GIBSON ES-335 ES-345 ES-355
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Ground Beef

December 5th, 2012 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 3556 Comments »

That solid wire wrapped around the braid is the ground. If you're going to start pulling the harness or messing with any of the wiring, disconnect the ground from the braid or be extremely careful that you don't break that wire. If you break it at the other end, you'll be bummed big time.

 

I’m not an electrical engineer. I can sort of read a schematic and can muddle my way through a wiring diagram. One thing that has always escaped me is the finer points of grounding. I get that electrical circuits need to be grounded but beyond that, it gets a little sketchy. Let’s take a look into the grounds on a 335. The stoptail 335 has a kind of rigid, uninsulated wire that goes from the ground (braided wire) of the bridge pickup to the stud bushing on the treble side of the stoptail. So, in theory, as long as you are touching something that is touching the stop (like the strings), you complete the ground. The braided wire of the harness is the ground and it makes a circuit from the pickup braid to the bridge volume pot to the bridge tone pot AND to the three way which in turn goes to the neck volume pot and the neck tone pot and then to the jack. If the guitar has a Bigsby or a trapeze, the ground wire goes all the way to a hole drilled near the strap button at the butt end of the guitar and is connected (by being butted up against) to the Bigsby or trapeze. Most factory guitars with both a Bigsby and stoptail studs have both ground wires.  Simple, right? You would think. The problem is that there are 20 different ways to screw it up. The worst is if you break the very fragile ground wire that goes to the stud. There is no way to replace it without jumping through some serious hoops. Trust me, you do NOT want to do this, so be really careful with that wire. If you’re removing a pickup or the harness for any reason, unsolder the ground wire from the pickup braid first or be really careful to avoid any strain on it. If you break that wire and it will break a lot more easily than you think, take the guitar to someone with skill and experience with 335s. The likelihood is that a new hole will have to be drilled in the center block to rout the new ground wire. You can’t use the old hole because the old ground wire is broken off and is stuck in it. If the wire broke with some of the wire sticking out, then you have a shot a removing it or soldering an extension on to it. To do it right, you have to pull out the bushing (not an easy task either), stick the new wire through the new (or old) hole and reinstall the bushing so it contacts the end of the wire and holds it in place. Yikes. The good news is that if you have a trap tail or a Bigsby, you aren’t likely to break the wire, nor is it that big a deal to replace it. There is an alternative that worked for me. I had purchased a stoptail 345 and it had a terrible hum, so I naturally assumed the ground wire was off. Well, it wasn’t off, it was gone. I don’t have the skills (or the confidence) to start drilling holes in the centerblock with any hope of it actually coming out in the little hole that the stoptail stud goes into. So I ran a very thin wire from the bridge pickup braid out under the pickup ring and wrapped it around the treble side bridge post. Because it was a long guard 345, the wire was pretty well hidden. It worked fine. I had a 65 ES-335 that was originally a stoptail and then had a Bigsby added but someone neglected (or were too lazy) to install a ground wire in the stud hole. So they did almost the same thing I did but they put a small lug on the end and just threaded it to the bridge post. It worked fine but you could see it. Best solution? Don’t break it in the first place.

This is another, less elegant solution. Instead of going to the stud bushing, the ground goes to the bridge post. The trouble is that it's visible. It didn't bother me very much but it is somewhat out of the ordinary. This was a 65 with studs and a Bigsby. There was no ground wire to the Bigsby, so we can only assume that it was added and somebody broke the original ground wire.

 

Travelin’ Man

December 3rd, 2012 • Uncategorized8 Comments »

I flew to Florida to pick this beauty up over the weekend. It borders on mint and has all the features you want. It is unusual in that it has the big neck of a late 63 and the Mickey Mouse ears of an early 63. One PAF, One patent. I didn't want this riding in the baggage compartment for three hours.

I actually like to get on airplanes and go places. I  don’t mind airports and airport food and even airport modes of transport-monorails, moving sidewalks, shuttle buses, you know. The crowds don’t bother me much nor do the long lines at the security gate. But traveling with a guitar, especially a valuable one, can be a little nerve wracking. Yesterday I flew to Tallahassee, Florida to pick up a very nice ’63 ES-335. I didn’t know it was going to be nice-that’s why I went in person to get it. This is typical when I buy from someone who doesn’t play and isn’t used to taking a guitar apart to tell me about pickup stickers and pot codes. So, I go myself knowing that I may be turning around and going home empty handed and a few hundred bucks poorer. Call it the cost of doing business. Fortunately, the seller (and his son) met me at the airport with the guitar and it turned out to be everything I had hoped. They were very nice folks and I enjoyed meeting them and was happy to be able to purchase the guitar from them. They even invited me to lunch which I had to turn down since I was flying right back to Connecticut. Here’s where it gets tricky. Now I have to go home with a very expensive guitar on an airline with a set of corporate rules about baggage.  Every flight is different because each airline has  a different set if rules and different levels of enforcement. On some,  apparently, it’s up to the flight crew whether your guitar gets on board or rides in the cargo hold. Some airlines are really good about allowing you on the plane with your guitar, some will allow it only if there is room (after everybody else has gotten on with their oversized luggage) and some require nothing less than threats and intimidation-“you want your gorillas in baggage to handle a $15000 guitar?” or “Are you willing to take responsibility for my livelihood?” or worse. The last time I flew with a guitar, I was on United and I called ahead to make sure the guitar got on the plane. they assured me it would be fine and then they refused. Yesterday it was Delta. The flight was in four parts-the first 2 legs weren’t a problem because I didn’t have a guitar with me yet. The return flight didn’t begin well. The flight attendant told me that if it didn’t fit in the overhead, then it couldn’t go on the plane. “Are you sure? I do this all the time…” “Those are the rules, he said, there’s nothing I can do.” “Is that a Delta policy?” “Yes, it is.” I started to go into my pitch about gorillas and insurance and responsibility when another crew member (I think it was the co-pilot) said that he would personally put it in the cargo hold himself and secure it. He assured me that it wouldn’t be too cold or get knocked around. He told me he was a player and he understood my concern. It was only a half hour flight and the guitar was bubble wrapped in the case, so I wasn’t that worried. I pointed out that there were empty seats and that other airlines just let me strap it in. “Sorry, sir, said the flight attendant, that’s against regulations.” So, my newest acquisition went into the hold. So, I got to Atlanta and the guitar was fine but the next leg was almost 3 hours and I really wasn’t comfortable with it going with the cargo. This flight was also Delta and the woman at the gate said the flight crew will decide whether it goes on the plane. I figured, “great—regulations again.” I got on the plane first and brought the guitar with me. The flight attendant in charge couldn’t have been nicer (or prettier). She told me that they take care of musicians and their instruments all the time and one way or another, we’d get the guitar on the plane. So much for regulations. The flight wasn’t full and the guitar got its own seat-right next to me (it was an ideal seat mate-it didn’t strike up a conversation, nor did it snore). So, the next time you’re flying with your guitar and you don’t want to check it, don’t let the petty bureaucrat who’s exercising his little teeny bit of power in his little teeny fiefdom tell you what the “regulations” are. Look them up in advance and print them out. Don’t ask if you can bring the guitar on at the check in desk. They will tell you that you can’t. Bring it through security and to the gate. Get on the plane with it (and get on early) and see if you can fit it in the overhead bin. If it doesn’t fit, ask the flight attendant for help. Be nice. If that doesn’t work, be nice again. If that doesn’t work, then being nice isn’t going to do it. You may have to gate check it which is better than letting the baggage handlers at it. When you gate check, the guitar is put in the cargo hold but doesn’t go to the baggage carousel at the end of the flight (usually-find out for sure before you give it up at the gate). Finally, if they let you put the guitar on the plane, even if it’s n the regulations, be grateful. Thank them profusely. Being a flight attendant seems like a pretty tough job. Let them know you appreciate their help.

Lore of the Rings

November 26th, 2012 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 3553 Comments »

M69 pickup rings come in a few sizes. The middle one and the one on the right are the typical ES-335 sizes. The bigger one sometimes shows up as a bridge ring but is more typically found on Les Pauls or ES-175s.

Want to get a Les Paul guy all excited? In the immortal words of Mr. McGuire in “The Graduate” …”Plastics”.  It must be something about white plastic that gets them going (and big prices) because most of us ES-335 types don’t really get that worked up.  The little bitty piece of plastic they get all hyperventilated about? Pickup rings. You think it’s crazy that a little decal on a pickup can make a $1000 or more difference, you ain’t heard nothin’ yet. A pair of black pickup rings will cost you a pretty ridiculous $275. A pair of (authentic) white ones? $10,000 or more. I get a surprising number of emails asking about these things. Questions about the height of the bridge pickup ring is a big one. Because the rings were made in a number of different heights, it’s no wonder there is some inconsistency in them . To be certain that your ES has the correct rings, look at the underside. If your ES is from the 60’s or earlier, then both rings will have the letter M and the number 69 on them. That’s why they call them M69 rings. The left leg of the letter M is always missing or weak. Some fakes don’t get it right but there aren’t a lot of fakes out there in black. There are plenty of repro white ones (which didn’t come on any ES except the ES-295).  There are all kinds of “mold marks” and little inconsistencies in the rings which is important in identifying whether they are original or repros. If you want the really fine details, you can find them on Clay H’s excellent vintage guitar site here.  I can’t do better than he has done-it is very comprehensive.  I will note that all of the little “mold marks” that he catalogs aren’t always there-probably due to wear and inconsistencies in the pouring of the molds. I just pulled a pair off an all original 59 ES-355 and the bridge ring is missing a few on the bottom. I usually make the assumption that if the pickups are original and the plastic shows the M69 and other “readable” markings and the right amount of wear for the guitar they are on, then they are probably original. If a “mold mark” is missing from the bottom, don’t lose any sleep.  There is often a lot of wear on them-even the bottom.  Also worth noting is that the rings on an ES-335 are not the same height as those on a Les Paul. The neck ring on a 335 is 3/16″ tall on the tall side and 5/32″ on the short side. The bridge ring is taller but not as tall as the one on a Les Paul (or an ES-175). The bridge ring should measure 3/8″ on the taller side and 9/32″ on the short side. I have occasionally seen a taller version of the bridge pickup ring on some later 60’s ES-335s. While it’s often impossible to tell what’s original and what isn’t 50 years after a guitar was made, I’m guessing that taller rings were sometimes used as the neck angles became steeper . The “tall” rings are more like LP rings and measure 1/2″ at the tall side and 13/32″ on the short. There might be some variation in the heights from wear and from the fact that people sometimes sand them down to make a curve that fits the arch of the guitar. Black M69s have gotten a little pricey lately but they come on so many models that there is no shortage of them. There is another number on the underside of the rings and it will be MR490 on the bridge ring and MR491 on the thinner neck ring. If your ring says M8, it’s from the 70’s or later. I’m not certain exactly what year the change was made-I don’t see a lot of 70’s ES’s. By the early 80’s, they were using M8’s. Feel free to help me out here. One other thing to note is that if you pull the ring on a blonde or sunburst model and you see a thin red line where the edge of the ring sat, it’s normal. The plastic in the rings reacts slightly with the nitrocellulose lacquer and very often leaves a faint red ring. It probably leaves the same ring on the red finished ones as well-you just can’t see it. I’ll take a photo next time I see it.

You can see the little halfmoon shaped mold marks on the cleaner of the two M69 neck pickup rings but just because thet are mostly worn off on the other one doesn't make it any less authentic. Wear on these rings is pretty common, so if a mark is missing, don't sweat it.

 

Time to Sell?

November 19th, 2012 • Uncategorized2 Comments »

Fallen out of love and it's time to sell? Need the cash? Don't play any more? It happens. Someone even sold me this one.

Yes, it happens. We fall out of love with our once beloved 335 and something else catches our eye. When I became a serious (OK, semi serious) dealer, I had to learn how not to fall in love with every guitar I bought-which is a little tricky since I only buy guitars I fall in love with, it seems. Or maybe you still love the old gal but you just don’t play any more and a pretty $12000 doorstop doesn’t fit your otherwise intelligent lifestyle. Or maybe Grandma just broke her hip and you’ve got some medical bills to pay. Sadly, it happens. As a dealer, if I’m doing it right,  half the time I’m buying and half the time I’m selling. And, as a dealer, I can’t buy guitars at retail and sell them at retail. It doesn’t work that way. But you can. I get asked this all the time and it’s not brain surgery. My brother is a brain surgeon and he usually uses the expression “it’s not rocket science.” What does that tell you? Anyhow, here’s a road map for the successful sale of a guitar in this kind of tough post-recession market: Make certain you know what year it is, what model it is and what is or isn’t original. If you aren’t sure, ask someone who knows. Ask me if you want. It’s often impossible to tell which parts are original from even a detailed photo but I can usually tell if they are correct (which to most buyers is fine). Once you know what you have write a very complete description of it and see if you can get a market (retail) price for it. Ebay gets you the biggest audience but there are pitfalls there as well that don’t exist in places like Craigslist (which has its own pitfalls). Scammers abound. What’s the retail price for your guitar?  That’s the $64000 question (anybody get this reference any more?). You can go to Gbase but those are dealer prices which tend to be very high (and generally very negotiable). You can look at what others on Ebay are asking but those guitars haven’t sold and may have been listed for years. Really. Years. A good guide is to look up your year and model under “completed listings” in Ebay. If the price is red, it didn’t sell. If it’s green, it did. And don’t just look at the long list, call up the individual listing because the list shows the asking price, not necessarily the selling price in the case of “best offers”. Ebay is a pretty democratic place. Guitars rarely sell for more than they are worth. They do sometimes sell for less and that’s because the listing leaves unanswered questions that scare away potential buyers. And people lie. Another choice is The Gear Page. These tend to be knowledgeable buyers who will very often pay what the guitar is worth if you have what they are looking for. Again, a complete and accurate description is your best asset. Finally, if your efforts to sell at retail fail and they very often will-these guitars don’t sell overnight-then consider offering the guitar to a dealer. And not just one dealer. Shop it around and see what they offer. If a dealer has a willing buyer already on a list for your model and year, he will likely pay a bit more. If your guitar is an easy sell, as certain years are, he may offer a bit more. If it’s a stereo ES-355 with a sideways and an added coil tap, you may be disappointed. You may be disappointed anyway because dealers don’t pay nearly as much as consumers but they pay you today. Some guitars take a year to sell. Many take months. If you need to sell today, that’s a consideration (the Grandma hip thing). If you aren’t in a hurry, then take some time and test the market.

Refins. Rethink.

November 15th, 2012 • ES 345, Gibson General5 Comments »

This could be the prettiest blonde I've ever seen (not counting my wife, of course). And it's a refin. But I want it. For me.

One of the great mysteries of vintage collecting is the conventional wisdom that a refinished guitar is worth half the value of one with its original finish-no matter how worn or deteriorated it might be.  As a former car guy, I can tell you that a refinished car is worth more than a car with a totally destroyed original finish but perhaps that’s apples and oranges. It seems collectible furniture follows a similar code to that followed by vintage guitar enthusiasts so we’re not the only crazies out there. There has been a small shift in the refin paradigm recently and I think its a good thing. Because the nuttiest of all collectors are Les Paul enthusiasts, it’s interesting that they are the ones leading the charge here. In the past few years, the Les Paul aficionados have taken to getting extremely high end refinishes and other modifications done to their reissue Les Pauls. The leader in this cottage industry is Historic Makeovers. They are very busy guys and they do very, very  good work. Now, there are folks selling their refinished LPs, noting which Makeover package was done, and charging a premium. That’s a game change if I’ve ever seen one. It kind of started with aging/relic’ing but it took a while for actual refinishes to command a premium. But now they do. There are a handful of finishers whose work is so respected that to have your guitar refinished by them is no longer an instant 50% drop in the value.  I think the biggest difference here is that these elite refinishers are doing a much better (and authentic) job than the folks at Gibson are doing and , frankly, given the cost of these refins, they should be. I can’t tell you how the vintage market will feel about these in 40 years when your R9 really is vintage. There is nothing comparable that occurred during the 50s and 60s unless you count minor custom work done outside the Gibson factory. Things like custom inlays, engraved pickguards and the like are fun and kind of cool (at least I think so) but they don’t command a premium unless the name on the fingerboard is Elvis Somebody. So, when my son is my age and he’s looking for a nice vintage 40 year old Gibson from, say, 1998 will the one with the Historic Makeover command more than the Murphy relic? Or will the factory stock one be the one that appreciates?  I don’t have my crystal ball handy. At the moment, this is mostly a Les Paul phenomenon but they have done some work on recent ES models as well. The reason I bring all of this up is because of a refinished 1959 ES-345 that has been offered to me at a price somewhat higher than you would think it was worth using the usual criteria. But then you look at it and you realize that this isn’t just a refin, it’s a restoration at something approaching museum quality. The finish looks stunning, the wood is stunning, the guitar is stunning. I am, in fact, stunned. My good judgment says don’t overpay for this but my usually hard heart (at least when it comes to guitars) says otherwise. Let me remind you, I’m the guy who found two of the rarest ES’s on earth (the very first red 345 and a red 59 335) and sold ’em both without batting an eye. The reason I don’t overpay for guitars is to keep you from having to. But this one is different-it tugs at my heart and says “buy me”.  It may have to take up permanent residence here at the OK corral.

This looks to be a 63 Historic refinished by HM. Very authentic looking dark red 63-64 cherry. The lacquer they used during this period tends to yellow more than earlier years browning out the red a bit and really making the bindings go yellow. Too bad they can't fix the ears.

 

Are We That Stupid?

November 11th, 2012 • Gibson General9 Comments »

Nice stuff but $15K???? Maybe if the pickups were whites I'd just say the seller was overreaching. This is maybe $6000 worth of stuff and I'm being really generous only 'cuz I'm a sucker for amber switch tips..

And by we, I include me. Granted, collectors and, to a lesser extent, vintage players are all a little nutty what with getting upset about a changed pickguard screw or the like. There has to be a limit and yet certain sellers will continue to exploit out potential nuttiness. But this Ebay auction is a little insulting. OK, I get original solder, really, I do-it proves a lot on a guitar but this Ebay sale has jumped the shark. The guy wants $15000 for a pair of (black) PAFs that are still soldered to their original harness. I quote:  Again, we’ve NEVER seen anything like this, and we (that means you, too!) may never see anything like this again. This is a rare chance to own a very, very rare and unique set of authentic 1959 Gibson PAF pickups, pots, input jack and 3-way switch, with original wiring harness and completely unsoldered. Don’t they mean completely soldered?  OK, that’s sort of rare because you can only get the harness out of a hollow body without unsoldering at least one pickup. But seriously, so what?  They still had to unsolder the ground wire. Where is that? Shouldn’t the ground wire still be attached to the harness?? In any case, the value of this particular setup is only valid for a hollow body because you’d have to unsolder a pickup to install it in anything else. Besides, how many hollow bodies with an intact 2 pickup harness are worth more than $15K? Not many. Second, if you bought this harness and installed it in your 59 Super 400 or other hollow body, it wouldn’t be original-it would have the harness from another guitar, so where is the value of originality in a case like this, unless you lie? How would I describe this “restoration” if I were a seller? 1959 Super 400 with a totally original never unsoldered harness unless you count the ground wire from a different guitar? That’ll bring ’em running. Wait. Let’s look at it another way. A 59 harness on a good day might be worth $800. A pair of black unopened PAFs, again, on a good day might be worth $4000. So the premium, in this instance,  for one solder joint (the neck pickup) is about $10,000. We are not that stupid. Not logical enough for you? Here’s another try: I bought an all original 61 dot neck with a repaired headstock  last year. It had its original PAFs and the original, intact harness. I think I sold it for $7500 (and not easily). Is this seller telling me I could have routed out the body to allow me to remove the neck pickup and harness without breaking the solder joint and sold the resulting unbroken harness for $15000 (and still had all the goodies left on the guitar)? What a dope I am. I could have made even more since the rout would have been under the guard and the headstock was repaired anyway.  The point is that sometimes you just have to let logic rear its head and think about what you are buying (or selling). I understand most of the collector nuttiness-I have to-I’d go out of business if I didn’t. I love the fact that the sticker on a PAF is worth $1000. I love the fact that an unstickered early patent number and an unstickered PAF are exactly the same but command different prices.  I love the fact that a white PAF is worth twice what a black PAF is worth. This is what makes these guitars so darn interesting. But, the day a single solder join is worth $10K is the day I hang up my truss rod wrench and say “I’ve had enough.” I’m not saying anything negative about the seller other than he’s being wildly optimistic about the value (and rarity) of his item. He has as much right to ask $15000 for a set of pickups and parts as I have to squawk about it. I’m sure the seller is just throwing it out there hoping to snag a sucker with more bucks than brains but c’mon. I think it’s insulting. Even to us nuts.

Well, look here. By cosmic coincidence, I'm parting out a 59 ES-175. So I pulled the harness in one piece just to make a point. NOT rare. Not worth $15K. I'm about to unsolder the pickups (sold) and thus lower the value of whats left by, what, $9K or $10K? That's putting your money where your mouth is. Anybody need a 59 harness? only $10,000. I'll throw in the pickup rings (which they didn't include). What the heck, you can have the rest of the 175 as well. Except maybe the switch tip.

Wonderful One-Off ES-355

November 6th, 2012 • ES 3554 Comments »

One of the coolest 355's ever. And one of the rarest. Can you spot anything strange about this guitar?

Before the advent of the “Custom Shop”, Gibson was turning out custom instruments for artists, players and just plain folks. While Fender was cranking out its cookie cutter line, Gibson offered one off instruments to just about anyone who wanted one and was willing to pay a premium for it. You could order a 345 with a 355 fingerboard and inlays or a 355 with nickel hardware. If you wanted a stereo ES-335 with a Varitone, they would do that as well. They would also paint your guitar in a color that wasn’t standard, although it had to be a color they offered. With very few exceptions, you won’t find a Gibson painted in a non-Gibson color. One of the great rarities in the ES line is the sunburst ES-355. The only standard color offered is red. They exist in blonde, black, white and sunburst as well. I think we can safely assume that non red 355’s are all special orders. So, to find a sunburst ES-355 is a needle in a haystack. To find one with bound f-holes is a needle in two haystacks. Gibson didn’t bind f-holes on ES-355’s until the 70’s so to find a 62 with this feature is unusual, to say the least. My first thought was that perhaps they were done after the guitar left the factory but on closer inspection, I believe they were done at Gibson. The way I see it, the f-holes themselves have to be oversized in order to make room for the binding and I just don’t think many luthiers would want to start routing the top out just to get bound f-holes. The likely scenario is that someone called the folks at Gibson (or wrote a letter-remember those?) and asked them to make a sunburst ES-355 with bound f-holes.

Note the unusual Varitone knob. Also, the old style bonnet knobs and the bound f-holes.

Interestingly, the sunburst is not typical, as you can see from the photos. There is much more red and the darkest tones that are typical of a Gibson sunburst are absent. It is closer to the cherryburst that would appear a few years later. This sunburst a bit more subtle than the later cherryburst with a darker center-more orange than yellow. The guitar also has bonnet type knobs rather than the reflector type that were stock in 1962. You might also notice a few more oddities…the Varitone knob isn’t a chickenhead. This is actually pretty standard on ES-355s with the sideways trem. The reason is simple-the chickenhead knobs bumps into the trem arm making certain positions of the six way switch inaccessible. I had a 345 with a sideways and a chickenhead and you couldn’t get it into position 5 or 6 without moving the trem arm. There is a mystery, however.  Why (oh, why) is the truss rod cover upside down? I don’t think that’s a custom option.  Thanks to Rob, a regular reader and the owner of this old gal. The guitar was bought new by his father from a local Mom and Pop music store and Rob inherited it when his father passed away.  I wish my father had collected guitars. The only thing he seems to have collected was sons (he had 9 of them). This guitar certainly ranks way up there on the cool scale for 355s. I’d put the pickup covers back on if it were mine but that’s just me. If you have a one off or custom Gibson, send me an email with some photos and as much history as you know and I’ll be happy to feature it here.

Here's the original owner playing with his swing band circa 1978. Check out that collar. Truss cover is still upside down.

Thanks to All

November 5th, 2012 • Uncategorized4 Comments »

My wife and I spent the past week as refugees with friends who don’t live anywhere near the ocean. While there was considerable destruction inland and lots of power outages, we were fortunate to have friends who never lost power, didn’t care how long we stayed and how much of their food we ate. But it goes beyond that. I received dozens of emails and texts from readers I’ve never met and that’s a very nice thing-people who asked about my family, my house and, of course, my guitars. I am grateful and appreciative of that. The good news is that the biggest casualty was my lawnmower and all my sports equipment. I forgot that my rollerblades, my ice skates and all the snorkel gear were stored in a cabinet in the garage. You would also think that a little seawater wouldn’t hurt stuff that’s used in seawater like snorkels and fins-not true. It’s the mud… Good thing I don’t forget where the guitars are stored. I’ve never seen mud like this. It’s very fine textured and turns into cement when it dries. I’m told it’s kind of toxic as well, probably because of all the crap they dump into Long Island Sound. It’s everywhere. It covers most of the back lawn and was 5 inches deep under the house in the crawl space (I don’t have a basement). Fortunately it didn’t get into the ductwork under the house. We have friends who have been given an estimate of $50,000 to replace their ductwork after it was flooded. Apparently, it isn’t enough to clean them-you have to replace them due to mold issues. Tomorrow, I’ll get back to guitars and, with any luck, we won’t have another big storm for a few years, although I’m told there’s a Nor’easter coming on Wednesday with high winds, heavy rain and high tides. Coastal living is really nice most of the time. Especially if you’re a duck.

Sandy Comes a Knockin’

October 31st, 2012 • Uncategorized7 Comments »

That's my garage door after the storm. You can see the water line. Fortunately, my car was on higher ground and my house is built 2 feet higher than my garage. I'm guessing my lawnmower isn't going to start next time.

I was going to write about a very cool sunburst ES-355 sent to me by a reader but that will have to wait since I’m currently homeless. In case you don’t watch the news (and who can blame you), we had a storm here in the East. I have the (usually) good fortune of living on the water. The downside is, of course, the water. My house was built at what they call the “100 year flood” elevation. That means every 100 years or so, you can expect the water to reach this record level. Anything higher would be unprecedented in recorded history. Last year. Hurricane Irene was our 100 year flood. We survived that one with little damage and we thought we could kind of relax for the next 100 years. Well, one year and two months later, here comes Hurricane Sandy-even bigger and badder than Irene. We evacuated this time and went to stay with friends in the next town. I took a J-200 and a Fender Esquire with me and brought the rest of the guitars to my office. Then we settled in at our friends house to watch the weather reports and, more importantly, the tide readings. You can get a real time reading every six minutes that includes the predicted tide, the actual tide and the “residual” which in this case is added to the actual tide. That’s the storm surge you hear so much about. The tide was predicted to be 7 feet. The surge 5-10 feet. If you do the math you can see I’m screwed. If the surge is 10 feet and it hits at high tide, that will be a 17 foot tide. The one hundred year elevation is 12 feet which would allow for a 13.8 foot tide (don’t ask why) before my house is under water. So, potentially, my main floor is under 3.2 feet of water if the surge is as predicted and it hits at high tide. My friend George, with whom we are staying is an MIT trained engineer and spent Monday evening on the computer doing “models” that showed where the water was and where it was likely to go. High tide was to hit at 11:57 PM Monday. At 6:24 PM, the surge hit 9 feet and it was low tide. So at low tide predicted to be around sea level, the tide was already 9 feet which is flood stage. There was another 7 feet of tide coming in the next 6 hours and the surge was increasing as the easterly wind piled up water in Long Island Sound. By 8 oclock, the surge was nearly 10 feet and the tide had risen to 2.6 feet putting us at 12.6. George’s chart said at this rate we’d be looking at another 4 feet of surge and another 4.5 feet of tide. That would put the water at 21 feet or just below the second floor of my house (where my guitars usually live). Then he showed me the wind chart showing that the hurricane had turned inland and the winds were shifting toward the southeast which would stop the water from piling up any further in the Sound. So we waited for the surge to reverse. By 9 o’clock it was down to 9 feet but the tide was up to 4 feet putting the water at 13 feet. I had less than a foot before the house was inundated. At 10, the surge was down to 8 feet but the tide was above 5 feet putting the water just 8 inches from the floor. But George’s data said the surge was falling faster than the tide and that we would be OK. This is a guy who worked at NASA during Apollo 13 and if he says it’ll be OK, I’m inclined to believe him. The water peaked at 13.26 feet a few minutes later. That’s about 6 inches from disaster. The surge was falling faster than the tide was rising and, barring another wind shift, my house was safe.  By high tide, the surge had dropped to 4 feet and we were out of danger. The good news is that my family was safe. It’s great that my house and my guitars all survived as well but that’s just stuff. All insured and replaceable.  And thanks to George (and his wife Cheryl) for keeping my head from exploding during the worst of it.  I’ll write about this again in another 100 years (or after the next “100 year” event which if it follows the recent timetable will be next December)…

This is Fairfield Beach-a couple of beaches from where I live in Westport.

Outside the Bell Curve

October 28th, 2012 • ES 3352 Comments »

I've eaten lobsters heavier than this '61 dot neck (really). This bad boy weighs in a 7 lbs and one half ounce. That's more than 4 ounces lighter than the previous lightweight champ.

The specs on ES-335s and their brethren fall within a fairly well defined range even though, within that range,  they are all over the place. The pickups are almost always between 7.4K and 8.7K (more or less), the weight can be as low as 7 lbs 5 oz. for a stoptail 335 to 9.5 lbs for a Bigsby ES-345 or 355. There are tighter ranges to things like nut width-probably because the nuts were mass produced and ranges that follow production years like body depth. Body depth, as I’ve written before was thinner on may 58 and 59 ES’s but by the end of 59 was within a range of  a few hundredths of an inch. And, of course, few guitars actually match the published specifications. I’m not completely obsessive about these things-in fact I don’t usually check much other than the nut width and the neck depth at the first and 12th fret. I’ll check the DC resistance if somebody asks me to. Things like body depth and even weight don’t really concern me unless they seem to fall way outside of the expected range. Then I get real interested. I recently acquired a ’61 dot neck that seemed kind of light. I didn’t give it very much thought until my tech mentioned how light he thought it was. I agreed but figured it was somewhere near the lower end. The lightest ES-335 I had ever encountered was another ’61 that weighed in at around 7 lbs 5 ounces. I would have expected the lightest to be a ’59 with the thinner body depth but maybe the big neck makes up for that. Then I figured maybe the later ones with the cutout in the centerblock would be the lightest-like maybe an early ’63 with the cutout and a smaller neck. But no, the lightest ’63 I’ve encountered was in the same ballpark of just under 7.5 lbs. This particularly light ’61 weighed in a 7 lbs one half ounce. That’s 4 and a half ounces lighter than its nearest competitor. That’s getting into Telecaster territory. What might have made the difference is that this ’61 has the centerblock cutout-the earliest I’ve ever seen it. It is a very late ’61-December for sure and I have seen the cutout in an early ’62, so it isn’t that much of a headscratcher in that regard. Certainly the cutout and the fact that there is a bit less mahogany in the thinner neck ’60-early ’63 335s (and mahogany is a pretty heavy wood) might have tipped the scales in the favor of lightness. Interestingly, the weight of the guitar doesn’t seem to correspond much to the tone, although I think big necks might but that’s a different topic that’s been covered before.  The biggest advantage of a very lightweight guitar is for old folks like me who can’t shoulder 9 lbs for more than a few tunes without moaning about our aching backs (getting old sucks). The difference between 7 lbs and even 8 lbs is glaring if you don’t have the back for it. So, I’m always looking for the exceptions to the little rules that we expect all ES-335s/345s and 355s to follow. One offs get me excited. Things like Mickey Mouse ears on a 66 or a wide nut on a 67 or bound f-holes on a 60’s 355 make me want to buy them all. My next post will be about a true one off-a 1962 ES-355 in sunburst which is rare enough but with factory bound f-holes as well.