ES-335 Market: The Long Not so Hot Summer

This 63 ES-335 just sold for just under $11000. Still shines like new and is bone stock with a few Bigsby holes. This was a $13500 guitar last Spring.

This 63 ES-335 just sold for just under $11000. Still shines like new and is bone stock with a few Bigsby holes. This was a $13500 guitar last Spring.

Where did everybody go? My readership dropped by 40%, my guitar sales slipped to somewhere between slow and stop and my email volume was off by at least 30%. On top of that, the market (Ebay and dealers) is flooded with 335’s and 345’s. Block necks are everywhere and still wildly overpriced. It seems like we have another standoff between the sellers and the buyers. The buyers are not paying $12000 for a Bigsby block neck any more. The sellers still seem to think they can get anywhere from $13,500 to over $20K. Stoptail 335 block necks might fetch $15K but even that seems a bit of a stretch these past few months. The same inventory is listed week in and week out on Ebay and only a sucker makes a move on a $20,000 block neck unless its dead mint. I had a 63 ES-335 on Ebay recently–original stoptail with holes from an added Bigsby. Beautiful condition, too. I listed it on my site for $12500. No takers for four months. I listed it on Ebay for $11,500 and got no bids. Plenty of offers but no bids. I did sell it for a bit less and felt the buyer got a great deal (especially since I didn’t make a dime on it). It’s simple. The supply has outrun the demand for now. Sorry sellers but that’s the current reality, like it or not. There are brighter spots-the dot neck market (especially 58 and 59) is still very strong and the ES-330 dot neck market has kind of come alive this Summer. In fact, I sold more 330’s in August than I sold 335’s. The ES-345 market is no better. 59’s still fly out the door but later ones, especially Bigsby’s need to be priced well under $10K to garner much interest. When’s the last time you got an all original bone stock early 60’s ES-345 for under $8000? It’s been awhile. I like to move guitars not sit on them-when I buy a guitar, I’m not making an investment, I’m buying inventory. This might be your best buying opportunity since the bubble burst in ’08. The market has inched up in the past five years and I think sellers have again gotten greedy and this time,  the guitar buying public isn’t buying into it. Of course, the Summer is pretty much over and folks are getting back from vacations and turning to the more important things in life (like adding to your guitar collection or getting that elusive “dream guitar”) so I expect a bit more demand. Like the housing market, it takes a really long time for the realities of a sagging market to sink in. Some dealers and sellers still think the prices of 2008 are current while others think the market has run up from there…”uhhh, gee, I’ve got this appraisal from Gruhn from 2007 and that was six years ago, so the guitar must be worth a lot more by now…” So, what do you (the buyer) do? You make yourself a great deal and get that guitar you’ve always wanted. Make an offer that fits your budget. And don’t worry about insulting the seller-he doesn’t mind insulting you with a ridiculous price. You can tell your wife that the prices haven’t been lower for that 64 335 since 2009 and that it’s probably a good investment again. If you don’t overpay, you can almost certainly get your money back and more in a few years and you get to play the guitar as much as you want. Think of it as free rent for as long as you possess it. Oh, and don’t break it.

This 63 ES-345 is bone stock and sold recently for under $8000. I'll take that deal all day long.

This 63 ES-345 is bone stock and sold recently for under $8000. I’ll take that deal all day long.

13 Responses to “ES-335 Market: The Long Not so Hot Summer”

  1. RAB says:

    Don’t worry Charlie! Your most loyal reader is still with you! Cheers from merry olde England’s Lake District…pretty countryside but haven’t seen any vintage ES models!

  2. Rod says:

    I hope you don’t think this too cynical but I think the ‘Golden age’ of vintage guitars is gone for good. With the economy everywhere down the pan, MOST people can’t justify, even if they can afford, the prices asked for most vintage guitars now, and it’s a lot worse in the UK than in the US.

    It will be ten years or more before the economy really recovers, by which time most of the current vintage buyers will either be dead or thinking about selling things, not buying more, and 50s and 60s guitars will be quite plentiful. Supply and demand! Whilst the truly mint pieces will still command top money, player grade stuff will just be ‘used guitars’ and, here’s a terrible thought, will people still be playing/buying guitars in 10 years time? Music is no longer the ‘glue’ that holds teenagers (and others) together. I really hope I’m not right on this.

  3. Mike says:

    I agree with the previous comment…I think the bubble has burst and it ain’t comin’ back. I think so much of it was baby boomer nostalgia for the guitars they lusted after when they were growing up, and could finally afford as adults, or re-acquiring the things they had growing up and had let get away. 10 years isn’t all that long, and I don’t think guitar selling/buying is going to disappear then, but as someone who works in a music store, I can tell you this…sales are WAY down. The premium vintage stuff is always going to have appeal, ’cause they really DON’T make them like that any more, and there’s only so many actual original 50’s and 60’s guitars around, but I think that stupidly-high-priced thing is finally over. Now, if ALL the collectors and sellers could just get the memo…

  4. stefan says:

    I agree to some extent with the previous comments. While I don’t think that people will stop playing the guitar (music and instrument playing is intrinsic to human nature, a couple years ago German archeologists found 10.000 year old flute in a cave) I agree that rock n roll and therefore the golden age of guitars has somewhat peaked. Rock n roll has lost a fair bit of its impact (we will just have to accept rock n roll as the chamber music of the 20th century) but this doesn’t mean people will stop playing guitars or exclusively making music on their smartphones in 10 years time 😉

    As for the vintage guitar market…my opinion is that long-term prices will go down, a ’59 Les Paul or ’64 335 will be an artefact for the museum – much like art collectors loan their pieces to exhibitions.

    The next generations won’t be craving or be prepared to pay extremely high prices for the reasons Mike mentioned. Then again, define ‘long-term’ and ‘mid-term’ if you really want to make an investment…

  5. RAB says:

    Interesting discussion. Since blasting your Burst or dot neck 335 thru your Marshall stack would likely be frowned upon at the rest home maybe many boomers will be trading those fiddles in for a 00 sized Martin or, at a minimum a Vibro Champ Amp to noodle through while eating their creamed cauliflower on toast?

  6. Rob says:

    RAB, that’s hysterical! My father lived in a “home” for the last ten or so years of his life and the only instrument he took with him was a parlour-sized Martin flat top from the ’60’s. Before he sold the house and moved, he gave me the rest of his electrics with the last one being the 355. I know that he entertained many old biddies in that home on his Martin. Alas, the Evil Stepbrother got the Martin. It had a cracked top and the bridge was pulling off the top plus I really don’t like playing acoustics too much. Re: amps– he used to put in a sound hole pickup in the Martin and play it through a silverfaced pre-master vol. Twin Reverb. You ain’t heard much freakier than that rig feeding back. Yeow.

  7. Danny says:

    All right, I’ll be the dissenting voice here. I think there will always be a market for high quality vintage instruments – not necessarily all of them, but those that are preferable to anything being made at the time. A while back, on of the folks on this website made a distinction between collector’s value and vintage value and I think it’s an excellent point. As long as there are electric guitarists, they’re going to want the best guitars and those who prefer vintage stuff of any kind or vintage tones will still want them. If the market is softer while the wall street investors are out, fine. But the best investors, like Warren Buffett, buy commodities when everyone else is scared (like now) and sell when everyone’s feeling secure. From an investment point of view, Charlie’s original article is correct: buy now, while they’re relatively inexpensive. Once you feel confident again, it’ll be too late.
    And I don’t think the electric guitar will go the way of the harpsichord. It’ll be more like a piano. How many current bands in the last thirty years have featured a piano?

  8. cgelber says:

    I keep hearing how the “next” generation won’t care about these guitars. I’m sure they said that about Stradivarius, Guarneri and Amati back when those 19th century young whippersnapper violinists started playing that “new” Romantic stuff.

  9. Rod says:

    The Strad argument doesn’t actually work. Strads are, and were, sought after, therefore expensive, because there weren’t, relatively speaking, that many of them, and of course they had the quality. Golden era guitars, by comparison, are much more plentiful. The truly mint pieces will continue to command top money, always. But the player grade stuff will drop over the years as what players there are lose interest in them. The majority of players under 45 aren’t really interested in vintage stuff. The reason the golden era stuff was originally sought after was mainly because it was better quality than the then current new stuff. The new stuff now, even cheap gear, is much better quality and far more consistent than ever before. The real problem is, apart from the economy, attitudes of players are changing towards vintage instruments.

  10. Rob says:

    Looking at the shipping totals as publshed on Tom’s ES Thinlines website, it seems to me that the numbers of Golden Age ES’s produced are extremely small. Plus when they were new, they were expensive compared to other consumer goods in the late ’50’s and early ’60’s. The Gibson 400, a top of the line archtop jazzbox, was given its name because its list price was $400. At that time, $400 would buy you a good used American car. Nowadays, $8,000 to $15,000 will get you a decent compact with some miles on it but nothing superb unless you are lucky or your uncle owns a dealership and cherry-picks the auction. So to me, its all relative and the dynamics of supply and demand will always apply to all markets that are not strictly controlled by governments. Speaking of which, I’d bet that as soon as the current national health plan for the U.S. goes away, buyers might feel more secure about the outlook for their spare cashflow and start to buy again.

  11. cgelber says:

    I think the Strad argument does work. First of all, there are a lot more guitar players than there are violinists so if you look at the relative numbers of vintage guitars to players, your point is somewhat diluted. Next point-58-60 Les Pauls are pretty common but they are still commanding some pretty serious bucks. Whether the next generation will even care about them is questionable. My 25 year old son loves old Jazzmasters. Each generation seems to gravitate toward something. Maybe BC Rich’s will finally get some recognition.

  12. Cal Dysinger says:

    Charlie is correct. All markets are prone to over and under-valuation in the short term, especially collectables. Look at the pre-war Martins for example. The folks who originally played/coveted them are all dead, yet the younger generation has maintained demand for these wonderful instruments. The key is that there are not all that many of them – supply and demand. When considering a golden age electric Gibson, look at the production numbers. There are many reasons not to purchase the post-1964 products, including the much higher production numbers.

  13. moxie50 says:

    Wow, I thought I was going to be clever in saying that the sixty somethings (I’m 64 next month, will you still love me?) are starting to die. I retired earlier than planned, one of many reasons was several to many former coworkers have died or are close. You guys took it many steps further, scarry. Got mad at my grandson on a rare visit when he turned down an offer to spend time on his newly acquired Squire Strat because he wanted to play Guitar Hero on the game box with several friends that were over. Fuming, I yelled “do you want to be a guitar player or a guitar hero??!! Thankfully a few more years of maturity led him to play more, we even got him a very nice Takamine auc/elec he wanted. I’ll probably leave my ’66 335 to him. I sold cars, and now you can barely give away a Lincoln Town Car or Merc Grand Marquis that the 70-80 somethings cherish. The world keeps changing.

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