GIBSON ES-335 ES-345 ES-355
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Fix it or Disclose it

June 30th, 2018 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 3557 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.

That Little “2” on the Headstock

April 16th, 2018 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 3553 Comments »

The little “2” is lightly stamped into the headstock right in the middle of the “open book” shape at the top.

Back in 2012, I wrote a post about the “factory seconds” that turn up every once in a while identified by the little numeral “2” stamped on the back of the headstock. Since I wrote that post, I’ve learned a little more about how things were done at Gibson back in the Kalamazoo days. I had the good fortune, a while back, to speak with a gentleman who worked in the paint department there in the mid 60’s. In the course of our not very long discussion, I had the opportunity to ask a few questions and get a little bit of an education into how things worked back then.

I think that everyone assumes that the “2” means factory second but apparently it doesn’t-or at least it doesn’t only mean that. Like most companies who turn out a product for consumption by the general public, there is a quality control department whose job it is to make sure the product is up to a defined minimum acceptable standard. I don’t know if there were two QC people or 20 but it is clear that they didn’t have to work too terribly hard based on the relatively small number of guitars I’ve come across with that little “2” on them. I don’t keep close track of it but out of perhaps 600 ES guitars that have passed through me and my shop, I would guess that no more than 12 to perhaps 16 have had the “2”. That’s a little more than 1 out of 50. Well, if it doesn’t quite mean factory second, what does it mean? Well, according to the gentleman I spoke to, it means it went back to the paint booth a second time to fix a finish issue. That could mean covering a flaw in the wood by expanding the opaque area of the sunburst, it could mean buffing out or re-spraying a drip or flaw in the clear coat, or it could mean that the finish wasn’t up to standards and had to be completely redone. Unfortunately, they don’t include an explanation.

But wait, there’s more. Apparently, if an employee wanted to buy a Gibson guitar, he was able to do so at a discount but he (or she) was only allowed to buy one that had a flaw-a factory second. It was, according to my source, quite common for an employee to go to the paint guy and ask the paint guy to tell the QC guy that there was a problem and to stamp a particular guitar with a “2” so the employee could take it home at a discount. I’m told that a few dollars may have changed hands or maybe not. So, assuming this is true (and I have no reason to believe otherwise) we have some “2” designated guitars with no issues of any kind.  That might explain why you generally can’t find the flaw when you get one of these into your hands. In fact, out of the 12 or so I can recall, only 3 had obviously been redone. All three had very deep sunbursts with an unusually large  band of opaque brown/black in the burst. These are very distinctive and quite wonderful. They have a look similar to the old pre-war sunburst you see on some early J-45’s and LG’s and Nick Lucas’s.

In general, the “2” designation doesn’t affect the value much, if at all. A finish that was done twice at the factory is still a factory original finish. In fact Fenders that have a custom color over sunburst are quite desirable-at least enough that Fender is doing on purpose on their relic guitars. To further the point, I had a 59 with a very distinctive deep sunburst that had the “2” that was one of the top ten 335’s I’ve ever had. So, I don’t avoid the 335’s with the little “2” on the headstock. Mostly, I ignore it but sometimes, it gets me a very distinctive sunburst that will set the guitar apart from the hundreds of others made that year.

This “2” 335 is an early 59 and had a flaw in the grain on the top down below the tailpiece about an inch from the rim. A normal sunburst would not have covered it, so it went back to the paint booth for another go around. The flaw is still visible under black light but not with the naked eye.

Upside Down Guitars

April 5th, 2018 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 3556 Comments »

Mint 58 lefty that I authenticated a few years ago. A stunningly beautiful guitar. How did it play? Beats me, I couldn’t play it.

Recently I was asked by a reader if I had ever written a post about left handed ES guitars and I don’t recall if I have or not but it’s a good subject. There have been plenty of greats who were/are lefties. Some played right handed, some played a right handed guitar turned upside down (either strung lefty or righty) and some played left handed guitars. Jimi played a righty guitar strung lefty and turned upside down but Dick Dale learned to play with a righty guitar turned upside down and still strung righty so the high strings were on top. Albert King apparently played that way as well. Wanna feel like a total spaz? Pick up a left handed guitar and try to play. Strung either way, it’s incredibly difficult-more so for a crappy player like me, although a lefty strung as a lefty is a lot easier. Take your righty guitar and turn it over and try to play. Total spaz, right?

It’s not hard to source a left handed 335 these days but back in the day, they were only available by special order and they are incredibly rare. They also command a pretty serious premium. I don’t recall exactly how many 335’s, 345’s and 355’s were made from 58 to 69 but they number in the thousands. I figure I’ve owned around 600 or so since I started doing this and I’ve had no lefties. In fact I’ve seen less than a dozen. I know of a couple of ’58’s. Left handed dealer Alex Pavchinski sent me a mint 335 lefty a few years back to authenticate and I know he had at least one more ’58. I know of maybe five lefty 345’s from ’59 to ’64. I know of at least one red ’64 335.  Of the two known block neck blonde 335’s, one is a righty ’63 (which I owned) and the other is a lefty ’64 owned by a gentleman who lives 40 minutes from my shop. I wish we’d gotten a photo of the two of them together while I had the ’63. There was a ’68 on Ebay a while back but I can’t think of any others off hand. So, that’s ten I can recall. I’m sure there are lots more but I’d be surprised if they numbered as many as 100 during that period. In fact, if you told me there were less than 50, I wouldn’t be surprised.

ES-335’s have been relatively popular among lefty players over the years probably because they are symmetrical-you don’t give up any fret access when you flip over a righty 335. And they don’t look funny upside down like a Telecaster or Les Paul does. But if you’re a left handed player and you want a left handed vintage 335, 345 or 355, be prepared to pay a serious upcharge. “Find another” pricing is in effect here. You can ask whatever you want and leave it up to the buyer to decide if a 50% or 100% or 300% markup is appropriate. Typically, the prices seem to be in the 50% to 100% (double) range for pre 65’s. There’s a ’60 345 on the market now for $47,000. I sold a very early right handed ’60 345 last week for $16,500, so you can do the math. Fair? Ambitious? Outrageous? You’ll have to decide because supply and demand is a fickle law when both the supply and the demand are so low. The 68 on Ebay was around $8000, if I recall, which didn’t seem out of line. I have no idea if it sold or what it sold for but it was listed for quite a long time. I’m told the $47000 60 345 has been listed for over a year-I just noticed it recently but I don’t actively seek out lefty guitars.

I just checked Reverb-no vintage lefty ES’s. I checked Gbase-one ’85 335. I checked Ebay-none. Considering the number of right handed vintage ES’s on the market at any given time, the number of lefties is miniscule. I’m very happy to have been born right handed. Things would be pretty dull sitting around my shop being unable to play all the great guitars I get. I’d have to learn how to play upside down.

This 63 355 was brought to me a few years ago for authentication. It turned out to have been a converted righty. A new nut and a new top are all you need to turn a righty to a lefty. Or you could just turn it upside down.

 

Sleeper but not a Snooze

March 29th, 2018 • ES 3357 Comments »

Here’s a pair of gorgeous near mint 62’s. The red they used in 62 isn’t the one that fades to watermelon. If the guitar has been  kept out of the sun, the red is stunning. Leave it in the sun and it will go brown. PAFs all around. The nickel looks like chrome it’s so shiny.

Every year 335 seems to have its followers. Some (like me) love the 58 with its thin top and shallow neck angle. The 59 has the big neck aficionados (even though at least half the 59’s don’t have big necks). The 60 has that great medium neck for at least half the year and still has long magnet PAFs. The 61 is the bargain dot neck for those who can spend big but can’t spend huge. Late 63 and 64 have tons of followers due, in part to the Clapton connection and, in larger part, to that great neck profile. That leaves the 62 which sometimes gets treated like the red headed stepchild. Look it up.

I think the 62 simply gets lost in the shuffle. The neck is generally not chunky nor is it as thin as a 61. Sometimes it has PAFs and sometimes not. Or one of each. Mostly,  it’s a block neck but sometimes it’s a dot. No wonder it has something of an identity crisis. There’s a lot to like about a 62. First, the later PAFs seem to be remarkably consistent. There’s hardly a bad one to be had. While early PAFs can be magical or marginal, a late PAF is almost always excellent. Early patents are the same pickup with a different sticker. The build quality is a good as any other year and better than any year that followed. The neck profile is fairly consistent-usually around 82″-.83″ at the first fret and around .90″ at the 12th. That’s bigger than a 61 but smaller than a 64. But it’s a sweet spot for a lot of player-particularly the who have always played Fenders or those with relatively small hands. The baseball bat is not for everyone despite how it gets talked up on all the guitar forums.

What really strikes me about a 62 is that it costs about the same as a 63 or 64. Yes, PAFs and patents are the same through 64 but you really would rather have the PAFs wouldn’t you? I would. They are a big part of the vintage mystique. Don’t get me wrong, I love the 64 neck-I played one for years before I could afford a 58. But I keep getting 62’s and they keep impressing me. I think that maybe they got better mahogany during 62 than they got previously. 61’s are very prone to neck problems due certainly to the very thin neck profile but maybe, just maybe, the mahogany wasn’t so good either and Gibson decided that too many guitars were coming back with problems. I’ve had at least a half dozen 61’s with neck issues (I don’t buy a lot of 61’s for that reason). I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad neck on a 62.

The 335 was still a relatively low volume seller for Gibson in 1962. It wasn’t until 64 that the numbers started get to the point where the workers were playing catchup to the demand and quality sometimes suffered. In 61 they made 886 335’s. In 62 they made 876. By 65, that number doubled and by 67, it was up more than fourfold. Given that all the other models ramped up production during this “guitar boom”, it’s no surprise that quality began to diminish. That’s not to denigrate a 67 335-it’s still an excellent guitar but there are qc issues that occur with more frequency during these “boom” years than they did from 58-64. It’s not for nothing that these are called “the golden years” at Gibson.

One final point-I keep an informal “ten best” list of the 3×5’s I’ve owned. It changes a lot but for the past five years, there has been a 62 on that list.  It was a refinished dot neck 62 but still, a 62. The “average” 62 is a great guitar. I don’t know why it keeps surprising me that 62’s are so consistently good. Everything was going right for these guitars and Gibson had finally ironed out the few bugs that existed (shaved bridges (58), output jacks ripping out of thin top (58), deteriorating tuner tips (59/60), warping, twisting necks and truss rod issues (61). I think, as long as they remain well priced, the 62 will be a guitar that I seek out. I love 58’s and 59’s but sellers have gotten totally out of control with asking prices. Right now, 62’s are a sweet spot.

Here’s a 62 dot neck that’s been played hard and has taken on a bit of a brown cast. Not as pretty as the bright red but still a great player. And it’s a dot neck.