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Vintage Reissues

This very cool black ES-335 is 37 years old. It is what they called a “dot reissue” and the ones from 81-85 are a great deal and quite good. Black ones are pretty rare but not terrible expensive. I’d be likely to call it vintage.

Is that an oxymoron? Time rolls along and we keep getting older but something has kept the guitar community from acknowledging the aging process. Post a question on social media about what makes an old guitar a vintage guitar and you’ll get twenty different answers. Twenty years old? Thirty years old? Anything before the 80’s but not including the 70’s? Only high end makers? Is a Teisco from the 60’s vintage or just an old guitar? Or maybe a Hagstrom? Or a Harmony? A great vintage wine can be from last year. I believe the guitar community has conflated the word vintage with the word classic and maybe the term iconic. A 2007 ES-335 is not considered vintage. The 335 design is considered classic but a 2007 simply isn’t old enough to be considered vintage. A 335 is iconic as well. And 2007 was a very good year for 335’s out of Nashville but nobody is going to consider it vintage, at least not yet. That circles us back around to how old does a guitar have to be to be vintage?

On the 335 front, I can make a pretty good argument that an 81-85 “dot reissue” should be considered vintage at this point. The newest of those are now 35 years old and if we’re using age as a caveat, it seems like 35 years is old enough to be considered vintage. No one will argue that a reissue 68 gold top is vintage and I think a 76 Explorer would be considered vintage as well. Are we going in circles yet? I find most Gibsons from the 70’s to be average at best and I feel the same way about Fenders from that decade. They are old for sure but are they vintage. Depends on how you define vintage. Technically, vintage means the year something is made-a vintage 1960 bottle of wine simply means it was made from grapes harvested in 1960, right? It’s still called vintage even if 60 was a terrible year. Please don’t ask, I know nothing about wine. So, again technically, a 1960 Harmony is vintage (made in) 1960. But the guitar community has given vintage another meaning. It means something fine, the way you would refer to a particularly desirable year for wine. A vintage 59 bordeaux is considered a great year but 2018 is considered a better year (I looked it up).

So, where does that leave us? It leaves us confused is what it does. My opinion? Vintage has come to mean old and fine and desirable, at least to the guitar world. Is a 60’s Teisco vintage? I guess that depends on how you feel about Teiscos. They can be kind of fun but fine guitars? I think not. Harmony? Maybe. I don’t particularly like Gretsches but I have to consider a 60 6120 vintage. I like Mosrites and I would consider a 60’s Ventures model vintage but not a 70’s. Is a 76 ES-335 vintage? They aren’t particularly fine, nor desirable but they are old. A same year Explorer is much more desirable and I would consider that vintage. It’s a quagmire, I tell you. Maybe it’s just easier to pick an age and say, “OK, anything older than 35 years old is vintage.” If it’s a piece of crap, then it’s a vintage piece of crap.

I’m not sure why anyone actually needs four pickups but this 60’s Teisco is considered vintage (and collectible) by plenty of guitar aficionados. And, it’s Lake Placid Blue (or maybe Pelham Blue). I think it’s fun and interesting. It’s also cheap and it’s old but vintage? I dunno. Your call.

23 Responses to “Vintage Reissues”

  1. RAB says:

    Hmmmm…to me “vintage” infers not just that something is old but that it is also a quality item. A vintage wine should taste good. Similarly, at least in my book, a vintage guitar needs to be a fine musical instrument from the point of view of manufacturing quality, visual appeal, tone and playability. People can and do collect old junky guitars like Kay, Teisco, etc but why would you want to play one? Especially if you can afford to play something better?

  2. Kevin Smith says:

    As for the Tiesco, it offered one more pickup than the competition. As a teenager, a Harmony acoustic guitar was sought after. I had a Silvertone it was considered inferior. Now I find (though the magic if the internet) that Harmony made them.

  3. Steve Newman says:

    Very interesting subject matter, Charlie. To expand on the theme of re-issues, maybe you could give your opinion on what you consider the most desirable (and vintage like)of the modern (1990 forward) historic re-issues, artist models, and tribute 3x5s that Gibson has created. I have played a couple of the first “VOS” ’59 ES 345s from around 2013-14 that were exceptionally good guitars and about 90% accurate cosmetically in details to the originals. The Warren Haynes, Rusty Anderson, Freddie King, and J. D. Simo models are all csought after and onsidered a cut above the standard factory counterparts. Some of the first year unbound “58 re-issues are great guitars as well. I know thye vintage market is your specialty, but I know you deal with lots ofv thinline lovers who own some of these and have opinions on them VS. thr true vintage models. Keep up the fine work while we’re moving through the pandemic.

  4. Steve Newman says:

    Very interesting subject matter, Charlie. To expand on the theme of re-issues, maybe you could give your opinion on what you consider the most desirable (and vintage like) of the modern (1990 forward) historic re-issues, artist models, and tribute 3x5s that Gibson has created. I have played a couple of the first “VOS” ’59 ES 345s from around 2013-14 that were exceptionally good guitars and about 90% accurate cosmetically in details to the originals. The Warren Haynes, Rusty Anderson, Freddie King, and J. D. Simo models are all sought after and considered a cut above the standard factory counterparts. Some of the first year unbound “58 re-issues are great guitars as well. I know the vintage market is your specialty, but I know you deal with lots of thinline lovers who own some of these and have opinions on them VS. the true vintage models. Keep up the fine work while we’re moving through the pandemic.

  5. Collin says:

    This is the oldest debate topic in all of guitardom. But I just replace the idea of “vintage” with “original era” guitars.

    To that point, reissues by their very nature would never be considered “vintage” guitars, and no amount of time will change that fact. In fact, reissues were produced specifically BECAUSE of the vintage guitar market (as people realized the higher quality of older pre-70s guitars late in that decade).

    Despite the notion that guitars continue to dry out and age over time (I’d argue it’s more important how much the lumber dried out before it was turned into a guitar!), these things don’t generally change over time like wine does. It’s total misnomer to label these as vintage guitars, if the notion is that age changes the physical properties of the instrument.

    Some people use an imaginary 20-year rolling date to call something a ‘vintage guitar’ and by that definition, all of those late 90s Squire Affinity Strats and Daisy Rock guitars made in Indonesia are suddenly “vintage guitars” come on, now.

    Original guitars – built and sold during the golden era of American guitar manufacturing. of the 1930s – 1960s. Before global media corporations and cement/beer brands went around buying up guitar manufacturers and changing the build process (and thereby the quality) of these instruments. That era is long gone, and no amount of time will change that for more recent guitars.

  6. Joe Campagna says:

    Well said,Collin.Couldn’t agree more.

  7. RAB says:

    Hear, hear Collin!

  8. Nelson Checkoway says:

    I agree, Collin, with your views on this. Further, I think the notion of older guitars from the “post-vintage” era, and especially early vintage reissues, are fueled by the need to satisfy players/buyers who are priced out of the true (pre-65 or pre-70) market but who want an instrument that shares two qualities of a vintage guitar (neither of which make them intrinsically better): (1) it’s older and (2) it’s no longer made so supply is permanently curtailed.

    Curiously, modern reissue ES-335s with vintage/historic specs are probably closer to the “real deal” than the early ’80s DOT reissues that were made during the tail end of the Norlin era (I’ll defer to Charlie’s judgment on that). In fact, Charlie has noted in the past that, in addition to the attractive mouse-ear body style of the black example in this post, some early DOTs were made with a positively awful body style with squared off clubby ears. Ouch!

    But the early DOT’s are touted for Shaw pickups and celebrated for the reintroduction of the vintage-style, one-piece mahogany, no-volute necks not seen since the 60s. Thus, part of the cachet is that these are the earliest modern guitars issued when Gibson finally started to “get it right”. Maybe, if the pre-65 era is the “Golden Age”, the early ’80s, marked by more accurate Gibson and Fender reissues is the start of the “Silver Age”.

    What the DOTs do share in common with a pre-65 ES-335 is the fact that you can’t call Gibson and order one up. They satisfy some of the undeniable pleasures of many vintage guitar enthusiasts: the thrill of the hunt, the bragging rights of a great (and somewhat rarer) find, and the joy of playing it and knowing that not every kid on the block can have one.

  9. DaveK says:

    My first 335 was an early 80s dot reissue. It was ok but not a very accurate re-creation of an original. I think it came with Grovers. I also remember the binding cracked at all the side dots and most of the nickel plate peeled off the TP in one sheet.

    It lasted a few years until I could afford my real 64 which was in a different league in every respect.

    However we define vintage, those two 335s don’t belong in the same classification.

  10. RAB says:

    And players craving a vintage experience on a budget should consider a Golden Era Epiphone. Lower price than Gibson for an equivalent model (but made at the same factory!) or even a Guild! Some of the old double cutaway Starfire models are great! Either Epiphone or Guild offers excellent quality, tone and vintage vibe for less coin!

  11. Nelson Checkoway says:

    Charlie – You nailed the definition of vintage guitar as “old, fine and desirable.” Old is objective fact and desirable is established mostly by tastemakers who, in the guitar world, are notable players who gravitate toward an instrument for the qualities they see in it, sometimes limited by their own resources. “Fine” is a trickier quality to pin down. Players in a genre lean toward instruments of their idols, which is why some notable blues players play an original Kay Thin Twin to channel Jimmy Reed’s sound. Kays and Harmonys are not “fine” from the standpoint of craftsmanship or quality of materials, but the more playable of those guitars, like the solid, neck through Stratotones–early inexpensive Les Paul knockoffs– sound great in the hands of a player like Junior Watson. He doesnj’t try to make it play or sound like his Goldtop or Strat. He makes it sound like a Harmony and, for what he is striving to do, he makes it legit vintage.

  12. Kevin Smith says:

    Not that I support torreifed acoustic guitars, they have come very close to replicating vintage guitars in sound, but not value. I think it’s only a matter of time before Gibson torrifies plywood to replicate vintage ES’s because they have replicated VOS and hot glued neck, pickups, etc. At some point, the sound may be close. Yes, they will not be the real thing.

  13. okguitars says:

    No argument from me, although I think early 80’s are a pretty good deal for the money. You are comparing a $3000 guitar to a $25,000 guitar. To call both vintage does mean they are the equivalent of each other any more than a 64 Jazzmaster is the equal of a 49 L5. Vintage guitar is a pretty broad term. Similarly, a 50’s Citroen Deux Chevaux and a 50’s Ferrari are both vintage cars but they are not exactly equivalent.

  14. Drew Morrison says:

    I have heard some say that “vintage” = pre Beatles. Or some say ‘vintage’ = anything pre 1970. Or e.g. Reverb.com considers anything pre 1980 as ‘vintage’. I cannot say for certain that I would subscribe to any of these views myself. But I guess there has to be a cut off point somewhere/sometime if the term is to have any meaning.

  15. RAB says:

    Drew, interesting concept. Yeah, vintage as more of an era makes good sense. Certainly an absolute age, in terms of the number of years of age an instrument is doesn’t cut it. When I bought my first ‘59 LP Burst in 1970 it was only 11 years old. As such it was just a “used” guitar. I was harshly criticized around town for spending $1,000 for said used guitar. I showed them when I sold the guitar a number of years later at a huge profit ($2,500-$1,000=$1,500!) RAB

  16. Nelson Checkoway says:

    Yes,RAB. Right around 1970 was ground zero of the vintage era. The Les Paul Standard was indeed the first notable instance of guitar heroes in the rock age seeking out an older, out of production model for its mojo–most notably Eric Clapton and Mike Bloomfield–and Beck and Green to follow. Interesting note: I have read that both Clapton and Bloomfield, who ignited the Les Paul craze in 1966-67, were each independently steered toward this model by Freddie King: specifically his 1950s King Records album covers that showed him sporting a mid-50s wraparound-tail goldtop and were seeking out his “sound.” So in some ways we can credit F.King–better known, of course for his ES-345–for staring a lineage of vintage lore that has led to five-and-six-figure original Les Pauls!

  17. Nelson Checkoway says:

    Freddie King with his goldtop

  18. RAB says:

    Nelson, true! And Mike Bloomfield was an early influence on players re the Les Paul craze. He also saw his Blues heroes playing Goldtops. As a result, early on, the single coil equipped Goldtop was MORE desired than the humbucker equipped Les Paul Standard! Players had to “settle” for a Burst if they couldn’t obtain a Goldtop. Funny how things turned out, eh? RAB

  19. Drew Morrison says:

    Rab, you did well there with that $1500 profit! My sense on what should be considered ‘vintage’ would be to accept anything pre 1970s as having that status. However, dealers (and I name no one in particular), have been stretching the cut off point for some time and there are reasons for this…..available supply changes perimeters and of course also because guitar quality is not that cut and dry throughout the decades as it was once considered when the VG template was being constructed and here are just, to my view, some examples. Some would argue the early 70’s Les Paul Custom ‘reissue’ with Alnico/P90 combo is a fantastic quality made instrument that stands up to any era in the history of Gibson. Some in the Gretsch fraternity now see the 1970s Baldwin Arkansas made instruments in a much rosier light than they previously did 20 years ago and so they should. People I know who own guitar shops consider e.g the Fender AVRI models to be a top notch product and hard to differ from more expensive CS creations. They also have noted the playability of the transitional Fenders of the mid 60s as being something special and on a par with previous Fender products. Which I would argue goes against the perceived wisdom. What I have found outside the strict VG bible is what is considered ‘vintage’ and ‘quality’ is a changing and evolving process and that is a good thing. I guess there are classics and they will remain so but I have always thought that a good guitar is a good guitar no matter what the era. Whether it is a 1930s Epiphone Emperor or a 1990s Les Paul Goldtop Historic reissue (which I have both) I know by playing them and listening to their voice that one thing is certain the people who made these instruments in whatever the era put their heart and soul into them.

  20. Steve Newman says:

    Collin, agree with your post that no guitars built outside the “Golden Era” timeline up through the late 1960’s should properly be called “vintage”, as Charlie’s definition in the original post states. Also would state that the “vintage” label does not magically transform a mediocre guitar into a stellar example. No denying that there are truly premiere, exceptional, vintage 3x5s instruments with general overall craftsmanship, quality of wood, and attention to detail of a very high order produced during that time, as is reflected in their value and desirability. But, I have also played my share of “vintage” 3×5 guitars that were only mid pack at best as far as sound or playability. Also have played some excellent modern examples…..as Drew Morrison stated “a good guitar is a good guitar no matter what the era”. Also agree I would never consider ANY re-issue “vintage”, no matter how perfect the spec compared to the original, because it is a re-creation or imitation of the actual vintage instrument. Just wondering, because of Charlie’s level of expertise, what modern re-issues he thinks compares favorably to the authentic originals. For example, he has touted the re-issue of Clapton’s red ’64 335 as an exceptionally good re-creation, in previous posts. Still not the real thing.

  21. RAB says:

    A very high percentage (over 90% by my estimate) of Golden Era ES models I’ve played have been exceptional instruments. And some newer ES guitars I’ve played have been quite good. Then comes the issue of usability and practicality. It is one thing to play your mint blonde ‘59 dotneck in your carpeted, climate controlled music or living room. It is another thing to think about dragging it down to the local scroungy Blues club or play it in the blistering sun or freezing cold at an outdoor gig. Even with my meager guitar stable I leave the vintage pieces at home and bring my custom made Fender-style S and T guitars to those gigs. They are very high quality, great playing and sounding instruments and I treat them well. But I don’t freak out if they get a ding at the gig. I only play the vintage guitars at secure indoor gigs or recording sessions…

  22. Steve Newman says:

    RAB, I’m certainly with you on your philosophy of preserving your vintage guitars and their original condition without subjecting them to abusive environments. A classic example of this is Jack Pearson, If you’re not familiar with him, just check his resume/discography; (Allman Brothers, Lee Roy Parnell, Greg Allman Band, Tedeschi Trucks, etc.). Though he owns and uses several iconic vintage guitars in the studio, his number one stage strat is an imported stock Fender Squier model, and the backup guitar for it is also a Squier. No pickup or hardware changes, except tuning machines. He tends to favor modern ES 339 for his semi-hollow stage use. It ain;t the arrow, it’s the Indian!

  23. Nelson Checkoway says:

    Right on, Steve. Especially for live use, the impact of the amp, any effects, the room acoustics and sound reinforcement negate the “edge” that the sound of a pre ’65 guitar may provide over its modern counterpart. And, in the Irony Dept: players who drool over pre-‘BS Fenders and deride the Mexican crafted strat or tele must consider: the initials TG penciled onto the neck of a $40K blackguard Tele are the mark of Tadeo Gomez, who was of Mexican heritage, along with, probably, many of his colleagues at the Fullerton plant!

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