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The $10,000 Hole

The Bigsby B7 leaves four small holes by the strap button. Collectors hate them but the price differential can make a vintage piece affordable to the player-even one in excellent condition. And you don't have to drill any holes if you want to put a Bigsby on. This was my 62 ES 335 that was a factory Bigsby with "Custom Made" plaque

One of the questions I get asked, perhaps more frequently than most, is what effect does an extra hole or two in a vintage 335 do to the value. It’s a tough question because of a few factors. Factors like: where is the hole?, how many are there? How big is it? and Has it been repaired? I’m going to start with the most common of holes- extra tuner holes. Interestingly, some time in the 70’s, Gibson players, en masse, decided that Klusons were second rate tuners and switched in droves to Grovers and, later, Schallers. The sad truth is that they are, in fact, better tuners, but Gibson was looking for economy over function in many cases. It’s no accident that the higher end model Gibsons almost always sported Grovers. Now, Grover and Schaller both had attachment screws that didn’t line up with the Kluson holes, so new holes had to be made resulting in the “peekaboo” extra holes that peek out behind whatever tuners are currently on the guitar. Many vintage 335s have had the Grovers or Schallers removed and the “original” Klusons put back on. Original is in quotes because much of the time, they are correct but not original. Kluson tuners were used on so many guitars in the 50s and 60s that they aren’t hard to scavenge off a not very collectible Gibson or other make. So, when the “original” Klusons are back on, what about the extra (at least) 6 holes left by the Grovers? How does that affect the value and/or playability of an old 335 or 345? Less than you’d think and that surprises me a bit. It seems that all those holes on the headstock don’t bother folks nearly as much as the 6 holes left by a Bigsby (even if it was a factory unit). It must have something to do with a perceived “sanctity” of the top of the guitar. Even a single hole left by a coil tap or some other 70’s or 80’s fad will diminish the value of an otherwise spectacular specimen in a very big way-thus the $10,000 hole. I recently looked at an absolutely stunning dot neck 335 that had a single, small, well repaired hole between the 3 way and the volume controls. It was barely visible and not much larger than a screw hole from a Bigsby. The seller was looking for close to $25,000 for the guitar and, to be honest, without the hole, it might have been a $30,000 guitar. I appraised it at around $20,000 but I thought it would be a great buy for someone who really wanted a high quality dot neck without mortgaging the house. Collectors, understandably, want the guitar to be as it was when it left the factory and each element that changes that fact will diminish its value and it desirability. The usual formula is 50% for a refinish, 50% for a neck repair (break) but there is no formula for holes. From what I’ve gathered, tuner holes are worth around 10% but Bigsby holes are worth more like 25%-the same as if the guitar had the Bigsby on it. A hole that has been added on the back-like an additional strap button- will hardly lower the value at all-probably not even 5%. A hole in the top like the one I described can easily knock 30% or more off. That seems odd considering a Bigsby B7 leaves 2 holes in the top and 4 at the butt end. I guess because they’re “supposed” to be there makes a difference. ┬áThese percentages are not hard and fast because of other factors like the overall condition of a guitar but it can be counter intuitive. If a guitar is heavily worn-dripping with “mojo” as the pimply faced hyperbole goes, an extra hole here or there won’t make much difference in its value. But an extra hole in an otherwise mint specimen will make a huge difference. What that shows you is that the premium for the very highest quality examples of a collectible guitar is a huge percentage of its overall price. I find it interesting that a well played, beat up guitar with no issues will often (and perhaps usually) be worth more than a near mint guitar with a single hole where it doesn’t belong. Unless it’s on the back.

"Peekaboo" holes. Grovers over Klusons. The reverse is more common. Surprisingly, this doesn't diminish value all that much. Maybe because it's so common.

Holes in the top from a Bigsby B7 Model-The usual type to be used on a 335. When well filled, they can be just about invisible.

One Response to “The $10,000 Hole”

  1. tsf1701 says:

    I just added a B70 to my MK 335. I filed down the spacer flares on the original tailpiece bolts and then screwed them down flush with the body. Makes for a very clean solution to the leftover holes problem. How do you post pictures on this site?

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