Archive for June, 2010

Great Amps for a 345 or Stereo 355

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

I was going to write part 2 of my rant but decided to let it go for awhile. I have to be in a rant mood to rant and I’m just too tired today to rant. So, it’s a rant free post. Let’s talk about amps. Most guitars pair well with a particular amp and not so well with others. I’ve played my 335s and 345s through about 50 amps which, frankly, given the number of amps available, isn’t all that many. I’m going to skip the boutique amps for now since I don’t generally know that much about them and I haven’t played through all that many of them. I have, however, played through a lot of vintage amps and I have some pretty strong opinions about what sounds great with a 335 and with a 345. I’m going to start with the 345 because, as a stereo guitar, it has some special needs. There aren’t a lot of stereo amps but you can play it through 2 channels of the same amp or 2 separate amps. The amp that makes these guitars absolutely sing is the Gibson GA 79RV or RVT. Fifteen watts x 2-it’s stereo-and, if it has the right speakers, it’s amazing. Mine was a 61 tweed version with a pair of original cone P10Qs. Great musical tone with plenty of harmonics and excellent mids and highs. Tube saturation and breakup from about 6. The cool thing is that you can play one pickup through one side and the other pickup through the other. So, instead of having that “middle tone” that you get out of the middle position, you get the treble of the bridge pickup completely separate from the neck pickup and its dark tones. You can throw the “mono” switch on the amp and both pickups go through both speakers. A lot of articles will tell you that you can bridge the power to be 30 watts but I don’t believe that to be true. It sounds equally as loud in stereo and mono and it ain’t no 30 watts. Got to play a big venue and you need more than 15 watts? Mike it through the PA.

This isn't mine but it's just like it. I was surprised at how small it was when I first saw one. This the RVT (reverb/tremolo) version

It’s a cool looking amp as well-kind of a trapezoid in order to separate the speakers.  The later ones (after 61) use different speakers and they don’t sound as good. The ones with the C10Qs sound pretty close, although I like alnico speakers better than ceramics. However, by the time they stopped making them, they were using CTS speakers (I think) which I just don’t like. They can be dull and farty. The tremolo isn’t very good but I never use it and the reverb is somewhat unusual. It works differently from most reverbs in that it has its own preamp and the reverb gain doesn’t affect the overall volume. The only real issue is that it’s only on one channel and with a stereo guitar, it would be nice to be able to have it one both. Same with the tremolo. The amp is powered by four EL-84s which give you some nice chime. It is most unFenderlike. Runner up? The  uber rare Guild 200S is a screamingly loud stereo amp that runs off a four EL 34s and has a pair of 12″ speakers.  I don’t love the speakers but the amp is articulate and can be very clean at very high volume. It gets gritty but you have to be in Yankee Stadium to get there without blistering the paint on your walls. If you have an amp that you’ve used with a stereo 355 or 345, let me know. I’d love to hear your experiences since there are so few players who use the stereo function in a 345.

Rare, rare, rare. I've only seen one in tweed and a couple in Silver Tolex. What a cool amp. I wish I had one. It's supposed to be 50 watts x 2 and it sounds like 200. With 4 EL 34s, I'm not surprised. That's a lot of firepower.

Dangerously Close to a Rant: Part 1

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

A blog is a great way to disseminate information to a very small group of interested individuals.  Many of the blogs I’ve read become mired in personal opinion, while I try to keep to the facts with a little humor thrown in now and then. To an aficionado, the small details are the fun part and I choose to spend considerable time on them. Well, let me get mired in personal opinion for once. I’ve got plenty of pet peeves-more than most. Things like why are all potato chips small these days. It used to be that potato chips were the size of an Idaho potato but not any more. What do they just use the ends now and save the fat middle part for special chips only for the wealthy or well connected? I could go on but this isn’t my potato chip blog, although I’m pretty sure I could write one. They were invented right up the road from my home town, in Saratoga Springs, NY. Never mind.  OK, I’m going to talk about the asking prices for ES 335s by the folks who list on Ebay.  In case you haven’t noticed, the guitar bubble has burst. At  this moment, the number of vintage 335s that sell on Ebay as opposed to the number listed is in the neighborhood of 7%. That’s about 1 in 15. At the peak of the market a 67-69 wasn’t worth $8000, so why list it at $8000 now? Because you missed the market and you think there’s a sucker out there who didn’t get the memo. Well, surprise, the one who didn’t get the memo is you, Ebay seller. Now don’t get me wrong, this is America and you can list your guitar for as much as you want. Unless you actually want to sell it. Let’s take a look, shall we? There are currently 13 335s listed between the year 1965 and 1970. None have any bids and only one walnut 69 is listed under $5000.  Think that’s a fluke? Let’s look at what has sold. Of 20 335s listed in the past 30 days, only 3 have sold-a 66 for $4419, a 68 for $4200 and a 69 for $3500. What does that tell you? It tells you what I’m telling you. The bubble has burst-supply and demand has hijacked your investment and you better either lower your price or put it back under the bed. The higher priced 58 to 64 models don’t fare any better-in fact they are worse. Sale percentage in the last 30 days is 0%-zip, zilch, nada. A few 355s and 345s have sold at what appear to be good bargain basement prices but they aren’t they are the market values. All were either no reserve auctions or they were best offers. A 59 355 MONO for $11,300 is as good as you can expect right now.

ES 355 Mono 1959 $11,300. Nice Ears on that one.


A very nice 64 345 for around $7500-nice score but that’s the current market price. A 64 355 MONO for $6600. The day that a 68 335 is worth more than a 64 345 is the day I get out of these guitars and start collecting Martins. I’m not taking condition or originality into consideration because this tide is lowering all ships. Tomorrow I will rant at the dealers who didn’t get the memo.

ES 345 From 1964 sold for $7392.45. I offered the seller more than that but he chose to take his chances at auction.


ES-355 Mono from 1964 sold for $6600

M-I-C-K-E-Y…Why? Because we like you. M-O-U-S-E

Monday, June 7th, 2010

You’ve heard about them but you can’t quite figure out what they’re talking about when they tell you the guitar has Mickey Mouse Ears. I didn’t know guitars even had ears.  Has Disney gotten their hands on Gibson too?  Well, no. It all refers to the shape of the cutaways in the 335, 345 and 355. There have actually been about 6 different shapes over the years, maybe more considering they keep tweaking the recent ones to try to match the older types. They still don’t have it right but  they’re getting there. The first type existed only in 1958 and was a slightly pointy but still rather rounded shape. Then, in 59, what we call “Mickey Mouse” ears became the norm. They were very round on top and very symmetrical-all in all a very pleasing look. Then, if you listen to the folks at Gibson, they mold wore out and they had to retool. That was sometime in 63. The next type was very pointy and is typical of late 63s and continued through 67. Careful observers will note 2 different types of pointy ears. One is very long and thin with a pronounced arch in the ears themselves, while the other is rather short and stubby but still clearly pointed. In 68, they split the difference and had a more rounded cutaway again but not so symmetrical as the original Mickey.  Then, in the mid 70’s they got really skinny and the body shape changed completely-narrower waist and smaller bouts. A really ugly look.  Then when the dot reissue came out in 81, there were 2 distinct types. What I call the “stubby” type and the “classic” type which is very close to a 68-75 shape. Today’s ears are still very close to the 68 type. If they are going for the full Mickey, they haven’t gotten it yet. If you don’t see them side by side, you might never notice but once you’ve trained your eye, they are as different as night and day. I particularly like the Mickey Mouse era but I’ve grown fond of the early pointy ones as well.

This was posted a while back by a guitar buddy name Christopher who knows his ears

A is the 58 almost Mickey Ear. B is the Classic 59-63 Mickey Ear. C is the pointy 64-67 D is the more rounded 68 E I’m  not sure of and F is late 70s.

Not Quite Mickey Mouse 58 (Thanks To Tom Hollyer

The Real Mickey Mouse Ear 1960

The very pointy 64-67 Type

The Ol' Blue Trini with Stubby Pointy Ears

1968 More Rounded

The Original Mickey Mouse Ear Guitar

I Can’t Afford a No Issue 335: Part 2

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

Not a 335 but a good bad repair. Here, the turnbuckles tend to get in the way when I try to do the Duane Allman part of Layla. Without those things in the way, I can nail it.

Yesterday we looked at issues relating to changed parts and refinishing.  Today, the larger and more intrusive issue of breaks, repairs and structural damage. So, what about an otherwise correct example that has been repaired? The guys who do the repairs will tell you that the glue is stronger than the wood and a properly repaired break will be stable and hold indefinitely.  Again, let some common sense take the lead on this. If the headstock was put back on with sheetrock screws through the fingerboard, you might want to pass that one by. I’ve seen necks nailed on, necks with added steel plates a la Fender and some just unbelievably bad home made repairs that will curl your hair. So, clearly, you don’t want to be spending money on a guitar that has been poorly repaired. If the price is low enough and the parts are original, it may be worth looking into as a parts source or, if you have some expertise, maybe it can be redone correctly. Me, I stay away from most repaired headstocks. I’ve had some bad experiences with a few. If an expert like Dan Erlewine did one of his invisible grafts, I would be more likely to take a shot. Look at the finish. A good headstock repair should be virtually invisible. If the luthier has finished over it in black or other opaque color, you should see no lumps or raised areas.  Rule of thumb? Cut the price in half, at least. Perhaps even less. I got a 64 with both a replaced neck and a headstock break for $2200 and it played very well. The neck was a bit thin but everything else was original. the pickups alone were worth almost what I paid for the entire guitar. The issue that I find to be the most difficult to assess is a repaired neck joint. These necks are glued in place and glue does not last forever. While 335s and their siblings tend to remain pretty solid-unlike, say, an SG, they still sometimes require some work. If no wood is broken and the neck is simply reset and the finish touched up, I see no reason to pass it by. In fact, these can be the real sleepers in the bargain 335 department. A 335 with a reset will go for about the same as one with a headstock repair. However, if the wood is intact and the neck was simply reglued, the guitar has probably been less compromised than it might be from a refret. Old glue out, new glue in. The guitar will be pretty much as it was when it left the factory except for some finish touch up. It’s interesting that a large percentage of pre-war Martins have had a neck reset and it has little or no effect on the value of the instrument. It’s kind of expected according to a well known repairman/luthier with whom I recently consulted on my 64 SG. If the neck has broken away from the body by breaking the body around the neck, then I’m more likely to stay away. These are complex fixes because the intonation can be severely compromised as can the neck angle. It takes a very skilled luthier to fix this issue. Likewise a neck that is broken somewhere other than the heel. And if the guitar hasn’t been repaired? Unless the price is really compelling, I don’t buy guitars that need repairs simply because  you will never get your investment back if you have the work done. Never, ever. Once it’s broken, it can’t be unbroken and quality work of this nature is expensive. So expensive in fact that it could possibly eat up every dime you saved buying a broken guitar.  I bought a broken SG Custom years ago as a project for $1800. It’s value, at the time was around $3500 or so. I had the headstock repaired but they had to refinish the entire neck and then it didn’t quite match the body, so I had that done too. Add in the cost of putting the guitar back together and setting it back up, I was into it for an additional $1100. Once repaired it was still about an $1800 guitar. OK maybe $2400 but nowhere near what I paid to have it done. On the other hand if you end up with a guitar you love that you will never sell, then OK, go nuts as long as you go into it knowing what you might be in for. There are other issues that I haven’t covered in my posts like binding repairs (little effect on price), refrets (if well done, they don’t really affect the value appreciably). The same with retipped tuners, especially on 58 and 59s because they almost always deteriorate. Finally, what about play wear? We’ve all seen beat to hell guitars going for huge money. What’s the deal here and why do people pay for fake play wear on new guitars. As usual, we’ll cover this in another post.

Nicely Done. Break is lower than the usual Gibson headstock break.

Here's where they usually break.

I Can’t Afford a “No Issue” 335 Part 1

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

I’ve gotten more emails about this than any other 335 related subject. While thousands of dollars can be saved on vintage 335s/345s and 355s if you stay away from the mint condition, no issue museum piece examples, if you’re an investor or a serious collector, these are the ones that will always hold their value best. Other than a tanking market, you cannot go wrong with a prime example. They lose less value when the market drops and they gain more value when the market rises. The trouble is you can’t do much with them because they are too valuable. So, let’s say you want an affordable player and you’re OK with a few issues. Which issues do you eliminate and which do you accept? It’s a personal thing, I guess (issues always are, aren’t they?). There are so many different issues that it’s hard to describe all of them, so I’ll generalize a bit. Let’s assume you’re a player who wants to be able to take the guitar to gigs or jams and you want an early 60’s ES 335. If you don’t mind a Bigsby, then that’ll  knock 25% off the price. I look for guitars with issues that can be fixed by finding the parts that are missing. Things like tuners being wrong (with extra holes) don’t bother me but they don’t take more than maybe 10% off the value. Wiring and pickups that have been messed with is usually OK with me as long as the correct pickups are back on or the price reflects the fact that they are missing. Easy to fix-buy a set of correct pickups and install them. Wrong bridge, wrong tailpiece, wrong pickguard are all fixable issues that the price should reflect. Do your research as to what these things cost and how available they are and make sure the price you pay reflects this. Now, the big stuff. Refinished guitars. Broken headstocks and neck joins. Extra switches or knobs. I have no general rules other than to look closely at whats been done. In the case of a refin, if it’s a pro job and the guitar is around 50% of it’s original finish value, then I might consider it-especially as a player. The finish, if it’s nitro and not too thick will not change the tone one bit. I would make certain the guitar wasn’t oversanded because it’s incredibly easy to go through the top ply in the wood. If the guitar has extra switches or knobs, I usually stay away. Ditto if it has filled routs from kahler whammys or other pointy headstock era foolishness like coil taps or phase switches. These can’t be easily made to go away. The price for the kind of work required to make these issues disappear is quite high and the guitar will not recover any value for all of your effort. Tomorrow or maybe the day after, I’ll discuss the big stuff-structural, headstock and neck repairs and how they affect the price and desirability of your potential “player” 335.

Extra holes on my ES 345. It now has the correct tuners but the holes are there forever. You know what? I don't care. This issue probably saved me $700-$1000

ES 345. How Many Issues Can you Spot? Would You pay $10,000 for this 59 ES 345 (those are real double white PAFs)

Pickups Part 3: T-Tops

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

Time to get back to the nuts and bolts. When last we looked at pickups, we talked about the transition from PAF to Patent number pickups and their evolution. Gibson has had some pretty long transition periods but this could be the longest. Following the patent number pickups last incarnation-orange wire in the windings and one black and one white lead wire, the T-top showed up. Also called a “T-bucker,” the bobbin has the letter “T” embossed into the top of the bobbin-hence the name. The “L” toolmarks disappeared (and reappeared and disappeared again) as did the “circle in the square” tool mark. The wire went from enamel coated to polyurethane coated which is thicker. So a full pickup bobbin would have fewer winds which affects the tone. The earliest I’ve seen is in a 66 but I’ve heard of T-tops in 65s as well. I’ve owned a 68 335 with patent number pickups that weren’t T-tops so that’s nearly 4 years of transition. I’ve been told the “T” stands for treble and is there to help the installer orient the pickup in the right direction. At some point, Gibson went from hand wound pickups to an automated system and this had a couple of detrimental effects on the pickup. First, the consistency of the winding is high-meaning they are all pretty much the same. One of the things that gives PAFs and early Patent number pickups their “magic” is the hand winding. The wire is bunched up on one side or fatter in the middle or thinner in the middle and bunched up on both sides. Seymour Duncan has apparently studied this in great detail and knows what winding type does what. That’s his trade secret, apparently. T-tops are nearly all in the range of 7.5K ohms since an automated counter turned off the machine at the same number of winds every time. Also, the machine kept the windings even and constant. Therefore, they all sound pretty much alike. I’ve found that to be true in my experience. the good news is they don’t sound bad at all. In fact they are a very nicely balanced and sweet sounding pickup on a 335. What they seem to lack, however, are the distinctive harmonics that you can get from a “good” PAF or patent number. I’ve never heard a T-top with much of what are referred to as “double” tones. From the factory, it is nearly impossible to know for sure whether your guitar has a T-top or a patent number (pre T top) without removing the cover. Don’t. Once you’ve removed it, you lower its collectable value and while T-tops aren’t commanding high prices, they may someday in the future. I can lower the odds for you though. If your guitar was built between 65 and 69 (yes, I’ve heard of pre T-tops as late as 69), then it has one or the other. The farther you get from 65 and the closer to 69, the more likely they are to be T-Tops. Also, if they have slotted screws on the back, they are almost certainly T-tops. Unfortunately, if they have philips screws, they may be pre T-tops but they could still be T-tops. You could check them with a multimeter and if they aren’t between 7.4 and 7.6K, they probably aren’t T-tops. They seem to be that consistent. I’ve had a number of pairs and all of them were between 7.47 and 7.5. T-tops had the same patent sticker as the earlier ones until the mid 70s when they switched to an engraved metal patent number on the housing. Still the same pickup though. There have been sightings of double white T-tops and probably zebras too, although I’ve never seen them.  Making a too long story shorter, T-tops are excellent pickups with a balanced tone and response. I prefer the patent number pickups but you may not. If you’re buying a mid 60’s ES 335 and you want patent number, pre T-tops, look for a 65 or 66 with philips screws on the bottom (not the pole piece screws). If you want T-tops, look for slotted and check the resistance. If they are somewhere near 7.5K and they have slotted screws, it’s a T-top. I found a terrific article that explains how Gibson humbucker pickups work HERE. Next: Tim Shaw PAFs.

Gibson T-top Humbucker. The T is in the middle-one on each bobbin, facing inward.