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Archive for the ‘ES 345’ Category

Up, Up and Away: ES-345

Sunday, September 20th, 2020

Time was when you could pick up a 59 ES-345 for about half what you would pay for the same year 335. Goodbye to that. Early 59’s (“first rack”) like this one are headed toward $30K.

I figured this would happen eventually. They were just too reasonably priced compared to same year 335’s. Lots of us knew it all along and kept buying them and selling them and enjoying them. But now, with apologies to John Gillespie MaGee Jr, the 345 has “slipped the surly bonds of Earth”. They are not the incredible bargain they once were. They have become objects of great desire. They are not cheap. They are still, however, absolutely great guitars.

The very first PAF equipped guitar I ever bought was a Bigsby equipped ES-345 from 1960. At $6000 (with the GA-79 stereo amp), it was the cheapest PAF guitar I could find and was a wonderful instrument. Now, about 600 ES guitars later, I still keep a 345 in my personal stash and probably always will. The rule of thumb for pricing had been, loosely, that a 345 was worth about half of what a comparable year 335 was worth. So, with 59 dot necks ranging from $30,000 to $40,000, you could score a good 59 345 for $15,000-$20,000. A good stop tail 64 ES-335 can still be found for around $20K (although folks are getting greedy and the asking prices have gone off the rails a bit). Good luck finding a stop tail 64 ES-345 for $10,000. You won’t.

Once you get past 64, the dynamics change a bit-345’s after 65 seem to bring prices even closer to the same year 335. But the 50% rule for 345’s from 59 to 69 is over. At least for now. If I could predict where prices will go after this pandemic ends, I could probably retire, not that I want to. So, why would a guitar that is in the middle of the semi hollow lineup cost so much less than the one at the bottom? You can learn all about that from an earlier post you can find here.

So now what? Has the market value simply caught up with reality or is this a 345 bubble? It’s the former. ES-345’s have been a true bargain for a very long time. The stereo circuit and not very popular Varitone has kept the 345 in its place as a second string 335 for years, maybe decades. There has always been a lot of internet chatter about the “tone sucking Varitone” often from folks who have never owned one. I’m not going to get deeply into this issue. I will only say that Varitone capacitors can drift and cause the bypass mode to sound honky. It is, in that case, a tone sucker. But early Varitones (up to 62) don’t tend to drift and I’ve had plenty of them that sound every bit as good as a great 335 with the Varitone. That said, it’s a pretty easy operation to convert a 345 to a 335 circuit. I suggest you do that by putting in a 335 harness and leaving the original stereo harness intact for the next owner.

The days of buying a 59 345 for $15,000 are over. The vaunted “first rack” 59’s are now selling for $25K and up. If you want to learn about just what a first rack 345 is, you can find that here. Later 59’s are generally in the low to middle $20K range and, as always, condition and originality dictates where in that range it falls. Bigsby versions will still be 15% less. Big neck 345’s will always be more expensive than small necked ones and most of the 59’s you see will have the smaller “transitional” neck. That’s part of what makes the first racks more expensive. Early 60’s have the same neck as late 59’s so looking for those will save you a few dollars. They are every bit as good as a 59-they are, in fact, identical. 61’s still have the really slim neck and the short guard but are every bit as good as their 335 counterparts. That goes for 62-68 as well. Sometimes even better. How can that be? Certain changes that occurred in 335’s-particularly changing the pickups to poly wire-didn’t happen as early in 345’s. It is possible to find an early patent as late as 68 in a 345. They were gone from 335’s by 65. PAFs have been found in 345’s as late as 67.

There are a lot of small details about 345’s that can make them even more desirable-red 59’s are crazy rare, “watermelon” 60’s are worth a premium, long guard 61’s grab an extra few bucks and so on. Do your homework before you buy and give the Varitone a try before you yank it out. It can be useful especially to Fender guys who are used to single coils and honky tones. I recently sold my blonde 59 player. It was my main guitar for four years which, for me, is an eternity. I go through guitars like most folks go through socks.

This was my number one guitar for the past four years or so. It was a 59 ES-345 converted to 335 spec and had a few filled holes and a new neck but was a wonderful player. Now I’m playing a project 59 ES-335 but I will buy another 345 for myself when the right one comes along.

Oddities and One Offs

Monday, August 31st, 2020

I have to say that my favorite part of the vintage guitar business is finding rare or one of a kind ES guitars (or having them find me). I’ve done this post before showcasing the “greenburst” 335, a lefty block neck blonde 335 and a 355 with pointy cutaways. Gibson has always been accommodating to the needs and wishes of musicians and was happy to make something out of the ordinary for you (for a price, of course). It was often the owners name inlaid in the fingerboard or an alternative electronics setup (think Varitone in a 335). Interestingly, these things often diminish the value over a bone stock version. Who wants to play a guitar with somebody else’s name writ large across the fingerboard. Short of changing your name, there isn’t a good fix for this. But then there are one of a kinds that are simply colors or a configuration that isn’t offered in the catalogue. I’ve had a few of these recently and this is a good time to write another post about these wonderful oddities.

A cherryburst 335 is neither rare nor particularly exciting unless it’s a dot neck. This finish was common starting in 1965 but a cherryburst dot neck? Unheard of. This is the only one (as far as I know)

The cherryburst 1961 dot neck was offered to me recently (and I bought it). When I saw the photos, my first thought was “oh, another cherryburst 65…” I don’t particularly like this finish and I was ready to dismiss it until I noticed the dots. This finish was in the Gibson lineup as early as the 1940’s but not for a 335. That didn’t happen until 1965. This is the only cherryburst dot neck I’ve ever seen. Beyond that, it was also the cleanest dot neck I’ve ever seen. I rarely use the term “mint” but this one was all of that. There’s a very lucky, very happy collector out there who owns the only one of these known.

White ES guitars have never been common. Keith Richards has the one he calls “Dwight”. His is a 345. This is a 1965 wide nut ES-355.

I was really skeptical when I first saw this white 355 many years ago. But when I owned it years ago, I didn’t know much about these guitars and I sold it to the next owner as “ambiguous”. It was the paint on the neck binding that threw me off. Now I know that Gibson usually painted white guitars that way (look at any LP/SG Custom) and it’s definitely a factory white finish. They became a little more common by 1969 and into the 70’s but a mid 60’s white one is pretty rare. The white tends to turn yellow because the clear lacquer that goes over the paint tends to turn yellow over time. You don’t notice it so much on a sunburst or even a red guitar but on a white one, it really shows up.

Whenever I encounter a rare variant, I try to get hold of the ledger page for that serial number to see if there’s a note about it being a special order. Sometimes, there’s nothing. Sometimes it’s noted and sometimes, the serial number is left blank in the book. I’d say it’s 50-50. Having the page is a real plus but not having it doesn’t necessarily diminish its authenticity. Of the 5 black 59 ES-345’s, only three of them are noted in the logs but the others are very clearly original. This 1963 black ES-345 is one that we got lucky on. I don’t own this one but it’s the only black 63 I know of. Black is rare but has always been a popular color so there are a fair number of them around each year. I know of perhaps twelve of them from 59 to 64. Interestingly, most are 345’s. I’m not sure why. A black 335 seems to be incredibly rare until the late 60’s and even then you can count them on one hand.

Sometimes you get lucky. I was sent a photo of a black 63 ES-345 by a friend of the original owner who special ordered it. And there it was, 115826 plain as day in the 63 log book.

And here it is. I don’t own it but i’ve been after it for at least four years now. You’ll know if I get it.

Parts Timeline #3: Bridges

Thursday, July 23rd, 2020

The top ABR-1 is a low profile version from a 58 ES-335. It’s bent as are most of them. They simply couldn’t handle the downward pressure from a set of 12’s with a wound G string. They were gone by the end of the year replaced with what you see at the bottom-the no wire full height ABR-1

If you take the time to learn all of the “parts timelines” that I am posting, you should be able to date any ES 335, 345 or 355 built between 1958 and 1969. After that, I’m not your guy. I get dozens of e-mails asking me to authenticate, date or appraise these guitars every week and I do my best to answer them all. The problem is that all of my knowledge is based on observation. Yes, I read everything on the internet…guitarhq site-excellent and informative with a few small errors and one glaring one about 335’s and I read Adrian Ingraham’s book-not so excellent. I took what I could from them but going through around 600 guitars over the past 15 years or so has taught me more than any book. And, by the way, I was flattered to have been asked by Tony Bacon to consult with him on the history section of his 335 book.

The ABR-1 bridge first showed up in 1953 when the first Les Paul Custom was released. It hasn’t changed much over the years although it was discontinued for a while and brought back. It was a good design from day one, allowing the player to intonate each string individually, although it was limited in that you couldn’t adjust the height of each string individually. Still works pretty well though. The ABR-1 is not without its issues and some of them were addressed by Gibson and some were not. Let’s start in 1958 since that’s when the first 335’s were issued. The neck angle on the 335 was, for reasons unknown, very shallow and required a lower profile ABR-1 to allow the action to be low enough. Good enough solution to a problem which shouldn’t have existed in the first place. It was a kind of “don’t raise the bridge, lower the river” solution. The ABR-1 was made of cheap metal that fatigued and bent easily. 90% of vintage ABR-1’s have some measure of sag in the middle. The low profile ABR-1 was much worse. Most of them simply broke in half. Remember, nobody was using light gauge strings back in the 50’s. 335’s shipped with 12’s and 13’s were common. All sets had wrapped G strings. So, the stress on the bridge was considerable and they sagged.

By late 58, enough owners complained and Gibson started issuing shaved full height bridges to replace the sagging low profile ones. At around the same time, they changed the neck angle to allow for a full height bridge. End of problem. But there were other problems. The early ABR-1 had nothing to hold the saddle in place but the string pressure. Imagine you’re playing a gig in a dark bar, on a dark stage. You break the E string and the saddle flies off. You probably don’t have to imagine too hard. It’s happened to most of us. It’s a little like losing a contact lens. You’re down on your knees in the middle of a gig trying to find the missing saddle. You can’t find it and you play the rest of the gig with 5 strings. The solution was simple, if a little inelegant. In early 1963 (could be late 62-it’s hard to pin down the date because so many have been changed) Gibson added a retaining wire to keep the saddles in place. It’s a pain to remove and a pain to reinstall if you need to, but it works. There have been ABR-1 copies that have saddles that stay in place without a wire and Gibson had one called the Nashville bridge but that’s a different post.

At some point during 1962, they switched from metal saddles to nylon. I think the reason for this was to make the strings slide more easily across the saddles when using the then popular Bigsby. They finally got around to beefing up the bridge to lessen the effect of the pressure exerted by the strings. This occurred in 1965 and, unless you have an older one and a newer one side by side, you probably won’t notice the slightly heavier design. At about the same time they added the patent number to the bottom of the unit and made the company name and the manufacturer’s mark much smaller. That maker’s mark would disappear by the late 60’s (useful for dating).

Timeline:

58: Low profile metal saddles. No wire, nickel

Late 58-early 63: Full height (some shaved in late 58), no wire, metal saddles, nickel

Late 62-early 63: Full height, no wire, nylon saddles (rare), nickel

63-early 65: Full height, wire retainer, nylon saddles, nickel

65-69: Full height, wire, nylon saddles, patent number w/makers mark. Chrome. Makers mark disappears around 69.

Gold bridges follow similar timeline with some small variation in dates.

One more odd characteristic to note. In ’65, there were 4 different versions of ABR-1 used on 335’s. There was the nickel one with Gibson in big letters on the back in nickel. The same one in chrome and the one with the patent number in both nickel (rare) and chrome. All had nylon saddles and wire retainers. The early nickel one was gone by the Spring and a few of the patent number nickel ones showed up during that period. By around May, Gibson had used up most of the nickel parts and was using chrome. There are plenty of guitars with some nickel and some chrome parts in 1965. It’s pretty easy to tell the difference once the nickel starts to tarnish but when brand new, they look pretty similar to most folks. Here’s a tip if you aren’t sure. Chrome looks blue. Nickel looks green. It’s subtle.

Covering a lot of ground with this photo. Top is patent number with the makers mark (off to the right). Below that is pat # without it in chrome. Early nickel below that -note the difference between chrome and nickel. Bottom shows the retaining wire.

Parts Timeline #2: Tuners

Saturday, June 13th, 2020

PAT APPLD next to later patent number Kluson tuners. The PAT APPLD had a different plastic tip that was less likely to deteriorate. By 59, they were all patent number

It’s worth keeping track of what changes occurred in the timeline of ES guitars and when they occurred especially when you’re trying to date these guitars. As I’ve said about a zillion times before, changes didn’t happen on January 1 of a given year. They happened when they needed to happen and the changes were usually gradual, taking place over the course of weeks or months. It was never PAFs of December 31 and patent numbers on January 1. The pickup timeline is full of overlaps and erroneous “conventional wisdom”. The tuner timeline is a little easier to document but there are still some commonly held beliefs that need to be addressed.

Let’ start with 335’s. It’s pretty simple, really. Klusons from day one and that never changed. In 1981, they went to Grovers but we don’t really deal with “new” guitars from the 80’s (I can’t believe 1980 was 40 years ago). Klusons, while always the tuner of choice on a 355, went through all sorts of changes in the 50’s from single lines with no hole for the tuner key shaft to no lines with that hole to single lines with the hole which is where we begin in 1958. Wait a second. What does single line mean? You can’t imagine how often I get asked this. It’s simple. The words “Kluson Deluxe” engraved on the back of the housing are on a single line down the middle of the housing. Double line would have the same words engraved on two vertical lines. Then there single ring and double ring. This refers to the tuning key tips. Single ring had one “ring” a circular element at the inside end of the tuner top. Double ring tuners had 2 rings. The photos make it clear if my description doesn’t.

Let’s kill two birds here. Big oil hole (1958-early 60) on the left with a single ring tip. On the right, small hole with a shrunken double ring tip. Double ring tips started in mid 60 or so.

1958-1960 (mid year): Single line single ring nickel Klusons. 1960-late 1964: Single line, double ring Kluson. Late 1964-1968: Double line, double ring Kluson 1969 -1980: Double line, double ring “Gibson Deluxe”. Same tuner as Kluson Deluxe but the text reads Gibson Deluxe.

But wait. It isn’t quite that simple. The SLSR (single line single ring) Klusons in 58 are different from the ones in 59 and early 60 and this is where a lot of misconceptions arise. In most of 58, the tuner says PAT APPLD on the side of the plate that goes against the headstock when installed. These have a large oil hole and tips that tend to stay intact, that is they don’t shrink or turn to dust like so many later ones do. At around the time that they started putting the patent number on the plate “D169400”, they also changed the formulation of the plastic in the tips. This occurred over a period of months, I suspect, at the end of 1958. If your 58 has shrunken tips, check the size of the oil hole. If it’s small, the tuners aren’t original. If it has a patent number, your 58 should be a very late one. Tuners get changed so often that you’re more likely to get correct tuners than original tuners or so it seems. The small oil hole really doesn’t show up until early 60. The tips still shrink however. In fact, they didn’t change the tip plastic formulation again until around 1965. While I don’t see as many double ring (mid 60 and later) Klusons with shrunken tips, I see enough to figure the plastic is the same as a 59.

Same tuner, different text. “Gibson Deluxe” began showing up in 69, although you can find 69’s with the Kluson Deluxe designation as well. Transitions never occurred overnight. Gold 345 tuners always had single rings.

ES-345’s follow a somewhat different timeline but the situation with the tips is pretty much the same. The big difference is that they never used double ring tips on 345’s. I’ve seen a few but I’m guessing they had their tips changed. There are no 58 345’s, so we start in 59. The 345 was discontinued in 1983. Here’s the timeline:

1959-1964: Single line single ring gold. Big oil hole in 59 and much of 60. Small oil hole after that. Tips that deteriorate right up to 65. 1965-1969: Double line Kluson Deluxe single ring gold. 1969-1980: Gibson Deluxe double line, single ring gold.

Finally, we get to the ES-355 which is the easiest of all to understand. 1959-late 1963: Gold factory Grover Rotomatics marked PAT PEND. Late 1963-1982: Gold Kluson “wafflebacks” with metal buttons. No oil holes in wafflebacks or Grovers.

ES-355’s from 58-late 63 had “Pat Pend” Grovers. I don’t have a set of gold ones at the moment but the chrome one in the photo shows the Pat Pend designation. It can be in a heavy deep font like this or much lighter. On the right is a gold Kluson waffleback. These were used on 355’s from late 63 until the 355 was discontinued in 1980.

It is worth noting that tuners are the most frequently changed part on 335’s and 345’s. This is mostly because so many Gibsons had nut slots that were cut too small and the strings would bind in the nut slot if you did a lot of string bending. We all thought it was the tuners-Klusons were generally regarded as inferior in the 60’s and many of us who played these guitars back in the day (like me) switched to Grovers. It didn’t fix the problem but the damage was done and we eventually figured out that a little graphite in the nut slot was all we needed. By the 80’s, folks were still doing it but Schallers were the tuner of choice. Folks are probably still doing it to their new guitars. It’s also worth noting that guitar players are notorious tinkers. We will tweak and adjust and swap out parts in the hope of finally getting the tone that’s in our heads. I figured out long ago that the tone comes mostly from your hands.

Parts Timeline #1: Pickups

Monday, May 25th, 2020

Nice clean set of unmolested PAFs. Note how clean the solder is and how perfectly straight the edges of the cover are. Unmolested pickups will usually have no flux around the solder and the solder will be duller than new solder would be

It can be hard to tell the orange poly windings from the purple enamel coated ones in a flash photo but these are the purple ones-more brown really. The red ones are very coppery looking. This would be a PAF or an early patent number. A short magnet PAF and an early patent are identical except for the sticker.

I’m constantly searching for parts on the internet and I’m generally appalled at the descriptions some sellers write. It’s not that they describe the parts incorrectly, it’s that so many folks use the “wishful thinking” approach to dating them. My knowledge of ES guitars and their parts comes from only one source and that source is simple observation. I read everything I could find but most of what I found was full of errors. In fact the thing that started me on my ES-335 web site was a glaring error on what was (and to an extent still is) the best place to go to learn about vintage guitars. That site states: 1968 Gibson ES-335 guitar specs: Neck size increases back to 1 11/16″ with a decently size back shape. It didn’t. If the premiere vintage guitar site has that wrong, what other misinformation is out there? Plenty.

Printed information is very useful but if your observations don’t back it up, it usefulness becomes suspect. OK, enough explanation. What do folks get wrong? Let’s start with pickups. I’ve owned somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 1964 ES-335’s and probably at least 25 ’65’s. I don’t open pickups if they are factory sealed but I do open them if they have been opened in the past-if only to clean up the solder. I have never seen a T-top in a 65, let alone a 63. I’ve also never seen a poly wound pre T pickup earlier than 65. And yet, I read in ads for poly wound pre T-tops that they were in use from 63 until 65. They were not. I have a 69 in stock right now that has pre T-tops. I’ve never seen a poly winding patent number with a nickel cover unless it’s been messed with.

My experience tells me that nickel PAFs ended in 64 and they are rare in 64. Most 64’s have early enamel wound patents and none (that I’ve found) have poly windings or the black and white leads. I hear of gold PAFs showing up as late as 67. I suppose that’s possible-my experience with 67’s is limited. I’ve never seen one after 65. The earliest T-top I’ve ever found was in a 66. The latest pre t-top was in a 69 although they could have even shown up in 70. So, there is clearly quite a lot of overlap. The non gold pickup timeline as I see it is: Long magnet PAF 58-early 61. Short magnet PAF 60 (overlap with long magnet)-64 (rare). Enamel patent: 62 (overlap with PAF)-65 (overlap with poly). Poly patent: 65 (overlap with enamel)-70 (overlap with T). T-top: 66-79. The gold timeline is the nearly the same but has longer overlap. PAFs after 63 are rare. Where gold differs most is the enamel wound patents. They extend well into 65 and I’ve seen a few in 66.

Part of the problem with dating parts is the fact that they can be changed without much evidence. Pickups require re-soldering when changed, so it isn’t hard to tell if a pickup has been out of a guitar. The problem is that nobody wants to pull the harness of a 335 to check. It can be a lot of work. I almost always pull the harness when I get a “new” guitar. I check the solder at the pots, I check the solder on the covers. It isn’t hard to re-solder a pickup cover and make it look original, so look at the sides of the covers…if they are bent or dented at all, they’ve been opened. Changed pickups are really common. Les Paul guys have been scavenging double whites for decades, largely out of 335’s and 175 but also out of 345’s and 355’s. They pull the covers anyway and it’s really easy to swap out a set of gold pole screws for a set of nickel ones.

  • ES 335 Pickup Timeline
  • 1958-1961 Long magnet PAF. Rare in 61
  • 1961(overlap)-1964 Short magnet PAF. Rare in 64
  • 1962-1965 (rare)-Patent number enamel (purple windings) black leads always nickel covers. Identical to short magnet PAF except for sticker
  • 1965-1969 Pre T-top poly (orange windings) black and white leads always chrome covers.
  • 1966 (overlap)-1976 T-top with sticker. Later has embossed pat no.
  • ES-345/355 Pickup Timeline
  • 1958 (355 only)-1961 Long magnet PAF.
  • 1961 (overlap)-1965 or later (rare, overlap) Short magnet PAF
  • 1962-1965 Patent number enamel (purple) windings. Identical to short magnet PAF except for sticker
  • 1965-1969 (overlap) Pre T-top poly windings
  • 1966-1976 T-top with sticker. Later has embossed pat no.

It’s called T-top because of the “T” embossed into the bobbin (duh). Supposedly, it was there to tell the winders which end was up. You can also see that the little window (square in the circle) isn’t there on a T-top.

Scavengers II

Tuesday, February 18th, 2020

The stop tail on the right is correct for 1958 to 1964. The one on the left is from the late 60’s. Look at the seam. The one on the right has a seam that is thicker in the middle and thinner everywhere else. The one on the left has a thick seam from end to end. Some repros have gotten this seam correct so you have to look for other features. The stud on the left is correct for the same years. Note the length.

In 2015, I wrote a post called “Scavengers” which is why this post is called “Scavengers II”. In 2015, the market was rising, as it is now and the cost of vintage parts came along for the ride. Changed parts have always been an issue on vintage items. Cars, furniture, virtually anything collectible that is made of components, is subject to changed parts both by unscrupulous sellers and by folks who simply can’t tell the difference between authentic parts and reproductions. What is different now, five short years later, is that the quality of the reproduction parts has gotten so good that it has become hard, even for experts, to tell the real from the fake.

Consider this: A vintage stop tailpiece for a 1958 to 1964 ES-335 will cost you around $1800. A really good reproduction will cost you about $100. You might spend $40,000 on your collector grade ’59 and never know that someone along the way has swapped out the vintage tailpiece for a good repro (or a bad repro for that matter). The likelihood is that you either won’t check to see if it’s real or you won’t know even if you do check. You’ll likely find out at the worst possible time-when you bring it to me or another knowledgable dealer to sell or trade. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve had to be the bearer of bad news of this kind. If the owner isn’t right there when I go through the guitar, it calls my honesty into question, especially if the guitar was bought from another reputable dealer. Fortunately, I make a point of checking the parts before the owner leaves the shop. If you’re buying or trading online, then it can be a real dilemma.

It’s not just the tailpiece either. Amber switch tips don’t cost $1800 but they get swapped out a lot. But even a $250 part can be a deal breaker. Certain parts have gotten really good. Stop tails, ABR-1 bridges, catalin switch tips, knobs, truss rod covers, pick guards, pickup surrounds even PAF stickers. I have mentioned in many previous posts that early 95% of the guitars I buy from individual sellers have an undisclosed issue. Fortunately, it’s usually something minor that I can address from my parts stash but sometimes I have to return a guitar due to something expensive like a repro stop tail and that’s going to be trouble in almost every case because somebody got cheated. “It was right when I sent it” is a pretty common response and I look like the bad guy. The hard part is figuring out who the criminal is if there is one. Usually, I’ll simply return the guitar to the seller if I can. The seller will obviously know if he is the culprit but if he isn’t, he has to consider the person he bought it from or he has to consider me. This is why reputation in this business is everything.

How do we, as dealers, minimize the problem? The best way is to ask for extensive photos. That means pulling the pickups, removing the tailpiece and bridge to show the underside and finding out where the seller acquired the guitar. I know which dealers are meticulous when they check out the guitars they sell and which ones don’t dig too deeply. Those who buy and sell without going through every part aren’t necessarily dishonest, they are simply lazy and that can have the consequences that are being discussed here. “I was too busy…” is a poor excuse. As a dealer, you should be busy authenticating the guitars you’re going to sell. But extensive photos won’t do you any good unless you know what to look for. I can tell a repro part from a real one from a clear photo with very few exceptions. Truss rod covers are tough as are switch tips. Knobs and pick guards can be tricky in a photo but are easy to tell in person.

My advice to sellers is to document every part with the same good photos you are supplying to your buyer. That way if a guitar comes back because of wrong parts you can compare what came back with what you sent out. Easy with metal parts, not so easy with plastic but the photos give you a fighting chance. Wear patterns are like fingerprints. Better yet, when you buy a “new” vintage guitar (and you aren’t an expert) use the approval period to take it to someone who knows what they are looking at to get a second opinion. At current market prices, you deserve to get exactly what you are paying for. Don’t immediately assume someone is trying to cheat you if a part is wrong. Everybody, even the experts, can get it wrong. But a dealer should go out of his way to make it right if that occurs. An individual seller should do that as well but if you aren’t buying from a dealer, go back and read the line about what percentage of guitars I get from individual sellers have an undisclosed issue.

Note the size of the “ears” on these two tailpieces. Both are correct but you’ll only see the shallow one on the left in very early 335’s. I’ve never seen one after 58. I see them on 50’s Les Pauls. But they are real-none of the repros are doing the shallow ears. Another feature that gives away a repro is hard to photograph but easy to feel. The top of the tailpiece should have a very slight hump or ridge. You can’t see it but you can feel it. It’s the first thing I check for when I get a guitar. No hump, no deal.

Year Ender 2019, Part 2

Sunday, January 19th, 2020

The 59 ES-355 mono was the big winner in 2019. They were under $20K in 2018 and have jumped to the mid $20’s or even higher if equipped with double white PAFs (and lots of them are). Want a bargain? Buy a 60. It’s the same guitar. Most 59’s have a transitional neck, not the big one. If you find one with a stop tail, sell it to me, please.

So, 2019 was, in general, another pretty good year for some 335’s and a great year for others but what about the rest of the line? 2018 wasn’t so great for 345’s unless it had the number 1959 in front of it. 2019 was pretty much the same. If you are looking for a 59 ES-345 sunburst (reds are rare in 59) or a 59 ES-355 mono, you paid more in 2019 than you did in 2018. I expect that trend to continue into 2020. We can dig a little deeper into the 59 cachet in another post. Truth be told, I don’t know why a collector grade 59 335 sells for around $45,000 and a collector grade 59 345 sells for around half that. 355’s follow the same rules, although the mono version commands a bit more and that’s where we’ll begin.

The mono 355 market was really strong in 2019 and I believe will continue to be that way. One factor that keeps 355’s mono well below the same year 335 is the Bigsby, so keeping apples to apples, we’ll look at the mono 355 compared to a Bigsby 335. A collector grade Bigsby 59 335 will cost you around $32,000. The same year 355 mono will be in the mid $20’s. If you’re OK with a Bigsby, that’s a bargain. A year ago, mono 59’s were still under $20K, so that’s a pretty good uptick. Stop tail 355’s are so rare, they live in a world of their own (all were special order). But anything from 59 seems to live in that rarefied place. Mono 355’s from 60 to 64 also were strong in 2019 although I sold very few of them. I think folks who use a Bigsby are getting the message that a mono 355 is a great alternative to the much higher priced 335’s.

The market for 60-64 345’s and stereo 355’s was not strong in 2019 and it surprised me. It was so weak in 2018 that I thought it had to come up in 2019. It didn’t. Asking prices have outpaced sale prices by 20% or more and folks just aren’t buying. It isn’t the dealers leading the charge here, it’s the individual sellers. I know, dealers ask stupid prices too but when you make your living moving guitars, you have to move guitars. 59’s are strong. First rack 345’s are incredibly strong-I can’t keep them for even a week and with good reason. They are great guitars. But once you get to 1960, it all goes a bit south. Of course, the thin necks are a factor although most players I speak to don’t mind the smaller profiles. I sold a 61 PAF equipped stop tail 345 last year (after months on the market) for $11500. Out of the ten or so 345’s I sold last year that weren’t 59’s, all went below $15K except for a double white PAF 60 ES-355 and a double white equipped 60 345. Again, these were mostly collector grade or, at the very least, no issue or very minor issue guitars. I used to be a purist about converting stereo guitars to mono but not any more. It’s reversible and it’s your guitar. Do what you want to make it a guitar you will play. A new harness will cost you $150-$200 and the labor should be under $200. Don’t forget to flip one of the magnets-stereo Gibsons have out of phase pickups.

I think, going forward, the sellers asking stupid prices for post 59 345’s and stereo 355’s will keep the market flat and even cause it to drop. Simply asking too high a price will affect the market negatively as the inventory soars and the demand stays the same or even falls. With 62-64 block neck 335’s so high, buyers might turn to same year 345’s which could strengthen that market. As I mentioned in Part 1, block necks are pushing through the mid $20K range and 345’s are just sitting there waiting for the smart buyer to jump in at $12K-$15K. Once you’ve converted your 345 or stereo 355 to mono, you are playing the same guitar that your friend with the 335 plays. The difference is that you have an extra $10,000 in your pocket that you can spend on that big tweed Bassman you have your eye on. Or, you can buy something nice for your wife who lets you indulge your childhood fantasy of being a rock star.

A 64 ES-345 is everything a 64 335 is. Don’t like the stereo circuit or the Varitone? Take it out (and flip one of the magnets). With 64 335’s pushing $25K, a 64 345 at $10K less looks like a bargain to me. All years from 60-64, if priced correctly for the market, are a great deal if original and well cared for.

Dots and Blocks and Parallelograms (Oh my)

Monday, November 25th, 2019

Block inlays on a 335 will curl up, turn brown and fall out eventually. Most replacement pre cut inlays are very white and won’t match the ones that aren’t damaged. You can still get real celluloid but I’ve only seen it pre cut for Les Pauls.

It’s interesting (to me anyway) that I’ve written very little about the inlays in the ES line. I’m not sure how interesting a little piece of plastic (or other material) is to most of you but if it’s stuck into the fingerboard of an old Gibson, it’s pretty interesting to me. I find it noteworthy that this teeny little detail is the primary descriptor for 335’s. Most folks, if you ask about their vintage 335 will tell you what they have by describing the inlays. “I have 59 dot neck…” “I have a 62 block neck…” I can’t think of another guitar that is described in that manner. On the other hand, nobody says “I have a parallelogram 345…” perhaps because all of them are that way.

Typically, dot markers were used for the least expensive guitars by most manufacturers. Fender was notorious for taking the cheap way out and used dot markers in all of their guitars in the 50’s and well into the 60’s. Lower line builders like Harmony and Hagström used dots on nearly their entire lines as well. When Gibson introduced the 335 in 1958, it was considered (by Gibson) to be the bottom of a new line of semi hollow guitars. True to form, the 1958 335 got dots. The 1958 355 was next and got large block markers and when the 345 was launched in the Spring of 1959, it got something in between-the twin parallelograms that it still features. But, the 335 was not an inexpensive guitar by anyone’s calculations at the time. It was actually a rather expensive guitar when compared to its closest competitors. A 58 Stratocaster was around $200. A 58 335 was more than half again higher at $335. Apparently, there were complaints by consumers. I have no hard evidence of this; it’s one of those things that everyone seems to know. By the Spring of 62, the dots were gone, replaced by the small block markers we are all familiar with.

Another interesting aspect of the inlays in the ES line is the material. The dots, small blocks and parallelograms were all made out of the same celluloid material that was imported from Italy. The 355 markers were real mother of pearl (nacre) usually made from oyster shells. If you research other Gibsons from the era, you will find that the celluloid (plastic) inlays were ubiquitous from the Melody Makers to the Les Paul Standard. Mother of pearl was found only in the really high line stuff like Les Paul Customs and the pricey arch tops. Abalone shows up in Gibson/Epiphone Sheratons.

The problem with celluloid is that it deteriorates, especially in an oxygen starved environment (like a closed case). Shrinkage is the usual issue with inlays. The dots don’t really shrink much but the blocks (on a 335, not a 355) can curl up and fall out. They will also turn a pretty ugly brown color. The only solution to shrunken, curled inlays is to replace them. You can glue them back down if they aren’t too bad but they will eventually come back up. Celluloid doesn’t stick very well to modern glues. Gibson changed the formula for the plastic blocks in the mid 60’s and the problem, to a large extent, went away. The later blocks are brighter, smoother and more “toilet seat” looking. The 345 parallelograms will also shrink and fall out but they seem a bit more stable than the small blocks. The 355 inlays, being natural mother of pearl, don’t shrink, curl or come undone. I’ve never seen a 355 with a damaged inlay.

If you have a 335 with damaged, discolored or shrunken inlays, you can still get the proper material from Historic Makeovers (Retrospec) but they only sell Les Paul inlays, so you may need to do a little surgery. I suggest only replacing the inlays that are damaged or curled. You can get 335 inlays that are pre-cut but they won’t be the same plastic as the ones that are there now. Even if you get the real celluloid plastic, there is a pretty good chance that it won’t match the vintage ones due to decades of wear, oxidation and sweat. If your inlays are your biggest issue, then you don’t have big issues.

355 inlays stay the same and will do so over the course of the next few thousand years. Mother of Pearl is about as stable as anything on earth. 345 inlays are the same material as 335 blocks and they will shrink and turn brown but they don’t generally fall out. No idea why.

Existential Dilemma

Wednesday, June 5th, 2019

This is my main player. It’s an original finish blonde 1959 ES-345. It has had the neck replaced and a couple of holes filled. I don’t know what it’s worth but I know for sure it’s worth a lot less than it would be if it was all there.

I don’t usually comment on guitars for sale elsewhere but I came across a listing recently that brings up some interesting (and important) questions. I think we all agree that a refinished guitar is worth around half of what an original finish guitar is worth. Maybe as high as 60% in some cases and maybe lower but always in the neighborhood. But I recently came across a blonde 1960 ES-335 that was listed for $41,000. A blonde 60 with the original finish would sell for between $80,000 to $95,000 depending on condition and a few other factors (pickup bobbins, neck profile). So, $41,000 is a reasonable price. Or is it? The listing points out that the guitar was a factory blonde and I suppose that should count for something. But, a properly stripped sunburst 60 that has been refinished blonde would be, in theory, a $15,000 guitar. So, is the fact that the guitar left the factory as a blonde really worth an additional $26,000? Therein lies the dilemma.

Let’s look at it from a different perspective for a moment. Let’s say I have a refinished Stratocaster. It’s a sunburst 64 but it was originally surf green. Is the fact it was once surf green-a rare and valuable color-have any bearing on the value of it in its refinished state? If not, then if I refinish it again in surf green, is it worth more than it was as a sunburst? Or, conversely, if it was originally sunburst and has been refinished in a rare color is it worth more? Most of you (and me) would say no. Otherwise, we’d be refinishing refinished guitars and making a good living doing it.

So, what is refinished blonde ES-335 worth? Good question. To answer it I think you have to ask “what is it that I’m paying a premium for?” Let’s say the guitar as an instrument is worth whatever a refinished sunburst is worth-a refinished sunburst and a refinished blonde will be, ultimately, the same guitar from a players standpoint. As a collector’s piece, it’s value as an original (beyond the value as an instrument) is gone. I justify that by saying that a sunburst that has been competently refinished blonde looks exactly the same as a blonde refinished blonde. I’ll ask another question that might shed light…is a factory stop tail that has had a Bigsby added worth more than a factory Bigsby that has had a stop tail added? I would say they are worth the same. By that logic, the sunburst refinished blonde and the refinished blonde are worth the same.

I can confuse the issue even more. A blonde has only  clear lacquer. A sunburst has color and clear. A sunburst that has its original color but has been over-sprayed with clear is worth more than a total refinish. So, do we treat a refinished blonde that has always been blonde as an overspray?  Just a thought.

A few years ago. I had a client looking for a blonde 345. Blonde 345’s don’t come up for sale very often. They made 211 335’s in blonde but they only made 50 345’s. I was offered a refinished 60 ES-345 that was originally sunburst. The finish, while not perfect, was decent. There was some dark paint left in the routs and it would never be passed off as anything but a refinished sunburst. It sold for $20,000 which was way less than half the value of a blonde 345 at the time. But, and it’s a pretty big but, that $20,000 was a whole lot more than a sunburst 60 refinished in sunburst would have brought. I find that hard to justify but I don’t make the rules. I guess if you want a vintage blonde and you don’t want to pay a huge premium for it, then perhaps this makes sense.

So, I guess that a blonde that’s refinished blonde is worth more than a sunburst refinished blonde. But that begs the next question. Is a blonde refinished sunburst worth more than a sunburst refinished sunburst? I sure don’t think so but I’ve really just made a pretty good argument that it actually is. I think the key is the desirability of the end product. People want a blonde and will pay extra for it, regardless of its former configuration. If you had a truckload of refinished sunburst 59 ES-335s and you refinished them all in blonde, you would probably make money not that I suggest you do that.

This is making my head hurt. I’m going to go play a guitar for a while. There’s a blonde one around here somewhere.

Blondes will always command a premium. A blonde refinished blonde (with documentation) should be worth more than a sunburst refinished blonde…right?

His Royal Harness

Sunday, May 12th, 2019

This is 1959 harness. The bumblebees are the Mylar type. The black tubing was added except by the jack. Some harnesses have no insulation some do. It’s a crapshoot. These are Centralab pots-the date code is on the side on three of them. The fourth is also a Centralab but the code is on the top. Go figure.

OK, bad pun. Best I could do with the word harness. Electricity doesn’t know how old the parts are that it’s flowing through. If the values are the same, then the signal is the same. If the old parts have drifted, then the signal will change. I don’t usually measure the components in the harness when I get a guitar. If it sounds good and the pots work properly, I leave it alone. I have dropped new harnesses into a lot of guitars and I can’t say that a good new harness sounds any different than a good old one. Oddly (or, given the mindset of most of us vintage idiots, not so oddly) we will pay $1000 or more for a 58 or 59 date coded harness. I know, I’ve paid it. If you’re going to spend all that money to make your guitar right (or make your reissue closer to the real thing) you should know what’s in there.

There are four pots (you  knew that), two capacitors, a three way switch, a jack and a bunch of wire in a 335 or mono 355 harness. The pots in a 335/345/355 are 500K. There is a shielding can around three of them in a 345 and a stereo 355. The bridge pickup tone pot doesn’t get a can because it won’t fit (the pot is too close to the rim). So, don’t get your BVD’s in a bunch if your expensive 59 ES345 has only three cans. The capacitors have a value of .022uF. A 345 has the Varitone circuit-a two sided inductor (choke) and a 6 way switch with a load of resistors and capacitors (or two big multivalue chips). I’ve covered the Varitone in earlier posts so we’ll leave it alone.

Gibson used pots made by a few vendors and all the pots I’ve ever seen have a date code which is pretty useful if you don’t know what year your guitar was made. But keep in mind, a date code only shows you the oldest your guitar can be. You might find a 58 date code in a 60 guitar. You won’t find a 60 date code in a 58, however. Pot codes have 6 or 7 digits. Gibson generally used pots made by Centralab from 58 to 62. The three digit manufacturer code on a Centralab is 134. The next 3 or 4 digits are the week and the year. So a pot with the code 134832 would be the 32nd week of 1958. From 63 until 69 Gibson usually used pots made by CTS which have a 137 code. Same deal a pot with 137409 would be 9th week of 1964. Note that they added a second digit to the year in the 70’s to differentiate 60’s pots from 70’s and later. There were a few other manufacturers pots-mostly early on-that made their way into Gibsons. That’s another post.

The capacitors exert control over the tone pots. A higher number will be darker, a lower number will be brighter. The .022uF cap found in all ES non Varitone models is made by Sprague. The well known bumblebee (it has stripes, thus the name) cap was used from 1958 until around mid 1960. The Sprague “black beauty” (it’s, uh, black) was used from 1960 onward. I don’t know what they used in the 70’s. The very early ones (58 and early 59) are paper in oil type and the later ones are mylar. I don’t think it matters much except the paper in oil caps are supposedly more prone to drift. Any ES model with a shielding can used the same value cap but it was the disc type so it would fit inside the can. I’ve experimented with caps but since I usually have the tone control dimed, it doesn’t make any difference-the cap only affects the tone if the pot is backed off.

The three way switch was made by Switchcraft and is the long body type with a steel frame in a 335 and a brass frame in a 345 or 355. Brass is closer in color to gold, so that’s why they used the brass on guitars with gold hardware. The 1/4″ jack is also made by Switchcraft and is essentially the same today as it was in 1958. The wire is coaxial with a two strand braid on the outside and a cloth covered stranded wire on the inside. That about covers the “what”. The “why” is a longer story. Why 500K pots? I dunno. Why .022uF caps? Ask an electrical engineer.

Paper in oil bumblebees on the left. You can tell PIO from Mylar by the little filler at the top. The Sprague Black Beauties on the right are Mylar and don’t have the fillers.