Oooh, That Smell.

Go ahead. Give me one good reason why this isn't a vintage guitar. It's 33 years old so I think it qualifies as old wood. If you were collecting vintage back in 1991, that would have been a '58, so don't go drawing any lines. It's vintage. But is it any good?

No this isn’t a post about old guitar cases which really do have that smell and I haven’t gone on a Lynyrd Synyrd bender.  I really should write a post about how to get rid of  that smell but I haven’t yet figured out how to get rid of it. What I’m really talking is about is what makes a vintage guitar, well, vintage. The smell actually has something to do with it. I believe that a lot of what makes vintage guitars so revered is in our collective heads. If you blindfolded me and played an old guitar and then a new guitar-through the same amp-I’d be hard pressed to tell you which one was vintage. I could tell you which one sounds better but it won’t always be the vintage one. I bring this up because, in our quest for the GHT (Guitar Holy Trinity-Tone, playability and appreciation) we often get a little caught up in our own passion. Here’s an example: I don’t mess with modern pickups very much because I don’t mess with modern guitars very much. When I bought that blonde ES-345, the seller threw in a couple of Sheptone PAFs which he had lying around and had no use for. I put them in the parts bin and didn’t give it another thought. A couple of weeks ago, I bought a 62 SG husk (with the sideways and the plastic) and decided to put it back together using all correct parts. It had a great neck and feel but had had some minor work done on the neck joint (what else is new?). I had all the correct parts including a pair of PAFs which I loaded up. If I’m recalling correctly, these came out of a trashed 62 335. I’d never heard them in a 335 but they didn’t blow me away in the SG. So, I went to a pair of early patent numbers that I know sounded good in a 335 because I had them in a converted 59 345 for months before I came up with a set of PAFs for it. But in the SG, they just sounded ehh. So, wtf, I thought to myself. Is this just a bad sounding piece of old wood or do some pickups sound better in one guitar than they do in another? So, what the heck, it’s easy to swap out pickups in an SG and I put the Sheptones in and boi-oi-oing-there was the tone. The guitar still felt like vintage with the rounded over binding and smooth as a baby’s butt frets and ‘board. It still smelled vintage-that combination of old wood, mildew, sweat, nitro and cigarette smoke and now, with its non vintage pickups, it sounded vintage. OK, vintage isn’t really a sound. It sounded great. So, I’ve decided that perhaps a good bit of the vintage cachet really is the feel and the smell. I’ll bet not one of you readers could tell the difference in tone playing a vintage 335 with modern hardware vs one with original hardware. I even think we could sneak in a good set of modern PAFs like Jim Rolph’s or Shep’s or Throbaks and you still might not hear it. There may be something to the “old wood” concept but I think there more to “vintage feel” than most of us are willing to admit. Hey, a 1978 ES-335 is “old wood” and it feels vintage (sort of) but I don’t see anybody ponying up $15K for one. All right then, what is it we’re looking for? I think it’s relevant that 90% of my clients who buy guitars from me are between the ages of 50 and 62. So, is it possible that they are merely trying to recapture a piece of lost youth? Of course it is. On the other hand, I’ve played a 78 ES-335 and it sounded like shit and weighed a ton. I’m sure there’s a lot more to say about this and I intended it to be a bit controversial, so comment away. I can take it. After living with that damn smell, I can take almost anything.

I can smell this one from here. Whew! That's nasty. Yes, I know, it's a Les Paul case. Still smells the same. Actually, I pulled this off of Ebay. The seller says to use the photos to determine the condition. To me, that says "it's a good thing you can't smell the photos"

7 Responses to “Oooh, That Smell.”

  1. Retreads says:

    After much consternation and consultation, I finally was able to get that smell out of an old case. I doubt that the later methods would have worked without many of the earlier methods. Here were the things I did, in order of effectiveness:

    1. Baking soda into the fabric and left in the hot sun (case closed)
    2. Vacuum
    3. Left in the bright sun (case open)
    4. Dryer Sheets (case closed overnight)
    5. Remekins of pure vanilla extract (carefully placed inside case and left over night). Imitation vanilla won’t do.

    There you have it. From death to cookies in five annoying steps.

  2. OK Guitars says:

    I did the first four but didn’t want my case to smell like dessert. The case open in the sun seemed to do the most.

  3. Retreads says:

    True on the desserts, and I agree that the most improvement came after the open/sun phase. My local vintage dealer claims that the best way to remove the smell is to freeze the case in a chest freezer overnight. I have neither a chest freezer nor the desire to find out what unfortunate things happen to a 50 year old case in said freezer, so I can’t speak to the veracity of this method.

  4. OK Guitars says:

    I’m guessing what we’re trying to do is kill a very old and persistent mold. I’m not sure freezing will do that as I think moisture is the key. Last I checked it was pretty moist in the freezer. My wife would kill me if I stuck a smelly old guitar case in the freezer anyway.

  5. Jonne says:

    Yes, the mold is the worst. I’ve got few cases smelling quite bad but one from my ’65 Epi Riviera was the worst. I tried all the methods mentioned in prevoius posts during several years but nothing worked. If the freeze would work, there wouldn’t be any mold houses here in Finland – the cold just makes the mold molecules closing/shutting down for awhile.

    Finally I took it to a pro company who cleans apartments from mold and he gave 2 spray treatments of “oxygenless hydrogen peroxide” – not sure about translation…. It took a week while keeping it drying and doing it again. The mold smell was gone but now there’s a big smell of peroxide. It’s been now since 7 weeks and peroxide smell is still there but fading slowly, but so far I haven’t noticed any smell of mold.

  6. OK Guitars says:

    Truthfully, I’d rather smell peroxide than mold. I’d also rather breathe peroxide than mold. The mold can kill you-well maybe not guitar case mold but it won’t do you any good.

  7. Dee says:

    Hi, i just finished an old 1950’s-60’s molding swelling with blue fur lined Guitar case. The smell is GONE by using fragrant forming carpet cleaner used for pet traffic. Repaired all the holes with fabric i trimmed off from under the lid of the compartment. Removed built of grunge and paint! It’s a thing of beauty…. with some worn spots☺

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