Case in Point

That’s wrong with this picture? No, it’s not the price of the guitar, it’s the price of the case. Read on.

I’ve written about cases before and I actually find them pretty interesting but this isn’t about the arcane, geeky finer points of vintage cases. This is something that occurred to me when I recently bought a 62 ES-335 that had the price tag in the case. A red stop tail ES-335, in 1962, cost $327.50. Cheap, right? Well, in 2018 dollars, that 327.50 is $2654 which is a lot for a guitar but doesn’t compare at all to the $5800 Gibson wants today for it’s (almost) equivalent. So, on top of the 710% inflation, Gibson has more than doubled the price of a 335 over 1962-up a whopping, uh, I dunno, 1400%? Seems like a lot but that hides the real issue, to me.

A good quality guitar case today is around $240 for a high end TKL. You can spend $600 on a Cedar Creek or other high end case. You can also spend around $100 for a decent molded plastic case that will protect your guitar relatively well. Or you can buy that $5800 59 reissue and get the case for free. Good deal right? Well, it’s a good deal when you consider that in 1962, the cost of the case was more than 15% of the cost of the guitar. Yikes. The inflation calculator says that 1962 case would cost $425.54 today. And the cases weren’t all that great. It’s a little like the drinks at a McDonalds. They probably make a nickel on that Big Mac but they make it up big time on the drinks at whatever drinks at McDonalds cost these days. But let’s take it a step farther. If your local Gibson dealer was marking everything up equally to how it was marked up in 1962, that case would cost you  close to $1000 (figuring 16% or so of the purchase price of the guitar).

So, somebody was making some pretty serious money. In fact, if you consider inflation, that $400 vintage black case you just bought for your 335 has actually gone down in value since it was new. How does this work? The guitar is up by 900% or so but the case is down by 25 bucks. Just thought I would bring this up while I wrote my “year ender”.

This Lifton case cost the 2018 equivalent of $425 in 1962.
Today, it’s worth about the same but the guitar has gone up by 900%. Go figure.



8 Responses to “Case in Point”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, interesting. I guess some folks get obsessed about having an original case with their vintage axe. Not me. The old cases rarely fit well. I immediately put the old case away (since it adds value if/when I sell the guitar) and seek out the most protective case (short of a heavy, awkward flight case) I can find. I gig all of my guitars and they need the best protection I can find…my understanding is, back in the day, Gibson dealers would dig thru their storeroom and sell the guitar with whatever case they could find. Unless, I guess, if the axe was ordered with its own case from the factory!

  2. Rod says:

    Unless the guitar was specifically ordered, I suspect that if it came with a case, the case was immediately placed with all the other cases and when the guitar was sold it was put in the first case they came to that fitted.

  3. James says:

    Fantastic post Charlie! I guess that means a 1958 or 1959 blonde would have increased in value by a factor of 35, also accounting for inflation. I never realized that with all things being equal, Gibson wants double the price of a 335. A bottom of the barrel guitar can still be had for $99 new. Were there any guitars available in the late 50’s new for only $11.60?

  4. Nelson Checkoway says:

    I love this stuff, Charlie – fascinating indeed!. You know, I think the two conundrums you raise are related: why double the inflation rate for a 2018 ES-335 and why such a disproportionate amount for a case back in the day?

    It may have to do with the distinction between “regular” vs. “premium” offerings in a product line. Even though a ’63 reissue is physically closer to a real ’63, an apples-to-apples cost comparison might better look at the price of a today’s run-of-the-mill ES-335. Today’s basic model, the ES-335 Dot has a street price (Guitar Center and the online stores) of $2,899, very close to the inflation-jumped cost of an original. The $5,800 reissue and even more expensive custom shop models are the higher priced premium product.

    That $425 inflationary cost for a ’63 gold plush lined Lifton is about 15% of the cost of today’s regular issue 335 like it was back then. But in its day, that was the premium product in the line. I believe Gibson offered 3 levels: this “Faultless” case for about $60, a semi-hardshell for about half that and the alligator cardboard case for much less, probably around $20. With inflation taken into account, the cheapest to most expensive of today’s cases probably fall somewhat in line with the 3-level Gibson offering a half century ago.

    Thanks as always Charlie for another thought-provoking topic and the chance to weigh in.

  5. okguitars says:

    Some very good points but keeping apples to apples, a modern case of equal quality to the usual Liftons and Stones of the late 50’s and early 60’s is not 16% of the cost of the guitar. A good quality case like a TKL can be gotten for $100. In fact, the 50’s and 60’s cases were inferior fit wise. At least the guitars don’t rattle around in there like they do in every vintage case I’ve ever owned.

  6. James says:

    Kinda funny. The quality of the guitars from the late 50’s is much better than we have today. At least we were able to improve upon the quality of the cases that hold todays inferior guitars.

  7. chuckNC says:


  8. Nelson Checkoway says:

    I hear you about the cost/value of cases today, Charlie. I’m guessing it partly has to do with decent wood and molded imports (are TKLs made here or in Asia?) and the advent of more protective cases uses molded shells and rigid foam. What’s really puzzling is that Gibson would let any guitar go out the door in a cardboard case. (Well those were also the pre-seat belt days when mom would hold a couple of kids on her lap in the front seat!)

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