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Archive for the ‘ES 345’ Category

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.

Internet Guitar Police

Sunday, January 13th, 2019

I actually bought this one-advertised as a 64 or 65 ES-355. It turned out to have been re-necked in 69 or 70. Probably should have kept it anyway. It’s still a pretty cool guitar but I paid for one that was all original and this one wasn’t.

I spend a pretty fair amount of my time looking for the next guitar I’m going to buy (and sell). I search the obvious places like Reverb and Gbase and Ebay and Craigslist and I find lots of nice guitars-more often than not overpriced but some very nice guitars. I make offers, I ask questions, I do my homework in the hope that what I’m buying is actually what I’m getting. Sometimes, it can be pretty tricky like when Grandma is selling her long deceased husband’s guitar and has no idea what it is or when it was made. I try to be of assistance and I can almost always tell most of what I need to know from a few photos. But it’s always a crapshoot. I can’t really ask Grandma to break out the screwdrivers and check the PAF stickers for me or get me pot codes. So, you take your chances and try to minimize the risk any way you can. But I’m at a big advantage when it comes to 335’s and the like. I know what every year looks like pretty much at a glance. I can tell a real PAF from a fake at twenty paces and usually a repro tailpiece or bridge without having to turn it over. But what can you do if you haven’t seen enough 335’s to make an informed decision? Well, you can always ask me and, better yet,  you can get a return commitment so if something isn’t right, you can return it. But Grandma just wants to get paid and be done with it. I would never ask a seller for a return policy if it’s a non player selling a guitar he or she knows nothing about. But, every once in a while, I do something else and I’m always really hesitant to do it and I don’t do it that often. Sounds ominous, right? On occasion and not very often and only when the crime is so egregious, I can’t stand it…I am the internet guitar police. I admit it. Guilty with an explanation.

OK, so what does that mean? It means I see a guitar that’s listed as something it clearly isn’t and I feel compelled (that’s right compelled) to call out the seller and set him straight. Arrogant? I try not to be. Know it all? Well, you’re reading my stuff so I know more than you do (until you’ve read it all and then you can take over for me). It always feels like a really obnoxious thing to do but if I save some poor buyer from paying the price of a 62 for a 66 or buying a Chinese fake that’s breathlessly listed as “Gibson ES-345 Mono / Stop Tail 1967 Natural RARE!, then I think I’ve done some measurable good. The reason I decided to establish this blog in the first place was because so many listings were wrong about the year of the 335 they were selling. There are some very legitimate reasons for getting it wrong. They used the same serial numbers over and over from 65 to 69, sometimes as many as four times. And, even to the trained eye, a 65 doesn’t look all that different from a 67. I can point out about a dozen differences but they aren’t obvious to anyone who hasn’t studied them. So, I understand the difficulty and I generally don’t write to you to tell you that you have the year wrong, especially when the values aren’t all that different (like between a 66 and a 68). But if you tell me the PAFs on your Grandaddy’s 58 are original and I can see they are fakes, somebody is going to get hurt.

I’ve been called all kinds of names. “Dot neck snob” is a recent one. “Douchebag asshole” is another. “Know it all scumbag” and the like. On the other hand, I get as many as twenty emails a week asking me if the 335 being considered by you and not being sold by me is everything the seller says it is and is it a good deal? I answer every one of them. I want folks to get what they pay for. My offering up free advice is good business. Being nice and helpful is good business. Making sure a buyer has a good first experience with a 335 can often mean that same buyer will be coming to me later when it’s time to spend some very serious money on their next 335 (or the one after that). Happens all the time and I’m grateful for it. The other side of that is when I have to tell a 335 owner that the 62 he bought for $20,000 has fake PAFs and a repro tailpiece. “But the dealer told me it was 100% original…” or “but the seller said he bought it new and it was never worked on…” People forget. People lie. People get burned by the last seller and simply perpetuate the lies.

So there it is. I am the internet guitar police. Or I should say The Internet Guitar Police. Or at least for 335’s, 345’s and 355’s. I’ve mentioned before that around 90% of the guitars I get have an undisclosed issue that can’t be seen in photos. It’s usually something pretty minor and it’s usually not out of dishonesty-it’s out of a lack knowledge and of good information. That’s why I’m here. To help. Take down my badge number and know this… I’m watching.

This is the guitar that started me writing this blog. It was represented as a red 59. It had a cut center block (started in 61) and a few other oddities that caused me to go on my (now 8 year) crusade against misrepresented ES models.

Year Ender 2018 Part 2: 345’s and 355’s

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019

Why is the guitar on the left worth twice what the one in the middle is worth? It’s a mystery but it’s the truth. An ES-345 no matter what year, is worth half of the same year 335. 355’s follow the same rule with the exception of the super rare stop tails.

I’ve mentioned many times that the vintage market for 335’s, 345’s and 355’s is “upside down” with the 335’s being worth around twice what the higher end 345’s and 355’s are worth. The good news for collectors and players who don’t have unlimited budgets is that it’s still “upside down”. When you consider that a collector grade (but not mint) 59 stop tail 335 will cost you between $35K and $40K, it is almost unbelievable that a 59 345 stop tail will cost you about half that. So, you’re saving $20,000 to endure the indignity of fancier bindings, fancier inlays and largely obsolete stereo/Varitone wiring. For around $200-$300, your can convert the electronics to 335 spec. The obvious next question is whether that hurts the vintage value or not. I can tell you from vast experience that it doesn’t as long as you keep all the original parts. You can be a purist and keep it stereo-it’s still a great guitar but if you’re buying a 345 because you don’t want to spend double for the same year 335, it’s a no brainer.

So, looking back at the 345 and 355 market for 2018, the news is mostly good. Like the 335, 59’s are still the benchmark especially the early “first rack” 345’s with the giant neck profile and unusual rout under the bridge pickup (short leg PAF-look it up). 59’s were up this year with first racks topping $20K and pushing $25K for excellent examples. Later ones (smaller neck, bigger rout) are approaching $20K. 59 355’s (Bigsby) were also really strong with big neck monos leading the way pushing into the $25K range. Lots of 59 355’s have smaller necks but the 59 year is still magic. The stereo 59’s are less than the monos but are also in the $20K range. Remember that stop tail 355’s are super rare and command a huge premium-double the price of a Bigsby. I only know of 12 of them.

What about the other years? 2017 was not a good year for 345’s. 60-64’s were pretty much stalled all year. 2018 was better but 61-64’s were still slow but showed a little appreciation. They are still a pretty tough sell. I’m not sure why but I can sell a half dozen 59’s in the time it takes me to sell one 61. You can get into a 61-64 345 or stereo 355 for $11K-14K-less if it has issues. That’s a bargain. The surprise, to me, of 2018 is the increase in popularity of 1960 ES-345’s. I see two reasons for this. The availability of the red finish is a big part of it. There are only 9 red 59’s and they are pricey, so if you want a long guard, long magnet PAF equipped red 345, the 60 is your only choice. I think the 60 345-red or sunburst-is currently the best bargain in this market. A collector grade early 60 will cost you in the $15K-$17K range. A little more if its mint (or has double whites or zebras which is relatively common in early 60). Yes, the neck profile is slimmer than an early 59 but an early 60 is identical to a late 59. So, are 59 bragging rights worth $5000 to you? Didn’t think so.  A later 60, which will have the very slim “blade” neck, will be even less. It will still have the long guard and the long magnet PAFs. The “transitional” 59/60 neck seems to slim down around the late Spring of 60. Look for A32xxx-A33xxx for the larger neck. No guarantees since the change in profile didn’t occur overnight but after A34000, they all seem to be very slim, like a 61.

I will make the further point that asking prices for 345’s and 355’s are all over the place. I’ve seen 61-64’s listed for close to $30K by sellers with big dreams and no sense of reality. It is human nature that most sellers think their guitar is worth way more than it will actually sell for and that hurts the market. On the other hand,  it helps sellers who ask fair prices; prices based on something more than wishes.

Lastly, let’s consider blondes since they were the big winner in the 335 market. All blonde 355’s were special orders so they are among the rarest of the rare. I’ve sold two in the past 10 years and I’ve seen only two others. Blonde 345’s were available from 1959 to 1960 but were made in very small numbers. Gibson made only 32 59’s and 18 60’s. After 60, they were special order only and I’ve seen one 61 and a few from the late 60s. I can’t tell you how blonde 345’s did in 2018 because none of them came on the market as far as I know.  My opinion is that they should be on a par with blonde 335’s. After all, there are four times as many blonde 335’s as there are blonde 345’s. I know a number of big collectors who own multiple blonde 335’s but have had no luck finding a blonde 345. My main player is a 59 blonde 345 (with some big issues) and I would have to say that a blonde 345 is my favorite guitar. Period.

What’s not to love? The 345 is a beautiful guitar that sounds as good as any guitar Gibson ever made. The blondes are big money but the sunburst and reds will cost you half what a 335 from the same year will cost. The middle one here is a finish called Argentine Grey. Rare but not popular. Got a black one? Lucky you. There are only 6 known.

 

 

The Death of Vintage

Friday, November 30th, 2018

This 58 was bought by a 24 year old. Who says millennials don’t buy vintage?

Got your attention now, don’t I? OK, nobody is dying but the conventional wisdom has been that the vintage market will die as soon as the baby boomers (born 1946-1964) stop buying guitars. Where did this so called conventional wisdom come from? Well, not from me, that’s for sure. It’s most likely the result of simple logic. Most of the folks buying guitars from the 50’s and 60’s are folks who coveted those guitars as teenagers. It’s the same logic that the vintage automobile market  clung to until it simply didn’t pan out that way. There is some truth to the logic but it isn’t the big picture.

I’ve been buying and selling vintage guitars for about twenty years now. I started back in the mid 90’s, when the internet and, specifically, Ebay, opened up a worldwide market . It was a hobby until around 2006 when I started getting serious and my main source of income since 2010. From the mid 90’s until now, it is absolutely true that my biggest and most frequent customers have been between the ages of 50 and 65. Interestingly, the age of the clientele stayed about the same between then and now. Of course, if you were 50 in 1995, you are now at the top end of that range and if you were 65, you are probably not buying guitars any more (or anything else for that matter). I believe those who subscribe to the conventional wisdom about the vintage market have their data correct but they have misinterpreted it. I believe it has more to do with disposable income than it has to do with what guitars you grew up wanting. At around age 50-55 a lot of things in your life can change. Your mortgage may be paid off, your kids are out of the house and you may have downsized, college expenses are finished and your income is higher than its ever been. It doesn’t take an economist to figure this out-you simply have more money to spend.

But it doesn’t end there. The belief that the generation behind the baby boomers won’t be interested in guitars from the 50’s and 60’s is faulty. Guitars from the 50’s and 60’s (and some 30’s and 40’s) are better instruments than most of them being made now. There is no doubt that there are some extremely good guitars being made today-especially from boutique builders. But the market still loves the classics and that’s what those conventional thinkers have missed. Disagree? here are some hard facts.

I sell around 100 guitars a year. I keep track of the demographics of who is buying what. The big surprise this year was that nearly half of the high end vintage guitars sold by me were bought by folks under the age of 50. That still means lots of 50 and 60 somethings are buying guitars but, as they say in the commercials, wait..there’s more. It’s a little nitpicky but i sold a lot of guitars to buyers in the range of 50-55. Now, I don’t ask everybody how old they are when they buy something but I get a pretty good sense of it from the conversations. Note that a 50 year old in 2018 is not a baby boomer. I sold six vintage guitars in November. Only one buyer was over 60. One was 24. Two were in their 40’s and two were in there 50’s. The demographics are very similar for the entire year. Last year was a bit different-more boomers. Same with the year before. So, is 2018 a fluke or a sustainable change in the market place? Stay tuned. I’m betting on the latter.

This stunning 59 didn’t go to a millennial but it didn’t go to a baby boomer either.

Upside Down

Monday, October 15th, 2018

The thinline line. We could include the 330, the 225, the 125 but those are full hollow. These are the models with the center block semi hollow configuration. The 355 is a rare stop tail the 335 and the 345 are the more common stop tail sunbursts. All are 59’s. If we pretend, for the moment, that the 355 is the typical Bigsby version, then how far apart are the prices?

Gibson’s semi hollow body line of electric guitars was introduced to the public in the Spring of 1958 with the release of the ES-335T. The ES stood for electric Spanish (as opposed to EH which was electric Hawaiian) and the T stood for thin line. It was a revolutionary body design but a pretty basic guitar: Plywood body, single ply bindings on the body, no binding on the neck, dot markers and those newfangled hum bucker pickups. It had more in common with the low line ES-225 than it did with the high line ES-5. It seems to have slotted into the lineup as something of a workingman’s guitar. A no frills player that would check all the boxes for both the amateur and the starving artist. The guys with the recording contracts would likely choose something a little more upscale with a bit more flash.

The head of Gibson at the time was Ted McCarty. He is credited with the design of the 335 as well as a number of other innovations. He also played a major role in the development of the tune-o-matic bridge and the humbucking pickup. He’s also the man behind the Explorer and the Flying V. Important guy. The 335 was a success right out of the gate and by the end of 1958, Gibson added an upscale version called the ES-355 to appeal to the professional player and the high end market. The 355 was essentially the same as a 335 with some fancy bindings, real mother of pearl inlays in an ebony board, fancy headstock and gold plated hardware. It also was priced at nearly double the cost of a 335. I find it surprising that anybody spent the extra bucks for what is basically bling but the 355 was pretty successful on its own.

Shortly after the introduction of the ES-355, Gibson added stereo to the 355 as well as the notch filter called a Varitone to the circuit. Now, at least the 355 was set apart from its downscale brother but Gibson saw an opportunity to grab a bit more of the market by incorporating the stereo/Varitone element into the 335 without all that expensive ornamentation. Think of it as first class, second class and third class. The 345, introduced in the Spring of 1959 was intended to fill a gap between the well heeled buyers of the stereo 355 and the no frills buyers of the 335. It would have the stereo circuit and Varitone, a mid level binding treatment, gold hardware and fancier inlays (but still plastic). It was priced closer to the 335 than the 355 but it completed the line of semi hollow body electrics and, like its brethren, was a success.

Fast forward 50 years or so and, strangely, the market for vintage ES models is “upside down.” That is, the third class ES-335 is worth as much as twice as much as the high line 355 stereo which initially cost nearly twice as much. The 335 is also more desirable (and therefore more valuable) than a 345 or a 355. There has been plenty of debate as to why this is the case. The general consensus is that folks appreciate the simplicity of the 335 design. There is some validity to that. The fancy Fender Jaguar is less popular than the simpler Stratocaster and the even simpler Telecaster. Similarly, the simple J-45 is more popular than the fancy J-200. The stereo circuitry of the 345 and the stereo 355 has long since been considered obsolete and the Varitone is largely and, somewhat undeservedly, reviled by lots of folks. Let’s leave it that the mono no Varitone 335 is more coveted than the stereo models all of which have the Varitone.

It is noteworthy that the blonde versions of all three models, custom colors and to an extent, the rare red versions of the 335 and 345 from 1959 don’t play by the same rules. A blonde 355 is about as rare as it gets.

But there a fly in the ointment of this logic and that is the mono ES-355. It is the same guitar as a 335 with the fancy bindings, inlays and gold hardware. It is notable that nearly all 355’s came with a vibrato (or tremolo if you prefer) tailpiece; Bigsby, sideways or Maestro. OK, let’s figure the vibrato into the mix and compare a mono 355 to a Bigsby 335. A 59 mono 355 is perhaps a $22,000 guitar today. A 59 Bigsby 335 is around $30,000. Big difference. So, it makes sense that the simplicity element is a factor. But let’s throw another curveball, shall we? There are a very small number of stop tail 355 monos. All were special orders and my latest count is that there are perhaps 8 of them from 58-64 and another 8 stereo stop tails. Maybe more, probably not less. SO, whaddya think…is a mono 59 stop tail 355 worth more than a sunburst 59 stop tail 335? There are hundreds of stop tail 59 335’s and maybe four or five stop tail 59 mono 355’s. Start the final Jeopardy theme music here.

OK, times up. The 355 is worth more than the 335. For once, rarity wins. A 59 335 is one of top collectible vintage guitars-certainly in the top five of everyone’s list. Expect to pay around $40K for a no issue one. But a mono stop tail 59 ES-355 will cost you another $8-$10,000. I know-I’ve sold three of them. But the stop tail mono 59 ES-355 is a special case. The ES market is still upside down and will likely stay that way. The good news is that you can simply convert your 345 or stereo 355 to mono and save yourself tens of thousands of dollars. A stop tail 59 345 will cost you $20K maybe a little more for an early “first rack”. A 59 335 will cost you $40K. For the record, my main player (at the moment) is a 59 ES-345 converted to mono.

A couple of super rare stop tail 355’s. One mono. One stereo.

 

1967. More changes. More Guitars

Monday, August 13th, 2018

Most 67’s look pretty much like a 66 except for the knobs and the pickguard. This is a 335 12 string in the very unpopular sparkling burgundy. But some have different ears. See below

The great guitar boom started slowly in 64 but, arguably, peaked in 67. You can thank the British Invasion (and all that followed) for that. By 67, it seemed that most teenage boys wanted to be a guitar player (me included, I was 15 in 67). That meant a lot of guitar sales. And 335’s were only the tip of the iceberg as they were generally too expensive for teenaged players. 335/345/355’s went from sales of around 2000 in 1964 to 3300 in 1966 to 8300 in 1967. But when you add in the number of Melody Makers, SG’s, Firebirds and acoustics (folk rock was huge by then), keeping up with the demand must have been more than daunting for the folks at Gibson. I don’t have accurate totals for all of the models but if 335’s are any indication, the increases were massive. Gibson probably added workers and shifts but they also had to work faster and more efficiently and that usually means a few things…like diminished quality, higher prices and changes.

The good news is that the quality, while perhaps diminished somewhat is still very good. I don’t see nearly as many 67’s as I do early 335’s but those I have seen show overall good work. The glue is a little sloppier on the inside, the fit and finish can be inconsistent but the guitars still play well and sound good. I can’t speak for the lower line models like the Melody Maker because I rarely see them. I can tell you the high end stuff (L-5 CES, Johnny Smith et al) was still built to a very high standard judging from the few I’ve played. So, what changed in 67 on the 335?

The nut width was still the very slim 1 9/16″ but the depth seems to have increased again after having gotten extremely thin in 66. Most 67’s I’ve played are pretty deep at the first fret and show a fair amount of increase to the 12th. More like a 64 with a narrow nut. While the conventional wisdom says 67’s had t-top pickups, I find that to be misleading. There are certainly 67’s with t-tops but most of the ones I’ve inspected have pre T top patents with the poly coated windings. Fingerboards were all Indian rosewood by 67 although I’m sure a few pieces of Brazilian are out there. The knobs went from reflectors to “witch hats” in late 66 and the pickguard bevel went from wide to narrow at around the same time. The hardware was chrome by 67 except for the occasional pickguard bracket (they must have had a lot of nickel ones on hand). The tuners never went to chrome. The cutaway shape was changed a bit as well and I have a theory about that. Some of the 67’s look exactly like a 64-66…pointy ears as you would expect. But some of them (especially Trinis) have these short stubby ears some call “fox ears”. I’ll wager a guess that they needed additional forms to keep up with the demand and made some new ones at some point in 67. It’s subtle but not that subtle. It’s interesting that the shape would change again in 68. The important point here is that most of the changes were cosmetic and perhaps reflected decreased costs-Indian rosewood was cheaper and the narrow bevel guard probably saved some pennies.

How does a 67 sound in relation to, say, a 64? Not so far off,  in my opinion. The poly wound pre T tops can be a little bright compared to the enamel coat wound 64 patents. The trapeze tailpiece can affect sustain a bit (but not as much as you think). They are also very consistent probably because the winders (so I’m told) had a stop function when they hit 5000 turns or so. That doesn’t eliminate all variation but it would eliminate some of it. In 64 and earlier, the workers doing the winding just filled the bobbins by eye. You can argue with me that a Brazilian board sounds better than an Indian board but I’ll tell you that you are delusional. A Brazilian might look better but I’m not buying the tone argument.

If I put a 67 up against a brand new high end Memphis built 335, I’ll still take the 67 for tone. Call it old wood, call it mojo or call it snobbery. The new one will probably be a little easier to play with the wider nut and maybe look a little better in the fit and finish but I think the 67 is going to smoke it when it comes to your ears. Finally, a 67 can be had for as little as $3500 if you’re lucky. I see them priced as high as $8000 or even a little more but I think the sellers are dreaming as they so often do. Check the neck for twists or back bow before you buy. 67’s are no more likely to have neck problems than any other year but it’s something you should check on any guitar new or vintage.

OK, its a Trini but lots of 335’s have the same shape “ears”. Compare these to the 67 at the top of this post. These are shorter, pointier and at a wider angle from the neck. Some call them “fox” ears. These are only found in 67-maybe very late 66 and very early 68 but, for the most part, it’s a 67 thing.