Refins Redux (not Reflux)

This is the best playing, best sounding dot neck I've had this year. I'm not even sure it's a nitro finish although I think it is. And for half the price of an all original, somebody got a world class instrument for $10,000 less than he might have paid. Luck? Maybe but refins are always a lot cheaper and can be the best value out there.

As a vintage dealer with a very narrow product line, I get to see trends in a kind of microcosm. The trend I’m seeing is that refinished vintage pieces are becoming awfully popular. It seems every time I get a “Golden Era” 335/345/355 in the house and I price it at the usual 50% off that a refin has typically commanded, the guitar is gone in a day. Let’s figure out why that would be. The antique automobile industry accepts repainted cars without batting an eye while the antique furniture folks are almost as rigid as the guitar collectors. What’s wrong with a refinish and why does it merit such a drastic reduction in price? To answer that, I think we need to examine what it is that makes these “original” guitars so desirable. First off, I don’t buy into the idea that a refin wrecks the tone. If you can tell the difference in tone between a 50 year old nitro finish and a 20 year old one, then you have much better ears than I do. And, while I don’t recommend buying a 335 with a thick poly finish, I’m not sure how different it would sound.  I’ve never seen or heard one. But consider this-a 59 dot neck might currently sell in the high $20K range (although plenty of dealers still think $40,000 is the right price). Is a refin (especially a good nitro pro refin) worth a $14,000 reduction? If that’s true why then is a 64 refin only compromised by $7,000 or so. If you buy guitars with the idea of investing, then you are probably bound, to an extent, by the conventions of the collector, meaning the finish is going to count for 50%. But if you buy them to play and to appreciate how good these old guitars are, I don’t think a properly executed refinish is going to diminish your enjoyment by very much if at all. The best vintage dot neck I’ve had this year was a refin. One of the better block necks was also a refin. That refinned block neck went for only slightly more than a new Historic. There was no comparison to any modern Gibson. It was an absolute gem and somebody bought it for about half it’s non refinished value. Even if the guitar is refinished, it’s going to rise and fall with the market. let’s say I bought a brand new Historic for $4700 and I bought, say, a refinished big neck 65 for the same price. Which one will be worth more in five years? The 65 by a wide margin, IMO. In fact, the Historic probably won’t catch up to the 65 for 40 or 50 years. Which one is going to sound better? I dunno, depends on the guitar but I think the odds favor the 65 (even if its a trap tail). There are an awful lot of people who feel that they can hear the most subtle differences in tone caused by things like the finish or the type of rosewood in the fingerboard or the tailpiece. I’m not going to cast doubt on their perceived abilities, I’ll just say that I have very good ears and I don’t hear it. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that a pro refinished 64 is probably going to sound the same as an original one. An amateur refinish might sound as good as well but it will probably look like crap and that has to count for something. So, as desirable as an all original finish 58-early 65 “Golden Era” 335 is, if the only way you’re going to get your hands on one is to buy one that’s compromised, a pro refinished one can be an excellent (but not the only) choice.  One word of caution-be wary of solid color refinishes because they can hide a lot of other problems but just because a guitar is painted a solid color doesn’t mean it’s been broken. Just be aware that it’s a possibility. I know a doctor who x-rayed his refinished SG Custom to see if the neck had been cracked. It worked and the guitar was intact. We’ll look at other “compromised” 335s in the weeks ahead in the hope of connecting you with the guitar that you can afford. And I’ll leave you with a question. Considering the conventional wisdom, if a vintage guitar has had a headstock repair and a refin is it’s value diminished by 50% for the break and another 50% for the refin?

This was another cool refin that showed up recently. It was a factory refinished 65 ES-355 that sounded excellent and looked very cool as well. I'm pretty sure I underpriced this one by a lot.

Leave a Reply

Optionally add an image (JPEG only)