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Archive for December, 2010

Misinformation: 1968 ES-335

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

This is a 68 and it certainly isn't wide.

Most vintage guitar enthusiasts have more than a passing acquaintance with Clay Harrell’s Vintage Guitar Info site. It’s a very accurate and comprehensive compendium that covers the major brands and, while somewhat opinionated in its evaluation of what’s collectible and what isn’t, it’s become something of a bible to many who have an interest in these things.  I give him a lot of credit because he covers a lot of ground with a level of thoroughness that is truly mindboggling. I learned at least half of what I know from his site so I am indebted to him. Which is why I include a link to his site even though I’ve never met or spoken to the man. I recently sent him an email asking him to please correct an error that has become larger than the truth. I can’t tell you how

Here's another 68 from Ebay. It's got the "Pantograph" logo we start seeing in 68. This is a lefty SG and is still a narrow nut.

many ES-335 “experts” still quote his assertion that Gibson changed the nut width back to 1 11/16″ in 1968. I don’t know if Gibson says they did or whether he had a 68 that had it but I’ve been through at least 15 of them and I haven’t found one yet that has a 1 11/16″ nut. I’ll give you the backstory: It seems that Fender and Gibson got it into their heads that a smaller, narrower neck was “faster” and they both used that factoid (fictionoid?) in their advertising and marketing. Gibson was worse than Fender because I believe they narrowed their nut to try to better compete with Fender who appeared to be eating Gibson’s lunch when it came to sales. So, in 1965, at the beginning of the “guitar boom” Gibson changed the standard nut width to 1 9/16″ . There were some at 1 5/8″ as well but there had been those for a while especially on 355s and the occasional 345. The 1 9/16″ nut was the Gibson standard throughout the rest of the 60’s and well into the 70’s. I don’t see very many 70’s guitars but I have seen the wider nut on more than a few so I’m going out on a limb here and saying that they must have gone back to 1 11/16″ at some point during the 70’s-not 1981 as I originally thought.  I’m pretty certain, however, that Gibson did NOT go back to the 1 11/16″ nut as standard in 1968. I bought a brand new SG in 1968 that had a huge neck but I’m almost dead sure that it wasn’t very wide because I had a lot of trouble playing it and, to this day, I can’t play a fat narrow neck. My 67 Trini Lopez had one and I couldn’t play it either. So, my apologies to Mr. Harrell for pointing out a single error in a site that must have 10,000 separate facts in it but this error has been dogging me lately in the form of folks looking for one of those “wide nut” 68’s that they know are out there. They aren’t. If you want a 1 11/16″ nut width, look for an 80’s dot reissue or a later 335 from the years since then. They all have it. The other alternative is to get a 58-64 model. They haven’t been cheaper in years and this is a great opportunity to snag one while the snagging’s good.

And a 69. Nope. Still narrow.

Personally, I think this might be a 69 345 but the seller says 68, so maybe it is. The dotless "i" threw me. Still narrow at the nut.

Wholesale vs Retail

Monday, December 27th, 2010

The Notorious Pelham Blue Trini. A very cool guitar bought on Ebay for a very low price.

You knew it was coming, didn’t you. You knew that when I transitioned from an aficionado to a dealer, I would do this. But please, don’t blame me. I don’t make the rules. “Supply and Demand” predates me by a few years. Let’s say you have an old ES-335 in the closet that belonged to your grandfather and it is now yours. You don’t play and, while it’s nice to have something of Grandpa’s around, it seems like it might be worth some serious money. So, you go online and try to figure out what it is you have. Then you go to Ebay and see what it’s worth. Then you try to sell it for the same price the people on Ebay are trying to get and you get no bites and you wonder why. The key is time. The other key is knowledge. If you’re in a hurry to sell and you want, essentially, to cash out of the guitar right now, then you will probably have to take a wholesale price. A dealer pays you a lower price than an end user simply because he will have to hold the guitar for however long it takes to find the right buyer. Take it from me, there are not a lot of folks out there who will pay $10,000 or more for an old guitar. The buyers in that price range tend to be extremely knowledgeable AND seem more likely to buy from a dealer. The guy who found the guitar in the closet is most likely not any sort of expert and will not be able to adequately describe the guitar in such a way as to instill confidence that the buyer is getting what he pays for. Most dealers will allow you at least 24 hours to decide if you got what you thought you were getting. Most Ebay sellers don’t. Another option if you find yourself in possession of an old, perhaps valuable guitar, is to take it to a dealer who sells vintage guitars. An honest dealer will tell you exactly what you have and, if interested, will make you an offer-and not ask “how much do you want for it?”  What the dealer shouldn’t do is start messing about with a soldering iron. Removing the pickup screws and flipping them over is fine but I had a guitar come to me from a dealer that had removed two virgin covers from the PAFs to see the bobbin color.  If  your local dealer does anything beyond loosening screws and looking at components, pick up your guitar and go.  If the dealer feels he can make a profit on your guitar, he will offer you less than the retail value. How much less? That often depends on how badly the dealer wants your guitar. But, and I can guarantee this, you will not get a retail price out of a dealer. You won’t get what the sellers are listing them for on Ebay (even though the ones listed at the stupidest high prices are from dealers). The true market is determined by the buyer. Look at the Ebay “sold” listings and you will get a reasonably good idea what your guitar is worth on the open market. Again, the dealer will probably pay you less.  The difference is the time value of money. If you want money now, then wholesale is probably your best bet. Go to an honest dealer and you will get an honest price. By all means, put it up on Ebay for a week or two and see if someone bites. But before you do, make sure you know what you have. I’ve seen way too many guitars go for ridiculously low prices because the buyer didn’t do his homework. The best example I can recall happened twice. Someone had a blue Trini Lopez. The “Blue Book” says its worth $3200 but the Blue Book doesn’t differentiate between the red ones and the blue ones because the blue ones are quite rare. So, you go and list your Blue Trini for $3200 and someone hits the Buy it Now and everybody walks away happy right? Right, but the guitar is still worth $10,000 (according to a well known appraiser).  If you’d gone to a dealer you probably would have gotten at least $7500 or more than double. The story doesn’t end here. There was another blue Trini that came up on  Ebay, this time in an auction format with no Buy it Now. That one sold for exactly $7500 which, to me, was a reasonable wholesale price.  So, don’t be a sucker. Do your homework and that doesn’t mean just check the Ebay listings for a guitar that looks like the ones you have. I’ve got a link to a serial number chart on this site and, while Gibson serial numbers are notoriously unreliable, it will at least give you some idea of a range of years. Fortunately the older the guitar, the more like the serial number is to be accurate and reliable. It wasn’t until around ’63 that it got really nuts at Gibson. If you have what you think might be a 50’s or 60’s ES-335, 345 or 355, send me a photo and I’ll get you started on your way to getting a reasonable price for your guitar.

Through Thick and Thin

Saturday, December 25th, 2010

Here's a nice cross section of what was available in 1961.

Some of what I know about ES-335’s comes from reading the same books that everyone else reads. AR Duchossoir’s “The Classic Years” and Adrian Ingram’s more recent “The Gibson 335” are two of them and a number of excellent websites devoted to these guitars. However, most of what I know comes from years of owning them and having had nearly 100 of them pass through my hands over the past 20 years.  There are a number of errors in all of the books and some on the websites as well. There are errors here too-I’m certainly not infallible. But what makes it even harder to be “right” is the massive inconsistencies on the part of Gibson. But it also makes it harder to be wrong. We look for a consensus. When we say ’65 335s have chrome hardware, we mean they usually have chrome hardware because we know of some with nickel. When we say a 64 335 doesn’t have PAFs, it doesn’t mean it can’t have one or even both. One of the hardest things to nail down is the size of the neck on a given year. Since the necks were largely hand shaped back then, there is necessarily a bit of variation. What I’m finding is that there is a LOT of variation. Right now, I have, by coincidence, three 335s and a 345 from 1961 in my possession. Most 335 devotees know that 58 and 59 had big fat necks and 60-63 had wide flat profiles and  64 had medium fat necks. We also know that early 63’s were like 62’s and that late 59s were sometimes more like 60’s (and vice versa).  As I said, I currently have 4 61’s and there is a good bit of variation here. If you’ve ever played a 59 and a 61 you can feel what seems to be a tremendous difference between the necks and yet, the nut is of identical width and the difference in the depth is incredibly small. The average 59 neck is around .89″ measured from the fingerboard to the middle of the back of the neck. The average 61 neck has a depth of .82″. One feels big and fat and the other feels almost flat and the difference is all of 7/100 of an inch. There are other measurements that come into play when we talk about the profile of a neck like the shoulder or the “profile”. People talk about “C”, “D” and “V” necks which is a discussion for another post. Don’t confuse that with Fenders “A”, “B”, “C” and, although I’ve never seen one, “D” necks. Whole different thing. Anyway, I’ve got 4 61’s here and a pair of calipers. The earliest one is the sunburst 335 with the Bigsby. It measures a very average 1.67 across the nut and .82 at the first fret. That’s a flat neck. A lot of people like that. I remember my guitar teacher  telling me that “wide and flat” is the ideal neck. He was a jazzer so I’m not sure if he meant for his type of playing or all types. I was 12 at the time and didn’t ask a lot of probing questions. The next up is the sunburst 345 which measures 1.69 at the nut and .83 at the first fret. I can definitely feel the difference in the depth even though its only 1/100″! The difference in nut width is imperceptible to me even though its twice as much. Next up is one of the 335s-a very, very late 61. Probably December as its in the 40,000 range. This one has a 1.69″ nut and an even larger .84″ depth.  Finally, my favorite of the batch is a midyear red 335 that measures 1.70 and .85″. That’s not a wide flat neck. That’s within 1/100″ of most 64’s which are generally considered fat. I’ve mentioned how much I love the 64 neck and they average slightly narrower at the nut (1.66 or even less) and .86 at the first fret. I’ve pretty much covered the 64 in an earlier post. So, when you’re looking for your dream guitar, don’t dismiss any year because you think the neck is going to be wrong for you. My keeper has been a 64 for a long time but I may let that go and keep the 61. It’s just about perfect.

Shrunken Heads Part II

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

OK, Double Ring Klusons can shrink too. These are off a 61 ES 335.

First of all, I want to correct something in the previous post. I just got a “garage sale special” 1961 ES 335 dot neck with shrunken double ring tuners, so it isn’t limited to only the single ring versions. If anybody has shrunken tuners later than 1961, let me know. I love this arcane stuff. I’m surprised nobody wrote me to tell me I was wrong (The LPF guys love to do that). Another issue that has generated some interesting responses is my suggestion that cyanoacrylate (Krazy Glue) will do a good job of preserving your crumbling tuners. The consensus seemed to be that it was a bad idea since originality is holy scripture to a collector. One responder felt that it was more collector friendly to let them crumble and stick them, useless, in the case. He then suggested that they be replaced with repros. The third choice is, of course, to put new tips on them. This is my opinion on the subject: I want a vintage guitar to be original but I want to be able to play it in its original state. If I can keep the tuners usable somehow then that’s what I’ll do. If they have already crumbled, I would get a set of Uncle Lou tips and install the originals. My least favorite choice is to use repros. Why not just put all repro parts on? They look pretty much the same and they can sound pretty much the same? This vintage thing isn’t about useless parts in the case, it’s about playing the best guitars on the planet as they were meant to be played. If you’ve ever taken a polishing cloth with a product on it to your guitar, have you compromised it? I don’t think so. You made it look better and you may have helped it last a bit longer. Same with oiling the fretboard. If the only way to keep your Brazzy board from drying out, cracking and becoming useless is to oil it once in a while, then have you compromised the board? I don’t think so. What I think is being done when you paint your tuner tips with cyanoacrylate is you are adding a preservative to the plastic that allows you to use it for a longer period of time. It’s nearly invisible (if you rough it up a little) and it doesn’t affect the functionality other than making them usable.  I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t necessary. Some shrunken heads are just fine the way they are. They seem to shrink and become brittle but they don’t crumble-that’s the situation on most of my older 335s and 345s. I also have enough spares that I could replace any shrunken tuner with a correct unshrunken one BUT I DON’T. Original to me means original and vintage correct isn’t the same thing. It’s OK as long as a dealer specifies that a part is correct and its a lot better than repro. Finally, that begs the question, “how do you know if any parts are original if you didn’t buy the guitar from the original owner?” You don’t. That’s why, all other things being equal, I will buy a vintage piece from the original owner. In fact, of all the 335s and 345s I have, all but one came from the original owner or a relative of a deceased original owner. That’s not foolproof-people forget what they did 40 years ago-but it’s the best we can do.

Shrunken Heads

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

Five out of six "shrunken heads" on that great old red 59 ES-345. I don't think the buyer cared that they were shrunken.

Nope, this isn’t a post about the guys in New Guinea who, for a good time, will kill you, eat you and do something to your head (I’m sure being killed and eaten will do something to anyone’s head). While interesting and probably fascinating, the natives of New Guinea don’t play the guitar as far as I am aware. I’m talking about shrunken tuner heads. This phenomenon is a strange quirk of nature called off-gassing. The plastic that was used to make the tuner buttons changes its chemical makeup over time and the tuner tips shrink and become brittle, sometimes even turning to dust. Tuner tips from the early 50’s don’t seem to do this. Tuner tips from the 60’s generally don’t do this. But it seems that 58 and 59 tuners do. Maybe 57’s I don’t see many of those. When Kluson went from the single ring tip to the double ring, they must have changed the formulation of the plastic because you rarely, if ever, see a double ring tip that has shrunk. It’s the same phenomenon that makes the tortoise pickguard on a 355 turn to dust, leaving only the binding (which must have been a different plastic).

Here's a comparison of a shrunken single ring and an unshrunk double ring Kluson. They were once the same size before the off-gassing began. This came from guitar repair guru Dan Erlewine's site, I think. Thanks, Dan.

On the gold tuners-like on a 345, they used the single ring tips beyond 1960 and those shrink as well. Probably because they had a lot of gold Klusons and didn’t use them up as fast as they used up the nickel ones (since there were more guitars that had nickel Klusons than gold). My otherwise mint 61 has shrunken heads. But not all of them. This is even more puzzling. How can 3 tuners deteriorate to dust and 3 of them stay exactly as they were when they were made? This isn’t an oddity, it happens almost every time. My 59 ES-175 had 5 shrunken tuners. My current 59 ES 345 has 3. The beautiful mint 59 red 345 I recently sold had 5. It seems that the more time the guitar spends in its almost airtight case, the worse the off-gassing is. That makes sense. But why it happens to 3 or 5 of them is a mystery. Anyone with the answer will be duly credited. Sometimes, they still work just fine-they can be a bit hard to get a good hold onto because they are small but they still work. Other times, they will crumble in your hands the first time you turn them. If you see that the guitar you are about to buy-or the one that you just found in Grandpa’s closet has this issue, there is an easy way to stabilize them. Super Glue (Krazy glue or any other cyanoacrylate glue).  You can simply paint it on or you can dip them in a container full of glue and let it soak in. It actually seems to rebuild the plastic. I’m told that if you coat them with baking soda first, it works even better but I’ve never tried it so don’t do it if you haven’t already written off the tuner as useless. I have done just the super glue part and it works very well. Whether it lowers the value of the tuner, I couldn’t say. I think that if a technique makes something that has no practical function anymore usable again, it can’t be a bad thing. If someone came to me with a valuable guitar that had the original tuners on it and functioning I would be more likely to pay a bit more if than if they were in the case and too brittle to use.

This is otherwise mint '61 that spent many years off-gassing away in its case. They aren't too bad though. Maybe the black cases weren't as airtight as the brown ones..

The Apple and the Orange

Friday, December 17th, 2010

The Allman back at my house a couple of years ago before its fret job and Varitonectomy and before it went to Canada. .

I got an email this morning asking me to compare a guitar for sale at a local music store and one that I have listed both on Ebay and Gbase. The guitar in question is the 59 ES-345 that I mentioned a couple of posts ago and the guitar I’m being asked to compare it to is one that I used to own (coincidentally) that has been known around the collectors universe as “The Allman”. Supposedly, according to an old friend of the late Duane, the guitar was loaned to him at some point during the 70’s. Not really relevant here since we aren’t really discussing provenance. The guitars are comparably priced (more or less-one is $13.9K and the other is $15.6K) but really are very different, hence the title “The Apple and the Orange”. I’ll call the one in Canada (“The Allman”) The Apple and I’ll call the one I have for sale The Orange. The Apple is the more expensive just so you know. The Apple has been modified-it has been Grovered, which requires enlarging the shaft holes and usually requires six additional little holes in the back of headstock. The Apple has been refretted and had its Varitone circuitry removed and has been converted to mono.. The Varitone ring is, as is normal for a late 59, gold. Other than that it’s a solid 8.0 condition 345. I should note that it has double white PAFs with unoriginal covers. The PAFs may have been rewired but probably not rewound. There are little notches cut out of the back of the pickup where the wire goes in. Finally, The Apple is a very late 59 and has a very 60ish neck profile. That is, in fact, why I sold it. The Orange is also a solid 8.0 condition 1959 ES-345. It has its original frets, its original tuners and no additional holes. The pickups are a zebra and a double black. The covers have been removed from the pickups but I can’t tell if they are original or not. The Varitone ring is black and the neck is the typical fat 59 profile. The Orange has also had its Varitone circuit removed and been converted to mono (335 wiring). It is very difficult to compare these 2 guitars, especially from a price standpoint. A lot depends on personal preference. For most buyers, however, there are some clear signs. Extra holes in a vintage guitar have NO effect on the tone or the playability but they wreak havoc on the collectibility. Back at the peak of the market, the differential between a guitar with extra holes in it and one that’s never been modded could reach 5 figures. Granted, when the holes are tuner holes, the differential is less than if someone put a coil tap between the volume controls or if there are Bigsby holes in the butt end and the top. So, from the standpoint of the husk, The Orange is the more valuable guitar. No one would dispute that. But, when you look at the components, you may think otherwise. At the market top, a pair of uncovered DW PAF’s could fetch $8,000 while a pair of covered blacks would fetch $4,000. Zebras are usually more or less the equal of DWs. So, there’s a differential there. One has Grovers which on their own don’t have a lot of collector value while the other has original 59 Klusons which can go for $500 or more. These are tangible differences that can be easily quantified. Here’s where it gets really tricky: The neck profile. If you want a 59 because it has that big fat neck, there is no comparison. You don’t go out and buy a guitar for this much money if the neck profile isn’t what you want. Period. In fact, if you’re OK with a 60’s slimmer profile, why pay the premium for a 59 when you can find a 60-62 PAF equipped 345 for a lot less than either guitar. This doesn’t take into consideration the bozos who still think they can get $17,000 for a ’62 ES-345 with a coil tap hole. Don’t get me wrong, I love double white PAFs but I also love the big neck on a 59. I can always buy a pair of white PAFs but I can’t make the neck of that guitar any larger and I can’t make the extra holes in the headstock go away. My opinion? The first and most important element in an investment grade vintage guitar is originality. The first and most important element in a player grade guitar is tone and playability. A DW PAF sounds the same as a black one but a fat neck doesn’t feel like a skinny one. If you’re a collector, you buy the one with no holes. If you’re a player, you buy the one that sounds good to you and feels good to you. The only other issue is what is the Duane Allman connection worth? To me, unless there’s a picture of him playing it, nothing.

The Orange. You can call it whatever you want.

What Can I Do for You?

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

I’m wearing a couple of hats here which is a good thing considering how little hair I have left. On the one hand, I’m telling you everything I know about these great guitars. There are plenty of sites to go to for information about Stratocasters and Les Pauls but surprisingly few that offer up much useful information about the ES-335, 345 and 355. Considering how popular they are and how popular they have been throughout their long production run, there is a real dearth of information available.  I would hope that I’ve been responsive to your questions and comments and I hope I’ve helped you to decide which ES model you would like to own. The other hat is my dealer hat. That includes the appraiser hat and the authenticator hat. What I don’t want to be is just another dealer out there like every other dealer who buys low and sells high without too much regard for what they’re selling and for those spending their hard earned money. As a dealer, here’s what I can do for you. I can appraise your guitar from photos, letting you know how much it is worth at retail and how much a dealer might give you for it. If it’s a guitar I might be interested in, I will likely make you an offer for it. If you have a guitar but you don’t know what year it is or even what model it is, I can probably help you solve the mystery.  If you’re in the market for a particular guitar but you can’t locate it, I may be able to help you find one. I don’t charge for any of this. Zero, nada, zilch zip. The only thing you will pay for is if you buy one of the guitars I have for sale either here or in my Gbase store. If it’s a particularly valuable guitar, I’ll deliver it to you in person. I recently flew 2000 miles to “drop off” a guitar in Denver Colorado. If you’re selling a guitar that I might be interested in, I’ll come to you if you’re within driving distance. If you’ve got something of particular interest to me, I’ll get on a plane and fly to wherever you and the guitar happen to reside. Obviously, I won’t get on a plane to Pago Pago without seeing photographs and talking to you on the phone about the guitar first. I might even ask you for a “hostage photo” of the guitar. That’s a photo of the guitar with todays newspaper. Sometimes that’s the only way to prove you have it. While the vast majority of folks I’ve dealt with in my years of collecting have been honest and forthright, there have been one or two who have shown our species at its worst.  If you’re looking for a particular guitar at a particular price, I’ll try to help you find it. There are so many things that can go wrong with a guitar over the course of 50 or more years and I want to make absolutely certain that you get what you think you are getting and, when I’m the buyer, that I get what I’m expecting. That often requires an in hand inspection. Buying a guitar sight unseen is difficult and potentially disastrous. You may think you’re buying an original ’64 but just because the seller says its a 64 (I bought it when I joined the Army or I know I got it for my 12th birthday from my Aunt Gladys) doesn’t mean its a 64. A cleverly photographed modified 66 will look exactly like a 64 to you. It will to me too, except that I’ll know what shot of the guitar to ask for just to make sure. And don’t count on the serial number to keep a seller honest. Most of you know about Gibson serial numbers. I’ve known drug dealers that are more reliable. If you’re interested in one of my guitars you can make an appointment to come to New York and see it and play it. You can buy it and see if you like it and if you don’t, you’ve got 48 hours to return it to me. You will be responsible for only the shipping (both ways). If you have a trade, let me know. The worst I can say is no. I have no brick and mortar store but I have another (unrelated) business in New York City and I have space put aside with an amp where you can try any guitar out that’s in my inventory. All I need is a day or two notice so I can make certain the guitar is in New York. I’m pretty close 48th Street so while you’re here, you can take a walk to what used to be the center of the musical instrument world. It used to be wall to wall music shops but now it’s mostly Sam Ash.

Not all my guitars are Gibsons. I get trades all the time and they are often great fun and always interesting. I don't take in anything I can't have some fun with. I got to be George Harrison for a minute with this one.

Fun and Games on Ebay

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

This '60 looks pretty nice. Too bad about the extra holes and changed tuners.

This is a little self serving but everything in this post is the absolute truth. As Yogi would say, “You could look it up.”  Let’s say your in the market for a vintage ES-345 that you’re going to give to your wonderful brother for Christmas. He’s been really good to you and you want to get him a “Golden Era” ES-345. There are a lot of them out there on Ebay from the years 1959-1964 and there’s a tremendous price range-from around $6,000 all the way up to $16,995. Yikes. You’d like to get him one with PAFs, so let’s eliminate 1964. You’d like it to be as original as possible but you’ll accept a minor issue or two preferably something reversible like a changed part or 2. No refins or headstock breaks. We won’t even take into account the price differential between the various years even though the 59’s command a premium due to the great neck profile. So, what do we have that fills the bill. At the top of the price leader board is a red ’60. Not as desirable as a 59 but still a great guitar with a slimmer neck. And it’s red.  At $16,995, it’s in the ballpark for what a really top notch one should go for but it is top notch? Unfortunately, no. This one has issues that should drop the price by thousands.  The tuners have been changed and the holes enlarged. The harness isn’t original (but parts of it are included).

We all did some stupid things in the 70's and 80's. Like putting a coil tap in a 62 ES 345. Wrong case and Grovers make this a poor choice at nearly $17,000

So far, it seems pretty good. Uh, oh what’s this between the tone pots. Is that an extra hole? You bet it is and that knocks this guitar down below $10K no matter what condition its in. See my post about “The $10,000 hole”. One of the pickups is also missing its PAF label but I think we’ve already eliminated this one.  For the same $16,995, there’s a red 62 that looks promising. It’s a stoptail too which keeps the price up there but that’s because it’s more coveted than a Bigsby version. But on careful inspection (and careful reading), there are issues and, unfortunately, they aren’t minor. One of the pickups is a Duncan. That’s totally fixable but should knock the price down by a couple of thousand. Again, replaced tuners with enlarged holes. Not cheap to refill those holes. But, what’s this? A coil tap. Omigosh, it’s the 80’s again. Sorry, flashback. I thought I still had hair for a minute there. Once again, drill an extra hole in the top of one of these and you can kiss the vintage value goodbye forever. Next is probably the coolest looking of the bunch at $15,995. It’s a 1960 in sunburst. We all know that a Bigsby or other trem lowers the value by around 25%, especially if there are no stud holes under a “custom made plaque or pearl or other dots. Fortunately this one has stoptail studs under a couple of black inserts. And it’s got the sideways trem. Useless as a trem, but a great art deco look on this guitar, IMO. It appears to be 100% original-even the gold painted Varitone switch is probably factory-I’ve seen this on a few 345s. I think at $15,995, it’s within striking range of being a good value if this is what you want. But there are a couple more.

Here’s a stoptail 59 with a pair of PAFs for $13,900 and a start price of $11.5K. What’s wrong with this one considering it’s the most desirable year and a stop? Well, the Varitone has been pulled and a new harness has been put in. A fixable issue if you want the Varitone but many people pull them out anyway. The tuner tips have shrunken heads which is typical of 59’s. The condition is not as good as the ’60 but the lack of a trem more than makes up for that. A stop tail 1959 ES-345 is the most desired of all the 335s. A blonde one would be even more desirable but you won’t see one under $35,000. I have to say that this guitar is being sold by me but I told you I was being self serving. Why is it lower than the others and more complete than most and from the most desirable year? Simple. Because most sellers think it’s still 2007 and it isn’t.

There are few guitars that look cooler than an ES-345 with the "Buzz Lightyear" sideways trem. It's cool art deco vibe just works better on a 345 than any other model. It doesn't work worth a damn but it sure looks cool. Pricey for what it is, it's still a nice guitar with no issues.

I’ll keep saying it until the prices go back up. $16K+ for a 345 with issues like extra holes in the top is not going to fly in this market. $16K for a real nice one with a trem probably isn’t going to fly in this market. Why did I price mine where it is? Simple. The last 59 ES 345 to sell went for $14,900 (with changed tuners and a refret but double white PAFs). The one before went for $13.1K with changed tuners. So, what’s the market value for a stop tail 59 with minor issues? The real market tells us it’s between $13 and $15K. You can go downhill from there with later years and more issues. Finally, there’s a 60 with a Bigsby only for $8500. Well, if a 59 stop is worth an average of $13,500, lets

It's a 59 and it's a stoptail. All original except the harness has been pulled and a mono 335 harness has been installed. Full disclosure: This is my guitar.

start there. Knock off 25% for the Bigsby and you’re at around $10K. Still a good deal? Well, it isn’t a ’59, so knock off another $800-$1,000. Even though the listing says the new tuners used the original holes, I can see that new holes were drilled, so knock off a few hundred more. Also, the pickguard isn’t original. It should be a long guard and one of those will set you back $1000 if you can find one. So, at $8500, is this one the deal? Not to me but if $8500 is all you have, maybe you make him an offer. BTW, I owned this guitar a few years ago, so I’m not sure I believe his “working blues musician” thing. The pickups are PAFs but they aren’t original to this guitar. The case isn’t original because I still have the case it came in-which wasn’t original either. It may be correct, however. I sold this guitar in 2006 for $12,700.

At $8500., this PAF equipped Bigsby version 1960 ES 345 looks like, at first glance, a real winner. But is it really?

1961: The Year with (Almost) No Transitions

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

Check out the flame on the back of this 61 dot neck I found in Montana recently. Too bad the front doesn't have the same wood. This one's got a couple of issues but it's a great player in beautiful shape.

I’ve written about how much I love 59’s and 64’s because of the big fat necks and the wide fingerboards. Recently, I seem to be coming across an unusual number of 1961 ES guitars. In the last 2 weeks, I’ve picked up 2 ’61 dot necks in red, another in sunburst and a mint ’61 ES 345 that I mentioned in my last post. And, in the interest of full disclosure, I’m being a bit self serving here since I now have a bunch of 61’s to sell but, beyond that, there are elements particular to the 61’s that are worth noting. Most importantly, it’s the last year of the dot neck and, generally, it’s the most affordable. The collector market loves big necks and long magnet PAFs. The 61 has what I would describe as a wide flat neck. These guitars were made in the days before CNC machines and there can be quite a lot of difference from one neck to another, especially in terms of depth (front to back). The nut width can vary a bit too but all are all just about 1 11/16″. The depth can be anywhere from .75 to around .82. That’s a difference of seven one hundredths of an inch but you’d be surprised how different they feel. My wonderful red 59 345 (which I have now sold) has a depth at the first fret of around .86. That’s considered relatively fat. I had a 56 Les Paul goldtop that was .95″ at the first fret and felt like a baseball bat. I had trouble playing it. Besides the wide thin neck (that actually began in 1960), the pickups are the final iteration of the venerable and coveted PAF. By using a stronger magnet, the folks at Gibson were able to use a slightly shorter magnet (2.25″ as opposed to about 2.5″). That probably saved them .50 per guitar or something. There are those who like long magnet PAFs better and those who prefer short. At the same time, the windings became more consistent and the tone of a short magnet is more consistent. All of them sound good to me. With the more random long magnet, some are just OK, some are wonderful and a few are magic. That’s why folks like the long magnet. they will trade knowing they will get a great sounding pickup for the small chance that they will get one that defies the laws of nature. You pay a premium for that. Other than the pickups, the 61 is pretty much the same as a 60 but, they cost less. The pickups are different but that’s about it. On the 345, there is usually no difference at all between a 60 and 61.  The few 61’s I’ve had apart have had long magnet PAFs although I’m sure some have short magnets. But again, you will generally pay a bit  less for a 61 than a 60-all other things being identical. I could get into the hand soldered varitone switches with all separate components vs. the ones with 2 big multiple spec capacitors but I don’t think anyone cares about that. I think the change occurred in ’61. Now that I’ve been playing a 61 every day, I have to say I’ve gotten used to it. I had a 62 block neck a while back that had the same profile and I got used to that one too. I do find that my hand gets tired faster but I also seem to be able to solo a bit faster on the 61. A 61 can have a brown or a black case-that was the year of that transition and most will be Liftons. The knobs had already transitioned to reflectors in 1960.  The tuners are, of course Klusons with the 335s having single line double ring and the gold still being single ring (which remained for a few more years-I’ve seen them at least as late as 64. The bridges are still no wire and the 335 bridge pickup rout is not cut out yet. Perhaps the most significant change was in the way of displaying the serial number. In the first month or two of 1961, Gibson started to impress the serial number into the back of the headstock in addition to printing on the label inside the body.  The “A” prefix was also gone and Gibson started over again with the number 100.  So, all in all, not a year for transitions but, for some reason, a year for relative bargains.

There was one transition that took place in 1961. The serial numbers appear on the back of the headstock and on the label. Up until early 61, they only appear on the label with an "A" prefix.

More (Meandering) Musings on “Mint”

Friday, December 10th, 2010

I deal mostly with guitars that are between 52 and 46 years old. I might occasionally come up with something a little older but not often, seeing as how the 335 came out in 1958. I might talk about newer ES models but I don’t, as a rule, buy or sell them.  Maybe the occasional 80’s model. But my feelings about the “M” word apply pretty well to any old guitar. My last post about this showed that I have no wiggle room on the term “mint”. It is either “near mint” (or less) if it has any wear or age related issue at all and “mint” if it is as it was when it left the factory. When you’re dealing with a 50 year old item, mint cannot really exist, at least not according to my earlier definition. I recently acquired a 50 year old ES 345 that is virtually unplayed. No fret wear at all. The factory sander marks are still on the fingerboard. The case doesn’t have a single scrape and the lacquer is still on the brass latches. The finish is perfect. So what happened while this guitar was patiently sleeping in its case? The tuner buttons shrunk. I might add that the binding yellowed as well. Some of the shine has faded too. I guess I could add that it’s kind of dusty as well. Is the guitar mint? I’ll ask my readers to weigh in. Is it mint if it has, say, a little wear from hanging on the wall at the dealer before it was sold back in the early 60’s? A ding somewhere? A scrape in the handle on the case? From my perspective, if those things make a guitar less than mint, then there is no mint-which is fine but you see it in so many descriptions that perhaps there should be some kind of guideline other than “exactly as it left the factory” because, as I said,  that doesn’t exist. At least not in a vintage piece. Not even a guitar can hide from the ravages of time.  I’ve come across 2 guitars that were put away within a year of their purchase and neither has more than 20 or so hours of play according to the original owners from whom I bought them. One was poorly stored for 49 years and is heavily checked and the other was played very rarely but didn’t spend its life in the case. That guitar is the one that appears to be mint. I should qualify that a little. It has a ding in the binding but it’s still a good illustration since it has all the other things I mentioned. So, I think I’m safe to say “mint” and know that you’ll take the fact that the item is 50 years old into consideration as long as I disclose the shrunken tuners, the yellowed binding and, yes, the single ding. I know that kind of flies in the face of my earlier post but that’s the only way a mint 50 year old guitar is going to exist. These stunning and extraordinary examples that come to light with surprising frequency are worth separating from the pack (I’ve found 2 in the past 2 weeks). Guitars are unique in this way, I think. It’s an instrument that so many (boys especially) want to play and have wanted to play since Elvis came along that there are a gazillion of them out there. When these same boys realize that it takes a good bit of hard work to learn to play them well enough to get the girl, the guitar goes under the bed to be forgotten until either the owner dies and/or decides to “sell that dusty old thing” to someone who might appreciate it. That someone is me.