GIBSON ES-335 ES-345 ES-355

Season of the Witch

October 25th, 2012 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 355, Gibson General3 Comments »


You think this is scary? Try spending $20K on a guitar you've never seen.

Seeing as it’s October and Halloween is right around the corner, I thought a fright themed post made some sense. You want scary? One of the scariest things you can do is buy an expensive guitar sight unseen. Digital photos make it very easy to get a sense of what’s going to show up at your doorstep but they can be deceptive. Equally deceptive are some sellers who go to great lengths to hide issues and then tell you to “look at the photos” when you question something. I will say that most sellers are eager to please and will go out of their way to answer your questions if they can and even start turning screws in some instances. So here’s a compilation of the really scary things that you have to look out for when you buy a guitar sight unseen. Removed pickup covers: It seemed that everybody removed the pickup covers from their humbuckers in the 70’s. We all believed that the covers were keeping the pickups from their full output so we took ’em off and promptly lost them. The scary part is that, in my experience, at least a third of the pickups that have been opened have had at least one coil rewound or repaired. Play an uncovered humbucker for long enough and your bound to wear through a wire-whether a lead wire or a winding. The other problem is that it’s often impossible to get an inexperienced seller to start taking Grandpa’s old guitar apart. So, you rolls the dice. Funky finish at the neck join: I hate to pass on a guitar just because the glue at he neck join might be getting flaky or the finish is showing some signs of abuse. On the other hand, it could be a sign that the neck was reset or repaired. This is a huge problem on SGs and less of one on 335s. Nonetheless, a less than perfect join is cause for concern. The likelihood of the current non player owner knowing how it got that way is pretty slim. Asking the seller to pull the neck pickup so I can see what’s going on in the neck pocket is dicey as well. Checking at the headstock: This really scares me. It’s sometimes hard to tell a check from a crack when you’re 2 inches away from the guitar. Trying to tell from a photo can be impossible. The best thing to do is try to see if any of the cracks follow a grain line as that’s where they usually crack. Beat up case-perfect guitar. Of course, the idea is that the case protects the guitar but if the case is absolutely beat to hell and there’s barely a scratch on the guitar, my “refin” alarm goes off. There are folks who take impeccable care of their stuff and people who don’t. We all know the guy in the band who would never let you even touch his guitar and wiped it down between sets (or songs) and even cleaned the case if it got scuffed. He would also insist that his guitar ride in the car and not in the van with the rest of the gear.  We also know the guy who, as Mike Bloomfield is reputed to have done, shows up with his guitar without a case covered with snow and leans it up against the radiator until it dries off. Beware of that beater guitar in a perfect “original” case. The case wear and the guitar wear can be pretty far apart but use some common sense. Neck issues: The good news is that Gibson necks are fairly stable and most of the problems you might encounter are fixable-although they may be pretty invasive and expensive. The bad news is that most sellers don’t disclose any neck problems-usually because they don’t know. Most guitars will play even with severe neck trouble but they won’t play well and they won’t play everywhere on the fingerboard.  Perhaps the scariest part of getting a new guitar is taking off the truss rod cover and seeing that the truss is either screwed all the way down or that the nut is loose. Having a backbow and a loose nut is trouble. But even that can be addressed. The solution to all this fright is to make an attempt to see and play the guitar in question in person or have a friend who plays check it out. Finally, if you drive 6 hours to check out a guitar and it isn’t right and you can’t negotiate a new deal, walk away. Get back in the car and drive home. I’ve done it more than once (six hours each way). You’ll feel like you’ve wasted a day but it sure beats feeling like you wasted your hard earned money.

What’s In the Case Pocket?

October 20th, 2012 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 3551 Comment »

Everyone has seen the usual paperwork and keys and stuff (yes, that's the red 59 ES-345) but there's sometimes other stuff in there as well.

I usually include the case candy and miscellaneous crap with a guitar when I sell it . Most of this stuff is from guitars in my own closet. I have a shoebox full of crap like this.

There are two things I love about getting a “new” vintage guitar. One is checking out the bobbins on the pickups-there’s nothing like an “undisclosed” double white or zebra. It happens more often than you would expect. It’s a little like winning the lottery (albeit a rather small one).  The other thing I love is checking out the case pocket. Let’s see what’s in there…Along with the really obvious stuff like the instruction manual, the pickup height adjustment instructions, the Varitone instructions (345s and stereo 355s), the ABR-1 instruction sheet, there were a few other Gibson  items as well that  generally got lost. There was almost always a leather strap-usually brown and sometimes stamped with the name of the music store. It was never a very good strap but we all seemed to use them at least until we had a little extra money saved to buy something hipper. There was also a polishing cloth which either never got used or got used to death. You know the guy in your band who would let anybody even breathe on his guitar who always wiped it down between sets (and even between songs) and then had a fit when he got a ding in the headstock from a cymbal or stand and then blamed it on you? He’s the guy who used the cloth. The rest of us left it in its little bag in the case. Then there’s the little yellow screwdriver with the pocket clip. These usually got lost in the first week or so but I’ve managed to accumulate 3 or 4 of them. Case keys in the little yellow manila envelope are always a welcome surprise but, alas, not a very frequent one. There must not have been a truss rod wrench because in all the years I’ve been buying these guitars I’ve never seen one in a case pocket. I have seen some pretty weird stuff. Strings-tons of ’em-often used. Who saves used strings? I’ve found banjo and mandolin strings (in a guitar case), set lists from all genres, original sales receipts, all manner of business cards from bars to cathouses to lawyers, Musicians Union manuals and time cards (especially from the late 50’s and early 60’s), photos of bands, wives, girlfriends, even a few “racy” photos that seem tame by today’s standards. Interestingly, given the period and the nature of musicians, I’ve never found any drugs in a guitar case. No pot stashed in the pickup cavity, no coke taped under the pickguard and no pills in the case pocket. I guess they all use them up before they sell the guitar or maybe the thing about musicians using drugs is just a big myth. The picks are always interesting-often from a local music store but sometimes imprinted with a band name. Fender picks seem to be the most ubiquitous. I’ve probably found at least 50 of them rattling around inside the guitars. I even found one stuck under the sideways vibrato that had actually reacted with the surface of the finish. You could see the big backwards Fender “F” and the word “medium” etched into the clear coat of the guitar. I once found half a dollar bill-probably some deal made with a woman in the audience that they’d meet in twenty years at the top of the Empire State Building each with their “half” dollar and something wonderful would happen (actually, I think that was a movie).  Dog toys. How do dog toys get in the case pocket? Maybe Alice knows.

This is Alice, my former wire fox terrier who liked to sleep in the case while I practiced and always brought a toy.

Speling 101

October 16th, 2012 • Uncategorized9 Comments »

Did you ever notice how a lot of guitar folks can’t spell? I have to think that either the public education system in America is just horrible or that musicians aren’t wired for spelling. There is a plethora of guitar terms that come up over and over again in ads and posts that are just screaming for correction. And no, I’m not holier than thou. I can just spell better than thou. But I’m a writer, I’m supposed to be able to spell. I’m sure you’re a much better musician than I am. Here are a few glaring examples. Resonant is an adjective (describes a noun) NOT resonate. Resonate is a verb. A guitar resonates when it rings out. But a guitar that resonates is resonant. Easy, right?  Heel. The place where the neck meets the body (on a guitar body-not your body unless you’re built upside down). Not heal. Heal is when the blisters on your phalanges (the tips of your fingers) that you get from playing too long get better and stop hurting.  Fretware. I think you mean fret wear. Ware is a thing-like silverware, housewares or, to quote the Byrds-“sell your soul to the company who are waiting there to sell plastic ware”. I’m pretty sure they meant vinyl records. Wear spelled w-e-a-r  means damage to something from use. Cord. The thing you plug the guitar into the amp with. Chord. The multi-note thing you play on your guitar that has a name like C7 or D9. The next time I see an Ebay ad that says “comes with the original coil chord,”  I’m going to come to your house and strangle your cat with it. (This is a joke, cat lovers. Don’t write me nasty emails). Finally. tremolo and vibrato. This isn’t a spelling issue but more of a definition issue and I’m guilty of perpetuating it as well. You can blame Leo Fender for this according to the conventional wisdom. Tremolo is the modulation of volume to create a pulsing effect. Vibrato is the modulation of pitch to create a pulsing effect. The vibrato channel on a Fender amp has tremolo function. The patented “synchronized tremolo” on your Strat is a vibrato device. Most amps have tremolo, few have vibrato-old Magnatones are the exception here. I don’t know of any guitar with built in tremolo but anything with a Bigsby or a Maestro or sideways or Kahler or Floyd or any other whammy bar equipped device is a vibrato and not a tremolo. I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll stop calling a Bigsby a trem and you stop writing me asking about how “resonate” a guitar is. If you’re old enough to remember cigarette commercials on TV, there was an ad for Winston cigarettes that said “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.” At some point a member of the teaching community pointed out that the grammar was poor and that the word “as” would be correct instead of “like”. Winston’s ad agency (probably headed by Don Draper) responded with an ad that said “whaddya want, good grammar or good taste?” The clever grammar police retort? “Good grammar is good taste.” I would extend that statement to include spelling as well. So, in the words of the immortal Stephen Sondheim: “Smoke on your pipe and put that in.”

Says right here it's a tremolo. But it isn't. It's a vibrato. Thanks for the obfuscation, Mr. Fender.

Weird Stuff from the Early Days

October 12th, 2012 • ES 3354 Comments »

OMG, this 335 is built upside down!! How cool is this? Near mint 58. Too bad it isn't mine (and I'm right handed). I think this one is calling to Sir Paul. Hey, Beatle-are you out there?

I’ve had the good fortune to have 2 ’58 ES-335’s in my hands this week-one a near mint lefty. Interestingly, both guitars had an early (and rather different) version of the ABR-1 bridge and one had a most unusual stoptail. The early ABR-1 is not, as many websites would have you believe, a shaved “normal” ABR-1. It is actually a whole ‘nother version that is about half the depth of the “normal” one. Interestingly both 58s had completely collapsed bridges. It is clear that this was a design flaw and I’m not surprised that none

The bridge on top is the original and the bottom is the "normal" one. No wonder they all collapsed.

of the 58s I’ve had in years past had this little bridge. It just doesn’t hold up under pressure. The reason for the shallow ABR-1 is because of the very shallow neck angle the first ES-335s had. If you use a full size ABR-1, it often needs to sit right on the top of the guitar (which isn’t a problem but Gibson must have felt that there had to be some room for further adjustment). I think it would be very cool if someone like Callaham made a shallow ABR-1 just for these early 335’s. The cheap metal that Gibson used can’t cut it but if you carve it out of a block of steel (or titanium) I’m guessing it would work just fine. The other oddity is the stoptail on the lefty. The cut out part of the stop that “fits” into the studs usually is a little deeper than the stud itself. This 58 has a much shallower cut and, as a result, the stop doesn’t extend as far forward as it usually does-so it looks a bit like a wraptail looks when the set screws are screwed in all the way.  I checked the 58’s on the “other” ES-335 site and found one that had the same tailpiece. Look for A28598.  It is, of course, impossible for Gibson, or any other manufacturer for that matter, to know for certain how a new part will hold up over years of use without some kind of sophisticated long term testing. There was nothing like that available, so I’m assuming they modified the design so that it worked on Day One and didn’t worry too much about the long term consequences. They eventually changed the neck angle to allow for more bridge adjustment but there is a belief among aficionados that the ones with the shallow neck angle sound better. You can count me among them. 1958 is a favorite year of mine. They are unique among 335s in that the top has one less ply in the wood and so the tops are much thinner and the guitars tend to be more resonant. they are also very fragile. I’ve seen more than a few with some serious cracks in the top. The body shape is slightly different too-the ears are not as round as “Mickey Mouse” ears but not as pointy as a 64. Even the headstock inlay position is a little different than the other dot necks. Much as I love 58’s, I do have a bit of a problem with that huge neck with my little hands. It occurs to me that perhaps the most famous lefty player doesn’t have one of these as far as I know, even though he has been a fan of the Epiphone Casino for 47 years or so. So, Sir Paul, if you are reading, I can have this one put aside for you. You think that Les Paul sounds good? OK, actually it does, but you’ll like this one even better, I promise.

Here's a comparison of the "normal" tailpiece on the right and the tailpiece from the lefty on the left.

Where’s the Rest of Me?

October 8th, 2012 • Gibson General6 Comments »

A very rare blonde ES-140T from 1957. I think it qualifies as "cute"

That’s what Ronald Reagan’s character said after waking up from surgery in “Kings Row” minus his legs. That’s not what this post is about. It’s about a small guitar. I always have had a soft spot for “student” or “3/4″ guitars. My first electric was a brand new 64 Fender Duo Sonic bought at just above retail from the notorious Hermie’s Music Store in Schenectady, NY. (have I mentioned them before?). Anyway, with my small hands and relatively poor technique, I don’t mind the 22.5″ or 22.75” scale as long as the fingerboard isn’t too skinny. I still have a wonderful maple vee neck 57 Duo Sonic that I play when a Fender is called for. But I never paid a lot of attention to 3/4 Gibsons. Probably because the short scale Les Paul Jrs and specials are so ugly. The proportion of the body to the neck is all wrong, probably because of where they put the tailpiece. But the ES-140 is a slightly different beast. It’s not a full size body with a smaller neck, it’s a scaled down ES-175 (more or less). I had never owned one or played one until recently. One of my regular clients had been searching for a blonde ES-140T and when I found one, I picked it up. I’ve been playing it for a few days now and it’s no toy. It’s a pretty cool little guitar. First, some historical perspective. The original version was called the ES-140 and had a full depth fully hollow body. These were made from 1950-1957. In 1956, they added a thin version and then discontinued the full body in 1957. They made the ES-140T until 1968. The huge majority of these were sunburst and all had a single dog ear P-90. The blonde ES-140 is a pretty rare bird. I’ve only seen one or two of the 140 and this is only the second  blonde 140T  that I’ve seen. Only 57 blonde ES-140T’s were made out of  around 1600. Just 30 of the full body version were made in blonde and only in 1956. Just under 2400 were shipped from 1950 to 1957. One of the things about a short scale guitar that I like is that the string tension is somewhat less than a longer scale guitar-making it easier to play for beginners (and weaklings like me).  While this isn’t exactly a rock and roll death machine, it makes a pretty c0ol travel guitar and sounds good (and loud) acoustically or plugged in. The pickup being close to the neck keeps things relatively mellow but it’s a nice mellow. The case isn’t much bigger than a viola and doesn’t take up a lot of space when you’re traveling. The thinline version feels like it weighs less than five pounds and yet it has a pretty chunky (.87 at the first fret) neck even if it is a little narrow at the nut for me. Fit and finish is as good as any ES-175, so this was no poor stepchild. Sunburst 140T’s tend to run around $1200 to $1500, so while not dirt cheap, they are pretty reasonable for a Golden Era instrument. The full body 140 usually runs a few bucks more and is seen by some as slightly more desirable. As usual, I’ll take the thin one.

Here's the fat guy. Also pretty cool, although I've never played one. Thanks to Gearlicious for the photo.



Some Semis are More Semi than Others

October 2nd, 2012 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 3556 Comments »

You can see where the kerfed spruce meets the laminated top in this photo. There is no space there at all which was the intent of the inventor. If you tap around the area over the center block you'll find areas that seem to be a bit looser

I have a client who is always interested in how resonant these guitars are. He’s a jazz player and he prefers the instrument to have some acoustic qualities which was the intent of the inventor, Ted McCarty (with a nod to Les Paul). Anyone who has played more than a few ES-335s and their brethren will notice that, from a resonance standpoint, they are not created equal. There are a few reasons for this. I’ve covered the first reason before but I’ll summarize. Some 335s, all 345s and most 355s have part of the center block removed to make assembly easier and to accomodate the varitone choke in stereo models. More airspace in there means more resonance. The difference is not all that great and I don’t think it makes all that much difference. I’ve had folks insist on uncut center blocks in their 62-64 ES-335s and most of them have that feature. Certainly there are more cut blocks by 64 but it’s by no means consistent. Now the other reason is a little more speculative. Because the top of the guitar is arched and the center block is flat, there is a space between the top and the block. Gibson’s solution was to place a piece of kerfed spruce in there to fill the gap. Perhaps they felt the spruce would add some resonance as well since it is not as dense as maple and is typically used for acoustic guitar tops. Recently, I’ve noticed that some 335s have a better fit than others or there has been some shrinkage or separation in there over the years. If you own a 335, 345 or 355, do a tap test. Tap on the top in the area where you know the center block is and listen to where it resonates and where it doesn’t. It really shouldn’t resonate anywhere except by the bridge pickup if the block is cut. What I’ve found is that the guitars that have the greatest acoustic qualities tend to have some air space between the top and the block, particularly between the bridge and the endpin. I’ve also found some with air space in the area between the pickups, which is where I kind of expected to find it since the arch in the top is a little more pronounced there. I have two 65s right now-one is a Bigsby and one is a traptail. Both are early 65 big necks but one rings out like an ES-175 and the other is as quiet as a typical Les Paul when unplugged. When I tap the resonant 65 on the lower part of the body over the block, it sounds hollow. When I tap the Bigsby equipped, it sounds solid. Part of this could be related to the fact that the Bigsby version has two screws through the top, essentially screwing the top to the spruce pieces. That would make sense if traptails were consistently more resonant. But they aren’t. They are actually, slightly less resonant, in general, than a stoptail. Interestingly, the difference doesn’t really translate to the amplified sound of the guitars all that much. The two guitars don’t sound that different once you crank ’em up. Neither feeds back. So, does it matter how much resonance you semi has? Probably not, if you like the way it sounds when it’s plugged in. I play my guitars unplugged a lot and I kind of like being able to really hear my 335 when I sit on the couch while I watch a ballgame and practice at the same time. Would I go out of my way to find a really resonant one? Again, probably not. What I really should do is to buy myself a 330 for the couch.

maybe the two screws in the top of the guitar from the Bigsby have kept the wood from separating and causing an air pocket between the top and the block. Then again, maybe not.

Plastic Explosives

September 28th, 2012 • Gibson General7 Comments »

Here's a Trini Lopez Deluxe that spent way too much time in its case. I'm guessing that guard will fall apart if you touch it.

The plastic that was used on some older Gibsons is downright dangerous. It is essentially a solid explosive that’s been stabilized. The trouble is that it doesn’t always stay that way. It’s a process called off gassing. Also called out gassing and gassing off. And it’s as bad as it sounds. As it turns out, the plastics that were used for certain components back in the 50s and 60s were not terribly stable from a chemical standpoint. Disclaimer: Don’t know much about chemistry. That said, it’s pretty straightforward. I’ve written about shrunken tuner tips and most of you have seen them but that isn’t all. Have you ever seen a 355 with the pickguard completely disintegrated and all the gold parts corroded and green? It’s not a pretty sight and it’s not something that you can simply wipe away like tarnish. This stuff actually eats the metal and plastic parts. This comes from a site called “The Museum of Jurassic Technology”

In 1868 John Wesley Hyatt formed a substance from a homogeneous colloidal dispersion of nitric acid, sulphuric acid, cotton fibers, and camphor. It was a substance of great tensile strength capable of resisting the effects of water, oils, and even diluted acids. Hyatt’s brother called it celluloid, and it became the first commercially successful synthetic plastic. It was cost-effective to manufacture and could be produced in a variety of attractive colors. Heated until soft and molded into shapes, it became a substitute for products fashioned out of ivory, tortoiseshell, and horn. Perhaps it is best known for its use in motion-picture film, where its volatility has resulted in the destruction of a vast percentage of early footage. But it was also used to fashion removable collars, collar stays, knife handles, guitar picks, piano keys, billiard balls, and, of course, dice.
Also pickguards and other plastic guitar components. The problem actually has a couple of components. The first problem is the disintegration of the plastic itself. But the real destruction comes from the gasses that the process of disintegration emits. If the guitar is stored on a guitar stand or a wall hanger, the gasses pretty much dissipate harmlessly into the air. The problem is that most guitars are stored in the case with the lid shut tight. Sometimes for decades without being opened. So what is this stuff? Well, apparently, it’s nitric acid. If you remember high school chemistry, nitric acid was one of the things the teacher didn’t let you use in the lab without a bunch of protective gear like heavy rubber gloves, goggles and stainless steel tools. They probably don’t let students anywhere near it anymore in these politically correct times. Nitric acid will eat the hardware-including the frets-of a guitar that’s in the case with an off gassing pickguard. It will also damage the nitrocellulose lacquer (which is chemically similar) finish. The cautionary tale here is that if you’re a collector who stores his guitars and rarely plays them, you might want to open the case once in a while and let the gasses out. I’ve read that celluloid can be completely stable for decades and, suddenly, completely come apart chemically over a very short period (like weeks). It doesn’t warn you either. It’s more like a time bomb that doesn’t have a countdown. Yikes.

These tuners are also an example of off gassing. These were on my red 59 ES-345 and for some quirky reason, only 5 of them shrunk. I don't think the tuner tips are celluloid but gassing off isn't limited to celluloid. Almost any plastic can gas off. Some do serious damage and others don't. Want more info? Call a chemist.

Sweating the Small Stuff

September 24th, 2012 • Gibson General6 Comments »

I recently bought this totally excellent very early 65 ES-335 from a very nice guy. He bought it years ago and truly believed it to be all original, except the tuners and saddles. It turned out to have a repro bridge. So, I go into the parts bin and I get a correct bridge out and install it. I can't charge the buyer for my bad luck, however.

“Are you absolutely certain every single part on this guitar is exactly how it left the factory?” The answer is usually, “uh, I think so but I can’t be 100% certain.” No, you can’t. I do understand why so many vintage buyers get so fixated on the small stuff-after all you’re paying a crapload of money for these things. But, truth be told, most of the parts on a vintage guitar are removable and there is no way to know for absolutely certain whether a part is original. I don’t care if you bought it from the original owner-you still don’t know for 100% certain. People forget they changed the bridge in 1976. Perhaps one of the tuners got bent by the dealer and was changed before he got it. The cases got switched by the dealers all the time.  A lot of stuff happens in 50 years or so. So, my suggestion here is to look at the larger picture. What is it you are looking for in this particular guitar? If a museum piece is your goal, buy a mint guitar. Parts get changed because they wear out or a better part exists (like Grovers for Klusons). A mint guitar is much more likely to be original-just look for wear that doesn’t make sense-like one knob missing the lettering while all the rest a perfect. Stuff like that. You still can’t know for absolute certain but you’ll feel better if everything looks like it matches from a wear standpoint. If you’re looking for a guitar to play, stop worrying so much and listen to what you’re playing. In general, the price you pay will reflect certain changes-most of which will have nothing to do with how the guitar sounds. Pickups that have been unsoldered are a good example of this. Everybody took off their pickup covers in the 70’s. Everybody I knew anyway. It doesn’t mean they were rewound. They could have been but it isn’t that hard to tell if they were (that’s another post). With PAFs priced where they are, I get it. If I’m paying $2000 for a pickup, I want it to be sealed so there is little or no question about its originality. Patent numbers? Really, who cares. Besides, it’s the only way you’ll ever know whether its a T-top or not. Which would bother you more? A broken solder joint on the cover or thinking you may have the less desirable T-top. It goes beyond that-maybe you are curious as to whether its enamel wire (like a PAF) or the later and less desirable poly coated wire. The only way to know for certain is to look under the cover. So, lighten up people. Same goes for vintage correct parts that are identical to the original parts. If I have the choice between an original sagging ABR-1 or a straight one from a same period guitar, I’ll take the one that works correctly, thank you. Here’s the bottom line on all of this-the price of the guitar should be representative of the guitar itself. If you’re looking for museum piece, the guitar will likely be priced like one and you should expect it to be 100% original. But when you get a guitar that’s been described as a player and the solder joints aren’t all original or a couple saddles have been replaced or the tuner tips were changed or the switch tip looks too clean or the binding has a crack in it, make sure the price is what you want to pay for that guitar. Finally, consider this–95% (that’s right) of all the guitars I get are not 100% as described to me. Not because people are dishonest but because they just don’t know. How many people can tell a vintage correct saddle from an original one with the same wear? I promise to do my best to describe everything accurately but, c’mon, saddles are like frozen peas. They all look alike. Also, a skilled repair guy can make any solder joint look original. I can’t but there are those who can. Finally, the repro stuff has gotten really scary good and I’ll do my best to keep you all informed as to how to tell the real stuff from the fakes. That’s what I’m here for.

One of these saddles ins't original. I know because I changed it out myself. Can you tell which one it is? Would it matter to you if I didn't disclose it?


Ebay Gem

September 18th, 2012 • ES 3554 Comments »

You gotta admit, this is pretty cool. It's a 65 ES-355 in blonde. It was almost certainly a special order and I'd be surprised if there are more than one or two others. Maybe no others. This is the first one I've seen.

There are two things I love about Ebay. I love when a really unusual ES comes up for sale and, make no mistake about it, this one is unusual. The second thing I love is when they come up for a reasonable price. This one, maybe not so reasonable. I’ve written a lot about the impact of extreme rarity on price. Long story short, it doesn’t matter all that much in most cases. Rare colors are a bit of an exception and that’s why this one is so interesting. I had one of only five red 59 ES-345s and it commanded a premium of about 30-35% over the equivalent sunburst. I had one of only three or four red 59 335s. Again, around a 35% premium. I had one of somewhere around 16 Pelham Blue Trinis and the premium was nearly 200% over a red one (thanks, David Grohl). Typically, blonde 335s from 58-60 get a 100% premium over sunburst. So, from this, I take away nothing. There is no real consistency-it’s still about the demand given the low supply. A red 59 345 is a bit esoteric because you can simply find an early 60 for a lot less and it will be pretty much the same. If you really want a red dot neck, there are plenty of 61s out there. So, how many people will pay a big premium because they want a red 59? A few but not many. That brings us to our Ebay “gem”. I like it a lot and it could be the only one or there could be one or two others. Gibson didn’t always include special orders in their shipping logs nor did they include small runs of non standard colors. It is a 65 stereo ES-355 in blonde. From the photos, it looks original and I’ll assume that it is. The last 65 stereo 355 I sold went for around $6000 about 10 months ago. Like the blonde on Ebay, it had a Maestro and was in similar condition. It was a nice guitar and it played OK despite the Maestro (which most of you know I don’t like). At $17,500, the seller is asking for a nearly 200% premium or triple the price of a red one.  Here’s a good comparison. Recently, a blonde, left handed 1964 ES-335 block neck surfaced. I wrote about it and saw it in person. I know what the buyer paid but I don’t think I should disclose it. It’s a little tricky because there is a premium for lefties and a premium for unusual colors. So is the premium scale additive or geometric? The blonde lefty is almost certainly one of one. Unique. The premium, if I’m remembering correctly, was around 80% over a right handed red or sunburst same year 335. Considering lefties get 25% or more, that leaves us at 55% or so assuming the premium is additive. You can do the math yourself. There is not much demand for a lefty 335 either but that’s because there aren’t that many lefties (so the demand can be pent up). A 335 is always more desirable than a 355 stereo.  A blonde is usually more desirable than a red. My guess is that there isn’t any pent up demand for a blonde 65 ES-355. There is also no good way to accurately price something with no precedent. I’ve never seen a blonde 65 ES-355 before. What would really be interesting would be a no reserve auction. That’ll bring ’em out of the woodwork. Then we’ll really know what it’s worth. How about it?

Summer of Love

September 12th, 2012 • ES 3353 Comments »

OK, I'm being a little provocative but it is a 67. They made some blue ones and some Sparkling Burgundies. Looks like somebody else doesn't like witch hats.

It was 1967. The soundtrack was, without a doubt, Sgt. Pepper. Everybody seemed to own a guitar and everybody played. There was, perhaps, more music per square foot in this country than ever before. Gibson was selling more guitars than they could build. Fender was scratching its head wondering why Stratocasters weren’t selling but everything else was (go ahead, look it up). It was the peak of the guitar boom and the peak of the 335 market in terms of sales. There were 3122 reds shipped and 2596 sunbursts.  More than any other year in Gibson history. Compare that to 64 when 892 reds went and just 349 sunbursts. That’s a 450% jump in just 3 years.  1967 ES-335/345 and 355 don’t command big prices, but they can be excellent guitars. There were a lot of changes to the 335 that occurred incrementally from the end of the “Golden Era” (end of 64/early65) until 67. Two big changes make the 67 worth about a third the price of a 64. The smaller necks are somewhat out of favor. In the mid 60’s, fast guitar playing was all the rage and it was suggested (by the guitar makers, I suppose) that a thin neck was a fast neck. The folks at Mosrite made the skinniest neck out there with little teeny frets that they even called “speed frets”. Gibson slimmed down the nut in 65 to 1 9/16″ and slimmed down the profile as well. By 67, they added a bit more girth again, so many 67 necks, while narrow at the nut, have a pretty substantial feel to them. I’ve played some really good 67’s and I’ve played a few dogs as well. The other big change was the switch from a stop tailpiece to the trapeze-also in 65. While there is no question that the stop looks a whole lot cooler, the trapeze works just fine and, IMO, doesn’t appreciably affect tone or sustain. You would intuitively think it would-being anchored only to the side of the body by three little screws rather than those big ol’ studs going an inch into the center block. I’ve listened to more than a few. Not much difference-more sound is transmitted through the bridge posts than the stoptail studs.  The pickups on many 67’s are still pre T-tops with the red poly wire-good pickups overall and very consistent. T-tops show up on others and they can be a little reedy to my ears but can also sound very good. I find that moving them a little closer to the strings seems to help fatten them up. There were cosmetic changes that mostly make no difference but everyone has an opinion about them. While nobody cares that they lowered the headstock “flowerpot” inlay, just about everyone hates the new knobs-including me. We call them witch hats because they look like, uh, a witch’s hat. They actually look more like Fender amp knobs and they look ugly, I think. Easy to change. Fingerboards were all Indian by 67-I’ve never seen a Brazilian board past 66 but its generally pretty good looking Indian rosewood and if you can hear the difference, then you have some serious set of ears (or you’re lying). I like the wide bevel pickguard of the 66 and earlier ones better but that’s a pretty small feature and I prefer nickel to chrome even though chrome is way more practical. All hardware was chrome by 67-the last thing to go was the pickguard bracket-you might even find a nickel one on a 67. Should you buy a 67? Well, even with the streamlined manufacturing and multiple shifts, the quality is still generally very good and if you can handle the narrow nut, they can be very reasonably priced. I see them under $5000 pretty frequently and under $4000 on occasion. That’s getting down into Historic territory and, given the choice between a 67 and a Historic, frankly, I’d go for the 67 as long as the neck was OK.  Then I’d change the knobs.

OK. This more like it? This sunburst 67 shows the usual 67 features-all chrome hardware, narrow bevel guard and, of course, witch hat knobs.