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Bucket List or Bust

A factory stop tail ES-355 has been on my personal bucket list for years. The fact that it's a 59 is just icing on the cake. If it was mono, I'd be beside myself but this'll do. Love that watermelon red too.

A factory stop tail ES-355 has been on my personal bucket list for years. The fact that it’s a 59 is just icing on the cake. If it was mono, I’d be beside myself but this’ll do. Love that watermelon red too.

I love the rare stuff but I always approach them more than a little skepticism. This week I had two opportunities to buy extremely rare 355’s. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that many sellers-especially those selling Grandpa’s old Gibson-don’t know very much about guitars. So, I assume nothing when I get an inquiry about buying the old girl. Most guitar collectors know that rarity is not a good indicator of value in a vintage piece. There are, after all, over 1000 Les Paul bursts (some say more like 1500) and you know how much they sell for. But I do love the rare stuff and I tend to buy those that come up even if I can’t make a dime on them . It’s the weird collector side of me, I guess-and I’m really not a collector. I only own 4 or 5 guitars and there is perhaps only one I won’t sell (for now anyway). ┬áIt was a personal mission of mine to get a red 59 dot neck for years. I finally found one a couple of years ago and was thrilled to have done so. But it was the chase more than the acquisition that got my motor running.

Recently, two very rare birds have flown into my nest. One, a 59 ES-355 with a factory stop and the other, a 63 factory sunburst ES-355. Factory stops are really rare but there are probably a dozen of them, at least. I know of 5, so there are probably a fair number that haven’t surfaced yet. I’ve tried to buy a 60 mono and a 63 mono, only to be outgunned by buyers with more money or more desire. The one I have now is a 59 stereo. The other is a sunburst ES-355 and I only know of two of them. Most of you know that 355’s only came in red unless custom ordered. I don’t know why things come in pairs like this but it’s true. It’s happened over and over again. So, now I have both guitars and it’s a good cautionary tale. I picked up the stop tail 59 ES-355 in person so I was safe there. Even though I drove for a couple of hours, I could still walk away (or negotiate a fair deal) if something wasn’t right. But everything checked out and I have one of my little “holy grails”. It’s for sale, of course, but I can check it off my bucket list and enjoy it while I have it.

The 63 sunburst is a different story. That one actually was Grandpa’s guitar but Grandpa had some work done before he went to rock and roll heaven. I had my suspicions when I got the photos but I really hoped I was wrong. But when I got the guitar in my hands and was able to look in the nooks and crannies, there were traces of red where red didn’t belong. So, instead of being a rare sunburst 355 worth many thousands of dollars, it’s a nicely refinished mono 63 in an unusually red looking sunburst. The reason for that is the red dye gets deep into the wood and the person who did the refinish was smart not to try to sand it all away because you’ll go through the top maple ply nearly every time. It’s still a nice guitar-I love mono 355s but it isn’t collectible-it’s just a nice player. I paid a player price (the deal was contingent on my inspection) so at least I didn’t get hosed. And really, one out of two ain’t bad. In fact it’s pretty good. If 50% of the guitars I bought were exactly as described, I’d be ecstatic. The truth is the number is more like 10% even though the discrepancies in description are usually minor (wrong bridge, changed pot, tuner tips and so on). So, the moral of the story is twofold-go look at the guitar in person if you can before you commit to big bucks for a rarity. And second, hope for the best but prepare for something less. It’ll save you some disappointment. The search continues.

Gibson sunbursts are pretty consistent and this one looked too red but I've seen oddball sunbursts before so I was kind of hoping this one was original. But it isn't. I do like the sticker on the guard (beep, beep). Plays nice and sounds great even with the Maestro. I'd stop tail it since it's a player.

Gibson sunbursts are pretty consistent and this one looked too red but I’ve seen oddball sunbursts before so I was kind of hoping this one was original. But it isn’t. I do like the sticker on the guard (beep, beep). Plays nice and sounds great even with the Maestro. I’d stop tail it since it’s a player.

3 Responses to “Bucket List or Bust”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, heartiest congratulations on landing this super rare and gorgeous fiddle! It is one of the finest Gibson thinlines I’ve ever seen and I, like you, have seen a few! f I had a bunch of extra cash laying about it would come home to papa! RAB

  2. Rob says:

    I’ve got a ’62 355 sunburst that might be ready to leave the nest.

  3. cgelber says:

    Let me know when you’re ready, Rob.

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