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Scavengers

This 61 ES-345 looked pretty darn good but wasn't quite 100% when I got it. Fortunately, I have a lot of spare parts.

This 61 ES-345 looked pretty darn good but wasn’t quite 100% when I got it. Fortunately, I have a lot of spare parts.

Scavengers. There. I said it twice. The guitar marketplace is full of them. It’s the sellers who think you don’t know the difference between a repro part and a real one. It’s the Les Paul guys who want double white PAF’s and no wire bridges for their R9’s. It’s the parts dealers who know that sometimes the parts are worth more than the guitar.  I’m not making a moral judgement here, just putting some facts out there.

There are a lot of parts on a vintage guitar. There are a lot of vintage guitar brands and models and variations and nobody knows everything about all of them. I try to know everything about ES-335’s but I learn new stuff all the time, so I don’t know everything either.  Take a guitar with around 50 different parts and cook over a low flame for 50 or so years. That’s the recipe for errors and omissions right there. It’s actually a surprise when I get a guitar (often sight unseen) that is 100% untouched. For the high end stuff, I always go in person (even to Europe) and check out the instrument myself. Crapshooting on a 58 or 59 is just too much risk. But I get other vintage pieces from individuals and dealers based on a couple of photos all the time. Want to know how many of these guitar have an undisclosed issue? About 90%. Yep. Nine out of ten. Seem high? Buy ten guitars on Ebay and compare what you get to what was advertised. It’s usually because the seller doesn’t know any better but not always.

Sometimes it’s laziness on the part of the seller (or dealer). I’ve been guilty of that myself-you get a guitar that looks just right and you don’t check the pot codes because nothing else has been changed and it’s a huge pain to get in there with a mirror and most of the date codes are covered with solder anyway.  Or the tailpiece looks exactly right so you don’t pull it off and check that the studs are the right length. I’m not talking about a changed saddle (virtually all no wire bridge ES’s have at least one) or a changed pickguard screw here or there. Those are cheap and easily replaced. But get a 345 with a repro tailpiece and studs and you’re out $800 or more for the real deal if you want the guitar to be vintage correct. Or you disclose it and lower the price. Repro stuff has gotten awfully convincing and it just makes it harder to spot them. All the more reason to buy from someone who knows the difference.

Part of the reason I write so extensively about the real geeky stuff is so that you, as a buyer, know what to look for. Here’s a story about a recent purchase. I was contacted by an individual seller with an early 60’s ES-345. I got lots of photos and a very fair price. He said it came from a reputable dealer (a few years ago) and that it was 100% original except for a mono conversion. The photos showed little reason to doubt him. I questioned the tuner tips because it was an early 60’s and the tips looked too good. He didn’t know and so I assumed they were repros (and they were). No big deal-lots of late 50’s and early 60’s ES’s have repro tips. When I got the guitar, it would have been easy to just take the photos and list it as all original except for the tuner tips and the harness. It played  great and sounded great and everything looked right. But I’m not that lazy. I pulled the tuners to make sure there weren’t enlarged shaft holes from Grovers (even though there were no marks on the headstock) and I pulled the bridge and tailpiece. Both looked correct at first glance but the telltale “hump” on the tailpiece felt like it was missing. The bridge was correct but the tailpiece was a long seam 70’s probably off of a Les Paul Custom as were the studs-1 3/8″ rather than the correct 1 1/2″. Some people measure the thread length – 1″ for vintage and 7/8″ for later. The seller didn’t know and I don’t expect him to know. He wasn’t a dealer but he had bought the guitar from a dealer. That begs the question…was the dealer lazy? or dishonest? or clueless? That’s the hard part.

Correct "short seam" tailpiece on the right. Correct "long thread" stud on the left. These parts won't really affect how the guitar sounds but I'm sure you would rather have the right era parts on your expensive vintage guitar.

Correct “short seam” tailpiece on the right. Correct “long thread” stud on the left. These parts won’t really affect how the guitar sounds but I’m sure you would rather have the right era parts on your expensive vintage guitar.

8 Responses to “Scavengers”

  1. Steve Newman says:

    Good points made, Charlie. The insane prices that people are paying for true vintage parts is what drives the “scavenger” mindset and market. Wnen a piece of plastic trim (pcikup surround, truss rod cover, selector switch cap, etc.) that cost literally cents to make new are bringing hundreds of dollars now because they are factory and period correct, you can understand the lure of taking apart a beater vintage instrument and selling off the individual components. I think, like you, most individual private sellers are not being dishonest, but just don’t have the knowledge or experience to know what to look for. And very few are willing to take on the task of taking a prized instrument apart to check for minute details that are important to the new owner. That’s where the expert, such as yourself, comes in. Keep informing the rest of us, please!

  2. 1jamman says:

    Just a Thanks for all you do in helping those of us who don’t know the ins and outs as someone with the expertise’s as yourself . You provide great information here . I know I’ve learned a lot from your website .

    I feel you set the standard for others to aspire to when it comes to Vintage 3×5’s . Now if I could find a way to snap up 1 of those early 60’s Slim necks you have . I’d be all set .

  3. RAB says:

    I agree with Steve’s comments above. As Charlie points out, the repro and relic parts available today are darn good and also, who but a few have the indepth knowledge to be able to tell the difference between them, mid-60s genuine Gibson parts and true 1959 Gibson parts? Re parts scavengers, it is hard today to find an untouched 1959 ES-175D because it is a potential goldmine of “Burst” parts! I bought such a guitar decades ago for $400, sold the pair of virgin full-whites on it for $400 and had a free guitar! The Burst knobs, tuners, no wire ABR-1 bridge and pots on the 175 weren’t worth much or were of little interest back in “the day” so they remained on the guitar when I re-sold it for $350!

  4. Rod Allcock says:

    The other side of this argument is that back in the day, in the UK at least, we didn’t have access to vintage spares when we were using these instruments as everyday gigging guitars. If something broke it was a case of ‘get a replacement’ with no thought to vintage accuracy. So changed parts are not necessarily there just to cheat the buyer.

  5. Steve Newman says:

    As RAB posted above, many original parts on guitars were swapped around for numerous reasons (functionality, personal taste, unavailable direct replacements, minor profit, etc.) when these guitars were just slightly “used” guitars, back in the day, with no thought at all of keeping them completely original. The vintage market did not exist and the instruments were just older, played in, previously owned instruments that were a cheaper alternative to buying the same model new. Most players (even serious pros) would look at changing out a no-wire ABR 1 to a newer wired one as a step forward in improving the instrument, as far as not having to look for an individual saddle when a string popped on stage. Also, I distinctly remember several people changing out pickup covers from the slightly worn/oxidized nickel to shiny new chrome ones, because they thought they looked “better”. Players frequently removed and threw away pick guards on many models for personal esthetic reasons and changed pickup surrounds/selector switch bezel plates/ control knobs for different colors to suit their own tastes. And almost everyone saw adding cast heavy tuners (Grover, Schaller, etc.) as an upgrade, not realizing that most tuning problems had to do with the nut or bridge saddles or even improper stringing technique. As the value of the instruments climbed, the emphasis on originality became more and more important. It doesn’t surprise me when Charlie notes that almost 90% of the instruments he sees have issues regarding originality, even if their sound and playability is not affected adversely.

  6. RAB says:

    Steve, excellent points above! You are right, players were looking to improve or personalize their axes vintage or otherwise. I routinely put Shallers on all my guitars (drilling out my ’64 Epi Casino on my dad’s old drillpress!) . I put a stop tailpiece and tuneomatic bridge on my (until then!) mint 1964 Firebird III figuring it’d intonate better than the stock compensated bridge/tailpiece! I made a pickguard for my ’66 Tele out of orange plexiglass because it looked groovy…I refinished my first electric, a pretty clean Desert Sand 1959 Musicmaster in flat black and put flame decals on it (from my model car kits) because it looked “cool”…good thing I didn’t have an original Burst as my first guitar…that being said, I learned my lesson over the decades and am now an originality nut like the rest of us! I still put remove the non-wired ABR-1s from my guitars and put on early wired bridges though (!)

  7. cgelber says:

    I wasn’t a big modifier myself-even at 60’s prices, I had too much hard earned money into my gear to mess with it-I wouldn’t dream of drilling a hole or routing a guitar. I do recall pulling the covers from my 68 SG Standard which never intonated right and I cursed it constantly until I finally got rid of it in the early 70’s. I might have had Grovers put on by my local dealer but I can’t remember (hey, it was the 60’s). I did have a Mosrite Ventures that I dropped a Pat# into but it didn’t require any routing. The funny part of that story is that I sold the guitar in ’74 and found it on Ebay in 2012 and bought it back. The really funny part is that I still had the original Mosrite single coil in a drawer 40 years later and scavenged the patent number, put the stock single coil back on and sold it again. I couldn’t play it worth crap. The neck is just too narrow.

  8. RAB says:

    Great story Charlie. I recall giving a friend a bunch of original early 60’s Gibson parts (knobs, tuners, bridge, tailpiece) when he was upgrading his Tokai Les Paul Sunburst…those parts would be worth a hefty amount today!

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