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Archive for the ‘ES 345’ Category

Back to Basics

Thursday, April 24th, 2014
One of my favorites-a 59 ES-335 blonde (natural) played to death and still rockin'. That's the bottom of the line but, ironically, the top of the price heap. Go figure.

One of my favorites-a 59 ES-335 blonde (natural) played to death and still rockin’. That’s the bottom of the line but, ironically, the top of the price heap. Go figure.

OK, all the regular readers are going to groan but don’t. You didn’t always know everything there was to know about these guitars either (nor did I). I get asked this a lot and while it’s as basic as can be, I can understand all the confusion when you first begin to learn about these guitars. The question is, simply, what’s the difference between a 335, a 345 and a 355? The answer, while it seems second nature to many of us, isn’t really so simple. Lets start with the 335. It was the bottom of the ES semi hollow line. What about the 330, you ask. The 330, while also an ES, was fully hollow. So was the 350. A 335 has a rosewood fingerboard (until sometime in 65), dot markers until early 62 and then small blocks, single ply white bindings front and back, nickel plated hardware (until Spring of 65), Kluson tuners and a mono circuit with a three way pickup selector switch.

The ES-345 is the middle of the lineup. All ES-345′s have a stereo circuit with a three way switch like the 335 but also a 6 way Varitone switch which is, essentially, a notch filter. The fingerboard is also rosewood but the markers are “split parallelograms”. Both 335 and 345 have the same “crown” headstock inlay, although some say it’s a leaf or a flowerpot. I don’t know what it is. The 345 has gold plated hardware and the pickups are out of phase which, although I don’t entirely understand why, works better with the stereo circuit which sends one pickup to the right and the other to the left into two channels or two amps. A cool setup but not terribly popular these days. Many 345 owners remove the stereo circuit and the Varitone and wire the guitar the same as a 335. The binding on a 345 is three ply (white-black -white) on the front and single ply white on the back.

That brings us to the top of the line. The ES-355. The 355 was available in mono like a 335 or stereo with the Varitone switch like a 345. It was different in more than a few aspects. The headstock is larger and the inlay is different. It is called a split diamond and the headstock is also bound around the edges. The fretboard inlays are different too. Not just in shape but in the material. Whereas the 335 and 345 are celluloid plastic, the 355 has real mother of pearl inlays in the shape of large blocks (and has a first fret marker which 335′s and almost all 345′s don’t have). The fingerboard itself is ebony rather than rosewood and the hardware, like the 345, is gold plated. The tuners are not Klusons but Grovers until late 1963 when they switched to Kluson “waffle backs”. The top binding is seven plies (w-b-w-b-w-b-w) and the back binding is 3 plies. Until early 1965, you could get a 335 or 345 with a stop tail or a tremolo tailpiece (Bigsby, then sideways, then Maestro in 63). In 65, they switched to a trapeze to replace the stop tail. A Bigsby was always available even after they switched to the other tremolo tailpieces. However, an ES-355 only came with a tremolo tailpiece unless specially ordered with a stop tail. Stop 355s are über rare and worth loads of dough. As I said, you could always get a Bigsby but the factory stock unit was Bigsby for 58-60, sideways in 61-62 and Maestro from 63 on. 335s and 345s were available in sunburst, red (rare until 61 on 335s), an odd sunburst called Argentine Grey which was neither Argentine nor grey and natural (through 1960). ES-355′s were, unless special ordered, always red. I’ve seen a few black ones, a few naturals, two sunbursts and a white one now and then but 99+% are red. There were custom colors for 335s and 345s as well but they are very rare and quite desirable except for a sort of deep candy apple red that came into being in 65 or 66 called Sparkling Burgundy. I don’t mind it if it isn’t faded but most everyone else doesn’t like it much. There were a lot of changes to all three models over the years and I can’t cover them here-go back and read some old posts and you’ll find all of them .

Of course, the three models shared many aspects as well. The construction is the same for all three and the electronics:  The pickups, pots and control layout are the same, although the stereo guitars have the extra 6 way switch and a stereo jack and circuit. In terms of the tonal aspects, there really isn’t much difference. A mono ES-355 sounds pretty much like a mono ES-335. Some would argue that the ebony board adds a bit of “snap” to the tone but my ears aren’t good enough to hear it and I have pretty good ears. A stereo 345 sounds like a stereo 355. I won’t get into the differences in tone between mono and stereo because it’s a can of worms. Don’t ask. Look up Varitone controversy either on this site or Google. So pick your fave and buy one. Buy it from me or buy it from somebody else. But I’m telling you, you won’t find a better designed and conceived electric guitar anywhere on Earth.

Here's a bunch of 345's. The middle one isn't the usual sunburst, it's called Argentine Grey although I have no idea why. That switch with the chicken head knob is the 6 way Varitone which causes controversy everywhere it goes.

Here’s a bunch of 345′s. The middle one isn’t the usual sunburst, it’s called Argentine Grey although I have no idea why. That switch with the chicken head knob is the 6 way Varitone which causes controversy everywhere it goes.

Here's the top dog (back then). This is a 59 ES-355 mono-note-no Varitone switch. Also note that it has a Bigsby. 99+% of them have some sort of trem tailpiece. If you find one with a stop tail, sell it to me please. Note the different headstock.

Here’s the top dog (back then). This is a 59 ES-355 mono-note-no Varitone switch. Also note that it has a Bigsby. 99+% of them have some sort of trem tailpiece. If you find one with a stop tail, sell it to me please. Note the different headstock.

 

Grovers

Sunday, April 20th, 2014
I did a Google search for Grover CEO and got this pair. Mr. Mt Grover is on the left and his slightly weirder brother, Cookie Monster, is on the right. He was the CFO if I'm not mistaken.

I did a Google search for Grover CEO and got this pair. Mr. Grover is on the left and his slightly weirder brother, Cookie Monster, is on the right. He was the CFO if I’m not mistaken.

 

If you ask me which 335 mod is the most frequently seen, I’d have to say tuner changes. In the  mid to late 60′s, it was almost mandatory to put a set of Grovers on your Kluson equipped Gibson guitar . We all knew that Gibsons went out of tune too easily and most of us thought that it must be the somewhat pedestrian Kluson tuners. After all, even Gibson used Grover tuners on the top of the line 355 until 1964 so perhaps they knew something. Most of us know by now that it wasn’t the tuners knocking these guitars out of tune but a poorly cut nut. Usually, the upper strings stick in the slots and go sharp when you bend them. If the tuners were slipping, the strings would go flat. It took me years to figure this out. I changed the tuners on my 68 SG (back in 68) to Grovers for that very reason. A certain Mr. Clapton had a set of gold patent pending Grovers on his 335 and, considering the number of 335′s that have had these tuners, I would say it was all the rage back then. Then the 70′s brought Schallers which on the plus side are perfectly good tuners but on the minus side, are heavy and ugly and required more holes. At least with a set of Grovers, you could use the existing bottom hole from the Klusons and only have to enlarge the shaft hole. But the damage was done, as they say and now we have to deal with it. My initial thought, with a set of Grovers, is to leave them be. They are good tuners and they look OK. A Grovered Gibson will be a perfectly serviceable guitar but the purist collectors will always discount them (or turn up their collective noses at them). Put a set of Klusons back on with a good set of adaptor bushings-the ones that are “invisible” because the size of the part of the bushing that shows is the same as the real ones and you’re back to collector grade. Sort of. The shaft holes will always be bigger and you can’t hide that (and you shouldn’t). You can repair them but the guitar will always have an issue.

So, how do you price an otherwise collector grade guitar that’s been Groverized. Or Schallerized. Or perhaps Sperzelized. well, it depends on the guitar. You might knock $4000 or more off a $40,000 ’59 but on a 66 ES-335, it might only be $1000. It also depends on how clean the front of the headstock is. Most folks seemed to think you had to tighten down the bushings until the headstock dented. Those marks won’t go away and they diminish the original look. Knock off a few more bucks. Schallers leave an extra hole that will peek out the sides of a set of Klusons. Knock off another few bucks. There really aren’t any rules and that’s what can make buying any vintage guitar a tricky business. My approach is to look at the whole guitar. If, for example, it’s a player grade guitar with changed parts, Bigsby holes and perhaps some player wear, then don’t worry about the Grovers. It’ll be priced in. But if the guitar approaches mint condition with the only issue being the Grovers, then you may be paying a serious premium (for a mint 335) but ending up with a guitar that will always be a cut below an all original one-even one in way worse condition. As I’m fond of saying. Fifty years is a long time for anything to remain unmolested. If the only issue is a set of Grovers and the price is right, then I say go for it. You could find a lot of worse mods than a cheap tuner swapped for a better one.

The dreaded "Grover Shadow" that surrounds the Kluson shaft on a 335 returned to its original tuners. Even with adaptor bushings, you can't run from the shadow.

The dreaded “Grover Shadow” that surrounds the Kluson shaft on a 335 returned to its original tuners. Even with adaptor bushings, you can’t run from the shadow.

 

See those little filled holes on the edges of the tuner housings on the right? Schallers. They have an offset mounting hole so you didn't have to use the existing holes. You just drilled new ones. It's just an old Gibson. Who cares!

See those little filled holes on the edges of the tuner housings on the right? Schallers. They have an offset mounting hole so you didn’t have to use the existing holes. You just drilled new ones. It’s just an old Gibson. Who cares!

Neck Angle

Sunday, April 6th, 2014
This 64 ES-335 shows about an equal amount of neck under the fingerboard as there is fingerboard. Maybe a little more. This is a pretty typical neck angle for a post 1960 ES-335.

This 64 ES-335 shows a bit more than an equal amount of neck under the fingerboard as there is fingerboard. This is a pretty typical neck angle for a post 1960 ES-335.

Here's an early 59 ES-345 that shows a lot less wood under the binding meaning the neck angle is shallower. Some 58's show no neck at all under the fingerboard. This angle affects how low the bridge needs to be for the guitar to set up properly and comfortably.

Here’s an early 59 ES-345 that shows a lot less wood under the binding meaning the neck angle is shallower. Some 58′s show no neck at all under the fingerboard. This angle affects how low the bridge needs to be for the guitar to set up properly and comfortably.

This is a difficult subject because the effects of various neck angles are impossible to quantify. By neck angle, we’re talking about the angle at which the neck meets the body of the guitar. The easiest way to see this is to look at how much neck is showing under the fingerboard at the area where the neck overlaps the guitars top. A shallow neck angle would mean there is very little neck showing and the most visible result of a shallow angle is that the bridge sits very low on the guitar. A steeper neck angle (raked toward the back of the guitar) will result in the bridge that sits higher off the guitar body. But there’s more to it than that. A shallow neck has a larger area of contact with the body than a deeper angle. Not by much but there are plenty of folks who believe the guitars with the shallow angle sound better. But, again, that’s not the whole story. Let’s look at the most notoriously shallow angle on a 335-the 1958. The neck angle on many (and most) 58′s was so shallow that they needed a thinner bridge to allow a decent string height (action). Those bridges quickly collapsed and Gibson started shaving full size bridges to accommodate that angle. But a bridge that is set as low as it can go actually sits on the guitar top so there is more area of contact than there would be if it was sitting only on the bridge posts. Does that make a difference in tone? Beats me, but it certainly will translate more vibration to the top of the guitar because there is more metal in contact with the top. It’s like when you are sitting in a chair playing (without the amp) and the guitar makes contact with the arm of the chair and all of a sudden, your guitar gets louder because the chair starts vibrating along with the guitar. The question is whether this actually translates into a better sounding guitar. I really like most 58′s. But I really like most 64′s too. They don’t sound the same but I can’t say the shallow neck angle on a 58 makes the difference. It could be the bigger neck on a 58 or the PAFs or the thinner top. There are just too many variables to make some kind of general statement. You can certainly make the argument that more wood equals more vibration equals more tone. That would suggest that big necks might sound better than small ones. Experience doesn’t bear this out with any degree of certainty. I’ve had thin neck 62′s that sound as good as any 59. Similarly, I’ve had just OK sounding early 60′s with a steeper neck angle, a fat neck and PAFs. Throw in variables like poorly cut nut slots, over notched bridge saddles and poorly adjusted truss rods and any 335 can sound worse than it should. These guitars are, quite simply, the sum of their parts. If, at some point, I get two totally well set up, similarly equipped. same size neck 335′s -one with a steep angle and the other with a shallow angle, I can do some kind of side by side. But for now, I will go with my gut and say that the difference is real but it is probably overshadowed by all the other parameters.

This is the bridge on my 59 Epi Sheraton which follows the same rules as a 3x5. It has an extremely shallow angle and the bridge sits as low as I can get it, touching the top of the guitar. This could be a good thing.

This is the bridge on my 59 Epi Sheraton which follows the same rules as a 3×5. It has an extremely shallow angle and the bridge sits as low as I can get it, touching the top of the guitar. This could be a good thing.

Idle Frets

Monday, March 31st, 2014

 

"Little" frets on a 58 unbound 335. If the guitar is set up properly, you shouldn't have any trouble bending the crap out of the strings.

“Little” frets on a 58 unbound 335. If the guitar is set up properly, you shouldn’t have any trouble bending the crap out of the strings.

I’m not very adept with a pair of calipers. Today I tried to measure the frets on all the guitars I have in the house (snow day with nothing much to do). I know approximately how big the frets are supposed to be but for some reason my measurements aren’t that close. Of course, the size of the fret wire as it came out of the box 50 years ago (or tube or whatever) isn’t necessarily the size of the fret wire today. Some general knowledge of Gibson’s fret “repertoire” will help. In 1958, Gibson wasn’t using what we now call “jumbo” fret wire in the first 335′s off the line. The first thing I noticed when I picked up the first 58 I ever owned was that the frets looked like vintage Fender frets (I was a Fender guy before I was a Gibson guy). I measured them at .075″ which is pretty close to Fender which, if what I read on the internet is correct, are .078″. Often, when I get a request from a potential buyer for a dot neck, I ask whether they want a 58, 59, 60 or 61. Most want a 59 and when I ask why, they sometimes say “I can’t play on those little frets on the 58″. I’ve been playing a string of 58′s for the past few months and, while I’m not the world’s best player (OK, not even a good player), I find very little difference between the feel of a 58 and the feel of a 59. Big bends seem to work just fine on the “little” 58 frets. I think setup has more to do with bending than fret wire does but perhaps fat frets are more forgiving of a mediocre setup. I’ll have to look into that. I measured a few others as well. The frets on my 59 ES-345 were around .085″ and were extremely comfortable -a bit flatter than the 58′s but that could be from dressing and wear. The 66 I have had about the same size as the 59 only taller. I have an 82 here that measures .092″ so apparently bigger frets were introduced at some point after the 60′s ended. My 59 Epi Sheraton’s frets measured .080 but I’m such a klutz, they were probably the same as those on my 59 ES-345 and I just didn’t a good measurement. These are pretty small differences after all. But, when you compare these “vintage jumbo” frets to modern jumbo frets, they are quite a lot smaller. A .085 today is considered medium. So, what do I specify when I need to have one of my vintage beauties refretted? I’ve had great results with Dunlop 6105 wire (.090″). It’s so close to vintage spec that I can’t tell the difference. I played refrets done with 6100, 6120, Stew Mac 146 and 154 and they all seem pretty good. I will say that I’m completely obsessive about proper intonation and the big wide 6120′s make intonation more difficult and finicky-especially when they need a crown. In fact, all these frets, once they flatten out from wear (“railroad ties” in luthier vernacular) will cause you some intonation issues. It’s simple physics really. The more precise the pressure point on the string (i.e. the top of the fret) the more precise the note. With flat frets, if the string contacts the back edge of the fret, the note will be rather different from the note produced at the middle or front edge of the fret. On a properly crowned fret, there is only a single point at which the string touches the fret. That doesn’t mean you can get away with poor intonation but it allows you to better adjust and control it. So, I’m afraid I haven’t shed that much light on which 335s used which frets-it seems like 58′s used little ones and 59-66 (and later) used what would be called medium today. If anybody is real good with the calipers, I’d be happy to learn what you find. 99% of what I know about these guitars comes from owning them and looking at them.  You can’t get most of this stuff from a book.

These are original 59 frets. Not exactly huge by modern standards but plenty big for me. These measure around .082"

These are original 59 frets. Not exactly huge by modern standards but plenty big for me. These measure around .085″

Neck and Neck

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

 

The main reason that the neck profiles are so variable is that they are shaped by hand. As you can see in this photo from the Gibson site, they still are (at least in the Custom shop)

The main reason that the neck profiles are so variable is that they were shaped by hand. As you can see in this photo from the Gibson site, they still are (at least in the Custom shop)

What’s the most often heard request I get?—”I want a 59 (size) neck.” Neck sizes are trendy things. Back in the mid 60′s the trend was for “fast” necks-narrow at the nut  and slim from front to back. You can probably thank Leo Fender for that as Gibson was chasing Leo and followed, when necessary, the leader. The necks at Gibson were still finished by hand so there is bound to be some variation within any given era. That said, we tend to describe ES necks by a year designation. To most of us a 58 neck is big and round from one end to the other, a 59 is also big with a bit more shoulder and widening and deepening going toward the 12th fret. A 60 is wide and flat with almost no taper, as is a 61 and a 62. Most of us perceive a 63 and a 64 as medium chunky with some shoulder and a considerable increase in size going up. That’s a fairly good generalization but it isn’t really all that accurate. It may be accurate for the majority of the ES guitars for those years but it may not be accurate for the one you just bought and that’s the one that counts.

Let’s look at the range for each year as I’ve seen them. 1958: These are pretty big and pretty consistent. I’ve measured perhaps 6 or 7 of them and the measurement at the first fret from the board to the middle of the back is .88″-.90″. By the time you reach the 12th, it’s around .98 which is not much of a taper. 1959: Here’s where it gets really tricky. The range at the first fret in 59 is from around .83″ to over .90″ that’s a big range. Most get pretty big by the 12th fret -a full inch or slightly more. But here’s the problem. They are all over the place. It’s not like you can say that a particular serial number range is going to have a particular neck. It just isn’t so, although the earlier the serial, the more likely you are to get a big neck. Anything in the A28xxx range to A30000 will probably have a big neck but there are no guarantees.  After that, it’s a even more of a crapshoot. For example A30906 (which was my red one) has what I think is a perfect neck. It was, I believe, around .87 at the first and 1.00″ at the 12th. I currently have A31348 with a neck measurement of around .83″ at the first fret and .94″ at the 12th. That’s a nice neck but it isn’t  a size most of us would associate with a 59. I’ve always called that size a “transitional” neck but that one is pretty early-probably early October. I expect that neck in the A31800-A32285 range in 59 and on into 1960 for another 800 or 900 serial numbers. But that’s not consistent either.

1960-1962: It’s a pretty good bet that the neck is going to be pretty flat and stay that way. With the exception of the early 60, you are likely to find some consistency here in that none of them will be particularly large, They will be wide (1 11/16″ more or less) at the nut but the first fret measurement is going to be from .79″ which is blade thin up to around .82″ which is still thin but not glaringly so. I’ve had a number of 61′s that were so thin that there is almost no wood between the truss rod and the back of the neck. You should look out for cracks (and back bows) in these thinnest of necks. The crack is usually from an overtightened truss rod and the back bow is because there just isn’t much wood to counter the string tension and folks keep tightening the truss to compensate until there’s no more range. Then somebody takes the strings off and boinng, you have a back bow. By the time you hit the 12th fret on these, the neck hasn’t gained much heft, Measurements of .87″ are common. As you get into later 62 and into 63, the really thin necks disappear and something like .82″ at the first fret is pretty common.

1963-1964: By mid 63, the necks have gotten pretty big again-even if the first fret  measurements don’t entirely bear this out, there is so much more shoulder in many cases that the neck feels pretty chunky. I’ve played 64′s that measure only .82″ at the first fret that feel huge. That’s the shoulder-a rounder profile as opposed to a flatter one. The range from mid 63 to early 65 seems to be from around .82″ to around .86″ at the first fret which many folks feel is the best of the Gibson neck carves for a 335. I like them myself. And don’t go by the contemporary Gibson “59″ and “63″ reissue profiles. The 59 has a ton of shoulder- much more than a real 59 and the 63 is more like an early 62-at least that’s how they felt to me last time I played one (2012 or so).

These is pretty general stuff and there are going to be exceptions all over the place. If you are very particular about neck size, ask a lot of questions or better still buy from someone who will take the guitar  back if you don’t bond with the neck. Playing the guitar before you buy it isn’t always possible, so go into your deal with a little knowledge. Most of us are pretty adaptable but if you’re spending the kind of money these guitars go for, shouldn’t you have the neck you really want?

The '59 on top measures .89" at the first fret while the '62 below measures .82" which is actually pretty big for a 62. 7/100 of an inch doesn't sound like a lot but it sure looks like a big difference. And it is.

The ’59 on top measures .89″ at the first fret while the ’62 below measures .82″ which is actually pretty big for a 62. 7/100 of an inch doesn’t sound like a lot but it sure looks like a big difference. And it is.

 

Same two guitars at the 10-12th fret. The 59 measures 1.02" which is a lot of neck. The 62 is only .88" . I find both pretty easy to play and I have small hands. I play equally badly on a 62 and a 59.

Same two guitars at the 10-12th fret. The 59 measures 1.02″ which is a lot of neck. The 62 is only .88″ . I find both pretty easy to play and I have small hands. I play equally badly on a 62 and a 59.

 

 

The Beauty of the Beater

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014
This 59 "beater" was one of my favorites but it wasn't exactly cheap. Well, cheap for a blonde, I guess (and I've known some cheap blondes in my day)

This 59 “beater” was one of my favorites but it wasn’t exactly cheap. Well, cheap for a blonde, I guess (and I’ve known some cheap blondes in my day). It’s probably had 3 or four fret jobs and the neck bindings replaced, most of the finish is missing from the back but it was $35,000 less than the price of a collector grade ’59 ES-335TDN.

 

Fifty or sixty years is a very long time. OK, not in the sense of the history of the Earth or anything but it’s a long time for me and for a guitar, among other things.  Stuff gets old, stuff gets used, abused and thrown away. When’s the last time you saw a 1961 Chevy at the local Starbuck’s? The old car business is a little like the old guitar business with at least one notable exception. Cars rarely get used for 50 or more years without being restored (unless you live in Cuba). It makes little economic or practical sense to keep a 50 year old car running as your daily driver. On the other hand, a 50 or 60 year old guitar that been played its entire life might be the best playing, best sounding guitar you ever played. It just won’t look that great. The main factor is probably the number of moving parts. A guitar doesn’t have very many so it might show all kinds of player wear but the parts that actually wear out are limited.  Frets, tuners, nuts, bridges and pots are the parts that tend to go and all are relatively cheaply replaced. A warped or twisted neck will put a guitar out of commission but little else will. In fact, the first thing I check on a “mint” guitar is the neck. The biggest reason a guitar goes back under the bed for 40 years is that it doesn’t play well. I might add that the biggest reason a guitar gets played year in and year out is because it DOES play well. I know, it’s a cliché but the good ones really do get played. The bad ones get played too and some good ones don’t get played but, on average, beaters are better players than mint guitars. That doesn’t mean a mint guitar is inferior but if a guitar is being played, its probably set up properly and doing what it’s supposed to do…play well and sound good. A guitar that’s sitting under the bed doesn’t have to do either.

This 61 335 must have been played a lot. Neck wear like this - even after 52 years-doesn't happen unless someone is playing a lot.

This 61 335 must have been played a lot. Neck wear like this – even after 52 years-doesn’t happen unless someone is playing a lot.

We’re all familiar with guitars that have been played so much that there’s almost no finish left (like the Rory Gallagher Strat) and with guitars that have had all their parts replaced, although many ES’s have been scavenged for parts by Les Paul owners. It’s pretty typical for ’59 and ’60 ES-345′s to have splices in the pickup leads because somebody swiped the double whites for their R9 Les Paul. But the beater has a great deal of allure for many. It’s a sign that the guitar has a history and, more often than not, a sign that the guitar was played by someone serious who probably gigged regularly and relied on his instrument as a means of support. That usually means two things: Great player and cheap. And really, what more can you ask for if you aren’t buying an investment? Excessive wear doesn’t really affect playability and tone. A well executed headstock repair usually doesn’t either, although some would argue the point. Neck reset? As long as it was done properly, it won’t make the guitar sound any different although it will make it play better. The typically changed parts don’t make much difference in tone either. I routinely put repro or Tone Pros bridges on my players-a worn or partially collapsed bridge doesn’t do your tone or sustain any favors. A worn nut can be deadly to your tone and slipping tuners are simply a pain if you’re a gigging player. We could argue about changed pots but I don’t think it makes much difference. Pickups are another story. Myself, I try to find beaters with correct era pickups, at least. Not that some aftermarket pickups don’t sound great but I just like vintage better.

So, what should you look for? Well, cheap for one thing. What makes a guitar cheap? Issues. Holes in the guitar that don’t belong have no effect on tone or playability. A worn finish (or in most cases, a refinish) won’t affect the tobe or playability. A bad headstock break or poor repair should be avoided as should a less than straight neck. Some problems can be adjusted away, some can be planed away, some (like a twist) are better left to be someone else’s headache. If you pick up the beater in question and you love the way it plays and the way it sounds, do you really care what its been through? I don’t.

 

Here’s the same 61 in all its “beater” glory. A really excellent player that didn’t break the bank for a savvy buyer.

Don’t Matter if You’re Black or White

Monday, January 6th, 2014

This white ’65 ES-355 is the only white ES I’ve had. The finish was factory but it’s really tough to tell if it was originally white or a factory refinish. It did have a “custom” truss cover but that, in itself, isn’t enough to convince me it is original.

You thought I was going to write about PAF bobbins didn’t you. Go on, admit it. And it doesn’t matter if they’re black or white (unless you’re buying or selling). But, no. I’m writing about black guitars and white guitars. They made both as custom orders during the 50′s and 60′s but they are rare and they are desirable. Out of 300 or so ES-330, 335,  345 and 355′s I’ve had here since I started this site, I’ve had only two legitimate factory black ones (and a couple of black Trinis but those were actually a stock color, although they are awfully rare).  I’ve had exactly one white one. You would think both those colors would have been more popular but they just aren’t. Gibson made an awful lot of Les Paul Customs in black so it wasn’t like they didn’t have the paint around. They also made a fair number of factory white SG’s-mostly Customs and Specials and a few Jrs. So how is it that these colors rarely found their way onto the other guitars in the Gibson line? Let’s see what’s out there. There’s the very famous Keith Richards ES’s-a black 59 ES-355 (the one in the Louis Vuitton ad) and a white ES-345 which I think is a 64. There’s Alex Lifeson’s white ES-355 but that’s from the 70′s-a 76 I think. There’s a photo of dave Edmunds playing a black dot neck 335 but it has the headstock inlay in the wrong position and I don’t know if it’s factory black. In any case, these custom colors don’t come up very often and I’m always happy to see one when they do. Recently I’ve had two of them – both from ’66 and both done up with fancy bindings (including the f-holes) and gold hardware. The serial numbers are very close as well (two apart) and it’s possible, in fact likely,  they were ordered by the same buyer. Interestingly, they both ended up in the hands of a gentleman in Southern California and then both ended up with me. There’s a black ES-355 that’s been on Ebay lately with the same look. How do you price one of these? Well, it’s not easy given that the supply is minuscule and the demand is, well, there is no demand because most folks think they are totally out of reach. You can figure on a custom color being at least double the price of a red or sunburst of the same year. That doesn’t include “Sparkling Burgundy” which nobody seems to like very much. That also doesn’t include black or white (well sort of white) 335′s from the 80′s. They are actually worth less than their blonde counterparts. If you’re lucky enough to come up with a black or white dot neck 335 from 58-61, then all bets are off because you can pretty much name your price. There are some but I don’t think you’ll find one in your lifetime. Black 59 and 60 ES-345′s and 355′s were made but I’ve never seen a white one from that early. I had a white ’65 ES-355 a few years back and I mentioned Keith’s white ’64 ES-345. Then there are the Trinis.

Who doesn't love a black Trini? This 67 was pretty cool. I hadn't seen one in ten years then had two of them last year.

Who doesn’t love a black Trini? This 67 was pretty cool. I hadn’t seen one in ten years then had two of them last year.

I’ve had a 66 and a 67 in the past year or so and I’ve seen at least two others including the one played by Rusty Anderson (Paul McCartney’s guitar player). But the Trinis were a standard factory color so there may be a lot more of them under beds and in closets. Pelham Blue was a standard color as well but rumor has it there are only 16 of them. I’ve had only one and seen four or five others. Still, a black Trini is going to cost you about double what a red one will cost, so standard issue or not, folks still will pay a big premium for them. The Pelham Blue Trini went for more like three times the cost of a red one but it was practically mint so you have to figure that in as well. There are some black ES-175′s, at least a few black Byrdlands and Kessels (Gene Cornish of the Rascals played one back in the day) and a few black early double necks (which are rare enough in any color). The tricky part is, of course, the “factory” part. There are a number of ways to tell if a guitar was refinished and, frankly, a lot of black ES’s are not factory. Black can be used to cover all sorts of nastiness-headstock cracks being the usual sin but also filled holes and routs. I had a 68 Les paul Custom come to me that looked legit until you got the light to hit it just right and you could see that there was a Kahler rout that had been skillfully filled. So, be extra careful with these beauties. The paint is thick and opaque and sometimes it’s a little scary to imagine what’s under there. But if you find a real one, hang on to it (or sell it to me). There just aren’t that many of them and if they are cool enough for Keith, they are probably too cool for the likes of you (or me).

This bound f-hole and 355 trimmed ES-335 (7 ply top binding and gold hardware) is a 66. I had a 66 ES-330 decked out the same way only 2 serial numbers away from this one.

This bound f-hole and 355 trimmed ES-335 (7 ply top binding and gold hardware) is a 66. I had a 66 ES-330 decked out the same way only 2 serial numbers away from this one.

Big Bang around Three Grand

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

 

I just did a quick search on Gbase and came up with this uber cool factory black '82. It's just over $3K but Howie (at Rivington Guitars in New York) is a good guy and maybe he'll sell it to you for $3K. 81-85s are an excellent choice for vintage on a budget. There a very flamey 85 on Ebay too that you might like for under $3000 too-if you like flamey.

I just did a quick search on Gbase and came up with this uber cool factory black ’82. It’s just over $3K but Howie (at Rivington Guitars in New York) is a good guy and maybe he’ll sell it to you for $3K. 81-85s are an excellent choice for vintage on a budget. There’s a very flamey 85 on Ebay too that you might like for under $3000 too-if you like flamey.

I got some less than friendly replies to my Big Bang, Little Bucks post and I think I deserved it. The guitars I described were in the $5000 range but, with repairs or upgrades got up in the $6500 range. The problem is that I called this amount “Little Bucks”. It’s not. $5000 is a load of money for a guitar to many folks and, because I sell and write about some mighty expensive guitars, I sometimes lose sight of the fact that the air is a bit rarefied in the 58-64 years. So are the prices. A vintage guitar, for almost all of us, is a luxury. Nobody has to have a vintage piece. Eric Clapton’s ‘burst was only 7 years old when he played with Mayall & Co. The argument that they “just don’t make ‘em like they used to” doesn’t really apply any more. They (and I don’t mean Gibson, alone) make plenty of great guitars-some every bit as good as the ones I sell. I’ve made my point about “old wood” but you can still get a ton of tone out of a brand new or fairly new guitar that won’t cost you a years tuition at a major university. So, let’s look to see what you should buy if you have $3000 or less to spend and you want something old. I’m not going to talk about anything new because it isn’t my field. I’ve played a lot of the newer 335′s but you don’t need me to tell you which one to buy. Use your ears and your hands to figure out which one works for you. It’s a guitar, not an investment. Leave the investments to others if you don’t have the disposable income or assets to play that game. And ask them how they did on the guitars they bought in 2007-2008 when you get a chance. So, you have $3000 to spend on a guitar. Guitar Center has brand new 335′s for $2999. That’s the base model and it’s probably a pretty nice guitar although I haven’t played one. But you can get something vintage as well and it can be from the 60′s, 70′s or 80′s. It’s hard for old farts like me to believe but 1984 was almost 30 years ago. That makes those mid 80′s 335′s vintage. I particularly like the 81-85′s although the quality stays pretty much the same for the rest of the 80′s. Only the pickups change (and not for the better). The 81-85′s are the last of the Norlins and are quite good but they have also creeped up in price. You might find a blonde one under $3000-I have-but you’d be better off and so will your wallet if you look for another color. The black ones, although somewhat rare don’t seem to command a premium. I’ve seen a few under $2000. Reds and the somewhat dull sunbursts are easy to find in the $1800-$2400 range. They are generally well made and generally sound pretty good if a little dark. Change out the crappy harness with its 300K pots for a good one with 50-0K pots and it will brighten up. Make sure the Tim Shaw PAF reissues are still in there. I think they’re a little overrated but they are still good pickups. Some have big necks, some small, some three piece, some one piece…just make sure you know what you’re getting. Ask a lot of questions. Next choice-a ’68 or early 69 ES-345. It’s going to have a narrow nut and if you can’t play a guitar with a skinny little 1 9/16″ nut, don’t buy one. You can’t fix it. Look to see whether it has a long neck tenon. All the 68′s do and some 69′s do. Avoid the ones where you can’t see the neck tenon sticking most of the way through the neck pickup rout. If you are able to play it in person, you can consider a later 69 but make sure the neck is stable. Some aren’t. 335′s from these years are pretty much out of your budget unless they are refinished or have neck breaks but 345′s with some minor issues (like added stop tails and changed tuners and harnesses) still turn up on Ebay, The Gear Page and Craigslist for $3000 or less. If you get lucky a 335 might turn up that you can negotiate down to that level. I was gonna talk about the 70′s but I’m out of space. Another time.

This mid 60's, probably a 66, ES-345  had been stop tailed and Schallered and was that funny Sparkling Burgundy color but it played great and was cheap. Might have had changed pickups--Sold for exactly $3000.

This mid 60′s ES-345 had been stop tailed and Schallered and was that funny Sparkling Burgundy color but it played great and was cheap. Might have had changed pickups–Sold by me for exactly $3000.

Big Bang. Little Bucks

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013
This 64 ES-345 was mostly original but it had a load of holes in it. It had been Schallered too but the price was around $6K and that was in a fairly strong market. You can't see all those holes while your playing it and they certainly don't change the tone. And, it was played by Frank Sinatra's guitar player (not the famous one).

This 64 ES-345 was mostly original but it had a load of holes in it. It had been Schallered too but the price was around $5500 and that was in a fairly strong market. You can’t see all those holes while your playing it and they certainly don’t change the tone. And, it was played by Frank Sinatra’s guitar player (not the famous one).

I’ve been a little remiss in doing the third part of my “Bang for the Buck” miniseries and I’ve had a few emails asking for the third installment. I actually covered a lot of the material in the “Old Wood” post since that is the key to getting your hands on a vintage piece without breaking the bank (or upsetting your wife). Take a quick look at a vintage 335. What parts are going to make a significant difference in the tone and playability of the guitar? Wait, don’t bother-I’ll tell you. The bridge, the nut, the strings, the wood and the pickups. Oh, and the design. The strings aren’t vintage so we can throw them out of the equation. A modern repro ABR-1 (or Tone Pros) will probably sound better than a vintage one since metal fatigue and wear take their toll over 50 years, so we can throw that out as well. The nut is important but it’s simply a piece of nylon and a properly cut new one will probably improve your guitar-whether it’s the same material or something else like bones or Tusq. That leaves us the wood and the pickups. And the design. I’m being a little simplistic here and not really taking into consideration the construction techniques-the glue, the hand work, etc. That’s important but we’re talking about vintage pieces here not trying to make a modern guitar sound like a vintage one. We want a vintage guitar that sounds like a vintage guitar for cheap. This leaves us with the body and neck and the electronics. Have you listened to some of the pickups out there? They are very close to PAFs. A good PAF and a particularly good boutique pickup are just about indistinguishable to my ears-which are pretty good ears. I can’t see worth a damn but I can hear. But, I have to say, a guitar that was just made doesn’t sound like an old one. I’ve put old parts on a Les Paul R9 including a set of PAFs, an original ABR-1, tuners, stop tail and harness. It sounded great but it didn’t sound that different from any other R9.  I made the same point in my last post…an old guitar with new parts beats a new guitar with old parts as long as the old guitar is in good playing condition. It’s one of two things-either the wood itself is better or the passage of time has made the guitar sound better. I was there when these guitars were new-I played brand new 60′s ES-335′s (as early as 64) and if fuzzy memory is worth anything, they sounded pretty good right in the store. Take that for what it’s worth considering I can’t remember what I had for breakfast this morning.

So, let’s say you have $5000 to spend. You can buy any of the new Gibson ES-335s from your local music store for that much, I think. I hear the new Memphis 335′s are quite good. But supposing you take $3500- $5000 and buy a boogered up 63 ES-345 with a load of holes in the top, maybe holes from a set of aftermarket tuners and maybe a minor repair that was well executed. It might have all the wrong parts on it but you can change those out over time. Bigsby or Maestro holes don’t change the tone or playability.  Make absolutely certain that the neck is in good shape-no back bow, no twists. Make sure the truss works right. Good frets are important too unless you want to pay a few hundred bucks for a refret. Somebody stuck a set of tar backs or T-tops in there? Take em out if they sound bad and get a used set of SD’s or Fralins or Throbaks or Rolphs or any of a dozen other pickup winders. They don’t have to be the very expensive boutique pickups. Throw in a new harness from Mojotone or RS or Dr. Vintage if necessary. Get a  repro ABR-1 from Tone Pros or Gibson if you want it to look correct. If the tuners work and they don’t bother you, leave ‘em. A vintage set of Klusons will look right but an old set of Grovers will work better. By the time you’re done you’ve probably spent $4500-$6000 and your guitar will probably sound just about as good as my favorite 64 or 59.

A great candidate is a big neck 65 335 or 345 that has had a Maestro or Bigsby removed. I’ve also seen a lot of 345′s from 60-64 that have all sorts of dreadful things done to them (59′s are always more money no matter what). I had one with no less than 29 filled holes in it-from a back pad, an arm rest, two or maybe three different trems, a moved bridge and two or three sets of tuners. It sounded great and didn’t really look all that bad from 3 feet away. And it had character.  That’s gotta be worth something.  And a refinish will cut the price in half and ,as long as it’s not covered with an eight of an inch of poly, it should sound pretty much the same. Stay away from bad repairs and bad necks and you will do fine.

I think I bought this '63 ES-345 for around $3000. It was refinished but still intact and it sounded pretty good even with a "dirty fingers" in the bridge and a T-top in the neck. It had a some original parts and a lot of changed ones. I'd take this over a new one any day.

I think I bought this ’63 ES-345 for around $3000. It was refinished but still intact and it sounded pretty good even with a “dirty fingers” in the bridge and a T-top in the neck. It had a some original parts and a lot of changed ones. I’d take this over a new one any day.

Old Wood

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013
Even though virtually every part on this 1960 ES-345 has been changed, it's still that elusive unobtainium called "old wood". I guarantee that if you put old parts on a new body, it won't sound as good as new parts on an old one.

Even though virtually every part on this 1960 ES-345 has been changed, it’s still that elusive unobtainium called “old wood”. I guarantee that if you put old parts on a new body, it won’t sound as good as new parts on an old one.

No, not the Rolling Stone with the same name, although he’s old Wood as well. Interestingly, Gibson and other manufacturers have gotten very close to being able to replicate all of the parts that make up a vintage guitar. For many of the parts, they don’t improve with age. This is true of most of the hardware. Certainly old Klusons are not better than new ones-in fact they can be pretty quirky. Old bridges tend to sag and I routinely replace the bridges in my players with Tone Pros or other aftermarket parts. The plastic repros are looking pretty authentic these days as are most of the metal parts. It’s actually getting hard to tell the high end aged repros from the vintage stuff. That’s good in a way and not so good in another. Parenthetical note: I can still tell the difference but I see about a zillion of every part every year. There is some discussion as to whether old pickups like PAFs and early patent numbers have improved with age. It may be that they were just better by accident due to the low tech winding and construction techniques used back then. Or they improve with age. I don’t know. What I do know is that there are some pickup winders out there who can get pretty darn close to a PAF. Everything but the sticker in some cases. I could name names but this post isn’t about pickups. This post is about the thing they can’t do. They can use the same grade of plywood and the old timey hide glue and the same specs but there are a few things they can’t do. They can’t use Brazilian rosewood, the can’t afford to do as much by hand and they can’t use old wood. As I’ve stated pretty clearly, I don’t think anybody can hear the difference between a Brazilian board and an Indian Rosewood board. Argue if you want, it only supports my larger point. Old wood sounds different than new wood. I think it generally sounds better and most players would agree with that. I don’t know if it’s because the wood dries out and becomes less dense or more dense and perhaps carries the sound differently or whether the glue hardens and the lacquer sinks in and the “relationship” between the wooden parts and the stuff that holds it together somehow coalesces to form something wonderful. I just don’t know. But I’m dead sure the old stuff sounds better than the new stuff and if the parts people could figure out a way to make new wood old, they would have done it already. But time is the thing you can’t fake. I suppose you could leave the plywood blanks in an open air barn in the Swiss Alps and let the breeze blow through it for a few years but they don’t. It would be expensive. They would rather kiln dry it or perhaps not dry it at all. That’s not how new wood gets to be old wood. New wood gets to be old wood the same way young Ron Wood got to be old Ron Wood. Time.  Think about this. Which would you rather have (and which would sound better?)–a ’58 ES-335 with new parts or a ’13 ES-335 with old parts? No brainer.