Archive for March, 2018

Sleeper but not a Snooze

Thursday, March 29th, 2018

Here’s a pair of gorgeous near mint 62’s. The red they used in 62 isn’t the one that fades to watermelon. If the guitar has been  kept out of the sun, the red is stunning. Leave it in the sun and it will go brown. PAFs all around. The nickel looks like chrome it’s so shiny.

Every year 335 seems to have its followers. Some (like me) love the 58 with its thin top and shallow neck angle. The 59 has the big neck aficionados (even though at least half the 59’s don’t have big necks). The 60 has that great medium neck for at least half the year and still has long magnet PAFs. The 61 is the bargain dot neck for those who can spend big but can’t spend huge. Late 63 and 64 have tons of followers due, in part to the Clapton connection and, in larger part, to that great neck profile. That leaves the 62 which sometimes gets treated like the red headed stepchild. Look it up.

I think the 62 simply gets lost in the shuffle. The neck is generally not chunky nor is it as thin as a 61. Sometimes it has PAFs and sometimes not. Or one of each. Mostly,  it’s a block neck but sometimes it’s a dot. No wonder it has something of an identity crisis. There’s a lot to like about a 62. First, the later PAFs seem to be remarkably consistent. There’s hardly a bad one to be had. While early PAFs can be magical or marginal, a late PAF is almost always excellent. Early patents are the same pickup with a different sticker. The build quality is a good as any other year and better than any year that followed. The neck profile is fairly consistent-usually around 82″-.83″ at the first fret and around .90″ at the 12th. That’s bigger than a 61 but smaller than a 64. But it’s a sweet spot for a lot of player-particularly the who have always played Fenders or those with relatively small hands. The baseball bat is not for everyone despite how it gets talked up on all the guitar forums.

What really strikes me about a 62 is that it costs about the same as a 63 or 64. Yes, PAFs and patents are the same through 64 but you really would rather have the PAFs wouldn’t you? I would. They are a big part of the vintage mystique. Don’t get me wrong, I love the 64 neck-I played one for years before I could afford a 58. But I keep getting 62’s and they keep impressing me. I think that maybe they got better mahogany during 62 than they got previously. 61’s are very prone to neck problems due certainly to the very thin neck profile but maybe, just maybe, the mahogany wasn’t so good either and Gibson decided that too many guitars were coming back with problems. I’ve had at least a half dozen 61’s with neck issues (I don’t buy a lot of 61’s for that reason). I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad neck on a 62.

The 335 was still a relatively low volume seller for Gibson in 1962. It wasn’t until 64 that the numbers started get to the point where the workers were playing catchup to the demand and quality sometimes suffered. In 61 they made 886 335’s. In 62 they made 876. By 65, that number doubled and by 67, it was up more than fourfold. Given that all the other models ramped up production during this “guitar boom”, it’s no surprise that quality began to diminish. That’s not to denigrate a 67 335-it’s still an excellent guitar but there are qc issues that occur with more frequency during these “boom” years than they did from 58-64. It’s not for nothing that these are called “the golden years” at Gibson.

One final point-I keep an informal “ten best” list of the 3×5’s I’ve owned. It changes a lot but for the past five years, there has been a 62 on that list.  It was a refinished dot neck 62 but still, a 62. The “average” 62 is a great guitar. I don’t know why it keeps surprising me that 62’s are so consistently good. Everything was going right for these guitars and Gibson had finally ironed out the few bugs that existed (shaved bridges (58), output jacks ripping out of thin top (58), deteriorating tuner tips (59/60), warping, twisting necks and truss rod issues (61). I think, as long as they remain well priced, the 62 will be a guitar that I seek out. I love 58’s and 59’s but sellers have gotten totally out of control with asking prices. Right now, 62’s are a sweet spot.

Here’s a 62 dot neck that’s been played hard and has taken on a bit of a brown cast. Not as pretty as the bright red but still a great player. And it’s a dot neck.

Getting Started in Vintage

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018

Not a 335 but a Guild Starfire V from the late 60’s. I don’t generally buy these but I should.

I really like vintage guitars but you already knew that. I’m aware that this blog can look pretty elitist-I’m talking about guitars that cost $10,000 to over $100,000 and I don’t talk much about the really affordable stuff that has all the vintage vibe of a 59 335 and none of the sticker shock. In fact, it goes beyond the “vibe” and into playability and tone. There are guitars that are extremely well made and can be incredible players. These guitars are generally not on the serious collectors radar but should be on the serious player/collector’s radar, especially if you’re young and still making your way in whatever career you’ve chosen for yourself. And I’m not just talking to millennials. I’m talking to old guys like me who really love old guitars but don’t want or don’t have the means to drop $10K or more on a guitar. I have one word for you. Guild.

When I was a teenager in the mid 60’s, Guilds were part of what we might call “the big four” of electric guitars. Lots of kids played Hagstroms, Teiscos, Kays and Harmonys but those of us who had a gigging band (or rich parents) played Fenders, Gibsons, Gretsches and Guilds. There were other good, though less common, American electrics-Rickenbackers, Mosrites (I played a 64 in the early 70’s),  Epiphones (I played a 61 Wilshire in the late 60’s) and maybe Standels (I owned one in 68) but they were outliers due to rarity and perhaps cost (Mosrites were really expensive). We know the virtues of Fenders and Gibsons and the good stuff is pricey. Gretsches can be hit and miss (in my opinion) although I’ve had a couple of really great early 60’s 6120’s, they were not cheap. But Guilds are consistently good and consistently cheap. And why is that? It’s not that rock stars of the era didn’t play them. Jerry Garcia (and Bob Weir) played them, Jack Casady played a Guild bass, Zal Yanovsky of the Lovin’ Spoonful played a Guild Thunderbird which is a very cool guitar. Muddy Waters had one too.  Lennon had Guild 12 but he didn’t play it much, apparently. So, that can’t be it. To further that point, George played a Gretsch Gent and they aren’t terribly expensive either, so I don’t think the rock star thing holds much water.

So, I don’t really know why Guilds are so cheap. But cheap they are. The Starfire line which is somewhat derivative of Gibsons ES line can be really excellent, although sometimes heavy. The single cuts with DeArmond pickups, which are pretty great single coils, started in 61 and the double cuts with hum buckers followed a few years later. I’ve seen plenty of 60’s double cut Starfire IV’s, V’s and VI’s  for $2000-$3000. These were about the same price as 335, 345 and 355’s back in the 60’s and were considered good alternatives. I think Gibson made the better pickup but the playability is pretty close especially for mid to later 60’s which often have a wider nut than their Gibson counterparts. The early single cuts with DeArmonds cost even less.

Then there are the Guild hollow bodies from the fifties and into the 60’s. These are wonderful players and as beautiful as any big Gibson jazz box. Many had pickups made by a company called Franz and they are quite wonderful. Think of it as a P90 with manners. The nastiness of P90’s is legendary but the Franz has a sweeter tone when backed off and plenty of snarl when you cut them loose. I really like the three pickup Guilds (X-375,  with the pushbuttons which are simply selectors- not a Varitone). I like the more conventional two pickup X-175 and the CE-100 as well. And cheap? You can score a clean one for a couple of grand. When’s the last time you saw an L5 CES for that?

So, if you want to get into vintage for the love of playing and owning old stuff, Guild is a great way to start. I don’t think they are going to appreciate much any time soon but maybe they will if folks start buying them. Not because they are great investments but because they are great guitars. Now back to our regularly scheduled (elitist) programming.

I actually own this one. It’s a 60 X-350-I think they called it a Stratford. It’s full hollow and every bit as pretty as anything Gibson made. Those are Franz pickups.

Repro Parts

Saturday, March 10th, 2018

The Gibson Historic ABR-1 is pretty accurate but there are two ways to tell for absolute certain if its a real one or a repro. Can you spot the difference? One of these is a repro, the other is a 61.

One of the things I never entirely understood is why a lot of Les Paul guys put vintage parts on their reissue LP’s. You can’t convince me that it makes the guitar sound any better when you put a $1200 ’59 stop tail or an $800 bridge on your 2004 R9. You could convince me that a PAF might improve the tone but I’ve heard plenty of boutique pickups that are the equal of a typical PAF that cost 80% less. Of course, if you want your R9 to have a pair of real double whites, you’re going to spend more on the pickups than you did on the guitar. A real 59 harness with bumblebees? $1200 or more. Yikes. Before you get on my case for selling parts for stupid money, keep in mind that I don’t set the prices. If I’m lucky, I’ll find a broken 335 from the early 60’s and scavenge some parts that way. Also, did you ever notice that every time somebody has a vintage Gibson part to sell, it magically comes out of a 59? Every stop tail? 59. Every long magnet PAF? 59. Every no wire ABR-1 and single line Kluson? 59. When’s the last time you saw a listing for a 1960 stop tail? probably never. Not that it matters since a 60 and a 59 are the same. But you get the point.

OK, but how about the repro stuff? Most of it is pretty good and pretty accurate. The Gibson Historic parts are close to the real thing. There are ways to tell them apart and I often (really often) see repro parts being passed off as the real thing. That said, there are lots of repro parts that don’t try to be exact duplicates. The part in question has to do its job, has to look like the original (from a foot away, anyway) and it helps if it isn’t all shiny and new looking unless you have the skills to do convincing aging (which I don’t).

I’ll deal with metal parts in this post. The plastic parts have gotten really convincing as well and I see way too many of those too. The only bridge out there that will fool anybody is the Gibson Historic-the one that says “ABR-1” on the back and has that tooling mark next to it. You simply can’t tell them apart except that there are three separate “tells” that will tip you off. The saddles are the easy one-old saddles aren’t knife edged on the top and they have mill marks on the back side. But, it isn’t too hard to put vintage saddles on a repro bridge and it isn’t unusual at all to see modern saddles on a real vintage ABR-1. But take off one of the “E” saddles-high or low-it doesn’t matter. If there’s a round tooling mark under there, you’ve got a repro. Sorry. You can also look at the sharpness of the lettering on the underside but if you don’t have a real one for comparison, you’re not going to be able to tell. Use the tool mark under the  saddle. It’s 100% accurate.

Lightweight stop tails have become ridiculously expensive if you want the real thing. $1000 is actually a fair price these days. There simply aren’t very many out there. I saw one listed for $2000 on Ebay. Most of the repros are not very accurate but look pretty good and do their job perfectly well. The Gibson historic is shaped wrong-too square at the “ears”. The Creamtone is pretty good but the seam on the back is wrong. The real deal has a slightly hard edged hump on the top and that’s the first thing I check when I get a “new” vintage guitar. I eventually pull the tailpiece and check the seam but if its totally rounded on top, I know it’s wrong without any further action. The stop tail made by DMC, which has gotten tough to find,(usually sold by Crazy Parts in Germany) is really accurate as far as the hump and the seam goes. They were  pretty expensive but were the most accurate by a lot. The only element they got wrong are the little round tooling marks on the front side of the tailpiece. Real Gibsons from very early have the same tooling marks but most don’t. So, it’s accurate to a point but if I see those tooling marks, I can be pretty sure it’s a DMC. The best thing to do is to look for the “short seam” on the back. Most repro stop tails don’t have it. Then if it’s there, check for the hump and the tooling marks. If the hump is there and the tooling marks aren’t, you’ve probably got the real thing. Lucky you. It’s the most frequently found “wrong” part on guitars that I buy and it’s almost never disclosed. Not because folks are dishonest but mostly because they don’t know what to look for. Now you do.

That’s enough. We’ll look at other repro parts later this month.

A real lightweight stop tail will have a very distinctive seam on the back. Most call it a “short seam”. The bottom one has it and is a real 59. The top one is a repro-not sure of the brand.


Both of these stop tails have an accurate short seam. One is a real 61, the other is a DMC which is super accurate (and expensive) but has those little round tooling marks. Some real Gibson tailpieces have the tooling marks-usually really early ones-but not many. So, if you see these marks, don’t freak out but it could be a repro.