Archive for the ‘ES 355’ Category

Year Ender: 345’s and 355’s

Tuesday, December 27th, 2016
Post 59 ES-345's are still cheap. A few years ago, I could have sold this very clean watermelon red 60 for $16K. Today, it's $13K. It's got a couple of changed parts but still, $13K? For this? I must be nuts.

Post 59 ES-345’s are still cheap. A few years ago, I could have sold this very clean watermelon red 60 for $17K. Today, it’s $13K. It’s got a couple of changed parts but still, $13K? For this? I must be nuts.

If you read last year’s year ender, you would have noted that 345’s were really in the dumper. Stereo 355’s were in the same leaky boat. But that was then and this is now. And, somewhat surprisingly, they are pretty much right where they were then only now… it’s now. Still a tough sell and still a smart buy. I get that they aren’t as good an investment as a 335. I get that they aren’t as desirable as a 335. But I also get that they are every bit as good (and often better) than a 335 and they cost about half as much. Leave the stereo VT circuit or pull it out. I don’t care (as long as you put the original harness in the case). I sold a stop tail 64 this month with no issues-just some wear-to a smart buyer in Italy for under $10K. That same guitar, had it been a 335, would have been at least $17K. Stereo 355’s are the same story only maybe a little worse since there aren’t more than a handful of stop tails and the Bigsby (or sideways or Maestro) only makes it harder to sell. As these guitars dip below $10K, they become a pretty amazing deal. Most gold hardware guitars made up through 63 have PAFs and some 64’s do as well.  At the current market value of over $2000 each for PAFs, these guitars are no brainers.  When you consider the cost of a brand new Gibson, these make even more sense. They are a steal. Truthfully, I don’t see much more downside and I’ll likely be buying well priced stop tail 345’s as they come up. Yeah, there are still plenty of buyers who think their 60 is worth $20K or more but they either must not want to sell them or they are delusional (or both).

The exception to the above are the 59’s and the mono 355’s. Especially the early ones. An early big neck mono 59 355 or a “first rack” stop tail 59 ES-345 is a hot, hot guitar. I can sell as many as I get. I just can’t get that many. Both have cracked the $20K mark and sell very quickly-often in a day or two. Later 59’s are also strong but not quite at the level of these rarefied fat boys. A transitional neck 59 345 stop tail will be in the mid teens for sure and a really collector clean one might hit the high teens. Knock off 15%-20% for a Bigsby version. Since virtually all 59 355’s are Bigsby’s, the discount is built in. A 59 355 stereo falls somewhere below a stop tail 345 and a Bigsby 345. I still can’t figure out why a late 59 is worth more than an early 60, which is identical in every way, but I don’t make the rules.

And speaking of early 60’s, what is keeping the prices so low on 60-64 ES-345’s and stereo 355’s? There has been a quiet trend toward slimmer necks. Not everyone can play the real fatties but everyone seems to like to talk them up. I recently switched from playing a huge neck 58 to playing a transitional 60. As my hands get older, my ability to move quickly with all that wood diminishes. So, maybe with so much of my clientele over 50, it’s just the arthritis talking. But it’s talking fairly loud. Even so,  the prices remain fairly depressed. I remember selling a Bigsby 60 back in 2010 for $12000. I’d be lucky to get anywhere near that much today and the overall market is well up from then. If, indeed, the slimmer necks are getting more love these days, then the 60-63 market is poised to move upward. And it should. Even the slim neck 345’s and 355’s can be spectacularly good. There is a school of thought that equates fat necks with great tone and while I agree to an extent, it is not a rule. I recently had a 62 that was stunningly good and there is another 62 in my all time top five.

So, get out there and find the bargains. They are out there for sure. A 60-64 ES-345 or 355 is calling your name. I think I can hear it now. Or maybe that’s just my ears ringing from diming that tweed Bandmaster I’m so fond of.

Of course all bets are off if the 345 in question happens to be factory black. These went for some pretty big bucks in 2016. I hope I find another pair.

Of course all bets are off if the 345 in question happens to be factory black. These went for some pretty big bucks in 2016. I hope I find another pair.

More One Off Fun

Thursday, December 1st, 2016
Not your run of the mill 355. This is a late 1960 special order.

Not your run of the mill 355. This is a late 1960 special order.

Call them customs, call them one offs, call them special orders, call them late for dinner-it makes no difference to me-I just love them. Whether it’s somebody’s name inlaid into the fretboard (whom you’ve never heard of), a custom order color, short scales, tenors, weird cutaways-it doesn’t matter. They are still the coolest guitars out there. They represent, to me, a more accurate and detailed snapshot of the era. Instead of buying what Gibson was selling, the folks who ordered these specials wanted what they wanted and were willing to pay extra and wait a long time (usually months) to get them .

We see more custom orders at the higher end of the market-ES-5’s, L-5’s, Super 400’s and the like probably because these were the guitars played buy the pro players with a steady (and sometimes considerable) income. Considerable egos too, sometimes. This custom is a 1960 ES-355 that was just offered to me (and I bought it) and it’s a beauty. So what’s special here. Well, lots. There are no less than 4 custom elements here. See if you can spot them before I spill the beans. Look at the close ups at the bottom of the post for better detail.

Well, it’s a 355, so there ought to be a Bigsby. Stop tails are crazy rare but how about a trapeze? And it says Byrdland on it. I don’t know if that’s the one Gibson put on the guitar but there are no extra holes so if there was a different one the day it was built, the holes lined up perfectly. No telltale “snakebite” Bigsby holes in the top. This baby came with a trapeze for sure. And what about those Super 400 inlays. The big pearl block inlays on a 355 are pretty nice but these really pop. Beautiful. Let’s see, what else is there…look at those f-holes. Not only are they bound but they are bound with multi ply binding. My Super 400 didn’t even have that. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that on a Gibson-correct me if you have. And then there’s the fingerboard binding-multiply again-this time like a Super 400. So, it’s kind of a 355 mono with S400 elements but not quite. The original buyer must have been very specific about what he wanted and probably paid a huge premium for it.

What is great about this one-beyond the unusual and wonderful custom elements is that it’s very clear that these weren’t aftermarket mods. It’s not too hard to put bindings on the f-holes or change out a fingerboard with different inlays and binding. I’ve got a guy in my area who can do that with one hand tied behind his back. But the trapeze? Can’t fake that. The holes are always the giveaway. No stop tail holes, no Bigsby holes, no sign of anything but that big ol’ trapeze. The other cool thing is that the label says “Custom” written in ink right next to the 355. My inside guy at Gibson took a peek at the shipping log page for me and confirmed that it says “custom” next to the entry but no details.

So, do these one offs have a different value than the standard issue 355? That’s a tough question because some do and some don’t. I don’t mind an owner’s name in the fingerboard, although most collectors find it off putting and the price reflects that. I kind of like it, in fact. You sometimes see a 58-60 335 that should have dot markers with a 345 fingerboard. That one is actually worth a bit less, in my opinion because you buy a dot neck for what…the dot neck. Now, if you bought a 355 for the block markers, then S400 markers would be a negative but you buy a 355 because it’s a bit of a pimpmobile and the fancier, the better is kind of the whole idea. While not quite the pimpmobile that a Gretsch White Falcon is, the 355 is still pretty tarted up. So, to take the most appealing element of a 355 Mono-(the fancy stuff-otherwise, you’d just buy a 335) and make it even more appealing is, well, pretty appealing.

And the old rule–“don’t fall in love” still applies. Like I always say, I’d own 200 of these if I didn’t abide by the rule.


OK, this is too obvious.

OK, this is too obvious.

Must be a custom - it says so right on the label.

Must be a custom – it says so right on the label.

Somebody Famous was Here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FON or Serial Number?

Friday, September 30th, 2016


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

58 ES-355. Cool. Rare. Evasive.

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016
This extreme fade is typical of very early red 355's. You can seethe original color peaking out from behind the guard. Stop tail isn't factory-this would have had a Bigsby.

This extreme fade is typical of very early red 355’s. You can see the original color peaking out from behind the guard. Stop tail isn’t factory-this would have had a Bigsby.

If you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you know that I never keep any of the guitars I get. I do tend to jump up and down when I get something really rare like the 63 blonde 335 or any of the three black 59 ES-345’s I’ve had. Or maybe the “nonexistent” red 59 335’s and 345’s or the three stop tail ES-355’s I’ve had. All great guitars and all so impossibly rare that it’s a wonder I ever found them at all. There is one ultra rare ES that I’ve never had-until today that is.

In 1958, they made 10 ES-355’s. Now, we know that model years don’t mean very much and the first 59’s were the same as the 58’s but not for long. The 58’s have some very distinctive characteristics that make them interesting and very cool. All of them were mono and every one I’ve seen has gold bonnet knobs. That would change almost immediately in 59 along with a few other features. In 59, the ES-355 would be offered in both stereo and mono  and would be fitted with black knobs. The 58 has the 3 ply thin top which lasted into 59 but was gone by the Spring. That’s not what is so interesting, though.

In the late 50’s, there was a burgeoning trend toward smaller neck profiles and, while we are all familiar with the big 58 and 59 335 necks, the ES-355 followed a different timeline.  As the top of the line, Gibson saw fit to equip it with a slimmer “faster” neck fairly early in 1959. I can’t tell you exactly when but I can say that big neck ES-355’s are very hard to come by. Out of the perhaps 50 ’59 355’s that I’ve owned or played, only four have had a big fat neck. Of those four, all have had a 58 factory order number. There are other interesting features that seem to be limited to 58. They were all red but of the 5 ’58’s I’ve seen, all but one has faded to a pale orange. The 59’s and the early 60’s tend to fade to that wonderful “watermelon” red but the 58’s must have been a slightly different paint/dye formulation. Maybe more like the red element of a burst. Plenty of 59 Les Pauls lose their red element completely. The 58 ES-355 I just got is nearly blonde, it has faded so extensively. It’s not a particularly pretty color but it sure is distinctive. It’s very red under the guard and under the bridge but mostly it’s blonde with an orange tinge.

I have seen the first 58 shipped and it also has that orange fade-not as extensively but definitely not watermelon. I was offered another 58 (which I passed on because the seller wanted nearly $25K for it) a few years ago and it too had the orange fade. I know of another that hasn’t faded extensively and I can only assume it spent much of its life in the case.  I like this guitar a lot. There’s a list of features that I really like on 3×5’s and very few ES’s have all of them. The neck should be .88″ at the first fret and around 1″ at the 12th. Check. The center block should be uncut. Check. The top should be thin. Check. The guitar should be red. Check (sort of).  It should be a stop tail (it’s had one added) and it should be a great player. Check and check. Red ES guitars with a big neck are pretty much limited to late 63 and 64 but even those have more of a medium neck. No 64 is as large as .88″ at the first fret.

There are a half dozen red 59 ES-345’s and perhaps five or six red 59 335’s. Add those to the ten 58 355’s and maybe another fifty (could be more-could be less) early 59’s and you have perhaps 75 big neck red ES’s. So, your chances of getting a big fat neck red 335, 345 or 355 is pretty slim. That’s why I jump on them when I see them. And then I sell them. What a dope.

This is the very first 58. Similar fade and, of course, the gold knobs. Thanks to LP Forum member/owner "MacDaddy" for the photo.

This is the very first 58. Similar fade and, of course, the gold knobs. Thanks to LP Forum member/owner “MacDaddy” for the photo.


Top Ten List

Saturday, June 25th, 2016
58's are tricky because of the neck angle but the chances of getting a great guitar a pretty good. Two of my top five are 58's.

58’s are tricky because of the neck angle but the chances of getting a great guitar a pretty good. Two of my top five are 58’s.

I keep a mental top ten list of the best ES guitars to pass through my hands and, while the list is pretty diverse, there are some factors that are becoming meaningful. As I get to play more and more of them, I re-evaluate the things that make some of them simply good, others great and a few simply extraordinary.

It’s interesting that the current top ten (or maybe top 12) includes guitars from 58, 59, 60, 62 and 64. I try to keep personal preference out of the equation-like the fact that I like guitars with necks that start medium and get really big by the 12th fret. I’m really talking about tone. And that’s personal preference too,  I suppose,  but we all like a guitar that has great sustain and that singing almost vocal quality that some 3×5’s have and some don’t. Some of that is setup but some of it is simply the wood, the strings and the electronics and the relationship between them. I can’t totally explain why this 335 sounds better than that one but there are some common denominators that I can quantify and only because I’ve played (and set up) so many.

Common denominators: All are 58-64 which doesn’t tell you much. All are stop tails. All have PAFs or early patents. Nearly all were re-fretted at some point. But there have been dozens and dozens that fit that description so there must be something more to these standouts. Four of the top ten have thin tops. If you aren’t a regular reader, you should be aware that all 58’s and some 59’s have a three ply top that is 25% thinner than the four ply tops that were used from 59 on. Of course, that means that 6 of the top ten had the thicker tops. But wait. There’s more. If we go to the top five, three of the top five have the thinner tops which tells us something. The top five are as follows–#1 late 58 335, #2 thin top 59 335, #3 refinished 62 dot neck, #4 59 first rack 345 and #5 unbound 58 335. So, I’m going out on a limb and saying the thin top early 335’s seem to have an edge when it comes to great tone. Looking at the next five on the hit list #6 is a first rack 59 345, #7 is a 59 355 stop tail, #8 is a 64 335, #9 is a 59 335 and #10 is an early 60 335. This is out of perhaps 500-600 that I’ve owned. There are perhaps another 75 that I would call contenders-an extraordinary one isn’t that much better than a great one. Most 58-64 3×5’s are simply excellent guitars. We’re talking microns here.

This list is rather fluid and I’m always replacing one with another as I play more of them. It is tricky to compare a guitar I have today to one I had five years ago (or more) but I consider the top ten to be kind of interchangeable. I’m sure that if I had all of them in a room, I would put them in a different order but they would all still be great. What would be really useful is if I could predict which ones would be the standouts before I even picked them up and played them. It would be nice to be able to tell folks to look for a particular factory order number or group of features that make for great tone but, alas, no such information exists. I’ve had 59 dot necks that are uninspiring. I’ve had trap tail 65’s that would give any of the top ten a good run for their money. There are a lot of variables and too many aren’t easily quantified.

There are a few consistencies that have occurred to me, however. First rack ES-345’s are generally excellent. What’s a first rack? Read this. It’s actually three racks but they all share certain characteristics and these characteristics seem to translate to great tone. Late 58’s and early 59’s are also fertile ground for great tone-again, the thin top is a possible factor. The shallow but not too shallow neck angle could also be in play here. The big neck? Maybe but there’s a 62 in the top 5 that had a skinny neck (and a refinish). Here’s another factor that throws a monkey wrench into the mix: On a given day, a particular guitar can sound great and on another day, it doesn’t sound so great. Humidity is a big factor and probably the state of my playing ability is another.

So, what can you take away from this? Well, mostly that you should play a guitar before you buy it. Just buying a 59 dot neck that you like the looks of will probably get you a great guitar but it may not be an extraordinary one. Buying a beat up refinished 62 could get you one of the best players you ever had. But you can’t know for sure until it’s properly set up and you sit down and play it.

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

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


Rare as a Warm April Day in 2016

Sunday, April 10th, 2016
It doesn't get much rarer than this. This is the only known 63 stop tail ES-355 Mono (or stereo, for that matter). If perhaps you know of another, I'd like to know about it.

It doesn’t get much rarer than this. This is the only known 63 stop tail ES-355 Mono (or stereo, for that matter). If perhaps you know of another, I’d like to know about it. Thanks to Roger in California who was kind enough to offer this beauty to me. I was so close to getting this one last time it sold.

Those of you who live in the East have noticed that Spring has taken a vacation. It was warm for a minute and a half in March but Winter isn’t letting go. My beautiful magnolia trees were just blooming and bam!, 14 degree weather and all the flowers are dead. Bummer. This has nothing to do with the post but I’m pretty bummed about those trees. So, warm April days have been rare this year and rare is the subject today.

You know, if you read my posts regularly, that I love the rare stuff. I’ve had the most unbelievable luck  finding rare 3×5’s over the past year. I’ve found two of the four black 59 ES-345’s, a factory blonde 63 block neck 335, a red 59 dot neck with a a factory Varitone, three blonde 335’s and three stop tail 355’s. Now, I’ve got the only stop tail 63 ES-355 known. This guitar is a pretty interesting story on its own. There are only 6, maybe 7 known stop tail ES-355’s. I’ve now owned 4 of them. A stereo 59, a mono 59, a stereo 60 and now a mono 63. My friend Tom in Texas has a mono 60 (and the stereo 60 that I had). There’s a stereo 60 in Sicily and that’s about it. There are probably a few that haven’t surfaced yet but it’s still one of my “holy grail” guitars, especially the mono ones.

The stop tail 63 showed up on Craigslist (if I’m recalling correctly) in North Jersey three or four years ago. I got on it right away and made what I though was a fair offer. The seller apparently thought so too and agreed on the price. This was a Friday. I told him I would make the drive on Monday to pick it up. I had a conflict and asked if I could pick it up Tuesday. He told me he had gotten a better offer and it was sold. I would have gone higher (I really wanted this guitar) but he said the deal was done. I thought the deal with me was done three days earlier but sometimes integrity goes out the window when an extra grand flies in.

A couple of days later, one of my most avid readers tells me how he scored a 63 stop tail 355. I couldn’t blame him-he didn’t know that the seller had already accepted another deal. I immediately started my subtle campaign to get this guitar from him. Four years later (more or less), in an email with the subject line “temporary insanity”, the 63 stop tail was offered up to me. I dropped a hefty 40% markup over what he paid and the guitar was mine. At least for now. And it’s just great. Of course, I’ll sell it but I’ll play it and get to know it for awhile before I do. Once again, I have to go back to the old rule…something about not falling in love with guitars.

I’m sure a lot of you think it’s weird to seek out these rare birds only to turn around and sell them. It IS weird. But I can’t afford to keep them and all of them go to folks who truly appreciate the rarity (and the craftsmanship and playability and tone). I know where every single one lives and I generally ask the buyers to offer them back to me before selling them elsewhere. I’ve had the great fortune of playing and owning some of the rarest of the rare. Here’s a list of the ones that stick out in my mind:

’59 ES-345 in red. The first red one made. ’59 red dot necks-I’ve had two-one with a Bigsby and a stop tail with a factory Varitone. A Pelham Blue Trini Lopez, two black 59 ES-345’s, a blonde block neck 63, four stop tail ES-355’s, two blonde ES-345’s, that little blonde ES-140 with the PAF and 8 blonde ES-335’s. I was also lucky enough to find a 59 dot neck with a pair of reverse zebra pickups. Oh, and the white 65 ES-355. Then there’s “The Mexican” which is one of perhaps two or three cherry sunburst stop tail ES-335’s made in 1965. I would have kept every last one of them if i could afford to. They have all been great. Some better players than others for sure, some prettier than the others but ll interesting and, oh yeah, rare.

To many collectors, rarity doesn’t matter much. If the model isn’t popular, then rarity doesn’t matter at all. I’ve had two of only 11 blonde Byrdlands made in 1961 but they are really not worth much-rare or not. Why? Because nobody seems to want archtops these days. But when you get a rare version of a sought after model, it’s a different thing all together. They command a pretty serious premium and you start getting emails from billionaires and rock stars. Nice to know people are paying attention.

They didn't make any block neck 335's in blonde. Except this 63 and a lefty 64. One of my favorite rarities. This came out of Scotland.

They didn’t make any block neck 335’s in blonde. Except this 63 and a lefty 64. One of my favorite rarities. This came out of Scotland.

Then there's this 67 Pelham blue Trini Lopez I had back in 2010. Near mint. Bought it off of Ebay. I think there are 16 of them. Not a great player but it sure looked cool.

Then there’s this 67 Pelham blue Trini Lopez I had back in 2010. Near mint. Bought it off of Ebay. I think there are 16 of them. Not a great player but it sure looked cool.


No Rules

Saturday, January 30th, 2016
Very unusual 66 ES-345. Look at those ears...M-I-C-K-E-Y you know the rest. Stranger things have come along but not many.

Very unusual 66 ES-345. Look at those ears…M-I-C-K-E-Y you know the rest. Stranger things have come along but not many.

I write frequently about how to identify the various years and models of ES guitars and, mostly, they follow a pretty predictable set of rules. Except when they don’t. Just when you think you’ve got it nailed down, something comes along and you say to yourself…”see, anything is possible at Gibson in the 60’s…” And, by and large, it is. I’ve written about a number of oddballs over the years.

Recently, I bought a 66 ES-345. It’s the third one I’ve seen with Mickey Mouse ear cutaways. Those were gone by mid 63, so the idea that they were left over bodies is remote. But there they are. I’ve seen some kind of rounded, almost MM ear 66’s and with the hand work that went on, I suppose some variation is likely but this one is dead on. OK, big deal, I wrote up the first one a couple of years ago. Everything else about that one was typical 66. The neck was 1 9/16″ at the nut and the depth was a pretty typical .80″ or so at the first fret. Not this one. First off, the nut is 1 5/8″. Not unusual on a 65 but not usual at all on a 66. Being a fairly low volume model, the neck could have been left over from 65. But then there are the other measurements. This one is .87″ at the first fret and a whopping 1.02″ at the 12th. That’s 58-59 territory. Not even the 64’s reach .87″. Custom order? Maybe but there was no “Custom” truss rod cover which is pretty consistent on custom orders. Employee guitar? I have been told by a Gibson employee from the 60’s that the employee guitars had to have “2” stamps (even if they weren’t “seconds”). Somehow, that neck is outside the “normal variation” bell curve that 60’s ES’s seem to exhibit. An outlier, if you will.

That’s one of the things that is so much fun about 60’s Gibsons (I still say “so much fun” rather than “so fun”-that still sounds wrong to me) is that there are these rule breaker guitars. When I buy a guitar sight unseen from an individual, it’s still an adventure (or a crapshoot depending on your attitude)-even after many hundreds of them. It still feels a little like Christmas morning when I open a guitar box-especially one bought from Ebay or Craigslist. Mostly, the surprises are not so good-changed harnesses, wrong bridges, changed pickups and on and on. When the widow or the family is selling the guitar, it really isn’t fair to ask them to start taking the guitar apart. You look at the two or three photos they provide and hope for the best. Sometimes you get a bad surprise, sometimes you get a good surprise. It would be nice to say that the good surprises outnumber the bad ones but they don’t. That’s simply part of being in this business. But, to be truthful, the good surprises usually outweigh the bad ones. Getting a set of double white PAFs in a 61 when you didn’t even ask if the guitar had PAFs is a good surprise. Getting a 76 harness in a 59 dot neck is not. And, really, you can’t point a finger at the widow of the original owner and say “you didn’t disclose this…” There are no returns in these cases. You simply make the best of it and hope you get it back to being correct and playable.

The point here is not so much that Gibson was full of surprises back in the day. They weren’t. Most of the guitars I get follow the timeline pretty well. But then there are some that don’t and sometimes they don’t in a wonderful way. It’s often a big gamble when you’re spending thousands of dollars on a guitar that you’ve seen perhaps 6 photos of and have no hope of recourse from the 86 year old seller. But, in this case,the Mickey Mouse ears were right there for everyone to see. So how come I was the only one interested? Well, it’s that crapshoot thing again. And besides, that’s why I’m here.

Speaking of unusual, my friend Richie just bought this very rare and very cool 64 Bigsby only. These are are rare to begin with but this one has ears that don't match. How cool is that?

Speaking of unusual, my friend Richie just bought this very rare and very cool 64 Bigsby only. These are are rare to begin with but this one has ears that don’t match. How many martinis did you have for lunch?


Market Wrap 2015, Part 1

Monday, January 4th, 2016
Bigsby 345's had a tough year. That makes them the great bargain going forward. PAF guitars for under $10K WooHoo.

Bigsby 345’s had a tough year. That makes them the great bargain going forward. PAF guitars for under $10K WooHoo.

Well, the doom sayers have it wrong again. There are folks who predict the vintage market will fall apart any minute because the only people buying vintage guitars are really old (like 50 or, gasp, even 60). 2015 was a very strong year for sales over all and, for some models and years, approaching 2007-2008 in values. While the doom sayers are largely correct about who buys the guitars, the market for younger buyers is expanding all the time. I get twenty somethings in my shop all the time and they love the old stuff. Even if they can’t afford it today, my feeling is that they’ll be back as soon as they can afford it. The older Gen Xer’s have already started buying the high end stuff and that bodes well for the market going forward. So what sold in 2015 and what didn’t?

Blondes were hot. It’s gotten so hard to find them that when a good one comes up in the market, everyone takes notice. I’ve heard predictions of the $100,000 ES-335 being imminent (in fact there is a 59 on the market for that price but it hasn’t sold). I know of a 59 that sold for $95000 this year as well. The blonde 59 ES-355 that emerged earlier in the year changed hands for some serious money as well, although I don’t know the exact amount. Rumor has it that it was in the $90K range but that’s rumor. As far as I know, no blonde 345’s emerged this year at all-there are only 50 of them.

In a recent post on the Les Paul Forum about a certain black 59 ES-345 (that happens to be mine), Joe Bonamassa made the prophetic statement that “black is the new blonde”. And perhaps he is right. Three black 345’s have emerged recently. One is a late 59 or early 60 Bigsby, the other two are “first rack” ’59 stop tails. One has an added Bigsby, the other is stop tail only. There are so few of these its really hard to put a price on them. Big price aside, everybody seems to love a black ES probably thanks to the black 59 ES-355 played by a certain Mr. Richards. It is a market phenomenon that when the prices get high enough, the rare stuff comes out from under the bed.

Speaking of 345’s, this was not their year. 59’s, especially early ones (black VT ring, big neck) have been strong and other 59’s have been stable but later ones have really languished. Bigsby 345’s from 1960 and later are, at least for now, dead. I’m sure they will come back but these guitars were well into the $12K range not long ago and now I’m seeing them for $8000 and even less. The big dealers are Ebay sellers are still holding out hope that they can get $15K for a Bigsby and $20K for a stop tail but that’s wishful thinking unless the guitar is dead mint. I sold a 9.0 stop tail no issue (converted to mono) 1961 for $10,500 and it took me a year to sell.  That makes them the bargain going forward. These are great guitars and are a deal and then some under $10K considering what the new stuff is going for.

355 Monos had a great year. I can’t keep them around-especially 59’s. They are wonderful guitars and have crept up in value all year. A really clean mono 355 has certainly hit the $20K mark (and lots of the 59-61’s have double white PAFs). 355 stereos are stronger than 345’s but they haven’t got the “easy sell” liquidity of a mono. They also don’t have the big price. These, like the Bigsby 345’s are a great deal in ES’s right now. Liquidity is important. A valuable guitar isn’t all that valuable if it’s time to sell and there’s no market for it. Tried to sell a big archtop lately? Big numbers, no buyers.

This is getting long so we’ll split it into two parts. Next, we’ll look back at 2015 for 335’s. Dots were hot. Blocks, not so much.

Joe Bonamassa says "black is the new blonde" and I think he might be on to something. Watch black guitars in 2016. They will be smoking' hot.

Joe Bonamassa says “black is the new blonde” and I think he might be on to something. Watch black guitars in 2016. They will be smokin’ hot.

Falling in Love Again

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015


What's this? It's a 355-you can tell by the inlays but it's blonde and, gasp, it's mono. And it's rare-maybe even unique. And it's a 69, so it isn't worth $100K (which it would be if it was a 59)

What’s this? It’s a 355-you can tell by the inlays but it’s blonde and, gasp, it’s mono. And it’s rare-maybe even unique. And it’s a 69, so it isn’t worth $100K (which it would be if it was a 59)

Well, I think I feel a song coming on. Of course how many of you are going to remember the film “The Blue Angel” with Marlene Dietrich singing it? It was 1930 and not even I’m that old. It goes like this:

Falling in love again
Never wanted to
What am I to do?
I can’t help it

Well, that’s kind of the story of the guitar at the top.  And it’s a 1969-way out there at the edge of the “Golden Era” universe. Those who read me regularly know that I don’t collect  guitars. I love to find them, I love to play them and I ultimately sell them. No falling in love allowed. That gorgeous birdseye 58 335? Gone. The red 59 345? Gone twice. The watermelon 60 dot neck that I’ve had for all of two weeks? Gone. But fall in love I do because I love the blondes, I love mono 355’s and I love the rare stuff. This one is particularly interesting to me because I so rarely see any 3×5’s later than 68.

69 was the beginning of the end for the classic 335. The one piece neck went to three piece. The headstock grew a volute (that reinforcement bump at the base of the headstock that everybody hates although I’m not totally sure why). The long neck tenon went away and, horror of horrors, the dot in the “i” in Gibson disappeared. Have they no shame? Seriously, though, 1969 has so many variations that you need a score sheet to know what you’re getting. Let’s see… three piece neck but not volute but long tenon. short tenon one piece neck no volute. There must be 20 different configurations. And what about the “Made in USA” designation? That happened in 69 as well. But I digress. This was about a particular 69.

In my years as an ES fan, player, hobbyist buyer and now dealer, I’ve seen perhaps five, maybe six blonde ES-355’s. One, a lefty, was almost certainly a refinish, so lets say five. There’s a beautiful 59, a stunning 64, my guitar bud Gil had a 60, I had a 64 that was re-necked and my friend Mike has one with an ebony block tailpiece from 63, I believe. Then there’s this 69. All of the others, if memory serves (and it often doesn’t) were stereo. I know the 59, the 60, the 64 and the re-neck were. I’m pretty sure the other one is as well. That makes this 69 the only mono blonde 355 that I know of. There’s probably another one but I don’t know where it is. There were a few interesting features that made me buy this one.

Of course, a blonde mono 355 is a rare and wonderful thing but it’s still a 69. By 69, the blondes were birch plywood (like the 68 335 blonde I wrote about recently). This one is maple (and nicely figured, thank you). A lot of 69’s have three piece necks. This has a one piece (no volute, no made in USA). A lot (and I mean most) 69 355’s have a Maestro tailpiece, which most of you know I don’t particularly like on an ES. This one has a Bigsby. I’d be willing to bet the ranch that those are pre T-tops in there but they’re sealed and I’m not about to crack them open. Every gold hardware 68 I’ve ever opened had pre T’s. This is the first gold hardware 69 I’ve ever owned. It’s got a nice fat neck- a lot like a 64 but with a narrow nut. Bound f-holes are pretty cool too. It makes the oversize late 60’s big f-holes (which look wrong to me), look a little less oversized. So there’s a lot to like here.

I can play a narrow nut-I can’t play it all night long but I can adapt pretty quickly. This guitar has some wonderful tone and it’s enough to make me re-think my emphasis and start writing more about the 66-69’s. I’m not a snob. I specialize in the early ones but I really appreciate a lot of the 66-68’s (and this 69). And there are a lot of them and they are not priced that much higher than the reissues.  So, here’s to falling in love with a younger girl. Not much younger but to a lot of us those 5 years between 64 and 69 were perhaps the best years to be a musician in the history of musicians.

Here are the 59 and the 64 blonde 355's. Both stunning. Both stereo-not that that's a bad thing. Thanks to Hank from Hank's Vintage for the photo.

Here are the 59 and the 64 blonde 355’s. Both stunning. Both stereo-not that that’s a bad thing. Thanks to Hank from Hank’s Vintage for the photo.