What’s More Important?

I'm not sure why anyone would paint their '62 dot neck this color. It's a nice color but it seems all wrong for this guitar. The real problem is that it's a killer player. As a dealer, I'm not supposed to fall in love with my guitars but this is astonishing. Why didn't they paint it, say, black? It looks a lot like Gibson's factory Sparkling Burgundy, actually. I don't know who painted it but it sure looks a lot like the SB 345 I had a while back.

This question comes up a lot. The whole question is “what’s more important-how it looks or how it plays (sounds)?” The answer isn’t a simple one. If you’re a collector, you really want both. A mint guitar that has a serious playing problem will be a lousy investment.  That’s why if you are paying top dollar, you buy from someone you trust or you play it first or you get an unconditional approval period. But supposing you have a refinished dot neck with all original parts that plays like a motherf**cker? The conventional wisdom is that it’s worth half but that’s not really fair in this case, the way I see it. Or suppose you have an all original finish 335 with no original parts that plays like a mofo. How do you put a value on this? There is certainly an advantage to the latter since correct parts are readily available but you can’t unrefinish a guitar. I had a dead mint 61 not long ago that I really wasn’t enamored of. It looked great but it was kind of plunky. It just wouldn’t sustain. But, by the conventional wisdom, that one is worth at least double the others. I think we need to start stressing the tonal and playability aspects of these expensive and collectible guitars a bit more. Part of the problem is, of course, that it’s so freakin’ subjective. I might find a certain guitar blows me away but you might say “ehhh”. I wrote about all those descriptive adjectives that are so rampant in the Ebay listings and came to the conclusion that it’s all pretty meaningless. Until I see a listing that says “looks great but sounds like a piece of crap” I’m going to be wary of the tonal hyperbole.  There are plenty of great looking guitars that play great as well. I recently acquired a blonde ES-345 that I wrote about. Great shape, great player-no problem. All systems go. But I also just got a refinished candy apple red early 62 dot neck that plays like God himself built it (I don’t think he painted it though). It isn’t the best sounding 335 I ever played but it just plays so damn well. Perfect intonation, great neck, perfect action, loads of sustain and a fret job to die for. If I swap out the pickups, I’ll bet I can get this to sound like it was built by God as well. Another set of PAFs? Maybe but it’s still a refinished guitar. Maybe that set of Sheptones that’s just sitting around? In any case, I know I can make this into a killer guitar but how do you assess its value? It plays better than at least 90% of the guitars I’ve had this year but I have to value it so far below the market that it just doesn’t seem fair. I suppose I could part it out, get back my investment and rebuild it with repro parts and keep it as a player. This is the better problem to have, I think. Can you imagine paying top dollar for a mint 335 (sight unseen, of course) and have it sound like that old Teisco you had when you were 13? It happens. It’s fortunate that these guitars are so consistent-the chances of you getting a bad one are pretty slim and almost zero when you buy one thats got some serious player wear. But that refin you can buy for $9000 has every chance of sounding as good as that mint one for $25,000. Better, in fact because someone had to have played it enough to have it need a refinish or liked it enough to spend the money to change the color. But Candy Apple Red? Not black? Or white? or Pelham blue? really? In the end, most of us play our guitars more than we sit around looking at them. My conclusion? I’d rather have a great sounding guitar than a great looking one but they aren’t mutually exclusive. I’d really rather have a great sounding guitar that looks incredible too. Where’s that old red 59 345 I used to own?

4 Responses to “What’s More Important?”

  1. Mike says:

    Can’t see enough or closely to tell, but could it be a Gibson..maybe even Custom Shop… re-fin?

  2. OK Guitars says:

    Not a chance. First of all, it would have to be a Nashville because thats the only one with the pickup rout done the old way. Second, it would have different ears. Gibson still can’t do the correct Mickey Mouse ears of the pre 63’s. Then why would anyone got to the trouble of refinning a $4000 and putting all correct 62 vintage parts on it? So, no.

  3. gilvis says:

    “most of us play our guitars more than we sit around looking at them.” The play/looking at guitar ratio for me breaks down something like: .05% playing/99.5% looking at. That said, however, The visual experience is in no small way enhanced by my knowledge (or opinion… At least) that approximately 99.5% the ones I’m looking at are exceptionally great players and either sound great or probably sound great. Hey Charlie (Joe 33 SG 5)
    oh yeah… who me?… cryptic? That makes you Joe 335 with the middle name – SG. Hope all is well. Best, Gil

  4. OK Guitars says:

    Hey Gil-I was talking to Jim Rolph the other day and he said to say hi. I actually never look at the guitars except to see what is original and what isn’t and occasionally to study the small construction details. Yeah, maybe my middle name is SG. I wrote to you looking to buy your flock of 64s and never heard back. Now that I bought that blondie 345, I don’t have any money left. I do play every night for an hour or so and because I keep all my guitars in their cases, I can’t remember the last time I just admired one for longer than 30 seconds. I think your statement about the visual experience being enhanced by knowledge is a great truth. That’s why I write this stuff. I’m proud to have someone of your stature (how tall are you?) reading my posts. And yeah, you are cryptic but that’s not a bad thing.

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