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Cool Factor

Do guys like this play cool guitars or are the guitars cool because they play them? We, we are nowhere near as cool as George but we can play what he plays and try to be as cool.

Do guys like this play cool guitars or are the guitars cool because they play them? We are nowhere near as cool as George but we can play what he plays and try to be as cool.

What makes a guitar cool? And is it the same thing for everyone? Vintage 335 buyers are a pretty homogeneous lot-55 to 65 years old, although there are more and more younger players-and almost always men. I’ve sold close to 300 of these (330’s, 335’s, 345’s, 355’s and Epiphones) and all of them have been sold to men. This is worth looking into but it has nothing to do with coolness, so I’ll put that aside for now but I do think coolness is generational and gender biased. I can speak for myself (and hopefully some of you) when I say that a rare or unusual guitar pushes most of my buttons. I’m sure that if most of the ES-355s made were black instead of red, that Keith Richards wouldn’t have found that black one so cool. On the other hand, we probably think that it was Keith who made it cool rather than the other way around but I think we would be wrong. The cool factor can certainly be dictated by who the player is-it’s no surprise that red 64 ES-335’s are so popular because of a Mr. Clapton but they are also pretty cool guitars on their own. He probably thought that since he bought it before he was all that cool. Perhaps a red 335 is not at the cool level of a black 355 but still pretty cool. But George Harrison was pretty cool guy too and he could play anything he wanted and he played a Gretsch Gent and then an SG and an Epi Casino in the heyday of The Beatles. But he later played a very cool red Les Paul (Lucy) which, as we all know, was Clapton’s before it was George’s. These guys shared a lot, it seems. And what’s that guitar he’s playing in the photo up above? Looks like a 64 335 to me. Lucy is on the wall.

So, again, which is the tail and which is the dog here? Is a black 355 or a red Les Paul cool because cool guys played them or did the cool guys want a cool guitar? I’ve met a fair number of celebrity types over my careers in film/TV and guitar sales. The one thing that is consistent about them is that they are usually just regular guys (women celebs are often a little different, it seems) who have worked hard and have a lot of talent in a given area. They seem pretty normal to me once you get to know them.  Celebs also think that cool stuff is cool because its cool to them not because of them. Lots of them grew up uncool and became cool later and, unless you believe your own PR machine-which is a mistake-you still see yourself as uncool even if the rest of the world sees you as the coolest guy in the world. But I ramble. Whats’ cool? Black guitars are cool. Blonde guitars are cool. Beat to hell players are cool. Cheap guitars (like Airlines or Silvertones or Supros) are cool if you can really play. Flying Vees are cool but only if you’re Albert King-otherwise you’re a pretender. Naming your guitar is only cool if you’re a celebrity-otherwise it’s dorky. Not as dorky as naming your car, however. I don’t keep a lot of guitars for myself-I’m a shameless mercenary that way. Everything is for sale but I’ve gotten some huge response to that beater black 64 ES-345 that I was thinking of keeping for my own not terribly cool self. It has generated more interest than I’ve had in any guitar in the past year. Could it be the cool factor?  It certainly checks off the cool boxes in a big way-it’s black, it’s a well played beater and, of course, it’s an ES. I thought I would share one other cool guitar and that would be this one. It’s a 59 Epiphone Sheraton in blonde. One of only 3 shipped in 59. This guitar is so cool that I’m not cool enough to play it.

This could be the coolest guitar I own. There are exactly 3 '59 blonde Sheratons. OK, it isn't a 335 but I think even Keith would find this one pretty cool. I'm going to guess he doesn't have one.

This could be the coolest guitar I own. There are exactly 3 ’59 blonde Sheratons. OK, it isn’t quite a 355 but I think even Keith would find this one pretty cool. I’m going to guess he doesn’t have one.

14 Responses to “Cool Factor”

  1. RAB says:

    Sure, we like to play guitars made cooler by having been played by guitar heroes but generally only if they are also great instruments in their own right. E.G. Bursts as played by Clapton, Beck, Page and Kossoff. Strats played by Hendrix, Blackmore, etc. 355s played by B.B. There are some exceptions such as Jazzmasters made popular by Elvis Costello and some Grunge rockers but I think that is less common.

  2. Kelly says:

    The fact of the matter is that guys like Eric Clapton have great taste. That’s largely what makes them cool in the first place. In the case of Clapton, he had the taste to like Muddy Waters, et. al., at a time and place when that was quite unusual. Pictures of him through the years show that in terms of his hair and his dress he has always been of impeccable taste. The same can be said of his stage presence, as he has never made silly faces, or moved around in embarrassing ways. Cool guys with impeccable taste will choose great guitars. In that regard seeing what guitar he plays is like watching to see which wine is chosen by someone with a great palate.

  3. Rod says:

    Never seen George with a 335 before. Looks like a 63/4. But FOUR strats? Can’t forgive that, one is bad enough. But he has got another of the coolest guitars ever, to my mind, Musicman Silhouette. Also, is that a Super 400?

  4. cgelber says:

    Let’s take a look back there and see what there is, shall we. Feel free to correct or add to the list: 63/64 ES-335, Four Strats including Rocky, rosewood Tele, I think, Musicman Silhouette, a Zemaitis acoustic, a Standel acoustic, Hofner Club 50, National Tri Cone, Epi Casino, Gibson J-160, Gibson Super 400, Rickenbacker-probably his 12 string, Gretsch 6120 Nashville behind his right arm, looks like a Gretsch 6121 in the top row, that’s Lucy (red LP) up over his left shoulder, two resonators I can’t identify-one looks like a Dobro, there a one pickup 50’s National over his shoulder (I’ve seen another angle on this photo), looks like a Coral sitar over his head next to the Gretsch. I have no idea what odd lap steel is and I can’t tell what else is in the top row. Maybe an ES-175?

  5. Rod says:

    I’m pretty certain the acoustic behind the Zemaitis is a Harptone. As for the Hofner, maybe it’s just perspective but I thought it looked bigger than a Club, maybe an early President. Don’t know about the 175 (?) on the top row, seems to have a knob in the wrong place but it looks like an early 175 type tailpiece. With regard to the strats, I’m sorry but after the dominance the strat has had over the last 25+ years I can’t see them as being cool at all now. Or perhaps ever again.

  6. Rod says:

    As soon as I had posted the last one I realised the Hofner hasn’t got f holes so a Club (very early one) it must be.

  7. Nelson Checkoway says:

    As usual, Charlie, a very thought-provoking post and I ruminate on this question of “coolness” from time to time. I think that the 60s guitar heroes who defined the classic vintage guitars–Les Pauls, Strats, Teles, 335s–chose those guitars for utilitarian reasons. Remember: a white, 1968 big headstock strat with the big CBS Fender logo is coveted by players and collectors today as a “Jimi Hendrix” strat — but it was just another stock CBS fender that he pulled off the rack at Manny’s on 48th St.

    Why does Caleb Followay of Kings of Leon play at mid-70s walnut ES-325 — an ugly and probably awful Norlin-era budget guitar? Only Caleb knows, but go on Ebay, and sellers are asking top dollar for these guitars that exude “Kings of Leon tone”, whatever that it. For his coolness, buyer beware.

    I agree that most artists acquire instruments that are cool to them … but some are trying to make a statement and wear their instruments like a fashion accessory. Are Jack White or Dan Auerbach choosing quirky, vintage budget instruments because they are truly looking for an original sound, or are they on a mission to start, rather than follow, a guitar and amp fashion trend? Would a reissue Strat be dissonant with the edgey, indi-image that they carefully cultivate. (Don’t get me wrong: I like both of them, but read some interviews, follow their career moves, and they are very savvy at cultivating their images). They each have a strong original sound, but I would guess they could plug any decent guitar off the rack at the Guitar Center to reinforce their sonic identify. That’s what Jimi did …

  8. cgelber says:

    All good points. Jimi also played an SG Custom but you rarely see anyone reference a mid 60’s big guard SG Custom as a “Hendrix guitar”.

  9. Nelson Checkoway says:

    Ha-Ha! You mean the model Gibson “improved” by affixing an ugly large guard and moving the “full access” neck heel up to the 17th fret? I guess the guitar-buying public can be pushed only so far!

    Coincidentally, Gibson just reissued the Jimi-era SG custom in walnut (!) as the “Captain Kirk” Douglas limited edition to honor its relationship with the Roots’ guitarist. Better snap up those 3-pickup late 60’s walnut dogs while they’re cheap!

    Seriously, though, you do encounter sellers who try to get a premium for the late 60s SG custom as having the Jimi vibe — but that’s just salesmanship. And Gibson did mint a Jimi tribute Flying V — the late 60s model that was vastly inferior to the original.

    Bringing your original point full circle, yes Keef probably got the black ES cause it was cool … and lately an Ebay seller has been trying to get near $15K for a late 60s ES-355 they unabashedly link to Keith Richards in the listing title. What goes around …

  10. Rob says:

    And there’s the ’59 black ES 345 on Ebay for $25,000 the seller describes as one of two black ones made in that year.

  11. cgelber says:

    Tough to tell a Harptone from a Standel of the era. It is certainly one or the other. They were both made by Harptone and were identical (AFAIK) except for the inlay. I actually owned a Standel “335” back in the 60’s

  12. Jonne says:

    The National resonator between Hofner and Epi Casino is not a Tri Cone. It’s bit hard to see the plating on this pic but it’s definately single cone and from 1933 (12th fret neck and rolled f-holes!). And most likely Duolian.

  13. cgelber says:

    Thanks Jonne.

  14. RC says:

    Eh, different strokes for different folks…burst is my favorite finish on pretty much every guitar, followed by natural. Cherry is ok. Wouldn’t buy a black one.

    Clapton apparently got a Burst because he saw Freddie’s Goldtop, and got a Strat because of Hank Marvin (but, come on, we know it was Hendrix).

    Danny Gatton, Roy Buchanan, and Jim Compilongo showed me the myriad sounds one can coax out of the simplistic Tele – so I had to have one.

    I think all Strats are cool, but never play mine.

    So, people can be swayed by cool people but also not necessarily play what they find cool – sometimes guitars are beautiful creations to hold and look upon, sometimes guitars are needed for the current palette, and sometimes some guitars don’t fit that palette.

    PS I don’t think Schenker or Jim James are pretenders with their V’s 🙂

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