2012 ES Year in Review

Hot ticket item? Red big neck stoptail 63's and 64's. These don't ever last a week in my hands. Get 'em while they're hot.

I never buy and generally never consult the Vintage Guitar Price Guide or the Blue Book. I think the last one I bought was in 2009. It is my belief that they are trying to do the impossible which is to put some kind of market value on virtually every guitar made in the past 100 years. I know from my little teeny segment of the vintage guitar market that prices change a lot more than every year. A particular model/configuration can be hot in July and dead in August. The supply and demand is just too small to make the kind of generalizations that these publications make. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. How about the other dealers or Gbase, in general? Well, there are a few differing philosophies about how to sell a vintage piece. By far the most common is to put a big fat “sucker” price on it and wait to see if one takes the bait. Sometimes it works. Mostly it doesn’t. The dealers and individuals who use this method either don’t need to sell them, don’t want to sell them or are extremely negotiable. You know who you are. I think. Ultimately, it’s great for me that most dealers and individuals ask way too much for their guitars. While it makes it tough when I’m buying, they make it very easy for me when I have something to sell. It’s pretty easy to see why my guitars go on hold before I even get them and sell within a few weeks (or less). I’m not waiting for a sucker. I’m waiting for you-the serious buyer who does his home work and knows what he wants and how much he wants to spend. I sold around 100 guitars in 2012-the vast majority were ES-335s. How’s the market? Pretty good, actually. Stoptail block necks go the quickest and have been very strong this year breaking out of the mid-teens and pushing toward $20K for the first time since 2008. 64’s and big neck 63’s are leading the charge but more and more folks have come to appreciate the thinner 62’s and early 63’s. The best deal out there is an early 65 (big neck, trap tail). While the stops are getting up there, the early 65’s are still well under $10,000. Look for a big neck with a 17 degree headstock. There aren’t a lot of them but the later 14 degree headstock with the big neck is also a great choice. Don’t worry too much about nickel or chrome-it’s pretty random and easy and cheap to swap. While the stoptails have added 10-20% this year, the Bigsby-Custom made blocks have stood still. At $12K-$13K, they are a lot of guitar for the money. Dot necks held strong again, especially 58, 59 and early 60. These will likely stay strong-especially stops-and will continue to be in the mid to high 20’s and into the low $30K’s. Later 60’s and 61’s have softened a bit, IMO, dipping well below $20K even for really nice examples. What didn’t do so well this year from an investment standpoint? ES-345’s and stereo 355’s. Stoptail 345’s from 59 (and perhaps 60) are still doing OK but everything else has been in the doldrums. Stops in average condition from 60 to 64 have dipped below $10K which makes them a great bargain. ES-355 stereos are simply in the dumper. They were a very tough sell in 2012. Grab one in the $8K range if you can talk a delusional seller out of the $18K he thinks its worth. Mono 355’s, on the other hand, are pretty hot. I sold about ten of them this year and they were some of the best guitars I had. Average prices from 59-64 were over $10K and up into the low teens. What else is hot? Anything mint or close to it. Really high quality pieces are getting hard to come by and are starting to command some pretty serious premiums. The old “find another” cliche is alive and well. I’ll add a disclaimer-the variation in condition, originality and configuration makes my generalizations just that. Generalizations. If you come across a 335/345 or 355 that you’re interested in from another dealer, feel free to send me an email. I’ll be happy to guide you to a fair price-doesn’t mean you’ll get it but you won’t get played for a sucker either.


Toughest sell? ES-355 stereo. I don't think I sold a single one this year. The sellers want too much for them and the buyers know it. Nice guitars too but not worth the average $16-$18K the sellers want for an early one. Monos are the bomb, however.

5 Responses to “2012 ES Year in Review”

  1. rob says:

    If the stereo 355’s are in the dumper but the mono’s are da bomb, where does that leave those that left the factory as stereo’s but we later converted to mono?

  2. RAB says:

    Great advice and comments as usual Charlie…especially about mono 355 models being “da bomb!” (smile!)

  3. OK Guitars says:

    Even converted they are still a very tough sell. It’s the extra hole from the Varitone circuit and the circuit itself that lowers the demand. The Bigsby or other trem doesn’t help either. For most, a 345 stoptail is the better choice and those aren’t doing so well either. Buy the bargains while they’re still bargains. I sold a wonderful stoptail 63 345 for around $8500. Best $8500 guitar I ever sold. By the way, one offs aren’t included in the “dumper”. The sunburst, black or blondie 355 is in a class by itself and are subject to supply (very limited) and demand.

  4. Moxie50 says:

    Great article. I know the ’66 and up are not your main meat, but you do dabble I think, and a little light shed on how the later sixties 335s are doing would be appreciated.

  5. OK Guitars says:

    The market for 66-68 is pretty strong with really good examples reaching close to $6000. Average prices are closer to $4500-$4800. They will always be limited by the trapeze and the narrow nut which will likely keep them at less than half the price of a 64 and 30% less than a big neck 65. The myth that the nut got wider in 68 (which it didn’t) is still pervasive. I had a few 66-68s this year and they all sold very quickly at decent prices. I stay away from 69 and later 335s because of the short neck tenon and diminished build quality. There are still some good ones but there is a lack of consistency that begs you to play before you buy.

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