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Christmas at OK Guitars (Again)

December 18th, 2018 • Uncategorized1 Comment »

I was going to write a new Christmas poem this year (like I promised last year) but I re-read the one my wife and I wrote in 2015 and threw up…my hands and said, “I can’t do any better than this. I know my limitations”. So, for the third time (first time if you’re new to the site this year) here is “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas at OK Guitars”

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the pad

I was playing my Gibson- not great, but not bad.

I remembered a blues lick and played it with flair

Just like in the days when I had all my hair.

The block necks were hung not too tight or too loose,

As I waited for Santa inside my caboose.

I had them all tuned and I played every one.

The truss rods were perfect, the strings tightly strung.

All of a sudden on the roof of my shop,

I spied an old fat dude just reeking of pot.

He fell off the roof and into the snow.

I asked him right in. Why he came, I don’t know.

There was ice in his beard and mud on his boot,

And I thought only rock stars could wear such a suit.

He took down a red one, just like Eric C.

His fingers flew faster than old Alvin Lee.

It was wailing and screaming all over the town.

I could hear my Dad yelling, “Turn that damn thing down!”

Who knew this weird guy, such a flash with a pick

And a love of guitars, would be old Saint Nick?

I couldn’t believe all the sounds in my ear.

He said, “You get good working one day a year.”

Now Jimi, Now BB, Now John, George and Paul

Would bow to this master, the best of them all.

“You remember that Christmas back in ’63?

When you found a new six string left under your tree?

You started to doubt that I was the truth,

But my gift to you then was a link to your youth.

So for all of the years that would come in between,

Way deep down inside, you’d still feel like sixteen.”

He picked up some cases by Lifton and Stone,

Some old Kluson tuners and a worn out Fuzztone.

“Now, Charlie Gelber you must hear my pitch,

‘Cause this is my time and payback’s a bitch.

The 335 please, the red 59.

I gave you your first one, now this ax is mine”.

And quick as a flash it was stuffed in his sack,

And he waved a goodbye as he snuck out the back.

He jumped in his sled and sparked up a j,

Flew into the sky and was off on his way.

So if feeling sixteen is what sets you right,

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

 

By Charlie and Victoria Gelber

With apologies to Clement Clark Moore

The Guitar Tax

December 10th, 2018 • Gibson General7 Comments »

I used to pay, depending on gauge, $75 to $85 for a bulk pack of strings (25 sets). The trade war has bumped them up to $109. That’s nearly a 40% increase. If the tariff is 25%, why has the price gone up 40%?

In the 8 years or so I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve largely steered clear of politics. My politics and your politics need not be aligned for you to read my posts and for me to write them. There are certainly political aspects to music-compare “Eve of Destruction” to “Ragged Old Flag” and about a zillion other songs from the left and right and more than a few in the center. But we don’t really discuss music here, we discuss guitars. The tool of the music trade. If I did a writers blog, I’d be talking about pencils. The topic simply isn’t that deep. But politics has entered our little world of guitars and I am not happy about it.

Guitars are expensive, especially vintage guitars but I think the level of enjoyment is remarkable and the cost is, in the long run, easy to justify. Vintage guitars have held their value over the long term. Even after the crash of 2008, most guitars have slowly made their way back to pre 2008 levels. New guitars still drop in value the day you walk out of the store but the used market is pretty robust. But there’s a new fly in the nut sauce. Tariffs.

The current occupier of the White House has started a trade war with China and those tariffs affect guitar players. Most of the steel comes from China and there is now a big tariff imposed by the president. I go through a lot of guitar strings which are, of course, made largely of steel. How bad is it? Well, I buy in bulk and a box of 25 loose sets of D’Addario XL’s used to cost me $75 to maybe $85. And this wasn’t some dealer wholesale price-I used to buy them off Ebay from one of the big retailers. Now, the price has risen by a few points more than the 25% tariff on steel. I now pay $109 for the same strings. That, to me, is a tax and it’s unfair and its unnecessary and it’s short sighted. I’m no economist but the economy was doing pretty well even with the big trade deficits we’ve had for as long as I can remember. It’s simple, Mr. President. We buy more stuff from them than they do from us. Their stuff is cheaper and Americans are likely to buy things that cost less. Making their stuff cost more isn’t helping us. It’s costing us money. I remember lots of times when “buy American” was a part of the political agenda. But nobody was forcing us to pay more-they were simply appealing to the possibility that folks were patriotic enough to buy American for the perceived good of the economy. Well, news flash. I am buying American. Its simply that the raw materials came from somewhere else because we don’t make a lot of steel here in the USA any more.

And it isn’t just strings. There’s a lot of steel in a guitar. And aluminum too. And wood which is now subject to a tariff as well. 20% for Canadian and 25% for certain Chinese wood including guitar standards like maple and ash. American companies make huge profits and the government just massively cut corporate taxes. So, as if the tariffs themselves aren’t bad enough, now many American companies use their increased costs an excuse to raise prices even further which hurts the consumer, not big business. They aren’t simply passing on the cost of the tariffs. Did you ever notice that when the cost of raw materials goes up 20%, the cost of the product goes up 25% (or more). Or why the gas tax goes up by three cents, the price goes up by five? There isn’t much to be done about it other than vote the current incumbents out (the midterms were a good start). I’m all for businesses doing great but I’m more for the American consumer (and musician) to get a fair shake. And we are not getting one. This administration is costing us, the consumers, while it should be protecting us and not big business. And how’s that big tax cut working out for you?

A 335 doesn’t have a whole lot of metal in it but there are now tariffs on wood as well and not just from China. Wood from Canada has been singled out as well. With the 25% tariff on steel, it’s a good thing I don’t buy and sell these.

 

The Death of Vintage

November 30th, 2018 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 35513 Comments »

This 58 was bought by a 24 year old. Who says millennials don’t buy vintage?

Got your attention now, don’t I? OK, nobody is dying but the conventional wisdom has been that the vintage market will die as soon as the baby boomers (born 1946-1964) stop buying guitars. Where did this so called conventional wisdom come from? Well, not from me, that’s for sure. It’s most likely the result of simple logic. Most of the folks buying guitars from the 50’s and 60’s are folks who coveted those guitars as teenagers. It’s the same logic that the vintage automobile market  clung to until it simply didn’t pan out that way. There is some truth to the logic but it isn’t the big picture.

I’ve been buying and selling vintage guitars for about twenty years now. I started back in the mid 90’s, when the internet and, specifically, Ebay, opened up a worldwide market . It was a hobby until around 2006 when I started getting serious and my main source of income since 2010. From the mid 90’s until now, it is absolutely true that my biggest and most frequent customers have been between the ages of 50 and 65. Interestingly, the age of the clientele stayed about the same between then and now. Of course, if you were 50 in 1995, you are now at the top end of that range and if you were 65, you are probably not buying guitars any more (or anything else for that matter). I believe those who subscribe to the conventional wisdom about the vintage market have their data correct but they have misinterpreted it. I believe it has more to do with disposable income than it has to do with what guitars you grew up wanting. At around age 50-55 a lot of things in your life can change. Your mortgage may be paid off, your kids are out of the house and you may have downsized, college expenses are finished and your income is higher than its ever been. It doesn’t take an economist to figure this out-you simply have more money to spend.

But it doesn’t end there. The belief that the generation behind the baby boomers won’t be interested in guitars from the 50’s and 60’s is faulty. Guitars from the 50’s and 60’s (and some 30’s and 40’s) are better instruments than most of them being made now. There is no doubt that there are some extremely good guitars being made today-especially from boutique builders. But the market still loves the classics and that’s what those conventional thinkers have missed. Disagree? here are some hard facts.

I sell around 100 guitars a year. I keep track of the demographics of who is buying what. The big surprise this year was that nearly half of the high end vintage guitars sold by me were bought by folks under the age of 50. That still means lots of 50 and 60 somethings are buying guitars but, as they say in the commercials, wait..there’s more. It’s a little nitpicky but i sold a lot of guitars to buyers in the range of 50-55. Now, I don’t ask everybody how old they are when they buy something but I get a pretty good sense of it from the conversations. Note that a 50 year old in 2018 is not a baby boomer. I sold six vintage guitars in November. Only one buyer was over 60. One was 24. Two were in their 40’s and two were in there 50’s. The demographics are very similar for the entire year. Last year was a bit different-more boomers. Same with the year before. So, is 2018 a fluke or a sustainable change in the market place? Stay tuned. I’m betting on the latter.

This stunning 59 didn’t go to a millennial but it didn’t go to a baby boomer either.

Headstock Variables ES-355

November 11th, 2018 • ES 35510 Comments »

I recently wrote a post talking about how the ES line is “upside down” which dealt with the real world fact that 335’s are more valuable than their upscale brethren, the 345 and the 355. I posted a photo of two 59 ES-355’s side by side and I received a comment about how one of the 355’s had a shorter headstock than the other and that this was a known characteristic of Les Paul Customs (which have the same headstock design). I was aware that there was some variation among headstocks in 335’s but never really dug too far into it. Back in 2014 I made note of the fact that the 1958 ES-335’s often had a slightly elongated headstock when compared to 59’s. You can read about it here. But I was never aware that there was a significant variation in the 355 headstocks as well. A little research reveals the reason (and I already covered that)

In 2017, I wrote a post called “Stinger Things” which revealed the reason for many, if not all stingers found on ES-355’s (the most common ES with a headstock stinger). You can read that post here. If you’re too lazy to read another post, I’ll give you the short version. Most 355’s with a stinger have necks that were converted from 335 or 345 necks. The headstock of a 355 is wider and longer than a 335 headstock. The discrepancy in 355 headstocks is in these conversions-all of which have a stinger. The two 355’s in the photo in the “Upside Down” post that was commented on by the sharp eyed reader shows two 59 ES-355’s. One has a bigger headstock than the other. Fortunately, I still had both of those 355’s in my shop and I took a closer look. Here’s the photo:

You can sort of see that the headstock on the left is a little smaller than the one on the right. Look at the truss cover-it is closer to the diamond inlay and closer to the nut on the one on the left. I know, the perspective is making it look greater than it is but that’s the photo I have.

As it turns out, the one on the left has a stinger and, as I showed you in the “Stinger Things” post, that stinger covers a veneer that covers a set of tuner holes that were spaced for a 335 or 345. Since the front of the headstock gets a different overlay and inlays, you don’t see the old tuner holes on the front. In order to cover them on the back, the veneer was placed there. To cover the veneer, they just painted on a stinger. But wait, the 355 headstock is a good bit wider than a 335 or 345 headstock. Easy fix. A 335 and 345 headstock is really three pieces-the middle piece is the neck itself but there are two wings on either side that give the headstock its width and shape. So, to make a 355 headstock, knock off the 335 wings and add a bigger set of 355 wings. The one thing they couldn’t change was the length of the headstock when converting a 335/345 to a 355. Thus, the discrepancy in headstock length on the two 59’s. I’ve seen it in 1960 as well but since I don’t see as many 61-64 ES-355’s, I’ve never measured a stinger version vs a non stinger on an example from those years. Feel free to help me out.

What’s all this then? What they did here was to take a 335 neck-already drilled and ready to go and cut the smaller wings off the sides and put big 355 wings on it. Then the doweled the holes and re-drilled them located for a 355. Then they put a piece of mahogany veneer over it and painted on the stinger. The only tuner holes you see are the original Grover holes. Definitely factory but definitely a little shorter than the usual 355 headstock. Mystery solved.

Upside Down

October 15th, 2018 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 35511 Comments »

The thinline line. We could include the 330, the 225, the 125 but those are full hollow. These are the models with the center block semi hollow configuration. The 355 is a rare stop tail the 335 and the 345 are the more common stop tail sunbursts. All are 59’s. If we pretend, for the moment, that the 355 is the typical Bigsby version, then how far apart are the prices?

Gibson’s semi hollow body line of electric guitars was introduced to the public in the Spring of 1958 with the release of the ES-335T. The ES stood for electric Spanish (as opposed to EH which was electric Hawaiian) and the T stood for thin line. It was a revolutionary body design but a pretty basic guitar: Plywood body, single ply bindings on the body, no binding on the neck, dot markers and those newfangled hum bucker pickups. It had more in common with the low line ES-225 than it did with the high line ES-5. It seems to have slotted into the lineup as something of a workingman’s guitar. A no frills player that would check all the boxes for both the amateur and the starving artist. The guys with the recording contracts would likely choose something a little more upscale with a bit more flash.

The head of Gibson at the time was Ted McCarty. He is credited with the design of the 335 as well as a number of other innovations. He also played a major role in the development of the tune-o-matic bridge and the humbucking pickup. He’s also the man behind the Explorer and the Flying V. Important guy. The 335 was a success right out of the gate and by the end of 1958, Gibson added an upscale version called the ES-355 to appeal to the professional player and the high end market. The 355 was essentially the same as a 335 with some fancy bindings, real mother of pearl inlays in an ebony board, fancy headstock and gold plated hardware. It also was priced at nearly double the cost of a 335. I find it surprising that anybody spent the extra bucks for what is basically bling but the 355 was pretty successful on its own.

Shortly after the introduction of the ES-355, Gibson added stereo to the 355 as well as the notch filter called a Varitone to the circuit. Now, at least the 355 was set apart from its downscale brother but Gibson saw an opportunity to grab a bit more of the market by incorporating the stereo/Varitone element into the 335 without all that expensive ornamentation. Think of it as first class, second class and third class. The 345, introduced in the Spring of 1959 was intended to fill a gap between the well heeled buyers of the stereo 355 and the no frills buyers of the 335. It would have the stereo circuit and Varitone, a mid level binding treatment, gold hardware and fancier inlays (but still plastic). It was priced closer to the 335 than the 355 but it completed the line of semi hollow body electrics and, like its brethren, was a success.

Fast forward 50 years or so and, strangely, the market for vintage ES models is “upside down.” That is, the third class ES-335 is worth as much as twice as much as the high line 355 stereo which initially cost nearly twice as much. The 335 is also more desirable (and therefore more valuable) than a 345 or a 355. There has been plenty of debate as to why this is the case. The general consensus is that folks appreciate the simplicity of the 335 design. There is some validity to that. The fancy Fender Jaguar is less popular than the simpler Stratocaster and the even simpler Telecaster. Similarly, the simple J-45 is more popular than the fancy J-200. The stereo circuitry of the 345 and the stereo 355 has long since been considered obsolete and the Varitone is largely and, somewhat undeservedly, reviled by lots of folks. Let’s leave it that the mono no Varitone 335 is more coveted than the stereo models all of which have the Varitone.

It is noteworthy that the blonde versions of all three models, custom colors and to an extent, the rare red versions of the 335 and 345 from 1959 don’t play by the same rules. A blonde 355 is about as rare as it gets.

But there a fly in the ointment of this logic and that is the mono ES-355. It is the same guitar as a 335 with the fancy bindings, inlays and gold hardware. It is notable that nearly all 355’s came with a vibrato (or tremolo if you prefer) tailpiece; Bigsby, sideways or Maestro. OK, let’s figure the vibrato into the mix and compare a mono 355 to a Bigsby 335. A 59 mono 355 is perhaps a $22,000 guitar today. A 59 Bigsby 335 is around $30,000. Big difference. So, it makes sense that the simplicity element is a factor. But let’s throw another curveball, shall we? There are a very small number of stop tail 355 monos. All were special orders and my latest count is that there are perhaps 8 of them from 58-64 and another 8 stereo stop tails. Maybe more, probably not less. SO, whaddya think…is a mono 59 stop tail 355 worth more than a sunburst 59 stop tail 335? There are hundreds of stop tail 59 335’s and maybe four or five stop tail 59 mono 355’s. Start the final Jeopardy theme music here.

OK, times up. The 355 is worth more than the 335. For once, rarity wins. A 59 335 is one of top collectible vintage guitars-certainly in the top five of everyone’s list. Expect to pay around $40K for a no issue one. But a mono stop tail 59 ES-355 will cost you another $8-$10,000. I know-I’ve sold three of them. But the stop tail mono 59 ES-355 is a special case. The ES market is still upside down and will likely stay that way. The good news is that you can simply convert your 345 or stereo 355 to mono and save yourself tens of thousands of dollars. A stop tail 59 345 will cost you $20K maybe a little more for an early “first rack”. A 59 335 will cost you $40K. For the record, my main player (at the moment) is a 59 ES-345 converted to mono.

A couple of super rare stop tail 355’s. One mono. One stereo.

 

The Space Between the Notes

October 6th, 2018 • Uncategorized7 Comments »

D’Angelico Style A from the 30’s. Not just a great looker but a wonderful player. I didn’t want to put it down. It wasn’t particularly loud but for some reason every note took on a life of its own. It was quite an eye (and ear) opener.

I’ve been playing more acoustics lately and one of the characteristics of a good acoustic has become clear to me as I play more and more really good ones. Some guitars have what I can only describe as more separation between the notes. Even when playing chords, it is apparent that some guitars are better than others at keeping the notes coming out of the guitar distinct and separate. I use the term “articulate” to describe this. With an electric guitar (plugged in) it can also be a factor but many electric players, especially those who like some dirt in their tone, want just the opposite. Part of the beauty of distortion is the fact that it fills the space between the notes making you sound perhaps a little more proficient than you actually are. I know that when I was playing gigs as a teenager, I relied heavily on the ol’ Fuzztone to make my solos sound a bit more coherent. I also learned that practicing  said solos playing clean made me a better player. I’m sure many of you can relate.

Most electric guitars are not terribly articulate when plugged in. It may have more to do with your ears and your amp than the guitar. Some amps seems to enhance note separation and some do the opposite. The 5F6-A tweed Bassman is famous for bringing out the individual notes from any guitar and is, because of this, considered an amp that forces you to be a better player. It is not forgiving until you get really loud. For an electric, a 335 is a fairly articulate guitar. Unplugged it always seemed pretty good to me until this week when I played a guitar that was in another league entirely when its comes to note separation. It was a 1936 D’Angelico Style A. I’ve seen plenty of D’Angelico’s but I had never played one for more than a strum or two. My good friend, Bob, traded his 68 Johnny Smith for this particular guitar and brought it to me to go through it.

I don’t generally fall in love with a guitar. I don’t actually own any keepers. Anything I play, I have for sale in my shop. It’s a simple rule that keeps me from having 150 guitars in my rather small house. But this one could have broken the rule. What was so interesting and compelling was, of course, the great separation between the notes. While arch tops are not generally considered a finger pickers guitar, that’s how I usually play an acoustic and that’s how I played the D’Angelico. I do a lot of hammer on and pull off technique and a lot of grace notes when I play acoustic. Some of it always seems to get lost. My test song when I pick up an acoustic is usually “Anji” and it’s a great test of a guitars articulation. I’m not a particularly good player but somehow, I sounded really good on this guitar. The song is loaded with hammer ons and pull offs and every note just jumped out of the guitar. The double stops were clean and clear and the chords seemed more like three or more individual voices than a chord. Pretty cool.

I’m not going to start playing a D’Angelico and get rid of my 335’s. I’m an electric player most of the time and all that wonderful articulation isn’t necessary for most of what I play. I also generally play through a tweed Bassman or Bandmaster and both of them are pretty articulate, so I get some of it whether I like it or not. It’s a factor that I never paid that much attention to before but now I get it. I need to do a little more experimentation and research before I can figure out just what factors make this happen. It’s probably like figuring out what makes a Stradivarius sound like it does. They’ve been trying to figure that out for 300 years or so.

Science Project

September 26th, 2018 • ES 3356 Comments »

Basket case EB-2. The mad scientist in me says that this can be something pretty cool. Or two somethings.

When I was in seventh grade (there were dinosaurs then), my science project was to build a solid body guitar. The science part of it was how you didn’t need a resonant body to generate musical tones; you only needed strings and a pickup. I kind of cheated in that I didn’t make the neck (I took it from a junk Teisco) and I didn’t wind the pickup (I bought a used DeArmond) but, hey, I was 12 years old. I made the body in shop class (remember shop class?-for boys only-girls took home ec). It was a slab of poplar that I shaped into a Vox Phantom (easier than cutting out a Stratocaster). The guitar worked surprisingly well and I got an “A” on the project. Fast forward 55 years and I’m still doing projects. Here’s the latest.

About 18 months ago, I bought a blonde Gibson EB-2 bass that had completely fallen apart. The top was no longer connected to the sides and the back was off as well. The neck was still glued to the center block but the center block was completely detached from the body. The easy project would have been to put the EB-2 back together and replace the missing parts. But that’s too easy. I had a better idea. I have the great advantage of having a good relationship with the best 335 builder there is. So, I asked Ken McKay if he could take the back of the EB-2 and turn it into the front of a 335. I figured we would use the sides for my project 335 and Ken would make a new back. I wanted to use the EB2 center block but Ken thought it made more sense to make a new one and to use the original block and EB-2 neck to make an EB-2. We had the top already-he would just need to make a new back and sides. Two for the price of one. Ken would have to make a new neck for the 335 which would be made to my personal specs (kind of a 64 at the first fret but a 59 at the 12th). Let me back up a little.

I am a big believer in old wood. Even old plywood. You can’t really call plywood a tone wood but the age of the wood seems to make a difference in the tone of the guitar. I’ve played a few hundred vintage 335’s and at least 50 new ones. The new ones play great and sound good too but they don’t have the ability to vibrate and project like the old ones. I’ve put PAFs in a newer guitar and I’ve loaded up a newer 335 with all vintage parts but it still lacks the liveliness that the old guitars seem to have. I think it has to do with moisture content but I’m not a wood expert, so I’m shooting from the hip here. The old ones are more resonant, they have better sustain and they seem to generate more harmonics. So, my project should sound pretty good. The wood that Ken used to make the neck and center block for the 335 was carefully chosen and properly dried. The plywood for the back was sourced from the same folks who used to supply Gibson back in the Kalamazoo days. The fingerboard is from a big old slab of Brazilian which I sourced back in the 90’s. I sent it to Ken and I think we got around 15 fingerboards out of it.

So, a little over half of the project 335 is old wood. The project EB-2 is probably around half old wood. The EB-2 is still missing some parts so it isn’t complete yet but the 335 is done. All of the parts are vintage except for the pickups which are Wizz Clones. I may drop a set of PAFs into it if I get ambitious. The guitar feels exactly right which isn’t surprising. Ken’s new 335 builds feel like the real thing so there is no reason why this one wouldn’t. But feel is one thing. Tone is quite another.

Playing the 335 unplugged tells me a lot. It is resonant and loud. You can feel the vibration in a way you can’t in a new Gibson-they simply don’t respond like that-at least not yet. Maybe in another 50 years, they will do that. Plugged in, it sounds like a vintage 335 which proves to me that modern boutique PAFs have come a very long way. Will it sound better with a good set of PAFs? Probably. But the scientific conclusion here is that there is no substitute for old wood. They’ve been “roasting” wood lately in an attempt to duplicate the resonance of old wood and, apparently, the results are pretty good. I’m pretty sure nobody is doing it with plywood however. So, I’m sticking with old wood. The next question is what is this thing worth? It sure looks authentic (except the back looks too new but we can fix that by playing it). It plays great and sounds great but it’s only around 55% vintage. So, let’s see…a blonde 59 335 is worth around $95K and 95 times .55 is, uh, carry the two and move the decimal point…$35,750. OK, I’m not going to get $35K for it but I’ll be happy to listen to offers. The EB-2 needs a bridge-the ones from 66 onward won’t fit and nobody seems to make a repro that will fit a 59.

The 335 came out great. The jury is still out on the EB-2 since I don’t have all the parts yet but they both look like real 59’s because you see the top and the tops are the real deal. The top and sides of the 335 is the back and sides of the original EB-2. The top, center block and neck of the EB-2 are still the original. Brazilian boards. Two blondes for cheap (sort of)

A Tree Falls in the Woods

September 14th, 2018 • Gibson General7 Comments »

No sign of a sticker here. If the pickup has never been out of the guitar and it’s a 61 or earlier, you can call it a PAF. If it’s a 62 or later, it’s the tree in the woods. It may have once had a PAF sticker but you can’t ask someone to pay a premium for a PAF if it doesn’t have a sticker. How do you know it isn’t a patent number with a missing sticker? They are identical. Otherwise, I could buy a 62 with patent number stickers, take them off and call them PAFs and charge more.

You all know that age old question about the tree in the woods. I think it applies to pickups in a parallel way. If a PAF has no sticker, is it a PAF? The difference between the tree and the PAF is that I know the answer. Let’s take a critical look at a PAF. A late PAF is exactly the same as an early patent number except for the sticker. We can all agree on that. So, the sticker has fallen off your 62’s pickups and you insist they are PAFs. It’s in your listing and you price the guitar accordingly. Except that you shouldn’t. If the only difference is the sticker and there is no sticker, it can’t be a PAF whether it once had the sticker or it never had a sticker. Well now that doesn’t seem fair because a 62 can certainly have PAFs and how can I possibly know whether the sticker less pickup was a PAF or a patent? I can’t-it’s the tree in the woods.  No sticker means no PAF and the reason for that is very simple. If I can price my stickerless PAF as a PAF, the I can simply remove the stickers from all my early patent number pickups and make the same claim. From where I sit, any unstickered pickup from 62 on is a patent number or at least priced like one. You can speculate all you want but no sticker, no premium.

OK, supposing my guitar is a 61 and the stickers are gone? If the pickups have never been out of the guitar, you can assume with relative certainty that those no sticker pickups are PAFs but the way I see it, you still don’t get the entire premium for the sticker. The sticker itself, while it has no effect whatever on the tone of the pickup still has intrinsic value simply because it is your verification that it is what the sticker says it is. Of course there are fake stickers but none of them are perfect-at least not yet. Truthfully, I think none of us should care whether a pickup is a late PAF or an early patent because they are the same. But we do care. Just like we care about white and zebra bobbins and will pay stupid money for them even though they sound the same as a double black.

Granted this sticker thing is a really small point but every time I see a 62 or 63 for sale with stickerless “PAFS”, my blood pressure goes up. It’s all I can do to not write a nasty little note to the seller asking how he (or she) can possibly know. OK, I actually have done that. The answers? “I just know…” “It’s a 62 and all 62’s have PAFs” (they don’t). How about “it had stickers when I got it and they fell off…” “the guy I bought to from said they were PAFs…”or my favorite “wait until you hear them-you’ll know they can’t be anything else…”

I’m not the PAF police and you can list your guitar any way you like. It’s up to the buyer to call BS when necessary. My concern is that not every buyer has the necessary knowledge to make an informed decision about a vintage 335, 345 or 355. That’s why I write this stuff. I can’t tell you how many times someone wants to trade their vintage 335 to me for something else or another one and I have the unfortunate task of telling them they were sold something other than what they thought they were getting. And it isn’t just stickerless PAFs. It’s 68’s that are sold as 65’s. It’s undisclosed changed parts. It’s repro bridges, tailpieces, switch tips, knobs and any other part that can be reproduced convincingly. It’s undisclosed overspray and repairs. It’s sometimes deception and sometimes just ignorance. it doesn’t matter why, it only matters that it happens.

I get dozens of emails asking me to look over the 335 you’re about to buy from somebody other than me. I always answer, I always tell you what I see and I never try to sell you one of mine unless there is something drastically wrong with the one you are looking at and I have a similar guitar in stock. My goal is for you to get the guitar you want and to make sure the guitar you want is the guitar you think you’re getting. That’s a free service I’m happy to provide. So, a PAF sticker falls off a pickup out in the woods…

 

 

Last of the Really Good Ones

August 29th, 2018 • ES 33517 Comments »

68 saw the introduction of the less than wildly popular walnut finish. Just ‘cuz George played a brown guitar doesn’t make it a good marketing tool.

We covered 66 and 67, so let’s look at 68. Why am I calling 68 the last of the good ones? Weren’t 69’s pre Norlin and pretty much the same as a 68? Yes, the earliest ones are but most of them aren’t, so the last good full year for the 335 is 1968. There were a lot of changes in 69 and none of them were good. But 68 saw some changes as well and some weirdness too.

I’m really not sure why Gibson didn’t leave well enough alone sometimes. They must never had heard the old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, axiom. Interestingly, some of the changes in 68 were improvements-most, however, were not. The cutaways got more rounded again-not exactly Mickey Mouse ears but still, a good step towards that. There were some other, less obvious changes as well. The f-holes got bigger and they look a little strange to my eye. They also used two different logos over the course of the year. The usual logo-same a 67 and the one they call a “pantograph” logo which has a more streamlined look and is actually pretty rare but you do see them on occasion. 68 saw the addition of the “boob” logo (I have to stop calling it that-someone is going to complain, I just know it) to the guard. Also, a pretty rare sight but always, it seems, on a 68.

A new color was introduced called “walnut”. I’m guessing they were responding to the massive sales of the walnut colored Gretsch Country Gentleman but apparently didn’t realize that the reason Gretsch sold so many wasn’t because it was brown but because George played one. I don’t know exactly how well the walnut 335’s sold but I can tell you this: You can’t give ’em away now. It is, by some margin, the hardest 335 to sell. Perfectly good guitar but I don’t want them and, unless you plan to keep it forever, you don’t want them. There was also “sparkling burgundy” which was Gibson’s version of candy apple red. It didn’t look bad when it was new but it fades to a pretty awful pinkish copper color. 68 was big year for it though.

Some things were transitioned in. Surprisingly, a lot of 68’s still have pre T-tops. Everybody thinks t-tops were the norm from 65 on but they absolutely were not. You can still find pre T’s as late as 69 but not very often. But a 68 with pre t-tops is pretty typical. Of course, all the nickel parts were gone by 68. You might find a nickel pickguard bracket on a 68 but most were chrome. The tuners didn’t change-still Kluson double line double ring but the “Gibson Deluxe” version seems to have started showing up in late 68 or maybe early 69. It was virtually the same tuner with a different name, so it isn’t a big deal either way. The knobs, guard and truss cover were the same as 67.

I do have to point out a pet peeve of mine when it comes to 68’s. The guitarhq website which is incredibly detailed and informative (and I learned a whole lot from) still says that Gibson went back to the 1 11/16″ nut in 68. They increased the profile to a chunkier depth but the nut width, alas, stayed at 1 9/16″. I still get emails from readers who insist they want a 68 because of the nut width and I have to explain that they will be looking for a wide nut 68 for a very long time because there simply aren’t any. OK, you can buy a 68 Johnny Smith and it will have a wide nut but not a 335, 345 or 355.

At the end of the day, a 68 is a really well made, excellent sounding guitar. Yes, Gibson was still cranking them out much faster than in earlier years but the build quality was still good and the tone was as well. Pre T tops and t-tops are very decent sounding pickups. You might find them a little bright and a little thin compared to a PAF or early patent but they really can be good (and consistent). The hardest thing for me to deal with is the narrow nut and, to be honest, that’s the only reason I don’t buy them. I do take them in trade as long as they aren’t walnut.

I should stop calling this the “boob” logo and come up with another name although that’s what it looks like, so excuuuuse me. This is a 335 -12 string which was still a pretty popular seller in 68.

 

Rare and then Some

August 20th, 2018 • ES 3553 Comments »

This ledger page from April of 59 shows two special order 355’s-A29538 (which I owned) and A29540 which hasn’t surfaced as far as I know.

The ES-355 is an interesting bit of old school marketing. Unlike the auto industry, the guitar business didn’t offer a lot of options to jack up the sticker price. In Gibson’s case, they offered a range of models which added features and jacked up the price. The ES line had a lot of models but the 335, 345 and 355 were really a line of their own. They were, essentially, the same guitar with high priced, mostly cosmetic upgrades. And the price increase was heart stopping. The sticker price of a 59 ES-335 was $335 including a hard case. An ES-345 was $415 and added gold hardware, stereo/Varitone circuitry and some fancier appointments like parallelogram inlays and multiply binding on the front. That’s not just an $80 increase which seems insignificant. That’s a 25% increase. But wait. There’s more. The ES-355 added a Bigsby as standard, a fancy inlaid headstock, ebony fingerboard, real mother of pearl block inlays, Grover tuners. It was available in mono or stereo. The stereo version was a whopping $645. That’s a 95% increase over a 335. Talk about sticker shock. Want a stop tail 355? Well, you’ll have to wait because it isn’t an option. It’s a special order.

This is the stereo 355 stop tail I just got. Nice watermelon fade and some pretty unusual features. Read on.

So, I just bought an early 59 stereo ES-355 stop tail. The ES-355 is a pretty rare guitar to begin with given the price (and the relative value). In 1959, Gibson sold 592 335’s, 478 ES-345’s and just 300 ES-355’s. No surprises there. But how many of those 355’s were ordered with a stop tail? It’s hard to know for sure but I know of four from 59, four from 60 and one from 63. I’m sure there are others but I think around a dozen known is probably accurate. Of the 6 that I’ve owned, only two have had the big 59 neck including the one I now have. Four have been mono. But this one is different than all the others. Those of you who read this page know about the desirable “first rack” 345’s. It always seemed odd to me that these very early 345’s unique features (short leg PAF, shallow rout for the choke and sometimes wax potting) never showed up in the early stereo 355’s. I’ve had at least 7 or 8 early stereo 355’s and all had the fully cut center block. Most of the monos had it as well although some had the solid center block. I believe that the first stereo ES’s were 345’s the earliest pre-date the first racks and may have been prototypes but there are 3 or 4 of those. They date from February and have 58 FONs so it would make sense that the earliest 355’s would have the same features. This stop tail is the very first one I’ve seen like this.

The FON of the first 345’s from February is T7303. The earliest of the “first rack” 345’s is S8537-months later. The FON of the earliest 355 stereo in my database is S7624 which is one of the earliest in 1959. I just went through my archives and found another 355 with a short leg PAF but not the shallow rout. That was from the next rack S7625. The others (5 of them) from S7624 that I’ve had were all monos. So this might be the only rack with 355’s with these features. I think I can assume there are others like this, a rack is 35 guitars and I only have 6 from this rack and this is the only stereo and one of two stop tails in the rack. I can assume there are more stereos like this but probably not another stop tail stereo. That likely makes this one a unique example. Geeky stuff for sure. Geeky is what I do.

So why spend a whole bunch of extra money for a stop tail 355 when you can buy a stop tail 59 345 for much less? Because red stop tail 59 345’s are just as rare. You can get a red 60 345 for reasonable money but the neck will be slim. How about a red 335 from 59? Red stop tail 59 335’s are crazy rare-I think there are three. Red stop tail 59 345’s are stupid rare (3 or 4) and red stop tail 355’s are rare and then some (4). It’s a pretty exclusive club-only 11 members, although I know one collector with at least one of each. Maybe sunburst doesn’t look so bad after all.

This is the usual stereo bridge pickup rout. The choke is in the space between the pickups not under the bridge pickup like it is in a first rack. Note the size of the rout.

Like a first rack 345, this 355 has the choke right under the pickup which requires the short leg PAF for clearance on the right side. This one is wax potted which is a feature of some, but not all, first racks.