Didja Ever Notice…

Rooney obit

Those of you old enough to remember Andy Rooney on “60 Minutes” will recall that the opening line of many of his segments was the title of this post. So, “didja ever notice” how every guitar seems to be all original except for something somebody did to it along the way? All original except for the Grovers. All original except for the frets, the nut and the saddles. All original except for the plastic, the pickups and , oh yeah, the finish. You’ve done it, I’ve done it. It’s just marketing. But beyond the typical stuff people do, there are some other things they do beyond the usual disasters.

Not all mods are terrible but they all will take something away from the vintage value. I can think of a couple that are kind of break even like taking the stereo circuit out of a 345 (as long as you keep it with the guitar). Adding a stop tail to a trapeze equipped 60’s ES-335 won’t hurt the value much (as long as you put it in the right place) since everybody seems to want to do that anyway. But there are some pretty alarming things have have perpetrated on these (and other) guitars over the years. And even rock stars aren’t immune to the overwhelming desire to somehow make what is nearly a perfect guitar somehow better.

Alvin Lee put a single coil between the hum buckers on his 335. Larry Carlton stop tailed his 68 and missed by about a half inch. At least all EC did was to add a set of Grovers, a Hare Krishna sticker and a “custom” truss cover. Somehow that added around $800,000 to the value (oh, yeah and he played it). Neil Young swapped out some pickups in that old black Les Paul and Frank Zappa never met a guitar he couldn’t “improve.” But beyond rock stars, we mere mortals have done some monumentally stupid things (and some that were simply ill advised).

One of the most frustrating things about a 3×5 is the harness. It’s really hard to remove ad even harder to install especially if the center block isn’t cut. Then it has to go in and out through the f-holes. Well, that’s an easy fix. Just cut a big hole in the back and put a plastic plate over it. But wait, that will show. I know, cut a big wedge out of the top-it’ll be covered by the pick guard. Nobody will ever know (except that they will). Bad intonation? How about a 70’s “harmonica” bridge-that won’t look too bad. A lot of mods were supposed to be improvements (I’m sure Alvin Lee really liked the extra pickup) and they were simply the fads of the era. Coil taps were a big deal in the early to mid 70’s and a lot of mini switches sprouted on the tops of 335’s. Master volumes were also added during that dark decade. The 80’s brought DiMarzio pickups and, eventually, active electronics. Fortunately, plenty of players left their guitars alone and those are the ones getting the premium prices these days. Also, many of the mods over the years have been reversible. You can take the DiMarzios or the EMGs out but you can’t grow the wood back where that coil tap and phase switches went.

Yep, we’re idiots all right but we can take some comfort in the fact that we were young when we did all this dumb stuff and we know better now. After all, they were just old guitars back then. Vintage was for wine (which we didn’t drink-we were men-we drank Jack Daniels). So, when you send that Les Paul R9 out to Historic Makeovers for the full treatment, just remember that in 2060, somebody is going to moan that some idiot messed up a perfectly good 2000 Les Paul by refinishing it, changing the fingerboard and taking the all important “condom” off the truss rod. Everybody knows the tone for those comes from that truss rod condom.

This probably seemed like a good idea at the time. This is a 64 ES-335. Heartbreaking.

This probably seemed like a good idea at the time. This is a 64 ES-335. It’s all original except for this big ol’ hole in the back.

I guess this mod worked out OK for Mr. Young. I'm guessing you wouldn't touch this guitar with a ten foot pole if I had done this.

I guess this mod worked out OK for Mr. Young. I’m guessing you wouldn’t touch this guitar with a ten foot pole if I had done this. It’s all original except for a couple of changed pickups.



16 Responses to “Didja Ever Notice…”

  1. RAB says:

    Yeah, best to leave that old beast alone! Refrets are ok since it is a musical instrument meant to be played unless you are going you just display your blonde ’59 dot neck under a glass-topped coffee table! Ack!

  2. RickK says:

    & Mr. Young’s “Ol’ Black” is actually a Gold top under that black paint, a ’53 I believe

  3. Steve Newman says:

    I remember (and still is done to this day) many 3×5, Les Paul, SG, etc. guitars having Grovers or Schallers installed, when there was nothing wrong with the tuners to begin with, but the string slots in the nut causing poor tuning. Also, in the late 60’s and through the 70’s, at least 70 percent of the original Les Paul Customs and SG Customs had been re-fretted with “standard” size Gibson fret wire, because players believed the “Fretless Wonder” size frets wouldn’t sustain or allow easy bending, when the fret wire was essentially the same as vintage Fender wire, just filed slightly lower. Now, the current rage is for “skinny and tall” fret wire. And don’t get me started on the “brass” hardware era. Seen all manner of added switches, pots and other electronic customizing, including a triple humbucker early sixties 335.

  4. RAB says:

    Yup, all this equipment hoopla compelling us to quote Uncle Frank Zappa, “Shuddup and play yer git-tar!”

  5. RAB says:

    Frank had a way with words, eh? :>)

  6. cgelber says:

    It is worth noting that Frank Zappa was a notorious modifier of guitars. Apparently, you are to “Shuddup and play yer git-tar” only after you’ve heavily modded it. All original except for the boost switch, the ring modulator, an out-of-phase control switch, two split coil switches and an EQ booster switch. Other than that-it’s just like it left the factory.

  7. RAB says:

    Charlie, true! Frank saw guitars as mere tools. Fortunately he mostly modified non-collectible Les Pauls, SGs and Strats. Thankfully Frank never got his itchy fingers on an original Burst or blonde dot neck as far as we know! Ronnie Montrose was interesting in that he owned, prized and apparently respected original pieces (including a 1958 Burst and Flying V) but was also known to modify lesser vintage guitars (E.G. mid-60s Strats) to his own specifications…

  8. Frank says:

    EC even took 3 Strats to compose Blackie… strang things happened!

  9. Leeds says:

    Guys who will keep their guitars for life, be they Neil Young or an Emily Post Nobody are in a different category as far as I’m concerned. However, instruments are indeed meant to be played. The problem comes when they’re used as commodities. Grovers work pretty well, as do stop tails, and because I play the guitars I buy I’ll take a modded guitar over an original one and enjoy the savings. In fact, I’ll be very happy when I find the right vintage Tele with a nice “unoriginal” Gibson humbucker in the neck position- it will cost much less than the equivalent unmodded piece, and save me the time and work of doing it myself. Better for vintage pieces to be played than to be hoarded or displayed. Stradivarius/Guarneri instruments are unplayable now if they havent been maintained and (often) modded. Duane’s guitars were difficult to play at the final Brothers’ show because they hadn’t been played/taken care of since Duane was swapping pickups, yanking pickguards and pounding metal into the back. If you have a motorsport track near you go see how many Ferrari guys show up and drive their cars as intended, but I digress. Enjoy playing your guitars, musicians. Let the collectors/hoarders worry about originality. Or sell the modded ones to me at a huge discount.

  10. chuckNC says:

    You and me do definitely agree, Mr Leeds. I nicknamed my less-than-collectible 355 “The Creature” because it has LIVED. Worked on? Just a bit. Pro headstock repair, lots of overspray, replaced bridge pickup, wired mono w/ Varitone still working and….best of all….one of the craftsmen who did this work carved his signature into the guitar’s top. You have to look closely but it clearly says “repaired by [name withheld].” I can’t look at that without smiling. Simultaneous repair and vandalism!

    I’d gladly take the savings on a PAF ES 3×5 with back door entrance any day!

  11. cgelber says:

    I think my aversion to the back door mod is not so much related to the fact that there is a hole in the back of the guitar. It’s because some lazy jerk couldn’t be bothered to pull the harness or pay someone to do it. It’s really not that hard-just time consuming. In the time it would take me to cut a nice neat hole and fabricate a nice neat cover for the nice neat hole, I could have had the harness in and out a half dozen times-even on a 345.

  12. RAB says:

    Charlie, well said! RAB

  13. R.Pastor says:

    You seem to be the ES-335 man with the answers so here goes. I’ve been looking for a player 335 that I can afford and am not too fussy about the year as I am not a collector. My only requirements are must be Kallamazoo made and no Bigsby. In other words cheap as possible.
    Yesterday I found one in a pawn shop. Perfect “except” for two ugly gashes in front and a little buckle rash in back. Fine for what I need it for. The broker is asking $2800 and I know I can do better for that money. What’s a dinged up early 80’s 335 really worth? How low an offer is reasonable. Obviously he will never get what he is asking but I just wondered what a fair price might be for it.
    Rick in CA

  14. cgelber says:

    For $2800, you can get one that’s close to mint. 81-85’s are quite good and the sunburst, red and black ones are pretty cheap. I’ve picked up less than perfect ones for under $2000 and as low as $1600. The blondes are always more.

  15. James says:

    For me modding a guitar is a real turnoff. Everyone’s a would be expert luthier. I had my time ruining guitars, but thankfully it was brief, and the only victim was an early 90’s Ibanez RG. If you have some serious Jedi luthier skills and some ingenious ideas, then just make a guitar. You made it….so it ought to be perfect. Then there is no need to drill 17 extra holes in the top and route for a Floyd Rose bridge. And I actually prefer Kluson tuners over Grovers.

  16. Steve Newman says:

    +1 for the current Klusons, James(they are making several versions now, original 50’s style, modern look- a-likes with the larger cast, threaded bushings, waffle backs and even locking designs) of very good quality and improved durability. But, I think the Gotoh reproductions may be just a tiny bit better, mainly because they offer more gear ratio options, seemingly even better machining, material, and build quality, and many, many styles to chose from. I personally tend to favor lighter weight/mass in the tuners than I used to, and I do hear a tonal improvement, especially in acoustic guitars (open back vintage style VS. heavier cast/sealed designs).

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