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Archive for the ‘ES 345’ Category

No Rules

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Market Wrap 2015, Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll Have Mine Rare, Please.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Take Off a Buck

Monday, October 26th, 2015

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.