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Refins. Curse or Collectible?

My Refinished 1961 Dot Neck

My (former) 2004 Les Paul R9 refinished by Scott Lentz

I used to be something of a car guy.  I subscribed to Hemmings Motor News and drooled week in and week out over 50’s Porsche Speedsters and Jaguar XK 140’s and the occasional American classic like a 57 T-Bird or a 54 Skylark. Now I drive a 97 Volvo station wagon and my car days are behind me.  Probably 99% of the beautifully restored classic automobiles I coveted had one thing in common-they had been repainted. It’s acceptable in the automobile collector community to restore a great old car. Perhaps because a car is made to be out in the elements, the paint isn’t expected to last 50 years or more.  And, while I won’t deny that an untouched original commands a premium, a repainted car doesn’t have its value cut in half. On the contrary, a nice new paint job enhances the value over a rusty, faded, worn or damaged original. So, why is a refinished guitar worth no more than half its unmolested sibling?  A proper nitrocellulose refinish doesn’t appreciably alter the tone and can certainly enhance the beauty of a guitar but a completely road beaten 335 with its original parts is always worth more than a refinished one with the same credentials.  I get the value being diminished but 50% or more? It has changed a little with the “relicing” movement of the past decade or so. If I go out and buy a brand new Les Paul and send it to one of a few well respected refinishers (Tom Murphy, Dave Johnson, Scott Lentz and a few others), I can actually enhance the value a bit. Perhaps in the future these “artistic” refins will be the real collectibles.I had a beautiful 2004 R9 that had been refinished by Scott Lentz back when he was doing them and I paid about a $1000 premium for it and when I sold it, got exactly what I paid. The fact that his finish was far, far superior to the original Gibson finish may have had something to do with it. I should also note that it wasn’t a relic-it was refinished as new-a glossy thin skin darkburst that Gibson only wishes it could do in its shop. I could sit and stare at it for hours but, as a 335 player, I didn’t do much more than exactly that. I found that I was reaching for my 64 ES 335 95% of the time and not playing the Les Paul. So I sold it. The new owner should be proud to own it, especially if he actually plays it.

This one is on Ebay right now. It's a beauty but what's it worth?

It is quite possibly the most gorgeous R9 I’ve ever seen.  Had this been a vintage guitar though, it would have cut the value in half. Right now there is an absolutely stunning 58 ES 335 on Ebay that was refinished by RS (a respected refinishing and relicing company) who does very good work. The seller is asking $18,950 which is pretty ambitious in my opinion. Not because it may not be worth it in this market but because it’s a poor investment and anyone who spends this much money on a guitar wants to be able to get his money out of it if he decides to sell. The serious collector will never touch it and that limits the market considerably. There aren’t that many people who will pay nearly $20,000 for a “player”. I think it’s true that no matter how awful the collector guitar market gets, the “museum” pieces will hold their value best. The ones that have been refinished will not hold their value well. In fact, of all the issues a vintage guitar can have, refinishing seems to be the biggest curse of all (with a neck repair right behind it). Like most 335 lovers, I’d love to own a museum piece 58 but, like a 58 Porsche Speedster, I’ll have to just dream. Even in this market, I can’t justify a high dollar purchase like that. So few have sold recently that it’s nearly impossible to assess a true market value and that makes it a risky investment and an expensive player.  I’ve recently seen all original 59 dot neck 335s break below $20,000 for the first time in years. Maybe for 50% of that, I’d consider a refin but only if I wanted one to play and not have to worry about.  There is this problem with museum pieces: They don’t remain museum pieces for very long if you play them too much.  That, friends, is the second biggest reason I don’t buy them (Biggest? I can’t afford them). But a refinished 58?  I think it would look great strapped to the back of that 58 Speedster (with the wind in my hair if I had any left) -don’t you?

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