GIBSON ES-335 ES-345 ES-355

Fifty Years

January 27th, 2013 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 3553 Comments »


Here's a fifty year old 335. Modding a vintage 335 doesn't happen much these days. Most of the what you see was done years and years ago before they were worth anything. If you're going to put a stoptail on your Bigsby only '63, for the love of god, put it in the right location. Unless you're Larry Carlton, this just looks wrong. This, by the way was a killer player. Lives in Kansas now.

Seems like a long time, doesn’t it? A fifty year marriage is positively revered in our culture. Fifty years on the job still gets you a pat on the back (it used to get you a gold watch). But a lot can happen in fifty years and it doesn’t take much to alter the course of things over that span of time. One moment of poor judgment probably won’t ruin your career or your marriage. Marriages can survive thousands of moments of bad judgment. If I got fired every time my boss didn’t like something I did at work, I would have wound up asking if you want fries with that but then I have a problem with authority figures which explains why I’ve been my own boss since 1983. Do you think democracy has lasted 240 years in the USA without some seriously bad judgment?  The Bay of Pigs comes to mind. Or Prohibition. Or the 70’s. Now consider your ES 335. Fifty years is a long time. It only takes one moment to mess up what, fifty years later, would have been a no issue collector’s piece worth all kinds of money. Just as in a marriage, there’s a pretty big range of poor choices you can make-some much more destructive than others. Having an affair with your secretary is not on a par with forgetting to take out the garbage before you go away for the weekend. Similarly, putting a set of Grovers on your guitar is not on a par with painting it purple sparkle and then cutting an access panel in the back. The really bad part, when it comes to the guitars, anyway, is that you probably had nothing to do with it. Some guy back in 1975 decided the guitar would be so much cooler if the pickup covers were off. It probably took the 70’s guy less than ten minutes to do the damage but it’s done and it stays done. A no issue guitar can only be a no issue guitar if that moment never occurs. And fifty years is long time. Granted, there are plenty of changes made to guitars that are reversible without a trace. I’ve said before that there is no way that anyone can tell if a vintage correct part was on the guitar the day it left the factory. Now, with so many of the original owners being pretty old, the “original owner” guitar isn’t even totally reliable. But that won’t really affect the value of a “no issue” example. When I inspect a guitar, if the parts are vintage correct and the wear patterns are consistent, I have no problem making the small leap that says its original. On the other hand, if I swap out an incorrect part for a vintage correct one, you may not know it but I will and that gets disclosed. Here’s a simple truth: The fewer of these guitars that are available out in the market place, the more they are going to cost.  As the guitar of your dreams starts receding into the distance because it’s just too much money, you need to start deciding what issues you will accept. It would be nice to be able to construct a big chart that says clearly what each type of mod will deduct from the value of a “no issue” ES-335. But it doesn’t really work that way. The “deductions” are not necessarily additive. Otherwise, you’d have to pay me to take a guitar with a refinish, broken headstock, Bigsby holes, changed tuners, open pickups and the wrong harness. Yes, people do some pretty destructive things over fifty years but, somehow, the thing survives.  It seems that if anything is going to last fifty years or more in this world, it will need to endure some level of compromise. Just ask your congressman. Or your wife.

Eric. The Red.

January 23rd, 2013 • Uncategorized12 Comments »

Eric Clapton's 64 ES-335. Is there a more famous 335 on the planet Or in the universe?


With apologies to BB King fans, the most famous ES ever is Eric Clapton’s red ’64 ES-335 which he bought new in London that same year. But suppose his career never took off after the Yardbirds and he was just another obscure British Invasion blues/rock player with a 335 to sell. Let’s say he came to me and I spent a few hours evaluating it. How would that go? First, I would take a look at the serial number-they were pretty accurate until ’65 so you can pretty accurately date the early ones with just the serial.

It's clear it used to have Klusons and reflector knobs back when photos were black and white and Eric was a kid.

The label and headstock both show 67473 which makes it a mid 64. The Gibson ledger shows it was shipped on May 20th along with a number of identical 335’s. Condition is good but it shows some rash on the back and a fair number of dings and scratches. It is clearly a players guitar. It’s been refretted, probably more than once and the work is professional. Looks like a two piece top to me which is not unusual for a red 64. Let’s take a look at the parts. Right off the bat, I can see that the guitar has Grovers. They are worn gold Grover patent pending Rotomatics which are pretty decent tuners. Fortunately, he used the same screw holes as the original Klusons. Still, that’ll knock off a few bucks. The truss cover is unusual for a 64. I’ve seen truss covers with the word “custom” a number of times but not with that wide border-like a J-200. Certainly not original. There’s a small stamp sized sticker on the back of the headstock-probably from some “Indian Mystic” phase the owner went through in the 60’s. Who does he think he is? George Harrison?  That probably won’t hurt the value if I can get it off cleanly. OK, let’s loosen the strings and see what else we have. OK, the bridge isn’t original-it’s a patent number and should be the earlier type that says ABR-1 so we’ll have to find a vintage correct bridge for it. The patent number bridges didn’t show up until ’65 and nickel ones are rare but this one appears to be nickel. Clearly, it got swapped out at some point probably because it was sagging. The pickups look original but they have both been opened at some point (I don’t care what the Gibson guy says in the video-they’ve both been opened). The bridge pickup rout is the solid type which is kind of 50-50 for 64’s. I prefer the tone of the solid ones to the ones with the cutout (that is, until I have to pull the harness). So, it’s clear we’ve got some issues with this particular guitar. The stoptail is original and there is no evidence of any other tailpiece having been installed during its lifetime. That’s good. So, let me string it back up and see how she plays. Nice. So, what we have here is an 8.0-8.5 condition ’64 ES-335 with some changed parts and a refret. It has a nice medium chunky neck profile, a couple of real nice sounding early patent number pickups that have been opened but don’t appear to have been rewound (although it can be pretty hard to tell). It’s gonna cost me a few hundred bucks for a correct bridge and probably $450 for a set of single line double ring Klusons and a set of adapters to properly fit the shafts. Single line double ring tuners are getting tough to find. Then a hundred bucks for a correct truss rod cover. Uh. oh, wait a second. Those knobs look wrong. This is a 64 and so it should have reflectors and these are bonnets. OK, there’s another $150 for a set of 60’s reflectors. Some guys just can’t leave their guitars alone. And that case. Much as I like things like band names and a little sense of history, this thing looks pretty well abused. A fair amount of Tolex is missing and it’s kind of coming apart. It’s got a big stencil on it that says “Cream”. Never heard of ’em. Kind of a dumb name for a band-not “The Cream”, just “Cream”. Confusing. Cream of what? Of the crop? Of Mushroom? Of Wheat? So, what’s a guitar like this worth? Well, if I get the right parts and bring it back to vintage correct specs, a stoptail 64 in this condition might bring $16000 or so. If only it had been played by somebody famous. Then it would be worth, say, $847,500. Give or take a few bucks for correct parts.

Player Grade

January 22nd, 2013 • ES 3351 Comment »

What makes this PAF equipped 64 a player at half the price of a collector grade? Gibson replaced the neck with a fat 59 neck in 2006. Certainly not an investment piece but you can play the crap out of it.

It seems that a large percentage of 50’s and 60’s ES-335’s have been modified. I look at a lot of these guitars and pass on a large number of them-usually because the sellers want the same price that the big dealers are asking for a collector grade piece for a player grade piece. There is a “mint” ’63 that’s been listed on Ebay for a long time at $32,995. Seller calls it “high retail”. The seller has the right to ask any price he wants but what makes it difficult is that when Joe Average Guy wants to sell his beloved 335, he researches what to ask for it by, what else, looking at Ebay and Gbase. Most of you who read what I write know that many Ebay sellers and dealers alike are waiting for the sucker. And they wait. And wait. And wait. Meanwhile, the rest of us are trying to buy a nice 335 at a price that doesn’t require a home equity loan. Nearly every “mod” that affects the price of a 335, 345 or 355 doesn’t appreciably affect the tone or playability of that guitar. If you’re buying an investment, buy the one that has no mods and is as original as you can afford. If you just want to play it and maybe break even in the long run, buy a player. There are those who believe that changed tuners (Grovers/Schallers usually) affect tone but I don’t think so. You can always put Klusons back on-they make adaptor bushings that will allow them to fit properly. Extra holes don’t look so great, but they don’t affect the tone or playability. I had a refinished 64 ES-335 with 29 holes in it. 29. It had, at some point, a back pad, an arm rest, two different tailpieces and a repositioned bridge. It played great and it sounded great and it sold for around $6000-not much more than a new Historic. I guarantee that it will be worth at least that going forward. There are plenty of players who believe that a refinish hurts the tone. Not in my experience. Maybe a heavy poly finish would cause a problem but not a proper lacquer finish. Either finish cuts the price in half. Even if the refinish is superior to the original Gibson finish.  A poorly repaired neck break can affect the tone but a properly executed repair should not. It cuts the value in half but may allow you to afford an otherwise bone stock vintage dream guitar. Ask any woodworker-they’ll tell you the glue is stronger than the wood. Then there are the changed parts that don’t require new holes. Changed bridges, knobs, pick guards, harnesses and pickups can all be returned to stock without any more expense than the cost of the parts. When you consider the “gap” between a “player grade” and a “collector grade” 335 can be triple, think about why you want this guitar.  I would also suggest paying more attention to the neck. There is a surprisingly large number of 335’s, 345’s and 355’s that have neck issues especially the thinner 60-63’s. And especially those that have sat unplayed for decades. Nearly all of them can be repaired-in fact I’ve never had one that couldn’t be made totally playable. I believe playability is the most important aspect of any guitar. Tone doesn’t matter, if the guitar doesn’t play well.  A tone monster that frets out isn’t a tone monster. A mint guitar with a back bow isn’t a mint guitar. ASK and, if possible, play it before you buy it or buy it from a dealer with a return policy.

The First “Artist” ES-335

January 15th, 2013 • ES 3358 Comments »

Black. Cool. This is an early 67 Trini Lopez in factory black. I thought it looked great in Pelham blue but this has that "tuxedo" elegant thing going on.

Gibson has always been the leader in “artist” models. Even in the 50’s and 60’s, the list is pretty huge: Les Paul, Barney Kessel, Hank Garland and Billy Byrd, George Gobel, Tal Farlow, Johnny Smith and Trini Lopez. That list would explode in the 90’s and the artist models would come fast and furious for the decades which followed. But of all the early artist models, only one was a semi hollow. That one is, of course, the Trini Lopez standard or, more correctly, “regular” (that’s what it says on the label). It was just before Christmas in 1964 that the first Trinis were ready to ship. They were among the first 335 type guitars to get the trapeze tailpiece. The 335 still sported the stoptail for the early weeks of 1965 but the Trini was trap tail right from the start. The Trini was as different from the 335 of the era as it was similar. It shared the same construction-maple laminate body with a maple center block, rosewood fingerboard (the early ones are Brazilian), 24 3/4″ scale, two patent number pickups and the same electronics. It was largely ornamentation that set the Trini apart except for that headstock. Trini Lopez himself had a big hand in the design and wanted all six tuners on the same side. The Firebird was already in production, so the TL model used a 335 style neck carved with a Firebird headstock. The result is a little disconcerting looking but kind of cool too. No banjo tuners here, however. The ornamentation is most un 335-like. F-holes aren’t f-holes at all but diamond shaped slashes. 335’s have unbound f-holes, the Trinis are bound. While the 335 of the era had block markers, the Trini had split diamonds. The trapeze is a standard issue example with a rosewood insert with a plastic engraved plaque announcing the name of the guitar’s namesake. The earliest Trinis have nickel hardware but the transition to chrome was quick and nickel models are fairly rare and command a premium. The very early ones have a 1 1/16″  nut and are also rare and relatively pricey. Standard issue 335’s are rarely found in unusual colors; the factory stock colors were red and sunburst. The Trini, on the other hand, was, by 1967, available in four colors. While the overwhelming majority of Trinis are red, the “regular” was also available in Pelham blue, Sparkling burgundy and black. As far as I know, no factory records exist to tell us how many of each were shipped. Urban legend says that 16 Pelham blue Trinis were made. That seems low to me but that’s only because I’ve seen a fair number of them over the years. I had a wonderful near mint Pelham a couple of years ago. It was one of the first guitars featured in this blog. They are desirable, rare and expensive. The fact that Dave Grohl famously played a blue Trini probably has a lot to do with that. He, of course, has his own artist model now which is, in fact, a Trini Lopez reissue (even though there was a Trini Lopez reissue as well). I’ve seen five or six sparkling burgundy examples in the past few years but that color is notably unpopular and no one seems to pay much attention to them. This week, I saw my first black one and, of course, I bought it. Out of 1,966 Trini Lopez regulars shipped, the overwhelming majority are red. I think the overwhelming minority are black.

I think I've seen the bass player someplace before but Rusty Anderson, the guitar player is playing a black Trini here. That's the only other one I know of. Thanks to Simon in the UK for tipping me off to this one.

One of my all time favorites was this 67 Pelham blue Trini Lopez I had back in 2010.

Marital Bliss, 335 Style

January 13th, 2013 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 3555 Comments »

For the price of 30 of these, you can have the guitar at the bottom. What's it gonna be--paper or wood?

It’s pretty hard to explain to your significant other that you want to spend $15000 on a guitar. Especially when you’ve already got a few in the closet. She (or he) didn’t bat an eye when you bought the Volvo for $40K. Perhaps she didn’t realize that the car will lose close to half its value the day you drive it off the lot. Or perhaps that after 5 years, it’ll be worth less than a third of what you paid. Buy hey,you needed a new car, you played the safety card and you got a nice car even though you wanted the BMW. Never mind you could have bought an old Volvo wagon like I drive (1997) and still had $35000 left over for guitars. That’s not really the point. The point is that a vintage guitar doesn’t have to cost you a nickel in the long run. We all know how high the market got during the “bubble” that ended in 2008 (unless you’re one of a few select dealers who didn’t get the memo, not to mention almost every Ebay seller). The vintage market is still fairly low but has shown signs of life lately. I can go out and buy a brand spankin’ new ES-335 dot or block Historic for around $4500. But I can also go out and find a pretty decent mid 60’s ES-335 for less than $1000 more and that is significant. In five years, the Historic will probably be worth $3500 if you decide to sell it. OK, that’s not so bad. But the 66-68 that you paid $5000 for is going to be worth at least that. Can I guarantee that? No, I can’t guarantee that I’ll be able to get out of bed tomorrow but I’d bet on it. Let’s go up the scale a bit. Let’s look at the 335 you really want. I’ll use a 64 as the example because they are so popular. You can get your hands on a 64 with minor issues for around $12000 for a Bigsby/Custom Made or a few thousand more for a stoptail. You can probably get a no issue stoptail 64 for around $18,000. At the top of the market, the Bigsby was closer to $18000 and the stop pushed past $25000. You still see them out there for as high as $32000 but they never sell anywhere near that. So, the loss since the top of the bubble has been around 25-30%. The good news is that they have not dropped any further since the bottom fell out and, in fact, I’ve seen an improvement of 10-15% in the past couple of years for 335s. But percentages are a funny thing-an increase of 10% from the bottom doesn’t make up a third of a 30% drop from the top. Do the math. Even so, a rising market tends to continue to rise (until it doesn’t)-the trend is upward as the economy improves. Most buyers of vintage 335’s are men in their 50’s. The kids are done or  just about done with college and you’re secure in your job. You’d love a 64 but you just can’t justify the expenditure. I know, it sounds like a sales pitch from the guy with the 335’s but it really is an investment. And it’s a lot more fun than 30 shares of Apple stock. As long as expensive new guitars continue to be inferior to the vintage ones we all love, vintage guitars will sell. So tell the wife (or the significant other) that you want to make an investment that you can enjoy for the rest of your life and maybe hand down to your children. An investment that is nearly as liquid as Apple shares and will give you a heck of a lot more pleasure than trying to play a stock certificate. I can never keep them in tune and they don’t sustain worth a damn.

This is a lot easier to play and will keep you company on a cold night. Let's see your stock certificate play the blues.

The Expendables 2

January 5th, 2013 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 3552 Comments »

The top bridge is a thin one they used in 58 only but it shows a more exaggerated bend than most normal size ABR-1s do. When the bottom one starts looking like the top one, it's time to take some action (and I don't mean go get a drink).

No, not the movie this time either (which I also didn’t see). Just the sequel to the last post where I covered things that wear out like strings and frets and plastic parts. Over the very long haul, there a lot of other parts that can wear out. Because the ABR-1 bridge is made out of some really crappy metal, they aren’t very strong and after 50 years of pressure from the strings, there is a pretty good chance that your bridge is falling down (falling down, falling down). They sag in the middle and the nature of the metal is such that it doesn’t bend back very well. In fact it usually breaks and if it doesn’t, it just sags again. So get a repro or a Tone Pros and put the original in the case pocket. Nobody will mind. How will you know if the bridge is sagging? The strings should follow the radius of the fingerboard. If they don’t, the bridge is sagging or the saddles aren’t properly seated. Check the saddles. If they look right, then take off the bridge and remove the saddles. Lay it on a flat surface upside down. It should be dead flat-no light passing under the straight edge. Seeing daylight? Into the case pocket. The saddles themselves get worn out as well. The single most likely culprit when your 335 is sounding dull and plinky (plunky?) is a worn out saddle. If the groove is too deep, it will keep the string from vibrating freely. Usually new saddles are the best solution. I’ve had some luck with filing the tops of all the saddles so that the groove is much shallower but you have to be careful not file them unevenly or you’ll screw up the heights. Again. put the originals in a ziplock in the case pocket and get some new ones. The metal ones are easy to find-the plated brass ones are closest to vintage. If you want nylon saddles, it’s a bit trickier. The original nylon saddles were milled and are hard as a rock. The newer ones aren’t. I haven’t found decent new nylon saddles. The Tusq ones are a good substitute but they are expensive. They work great though. When I get new saddles, I string the guitar up before I notch them to see where the strings cross the saddles without deflection (straight across at 90 degrees). It’s not always the middle. Then I mark the saddles with a sharpie. Then I get out the little teeny file I use and make the shallowest notches I can that will still hold the strings in place. Heading to the other end of the neck, we have another culprit in the “why does my 335 sound like crap” parade. The nut. A lot of folks complain that 335s don’t stay in tune and almost everyone blames the tuners. Klusons are not high tech items. They’re kind of crappy. But they aren’t the reason your 335 goes out of tune. The nut is slotted too tight. So, some wear in the nut slots is actually a good thing because a slightly enlarged slot will help keep your guitar in tune better no matter what tuner in on it. But beyond a little wear, there are other problems like strings popping out of the slot or poor sustain caused by too much play in the slot. Time for a new nut. The originals are nylon and most folks use a nylon replacement. Bone is another choice and, to be honest, I don’t hear much difference and if a guitar has had its nut replaced, I don’t really care what it was replaced with as long as it works properly and was properly (and neatly) installed. I let my tech do nuts. A changed nut shouldn’t impact the value of the guitar very much if its done properly. Next, Part 3 where I go inside the guitar and look at the electronic doo hickeys that give up the ghost after 50 years or so.

These saddles are pretty worn but they work just fine because they aren't too deeply notched. At least half the string should be above the notch.

The Expendables

December 30th, 2012 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 3551 Comment »

Nothing more useless than rusted guitar strings. Hey, these are NOS. I think I can get the whole lot pretty cheap.

No, not the action movie, which, by the way, I didn’t see. Expendables, in my other business, are items that get used once and thrown away-lighting gels, gaffers tape, diffusion material, dulling spray and the like. But guitars have expendables too and 335s are no exception. OK, they get used more than once but you get the idea. When you’re considering a vintage piece, there are certain elements that simply wear out over time. If you’re a collector, your tolerance for worn out elements is pretty limited. Most collectors don’t care if the strings aren’t original-probably because they rarely are and because 50 year old strings won’t sound very good. But there are other parts that wear out over time that may affect the value but not the playability. Frets are the obvious one. In general, a pro refret doesn’t affect the value of a guitar very much unless it’s an otherwise mint example. Then you can ask yourself why would anyone refret a mint guitar? A couple reasons, actually. There are guitars that get played extensively but are so well cared for that they remain in extraordinary condition. But that’s pretty unusual. There are refrets that occur because someone along the way wanted larger or smaller frets and there are refrets that are done to try to correct a backbow in the neck or other problems. I’m always wary of newer frets on a mint guitar but, unless there is a noticeable neck problem, it is rarely, if ever,  a dealbreaker. If I’m buying a non mint vintage guitar, I always prefer the original frets but I don’t exactly fret (pun intended) if they are properly redone. Another element that I would consider an expendable are the tuner tips. They don’t so much wear out but often deteriorate due to age. When

You've seen these before. Mummified Kluson tuner buttons. This would never stop me from buying a great old guitar. Put repro tips on or just stick 'em in the case. People expect this and it won't hurt the resale unless the guitar is otherwise mint-then maybe a little.

Gibson built these guitars they weren’t looking 50 years into the future. They probably weren’t looking more than a few years ahead and probably only “fixed” durability problems when someone complained about them. Oddly, tuner tips from the years up to 58 seem to hold up just fine but 59-60 don’t. It seems that 61-65 are better but still shrink and mummify while the later ones seem fine. Plastic. Go figure. And speaking of plastic, there’s another plastic part that seems to be a real problem and that’s the block inlays on 62-65 ES-335’s. It’s funny, the dot inlays of 58-62 don’t seem to shrink or curl up, although they do occasionally fall out but that’s usually a glue issue. The inlays on a 345, which are made of the same celluloid based plastic shrink a lot but they usually don’t curl up. And 355 inlays almost always stay put and are totally stable because they aren’t plastic at all-they are mother of pearl. But early 335 block markers can be a real problem. Gibson knew this and changed the material in the mid 60’s. This was, as is usual at Gibson, a long transition but it seems that by 67, they were the lighter colored material that was more shrink and discolor resistant. But 62-65 blocks can be a nightmare. They shrink, they turn brown, they curl up at the edges and they fall out. If you replace them, they always look too white, although they can be darkened using the tricks that the guys who age these things use-like soaking them in coffee, tea, coke or dye. In terms of lost value to a vintage guitar, changed tuners and changed block markers are going to make a difference-not a huge difference but as always, the more original, the bigger the price. My attitude on tuners is, essentially, I don’t care as long as the tuner itself is original. With the markers, I have a stronger opinion. My preference will always be for original markers. A little curl won’t affect playability much and a good luthier can remove them, scrape out the old glue and reglue any of them that are causing trouble as long as they aren’t too thin. If they are unusually thin, you might want to take a closer look at the fingerboard to see if perhaps it was planed at some point-plane the board and the markers get planed too. If they are thin, falling out or otherwise causing you concern, one or two changed markers, if well matched to the ones you can save, aren’t going to significantly affect the vintage value of your guitar. I’d rather play a guitar with smooth new markers than one with markers that continually annoy me. There are more “expendables” that while perhaps a bit more durable, have a finite lifespan as well. Saddles, bridges and nuts. We’ll cover those another time.

Sometimes, things just wear out. It just doesn't make sense to keep a guitar original if the original parts are no longer functional. ES 335 block markers are often so badly deteriorated that they have to go.

OK Needs Guitars

December 29th, 2012 • Gibson General4 Comments »

Unbound '58 335 Case Queen. This is what I'm after. Just got this unbound beauty and I want more, more, more....

Where’d all the guitars go? Have I sold them all to happy owners who will part with them only when I pry them from their cold dead hands? Seriously, the demand for great old ES’s is pretty strong but the supply is pretty slim. That is, unless you count the overpriced “wishful thinking” pie in the sky, don’t hold your breath guitars that are all over Gbase and Ebay. I mean real guitars that I can buy at prices that allow me to sell them to you for what they’re worth. You know what happens when supply goes down and demand stays the same…prices go up and none of us want to see that happen, do we?  I’d rather sell guitars to you than have you overpay some other dealer who’s trying to recoup his 2008 costs with 2013 dollars.  Bottom line? I need 58-65 ES-335s and I’ll pay you a real world price. You still might do better on the open market but at least with me there’s no BS and no waiting to get paid. Got one under the bed you don’t play anymore? I’ll take it. Saving it for you 10 year old who thinks guitars are dorky? Give it up. Been playing that 335 for the past 20 years and you think that maybe its time for a Firebird or a Les Paul?  I’ll set you up.  What do I have to do? Take to the streets with a wheelbarrow and exhort you to “bring out your ES!!!” If Uncle Fred still has that old red 355 mono in the hall closet, maybe it’s time to let him know that his playing days ended in 1978 and that now would be a good time to take Aunt Sophie on a vacation. Maybe a cruise. I’m sure there are still a few thousand ES 335s, 345’s and 355’s out there that aren’t in the hands of collectors or current players. They’re lurking in closets and attics and, of course, under beds and they aren’t doing a bit of good there. Let’s get ’em out and get ’em back into circulation. Tell Grandma that it’s time to let Grandpa’s old 62 go to a younger player who will cherish it just as much as he did -when he was sober. And that old Fender tweed amp that’s been rusting out in the barn since cousin Lem’s unfortunate accident? I’ll take that too and poor old Lem can make a few bucks all these years later. If you have a guitar that I sold you and you aren’t playing it much, let me know and I’ll buy it back or trade you for something you will play. C’mon, it’s fun.

Hey, Del...You're not using that old double guard 64 anymore, are you? So, it's got a coupla extra holes-I'll still take it off your hands. Hey, I'm a walkin' in the rain...just to get your 335.


The Guitar Dick

December 24th, 2012 • Gibson General2 Comments »

This close to mint 61 dot neck had been refretted but everything else was a 9.5. Why would someone refret a near mint guitar? This calls for a dick.

No, it isn’t the guy who sold you a fake Chinese Les Paul (although he is a dick) and it isn’t Gary Dick, well known owner Gary’s Classic Guitars, it’s me. Or you, when it’s time to buy a vintage guitar. It’s this definition, not the other one: dick [dik] noun, Slang. 1. a detective. Detective work requires mostly common sense and a sometimes a little lateral thinking and creativity. In all vintage guitars we look for originality (and playability and tone but you don’t need a dick for that). Common sense tells you to look at the overall appearance. If the finish is worn, the parts are going to be worn. If the bridge looks shiny and new but the tailpiece has the plating worn right off of it, you might guess that the bridge has either been replated (doubtful) or replaced. Simple stuff, right? The problem with any vintage guitar is that there are so many parts that can be swapped in that are date correct but perhaps not “condition” correct. Do parts always wear evenly? No, they don’t but it’s pretty unusual when its glaring, especially during the 58-65 period when the metal parts were nickel plated. Nickel, unlike chrome, tarnishes and if the pickup covers look shiny and new and the bridge and tailpiece are tarnished, something might have been changed. So look at the solder on the back of the pickups. Have the covers been off? It’s not a slam dunk-there are folks who can reattach a cover with a solder blob that looks mighty convincing. How about a guitar that appears to be mint but clearly shows a refret? Ask yourself why a guitar that appears to have been rarely played would have a refret? If the wire is different-wider or narrower than stock, that could mean the player didn’t like the frets. A refret on an otherwise mint guitar can also mean that the guitar had a neck problem (usually a backbow) that was compensated for by a “compression” refret.  I’ve seen this more than once. It could also mean that the guitar was refinished and the parts replated and it isn’t a mint guitar at all. Ask yourself, “does this make sense?” The seller insists the case is original but the wear marks don’t line up. “uh…there was a different guitar in it for a few years…” Maybe but  probably not. How many cases get swapped out and then swapped back? Knobs are an interesting anomaly that can defy common sense. Since I’m no longer a gigging player, I rarely use the tone knobs. I dime ’em and leave ’em. So, when I see that the word “volume” is gone from the volume knobs and the word “tone” is bright and shiny on the tone knob, I don’t immediately think -replacement. Lots of people don’t mess with the tone knobs. You want to know if they’re of a set? Take them off and turn them over-the oxidation and crud under there should be pretty close to the same. Just ‘cuz you don’t use them doesn’t mean they don’t get sweat and polish and dust and other gunk under there over the course of 50 years or so. Fingerboard wear is another thing to look at. Does it make sense that the board under first three frets are heavily rutted but the owner says the frets are original (and show no wear)? Is the headstock beat to hell but there’s no wear on the body of the guitar? Is the case clean but the guitar is beat up? The reverse of that is deceiving, however. I’ve seen a whole lot of guitars that are in excellent shape with terrible cases. Gigging musicians who take good care of their guitars don’t always take good care of the case. Finally, consider that a swapped part that is vintage correct is not that big of a deal. Even if the bridge looks wrong, it shouldn’t be too hard to find one that looks right. If it’s too worn and you want one that is cleaner, they are out there. If it’s too shiny and you want it a bit more aged, there are those as well (or you can just play the crap out of it until it’s worn). Swapped parts that are wrong for the guitar will hurt the value but swapped parts that are right really don’t in most cases. It is too easy to change parts to know for absolute certain that they left the factory attached to that guitar but if you’re dick, you can lower the odds.

OK, it's not a 335 but it makes the point. This 68 should have a chrome bridge and tailpiece but these are nickel-learn to tell the difference. I pointed it out to the seller who recalled wanting the guitar to look more like a 50's LP. So he swapped them out. With any luck, he still has the originals somewhere. Fortunately I had a chrome set from a different 68.

2012 ES Year in Review

December 17th, 2012 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 3555 Comments »

Hot ticket item? Red big neck stoptail 63's and 64's. These don't ever last a week in my hands. Get 'em while they're hot.

I never buy and generally never consult the Vintage Guitar Price Guide or the Blue Book. I think the last one I bought was in 2009. It is my belief that they are trying to do the impossible which is to put some kind of market value on virtually every guitar made in the past 100 years. I know from my little teeny segment of the vintage guitar market that prices change a lot more than every year. A particular model/configuration can be hot in July and dead in August. The supply and demand is just too small to make the kind of generalizations that these publications make. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. How about the other dealers or Gbase, in general? Well, there are a few differing philosophies about how to sell a vintage piece. By far the most common is to put a big fat “sucker” price on it and wait to see if one takes the bait. Sometimes it works. Mostly it doesn’t. The dealers and individuals who use this method either don’t need to sell them, don’t want to sell them or are extremely negotiable. You know who you are. I think. Ultimately, it’s great for me that most dealers and individuals ask way too much for their guitars. While it makes it tough when I’m buying, they make it very easy for me when I have something to sell. It’s pretty easy to see why my guitars go on hold before I even get them and sell within a few weeks (or less). I’m not waiting for a sucker. I’m waiting for you-the serious buyer who does his home work and knows what he wants and how much he wants to spend. I sold around 100 guitars in 2012-the vast majority were ES-335s. How’s the market? Pretty good, actually. Stoptail block necks go the quickest and have been very strong this year breaking out of the mid-teens and pushing toward $20K for the first time since 2008. 64’s and big neck 63’s are leading the charge but more and more folks have come to appreciate the thinner 62’s and early 63’s. The best deal out there is an early 65 (big neck, trap tail). While the stops are getting up there, the early 65’s are still well under $10,000. Look for a big neck with a 17 degree headstock. There aren’t a lot of them but the later 14 degree headstock with the big neck is also a great choice. Don’t worry too much about nickel or chrome-it’s pretty random and easy and cheap to swap. While the stoptails have added 10-20% this year, the Bigsby-Custom made blocks have stood still. At $12K-$13K, they are a lot of guitar for the money. Dot necks held strong again, especially 58, 59 and early 60. These will likely stay strong-especially stops-and will continue to be in the mid to high 20’s and into the low $30K’s. Later 60’s and 61’s have softened a bit, IMO, dipping well below $20K even for really nice examples. What didn’t do so well this year from an investment standpoint? ES-345’s and stereo 355’s. Stoptail 345’s from 59 (and perhaps 60) are still doing OK but everything else has been in the doldrums. Stops in average condition from 60 to 64 have dipped below $10K which makes them a great bargain. ES-355 stereos are simply in the dumper. They were a very tough sell in 2012. Grab one in the $8K range if you can talk a delusional seller out of the $18K he thinks its worth. Mono 355’s, on the other hand, are pretty hot. I sold about ten of them this year and they were some of the best guitars I had. Average prices from 59-64 were over $10K and up into the low teens. What else is hot? Anything mint or close to it. Really high quality pieces are getting hard to come by and are starting to command some pretty serious premiums. The old “find another” cliche is alive and well. I’ll add a disclaimer-the variation in condition, originality and configuration makes my generalizations just that. Generalizations. If you come across a 335/345 or 355 that you’re interested in from another dealer, feel free to send me an email. I’ll be happy to guide you to a fair price-doesn’t mean you’ll get it but you won’t get played for a sucker either.


Toughest sell? ES-355 stereo. I don't think I sold a single one this year. The sellers want too much for them and the buyers know it. Nice guitars too but not worth the average $16-$18K the sellers want for an early one. Monos are the bomb, however.