The Expendables

Nothing more useless than rusted guitar strings. Hey, these are NOS. I think I can get the whole lot pretty cheap.

No, not the action movie, which, by the way, I didn’t see. Expendables, in my other business, are items that get used once and thrown away-lighting gels, gaffers tape, diffusion material, dulling spray and the like. But guitars have expendables too and 335s are no exception. OK, they get used more than once but you get the idea. When you’re considering a vintage piece, there are certain elements that simply wear out over time. If you’re a collector, your tolerance for worn out elements is pretty limited. Most collectors don’t care if the strings aren’t original-probably because they rarely are and because 50 year old strings won’t sound very good. But there are other parts that wear out over time that may affect the value but not the playability. Frets are the obvious one. In general, a pro refret doesn’t affect the value of a guitar very much unless it’s an otherwise mint example. Then you can ask yourself why would anyone refret a mint guitar? A couple reasons, actually. There are guitars that get played extensively but are so well cared for that they remain in extraordinary condition. But that’s pretty unusual. There are refrets that occur because someone along the way wanted larger or smaller frets and there are refrets that are done to try to correct a backbow in the neck or other problems. I’m always wary of newer frets on a mint guitar but, unless there is a noticeable neck problem, it is rarely, if ever,  a dealbreaker. If I’m buying a non mint vintage guitar, I always prefer the original frets but I don’t exactly fret (pun intended) if they are properly redone. Another element that I would consider an expendable are the tuner tips. They don’t so much wear out but often deteriorate due to age. When

You've seen these before. Mummified Kluson tuner buttons. This would never stop me from buying a great old guitar. Put repro tips on or just stick 'em in the case. People expect this and it won't hurt the resale unless the guitar is otherwise mint-then maybe a little.

Gibson built these guitars they weren’t looking 50 years into the future. They probably weren’t looking more than a few years ahead and probably only “fixed” durability problems when someone complained about them. Oddly, tuner tips from the years up to 58 seem to hold up just fine but 59-60 don’t. It seems that 61-65 are better but still shrink and mummify while the later ones seem fine. Plastic. Go figure. And speaking of plastic, there’s another plastic part that seems to be a real problem and that’s the block inlays on 62-65 ES-335’s. It’s funny, the dot inlays of 58-62 don’t seem to shrink or curl up, although they do occasionally fall out but that’s usually a glue issue. The inlays on a 345, which are made of the same celluloid based plastic shrink a lot but they usually don’t curl up. And 355 inlays almost always stay put and are totally stable because they aren’t plastic at all-they are mother of pearl. But early 335 block markers can be a real problem. Gibson knew this and changed the material in the mid 60’s. This was, as is usual at Gibson, a long transition but it seems that by 67, they were the lighter colored material that was more shrink and discolor resistant. But 62-65 blocks can be a nightmare. They shrink, they turn brown, they curl up at the edges and they fall out. If you replace them, they always look too white, although they can be darkened using the tricks that the guys who age these things use-like soaking them in coffee, tea, coke or dye. In terms of lost value to a vintage guitar, changed tuners and changed block markers are going to make a difference-not a huge difference but as always, the more original, the bigger the price. My attitude on tuners is, essentially, I don’t care as long as the tuner itself is original. With the markers, I have a stronger opinion. My preference will always be for original markers. A little curl won’t affect playability much and a good luthier can remove them, scrape out the old glue and reglue any of them that are causing trouble as long as they aren’t too thin. If they are unusually thin, you might want to take a closer look at the fingerboard to see if perhaps it was planed at some point-plane the board and the markers get planed too. If they are thin, falling out or otherwise causing you concern, one or two changed markers, if well matched to the ones you can save, aren’t going to significantly affect the vintage value of your guitar. I’d rather play a guitar with smooth new markers than one with markers that continually annoy me. There are more “expendables” that while perhaps a bit more durable, have a finite lifespan as well. Saddles, bridges and nuts. We’ll cover those another time.

Sometimes, things just wear out. It just doesn't make sense to keep a guitar original if the original parts are no longer functional. ES 335 block markers are often so badly deteriorated that they have to go.

One Response to “The Expendables”

  1. RAB says:

    Replaced bridge saddles also don’t bother me too much as long as they are similar vintage and material, E.G. nickel plated brass…

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