Rare as a Warm April Day in 2016

It doesn't get much rarer than this. This is the only known 63 stop tail ES-355 Mono (or stereo, for that matter). If perhaps you know of another, I'd like to know about it.

It doesn’t get much rarer than this. This is the only known 63 stop tail ES-355 Mono (or stereo, for that matter). If perhaps you know of another, I’d like to know about it. Thanks to Roger in California who was kind enough to offer this beauty to me. I was so close to getting this one last time it sold.

Those of you who live in the East have noticed that Spring has taken a vacation. It was warm for a minute and a half in March but Winter isn’t letting go. My beautiful magnolia trees were just blooming and bam!, 14 degree weather and all the flowers are dead. Bummer. This has nothing to do with the post but I’m pretty bummed about those trees. So, warm April days have been rare this year and rare is the subject today.

You know, if you read my posts regularly, that I love the rare stuff. I’ve had the most unbelievable luck  finding rare 3×5’s over the past year. I’ve found two of the four black 59 ES-345’s, a factory blonde 63 block neck 335, a red 59 dot neck with a a factory Varitone, three blonde 335’s and three stop tail 355’s. Now, I’ve got the only stop tail 63 ES-355 known. This guitar is a pretty interesting story on its own. There are only 6, maybe 7 known stop tail ES-355’s. I’ve now owned 4 of them. A stereo 59, a mono 59, a stereo 60 and now a mono 63. My friend Tom in Texas has a mono 60 (and the stereo 60 that I had). There’s a stereo 60 in Sicily and that’s about it. There are probably a few that haven’t surfaced yet but it’s still one of my “holy grail” guitars, especially the mono ones.

The stop tail 63 showed up on Craigslist (if I’m recalling correctly) in North Jersey three or four years ago. I got on it right away and made what I though was a fair offer. The seller apparently thought so too and agreed on the price. This was a Friday. I told him I would make the drive on Monday to pick it up. I had a conflict and asked if I could pick it up Tuesday. He told me he had gotten a better offer and it was sold. I would have gone higher (I really wanted this guitar) but he said the deal was done. I thought the deal with me was done three days earlier but sometimes integrity goes out the window when an extra grand flies in.

A couple of days later, one of my most avid readers tells me how he scored a 63 stop tail 355. I couldn’t blame him-he didn’t know that the seller had already accepted another deal. I immediately started my subtle campaign to get this guitar from him. Four years later (more or less), in an email with the subject line “temporary insanity”, the 63 stop tail was offered up to me. I dropped a hefty 40% markup over what he paid and the guitar was mine. At least for now. And it’s just great. Of course, I’ll sell it but I’ll play it and get to know it for awhile before I do. Once again, I have to go back to the old rule…something about not falling in love with guitars.

I’m sure a lot of you think it’s weird to seek out these rare birds only to turn around and sell them. It IS weird. But I can’t afford to keep them and all of them go to folks who truly appreciate the rarity (and the craftsmanship and playability and tone). I know where every single one lives and I generally ask the buyers to offer them back to me before selling them elsewhere. I’ve had the great fortune of playing and owning some of the rarest of the rare. Here’s a list of the ones that stick out in my mind:

’59 ES-345 in red. The first red one made. ’59 red dot necks-I’ve had two-one with a Bigsby and a stop tail with a factory Varitone. A Pelham Blue Trini Lopez, two black 59 ES-345’s, a blonde block neck 63, four stop tail ES-355’s, two blonde ES-345’s, that little blonde ES-140 with the PAF and 8 blonde ES-335’s. I was also lucky enough to find a 59 dot neck with a pair of reverse zebra pickups. Oh, and the white 65 ES-355. Then there’s “The Mexican” which is one of perhaps two or three cherry sunburst stop tail ES-335’s made in 1965. I would have kept every last one of them if i could afford to. They have all been great. Some better players than others for sure, some prettier than the others but ll interesting and, oh yeah, rare.

To many collectors, rarity doesn’t matter much. If the model isn’t popular, then rarity doesn’t matter at all. I’ve had two of only 11 blonde Byrdlands made in 1961 but they are really not worth much-rare or not. Why? Because nobody seems to want archtops these days. But when you get a rare version of a sought after model, it’s a different thing all together. They command a pretty serious premium and you start getting emails from billionaires and rock stars. Nice to know people are paying attention.

They didn't make any block neck 335's in blonde. Except this 63 and a lefty 64. One of my favorite rarities. This came out of Scotland.

They didn’t make any block neck 335’s in blonde. Except this 63 and a lefty 64. One of my favorite rarities. This came out of Scotland.

Then there's this 67 Pelham blue Trini Lopez I had back in 2010. Near mint. Bought it off of Ebay. I think there are 16 of them. Not a great player but it sure looked cool.

Then there’s this 67 Pelham blue Trini Lopez I had back in 2010. Near mint. Bought it off of Ebay. I think there are 16 of them. Not a great player but it sure looked cool.


8 Responses to “Rare as a Warm April Day in 2016”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, happy to be of assistance and thanks for an enjoyable smooth deal! The 355 is crazy rare and was great to play but it was time to move on to something of the big-necked 335 variety! I can’t afford a ’59 so am pursuing the next best thing (in my book anyway), a beefy necked ’64…best, RAB

  2. Erwin says:

    I can’t see that this selling and reselling is a positive thing. It drives the price of good guitars up and that is not in favor of musicians. They a usually poor people and not managers, producers or millionaires with big wallets. Guitars are musical instruments and should be played by musicians/artists who get inspired en improved by their quality It’s a shame that these instruments are seen as investment, merchandise or means to make a profit. If you just want to own them for a while, isn’t that a ego or neuroses thing? Would you like your ‘labor’ to be bought by rich folks who make a profit wich they actually don’t need for a living?

  3. rob says:

    Working musicians have gotten along fine for years with modestly priced guitars. With all the Asian instruments on the market, its not hard to find a guitar that will play and sound 95% as good as the rarities Charlie sells. These Golden Age Gibsons are in the same investment category as collector cars. Does the man who owns a million dollar Ferrari drive it to work every day? Not if he is sane. It sits in a climate controlled garage just like the vintage ES sits all warm and comfy in a guy’s den or music room. As for the prices, its simple supply and demand. Deal with it.

  4. RAB says:

    I have to humbly disagree. Did I make a profit on my 355, yes, a rather nice one. Do I own vintage guitars with the primary intention of making a profit? No. While I’ve owned hundreds of vintage guitars and amps over the 48 years I’ve been playing guitar I’m probably in a net loss position though I haven’t calculated the number. I made a huge percentage profit when I bought my first ’59 Burst in 1970 for $1,000. I sold it several years later for $2,500! No, I choose to play vintage guitars because they play and sound great, are beautiful works of art and I appreciate their history. Would a new guitar sound as good? Almost. A new 335 could be 90-95% as good as a vintage one. I for one can appreciate and am willing to pay a premium for that extra 5-10%!

  5. RAB says:

    P.S. Oh, and my guitars don’t just sit in a comfy carpeted man cave. I gig each and everyone regularly with my band at clubs, festivals and all manner of venues in front of live audiences…

  6. Steve Newman says:

    I see both sides of the argument….living in the reality of the “poor” working musician side, personally. I have been extremely fortunate and blessed to own and play some world class “Golden Era” 3×5 and other model Gibson guitars. a few exceptional Martin acoustics, two outstanding pre CBS Fender strats and some boutique built one off guitars. Like RAB says, I am not a collector, and they are tools, albeit some pretty nice ones. My secret was that I bought, played and enjoyed them one at a time, when they were viewed as just used guitars., and cheaper than their new counterparts. Like Charlie, I played them until someone else wanted them badly enough for me to make a profit and maybe get something a little nicer, rarer, or better suited to the musical tasks at hand. If I had all of the great ones that I’ve owned amassed in one lump, I’d be living in a villa on a beach somewhere today. That wasn’t the point, in my case, of owning them, but to enjoy them; and I learned a little more and more about them as I went along. Today, I understand the importance and worth of that “last 10 percent” that separates a very good guitar from a truly great one. Do musicians deserve to have the very best instruments they can find and afford? Of course they do, but don’t deny the collector who can afford the uber nice and expensive pieces, because he is caretaker and preserver of special instruments for future musicians and appreciators of musical works of art. He has just as much right to enjoy the guitar in his way as the person making a living with one does in his way. Talented players are not held back by the lack of vintage instruments…Jimi Hendrix wasn’t playing ’50’s era strats, but current production pieces of the time, to create his guitar magic. it ain’t the arrow, it’s the Indian! There is plenty of room in the vintage world for players and collectors alike, and infinite combinations of the two.

  7. RAB says:

    Steve, brilliantly put! Up until the last 20 years or so I could also only afford to have one nice vintage guitar at a time. Now I have a modest stable. Thanks for saying this better than I could! Best, RAB

  8. James says:

    After reading these blogs for quite a while, it is surprising how few of these early 3X5’s were made. What I find mind-blowing is how many of them eventually made their way to Charlie’s house!!! What tops that is the fact that one offs and super rarities find their way to CT too. Charlie, you are the Linnaeus of the vintage guitar world. Keep up the good work!

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