Get What You Pay For- Part One

This is a good example of a great player that is seriously compromised as an investment but what a player. Bigsby holes and a misplaced stoptail took the value of this 63 from around $12000 down to around 8000 or 33%.

When you buy a vintage guitar like a 335, you are buying the sum of its parts and then some. Unlike a car, when you break down a vintage guitar purchase, the parts will add up to less than the total value of the guitar. The reason for this is simply that a vintage piece is much more than the sum of its parts. A vintage guitar is something that, at best, has survived 50 or more years with no changes in a world where modifications are rampant. After all, the removable parts of a 58-63 PAF equipped 335  are worth the same on a beater as they are on a museum piece of the same year with small variations for condition. The part of the equation that has the huge variation is the husk. Husk? What’s a husk? It’s the wood. Nothing will lower the value of a vintage piece faster than a compromised husk. How does a guitar’s husk get compromised and how does it affect the value?  Some answers are pretty easy. A broken/repaired neck will immediately cut the value in half. So will a refinish. The hard stuff to evaluate is the little things. Bigsby holes. Tuner holes. Coil tap holes. Cracks in the wood in a non stress location. Cracks in a stress location. Necks that need straightening. Fingerboards that need planing or filling. These are much harder to evaluate, especially when the rest of the guitar is in great shape. If you’re a player who wants a great sounding guitar that will give years of great service and still retain its value might want to look at one of these compromised pieces. I recently sold 2 very similar 61 dot necks. One was a no issue guitar and the other had three little holes from a Bigsby B6. Both were solid 9.0 guitars. Really, the only difference was the three tiny holes. The difference in price? $5000. I suggest that both will hold their value but the uncompromised one will be more likely to appreciate and you pay for that. To a player who is going to keep the guitar for years and probably add considerably to the wear and tear makes a smart decision to buy the guitar with the issues. Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast set of rules for evaluating compromised husks. You could certainly make the statement that the more holes it has that don’t belong, the less it is worth but it really doesn’t work that way. A “Groverized” 335 can have as many as 12 extra holes in the headstock but the vintage value only drops by around 10%. My ’61 with the 3 little holes dropped in value by 22% (although I don’t think it should have dropped that much). I’ve sold a lot of 64’s lately and they point out the seriousness of holes in the top rather than somewhere else. I sold a very nice 64 original, no issue stop tail for $15,000 recently. The typical 64 with Bigsby holes-4 at the butt and two in the top  might go for $11,000 or a 25% drop. None of these issues change the tone of the guitar. They are purely cosmetic. The fussiness of the collector who will pay a tremendous premium for a no issue guitar does a great service for the player. He helps to put these guitars with compromised wood and uncompromised tone into the hands of player. Want an even bigger drop? Find a vintage 335 with holes where they don’t usually have holes-like a coil tap or mini switch somewhere on the top of the guitar. I don’t deal with these very often but I’ve seen enough of them to know that they can knock as much as 40 or even 50% off the value of the guitar. What about cracks? As I wrote in an earlier post, it depends on where the crack is. A split along the grain in a non stressed area makes very little difference in the value. Wood will do that over time as it dries out and while I’d rather have a guitar that is immaculate, a split along the grain line in the side of the guitar or almost anywhere else that isn’t the heel or the headstock or the top is going to be relatively benign. It also won’t affect the price very much unless there are signs that the crack came from some kind of outside stress like a flood, being dropped or high levels of heat. Finish checking is a crack in the finish. Most collectors accept checking as a non issue. I’m not entirely sure why this is the case. I guess if collectors are going to discount a refinished guitar by 50%, they have to accept the ravages of time on a lacquer finish. Now, consider this:  You’re presented with a gorgeous collectible museum quality instrument with a backbow in the neck. Other than that, it’s dead mint. What does that do to the value? I’ll look into this in the second part of this post which will follow in the next day or two.

This is an interesting example of what I'm talking about. This has Bigsby holes and a repaired hole from an output jack on the side and a repaired hole from a moved strap button. The asking price on Ebay-which has been lowered quite a few times is around $30,000. If this guitar didn't have the holes, I would expect the asking price to be at least $45,000. That's $15,000 worth of holes or 33%. I don't think the seller will get his $30,000, however. That's not an opinion about whether it's priced correctly, that's an assessment of the people who buy these.

6 Responses to “Get What You Pay For- Part One”

  1. Jeffrey D says:

    Hey man great site,,, how do i tell if my 335 is an original stop tail??


  2. OK Guitars says:

    If you have a 335 with both a Bigsby and stoptail studs, it doesn’t really matter if it was once a “stoptail only” as the damage is done. That said, there are a few things that might tell you more. If the guitar is red, the metal inserts that the studs screw into will usually have some red finish on them because they are painted after the inserts are installed. For a sunburst, it’s a little harder. Look for lacquer on the top edge of the insert. If the Bigsby isn’t the correct Bigsby-it should be a B7 with the word “short” on the back and the initials LP. I don’t know what these mean but they are always there. If it’s the wrong Bigsby, then it isn’t factory and the guitar could be an original stop. Of course, there are no original stops after early 1965 (until the late 70’s)

  3. PHILBERT says:

    Thanks for a great site. I just found it and am enjoying it very much. I do have one point of debate, though.

    “The fussiness of the collector who will pay a tremendous premium for a no issue guitar does a great service for the player.”

    Sorry, I don’t see it that way. He has money to pay premiums that drive the price much higher for everyone who wants one of these, mint condition or otherwise. All go up substantially, as a result. Here is my story (pretty common, really):

    As someone who was weaned on rock music from the mid 60’s to the mid 70’s, I can appreciate the contributions that golden era Gibson guitars made on the sound of great music through and beyond that period. Since I was very young I began to dream about having them all, from the Les Paul to the SG, Flying V, Explorer, and ES-335 to name a few. I was then, and still am now, obsessed with those guitars and the tones they make. They all inspire my musical creativity, which I was gifted with from an early age. All I had for years was a piano, but it opened the creative door early on. By age seven I knew I wanted to play these guitars. And we all knew back then that the Norlin era of Gibson was the death of quality guitars from the golden era. Such a shame! But how does a youngster make that dream come true when he has no serious money, demand is surging upward, and the production of quality guitars ceased when he was just five years old?

    As I came of age to play in my first band, I had all I could do to get an “end of the scale” ’68 SG. I cut my teeth on that guitar and played the neck off of it! Then I lost it when I needed to eat and pay rent after my “no risk/no gain” move to Florida in the early 90’s. It was a good career move, though. Then comes the family thing, and it would seem impossible to get that collection going…once again.

    Fast-forward ten years (after my career stabilizes and my family is well on its feet)… We have a “new Gibson” era of guitars available with semi-accurate (some not very accurate) reissues to choose from. The main wood factor is really not there though, is it? Vintage golden era guitars were still too high to touch, so I start a collection of new reissue guitars, but they’re not the same. They’re such a disappointment in so many ways. The new “Henry owned” Gibson is not listening to what guys like me want, and they are playing marketing games instead of really re-creating the golden era designs. Expensive too, if you compare what a golden era piece cost back in the day (inflation adjusted). How disappointing! Add to that the “Blue Chip Boom” that happened on vintage prices and it just seems I’ll never be able to get just one piece from that era, much less my dream collection.

    Now that the bubble has (pardon the pun) “burst”, and prices are coming down, the economy squeeze is still holding me back. I’m lucky to have a job, but let me tell ya that my employer is saying the same thing (even though they keep showing record profits year after year). Getting a raise anytime soon? How about a pay-cut! It’s getting hard to maintain the family and house anymore! So, just how and when am I going to make this happen??? It would be nice to enjoy some of these golden era guitars before I’m either too old to play them or I’m dead.

    I have come to the conclusion that I need to look for either husks of what I want, or undesirable basket case guitars that no collector or “well-off” person wants. Just give me the damn wood! Let’s start with an ES-335. What are the most undesirable features that lower the value? Forget the real narrow nut width of 1 9/16 (been there…done that…with the ’68 SG…my fingers are getting too fat these days), so it has to be an early to mid ’65 or lower year. If a refin cuts value by 50%, I’m there! Call me sacrilegious, but I would prefer to have it re-done so it looks like new anyway. Hell, I might even have it done in polyurethane so it stays looking like new! (I know, boo…hiss) The later lacquer tended to yellow, crack and fall off, and I really could care less about that “Mojo” stuff (rolleyes). A Bigsby hurts value? Give it to me! I like ‘em! Slim neck is a detractor, you say? Works for me! Someone stole the PAF’s or early patent number pickups out of it? I don’t care, because there are great alternatives available today and it will save me thousands. Coil-tap switch holes? I could make use of those! Frets worn to the bone? Easy fix! But breaks and stress cracks in critical areas are out. So are enlarged tuning peg holes! None of that, as I want it to end up looking mostly original and NOS. With all the remaining old, crusty and modded guitars that must be out there, surely there is one that I can afford and restore. This is the only way I can see to get that dream collection going, cause Henry never did it, ain’t gonna do it, and is now going totally Norlin (all over again) on us. Unless Ganz buys them out, I can’t see it getting any better. (laughs)

    So where can I find these “issues” guitars? I have been looking, but dealers only seem to sell prime to near prime examples. Where are the bargain “issues” guitars?

    I’m looking for something like this:

    Mid 1962 to mid 1965 ES-335
    Nut width of 1 12/16” to 1 10/16”
    Refinish or bad to no finish ok
    Slim to fat neck ok (prefer slim to mid)
    Bigsby or trapeze tail preferred (will be a Bigsby tail when done)
    No wood damage that can’t be restored
    No breaks or stress crack repairs in vital areas (headstock, neck, joint area…)
    No enlarged tuning peg holes (will use original Kluson double-rings)
    PAF’s or early patent number pickups removed (unless really affordable)
    Coil tap switch holes would be ok, if done neatly

    Can anyone direct me to where I can get such a beast? I would like the final cost of the restored piece to be no more than 5K. Maybe that is impossible, but I’m trying.

    In the end, I’m a player that wants to get a nice sounding and looking guitar from that era. Doesn’t have to be “all original”, except for where it matters…the wood and construction. The rest can be restored, and that works for me…as long as I can afford it.

  4. OK Guitars says:

    Don’t spend too much time looking at the prices on Ebay or Gbase. they are almost all dreaming. I’ve sold 100% complete pre 65 ES-335s for $5000-$6000. Granted, they had issues-like a refin or a few filled holes or a headstock repair but they were complete. Pickups and all. I sold a dot neck with a headstock repair and unopened PAFs for $6500. I had a 65 big neck with a reset that I sold for $5K with no other issues. If you have enough money to buy a new Historic, you can get into vintage. It won’t be an investment piece but it won’t be a POS either. You have to look every day and be persistent. How do you think I find the guitars that I sell?

  5. PHILBERT says:

    Your giving me hope, Charlie. Thank you! Much more hope than I expected. I just can’t see the value in anything new like a Historic (not going to waste my money on one), but if I can get a nice player with good original pickups for 5K, I’m in. 😀

  6. OK Guitars says:

    Unless we can find you a refin or something with a good repair, a 65 or earlier 335 for $5000 is a tall order. Unaltered 345s and stereo 355s might be easier to find but even those are going to be more than $5K if you want one with a wide nut.

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