Ring in the Old


Star of the show once again is the 59 dot neck. These ran up a good 20% this year and show no sign of weakening in 2015 even with therapy exchange rates for European buyers. Flame tops are nice too but not a requirement for big bucks.

Star of the show once again is the 59 dot neck. These ran up a good 20% this year and show no sign of weakening in 2015 even with the crappy exchange rates for European buyers. Flame tops are nice too but not a requirement for big bucks.

The old guitars that is. Now that 2014 has faded into the rear view mirror, let’s take a minute to see what the year was like for the vintage ES market and what it might look like going forward. First off, don’t look at Ebay asking prices to figure out what your guitar is worth. I can’t tell you how many emails I get that enlighten me about current ES prices. (…there’s a 64 for $100,000 on Ebay…surely my 64 is worth $30K”). Anybody can ask any price they want. I can ask a million dollars for my über rare 59 ES 355 stop tail but I’m not going to get it. Look at the completed listings that actually sold if you want real world sale prices. But even that can be misleading. There are some unscrupulous dealers who will mark a guitar as sold at a high price and then relist it hoping someone sees that a “similar” guitar sold at that inflated price. It happens with relative frequency, so be alert. Or you can just ask me.

2014 was a quirky year. The dot neck market was extremely strong, especially among Europeans until the Euro tanked late in the year. The dot neck market is still strong and should continue to do well. 59’s with no issues are bumping up against $40K with some frequency but the discount for issues has gotten steeper. Folks want no issue guitars when they are spending that kind of money and I don’t blame them. But that makes single issue guitars a bit of a bargain. 59’s with changed tuners can be had in the low to mid $30K range. That’s a big discount for a few little holes that don’t show much. A stop tail 59 with a removed Bigsby with top holes will knock the price down even farther. You should be able to find one under $25K. That’s 15 large for two little holes in the top and four by the end pin. Great if you’re a player. But the no issue guitars are the ones that will lead the market forward. They seem to be getting harder and harder to find. And it isn’t just 59’s that are strong. 58’s (bound and unbound) are right behind the 59’s with prices in the mid $30’s for no issue, clean ones. Early 60 dots with the transitional medium neck are about equal to 58’s. All of these are trending upward at the moment and seem to have done so all year. It’s the thinner neck later 60 and the 61’s that seem to be lagging. Still, it was a good year for dots all around but the thinner necks just seem to sell much more slowly and can’t seem to find their way past $30K unless they are mint. As always, look out for neck issues on the ones with the thinnest necks.

Interestingly, I sold more dot necks than block necks in 2014. That’s a first. It seems that the market for 62-63’s with the thinner necks is slow. Folks want big necks, although I’m not entirely sure why. There is, of course, the school of thought that big neck guitars sound better. My experience doesn’t prove that but it doesn’t disprove it either. One of the best I ever had was a 62 (dot) with a pretty small neck. However, the rest of the top five are 58’s and 59’s. The continued strength of late 63’s and 64’s comes as no surprise then, what with their near perfect neck profiles and consistently excellent tone. Prices for 64’s have definitely crept up-especially stop tails but also Bigsby/Custom Made models. Reds still outsell sunbursts by a wide margin. A really good no issue stop tail red 64 has pushed back to close to $20K at retail. Just a year ago, it was pretty easy to find one in the $16K range. Now the Bigsby/CM’s are in that range. That’s about a 20% increase in just the past year. Pretty impressive. The bargain still remains the big neck 65. You should be able to find one for $8K or less. Just make sure it’s really a big neck. Most sellers don’t know how to read a ruler. Ask for a photo with the ruler or calipers in the shot.

I’m going to skip ahead to 355’s. Mono 355’s have gone nuts. They are hard to come by and don’t last a week when I get one. It doesn’t matter what year either. The 65’s I had this year (wide nut) went just as quickly as the 59’s. Less money, for sure, but still extremely popular and desirable. Expect to spend up to $20K (or even more for double white PAFs) for a 59/60 long guard and in the mid teens for 61-64’s with Bigsby’s. Maestros are less. 65’s are still well under $10K but still strong. We’ll wait for the next post to talk about the stereo 355’s and 345’s. We’ll also take a look at the rarities and at the big issue guitars with refinishes and repairs. That market is pretty interesting as well.

Mono 355's were a big item in 2014. I buy every one I see as long as the sellers leave a little room for me to pay the rent. I'll take a half dozen 59's, sir.

Mono 355’s were a big item in 2014. I buy every one I see as long as the sellers leave a little room for me to pay the rent. I’ll take a half dozen 59’s, sir. I know, the neck pickup is upside down. I fixed it.

8 Responses to “Ring in the Old”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, Informative as always! Yes, good discounts can be had if you are willing to live with a few issues. A couple holes from a removed Bigsby or “sideways” vibrato tailpiece never bothered me. I do draw the line at stop tailpiece holes…those must be factory drilled! Still for a player, they might not mind a 355 mono converted to stop TP!

  2. Murray says:

    Nice blog,as usual. I enjoy and look forward to each one.
    Happy New Year to u. Regards, Murray.

  3. Ollie says:

    I still find it incredible that a 61-64 355 would cost me three times as much as my ’66. I’d never be able to afford an earlier one. Although given the way exchange rates are going I wouldn’t have been able to afford my ’66 if I was buying it now! Great article. Maybe there could be more on the later sixties now Charlie? You must be running out of things to write about! Perhaps it’s time to put it all in a book….

  4. RAB says:

    A ’66 ES-355 (especially a mono) could be a very nice fiddle but falls outside the magical ’58-64 Golden Era range…that magic comes at a price!

  5. Rod Allcock says:

    Can’t help thinking the old laws of supply and demand are going to apply sooner or later. You tell us your average customer is 60ish now so in about ten years, unfortunately, they are going to start falling off their perches. This will mean, firstly, there will be more golden era guitars available as beneficiaries start selling them off and secondly, there will be a smaller potential market, it seems to me that not a whole lot of people under, say, 50, are really interested in this stuff. They relate to what was around in THEIR formative years. So, as you surmise, the 10/10 or close stuff will still sell (for increasingly greater amounts), but the player grade stuff will drop back somewhat to being more ‘used guitar’ values. Of course I could well be wrong about this….

  6. RAB says:

    Rod, your belief is shared by a number of folks and certainly is a compelling argument! Also, it will be hard to blast your ’59 Burst thru a Marshall stack at your nursing home! As a result I think many electrics will be swapped by boomer owners for parlor-sized acoustics so start cornering the market on 0-sized Martins and small bodied Gibsons ASAP!

  7. Rob says:

    I would say that I’ve felt the same way Rod. Until some of my wife’s young gigging guitarist here in the Mid Atlantic saw a picture of my ’62 355 she pasted on her Facebook page several months ago. Many of them emailed asking if it was for sale. Of course the most important factor in the Supply/Demand equation is “Effective Demand” and I assume that, for most working musicians, purchasing power at collector price levels is pretty well limited.

  8. Rod Allcock says:

    Yes but I can’t help but think these younger people will be few and far between. I suppose we will now start to see pointy things being collectable and highly valued.

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