How Original is “All Original”

This is what original frets look like. Ideally, the "nibs" should be there all the way up and down the 'board on both sides. They usually aren't because of wear but if the top ones show them and the wire and wear make sense, then you can be pretty certain that a partial fret job wasn't done. This is an early 65 ES-355.

You’ve all seen it again and again. 100% original!! All original!! Just like it left the factory!!  And so on. This gets a little nitpicky but bear with me. In my experience, I’ve never seen a vintage 335 or 345 that is 100% original. That would mean it still had the original strings on it, right? OK, it’s silly, to be sure. but where do you draw that arbitrary line in the sand?  We  all understand that the strings are an “expendable” as we say in the film business. They wear out-they get replaced. Nobody cares. Like a light bulb. But is that the end of it? Plenty of things wear out including saddles, bridges, frets, fingerboards, tuners and tuner buttons and even knobs and pickguards. Myself, my line is drawn at the strings and, maybe, the saddles. I, for one, have a hard time telling if they are original or simply correct. Its usually pretty obvious when they don’t match but unless you’re dealing with a mint or near mint piece, I don’t think it matters much.  I don’t have a big problem with replaced tuner buttons either, although that should always be disclosed-even if you only suspect that they have been replaced. Go back and read my post entitled “Shrunken Heads”. That brings us to frets-another subject I’ve offered up in the past and here’s that post. Why should frets be any different than strings? They wouldn’t be if every fret job went to a competent luthier but there is a huge range of talent out there from brilliant technicians who elevate the refret to an art form to amateur hacks who should ever be allowed to wield a fret file. Always ask for photos and if it has had a fret job, it isn’t 100% original.  As I said,  I think I draw the line at the strings. But, on the other hand, I don’t have much of a problem with parts that are correct on anything but a museum quality piece. Yes, it’s nice to have a guitar that is all original but these are, for the most part, mass produced parts. It’s tough to have a favorite volume knob-they are all the same. And you couldn’t tell anyway if one had been replaced early in the life of the guitar. For sure, when one looks new and the rest have the letters worn off them, you might want to question the originality but, in general, I will accept correct in place of original.  I’ve had more than one argument over that-especially with regard to pickups. It all gets figured into the price of the guitar and it all gets disclosed to a potential buyer. I get kind of excited when I come across a mint guitar with all the case candy intact and a set of flatwounds on it. That usually means little or no fretwear and a player who was likely not a rocker (do rockers abuse their guitars more than jazzers? You bet). But I wouldn’t go nuts obsessing over original v correct because there is no way to know in most cases. Yes, there the solder joints for the electronics and wear patterns for the knobs and pickup covers. You can usually tell a refret from the bindings and the fret wire condition vi a vis the wear on the guitar. But a correct bridge? Or saddles? Or stoptail/Bigsby? Or tuners? Good luck. I’m a pretty good detective but I’m not that good. All you can ask yourself, as a buyer, is this: “Am I happy with the guitar considering what I paid”  If the answer is yes, then sit down and play.

Take a look at the saddles on this 59 ES-345. The A string saddle in definitely not original, nor is the screw but what about the rest of them. 52 years is a long time not to lose a saddle or two on a no wire ABR-1 especially on a guitar that was really played like this one. And yes, I can see that this is a wired ABR-1 that is missing its wire. I never said it was 100% original!!

One Response to “How Original is “All Original””

  1. RB says:

    What a sore subject you’ve touched on … originality colliding with honesty. Why don’t sellers just say up front what’s been changed, replaced, or repaired and allow buyers to decide what to do next? Always seek an approval period. Okay, sometimes sellers don’t really know that much about originality … same goes for buyers. Again, this is where a 3rd party person — without a vested stake in a possible transaction and who does know about the guitar — can really help out. Ignorance isn’t bliss.

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