A Tree Falls in the Woods

No sign of a sticker here. If the pickup has never been out of the guitar and it’s a 61 or earlier, you can call it a PAF. If it’s a 62 or later, it’s the tree in the woods. It may have once had a PAF sticker but you can’t ask someone to pay a premium for a PAF if it doesn’t have a sticker. How do you know it isn’t a patent number with a missing sticker? They are identical. Otherwise, I could buy a 62 with patent number stickers, take them off and call them PAFs and charge more.

You all know that age old question about the tree in the woods. I think it applies to pickups in a parallel way. If a PAF has no sticker, is it a PAF? The difference between the tree and the PAF is that I know the answer. Let’s take a critical look at a PAF. A late PAF is exactly the same as an early patent number except for the sticker. We can all agree on that. So, the sticker has fallen off your 62’s pickups and you insist they are PAFs. It’s in your listing and you price the guitar accordingly. Except that you shouldn’t. If the only difference is the sticker and there is no sticker, it can’t be a PAF whether it once had the sticker or it never had a sticker. Well now that doesn’t seem fair because a 62 can certainly have PAFs and how can I possibly know whether the sticker less pickup was a PAF or a patent? I can’t-it’s the tree in the woods.  No sticker means no PAF and the reason for that is very simple. If I can price my stickerless PAF as a PAF, the I can simply remove the stickers from all my early patent number pickups and make the same claim. From where I sit, any unstickered pickup from 62 on is a patent number or at least priced like one. You can speculate all you want but no sticker, no premium.

OK, supposing my guitar is a 61 and the stickers are gone? If the pickups have never been out of the guitar, you can assume with relative certainty that those no sticker pickups are PAFs but the way I see it, you still don’t get the entire premium for the sticker. The sticker itself, while it has no effect whatever on the tone of the pickup still has intrinsic value simply because it is your verification that it is what the sticker says it is. Of course there are fake stickers but none of them are perfect-at least not yet. Truthfully, I think none of us should care whether a pickup is a late PAF or an early patent because they are the same. But we do care. Just like we care about white and zebra bobbins and will pay stupid money for them even though they sound the same as a double black.

Granted this sticker thing is a really small point but every time I see a 62 or 63 for sale with stickerless “PAFS”, my blood pressure goes up. It’s all I can do to not write a nasty little note to the seller asking how he (or she) can possibly know. OK, I actually have done that. The answers? “I just know…” “It’s a 62 and all 62’s have PAFs” (they don’t). How about “it had stickers when I got it and they fell off…” “the guy I bought to from said they were PAFs…”or my favorite “wait until you hear them-you’ll know they can’t be anything else…”

I’m not the PAF police and you can list your guitar any way you like. It’s up to the buyer to call BS when necessary. My concern is that not every buyer has the necessary knowledge to make an informed decision about a vintage 335, 345 or 355. That’s why I write this stuff. I can’t tell you how many times someone wants to trade their vintage 335 to me for something else or another one and I have the unfortunate task of telling them they were sold something other than what they thought they were getting. And it isn’t just stickerless PAFs. It’s 68’s that are sold as 65’s. It’s undisclosed changed parts. It’s repro bridges, tailpieces, switch tips, knobs and any other part that can be reproduced convincingly. It’s undisclosed overspray and repairs. It’s sometimes deception and sometimes just ignorance. it doesn’t matter why, it only matters that it happens.

I get dozens of emails asking me to look over the 335 you’re about to buy from somebody other than me. I always answer, I always tell you what I see and I never try to sell you one of mine unless there is something drastically wrong with the one you are looking at and I have a similar guitar in stock. My goal is for you to get the guitar you want and to make sure the guitar you want is the guitar you think you’re getting. That’s a free service I’m happy to provide. So, a PAF sticker falls off a pickup out in the woods…



7 Responses to “A Tree Falls in the Woods”

  1. rob says:

    My ’62 sunburst 355 has one of those in the bridge position. The neck has the PAF sticker and it sounds great but the bridge tree in the woods is the best bridge pickup I ever heard.

  2. RAB says:

    Wow, a rarified discussion likely only we vintage nuts could relate to! Personally, I never cared too much if the pup was a late PAF or early PAT#…

  3. Leeds says:

    Right on, as always, Charlie. While not an ES-3xx concern, i seem to recall early ‘57 PAFs (as on the goldtop i owned) being made W/O stickers. Is that false memory at work?

  4. RAB says:

    Correct Leeds!

  5. Nelson Checkoway says:

    Right on, Charlie. The big issue regards sellers who promote the “best case scenario” for an instrument with ambiguities and then place a heavy burden on the buyer to disprove or knock down unrealistic representations. If the serial number could be a 1965 or 1969, they’ll call it a ’65. The headline calls it “all original in excellent condition” while the fine print discloses a “decades old expert headstock repair” or “perfect refret” or “original tuners reinstalled” (hinting at widened or extra holes). What really gets me are the disclosures of flaws “believed” to be minor (such as “crack around the neck joint but appears to go only through the finish”) armed with the disclaimer – “look carefully at photos”.

    Unfortunately, there seems to be a big knowledge gap around the time that certain features were introduced: I routinely see ES-335s for sale as ’65 or ’66 with a lower headstock crown, pantograph logo, larger f-holes, even a non-volute 3-piece neck — features that would categorically disqualify such a vintage. Even with some overlapping date ranges to contend with, somebody (maybe you Charlie?) should publish a definitive “features” guide that gives buyers a decision tree to rule certain vintage claims in or out.

  6. okguitars says:

    Nelson, you are 100% correct. My sentiments exactly. The idea of doing something to educate these bozos is a great idea.
    That’s why I started this website. I think all the information anybody needs is already right here. For free. The general guitar population simply has to want to know the truth about their guitar. Problem is…they often don’t.

  7. RAB says:

    Words to the wise!

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