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History, Provenance and Context

Two nice 59 ES-345's. Both worth about the same even though the one on the left was supposedly played by Duane Allman. Why isn't it worth more (hint-it isn't the Grovers)

Two nice 59 ES-345’s. Both worth about the same even though the one on the left was supposedly played by Duane Allman. Why isn’t it worth more (hint-it isn’t the Grovers)

…”my ’64 335 is 4 numbers away from Claptons…” my ’59 345 was once borrowed by Duane Allman…” my ’58  335 was played (for 20 seconds) by BB King and autographed…” Does any of this have anything to do with the value and desirability of your guitar? Good question. I get it all the time and I usually avoid it. It’s a pretty slippery slope but it is worth looking into since celebrity guitars are a pretty big business. With Dylan’s Strat selling for  $965K recently and Claptons “Blackie” selling for $959K and his 335 selling for $847K, the value of a celebrity owner can’t be denied. There are a great number of factors involved in what makes an historic guitar worth that kind of money and it’s not easy to quantify (or predict). The estimate by Christies auction house on the Clapton 335 was $60K-$80K. Oops.

The three examples mentioned at the top are the low end of the celebrity guitar phenomenon and I owned all of them. The Clapton serial number thing is kind of a joke, since Gibson guitars often weren’t numbered sequentially so for all you know, the guitar wasn’t within a month of Clapton’s. I had a 335 that was 4 numbers away and was shipped the same day and got no premium at all for it. To a huge fan, it might be worth a few bucks for the bragging rights or something. I did own a 58 335 that was played for a minute and autographed by BB King. The first thing I did when I got it home was remove the autograph. The guitar was worth more without it. And I owned the “Allman” 345. This is perhaps the most interesting of my celebrity guitars. It was a very fine 59 ES-345 that had some minor issues but was a great player. When I got it the Allman connection was mentioned by the seller but it didn’t really affect the price. I paid what I would normally pay for a ’59 345. If that seems surprising, it shouldn’t. You see, there was no provenance. Providence? No, provenance-the “proof” that it is what you say it is. All I had on the Allman 345 was a conversation with an old friend and very early bandmate of Duane’s who said that Duane borrowed the guitar from him for awhile. No photo of him with the guitar and no corroboration from anyone else. That’s pretty thin provenance and not enough to affect the value. I sold the guitar with a mention of it’s supposed history and got what I would expect to get for a slightly modded 59 ES-345.

So, those are the ends of the scale. Huge bucks for a guitar owned and played by a great in an historic context (recording, concert, career) and little or no added value for a guitar with a casual or unproven association with a great. So, I conclude, it is largely the historic context and provenance that gives the guitar the great value. But there is a large-and I mean huge-middle ground here. A guitar autographed by all four Beatles will probably be worth the value of the autographs plus the value of the guitar. The ’64 SG owned by George and played on “Paperback Writer” (and others) would be worth six figures. What about a less famous (but still relatively well known) player?  Well, this came up recently and I’m still wrestling with it.

This week, I got an email from a nice lady in the UK who asked me to provide some information about her late father’s guitar which she and her sisters inherited. You can’t deny its appeal. It’s a 59 ES-335TDN which is considered by most to be the top of the 335 heap. Price range is $30K for a beater to over $75K for a very clean one. These peaked at well over $100K in 2008. This one has clearly been played and modded. Grovers, changed bridge, changed neck pickup, Bigsby on and off, speed knobs-all pretty typical mods often made by players. Nice wood and a great vibe for sure but there’s something else. This guitar was a real workingman’s guitar-played throughout much of a 50 year career by a very interesting guy and owned by a few other interesting guys. The guitar belonged to Jackie Lomax and was his main player for many years. Look him up if you don’t know who he is. We’ll discuss this guitar in detail in my next post and you’ll find out  more about this gem (and who else owned it before him).

Nice, huh. '59 ES-335TDN. Got some issues for sure but it's got some vibe too. And some history, provenance and context.

Nice, huh. ’59 ES-335TDN. Got some issues for sure but it’s got some vibe too. And some history, provenance and context.

7 Responses to “History, Provenance and Context”

  1. RAB says:

    Interesting subject; personally an autographed guitar is a negative for me…like you I’d rub the autograph out. I guess some people like to buy autographed instruments and hang them on the wall; not me, these guitars were made to be played…in the case of well-documented instruments (E.G. Clapton’s ’64 ES-335) I can certainly understand the basis for their value and why someone might be willing to pay near a cool million for one…not me, it wouldn’t be worth more than a couple hundred extra dollars to me for, as you say, “bragging rights”…

  2. Rob says:

    The name sounded real familiar so I looked up “Jackie Lomax” and get schooled. There look to be at least two videos on YouTube of him playing this guitar– an early 70’s production of a bad ballad and nasal sounding slide work obviously the product of poor transition to digital from film and a 2004 live performance in San Diego where he tears it up on a blues number.

    There’s an early Golden Era 355 languishing on Ebay for $10,000 that was owned and played by the guitarist for the Soul Survivors. If you are not from Philly, you probably wouldn’t remember “Expessway To Your Heart”.

  3. Simon says:

    The Jackie Lomax guitar sounds great on ‘The Blues Made Me Do It’ video on YouTube and it’s such a spirited, soulful solo. Never heard of him before.

  4. chuckNC says:

    I grew up in Milwaukee, Rob, and I know that song. And I have seen that guitar on ebay. (Could anybody who knows me doubt AT ALL that I would have ES-355 as one of my saved searches??!?!?). I like ’em with “character” and that one has some appeal, even with the sideways trem and ugly refret. Unfortunately, I’m a seller these days more than a buyer.

    Yeah, Jackie Lomax’ blondie is my kind of axe too. I’ll look at a nice blonde if one crosses my path.

  5. RAB says:

    The pictured blonde ’59 335 could be restored with the right parts to the kind of condition I’d be happy with…unfortunately I am sure the price tag would be “pricey” in that condition too!

  6. martin mocha says:

    Again, its amazing how disinformation sticks to the internet like a f.cking virus….for the record to those who give a sh.t, Clapton NEVER, NEVER used his Gibson ES-335 during the US Cream Farewell tour between October 4 and November 4 1968….he ONLY used the 335 with Cream during their FINAL FAREWELL PERFORMANCE AT THE ROYAL ALBERT HALL DURING THE REHEARSAL PUBLICITY SHOTS (WHERE HE’S WEARING A BLACK LEATHER JACKET) AND DURING THE SECOND SET OF THE CONCERT, AS SEEN IN THE MOVIE. HE USED THE FIREBIRD DURING THE FIRST SET. EC DID USE THE 335 THE FOLLOWING YEAR DURING THE BLIND FAITH US TOUR AND IN EUROPE. During Cream’s US Farewell tour, Clapton ONLY used two guitars, 1 Les Paul Standard he exchanged with Paull Kossoff and 1 Gibson reverse Firebird.

    I don’t know what it takes to correct the astounding bullsh.t that gets into the internet creating history revisionism. Another Clapton myth, that is quite malicious , is his iconic live Crossroads solo was edited….it was NOT!!! Confirmed by both the engineer that worked the boards and mixed the recording and by hand held audience recordings defitiviely proving that the live Winterland Crossroads of March 10, 1968 was performed exactly as you hear it. Lets get it right.

  7. cgelber says:

    Give ’em hell.

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