Archive for the ‘ES 335’ Category

Things I Don’t Care About: Part 1

Sunday, February 26th, 2017
This guitar had, if I'm remembering correctly, 29 filled holes in it. There was a removed arm rest, the bridge was repositioned, there was a removed back pad and a host of other insults. Played great. Sounded great and was a bargain to boot.

This 64 had, if I’m remembering correctly, 29 filled holes in it. There was a removed arm rest, the bridge was repositioned, there was a removed back pad, tuner change holes and a few other insults. Played great. Sounded great and was a bargain to boot. Looks pretty good from the front because nearly all the holes are on the back.

Odd name for a post. If I don’t care about it, why should I write about it? Because you do. And maybe you shouldn’t (or at least not so much). It’s in the nature of both guitarists and collectors to be detail oriented and more than a little picky. Guitar collectors who play their guitars and not lock them in a humidified cabinet are the most picky of all. Ideally, it has to be three things: great tone, great playability and great looking. It’s the fourth element-originality-that gets so many of us nuts. Here, we’ll talk about the first three. Or I’ll talk and you’ll (hopefully) listen.

Good news first. Great tone is achievable on the huge majority of pre Norlin (1969) ES 3×5’s. Yes, t-tops in a 68 are going to sound different than PAFs in a 58 but I’ve heard 68’s that are stunning. To get your great tone, you may have to fix a sagging bridge or raise or lower the pickups, do a re-fret or put in a new nut but these are the kind of changes I don’t care about. Put the old nut and bridge in the case and stop worrying. What about bad wood? There is nothing wrong with the wood through the 60’s. It’s maple and poplar plywood (usually) and its properly dried and it has had 50 years to settle in. Just play the average 70’s 335 and you’ll notice a difference-the wood changed-it’s heavier and less resonant. There’s also less of it as they started shortening the center bock and got rid of the mahogany end pieces. Yes, there are great sounding 70’s 335’s. Just not a lot of them. There are good and not so good PAFs, patent numbers and t-tops. Changing a pickup you don’t like for another correct one is not a big deal to most of us. It is, in fact, something I don’t care about. Do I prefer the originals? I do but not if they don’t sound good.

Appearance issues can kill a deal pretty quickly with a lot of players but great tone often trumps it. Most players will take an ugly guitar that plays great over a beautiful guitar that plays like crap. On the other hand, why shouldn’t you have both. Answer? You should but it’s gonna cost you. But there are, once again, things I don’t care about. Wear in the usual places-arm, back and back of the neck certainly affect the appearance and that should be reflected in the price. If you care about it, then I get it and I agree. It’s just that the price can be a compelling force even if you don’t like the appearance.  The back of the neck is the exception. It doesn’t particularly bother me visually or feel wise but I get that it bothers some players. But that’s a point to be made under “playability”. Plugged holes are really an appearance issue too and also something I don’t really care about as long as it’s reflected in the price. Yes, it kills the “investment” angle but a 335 with a couple of Bigsby holes and a removed coil tap switch will sound the same as a collector grade one. If you cut a big access panel in the back of a 335, it won’t affect the tone or playability either. But I’ll never buy one that has had that done unless it’s something so rare that I’ll never see another. No logical reason I just hate it.  Full disclosure? Yes, I bought a stop tail 355 with an access panel.

Playability can be the tricky part. There’s a lot that can be done by a competent luthier to make a marginal player into a good one. But can we make it into a great one? It depends on what’s wrong. It’s hard to separate playability from tone sometimes but if you play a 335 unplugged, you’ll have a better understanding of where they overlap and where they don’t. Resonance is a tone component and if it’s not good unplugged, it doesn’t mean it won’t sound good plugged in. The reverse is true as well. Unplugged resonance is, in fact, something I don’t care about because I will be playing plugged in. But playability goes way beyond that.

If  the guitar doesn’t feel good to you, you need to consider why that is. Action? Generally fixable. Bad intonation? Generally fixable. Dead frets? Inconsistent sustain? Poor balance between strings? There are so many factors involved in playability that I often take the easy way out when confronted with a 335 that doesn’t play well. I walk away. It’s rare for a 335 to be a dog (at least from 58-68). But I’ve had 335’s (and 345’s and 355’s) with a perfectly straight neck, level frets, a properly cut nut a no sign of a structural issue that fret out, don’t sustain, have “wolf” notes (notes that are louder or more resonant than others), buzzes, rattles and on and on. My advice? If you don’t like the way it plays, don’t buy it.  The luthiers will disagree and probably rightly so but there are limits. Money limits. I had a 61 335 that looked just great but could not be made playable. It was dull sounding and the sustain was really inconsistent all over the fretboard. It went to three separate and very competent luthiers. It had two fret jobs with different sized fret wire and a fingerboard planing. After spending close to $1000 on it, I gave up. To paraphrase Bob Fosse “I can’t make you a good player but I can make you a better player”. But I don’t want a better player. I want a good one.

Next, we’ll look at the final element-originality. This is the one that makes so many player/collectors nuts. It’s also the one that makes me nuts.

You really wanted to se the holes, didn't you. OK, here's the back. No one will ever see it.

You really wanted to se the holes, didn’t you. OK, here’s the back. No one will ever see it.

Renecks Revisited

Monday, February 6th, 2017


This was re-necked at Gibson back in 2007 or so. They did a great job using the neck from a Clapton reissue and charging me $4000. Sure played great though.

This was re-necked at Gibson back in 2010 or so. They did a great job using the neck from a Clapton reissue and charging me $4000. I wish I still had the detail shots. Sure played great though.

About 6 and a half years ago, back in the early days of this blog, I wrote a post called “Renecks, not Rednecks”. You can find it here. The post dealt with how to spot a renecked ES model (and how to tell a redneck from a reneck which, by the way is the default spelling the stupid spellchecker decides I really want to write when I write the term reneck without a dash). Well, since I wrote that post in October of 2010, I’ve come to look at renecked 3x5s a little differently. They still aren’t collector grade stuff but there is a lot to be said for bringing a great sounding guitar back into the realm of real playability and personal preference.

I’ve had a few done since that post and will talk about my experiences. The first was a red 335 that I bought off Ebay with all of its parts but no neck. I was told it was a 65 but in 20/20 hindsight, I think it was a 68-no headstock inlay to tip me off and I didn’t notice whether the f-holes were big or small. I wrote to the repair folks at Gibson and they told me that there weren’t any necks that would fit a 65/68 except for the recently released necks from the Eric Clapton “Crossroads” reissue. I was thrilled (until they told me how much it would cost). The estimate was $4000 (and six months). I had paid around $1500 for the body and hardware so I thought it might make a nice player for me. The market was pretty weak in 2011 but I went ahead and they did a truly excellent job except that the G string wouldn’t intonate-they must have mis-measured the scale by a fraction of an inch. I was able to to find a luthier who worked some magic on the nut and the problem was solved. It turned out to be a great player with a great neck and I eventually sold it and didn’t make a dime on it. Why? Probably because it had been re-necked. I swore off projects for a while.

A number of years later I bought a 61 dot neck that sounded absolutely glorious but had a badly broken and badly repaired headstock. I also didn’t like the flat neck profile much. I sold the guitar to a dealer in Toronto who had it renecked by Gord Barry who, I believe, works (or worked) at the well known 12th Fret guitar shop there. He used an old growth piece of mahogany, the original fingerboard, binding and truss rod and carved a very 59ish profile. I can’t remember if he used the headstock inlay or not on this one. The work cost around $3500 which, when you’re talking about a dot neck isn’t so much, really. especially when it goes from being a great sounding busted 61 with a so-so neck to being a great sounding intact 61 with a custom neck profile. Not long after the work was done, the guitar was offered back to me and I remembered what a great sounding guitar it was. The work was spectacular. If the seller hadn’t disclosed the reneck, I don’t think anyone would have known-not even me. It was not an easy guitar to sell. The purists scoffed at it but the logic was pretty sound. You were basically getting a player grade 61 with a 59 neck. The only way to get a big 59 neck is to buy a 59 (or a 58) and that would set you back $30K or so even for a player grade. So, I sold it for around $15K and didn’t exactly get rich off of it.  Upside? The buyer still has it and tells me how much he loves it every time I speak to him. Lucky guy.

That's what the re-neck looks like on that 61. Looks pretty original to me

That’s what the re-neck looks like on that 61. Looks pretty original to me

Not long ago, I bought a 60 335 with a 66 block neck on it. I called Gord Barry and asked if he could do the same work on this one. We couldn’t use the fingerboard (it had block markers) but I had a piece of beautiful Brazilian I’d been saving for decades. He used the original truss rod and the headstock overlay in all its checked and yellowed glory. The result was stunning. Another ruined dot neck brought back to life. Again, I didn’t make a dime on it but sold it to a regular client who has owned no less than a dozen dot necks (4 of which he bought from me). The reneck is his favorite. Same deal-a great sounding guitar turned from an uncollectible marginal player to an uncollectible great player. That’s a good return but not particularly good business. It is good PR though. There are some very happy players out there who bought themselves killer dot neck players with the neck profile they really wanted and saved $10000 or more.

A few weeks ago I bought a fairly well trashed ES-345 TDN-yes, a blonde. It had two holes drilled in the top, all the wrong parts, a heavily shaved neck and two repaired headstock breaks. The finish was in very good shape though and the wood was quite stunning. The solution was obvious. It was, after all, an original finish blonde 345 and they only made 50 of them. So off it goes. We will use the original fingerboard, bindings and truss rod and hopefully the headstock overlay. It will get a proper 59 neck carve using a old growth piece of mahogany. We’ll fill the two holes and have a killer player. Add a couple of uncovered double white PAFs and we’ll have something so cool I won’t be able to let it go. What’s it worth? Beats me.

What makes me OK with doing this is that as long as the luthier can get the good old wood, I don’t really care if the neck was made by a skilled factory worker in 1959 or an accomplished luthier in 2017. If one is better at it than the other, I certainly can’t tell. It will take a long time to get that blondie done-guys like this are always booked well in advance, so I expect to have it completed by September. I’m totally stoked.

Add an old growth mahogany 59 profile new neck, the original board, bindings and frets, a correct long guard, the right knobs  and fill those nasty holes and I'll have a keeper. If not for me then for somebody.

Add an old growth mahogany 59 profile new neck, the original board, bindings and frets, a correct long guard, the right knobs and fill those nasty holes and I’ll have a keeper. If not for me then for somebody.

A Day Late (and more than a dollar short)

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017
This near mint 61 sold for $25K. If it was a 60, it would have sold for at least $30, if not $32K. It's 100% identical to a late 60 and that's something worth knowing.

This near mint 61 sold for $25K. If it was a 60, it would have sold for at least $30, if not $32K.
It’s 100% identical to a late 60 and that’s something worth knowing.

Guitars are not automobiles. Buyers seem to forget that sometimes and that can cost you. Let me elucidate. Cars have always had what we all call “model years”. I remember when I was a kid, my Dad would take us around-usually in the Fall around Halloween-to all the local car dealers to see the “new models”. Back in the late 50’s and through the 60’s and well into the 70’s, cars got a fairly extensive redesign every year or two. Go look. A 55 T-bird looks a lot like a 56 but a 57 is different and a 58 is even more different. A 59 looks a lot like a 58 as does a 60 but a 61 is totally different again. Cadillacs from the era are another good example. Look how the fins grow to humongous from 55 to 59 and shrink back through the 60’s. It was good marketing but it was expensive. Unlike the guitars of the era, cars are a big ticket item costing thousands. A few hundred dollars got you a 335, so complete retooling every couple of years didn’t make much sense. But, and I’m as guilty as you are, guitar players and collectors alike treat guitars as if they had “model years” as well and, at least during the period from the 50’s through the 60’s, they simply didn’t.

There were plenty of changes but nearly all of them occurred during a given year-not on some predetermined date that would designate these guitars as “59” or “60” or whatever. We can accurately (more or less) date the guitars we so desire but the fact that a particular guitar from a particular year is worth x dollars and a guitar from the following year is worth y dollars is a big flaw in our system of valuation. Year dating is very convenient but what I would call feature dating is more accurate. I recently sold a really clear example of this phenomenon.

A near mint, no issue mid to late 1960 ES-335 stop tail is a $30,000 guitar plus or minus a few grand depending on how close to mint it is and some squishy stuff like tone and playability. So, why is a 61 so much less? It isn’t like they changed anything on January 1. Gibson didn’t make changes that way. They made changes when changes were needed or wanted and they often phased them in over weeks or even months. It is actually extremely rare for a change to have been made at year end. So, back to the 61. I had a near mint 61 from early January. Nice neck-wide but sort of flat, just like a 60. It had a white switch tip-just like a late 60. It also had a long guard-I thought that added considerable value to this particular 61 because the short guard is one of the reasons folks don’t pay big bucks for a 61. Interestingly, there are late 60 335’s with short guards and early 61’s with long guards. That transition thing I mentioned. It isn’t all that logical, but there it is. The 61 sold for $25000 which, I think, was a $5000-$7000 savings over a guitar that was made a few weeks earlier with all the same features. The buyer was smart. He looked at a 60 that was priced much higher and chose the 61.

This phenomenon exists on a few other instances-more dramatically with 335’s than 345’s or 355’s. An interesting one is the difference between a late 59 and an early 60 dot neck. There is no difference. None. zip. They are absolutely identical except for the price. A mint late 59 will cost you close to $45K. A mint early 60? Maybe $38K on a good day. So, a day late for that 60 will be more than a dollar short. It will be more like $7000 short. But the guitar community reveres 59 Gibsons. Again, I don’t make the rules.

A late 58 will save you a few thousand over an early 59-not as much as the 60-61 or 59 to 60 but enough. Similarly,  a very early 65 is exactly the same as a late 64. It still has the stop tail at least through January and into February, so there are more than a few. A stop tail 64 is approaching $20,000 if a good clean, no issue example. The same with a 65 serial number will be at least $5000 less. 66 to 67 isn’t very dramatic, nor is 67 to 68. After that it starts getting tricky due to the major design changes that occurred when the nice folks at the Norlin Corp (beer, cement) took the wheel and drove Gibson into a sink hole. Just like an automobile.

This completely stunning early 60 sold for $32000. If this was a late 59, it would have been at least $40K. Maybe more. If you picked it up, it would feel and look just like a late 59 because it is the same in every way.

This completely stunning early 60 sold for $32000. If this was a late 59, it would have been at least $40K. Maybe more. If you picked it up, it would feel and look just like a late 59 because it is the same in every way.

Year Ender-335’s

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016


Dot necks continued to be the leader of the group.  They were strong all year with the 1960 models showing considerable growth, especially the early ones with the 59 features.

Dot necks continued to be the leader of the group.
They were strong all year with the 1960 models showing considerable growth, especially the early ones with the 59 features. This is a 61.

Well, that just about wraps up another calendar year and that means it’s time to look back and assess what happened. Specifically, I want to look at the vintage guitars market. We will leave politics alone. I have some pretty strong opinions but they are largely irrelevant when talking about old guitars.

2016 was, to a great extent, an “up” year. Values for nearly all vintage guitars were up incrementally. Most have kicked up value wise in the single digits-10% or less. A few have dropped a bit (like 50’s and 60’s Strats) and a few have shot up significantly (like blonde 335’s). Even though I’m pretty active in vintage guitars that aren’t 3×5’s, I don’t think I sell enough of them to identify major trends in value based solely on my own experience. While it’s true that I sold around 10 vintage Strats this year and felt a clear and present downward pressure on price, I will leave it at that. No analysis, no insight beyond simple observation. But the 58-64 335 market is my market.

There are lots of dealers who are way bigger than I am-by orders of magnitude bigger. I keep, at most, 50 guitars in stock at all times-mostly ES335’s, 345’s and 355’s from 1958 to 1964. There’s an occasional mid or late 60’s example and maybe an 81-84 here and there but you can count those on two hands.  There are dealers with many hundreds of vintage guitars and a few with over a thousand. But, I don’t think you’ll find another who bought and sold nearly as many early vintage ES models as I did this past year: More than 70 on the buy side and 65 on the sell side. That puts me in a position to identify and quantify the trends in this very narrow market.

Most striking is the scarcity of really good original early 335’s. Collectors and players have been enthusiastically buying up the good ones for more than twenty years and there is a very finite number of them and it isn’t a big number. When you take away the ones that have been broken, refinished or heavily modified, the numbers are all the more striking. There were only around 600 335’s built in 1959. Given the number of guitar players out there, that’s not a big number. How many are left in the “wild”? Judging by my experience this year, not very many. The majority of the 59’s I saw this year came from collectors or players thinning their herds. That’s fine-it keeps the market moving but to find an uncirculated one owner 59 has become a once or twice a year experience. My experience this year with 58’s was largely the same. As you move into the 60’s, the numbers go up and by 64, Gibson had made more than 1200 335’s which is probably why I see so many more of them. So, which 335’s did what in 2016?

The big story this year is the incredible scarcity of blonde 335’s. I saw only 3 this year. A very nice bound 58, a near mint 60 (which I still have) and a Bigsby 59. I know of a sale of a 59 at $90K at the high end and a sale of a 60 Bigsby (by me) with a few issues at $40K. My stop tail 58 sold at $82K. That’s up nearly 20% over last year. Asking prices have reached $100,000 (and that’s a 60).

Early dot necks (58-early 60) were very strong this year but too many dealers are being overly “ambitious” in their pricing and the guitars are sitting for months (or years). This hurts the market because the individual sellers think their guitars are worth the asking price they see on or Ebay or Gbase. So, I get offered average sunburst 59 335’s at $40,000 or even more, which, of course, they aren’t worth. I don’t know what others get for their guitars, but I know what I get. Top dollar for a sunburst 59 is around $45K. And that’s for a no excuses, hundred percent original guitar in near mint condition.

Later 60 and 61 dot necks are, of course, less popular due to the thinner neck but that seems to be changing. The trend toward huge necks seems to be reversing. I think folks talked up the big necks and made them a big deal but practicality has overtaken the “mine’s bigger than yours” attitude that has prevailed for years. I’m seeing more players asking for slimmer necks and that recent trend is driving up not only those those years but 62’s and 63’s as well. 2015 was pretty flat for 60-63 but 2016 has seen a pretty good bump both in stop tails and Bigsbys. Stop tail 60 dot necks are well into the $30K plus range and 61’s are approaching $25K or more. As always, a mint example is going to command a premium.

Early blocks from 62-63 (small necks) were up as well. The real world price hasn’t cracked $20K despite what so many sellers are asking. I sold around 15 62 and 63’s this year and never once cracked $20K. Finally the venerable 64, still the easiest 335 to sell, has bumped up in value in 2016. The red stop tails are the leader but sunburst stops are just as valuable-they just don’t sell as fast. Even though the vast majority don’t have PAFs, they still command prices equal and sometimes greater than the 62-63s with them. Bigsby’s in top condition have passed $15K and are heading up and top condition stop tails are likely to push past $20K any day now.

Next we’ll look at 345’s and 355’s.

Block necks have broken out of their 2015 doldrums. This is a mint 64

Block necks have broken out of their 2015 doldrums. This is a mint 64

Bargain Basement

Monday, November 7th, 2016
My Refinished 1961 Dot Neck. I bought it in 2005 for around $9K. I sold it for around $10K a year later and bought it back a few months ago for $9K. Great player, great tone.

My Refinished 1960 Dot Neck. I bought it in 2005 for around $9K. I sold it for around $10K a year later and bought it back a few months ago for around $10K. Great player, great tone.

For most of us, the quest is for tone. Then it’s playability. Or is it the other way around? What good is extraordinary tone if you can’t play the thing? And what good is a guitar that plays like butter but sounds like crap? So let’s call it both. After that, it’s anybody’s guess. Originality? Condition? Rarity? Looks? Provenance? Well, from my experience, it all depends on who is buying. I don’t have a degree in psychology (but I took a psych course in college once-does that count?) but I’ve learned a thing or two about folks who buy vintage guitars. Some play and listen and are sold (or not) on that basis alone. No questions, no worries about its history or provenance and no worries about whether one of the saddles got changed in 1963. Some ask 1000 questions and still can’t decide which guitar is right for them. And I don’t blame them-a vintage guitar can be a huge investment as well as your tool of your trade. But the one thing that all of you can do is take advantage of my experience.

I’ve owned 600 ES-335, 345 and 355’s and played every one of them. Tweaked and set up most of them as well. If I can make it play and sound better before I sell it, then it’s my obligation to do so. Likewise, if it has some changed parts, it behooves me to change what I can to make it as right as possible (and disclose it). But lets go back to the original premise here. I called the post “Bargain Basement” and the reason it’s called that is because you can get the playability and tone of a great 58-64 for half the cost or less. There are some kind of dumb rules that apply (that I didn’t make) to vintage guitars. We all know that originality trumps everything. Neck repair? Half the value. Refinish? Half the value. Bigsby? Knock off 15-25%. Grovers? Knock off $1000-$4000. Refret? I dunno-depends how good the fret job is. Buckle rash? Missing some binding? replaced nut? There are lots of things that affect the value but don’t necessarily change the two big factors of tone and playability.

Let’s take a stop tail refinished block neck-say it’s a 64. If original, that’s a $20,000 guitar more or less depending on condition. The refin drops it to $10000 or maybe a little more if it’s a really good job. $10K for a killer player 64 with all of its original parts that can sound 100% as good as any with an original finish is a bargain. Especially with new ones getting up over $6000. Make it a Bigsby/Custom made version and set it up as a stop tail and you could be at $8000. In 5 years, that brand new reissue you paid $6K for will be worth $4K or less. That $8000 64? I’ll bet you a dot neck and raise you a tweed Bassman that its worth the same or more in 5 years. Headstock break? If properly repaired, it cuts the value in half but most of the time it will have no effect on playability or tone. Add in some other benign changes like Grovers or some good repro parts and you could drop the cost below that of the high end reissue.

Want to save even more? Buy a mid 60’s 335. I’ve seen plenty of 65’s with early patent number pickups (same as a PAF) and I’ve seen plenty of pre T-tops right up to mid 69. If you can manage the narrow nut, you can get a killer player for under $4000 if its refinished or repaired. Don’t like the trap tail? Have your luthier or tech convert it to a stop. You aren’t going to hurt the value any further-just make sure he puts it in the right location. Want to save even more? Make it a 345 or a 355. I’ve picked up some junkers that have played great and sounded great. In fact one of the best sounding 335’s I’ve ever played cost me around $8K less than 5 years ago. It was a refinished early 62 (dot neck). I wish I had it back. I’ve had $40,000 59’s that didn’t sound as good as that one.  I also had a killer 65 with a neck repair that cost me $2500. Not in the top ten but still a great player.

So, ask all the questions, play as many as you need to and, above all else, be happy with the guitar you buy. No, be ecstatic. It should make you play more, play better and play happy. Ultimately, when it comes to the important stuff, buy what you can afford. If the one you can afford doesn’t do all of the above, wait for one that does. They are out there for sure.

This Candy Apple Red refinished 62 dot neck is in my top five ES's. Not my favorite color but my oh my did this baby sing.

This Candy Apple Red refinished 62 dot neck is in my top five ES’s. Not my favorite color but my oh my did this baby sing.

Somebody Famous was Here

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016
I once had a white '65 ES-355 with BB Kings autograph on it. It probably would have sold for more without it but the buyer was a BB King fan, so I left it.

I once had a white ’65 ES-355 with BB King’s autograph on it. It probably would have sold for more without it but the buyer was a BB King fan, so I left it.

I get a lot of emails from folks buying and selling ES models and one of the most frequently encountered subjects is guitars that have been autographed. While this is not my market, I feel it’s worth writing a post about. The assumption by most sellers is that an autographed guitar is worth more than one that isn’t. I don’t entirely agree.

Well, let me clarify. Right now there are no less than four Gibson “Lucille” models for sale of One is $60,000, another is $15K, one $14K and one at $8000. The guitars, without the autographs, are nice guitars but they aren’t particularly old nor are they particularly collectible. I can pick up a 90’s or 2000’s Lucille for $2500 or so. So, do the sellers believe that the autograph is worth $5500 to over $50K?  OK, the really expensive one comes with some tour swag but $60K seems like a really big number. So do all the rest of them. Let me tell you a fairly short story. A few years ago, I was contacted by the widow of the owner of a pretty nice 1958 ES-335. I flew to Nashville to meet with her and discuss the value of her late husband’s guitar. We hadn’t finalized a price but we had established a range pending my inspection of the guitar. I ended up offering around $25000 for it and her reaction was “…but it’s autographed by BB King.” My clever rejoinder? “OK, $24000.”  I explained to her that the first thing I would do when I got back home was to remove the autograph.

My point is that a collectible guitar is not made more collectible just because its autographed by someone famous. In addition to the great BB King, I have removed Eric Clapton’s autograph, Les Paul’s, various members of Kiss and quite a few others. If you must get your vintage guitar autographed, have them sign the pick guard-preferably on the back. Or bring along a new (cheap) guitar and have them autograph that. A lot of these guys sign thousands of guitars and the value of the autograph is very small. If you’ve got a Beatle or Elvis, then leave it alone. A Rolling Stone? I’d probably remove it from a vintage Gibson unless it was a Firebird VII autographed by Brian Jones. That would be worth something.

OK, well how about if the guitar was owned by somebody famous? That’s a whole ‘nother ballgame if you’ve got good documentation. And he (or she) can’t just have played it once. It has to have really good provenance. An album cover photo is good provenance. A signed letter by the artist with a photo will probably do. A letter from a friend of the friend who got it from the famous player’s ex-wife’s cousin isn’t good enough. A photo of the famous player holding the guitar isn’t good enough either. I’ve had plenty of famous players in my shop and if a photo of them with one of my guitars was worth something, I’d be snapping photos all day.  Be careful though. Provenance is pretty easy to fake. That’s why the album cover photo is great provenance. And make sure the guitar that’s in the provenance is the same guitar as you’re considering buying. Wood grain is pretty much like a fingerprint. If the grain doesn’t match, walk, no, run in the opposite direction. We all know what the Clapton guitars have sold for and the Dylan Strat and the Lennon J160. It’s some serious dough which is why I generally stay away from that market. The price of admission is high and the rate of fraud is up there as well.

EC's autograph on an '84. I think I left this one on too. It didn't affect the value at all.

EC’s autograph on an ’84. I think I left this one on too. It didn’t affect the value at all.

FON Follow up.

Monday, October 17th, 2016
Huge neck, pat applied tuners, thin top, "T" FON...58, right? well maybe not. The serial number is 1960 in the A331xx range. What do I call it?

Huge neck, pat applied tuners, thin top, “T” FON…58, right? well maybe not. The serial number is 1960 in the A331xx range. What do I call it?

Just when I make my big point about FON’s and serial numbers, a guitar comes along that makes me feel like I just shot myself in the foot. Generally, conflicting FON’s and serial numbers are on the cusp of the years they straddle. So, you might have a late 59 FON and an early 60 serial. I’d call that a 60. There are 58 FONs that show up in mid 59 which is strange. There’s a whole lot of them, in fact.

My database shows that 1959 serial numbers A30247, A30248, A30251, A30268 and A30659 have “T” FON’s which means they were at least started in 1958. All show certain 58 only features like the thinner top. Some, but not all,  have the shallow neck angle. Another 58 feature is patent applied Klusons rather than patent number. Interestingly, none of the 59’sn with 58 FON’s had them. That leads me to believe the bodies and necks were made in 58 but the guitars were assembled in 59 with 59 parts. None had shaved bridges or the low profile bridge (most of which have collapsed by now. These are June 59 (and later) 335’s. Were these bodies somehow left over after Gibson made the changes? There were complaints about cracks in the tops and collapsing bridges, so maybe they put the unfinished 58 bodies aside until the complaints died down (or they got too busy) and decided to sell them anyway.

That brings us to today’s subject guitar. The serial number is March 1960. That means the guitar sat for at least 15 months. The guitar has a relatively early (for a bound 335) 58  factory order number and shows all of the late 58 features including the pat. applied Kluson tuners, the shaved bridge and extremely shallow neck angle, thin top, “rolled” plastic truss cover (gone by mid 59). So, using the policy I laid out in my last post that says the serial number designates the year, it’s a 60. The problem is that everybody associates an early 60 dot neck with a smaller “transitional” neck profile. This one has the biggest neck I’ve ever measured on a 335-.94″ at the first fret and over 1″ at the 12th. Most 58’s are .88″ or so at the first fret. The biggest 59’s are usually .90-.93″. Calling it a 60 does the guitar an injustice but as a compromise, I’m calling it a 58/60 with a 58 FON and 58 features.

This isn’t the first time I’ve come across a big gap in FON/serial number but its the first one that so clearly shows it’s FON heritage. I had a 62 block neck that somehow got an “R” FON designating a 60 build. But in that case, the guitar wouldn’t have been completed in 1960 as it had a block neck (started in 62) and patent number pickups (a completed 60 would always have PAFs). That one had a darker overspray at the endpin but it didn’t cover anything up. I just assumed it was covering some amateur paint work. maybe that’s why it didn’t ship when it was built.

As I’ve said before, buying and selling vintage guitars requires a bit of amateur forensics and some imagination. You have to ask why something like that would occur and come up with a reasonable scenario beyond “uh, it must have been a special order…” Gibson seems to have been in a state of constant change throughout the period from 56-65 or so. That is perhaps why anomalies come up from time to time.

Looks like a 62 but there is hidden weirdness going on. It has a 1960 Factory Order Number and has the thinner body of a dot neck.

Looks like a 62 but there is hidden weirdness going on. It has a 1960 Factory Order Number and has the thinner body of a dot neck. No one has a good answer for why this occurs.

FON or Serial Number?

Friday, September 30th, 2016


Here's aa 59 FON. The letter is the year T for 58, S for 59, R for 60 and Q for 61 and then they stop. The number that follows is a three or four digit number and that designated the "rack"-usuall 30-40 guitars. The last number is the "rank" or the guitars number within the rack. Confused?

Here’s a 60 FON. The letter is the year T for 58, S for 59, R for 60 and Q for 61 and then they stop. The number that follows is a three or four digit number and that designated the “rack”-usually 30-40 guitars. The last number is the “rank” or the guitars number within the rack. Confused?

Pet peeve warning…I’ve talked endlessly about how so many sellers will look up their guitar serial number and when they see multiple years come up will usually pick the earliest year. Understandable? Yes, I suppose but not particularly honest and pretty easy to debunk. Trying to get more money for your guitar by misrepresenting the year and making it look justified is wrong. Either disclose the possible years or learn how to tell the difference. Pretty straightforward, right? Good. Now try this:

From 58 to 61, there was both a serial number and a factory order number for all 335’s, 345’s and 355’s. FON’s existed way before 58 but since 335’s didn’t, we’ll look at only those 4 years. There is no debate that, in general,  a 59 335, 345 or 355 is worth more than any other year, assuming the condition and originality is equal. Usually, the FON and the serial are from the same year. But not always. So, how do we assess the value of those guitars that have a factory order number from one year and a serial number another? I recently bought a J200 for a client that was advertised as a 59. When I got it, I noted that the serial number was very early 60. I currently have a 59 ES-335 with a 58 FON and I recall a blonde 60 345 with a 59 FON. One thing you won’t see is a FON from a later year than the serial. This is simply because the FON goes on the guitar first.

So, I have this 59 ES-335 with a 58 FON. That means it was built (or at least started) in 1958. It could have been completed in 1958 as well but there is no absolutely foolproof way to know for sure. But there are clues. It has the thin top of a 58, so that tells us that it’s got some 58 aspects. It’s got a pretty good neck angle-no thin bridge or shaving required-so that’s kind of a 59 thing but there were very late 58’s with that feature. The tuners are patent numbers rather than the patent applied tuners that nearly all 58’s had which leads me to believe that it was built in late 58 and assembled in 59. Why the completed body sat around from sometime in late 58 until April of 59 is a mystery. I had another 335 with a 58 FON that didn’t ship until August of 59. Maybe they built a load of 58’s and put them aside because Gibson was getting complaints about the cracks around the jack (typical of 58’s). Then, perhaps they were selling more than they could built in mid 59 and raided this cache of 58’s. I’ve spoken to a couple of Gibson employees from the era but none could shed any light on this.  My point is-do I consider it a 58 or a 59? It is to my advantage to call it a 59. But what about that 60 with the 59 FON? Again, I’m probably going to get more for it if I call it a 59. So, it works both ways. But you can’t have it both ways, can you? My hard rule is that I go by the serial number, i.e a 60 serial means it’s a 60 regardless of the FON. I’ll mention the FON in all cases if it’s different so I’ll list the guitar for sale as, say, a 1959 ES-335 with a ’58 FON. That’s about as honest as I can be.

I’ve been compiling a FON database for a couple of years now and I’m still filling in some of the blanks before I post it. There are lots of surprises and ambiguities. It seems that the more I learn, the more confusing it becomes. I’ve never run a large manufacturing business, so I have little insight into the day to day operations of a factory. Especially a factory operating more than 50 years ago. I’m convinced that they worried less about paperwork and more about filling orders. I’ll post the database when I have enough information for it to make some sense because now, with around  130 entries (all 335, 345 and 355’s) it’s about as clear as mud. Feel free to continue sending me data-serial, FON, model, finish and configuration (stop or Bigsby). No names will be entered.

This is an April 59 serial number 335 with the 58  factory order number T7281 24.  I call it a 59.

This is an April 59 serial number 335 with the 58 factory order number T7281 24. I call it a 59.

New 335 Book

Sunday, September 18th, 2016
Tony Bacon's just released 335 book.  Fortunately, it won't replace me as the "335 guy" but it's a worthwhile addition to your guitar book collection. I would call it the best 335 book ever written.

Tony Bacon’s just released 335 book. Fortunately, it won’t replace me as the “335 guy” but it’s a worthwhile addition to your guitar book collection. I would call it the best 335 book ever written.


Tony Bacon writes a lot of guitar books and the very first guitar book I ever bought was one of Tony’s called “The Ultimate Guitar Book”.  I was happy to hear he was writing a 335 book. I received a copy of the book a few weeks ago and was asked to not write about it until its release and, since it’s now available, I can talk about it. Bear in mind, I’m not a book reviewer.

The beginning of the book is a history lesson-stuff that, if not for Tony’s vast knowledge of the development of the electric guitar, would likely be lost forever. He doesn’t dwell on the minutia that I lean towards but takes a more macro view of the 335 and it’s ancestry. I was flattered when he asked me to consult with him about the really fine details of the 58-65 era and the level of detail he goes into is satisfying without being too geeky. I’m happy that he left geekdom to me and my readers. But he doesn’t gloss over the fine details either. He presents the evolution of the 335 mentioning specific changes that made a real difference rather than every little detail. Big changes like neck angle and top thickness are discussed in detail but minor changes like who made the pots in what year and the other really geeky stuff I cover was, probably wisely, downplayed or left out entirely.  I was particularly impressed by his knowledge of the other guitar makers and their products that either competed or influenced Gibson in its development and manufacture of the ES series. Who knew that Gretsch patented its stereo system in ’56 and that Rickenbacker’s stereo guitars were launched in ’58 a full year before Gibson came out with the 345 and 355 stereos? I don’t think there is a better guitar historian than Tony.

Tony covers the evolution of the line admirably, hitting the high spots with regard to features, finish and early adopters. The fact that he even mentions the Argentine Gray finish gets kudos from me. Instead of completely separating the development of the guitar from the players of the day, he seamlessly moves from the evolution of the model to the back story of how ES players like Elvin Bishop, Justin Hayward, Ritchie Blackmore, Tony Hicks and lots of others (and largely British) artists came to appreciate these American icons. Following the ES timeline through the changes of the late 60’s and into the 70’s, ES players like Alvin Lee, Steve Katz (who was the very first customer in my shop when I opened in 2014) and, of course, Eric Clapton come into focus, all drawn to the versatility and gig worthiness of the guitar. And he doesn’t stop there. Tony follows the format of evolution and artist through every decade right up to the highly regarded Memphis 335’s available today. And, unlike me, he isn’t judgmental about it. I have no problem saying that most of the ’76-79 335’s I’ve played are less than stellar. He sticks to the facts and the book is probably better for it. After all, it isn’t a buyer’s guide, it’s simply the most comprehensive history of the line ever compiled in one place.

And the photos. When folks ask me why I don’t write a book myself, my stock answer is that I don’t have the skills to shoot the photos that such a book would require. Tony’s photos define the guitar book genre. The guitars themselves are impeccably photographed and the historic photo content is a real pleasure to see. In fact, my biggest complaint about the “other” 335 book was the horrible photos. Tony’s photos are always totally professional and his choice of what guitars to feature is dead on (there’s even a Fender Starcaster).  So, thanks, Tony, for all the great content. I don’t get the 335 reissue on the cover but at least it’s red. And that counts for something.

I Love Surprises (Sometimes)

Thursday, September 8th, 2016
Very early Trini Lopez Standard. This guitar had a few aces up its sleeve.  Pickups are pre T-top with the purple windings like a PAF. It also had a zero fret which is just weird.

Very early Trini Lopez Standard. This guitar had a few aces up its sleeve. Pickups are pre T-top with the purple windings like a PAF. It also had a zero fret which is just weird.

Every time I buy a guitar, it comes with a surprise. It doesn’t matter if I get it from another dealer or from Craigslist, Ebay or The Gear Page. There is always a surprise. Usually, it’s an undisclosed issue and generally it’s a small one like changed saddles or the wrong bridge. Maybe changed tuner tips or spliced leads on the pickups or opened covers. Or missing PAF stickers or two repro knobs or a changed pot. There are a fair number of parts on a guitar and stuff gets swapped out over the course of decades. So, I generally accept stuff being wrong-or different than expected. It’s not generally because anyone is trying to cheat me. Its simply because most folks just don’t know the difference between a no wire ABR-1 and a wired one. And I don’t expect them to. I’m allowed to ask a lot of questions and look really carefully at the photos but somehow, something always gets by me. The good news is it cuts both ways. A really good example came to me recently off of Craigslist (the biggest crapshoot of all).

The seller had a Trini Lopez Standard for sale. Now, I like Trinis although I rarely find the early ones that I prefer. The very first ones had a wide 1 11/16″ nut, all nickel hardware and pre T-top pickups.  This one had some unusual issues but I bought it anyway – for a reasonable price. There was one issue I saw in the photos and that may have scared away some buyers. Someone had installed a zero fret which shouldn’t work properly without moving the nut which they didn’t. So, I figured, what the heck, I can simply remove it and fill the slot with some glue and rosewood dust. Well, oddly enough, the intonation seems fine, so I left it. When the guitar arrived, the pickups had chrome covers. But the photos showed nickel. “WTF”, I said to myself. But the nickel ones were in the case pocket which was a relief. So, I decided to removed the badly soldered chrome covers and put the nickel ones back on. I know, from experience that this guitar should NOT have had t-tops. Regardless of what you read elsewhere, 65’s don’t have t-tops. They usually have the later poly winding pre T’s. Not this one. Both pickups had the coveted purple enamel wire. They were identical to PAFs. The pickups alone were worth the price of the entire guitar (almost). And yes, it’s pretty unusual to see these pickups in 65 but if the covers are nickel, the windings are almost always purple.

Other good news, 64 date codes on the pots, nice wide neck, Brazilian board and the rest of the parts were nickel. Bad news? I had to buy a set of proper vintage strip tuners to replace the ill-fitting Schallers that had been added. And it plays great. I should point out that for every time I get lucky and get more than I expected, there’s another guitar with a rewound PAF or a repro stop tail or a back bow in the neck. You can always ask a lot of questions but when the 89 year old widow of the original owner is selling the guitar to pay for her nursing care, you really can’t ask her to pull the pickups to check the stickers or try the truss rod to see if it still turns. And I don’t (ask her, that is). It’s the crapshoot part of the business. It’s nice that it goes my way once in a while. Like the 61 ES-355 with the neck break, changed bridge, wrong tuners and a pair of double white PAFs. Christmas can come all year round.

Always nice to find an undisclosed double white. It's like your birthday and Christmas rolled into one.

Always nice to find an undisclosed double white. It’s like your birthday and Christmas rolled into one.