Get What You Pay For: Part Two

I discussed guitars with extra holes and holes where they don’t belong but how do you assess the value of a guitar with no obvious issues like the ones I discussed but with other problems that may or may not be repairable. Years ago, I had a 59 dot neck that had a back bow in the neck. The truss was all the way  loose but the neck just wouldn’t straighten out without some larger intervention. I had purchased the guitar sight unseen and, even with the undisclosed issue, felt I had paid a reasonable price. As a seller, I suppose the smart thing to do is to have the guitar repaired by someone who knows how to do these things before the guitar goes up for sale but supposing you come across one on the open market? Well, first of all, don’t expect the seller to disclose it. But if you are lucky enough to find one in an estate sale or a pawn shop, you should know how to assess what to pay for it. First, I’ll say this: A good luthier should be able to fix a neck issue. Sometimes, it’s just a truss rod tweak, other times its a “compression” refret or “steaming” or planing the fingerboard to remove a hump or bump. The good news is that the repair doesn’t cost thousands of dollars. It should cost hundreds unless the entire neck has to be replaced. If the guitar in question is an expensive 335 or 345, it may be well worth the effort and expense to have the work done. You could save thousands on the price of the guitar. Pawn shops are generally pretty negotiable but if you come across a great looking 335 being sold privately, you should be able to get a substantial price reduction. Anyone can see a poorly adjusted neck. Just sight down the fingerboard and if you see a hump, bow, backbow or twist, then you know it needs work. There is a point where it becomes impossible to repair and it should be fairly obvious to you or the seller when that point is reached. If you can see the problem without sighting down the neck, it’s probably major and you might want to walk away. The luthiers are going to tell me that they can fix anything-and perhaps they can-but use some judgement. I would expect at least 20% off the price for a neck issue that’s clearly repairable and as much as 50% off one that has a problem that might require more drastic measures. Wood is not a very stable substance and over time it will change shape (or crack or discolor or shrink). A 50 year old piece of solid wood-like a neck-is going to go through some changes in its lifetime. Approach it with some caution and a bit of knowledge and you could snag yourself a great guitar that will eventually play as well as any once someone with the proper skills is through with it.  The final thing I want to address is issues with the finish.  The most common one is damage from being in contact with something made of plastic-like a cord (especially the coiled ones everybody used during the 60’s and 70’s). Certain types of plastic will melt the finish a cause it to become sticky and permanently disfigured. Water is the other enemy of the nitrocellulose lacquer finish. It will cause the lacquer to flake right off. Neither of these issues is going to affect the playability but both are going to affect the vintage value, so you should be ready to negotiate when you see them. A tiny area of “cord rash” isn’t going to devalue the guitar much but a heavily flaking finish will. Wet wood is not happy wood and water damage can go a lot deeper than just a flaking finish. It can wreak havoc on the electronics and can cause the plywood to delaminate. You can’t see the delamination if its the bottom layer. My approach is simple. If the guitar has been wet, I don’t buy it. Period. I may miss a deal or two along the way but so be it. A delaminated plywood guitar is not something you want. Take a look at the effect water had on the guitars in the Nashville flood and you’ll see why lacquer, glue and water are not happy together. A minor “bubble” in the lamination is fixable but if the glue between the plies has given it up, you have a seriously compromised guitar. As far as minor finish damage goes, I might ask for a small discount from a seller but I am likely to just leave it alone and not attempt to have it repaired. I consider it just another battle scar like a ding or a scratch. I don’t put a “per scratch” value on a guitar and I don’t consider a little finish damage to be much more than that. This is a good time to remind my readers that this blog constitutes my opinion on these matters. Use your own judgement and assess every guitar on its merits. That ’59 with the backbow was repaired and was my main player for a number of years. I expect it’s still out there being played.

9 Responses to “Get What You Pay For: Part Two”

  1. RB says:

    “Get What You Pay For” … good reading and sound advice, as always. Getting full disclosure from vintage guitar sellers isn’t always easy but SHOULD be expected. The ignorance argument, both for seller and buyer, doesn’t hold water these days. I can’t handle the risk of buying “sight unseen”. Guess I’ll never buy an expensive collectible vintage guitar on eBay or Craigslist unless seller has high credentials and a 48-hour approval period. For me at least, buying vintage guitars requires 3rd party help to assess condition, originality, and playability.

  2. OK Guitars says:

    That’s the best advice for anyone to follow. The ES-335/345/355 market is a treacherous place. I would say that more than half the guitars listed on Ebay and Craigslist are either dated wrong or are erroneously described as “original” when they aren’t. Some of the dealers are no better. There’s a lot to know about any vintage guitar but 335’s are particularly difficult. The 48 hour return policy is essential. When you get a new guitar, take it apart and try to date every single component. Look everywhere for any sign of repair or repaint. Look for stress cracks. Look for signs that “something ain’t right” like wear on the frets but no wear anywhere else. Or heavy wear on the back of the neck and no fret wear. Or a perfect finish and a beat up, worn fingerboard. These may not signify a problem but it’s worth asking about them. Use common sense and do your research-you can do most of it here. Finally, make sure you like the guitar. You can usually return it just because you “don’t love it.”

  3. RB says:

    Common sense and due diligence go hand in hand. That can all come together at one of the 5 or 6 big guitar shows every year in the USA (maybe one more now in Brooklyn, right CG?). Those shows, like the big one in Dallas this weekend, are excellent venues for talking about vintage guitars, looking at and playing vintage guitars, as well as making great contacts. I’ve found that if you’re polite and patient, just about every dealer will spend some time with you (one on one) and talk about guitars and show you some of what they know. This is especially true on Friday or whatever the setup day is. I mean some of these guys have been playing, buying and selling guitars for 30, 40, and 50 years. What a resource. Not to mention the stories. And who knows, you might just find a “holy grail” guitar there.

  4. Phil says:

    Unfortunately it will be difficult for me to follow these advices as I live in Europe and here the market is small and mostly overpriced, so I am almost “forced” to buy vintage guitars in the states in order to have realistic prices. As consequence every vintage guitar I buy is a “sight-unseen” as things like “48 hour return policy” don’t apply for oversea shipments. The only thing I can do is to buy from high credentials dealers.

  5. OK Guitars says:

    You are right. Even with a 48 hour return policy, it can be hard when the shipping is so expensive. But a few hundred dollars is a small price to pay for the right to return the guitar. I don’t get a lot of returns but my policy applies to any country I sell guitars to. The 48 hours begins when its in your hands.

  6. Phil says:

    That’s good to hear that you offer that. But how are the taxes handled? I have to pay taxes when the guitar arrives. So do I get them somehow back when I’m returning it? And don’t you have to pay taxes when you receive a returned item from outside the US?

  7. RB says:

    “Bon Chance” with getting a refund on taxes paid to any government entity these days. Don’t forget … it’s “their” money.

  8. OK Guitars says:

    That’s a good question. I assume it’s something you would have to apply for from your government. I’ve only had one guitar returned from and I’m not sure how that was handled.

  9. OK Guitars says:

    Alas, that’s probably true. All the more reason to deal with a seller you trust.

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