Archive for the ‘ES 330’ Category

Don’t Matter if You’re Black or White

Monday, January 6th, 2014

This white ’65 ES-355 is the only white ES I’ve had. The finish was factory but it’s really tough to tell if it was originally white or a factory refinish. It did have a “custom” truss cover but that, in itself, isn’t enough to convince me it is original.

You thought I was going to write about PAF bobbins didn’t you. Go on, admit it. And it doesn’t matter if they’re black or white (unless you’re buying or selling). But, no. I’m writing about black guitars and white guitars. They made both as custom orders during the 50’s and 60’s but they are rare and they are desirable. Out of 300 or so ES-330, 335,  345 and 355’s I’ve had here since I started this site, I’ve had only two legitimate factory black ones (and a couple of black Trinis but those were actually a stock color, although they are awfully rare).  I’ve had exactly one white one. You would think both those colors would have been more popular but they just aren’t. Gibson made an awful lot of Les Paul Customs in black so it wasn’t like they didn’t have the paint around. They also made a fair number of factory white SG’s-mostly Customs and Specials and a few Jrs. So how is it that these colors rarely found their way onto the other guitars in the Gibson line? Let’s see what’s out there. There’s the very famous Keith Richards ES’s-a black 59 ES-355 (the one in the Louis Vuitton ad) and a white ES-345 which I think is a 64. There’s Alex Lifeson’s white ES-355 but that’s from the 70’s-a 76 I think. There’s a photo of dave Edmunds playing a black dot neck 335 but it has the headstock inlay in the wrong position and I don’t know if it’s factory black. In any case, these custom colors don’t come up very often and I’m always happy to see one when they do. Recently I’ve had two of them – both from ’66 and both done up with fancy bindings (including the f-holes) and gold hardware. The serial numbers are very close as well (two apart) and it’s possible, in fact likely,  they were ordered by the same buyer. Interestingly, they both ended up in the hands of a gentleman in Southern California and then both ended up with me. There’s a black ES-355 that’s been on Ebay lately with the same look. How do you price one of these? Well, it’s not easy given that the supply is minuscule and the demand is, well, there is no demand because most folks think they are totally out of reach. You can figure on a custom color being at least double the price of a red or sunburst of the same year. That doesn’t include “Sparkling Burgundy” which nobody seems to like very much. That also doesn’t include black or white (well sort of white) 335’s from the 80’s. They are actually worth less than their blonde counterparts. If you’re lucky enough to come up with a black or white dot neck 335 from 58-61, then all bets are off because you can pretty much name your price. There are some but I don’t think you’ll find one in your lifetime. Black 59 and 60 ES-345’s and 355’s were made but I’ve never seen a white one from that early. I had a white ’65 ES-355 a few years back and I mentioned Keith’s white ’64 ES-345. Then there are the Trinis.

Who doesn't love a black Trini? This 67 was pretty cool. I hadn't seen one in ten years then had two of them last year.

Who doesn’t love a black Trini? This 67 was pretty cool. I hadn’t seen one in ten years then had two of them last year.

I’ve had a 66 and a 67 in the past year or so and I’ve seen at least two others including the one played by Rusty Anderson (Paul McCartney’s guitar player). But the Trinis were a standard factory color so there may be a lot more of them under beds and in closets. Pelham Blue was a standard color as well but rumor has it there are only 16 of them. I’ve had only one and seen four or five others. Still, a black Trini is going to cost you about double what a red one will cost, so standard issue or not, folks still will pay a big premium for them. The Pelham Blue Trini went for more like three times the cost of a red one but it was practically mint so you have to figure that in as well. There are some black ES-175’s, at least a few black Byrdlands and Kessels (Gene Cornish of the Rascals played one back in the day) and a few black early double necks (which are rare enough in any color). The tricky part is, of course, the “factory” part. There are a number of ways to tell if a guitar was refinished and, frankly, a lot of black ES’s are not factory. Black can be used to cover all sorts of nastiness-headstock cracks being the usual sin but also filled holes and routs. I had a 68 Les paul Custom come to me that looked legit until you got the light to hit it just right and you could see that there was a Kahler rout that had been skillfully filled. So, be extra careful with these beauties. The paint is thick and opaque and sometimes it’s a little scary to imagine what’s under there. But if you find a real one, hang on to it (or sell it to me). There just aren’t that many of them and if they are cool enough for Keith, they are probably too cool for the likes of you (or me).

This bound f-hole and 355 trimmed ES-335 (7 ply top binding and gold hardware) is a 66. I had a 66 ES-330 decked out the same way only 2 serial numbers away from this one.

This bound f-hole and 355 trimmed ES-335 (7 ply top binding and gold hardware) is a 66. I had a 66 ES-330 decked out the same way only 2 serial numbers away from this one.

ES-335 Market: The Long Not so Hot Summer

Sunday, September 8th, 2013
This 63 ES-335 just sold for just under $11000. Still shines like new and is bone stock with a few Bigsby holes. This was a $13500 guitar last Spring.

This 63 ES-335 just sold for just under $11000. Still shines like new and is bone stock with a few Bigsby holes. This was a $13500 guitar last Spring.

Where did everybody go? My readership dropped by 40%, my guitar sales slipped to somewhere between slow and stop and my email volume was off by at least 30%. On top of that, the market (Ebay and dealers) is flooded with 335’s and 345’s. Block necks are everywhere and still wildly overpriced. It seems like we have another standoff between the sellers and the buyers. The buyers are not paying $12000 for a Bigsby block neck any more. The sellers still seem to think they can get anywhere from $13,500 to over $20K. Stoptail 335 block necks might fetch $15K but even that seems a bit of a stretch these past few months. The same inventory is listed week in and week out on Ebay and only a sucker makes a move on a $20,000 block neck unless its dead mint. I had a 63 ES-335 on Ebay recently–original stoptail with holes from an added Bigsby. Beautiful condition, too. I listed it on my site for $12500. No takers for four months. I listed it on Ebay for $11,500 and got no bids. Plenty of offers but no bids. I did sell it for a bit less and felt the buyer got a great deal (especially since I didn’t make a dime on it). It’s simple. The supply has outrun the demand for now. Sorry sellers but that’s the current reality, like it or not. There are brighter spots-the dot neck market (especially 58 and 59) is still very strong and the ES-330 dot neck market has kind of come alive this Summer. In fact, I sold more 330’s in August than I sold 335’s. The ES-345 market is no better. 59’s still fly out the door but later ones, especially Bigsby’s need to be priced well under $10K to garner much interest. When’s the last time you got an all original bone stock early 60’s ES-345 for under $8000? It’s been awhile. I like to move guitars not sit on them-when I buy a guitar, I’m not making an investment, I’m buying inventory. This might be your best buying opportunity since the bubble burst in ’08. The market has inched up in the past five years and I think sellers have again gotten greedy and this time,  the guitar buying public isn’t buying into it. Of course, the Summer is pretty much over and folks are getting back from vacations and turning to the more important things in life (like adding to your guitar collection or getting that elusive “dream guitar”) so I expect a bit more demand. Like the housing market, it takes a really long time for the realities of a sagging market to sink in. Some dealers and sellers still think the prices of 2008 are current while others think the market has run up from there…”uhhh, gee, I’ve got this appraisal from Gruhn from 2007 and that was six years ago, so the guitar must be worth a lot more by now…” So, what do you (the buyer) do? You make yourself a great deal and get that guitar you’ve always wanted. Make an offer that fits your budget. And don’t worry about insulting the seller-he doesn’t mind insulting you with a ridiculous price. You can tell your wife that the prices haven’t been lower for that 64 335 since 2009 and that it’s probably a good investment again. If you don’t overpay, you can almost certainly get your money back and more in a few years and you get to play the guitar as much as you want. Think of it as free rent for as long as you possess it. Oh, and don’t break it.

This 63 ES-345 is bone stock and sold recently for under $8000. I'll take that deal all day long.

This 63 ES-345 is bone stock and sold recently for under $8000. I’ll take that deal all day long.

You’ll Never Get Rich

Saturday, August 24th, 2013


What the... This is, of course, Fender's somewhat lame attempt to capture a chunk of Gibson's market share. It didn't work out so well. I "borrowed" this photo from an Ebay listing and it shows most of the Coronado incarnations.

What the… This is, of course, Fender’s somewhat lame attempt to capture a chunk of Gibson’s market share. It didn’t work out so well. I “borrowed” this photo from an Ebay listing and it shows most of the Coronado incarnations.

Yes, it was the original title of  “The Phil Silvers Show” also known as Sgt. Bilko and it was a Fred Astaire/ Rita Hayworth movie in 1941 but it’s also the beginning of a well known (OK, sort of well known) quote that goes something like this: “you’ll never get rich playing another mans game.” Which means, essentially, do what you do best not what someone else has already been successful at. Gibson? Guilty. Fender? Guilty. Fender has the better story so we’ll tell that one. By 1966 sales of electric guitars went absolutely through the roof. The electric guitar was on the cover of Life Magazine it was such a big deal. The Beatles were, of course, largely responsible along with the rest of the usual British Invasion suspects. Fender sold a huge number of guitars in 1965 and saw an opportunity to cash in on some of its biggest competitors market share. The Beatles were playing Epi Casinos by then (Lennon played his through most of “Revolver”) and Gibson was selling a lot of hollow and semi hollow electrics. Fender didn’t have a single one in their line. So Fender set out to design their own version of a thin body arch top laminate guitar and called it the Coronado. Bad name choice to begin with. The design, while a bit dated, is kind of interesting and doesn’t look Fender-like at all. It looks more like a Rickenbacker probably because it was designed by Roger Rossmeisl who worked at Rickenbacker until the early 60’s. The Coronado was meant to compete head to head with the Casino, the ES-330 and the 335. It was, like a Casino and a 330, fully hollow. Fender, being terribly cost conscious under the leadership of the CBS suits, probably figured nobody would notice the absence of a center block and went ahead and introduced the new model for the 66 model year. I remember when it came out. I was playing a 62 ES-330 at the time and was kind of into the hollow body thing. I loved Fenders too but the design of the Coronado (and the dopey name) left me a bit cold. The first year models were the Coronado I, a single pickup like a 330T and the Coronado II with two (DeArmond) pickups and a trapeze tail (trem extra). A twelve string followed as did a single and a double pickup bass in 1967, I believe. The shape was kind of funny but was essentially a sort of cubist version of the 335. Symmetrical, with double cutaways and a small floating pick guard and double body binding, it was somewhat derivative to say the least. The two pickup two volume two tone configuration is, of course, the usual Gibson setup. Block markers? Check. Trap tail? Check. Three on a side headstock? Uh, no. Fender wasn’t about to let its true trademark disappear. The earlier ones had checkerboard bindings on top-a nod to Rossmeisl’s Rickenbacker roots. I do sort of like the elongated bound f-holes now but I didn’t like them then. And it was a bolt on neck and that seemed a little cheesy as well. The Coronado came in all sorts of colors and sunbursts but also in something called Wildwood where they dyed the wood while it was still a tree but that’s a whole ‘nother story. Antiqua finishes showed up later. But how do they sound? Well, they don’t sound like Fenders, that’s for sure. They tend to feed back at high volume and while they are pretty good at mellow sounds and quiet cleans, they aren’t much for rock and roll, in my opinion. A better blues guitar than some but not really well suited there either. It’s really a guitar that does everything in a fairly mediocre fashion. Faint praise indeed. Here’s the good part…they are dirt cheap. I may have to buy one just because they are so cheap. I’ve never owned one and it might look good on the wall in my office (my wife doesn’t let me display guitars at home). A good Coronado II can be had for under $1000. I don’t think there’s another Fender that cheap. That said, it isn’t a Gibson (or even an Epiphone). The Coronado was a failure-not a colossal failure but it only lasted until 1972-a total of 7 years. Consider this-the ES-335 has been in continuous production for 55 years. And what manufacturer beats that record? Fender with both the Telecaster and the Stratocaster. As I mentioned up at the top, Gibson tried the same thing in the 80’s with the somewhat Strat-like US-1 which was truly a piece of crap. I know, I owned one.

Gotta love the checkerboard binding but the red just doesn't do it for me.

Gotta love the checkerboard binding but the red just doesn’t do it for me.

Is There a Bad Year?

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

That benign looking little line isn’t so benign. Sellers will call it a check, a grain separation or anything else they can think of except for what it is-a truss rod crack. It isn’t the end of the world and it’s fixable.

Well, I’ve had a few bad years but we’re talking about guitars here. I’ve often said there are no bad years during the “Golden Era” but there are some years that are more prone to problems than others. Most of the problems are age related but they are specific to certain years as well. We know that the tuner buttons deteriorate more frequently on 59 and 60 ES models and that 58’s tend to crack around the jack. The 1969 models tend to get crapped up around the inlays because they changed the process-the inlay is a block and the “Gibson” logo is stenciled out with paint which chips off. This is pretty small stuff and is mostly easily fixed. Nobody gets too concerned when a 59 has replaced tuner tips or when a 58 shows stress cracks around the jack. It comes with the territory. But there is one year that sometimes has a problem that isn’t an easy fix. Maybe it’s just bad luck on my part but I’ve had a run of bad 61’s. I like 61’s-flat neck profile and all and I’ve had some great ones so don’t simply assume that every 61 is trouble. And, if you’re after a red dot neck, it’s the most likely one you’ll find considering they made over 400 of them compared with 21 in 1960 and maybe 5 in 59. The problem is the neck. There is so little wood that they are prone to certain problems. It simply logic that a thin neck is going to be less stable than a fat one. What sometimes occurs is that over time the neck is pulled upward by the string tension and the truss rod is tightened to compensate. And tightened and tightened and tightened. Eventually the truss rod runs out of adjustment or, worse, pushes hard enough against the wood that it causes a hairline crack in the back of the neck. And it’s not just 335’s. 61 and some later SG’s are prone to this damage as well. It’s not really structural-there isn’t that much stress on the middle of the neck but it usually means the truss is maxed out and if there is more adjustment to be done, you are out of luck unless you want to spend some serious money with your local luthier. I’ve seen this problem twice in the past two years so it’s not common. But there’s another neck issue that I’ve seen three times this year-and, again, only on 61’s. The dreaded back bow. Again, this is probably the result of that very thin neck. One of them (which I drove 400 miles to pick up and had to drive back home empty handed) was sitting in its case with no strings with a fully loose truss rod. Again-nowhere to go. I’m not saying that 61’s are bad. I’m saying that if you’re buying one sight unseen, you have to ask some very specific questions about the neck. Interestingly, the neck on many 60 and many 62 and 63 ES-335s is pretty similar to the 61 and problems can arise in those years as well. I’m sure there are 62 and 63’s with back bows and stress cracks from an overtightened truss rod. I just haven’t seen any (yet). I will say this-a bigger neck-like a 58, 59, early 60, late 63 and 64 will have fewer problems and will be more stable. But if the wide flat profile is right for you and you have to buy sight unseen, just ask the right questions, get lots of photos and make sure there is a return policy. If the only problem is the stress crack, it’s an easy fix. If the guitar has a crack, a maxed out truss (which is likely) and a back bow or a twist, find another one.

 If the only problem is the stress crack, it's an easy fix. If the guitar has a crack, a maxed out truss (which is likely) and a back bow or a twist, find another one.

Don’t get me wrong. I love 61’s. I take a whole load of them with me to bed every night. Drives the wife batty.

Neglected Stepchild No More

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013
Here's a real nice 59 I had last year. Watch out for repro bridges, knobs and switch tips as folks are scavenging them for their reissue Les Pauls (and others). There are a couple thousand 59's out there. Get one before the price gets any higher.

Here’s a real nice 59 I had last year. Watch out for repro bridges, knobs and switch tips as folks are scavenging them for their reissue Les Pauls (and others). There are a couple thousand 59’s out there. Get one before the price gets any higher.

I don’t make a lot of predictions about the ES market (although I make a whole lot of observations-not the same thing). Here is the prediction: The early (dot neck) ES-330’s are going to get mighty popular mighty fast. They are the best vintage deal on the planet if you ask me. While the ES-335 market has been kind of flat lately, the ES-330 market has been inching up for the past year or so. The popularity of the relatively new reissue ES-330 has fueled this resurgence to a degree. With the sticker price of the reissue pushing 5 grand and a street price of around $3400, you might want to consider a vintage ES-330. That, I believe is part of the reason the 330 market is so strong. I can’t think of another instance where the vintage price and the reissue price are neck and neck (that’s a joke). I’ve written about 335’s in such fine detail that you probably know the width of the pickguard bevel by now. I haven’t really covered the 330 to anywhere near the same degree. So, now’s a good time to start. It’s pretty simple, really , because the 330 follows the 335 in many respects. While the 335 started in 58, the 330 didn’t follow until 59. The 59 ES-330, like the 335, came in sunburst (on the front anyway) and natural. No (official) reds until ’60. Dot necks followed pretty closely as well making the transition to block in 62. Neck sizes, while not wildly consistent followed a similar timeline with the big necks being the rule in 59, transitional necks at the beginning of 60 and flatter necks by late 60 and continuing until late 63. Tuners follow a similar pattern as well. While the buttons didn’t change (like single to double ring on a 335), the tuners did go from single line to double line in late 64 and into 65. Mickey Mouse ears? You bet– from 59 until mid 63 when they went to the pointy ones just like the 335. But there are things about the 330 that follow their own path. While pickup covers changed on the 335 from nickel to chrome in 1965, the covers on the 330 changed from black plastic to nickel plated in 63 and then to chrome at some point in 65. The rest of the hardware went from nickel to chrome following the same timeline as the 355. The biggest change occurred in 1968. On the original 59-67 ES-330’s, the neck joined the body at the 15th fret. In ’68, they changed them so that they joined at the 19th fret-like all 335’s do. This improved playability but the “long neck” 330’s tend to be a bit unstable at the neck join. This isn’t the case with 335’s because the neck is attached securely to the center block but on a 330, there is no center block and the neck attaches at the heel like any hollow body and gains some of its strength from the length of fingerboard that overlaps the body. Less fingerboard on top of the body means less glue and a less stable join. It’s not like the necks fall off or anything, they just seem a little “whippy”-they tend to move when you stress them (so don’t stress them). Because there are so many shared parts between a 335 and a 330, these less expensive guitars tend to get scavenged for their bridges. So, if you’re buying one, make sure the bridge hasn’t been swapped out. The tuners get swapped out as well. Even though the buttons are different, a set of single line Klusons with the buttons removed are still worth a lot of money. early hard cases tend to disappear as well. More later on these.

This is a 68 "long neck" ES-330. OK, the neck isn't any longer, it just joins the body at the 19th instead of the 15th fret. That's just what folks call 'em.

This is a 68 “long neck” ES-330. OK, the neck isn’t any longer, it just joins the body at the 19th instead of the 15th fret. That’s just what folks call ’em.


Why So Cheap?

Sunday, July 28th, 2013
A very rare "watermelon" ES-330. This is the only one I've ever seen. They started making red 330's in 1960 at about the same time they changed the red dye so there can't be very many out there.

A very rare “watermelon” ES-330. This is the only one I’ve ever seen. They started making red 330’s in 1960 at about the same time they changed the red dye so there can’t be very many out there.

ES-330’s are a great deal and have been for some time. I don’t know if it’s because it was  considered a “student” model or whether the comparison to a 335 kept it out of the spotlight. It can’t be the P90’s-who doesn’t like P90’s? You can pay some very serious money for a gold top with the exact same pickups, so I don’t think it’s that. Maybe the fully hollow body causes some to turn away. But there are folks who spend big money on Byrdlands and ES-350’s and other thin hollow body electrics. I don’t think it’s the spartan appointments that make it worth less than half of what a comparable year 335 is worth. After all, 335’s are worth more than 345’s and 355’s and they have more appointments than a shrink in September.  They don’t sound like a 335 (not worse-just different) but they still sound good. Plus, there’s no better “couch guitar” to be had. It can’t be beat for casual noodling without an amp while watching a ball game. Loud enough but not too loud. It won’t even annoy your wife. They are not so great when played very loud in a gig situation unless you are very careful about where you are in relation to your amp. My very first Gibson was a 62 ES-330 that I bought used in ’67 for $175 (I probably overpaid). I played that guitar for at least a year, gigging every weekend and gigging loud-Fender Showman loud. It could be a problem on the  neck pickup but the bridge pickup mostly behaved as I recall. I really wanted a 335 but couldn’t afford one. It had a Bigsby which I didn’t like very much because it made the guitar go out of tune but it never occurred to me to swap it for a trapeze. I can’t tell you where the market is going to go for 330’s. I’m not much of a prognosticator about these things but I can tell you that the market has been strong and getting stronger for dot neck 330’s. The blondes are well up over $10K-they were around $8K a year ago. That’s a 25% bump. The 59’s with the big necks will always command a bit of a premium over the others but can still be found for under $6K. I’m a sucker for the red dot necks, especially the early ones. They only made 98 red ones in ’60 and they are pretty tough to come by. The “watermelon” you see in the photo is the first one I’ve ever seen with the old red. Old Red? Ask any Les Paul guy about the red in their burst. They’ll regale you with how wonderful their “lemon burst” or “faded cherry burst” or “unburst” is due to the natural fading of the red dye used in the finish. They’ll also sometimes disparage the ’60 “clown burst” with it’s vivid red element. Well, the ES models used the same dye and the change from the one that fades to the one that doesn’t occurred in mid 1960 or so. That means there aren’t very many 330’s, 335’s or 345’s that have that unstable red. There are a lot of 355’s since they made the reds with the old red throughout 59 and well into 60. Is the “watermelon” red worth more? It is to the Les Paul guys. I like it better than the later red but that’s a personal preference. What I do know is that Gibson hasn’t been able to duplicate it on a 335 or hasn’t tried. The most common ES-330 is, of course, sunburst but the ES-330 sunburst is different from a 335 sunburst. Not the sunburst itself-that’s pretty much the same but the back is different. It isn’t sunburst, it’s brown. Another money saving gambit by the nice folks at Gibson. I’ve really written very little about these guitars and will expand on this soon. The ES-330 went through a lot of changes from 59 to the end of its run in the mid 70’s. It was also more popular than the 335 from 1959 through 1966.


Here’s the back of an early ES-330 sunburst. Talk about an “unburst”, Gibson did this to save money. The lack of an upper strap button probably saved them another 7 cents per unit.