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1967. More changes. More Guitars

August 13th, 2018 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 3552 Comments »

Most 67’s look pretty much like a 66 except for the knobs and the pickguard. This is a 335 12 string in the very unpopular sparkling burgundy. But some have different ears. See below

The great guitar boom started slowly in 64 but, arguably, peaked in 67. You can thank the British Invasion (and all that followed) for that. By 67, it seemed that most teenage boys wanted to be a guitar player (me included, I was 15 in 67). That meant a lot of guitar sales. And 335’s were only the tip of the iceberg as they were generally too expensive for teenaged players. 335/345/355’s went from sales of around 2000 in 1964 to 3300 in 1966 to 8300 in 1967. But when you add in the number of Melody Makers, SG’s, Firebirds and acoustics (folk rock was huge by then), keeping up with the demand must have been more than daunting for the folks at Gibson. I don’t have accurate totals for all of the models but if 335’s are any indication, the increases were massive. Gibson probably added workers and shifts but they also had to work faster and more efficiently and that usually means a few things…like diminished quality, higher prices and changes.

The good news is that the quality, while perhaps diminished somewhat is still very good. I don’t see nearly as many 67’s as I do early 335’s but those I have seen show overall good work. The glue is a little sloppier on the inside, the fit and finish can be inconsistent but the guitars still play well and sound good. I can’t speak for the lower line models like the Melody Maker because I rarely see them. I can tell you the high end stuff (L-5 CES, Johnny Smith et al) was still built to a very high standard judging from the few I’ve played. So, what changed in 67 on the 335?

The nut width was still the very slim 1 9/16″ but the depth seems to have increased again after having gotten extremely thin in 66. Most 67’s I’ve played are pretty deep at the first fret and show a fair amount of increase to the 12th. More like a 64 with a narrow nut. While the conventional wisdom says 67’s had t-top pickups, I find that to be misleading. There are certainly 67’s with t-tops but most of the ones I’ve inspected have pre T top patents with the poly coated windings. Fingerboards were all Indian rosewood by 67 although I’m sure a few pieces of Brazilian are out there. The knobs went from reflectors to “witch hats” in late 66 and the pickguard bevel went from wide to narrow at around the same time. The hardware was chrome by 67 except for the occasional pickguard bracket (they must have had a lot of nickel ones on hand). The tuners never went to chrome. The cutaway shape was changed a bit as well and I have a theory about that. Some of the 67’s look exactly like a 64-66…pointy ears as you would expect. But some of them (especially Trinis) have these short stubby ears some call “fox ears”. I’ll wager a guess that they needed additional forms to keep up with the demand and made some new ones at some point in 67. It’s subtle but not that subtle. It’s interesting that the shape would change again in 68. The important point here is that most of the changes were cosmetic and perhaps reflected decreased costs-Indian rosewood was cheaper and the narrow bevel guard probably saved some pennies.

How does a 67 sound in relation to, say, a 64? Not so far off,  in my opinion. The poly wound pre T tops can be a little bright compared to the enamel coat wound 64 patents. The trapeze tailpiece can affect sustain a bit (but not as much as you think). They are also very consistent probably because the winders (so I’m told) had a stop function when they hit 5000 turns or so. That doesn’t eliminate all variation but it would eliminate some of it. In 64 and earlier, the workers doing the winding just filled the bobbins by eye. You can argue with me that a Brazilian board sounds better than an Indian board but I’ll tell you that you are delusional. A Brazilian might look better but I’m not buying the tone argument.

If I put a 67 up against a brand new high end Memphis built 335, I’ll still take the 67 for tone. Call it old wood, call it mojo or call it snobbery. The new one will probably be a little easier to play with the wider nut and maybe look a little better in the fit and finish but I think the 67 is going to smoke it when it comes to your ears. Finally, a 67 can be had for as little as $3500 if you’re lucky. I see them priced as high as $8000 or even a little more but I think the sellers are dreaming as they so often do. Check the neck for twists or back bow before you buy. 67’s are no more likely to have neck problems than any other year but it’s something you should check on any guitar new or vintage.

OK, its a Trini but lots of 335’s have the same shape “ears”. Compare these to the 67 at the top of this post. These are shorter, pointier and at a wider angle from the neck. Some call them “fox” ears. These are only found in 67-maybe very late 66 and very early 68 but, for the most part, it’s a 67 thing.

 

 

Mid Sixties. Good Guitars. Small Necks.

July 30th, 2018 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 35515 Comments »

If you can live with the narrow nut and the trap tailpiece, a 66 is a pretty good choice. Vintage pedigree without the sticker shock.

I must come off as a little bit of a vintage snob. I pay a lot of attention to the ES line from 58 to 65 but I pretty much ignore the rest of the sixties and that really isn’t fair. Most vintage aficionados draw a line somewhere and I drew mine at the moment they switched from wide nuts to narrow nuts (insert joke here). The guitar boom that occurred during the mid 60’s caused some major changes in the guitar industry. In 1959, they sold around 1500 guitars from the ES thin line series. That would include 335’s, 345’s and 355’s. By 1967, that number was closer to 10,000. That huge increase must have caused all kinds of headaches with the corporate suits. You can thank John, Paul, George and Ringo for a lot of that. I was 11 when I first heard The Beatles and I wanted to be a rock star (along with a zillion other kids my age). I couldn’t afford a 335 but that didn’t stop me. I never got there but had a lot of fun trying for about ten years. So, let’s take a look at the mid 60’s in the next few posts and see where the changes occurred and why these years don’t command the big bucks and maybe why they should. And we’ll blow away a myth or two along the way.

I’ve owned a bunch of 66’s, so that’s the year we’ll start with. If I had to point out the shortcomings of 66’s, it would be a pretty short list. Narrow nut. End of list. The nut went from 1 11/16″ in early 65 to 1 5/8″ to 1 9/16″ by the early Summer of 65. That’s pretty narrow even for a guy with small hands like me. I find that I’m clumsy and get in my own way on the limited real estate of the lower frets. I simply can’t play them very well. But beyond that, 66’s are not all that different from the well regarded 64’s. They went to the trapeze but (myth buster #1) I don’t find that it makes all that much difference in tone and sustain. You’d think it would but I’ve played lots of 66’s with great sustain and tone. Well, what about the pickups? You can’t really compare a t-top to a PAF can you? Here’s myth buster #2-they didn’t use t-tops in 66-at least not in any of the 66’s I’ve had or inspected. The pickups are pre t-tops which are, essentially, PAFs with poly coated windings. They are different than PAFs and early patents but they are very good pickups. I find them a little brighter and a little more tame than a PAF but still a really good sounding pickup. However, if you’re buying a 345 or 355, you still have a shot at a set of early patents which are the same as a late PAF. Early patents are not common on gold hardware guitars by 66 but they are out there.

The quality of mid 60’s ES models suffered during the mid 60’s almost certainly because of the wildly increased sales volume. I’m sure the pressure to crank out more guitars in less time was intense and when that happens, quality is the loser. But 66’s are generally good as far as fit and finish are concerned. To me, a 66 is very close to a “Golden Era” 335 for less than half the price. I had a 66 ES-345 a few years ago that I would put up against any year except maybe an early 59. It was a monster guitar. The 66 still has a lot of the same components of the earlier ones. The nickel had changed to chrome on 335’s by late 65 but the 66 was the last year for the wide bevel guard, the reflector knobs and Brazilian rosewood fingerboards. I think that if Gibson had kept the wider nut and the beefier neck (66’s are pretty thin front to back-like a 61), the prices would be a lot higher. Just look at early 65’s. A big neck 65 is pretty close to a 66 except for the neck profile. And yet, the price of the 65 is 50% more on average. So, I consider the 66’s a bargain. You can pick up a ’66 345 for about the same price as a new high end 335. You can always take off the trapeze and do a stop tail conversion. I find that if its done right, it doesn’t diminish the value significantly, if at all. There are always buyers for stop tails (done right by somebody else). And, much as I like some of the newer 335’s, I’d still rather have a 66 even with that narrow nut.

This 66 345 was pretty unusual. Full Mickey Mouse ears and early patents made it look and sound like an earlier one. Keep your eyes open, there are some excellent mid 60’s guitars out there for less than you might pay for a new one.

Honey, I Shrunk the 335

July 22nd, 2018 • Gibson General3 Comments »

The Gibson CS-356. Nice guitar and not just a shrunken 335. It was something new when it debuted. Or was it?

To me, a new 335 is one made after 1985. It’s hard enough to learn everything there is to know about 58-69’s and most of what there is to know about 1970-1985’s but after that, I’m a little fuzzy. My knowledge comes from observation and I simply don’t see very many more recent 335’s and the rest of the ES line. When I take in a consignment from the past 30 odd years, I go through it the same as I go through a 59. An ES guitar came in this week that I’ve never had in my hands before. It’s sort of like a 355 at first glance but on closer inspection, it’s not like a 355 at all. It’s a CS-356 from 2002.

The first thing you will notice is that its smaller. A lot smaller. One of the complaints I hear about 335’s is that they are too big. I don’t feel that way but, similarly,  a lot of Les Paul players don’t complain that they are too heavy (which they are). You like what you like. But is it a really a downsized 355 or something else entirely? It’s the latter. A 356 (and a 336) is more like a Rickenbacker than it is a 335 in the way that its built. You want a downsized 335? That would be the ES-339 which shares its construction with the 3335. But that didn’t come out until 2007, eleven years after the 336 debuted.

A 335 and its close brethren are, essentially, thin bodied arch tops with a block glued in the middle. End of story. Take out the block and it’s a 330, more or less-the neck set is different as a re the pickups. But the diminutive 356, 336 and 339 are a totally different species. Why compare it to a Rickenbacker? Because the construction is nearly the same and Rickenbacker has been using the design for a lot longer than Gibson. It dates to the late 50’s. Here’s how it’s done. Take a big old slab of wood that would be perfectly appropriate to use to make a solid body but instead of routing away only enough wood to accommodate the pickups, control cavity and the neck join, rout away all the wood that isn’t necessary to accommodate these things. Rickenbacker routs the top and glues on the back. Gibson did the opposite routing the back and gluing the top. Fender’s thin line Telecaster was similarly constructed and designed by the same guy as the Ricky (Roger Rossmeisl)

This is the top of a Rickenbacker seen from the back. The excess wood was carved away and the flat back was glued on. Not quite the same as the 356 but similar.

 

The larger point is that the 336 and 356 don’t sound any more like a 335 than a Les Paul does. In fact, it seems to lie somewhere between these two icons of electric guitardom. And it’s a perfectly nice guitar and it sounds quite good. It’s closer to a solid body in tone and feel to me and it isn’t particularly lightweight, so I would conclude that the only really new thing about it is that it gets you the 335 aesthetic while delivering solid body tone. So, I would further conclude that it’s an invention that nobody was clamoring for because it neither delivers a lighter weight Les Paul (the chambered version does that) nor does it deliver a smaller bodied 335 (the 339 does that). Gibson, after all, is the company that gives you the innovations you didn’t know you wanted or needed. Like robot tuners. And reverse flying vees.

All that said, it’s a pretty nice guitar. I’ve always liked the Rickenbacker 360 from a design standpoint. There is no way you will confuse it with anything else. The rounded top edge and the squared back edge is unique and clever in its way. I remember thinking “how did they do that?” when I first encountered one back in the mid 60’s, thinking it was a conventional semi hollow. The 336 and 356 don’t have a distinctive look. They don’t have a particularly distinctive tone but that probably isn’t the point. It’s a good design. It has good tone. But Gibson already had all that in the LP and 335. I don’t know how successful the line has been but given the missteps of the nice folks who run Gibson, I’m not surprised they went back to the future to make yet another guitar you never knew you had to have. And here’s an afterthought, isn’t the Johnny A (debuted in 2003) basically the same guitar as the 336/356 with a slightly different shape? Correct me if I’m wrong.

This isn’t an actual 336/356 but it’s pretty much the same concept. I couldn’t find a photo of the real thing. Just add a neck, some electronics and a pretty top and your done.

Fix it or Disclose it

June 30th, 2018 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 3558 Comments »

On of the most common parts that gets swapped out for a repro is the switch tip. It’s a $200 part these days and the repros have gotten pretty good. If it’s an amber one, look for a seam. If there is one, it ain’t the real deal. If there isn’t a seam, it could still be a repro. If it’s a white one, it should have a seam and usually a crack.

I have a pet peeve about the vintage guitar business and, frankly, it drives me a little nuts. Let me set the stage and give my peeve some context. Guitars get modified over decades. Parts get changed, finishes get touched up and redone, stuff wears out and so on. I get that. And I don’t expect individual sellers to know everything about the guitar they are selling. As a dealer, it’s my job to know what to look for and to make a fair assessment of the guitar I’m buying. Part of the reason my inventory is fairly narrow is because I don’t generally buy what I don’t know about. I learned that by getting burned on a few guitars that turned out to be something other than they were touted to be by the seller. Many sellers will make good on an undisclosed issue but many can’t be expected to do so (widows and children of the original owner, for example). But undisclosed issues from individual sellers isn’t the pet peeve. It’s the undisclosed issues from the dealers.

I should clarify. There are dealers and there are dealers. Most full time dealers are pretty good at accurately describing the guitars they sell and they have fair policies about returns-to a point. Many smaller dealers are just as good as the big boys. But there’s the scenario that drives me batshit. Player A buys an expensive vintage guitar from well regarded Dealer B. Player A gets 48 hours to accept or reject the guitar. He accepts the guitar because it’s a great player and everything looks right to his untrained eye and he is happy.  Unbeknownst to player A,  the neck PAF  was rewound and the back was oversprayed.  A year later, Player A trades the guitar (sight unseen) to me for a more expensive vintage guitar. “I know it’s correct because I bought it from Dealer B who has a great reputation.” That may be true but Dealer B never checked the pickups closely and didn’t notice the overspray-it sure looked right. And the 48 hour approval has long since run out.

Then I get the guitar in hand and I have to deliver the bad news that the guitar isn’t what it was touted to be. This has happened dozens of times now (and I’ve only been doing this full time for 8 years) and it’s pretty distressing to the seller and to me, especially when the dealer has been in business for decades. Sometimes, it’s a $200 switch tip (really common), sometimes it’s undisclosed touchups. More often, its rewound pickups and changed parts. It’s often really hard to tell a repro tailpiece or bridge from a photo. Overspray is common and also very hard to see in a photo-even a blacklight photo if the overspray is old enough. The worst case (and it came from a well established dealer) was a 56 Stratocaster that had a repro body and an very well disguised All Parts neck. The dealer refuses to make good on it even though we (me and the previous owner) can prove the body and neck are the same ones that the dealer sold. I’m not mentioning names…yet. That’s thousands of dollars down the toilet.

I’m not calling out specific dealers, I’m calling out all dealers including myself. It is your responsibility to know what you are selling and to go through it completely. A couple of years ago, I sold a mint 62 ES-335 to a gentleman in California who really knew his stuff. I went through it pretty thoroughly but I never removed the thumbwheels under the bridge. It turned out that the bridge had been moved back slightly leaving two small holes, not visible unless you remove the thumbwheels. The guitar came back and I learned an important lesson. Look at everything on every guitar you get. Fix it or disclose it. Is it too much of a pain to check the pots on a 335? Then don’t sell 335’s or disclose that you never checked them. If the pickups have been opened and re-sealed, then disclose it. That should tell the buyer that they may have been rewound. Want a better solution? Open them back up and check the windings. It’s time consuming and a lot of work but it’s your responsibility to know exactly what you’re selling.

Look at the solder. You can usually tell if the pickups have been opened. If they have been, and have been re-soldered, open them up again and check for a rewound pickup. Sometimes it’s not so easy to tell. Mostly, it is. Look for bent edges, flux around the solder or sloppy work. I’m sure this one was opened.

 

 

Fathers Day 2018

June 17th, 2018 • Uncategorized6 Comments »

Me and my Dad circa 1958. No guitars yet but they were coming. Nice shirt.

I’ve been a guitar player since I was 11 years old and I probably don’t give my father enough credit for moving my guitar playing “career” along in the early days. My father was monumentally unmusical. Couldn’t carry a tune, couldn’t play an instrument but he appreciated music and listened to it frequently. There was always something playing on the “hi-fi” in the living room. It was usually either classical (Beethoven was a big favorite) or show tunes. My father loved “South Pacific” probably because it echoed his WWII experience on Christmas Island in the middle of  the, you guessed it, South Pacific. So, I got to have “There is Nothin’ Like a Dame” running through my head when I barely knew what a “dame” actually was. But rock and roll was not allowed on the big stereo in the living room. You want to hear “that awful music,” play it upstairs in your bedroom (on the crappy little portable 45 player). A 45, for anyone under 50, is a record that contained two songs, one on each side – yes, you had to physically flip over to play the “B” side. They were also called “singles” and they cost around a buck which was a lot of money to an 11 year old in 1964.

So, while he didn’t much like rock and roll, he was OK with me playing guitar. I had already taken violin lessons from grade 4 to grade 6, double bass after that and organ for a couple of years after my oldest brother, Ben,  convinced my father to buy an electric organ for the living room. So, taking up the guitar wasn’t met with a lot of resistance. In fact, the day after The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan in February ’64 was the day I started bugging my father to buy me a guitar. So, one day, probably in April or May (it took some fairly persistent bugging), he came home from work with a Kay flat top with no case. $15 at Woolworth’s. Again, under 50? Woolworth’s was a “five and dime”- the 50’s and 60’s equivalent of Walmart today. “Learn to play this and I’ll get you a better one…”

So, I found a guitar teacher in Schenectady. His name was Charlie Orsini and he, like my Dad, hated rock and roll. He was a jazz guy and was happy to teach me the stuff he liked but not the stuff I wanted to learn. Fortunately, I learned a lot of useful chords and a little theory but the pentatonic scale never came into the picture. The lessons lasted less than a year but I kept on playing. Dad eventually (in early ’65) took me to the notorious Hermies Music Store in Schenectady where retail was a vague, nebulous concept. Retail plus 10% was more like it. I tried out a ’65 Fender DuoSonic and Princeton amp and my father sprung for the $159. “I’ll set it up and send it to the house,” Hermie said. When it arrived, it wasn’t the same guitar I played. It was a left over ’64 (three way rather than slide switches). He tried to upsell my father with the Princeton Reverb but Dad was having none of it. “Twenty bucks for one extra knob? Are they nuts?” So, the non-reverb unit would have to do. Also the phrase, “turn that *$@$%!! thing down” entered the family lexicon.

Less than a year later, my little brother, Brian, two years younger, decided he would play the guitar and he would get the hand-me-down DuoSonic and I would get a new one. By this time, I was playing in a band pretty regularly, making pocket change -$25 for four of us was pretty standard for a 3 or 4 hour gig. We only knew about 20 songs, so repeats filled the last hour or so. I had learned that Hermies was jacking up the prices on Fenders and that a Stratocaster could be gotten in New York City for around $200 – Hermie wanted $410. New York was three hours away but Dad loaded me into the car and made the trip to Manny’s on 48th St. to buy my next guitar. I wanted either an Epiphone Crestwood (I still love those guitars) or a Stratocaster. Strangely, the only Crestwood they had was Inverness Green and I wasn’t about to play a green guitar. I wanted a sunburst. Even more oddly, there were no sunburst Strats available either. There was a white one (the DuoSonic was white and I was sick of it) and a Sonic Blue. A baby blue guitar? Are you kidding? So, I got my father to spring the extra $35 for a sunburst Fender Jaguar -fanciest guitar on the lot. I played the Jaguar for at least a year but by then Dad said he was done buying guitars. I did get him to spend $600 on a Vox Royal Guardsman amp before he gave up though.

Dad died in 2011 at the age of 95. He still didn’t like rock and roll but grudgingly accepted The Beatles into the living room somewhere along the way. He actually bought a full set of Beatles CDs when they first came out. I think he was a closet Beatles fan all along (except for the long hair but that’s a long story for another Fathers Day). So thanks Dad for helping me find a lifelong passion. It’s still working for me 55 years later. Not every Dad does that for his children and I appreciate having had a Dad that did.

That’s me playing a Gibson ES-330 in 1967 or so at a gig at the Ridgewood Swim Club in Glenville, NY. The Jaguar was gone by then. I owned the DuoSonic until 2004 though.

 

Point of No Return

June 13th, 2018 • Gibson General2 Comments »

A dealer with a big inventory should still go through every guitar from the pot codes to the tuner tips to make sure it is as described and there are no hidden or undisclosed issues. An individual seller with one guitar to sell should do the same or consult a vintage dealer to help out. Most will be happy to. This is the famous “A” rack at OK Guitars.

You want a really good reason to buy a guitar from a dealer? Return policy. You probably already knew that but dealers tend to charge more than individual sellers but there’s more to this than meets the eye. I buy plenty of guitars from individual sellers and I buy a fair number from other dealers. I prefer to buy from other dealers even though I sometimes have to pay top dollar for them. But wait, why would someone like me who is supposed to know what to look for prefer buying from a dealer? Return policy. Here’s the problem:

I’ve been keeping close track of the accuracy of the descriptions of guitars I buy for at least 8 years now. When buying from an individual seller (usually without a return policy), I ask for a lot of specific photos but when you’re buying from the 90 year old widow of the original owner, you can’t really ask her to pull the pickups and photograph the PAF stickers. Sometimes, you can’t even get a single photo. You simply take your chances. But even when I get all the photos I need, there can still be issues that don’t show up in photos. Overspray for one, rewound pickups for another. Fortunately, the issues are mostly minor but sometimes an undisclosed or unknown big issue like a well repaired headstock crack can sneak by. After all, Grandpa (may he rest in peace) didn’t usually tell Grandma that he broke his $400 (in 1959 dollars) guitar and had to spend $50 to get it fixed. She would just get upset. So, a dealer has to walk a very fine line when buying a guitar from someone who knows nothing about guitars.

You might ask what percentage of guitars that I get are not accurately described? 20%? 25%? 30%? Nope. 90%. Seriously, nearly every guitar I buy from an individual seller has a hidden or undisclosed issue. It’s usually something pretty benign like a changed switch tip or pot that I can address from my parts stash. But, as I mentioned, sometimes it’s rewound pickups, undisclosed damage (usually a minor crack or delamination), repro parts, touchups and on and on. I have horror stories. And here’s the upsetting part-when I buy from dealers, the percentage isn’t all that much better. Since the rise of Reverb.com, everybody seems to be a dealer which is OK but it can be hard to differentiate between really knowledgeable dealers who offer up a healthy dose of expertise with their guitars (and a liberal return policy) from those who don’t. That said, many “hobby” dealers are as knowledgeable (or more so) than established dealers and, with their smaller inventories, can be more careful with inspecting and describing their inventory. After all, I was a hobby dealer for 10 years before I became a full time dealer with a brick and mortar shop. I still go through every guitar with the same attention to detail as I did in 1998 when I was cruising Ebay for bargains.

So, what’s the bottom line here? It is this: Expect issues. Build it into your offer. Inspect every guitar you buy and every guitar you sell as if it were your forever guitar. Fix what’s wrong or disclose it before you list it for sale. It might cost you a sale or two but it will save you from returns, a bad reputation and angry customers. If you aren’t sure what you have or what’s correct and what isn’t, consult a vintage dealer. Most are very generous with their advice. Or take it to a guitar show-everybody at a guitar show seems to be ready willing and able to tell you everything that’s wrong with your guitar-even if there’s nothing wrong with it. And if you buy a guitar and it isn’t as described, talk to the seller and explain the issue. If that gets you nowhere and there’s no return policy, talk to the folks who run the venue where you bought it. Ebay is good at this as is Reverb.com. I’ve had success with both when I’ve run into intransigent sellers who insist that the guitar was perfect when it was shipped and that the frets must have gotten worn or it somehow got oversprayed in transit or in the 24 hours I had the guitar in my possession.

Can you tell that this guitar was refinished from the photo? I sure can’t. Can you tell the guard is a repro (I can)? Photos help but they don’t always tell the whole story. Check your purchase out in person if you can. Get a guitar from someone who will accept returns (for any reason) if you can’t see it in person.

Double Your Pleasure-EDS-1275

May 27th, 2018 • Gibson General4 Comments »

How cool is this. 4 PAFs, no waiting. This was owned by Steve Howe for the past 45 years or so and now I have it. It’s from 1960 and is a very cool piece.

I’ve owned most Gibsons that have the letter ES (Electric Spanish) in their model name. Up until now there was one I had never even seen in person, let alone actually owned. It’s a rare one and it’s certainly not for everybody but, being a 12 string player, it appeals to me. It’s the EDS-1275. But wait, isn’t that a double neck SG? It is but there’s an earlier full hollow version with the same model name. The first version, built from 1958-1961 is unique among Gibsons. This iteration has a spruce top but is not an arch top. It appears to be a flat top with a German carve.  Well, now I have one in the house and it’s makes a rather striking impression. It’s big. It’s heavy but not as heavy as I thought it would be. It doesn’t help that this one has 18 Grover tuners on it which add at least an extra pound. I will probably remove them and put Klusons back on in the near future. This black 1960 has some interesting history.

I really didn’t know much about these when this one came on the market in the UK. It was last sold in 1974 by Gruhn’s and was owned from 1974 until a couple weeks ago by the great Steve Howe (Yes, Asia). I’m no expert in these guitars so I reached out to the dealer who is. Eric Ernest (Abalone Vintage) knows more about these than anyone and I got him on the phone before making this considerable purchase to find out what he knew about the guitar. He knew about it and warned me that he believed it was refinished black over factory white by builder Roger Giffin. That seemed likely since I could see white showing through wherever the guitar was chipped.  But wait a second, there are photos of at least one other black one all over the interwebs that show the same thing. So, I asked a few people about it. George Gruhn couldn’t remember, telling me he had sold over 100 guitars to Steve. I had the UK dealer ask Steve about it and Steve, who knows Roger, said no, Roger wasn’t doing refinishes at the time this one would have been done (before Steve bought it in 1974).

I’m pretty good at spotting a refinished ES guitar. I believe the guitar, like many of this model, was painted white when first made but was ordered as a black guitar and resprayed at the factory. Why do I think that? Well, the serial number, for one thing. I sent a photo of the yellow ink stamped number to my inside guy at Gibson and he agreed that the serial number looked dead on. I’ve owned a fair number of black ES guitars from the 50’s and 60’s and the black paint has a distinctive look to it. This appears to be Gibson paint and I believe that it is a factory black guitar. Feel free to argue the point.

How’s it play? I was a little nervous about the playability when I bought it because 12 string necks take so much strain that they often end up impossibly bowed with the truss rod tightened all the way. Steve clearly hadn’t been playing it much since the strings were years old. But the neck looked pretty flat-in fact I loosened the truss a half a turn on the 12 string neck and restrung it with light gauge strings. Steve had the 12 string neck strung like a Rickenbacker (low string, then octave rather than the other way ’round) so I strung it the same. I put 11’s on the 6 string neck and plugged it into a 60 Bassman. I figured the guitar is a 60, the amp might as well be. It’s not light. I didn’t weigh it but its probably 11 pounds. The Grover tuners don’t help the balance any either. I played the six string neck first. Nice 59ish profile and lots of PAF snarl. No feedback even though it’s full hollow. The lack of f-holes helps. Sounds rather like a good 175 or Byrdland that doesn’t feed back. I think a 6 string using this design would be a great player. The spruce top is probably a factor as is the fairly thin body. The 12 string was very articulate with every note punching through. Some electric 12 strings get a bit lost in their own world of many stringed chaos but this one was more like an acoustic. I could make it do jangly but it wasn’t the default tone like a Ricky.

Double necks are not for everybody. They make a big statement onstage and they are a lot of fun. There are plenty of double neck choices-I’ve owned a Mosrite and was recently offered a Carvin. This one is different. It’s as rare as hen’s teeth (fewer than 40 1275’s made) and wonderfully playable. For the collector, it represents Gibson at it’s pre Custom Shop custom best. And I’ll bet you don’t have one.

Steve with the EDS-1275. He also has a black double with an octave neck and also a white solid body 1275.

ES Artist in Captivity

May 20th, 2018 • ES 33510 Comments »

1980 ES Artist. Good points and bad points abound. Good points? It’s black and the neck is pretty nice. Bad? Read on.

 

I don’t do re-runs (OK, I posted the Christmas poem twice but I warned you) but this one is different. I wrote about the much maligned ES Artist a while back but I had never owned one and had never played one plugged in. So, in that post, I could only wax theoretical about active electronics and on board gimmickry. But now I own one and I’ve had my electronics tech go through it and make sure everything was working right. It needed a few capacitors changed and some general maintenance but I’m pretty sure it sounds like it was meant to back in the day.

In order to not bury the lede, I have to say right off the bat that this thing sounds pretty god awful with the active electronics engaged. I don’t recall ever hearing sounds like the Artist puts out-even in the 80’s which, in my memory, were a bit of a cultural wasteland. C’mon, the biggest hit of the Summer of 82 was “Don’t You Want Me Baby” by the (where are they now) Human League. Synth pop. Wasteland indeed. And they were nominated for best new artist at the ’83 Grammys fortunately losing to the much more talented Men at Work whom I kind of liked. Anyway, it’s the late 70’s and Gibson/Norlin is trying to be innovative by hiring on Robert Moog (Dr. Bob) to design a circuit for their new “Artist” series. Actually, Norlin owned Moog at the time and it was probably more like they drafted him. The RD Artist was first and flopped pretty badly. Then came the Les Paul and ES Artists which did much better but can’t exactly be called a rousing success. The line died a quiet death in 1985. So lets listen to this thing.

So, with no on board effects engaged, the guitar sounds like a slightly strident 335. The active tone controls which have a center detente and are boost and cut controls work pretty well. The one I have doesn’t have the detents going up or down-just in the flat or middle position. Apparently some had 5 detents in both directions. Different concept from the usual tone controls but perfectly functional once you get used to them.

Then we get to the three on board effects. There is a compressor, an expander-whatever that is and a treble boost. In general, they are way too strident and artificial sounding. The compressor is the best of the effects but you have to dial it back using the little pot inside the control cavity. Dimed, it’s a horror. Sounds like cats being tortured. The expander has a level control and a delay control inside there and that too needs to be tamed a bit to have any use at all. I couldn’t figure out exactly what the delay pot did. The level pot turned up made a kind of swirly, trebly slightly atonal mess that was worse than cats being tortured. Turn it down and you have the cats being tortured with a blanket thrown over them. The treble boost did just that but the guitar is plenty bright without it and it just gets overly glassy. Sorry, Dr. Bob, this is not your best work. The guitar in normal mode is pretty much like a normal 70’s 335 with active tone controls. The neck profile is OK. The nut is 1 11/16″ and the neck has some meat to it. The pickups are, I believe, Shaws which sometimes need a little treble boost (but not these). Output seems a little low but tone wise, you can get some decent music out of it. Just don’t touch the miniswitches.

ES-Artists are relatively cheap and you can ignore the effects and have a decent guitar. Or you can use the effects and scare small animals and children. My Artist is a 1980 and it’s factory black. And yes, you can buy it from me for cheap.

This is the heart of the Artist. A couple of stacked circuit boards with three little mini pots to control the amount of animal torture you want to add to your 335 tone. Takes a 9V battery and a lot of getting used to.

“First Rack” ES 345’s Database

May 12th, 2018 • ES 3456 Comments »

First black 345 made. Also, one of three black “first rack” 345’s.

If you aren’t an ES geek, this will be meaningless. If you are, it will be mildly interesting. If you own one of these, you’ll get it. I’ve written about “first rack” ES-345’s before. You can find that post here. If you’re too lazy to read that post, here’s what we’re talking about:

The term itself is a bit of a misnomer to begin with. It was, as far as I know, coined by Gil Southworth of Southworth Guitars and refers to what were thought to be the first three “racks” of ES-345’s. These April 59 guitars have distinctive characteristics that set them apart from all later ones. The very first 345’s (which are included in the database and have an asterisk next to them) were built in late 1958 (“T” FON). They have the same characteristics as the others and may have been prototypes later shipped in February 1959. Two are known and a third with a 58 FON and an April serial number is also included.

A “rack” is usually a grouping of 35 guitars, usually the same model, that move through the various stages of assembly together-literally rolled around the factory on a rack. They are stamped at the beginning of the process with a number-usually in the treble side F-fole. It is a letter and a three four digit number followed by a space and another 1 or two digit number. The letter designates the year-backwards alphabetical-“T” is 58, “S” is 59, “R” is 60, “Q” is 61 and then they stopped using them. The first number is (supposedly) a chronological designation starting at 100 and going to 9999 and starting again. A lot of numbers don’t seem to exist and there is some strange overlap between years. The last number is the “rank” or the number of the particular guitar. Each of the 35 guitars gets a unique rank number from 1-35 (or more in some cases). Clear as mud, right?

So why three “first racks”? Because these three racks (plus the “T” FON outliers) have a bunch of distinctive characteristics that later 345’s don’t have. As far as I know all of them have a very large neck profile, at least .90″ at the first fret and .99″ or more at the 12th fret. All have a small rout for the chokes rather than the fully cut center block of later 345’s. Some have wax potting around the choke, some don’t. All have a “short leg” PAF in the bridge position to accommodate the choke. Later 345’s had the rout deep enough to accommodate a normal PAF. Assuming each rack had the requisite 35 guitars, there are approximately 105 first rack 345’s plus the 3 outliers and one black 335 that was probably intended to be a black 345 but someone needed a black 335 probably for a special order and built it as such. It has the 345 rout but no other 345 features. Oddly, it didn’t ship until much later in the year. Two of the black 345’s from those racks also shipped much later.

This is what I have so far. I’ve owned most of these at some point and some were sent to me by owners. If you have a 345 from one of these racks, please let me know and I will include it. I have noted the FON, serial, model, year shipped, color, tailpiece configuration and any miscellaneous information I have. All have black Varitone rings. Some are missing the FON but were surely “first rack”.

FON SERIAL GUITAR YEAR S/N Color TYPE MISC
*T7303-16 A29132 ES-345 1959 SB Bigs/dots
*T7303-9 A29133 ES-345 1959 SB S/T
S8539-xx A29656 ES 345 1959 NAT S/T wht/z
S8539-5 A29662 ES 345 1959 SB S/T
S8539-20 A29663 ES 345 1959 SB S/T B/B
S8539-21 A29664 ES 345 1959 AG Bigs/dots
A29666 ES 345 1959 SB S/T
S8539-15 A29667 ES 345 1959 SB S/T
S8539-18 A29674 ES-345 1959 Black
S8538-3 A29714 ES 345 1959 SB S/T B/B
A29761 ES 345 1959 NAT S/T
S8538-28 A29769 ES 345 1959 SB S/T RZ/RZ
S8538-5 A29808 ES 345 1959 SB Bigs/dots w/rz
S8538-34 A29822 ES 345 1959 SB S/T
*T7443 A29823 ES 345 1959 SB S/T Singlebound
S8537-14 A29845 ES-345 1959 SB S/T B/B
S8537-12 A29846 ES 345 1959 SB S/T
S8537-29 A29849 ES-345 1959 SB S/T B/Z
S8537-7 A29914 ES 345 1959 SB S/T
S8537-9 A29952 ES 345 1959 SB S/T
S8537-32 A29958 ES 345 1959 SB S/T Z/W
S8539-29 A30576 ES 345  1959 Black S/T Added Bigs
S8538-31 A30589 ES 345  1959 Black S/T
S8537-5 A31302 *ES 335 1959 Black  

S/T

“Mystery” 335

This shows the shallow rout for the choke, wax potting and the short leg PAF (top one).

Happy Earth Day to You

April 22nd, 2018 • Uncategorized6 Comments »

Guitar box central at OK Guitars. I reuse them and reuse them until they literally fall down. Then I recycle.

 

OK, what does Earth Day have to do with vintage guitars? Playing vintage is, after all, a recycling victory. But not totally. I have a few ideas and observations about recycling that have impacted me and I’d like you to be aware of them. I’ve always been something of an environmentalist-at least in thought and deed. I’ve never been an activist but I dutifully and regularly recycle just about everything. This is where you come in, vintage guitar folks. You can help.

I suppose there’s some comfort in the fact that everything in my inventory is used so that no trees are being cut to make the guitars I sell and no PCBs are being dumped into rivers to make semiconductors to manufacture the amps I sell. Small contribution, I know but there’s more. I ship about 60-70 guitars and amps a year. Each one requires packing material and a box (and usually some miles of driving either by me or the Fedex man). Packing materials are notoriously environmentally unfriendly but the safety of the guitars I sell is pretty important as well. Vintage cases don’t protect guitars very well. It would be ideal if everybody could agree to have their guitars shipped in a modern case by a shipper who is careful. Not gonna happen. So, we pack and we use horribly non biodegradable stuff to do it. But we can still minimize the impact by being sensible and creative.

Packing peanuts are horrible in nearly every way but they work really well and I sometimes use them for guitars but I never fill the box with them. I always leave enough room so the guitar can be pulled out of the box without a single piece hitting the floor. OK, maybe one or two escape. The idea is that you can get your guitar out of the box, dump the peanuts into a plastic bag and use them again. I never throw them away. And I never, ever use peanuts to pack an amp and if I ever get another amp packed in peanuts, it goes right back to the seller. The heavy amp crushes the peanuts into tiny pulverized styrofoam, static charged, clingy little bastards that get into every corner of the amp, every corner of my garage and stick to every article of clothing I wear when I unpack. Even the dog was covered with styrofoam bits when a tweed Bassman came from California packed in styrofoam peanuts, the worst kind. They get outside, they get into the river and the wildlife and they don’t go away. I know there are biodegradable peanuts out there and that’s a much better choice. So, if you’re going to use them for guitars (which don’t crush them into little pieces), use them more than once and try to use the biodegradable ones made from corn starch.

Much less annoying is the bubble wrap. It works great and doesn’t make nearly the mess that peanuts do. Use it more than once. I know it gets covered with packing tape and its a complete pain to remove all the tape but I do it all the time and I re-use bubble wrap until there are no bubbles left. I buy these huge rolls of what they call “kraft paper”. It does a great job of keeping the guitar from moving around the box and I use it over and over again. I probably have paper that’s been used 7 or 8 times. As long as your packing material fills the voids in the box, it will be effective at protecting the guitar.

And the box. Guitar boxes can be used as many as a dozen times before they become ineffective at their assigned duty. Recycle them when they no longer are stiff enough to protect the guitar and if the bottom becomes rounded. Huh? Yes, if the bottom becomes rounded and the box won’t stand on end, it’s time to retire it. A box with a guitar in it that easily tips over is, essentially, the same as dropping the guitar (in its case) from 4 feet in the air, flat on its back or face. This is an excellent way to break the headstock off or at least crack it. I’ve been pretty lucky with getting my guitars to clients in one piece. Only one busted guitar out of hundreds-and it was pretty minor. I’ve been less lucky with guitars shipped to me by others-5 broken guitars-again, out of hundreds.

So, let’s see if we can find a happy place where we re-use packing materials in a environmentally conscious way and still protect our instruments. Our environment is a lot more important than a bunch of old guitars. Our current EPA is a joke (or worse) and, truthfully, we, not the government, are the stewards of Earth.  So, do your part and be nice to our planet. Just don’t ship me an amp in packing peanuts. I mean it.

And here’s packing material central at OK Guitars. Everything gets used until it no longer functions in its capacity to minimize damage. Then it gets recycled.