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Archive for the ‘ES 355’ Category

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.

Headstock Variables ES-355

Sunday, November 11th, 2018

I recently wrote a post talking about how the ES line is “upside down” which dealt with the real world fact that 335’s are more valuable than their upscale brethren, the 345 and the 355. I posted a photo of two 59 ES-355’s side by side and I received a comment about how one of the 355’s had a shorter headstock than the other and that this was a known characteristic of Les Paul Customs (which have the same headstock design). I was aware that there was some variation among headstocks in 335’s but never really dug too far into it. Back in 2014 I made note of the fact that the 1958 ES-335’s often had a slightly elongated headstock when compared to 59’s. You can read about it here. But I was never aware that there was a significant variation in the 355 headstocks as well. A little research reveals the reason (and I already covered that)

In 2017, I wrote a post called “Stinger Things” which revealed the reason for many, if not all stingers found on ES-355’s (the most common ES with a headstock stinger). You can read that post here. If you’re too lazy to read another post, I’ll give you the short version. Most 355’s with a stinger have necks that were converted from 335 or 345 necks. The headstock of a 355 is wider and longer than a 335 headstock. The discrepancy in 355 headstocks is in these conversions-all of which have a stinger. The two 355’s in the photo in the “Upside Down” post that was commented on by the sharp eyed reader shows two 59 ES-355’s. One has a bigger headstock than the other. Fortunately, I still had both of those 355’s in my shop and I took a closer look. Here’s the photo:

You can sort of see that the headstock on the left is a little smaller than the one on the right. Look at the truss cover-it is closer to the diamond inlay and closer to the nut on the one on the left. I know, the perspective is making it look greater than it is but that’s the photo I have.

As it turns out, the one on the left has a stinger and, as I showed you in the “Stinger Things” post, that stinger covers a veneer that covers a set of tuner holes that were spaced for a 335 or 345. Since the front of the headstock gets a different overlay and inlays, you don’t see the old tuner holes on the front. In order to cover them on the back, the veneer was placed there. To cover the veneer, they just painted on a stinger. But wait, the 355 headstock is a good bit wider than a 335 or 345 headstock. Easy fix. A 335 and 345 headstock is really three pieces-the middle piece is the neck itself but there are two wings on either side that give the headstock its width and shape. So, to make a 355 headstock, knock off the 335 wings and add a bigger set of 355 wings. The one thing they couldn’t change was the length of the headstock when converting a 335/345 to a 355. Thus, the discrepancy in headstock length on the two 59’s. I’ve seen it in 1960 as well but since I don’t see as many 61-64 ES-355’s, I’ve never measured a stinger version vs a non stinger on an example from those years. Feel free to help me out.

What’s all this then? What they did here was to take a 335 neck-already drilled and ready to go and cut the smaller wings off the sides and put big 355 wings on it. Then the doweled the holes and re-drilled them located for a 355. Then they put a piece of mahogany veneer over it and painted on the stinger. The only tuner holes you see are the original Grover holes. Definitely factory but definitely a little shorter than the usual 355 headstock. Mystery solved.

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.

 

Rare and then Some

Monday, August 20th, 2018

This ledger page from April of 59 shows two special order 355’s-A29538 (which I owned) and A29540 which hasn’t surfaced as far as I know.

The ES-355 is an interesting bit of old school marketing. Unlike the auto industry, the guitar business didn’t offer a lot of options to jack up the sticker price. In Gibson’s case, they offered a range of models which added features and jacked up the price. The ES line had a lot of models but the 335, 345 and 355 were really a line of their own. They were, essentially, the same guitar with high priced, mostly cosmetic upgrades. And the price increase was heart stopping. The sticker price of a 59 ES-335 was $335 including a hard case. An ES-345 was $415 and added gold hardware, stereo/Varitone circuitry and some fancier appointments like parallelogram inlays and multiply binding on the front. That’s not just an $80 increase which seems insignificant. That’s a 25% increase. But wait. There’s more. The ES-355 added a Bigsby as standard, a fancy inlaid headstock, ebony fingerboard, real mother of pearl block inlays, Grover tuners. It was available in mono or stereo. The stereo version was a whopping $645. That’s a 95% increase over a 335. Talk about sticker shock. Want a stop tail 355? Well, you’ll have to wait because it isn’t an option. It’s a special order.

This is the stereo 355 stop tail I just got. Nice watermelon fade and some pretty unusual features. Read on.

So, I just bought an early 59 stereo ES-355 stop tail. The ES-355 is a pretty rare guitar to begin with given the price (and the relative value). In 1959, Gibson sold 592 335’s, 478 ES-345’s and just 300 ES-355’s. No surprises there. But how many of those 355’s were ordered with a stop tail? It’s hard to know for sure but I know of four from 59, four from 60 and one from 63. I’m sure there are others but I think around a dozen known is probably accurate. Of the 6 that I’ve owned, only two have had the big 59 neck including the one I now have. Four have been mono. But this one is different than all the others. Those of you who read this page know about the desirable “first rack” 345’s. It always seemed odd to me that these very early 345’s unique features (short leg PAF, shallow rout for the choke and sometimes wax potting) never showed up in the early stereo 355’s. I’ve had at least 7 or 8 early stereo 355’s and all had the fully cut center block. Most of the monos had it as well although some had the solid center block. I believe that the first stereo ES’s were 345’s the earliest pre-date the first racks and may have been prototypes but there are 3 or 4 of those. They date from February and have 58 FONs so it would make sense that the earliest 355’s would have the same features. This stop tail is the very first one I’ve seen like this.

The FON of the first 345’s from February is T7303. The earliest of the “first rack” 345’s is S8537-months later. The FON of the earliest 355 stereo in my database is S7624 which is one of the earliest in 1959. I just went through my archives and found another 355 with a short leg PAF but not the shallow rout. That was from the next rack S7625. The others (5 of them) from S7624 that I’ve had were all monos. So this might be the only rack with 355’s with these features. I think I can assume there are others like this, a rack is 35 guitars and I only have 6 from this rack and this is the only stereo and one of two stop tails in the rack. I can assume there are more stereos like this but probably not another stop tail stereo. That likely makes this one a unique example. Geeky stuff for sure. Geeky is what I do.

So why spend a whole bunch of extra money for a stop tail 355 when you can buy a stop tail 59 345 for much less? Because red stop tail 59 345’s are just as rare. You can get a red 60 345 for reasonable money but the neck will be slim. How about a red 335 from 59? Red stop tail 59 335’s are crazy rare-I think there are three. Red stop tail 59 345’s are stupid rare (3 or 4) and red stop tail 355’s are rare and then some (4). It’s a pretty exclusive club-only 11 members, although I know one collector with at least one of each. Maybe sunburst doesn’t look so bad after all.

This is the usual stereo bridge pickup rout. The choke is in the space between the pickups not under the bridge pickup like it is in a first rack. Note the size of the rout.

Like a first rack 345, this 355 has the choke right under the pickup which requires the short leg PAF for clearance on the right side. This one is wax potted which is a feature of some, but not all, first racks.

 

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.

 

 

Mid Sixties. Good Guitars. Small Necks.

Monday, July 30th, 2018

If you can live with the narrow nut and the trap tailpiece, a 66 is a pretty good choice. Vintage pedigree without the sticker shock.

I must come off as a little bit of a vintage snob. I pay a lot of attention to the ES line from 58 to 65 but I pretty much ignore the rest of the sixties and that really isn’t fair. Most vintage aficionados draw a line somewhere and I drew mine at the moment they switched from wide nuts to narrow nuts (insert joke here). The guitar boom that occurred during the mid 60’s caused some major changes in the guitar industry. In 1959, they sold around 1500 guitars from the ES thin line series. That would include 335’s, 345’s and 355’s. By 1967, that number was closer to 10,000. That huge increase must have caused all kinds of headaches with the corporate suits. You can thank John, Paul, George and Ringo for a lot of that. I was 11 when I first heard The Beatles and I wanted to be a rock star (along with a zillion other kids my age). I couldn’t afford a 335 but that didn’t stop me. I never got there but had a lot of fun trying for about ten years. So, let’s take a look at the mid 60’s in the next few posts and see where the changes occurred and why these years don’t command the big bucks and maybe why they should. And we’ll blow away a myth or two along the way.

I’ve owned a bunch of 66’s, so that’s the year we’ll start with. If I had to point out the shortcomings of 66’s, it would be a pretty short list. Narrow nut. End of list. The nut went from 1 11/16″ in early 65 to 1 5/8″ to 1 9/16″ by the early Summer of 65. That’s pretty narrow even for a guy with small hands like me. I find that I’m clumsy and get in my own way on the limited real estate of the lower frets. I simply can’t play them very well. But beyond that, 66’s are not all that different from the well regarded 64’s. They went to the trapeze but (myth buster #1) I don’t find that it makes all that much difference in tone and sustain. You’d think it would but I’ve played lots of 66’s with great sustain and tone. Well, what about the pickups? You can’t really compare a t-top to a PAF can you? Here’s myth buster #2-they didn’t use t-tops in 66-at least not in any of the 66’s I’ve had or inspected. The pickups are pre t-tops which are, essentially, PAFs with poly coated windings. They are different than PAFs and early patents but they are very good pickups. I find them a little brighter and a little more tame than a PAF but still a really good sounding pickup. However, if you’re buying a 345 or 355, you still have a shot at a set of early patents which are the same as a late PAF. Early patents are not common on gold hardware guitars by 66 but they are out there.

The quality of mid 60’s ES models suffered during the mid 60’s almost certainly because of the wildly increased sales volume. I’m sure the pressure to crank out more guitars in less time was intense and when that happens, quality is the loser. But 66’s are generally good as far as fit and finish are concerned. To me, a 66 is very close to a “Golden Era” 335 for less than half the price. I had a 66 ES-345 a few years ago that I would put up against any year except maybe an early 59. It was a monster guitar. The 66 still has a lot of the same components of the earlier ones. The nickel had changed to chrome on 335’s by late 65 but the 66 was the last year for the wide bevel guard, the reflector knobs and Brazilian rosewood fingerboards. I think that if Gibson had kept the wider nut and the beefier neck (66’s are pretty thin front to back-like a 61), the prices would be a lot higher. Just look at early 65’s. A big neck 65 is pretty close to a 66 except for the neck profile. And yet, the price of the 65 is 50% more on average. So, I consider the 66’s a bargain. You can pick up a ’66 345 for about the same price as a new high end 335. You can always take off the trapeze and do a stop tail conversion. I find that if its done right, it doesn’t diminish the value significantly, if at all. There are always buyers for stop tails (done right by somebody else). And, much as I like some of the newer 335’s, I’d still rather have a 66 even with that narrow nut.

This 66 345 was pretty unusual. Full Mickey Mouse ears and early patents made it look and sound like an earlier one. Keep your eyes open, there are some excellent mid 60’s guitars out there for less than you might pay for a new one.

Fix it or Disclose it

Saturday, June 30th, 2018

On of the most common parts that gets swapped out for a repro is the switch tip. It’s a $200 part these days and the repros have gotten pretty good. If it’s an amber one, look for a seam. If there is one, it ain’t the real deal. If there isn’t a seam, it could still be a repro. If it’s a white one, it should have a seam and usually a crack.

I have a pet peeve about the vintage guitar business and, frankly, it drives me a little nuts. Let me set the stage and give my peeve some context. Guitars get modified over decades. Parts get changed, finishes get touched up and redone, stuff wears out and so on. I get that. And I don’t expect individual sellers to know everything about the guitar they are selling. As a dealer, it’s my job to know what to look for and to make a fair assessment of the guitar I’m buying. Part of the reason my inventory is fairly narrow is because I don’t generally buy what I don’t know about. I learned that by getting burned on a few guitars that turned out to be something other than they were touted to be by the seller. Many sellers will make good on an undisclosed issue but many can’t be expected to do so (widows and children of the original owner, for example). But undisclosed issues from individual sellers isn’t the pet peeve. It’s the undisclosed issues from the dealers.

I should clarify. There are dealers and there are dealers. Most full time dealers are pretty good at accurately describing the guitars they sell and they have fair policies about returns-to a point. Many smaller dealers are just as good as the big boys. But there’s the scenario that drives me batshit. Player A buys an expensive vintage guitar from well regarded Dealer B. Player A gets 48 hours to accept or reject the guitar. He accepts the guitar because it’s a great player and everything looks right to his untrained eye and he is happy.  Unbeknownst to player A,  the neck PAF  was rewound and the back was oversprayed.  A year later, Player A trades the guitar (sight unseen) to me for a more expensive vintage guitar. “I know it’s correct because I bought it from Dealer B who has a great reputation.” That may be true but Dealer B never checked the pickups closely and didn’t notice the overspray-it sure looked right. And the 48 hour approval has long since run out.

Then I get the guitar in hand and I have to deliver the bad news that the guitar isn’t what it was touted to be. This has happened dozens of times now (and I’ve only been doing this full time for 8 years) and it’s pretty distressing to the seller and to me, especially when the dealer has been in business for decades. Sometimes, it’s a $200 switch tip (really common), sometimes it’s undisclosed touchups. More often, its rewound pickups and changed parts. It’s often really hard to tell a repro tailpiece or bridge from a photo. Overspray is common and also very hard to see in a photo-even a blacklight photo if the overspray is old enough. The worst case (and it came from a well established dealer) was a 56 Stratocaster that had a repro body and an very well disguised All Parts neck. The dealer refuses to make good on it even though we (me and the previous owner) can prove the body and neck are the same ones that the dealer sold. I’m not mentioning names…yet. That’s thousands of dollars down the toilet.

I’m not calling out specific dealers, I’m calling out all dealers including myself. It is your responsibility to know what you are selling and to go through it completely. A couple of years ago, I sold a mint 62 ES-335 to a gentleman in California who really knew his stuff. I went through it pretty thoroughly but I never removed the thumbwheels under the bridge. It turned out that the bridge had been moved back slightly leaving two small holes, not visible unless you remove the thumbwheels. The guitar came back and I learned an important lesson. Look at everything on every guitar you get. Fix it or disclose it. Is it too much of a pain to check the pots on a 335? Then don’t sell 335’s or disclose that you never checked them. If the pickups have been opened and re-sealed, then disclose it. That should tell the buyer that they may have been rewound. Want a better solution? Open them back up and check the windings. It’s time consuming and a lot of work but it’s your responsibility to know exactly what you’re selling.

Look at the solder. You can usually tell if the pickups have been opened. If they have been, and have been re-soldered, open them up again and check for a rewound pickup. Sometimes it’s not so easy to tell. Mostly, it is. Look for bent edges, flux around the solder or sloppy work. I’m sure this one was opened.

 

 

That Little “2” on the Headstock

Monday, April 16th, 2018

The little “2” is lightly stamped into the headstock right in the middle of the “open book” shape at the top.

Back in 2012, I wrote a post about the “factory seconds” that turn up every once in a while identified by the little numeral “2” stamped on the back of the headstock. Since I wrote that post, I’ve learned a little more about how things were done at Gibson back in the Kalamazoo days. I had the good fortune, a while back, to speak with a gentleman who worked in the paint department there in the mid 60’s. In the course of our not very long discussion, I had the opportunity to ask a few questions and get a little bit of an education into how things worked back then.

I think that everyone assumes that the “2” means factory second but apparently it doesn’t-or at least it doesn’t only mean that. Like most companies who turn out a product for consumption by the general public, there is a quality control department whose job it is to make sure the product is up to a defined minimum acceptable standard. I don’t know if there were two QC people or 20 but it is clear that they didn’t have to work too terribly hard based on the relatively small number of guitars I’ve come across with that little “2” on them. I don’t keep close track of it but out of perhaps 600 ES guitars that have passed through me and my shop, I would guess that no more than 12 to perhaps 16 have had the “2”. That’s a little more than 1 out of 50. Well, if it doesn’t quite mean factory second, what does it mean? Well, according to the gentleman I spoke to, it means it went back to the paint booth a second time to fix a finish issue. That could mean covering a flaw in the wood by expanding the opaque area of the sunburst, it could mean buffing out or re-spraying a drip or flaw in the clear coat, or it could mean that the finish wasn’t up to standards and had to be completely redone. Unfortunately, they don’t include an explanation.

But wait, there’s more. Apparently, if an employee wanted to buy a Gibson guitar, he was able to do so at a discount but he (or she) was only allowed to buy one that had a flaw-a factory second. It was, according to my source, quite common for an employee to go to the paint guy and ask the paint guy to tell the QC guy that there was a problem and to stamp a particular guitar with a “2” so the employee could take it home at a discount. I’m told that a few dollars may have changed hands or maybe not. So, assuming this is true (and I have no reason to believe otherwise) we have some “2” designated guitars with no issues of any kind.  That might explain why you generally can’t find the flaw when you get one of these into your hands. In fact, out of the 12 or so I can recall, only 3 had obviously been redone. All three had very deep sunbursts with an unusually large  band of opaque brown/black in the burst. These are very distinctive and quite wonderful. They have a look similar to the old pre-war sunburst you see on some early J-45’s and LG’s and Nick Lucas’s.

In general, the “2” designation doesn’t affect the value much, if at all. A finish that was done twice at the factory is still a factory original finish. In fact Fenders that have a custom color over sunburst are quite desirable-at least enough that Fender is doing on purpose on their relic guitars. To further the point, I had a 59 with a very distinctive deep sunburst that had the “2” that was one of the top ten 335’s I’ve ever had. So, I don’t avoid the 335’s with the little “2” on the headstock. Mostly, I ignore it but sometimes, it gets me a very distinctive sunburst that will set the guitar apart from the hundreds of others made that year.

This “2” 335 is an early 59 and had a flaw in the grain on the top down below the tailpiece about an inch from the rim. A normal sunburst would not have covered it, so it went back to the paint booth for another go around. The flaw is still visible under black light but not with the naked eye.

Upside Down Guitars

Thursday, April 5th, 2018

Mint 58 lefty that I authenticated a few years ago. A stunningly beautiful guitar. How did it play? Beats me, I couldn’t play it.

Recently I was asked by a reader if I had ever written a post about left handed ES guitars and I don’t recall if I have or not but it’s a good subject. There have been plenty of greats who were/are lefties. Some played right handed, some played a right handed guitar turned upside down (either strung lefty or righty) and some played left handed guitars. Jimi played a righty guitar strung lefty and turned upside down but Dick Dale learned to play with a righty guitar turned upside down and still strung righty so the high strings were on top. Albert King apparently played that way as well. Wanna feel like a total spaz? Pick up a left handed guitar and try to play. Strung either way, it’s incredibly difficult-more so for a crappy player like me, although a lefty strung as a lefty is a lot easier. Take your righty guitar and turn it over and try to play. Total spaz, right?

It’s not hard to source a left handed 335 these days but back in the day, they were only available by special order and they are incredibly rare. They also command a pretty serious premium. I don’t recall exactly how many 335’s, 345’s and 355’s were made from 58 to 69 but they number in the thousands. I figure I’ve owned around 600 or so since I started doing this and I’ve had no lefties. In fact I’ve seen less than a dozen. I know of a couple of ’58’s. Left handed dealer Alex Pavchinski sent me a mint 335 lefty a few years back to authenticate and I know he had at least one more ’58. I know of maybe five lefty 345’s from ’59 to ’64. I know of at least one red ’64 335.  Of the two known block neck blonde 335’s, one is a righty ’63 (which I owned) and the other is a lefty ’64 owned by a gentleman who lives 40 minutes from my shop. I wish we’d gotten a photo of the two of them together while I had the ’63. There was a ’68 on Ebay a while back but I can’t think of any others off hand. So, that’s ten I can recall. I’m sure there are lots more but I’d be surprised if they numbered as many as 100 during that period. In fact, if you told me there were less than 50, I wouldn’t be surprised.

ES-335’s have been relatively popular among lefty players over the years probably because they are symmetrical-you don’t give up any fret access when you flip over a righty 335. And they don’t look funny upside down like a Telecaster or Les Paul does. But if you’re a left handed player and you want a left handed vintage 335, 345 or 355, be prepared to pay a serious upcharge. “Find another” pricing is in effect here. You can ask whatever you want and leave it up to the buyer to decide if a 50% or 100% or 300% markup is appropriate. Typically, the prices seem to be in the 50% to 100% (double) range for pre 65’s. There’s a ’60 345 on the market now for $47,000. I sold a very early right handed ’60 345 last week for $16,500, so you can do the math. Fair? Ambitious? Outrageous? You’ll have to decide because supply and demand is a fickle law when both the supply and the demand are so low. The 68 on Ebay was around $8000, if I recall, which didn’t seem out of line. I have no idea if it sold or what it sold for but it was listed for quite a long time. I’m told the $47000 60 345 has been listed for over a year-I just noticed it recently but I don’t actively seek out lefty guitars.

I just checked Reverb-no vintage lefty ES’s. I checked Gbase-one ’85 335. I checked Ebay-none. Considering the number of right handed vintage ES’s on the market at any given time, the number of lefties is miniscule. I’m very happy to have been born right handed. Things would be pretty dull sitting around my shop being unable to play all the great guitars I get. I’d have to learn how to play upside down.

This 63 355 was brought to me a few years ago for authentication. It turned out to have been a converted righty. A new nut and a new top are all you need to turn a righty to a lefty. Or you could just turn it upside down.

 

2017 Year Ender Part 2

Wednesday, January 24th, 2018

This is a “first rack” ’59 ES-345-these are a little different than later ones and command a premium and sell for $20K or more if collector grade. Later ones with the black VT ring are up there too. Later 59’s with the gold ring are strong as well, in the high teens. 60’s are catching up too. Bigsbys are weak and can be a good deal right now.

This post will look back at 2017 with regard to ES-345’s and ES-355’s. 2017 started out with 345’s and stereo 355’s pretty much flat and pretty much not selling with the notable exception of 59’s. Owning a 59 of almost any model seems to continue to hold some voodoo cachet that no other year can quite match. Don’t get me wrong, 59’s are great but do they deserve the kind of reverence they seem to inspire? Maybe, but that’s a different post which I will get to.

At the beginning of the year, I swear, I couldn’t give away 345’s from 1960 on. I’d have been better off parting them out they had become so stagnant. I look back at my records for the year and I see the 59’s flew out the door at strong prices-hitting $20K (or more) for clean early 59’s and the high teens for later (transitional neck) 59’s. But the 60-64’s were just not going anywhere. I had a gorgeous red stop tail 60 with no issues other than a repro guard ($1000 part) for $13K and it took months to move. And Bigsby 345’s? Anything over maybe $11K was going nowhere and I simply stopped buying them. I don’t think I sold any in 2017. By year end, the stop tails had perked up and PAF 345’s are selling well again. Bigsby’s are still a tough sell but that makes them a relative bargain if you can find a seller who hasn’t dug in his heels. And therein lies the problem. Nobody wants to lose money on a vintage guitar so few owners are willing to sell at a loss. They simply sit there in standoff mode.

Stereo 355’s were no better than 345’s but monos were strong all year. Since 355’s, as a rule, always have a tremolo (Bigsby, sideways, Maestro), they can be a tough sell as well. Again, 59’s were the easy sell with prices pushing $20K for monos and stereos back in the mid to upper teens. Double white PAFs can tack on a few thousand. One 59 mono stop tail showed up this year and it sold at a serious premium (I only know of three) and a stop tail 60 sold recently as well from another dealer although I don’t know the price. In general mono 355’s sell very well and even those from 61-64 don’t hang around for long, although they  don’t show up very often either since they didn’t make that many. Again, mid teens for clean examples seems to be the norm right now. A 60 mono will be a few thousand higher. Stereo 355’s from 60 onward were pretty flat and seem to remain so. There aren’t ever that many on the market so a true assessment is difficult. I didn’t sell more than a few, mostly from 60. A footnote to 355 sales is that more of them have shipped overseas. With CITES regulations over rosewood getting tougher and more countries enforcing them, I’ve started shipping more ebony board 355’s to folks who want an ES but don’t want to deal with the paperwork (which, by the way, isn’t that complicated).

The OK crystal ball likes mono 355’s for 2018 and it also likes 59 and 60 ES-345’s. If you haven’t figured it out yet, late 59’s (gold Varitone ring) and early 60 345’s are virtually identical. The fat neck was largely gone by the early Fall and didn’t really get super thin until the late Spring of 60. So unless the 59 voodoo makes you woozy and opens your wallet, look for a fairly early 60. Any serial in the A33600 or lower range is bound to have the medium(ish) neck of a late 59. The blade thin neck is the rule after that right through most of 63. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to neck profiles, though. I’ve had fat 60’s and super thin 59’s.

There is nothing to stay away from. Vintage is still a good buy and ES-345’s and stereo 355’s can be real bargains. Do your research and don’t pay stupid prices. If you still aren’t sure, email me and ask. Even if it’s a guitar being sold by another dealer or individual. If I think it’s a good deal, I’ll tell you so. If it isn’t, I’ll tell you that to. It’s not always easy to tell everything from photos, so get an approval period of at least 24 hrs. 48 is better. And if you think I’m wrong, you don’t have to listen to me. It is, after all, your money.

This 59 mono stop tail ES-355 showed up in 2017 and sold to a rock star. But I don’t kiss and tell. 59 mono 355’s (Bigsby) ruled the 355 roost in 2017 and will continue to do so in 2018.