, so they are out there. Also blondes and blacks. You know you can’t afford a blonde dot neck or find a factory black one but you might find a refin for a price that doesn’t require a mortgage and, if you’re a player, will look very cool on stage and not require an armed guard between sets. I’m not going to get into the nitro/poly thing. I don’t know if poly affects the tone or not but I suggest you look for a refin that was done in the correct nitro lacquer. It just looks better and is much more authentic.

Patched holes from mini switches, coil taps and other 70’s forays into stupid are another mod that will keep the green in your wallet. The range of competence with which they are repaired runs a gamut but a well patched extra hole or two will save you thousands. Your guitar won’t appreciate like a collector grade guitar will but it should hold its value and serve you well as a player. And besides, you can’t really see that patch from more than five feet away anyway.

I generally stay away from busted necks or headstocks. Some, like the “smile cracks” can be totally stable and will save you major bucks. But I suggest you play it before you buy it. Some headstock breaks are trouble and I can’t tell you which ones because it could be any of them. A splined repair usually means the break was major and while they can be perfectly stable, I’d still be wary.

This refinished 62 dot neck is in my top five ES's. Not my favorite color but my oh my did this baby sing. A smart buyer saved himself about ten large over an original finish.

This refinished 62 dot neck is in my top five ES’s. Not my favorite color but my oh my did this baby sing. A smart buyer saved himself about ten large over an original finish.


Day Traders

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015
Fastest selling 345 on the planet is a "first rack" '59 ES-345. These don't last a week when I get them. Sometimes not even an hour.

Fastest selling 345 on the planet is a “first rack” ’59 ES-345. These don’t last a week when I get them. Sometimes not even an hour.

I received an email from a reader who likened the buying and selling of vintage guitars-specifically my guitars-to day trading. He mentioned that they seem to sell very quickly on a “last in-first out” basis. That can be true but to liken the guitar business to day trading is a little off the mark, I think. From a business perspective, you can look at guitar buying and selling from a few diverging viewpoints.

If you’re a player and you want a tool for your playing, you will likely be less concerned about whether you get your money out of the guitar many years down the road. Your emphasis is on playability and tone-not investment potential, although they aren’t mutually exclusive. That’s why “player grade” guitars are such a large part of the guitar business. Unfortunately, player grade has often come to mean beat up and modified (regardless of how it plays) as opposed to a great playing, great sounding guitar that isn’t collector clean or 100% original. I, unfortunately, don’t control the vast nomenclature of the guitar universe. If I did, the term “sustains for days” would not exist. Frequently, a “player grade” guitar will sell very quickly as it affords a newcomer to vintage or someone who just doesn’t have the resources for a “collector grade” guitar access to these great old instruments. It is not unusual for a 60’s ES model to sell for a figure that approaches the reissue Gibsons. Granted, you won’t see dot necks in that neighborhood but I’ve seen plenty of Bigsby 345’s – even some from 64 or earlier-that will cost you about what you’ll pay for a new high end 335. You can argue which one is better among yourselves. I like some of the new ones but it isn’t my field of expertise nor is it my market. Player grade guitars aren’t particularly good investments from a growth standpoint but they are very liquid. I can sell a player grade 64 much faster than I can sell a near mint dot neck. Bigger market by a mile and less hassle too. The cleaner and more original a guitar is, the more scrutiny it requires to make a sale and to make the buyer happy. That’s fine but it will slow down the process.

So, what made my reader make the day trader comment? I think it is due to the fact that some guitars show up on my site and are gone in a day or less. There are two very good reasons for that. One is that I keep a list of buyers who are looking for a specific year and model. They are notified-usually even before I have the guitar in hand-that the guitar they seek is coming in. Usually, those buyers see the photos and description at the same time as everyone else-when I post the guitar for sale. That’s just fairness. Often, the guitar is gone in five minutes and it looks a lot like day trading. I never, ever engage clients in a bidding war. If I list a guitar at $15000 and someone makes me an offer of $14000 and I accept it, the deal is done. If buyer number two the offers $16000, it’s too late. If buyer number one commits and then can’t pay, that’s another story. One note-most guitars show up first on Gbase and occasionally on Twitter if I remember to post them. If there is a particular year you are after, let me know and I’ll try to remember to give you a heads up when it is on my radar. I do occasionally have a guitar that is sold before I even get it in my hands. But then I post it as a hold or sold right away. That probably looks a lot like day trading. There are also guitars that I buy specifically for a particular buyer . Those never make the listings.

At the risk of tooting my horn, which I am generally loathe to do, I price my guitars to sell. If you do a search of a particular model and year 335/345/355, you will find, more often than not, that I have the lowest price apples to apples. The philosophy here is not so much magnanimity but practicality. I’d rather make a small profit on five guitars and have five very happy customers who feel they got a good deal, than have one customer who paid top dollar or more  (after I perhaps sat on the guitar for a year or more waiting for that one buyer at that high price) who may or may not be happy with the price. It seems to work and it allows me to acquire more guitars and serve more clients. I suppose I could make the same profit buying one or two bursts a year and selling them at stupid high prices. It wouldn’t be much fun and wouldn’t keep me that busy. Then I would have to fix stuff around the house that my wife points out on a regular basis (I live in a 300 year old house). “Sorry, dear, I’ve got to go to the shop and sell some guitars…”

Mono 355's don't hang around long either

Mono 355’s don’t hang around long either

The biggest, fastest seller of all-a red 64 "player grade". These are often gone before I get them.

The biggest, fastest seller of all-a red 64 “player grade”. These are often gone before I get them. This one might be a little above a player grade but you get the idea.

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.