How Much is That Doggie?

This ES-335 59 reissue is listed on Ebay for around $6500. It looks a lot like a real 59 (except the pickup cover are still wrong). That's a lot for a new guitar. I'm sure a fair number of man hours goes into them but still, I imagine Gibson is making a few bucks on these.

This ES-335 59 reissue is listed on Ebay for around $6500. It looks a lot like a real 59 (except the pickup covers are still wrong). That’s a lot for a new guitar. I’m sure a fair number of man hours goes into them but still, I imagine Gibson is making a few bucks on these.

I don’t pay enough attention to new Gibson 335’s. I get a lot of questions about them and I see a few but I must be out of the loop a little bit. I just got a catalog from one of the very large musical instrument sellers and was sticker shocked by the current price levels of the top of the 335 line-the 59 dot neck reissue from Memphis. This particular seller wants $6199 (and up!).  Is it me or does that seem like a lot for a new 335? Granted, a real 59 will cost you at least $18000 and up to over $40,000 but here’s the rub…like a new car, the moment you take your brand spankin’ new 59 dot reissue out of the showroom, the value will drop by at least 30%. So, make sure you really like it before you walk out the door with it. With a vintage guitar, assuming you buy it from a reputable seller who is giving you exactly what you are paying for, it’s going to be worth at least what you paid for it for more than the 3 minutes it takes you to walk out the front door of the store. Maybe even more over time.

I have a policy of taking back any vintage guitar I sell for full value if you decide to trade up within a year but even without this kind of assurance, you aren’t likely to lose money any time soon on a vintage 335. Yes, the bottom fell out in 2008 after the bubble burst but if you look at how 335’s have come back since then, you might be reassured that the same thing isn’t imminent. 2008 was a true bubble and even without the Wall Street masters of the universe collectively trashing the economy, the bubble was bound to burst. Interestingly, 335’s didn’t get hit all that hard (nor did bursts). The Jrs and Specials and Strats still haven’t recovered but Teles are doing well and SG’s have recovered a good bit as well. A sane recovery is a good sign that these strong performers might still be a good investment. At the very least, they will likely hold their value in the near term. I’m betting my livelihood on it, so you can take some reassurance from that. So, given that a new 335 will cost you up to $6199, what are the vintage alternatives?

Well, there are loads of them. I’ve found big neck 65’s with some minor issues for around $6500 and if you can handle the smaller nut width, you can get a pretty close to mint 68 for less than that. 68’s don’t get as much respect as they deserve sometimes. The build quality is generally quite good and the neck can be pretty hefty. You just have to be able to deal with the narrow 1 9/16″ nut. And don’t dismiss the narrower nut out of hand. I’ve never liked it but after about a half hour of playing, I barely notice. There is some misinformation out there about the nut width on the 68’s. A well known and much loved vintage guitar site states that:  “Neck size increases back to 1 11/16″ with a decently size back shape. ” It doesn’t. The back shape gets pretty big but the nut is still 1 9/16″. There are plenty of other choices in the price range that will make you a happy player.

I found a 61 dot neck with a nasty neck break for $6500. It was ugly but it played great. I found a refinished 62 for around the same price (no not that great sounding dot neck 62 that was candy apple red-that was more). There are excellent early to mid 70’s 335’s out there for way less than a new Gibson but-like a new Gibson-make sure you play it before you buy it. The 70’s 335’s can be really awful. They can also be quite good. Still has the narrow nut but so does a $30,000 Stratocaster. The 81-85 335 dot reissues are generally pretty good with some minor mods to improve tone. They’ve always played well, they just need some minor work to sound their best. Read this if you want to know more. Bottom line is that you can get a really great player for less than a new reissue. I knew that day would come eventually but it seems to have come sooner than I expected.

So, I’m not saying a $6000+ Gibson ES-335 59 reissue isn’t worth $6000+. I’m just saying that you could spend the same $6000 and get pretty close to what you are trying to emulate with that $6000 reissue. And, to be fair, there are much less expensive new 335’s and I’ve been pretty impressed with some of them (Warren Haynes 61 and Rusty Anderson 59). So, there are further options. When I get a chance to play the $6199 one, I’ll let you know what I think. If the nice folks at Gibson would like to send me one to test drive, I’ll be happy to give my impressions.

I recently sold this near mint 68 ES-335 for $5500. It had been re-fretted and the binding were a little beat up but otherwise it was really clean. What would I rather have? A new 59 reissue for $6500 or a vintage 68 and $1000 in my pocket. Hmmm.

I recently sold this near mint 68 ES-335 for $5500. It had been re-fretted and the binding were a little beat up but otherwise it was really clean. What would I rather have? A new 59 reissue for $6500 or a vintage 68 and $1000 in my pocket. Hmmm.

9 Responses to “How Much is That Doggie?”

  1. RAB says:

    Gibson quality has certainly improved from the Norlin years. Still, that vintage guitar adage “old wood is good wood” generally holds true…go for a nice vintage axe if you can afford it. Lay off the $5 lattes and put that dough into your vintage guitar Xmas fund! You’ll be glad you did!

  2. 1983 says:

    Your blog is a great read!

    Totally agree with this – I’ve got a custom shop reissue and a vintage 335 and I agree, vintage over modern if the price is right!

  3. Andrew says:

    Old Wood? New Wood? Dunno. I’ll say this, which would you rather play to death on stage? If you are buying to gig regularly, go new, that way you have less instrument to ruin/lose.

    I think though, on new reissues, the rule should be ‘what are you willing to accept?’. On a vintage guitar we are willing to put up with SO much. Wear on neck, fretboard, dings on body, patina, rust, checking, damaged parts, repro parts, rewinds, and even the value killing HOLES OF EVIL. We will even buy an unplayable guiatr in bits if the price is right and we want it enough. But on a new guitar, we are not really willing to put up with ANY of that at all. It has to be pristine or no dice. Pristine isn’t cheap tho.

    With a vintage guitar, honest wear and even mods are a fact of life, and we pay accordingly. Hell, swapped pickups and new tuners can be great way to get a bargain. If a new guitar still has that factory smell (sweat and a curious inefficiency) then it’s simply a question of how much you want it, the cost is almost immaterial. Dreaming of that new perfect guitar is still a common fantasy. What I do though, is buy all gear but guitars new. If you think wear wipes of value on the vintage market, see what it does on the newish market. A ding here, a scuff there, and some pickguard scrapes, you can get a guitar for 60% of the cost. Plus, if it’s been out in the world for a year, it may have had a full setup done, saving you the cost.

    I’ve nothing against store setups, but its wasted time to do a full setup on something new, so they’re rarely perfect; especially with a guitar still settling.

    Most of my best gear was bought lightly (not gigged for months on end) used, so I’d get a similar resale value, and minimal depreciation. But I’d obviously buy the perfect guitar at new value just because it’s perfect. Going the custom route also makes depreciation unavoidable. While giving you a great guitar.

    New also has one advantage over vintage, reliability. We’ve all heard of that new guitar that was basically useless and fell apart, but how many vintage guitars are in the same boat? Especially seeing as planet of vintage guitars had design flaws anyway. We’ve all seen or played that guitar, you know THAT guitar, the one that looks perfect but is at least 600$ away from being truly playable. You can’t know the history, weather enough glue was used at the factory, what kind of conditions it was stored in, or if it’s that unlucky one with that 1/1000 fault. Reconditioned guitars are also fairly common, and while playable, are still sold dishonestly as original.

    And while there are a lot of new guitars which are almost unpliable out of the box, almost none of us have owned our vintage guitars from new, so we can’t know what was or wasn’t fixed by a guitar tech or the shop it was sold in.

    In both markets there are pitfalls, in both markets you can pay too much, and u can get a great deal in both markets. Perhaps the best option might even be to ask, ‘what will I have more fun with?’ cause there are few vintage guitars I’d put thru hell, but plenty of new ones I would.

    So, old vs new? Screw it. Buy both.

  4. RAB says:

    Buy the guitar that speaks to you, old or new. Then play it respectfully…some think it cool to abuse an instrument. Not me- take care of your guitar and it’ll take care of you. And I gig all my guitars including the near pristine vintage ones…that is what they were made for…

  5. Steve Newman says:

    Great post and great comments above about the new VS. vintage perspectives. Agree with RAB that you should seek the guitar that speaks to YOU, personally, whether it speaks in the same way to me or anyone else. By coincidence, I had the opportunity to play, examine, and compare one of the recently made VOS re-issue ES 330’s to an authentic 1960 example today. The neck shape and feel of the two guitars was amazingly close to being identical. The consensus of the players in our group was that the new re-issue was equal to, or actually sounded ever so slightly better than the older model, mainly due to brand new frets, saddles and pots and not hampered by 55 year’s worth of grit, dust, playing wear and oxidation. The newer model was really, really good and a pretty exceptional instrument. But the new retail price was climbing dangerously close to true vintage territory, and are they ALL this good? Some how, I doubt it, even though Gibson’s Memphis production quality seems to be getting better and better and much more consistent. Also, as Charlie eloquently notes, when you leave the store with the new one, you just dropped approximately 40% of value, while the older one’s value will more than likely keep climbing over time. Like everything else, it comes down to how badly you want something and if you believe it is worth the price. To each his own.

  6. Steve Newman says:

    Note that the above post was comparing ES 330’s, NOT 335’s, and the retail price of the new one was a much higher percentage of the vintage value.

  7. Leeds says:

    Not trying to throw a Spaniard into the works, but while I much prefer the sound and feel of vintage guitars, and I like playing my guitars with my band, I often choose my reissue for gigging. I’m often on small stages (had a singer take a chip out of a PAF ES onstage once- damn!) with no security. If I could afford a “player” vintage axe I’d be more comfortable gigging it, but even then if my guitar was stolen or broken I wouldn’t feel quite as bad if I lost a reissue guitar. How do you guys deal with this?

  8. RAB says:

    Leeds, I know your pain. I once had a butter-fingered drummer lose his stick at a gig and it made a “nice” little divot in the top of my previously pristine 1957 PAF Goldtop. I retired my mint (up until then) blonde 1962 Epiphone Sheraton after our clumsy lead singer wacked the headstock with his harmonica. Anyway, I keep having to remind myself these old guitars were made to be played. I try to minimize dings at gigs by being very aware of players and objects around me. And a few dings will still happen, so be it. In terms of stolen guitars, I am dilligent. The guitar is either in my hands being played or it is in its case parked right next to me or a trustworthy bandmate, no exceptions! As a result I’ve never had an instrument or amp stolen…knock on wood!

  9. RAB says:

    P.S. and I don’t own or use a guitar stand…I’ve seen too many stands and guitars fall over with dire consequences especially on treacherous and small stages. I recall I told our bass player to put his 1964 Epiphone Embassy Bass away during the break at a club gig. He refused…a club attendee ran across the stage, tripped over the guitar cord…just like in a slow motion cartoon I saw the bass pitch forward. When the neck hit the stage the peghead snapped off under the tremendous tension from the Rotosound RS 66 Swingbass strings! “Burt, I told you so!”

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