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Archive for the ‘Gibson General’ Category

Black is the New Black

Wednesday, June 14th, 2017
This page from mid 59 shows a black 345 which, to my knowledge, hasn't surfaced, and a black EB-2.

This page from mid 59 shows a black 345 which, to my knowledge, hasn’t surfaced, and a black EB-2.

Joe Bonamassa noted not too long ago on the Les Paul Forum that black is the new blonde and, for a minute, I thought he was right. But now I don’t. Black Gibsons are in a class by themselves. While blonde 335’s and 345’s (and the über rare 355) command a huge premium-generally double the price of a sunburst or more if collector grade, black ones are so rare that there aren’t any rules. Let me add a quick disclaimer-Les Paul Customs don’t count because they are a standard color and are plentiful. We’re talking about black 335’s, 345’s 355’s from before 1969 and maybe a few others if I have the space.

Black is a tricky color. It generally doesn’t age well and it is prone to excessive wear-especially the back of the neck. Being opaque, its an obvious choice for refinishers looking to hide plugged holes, broken headstocks and any number of other indignities. So, if you are lucky enough to find a black ES 335, 345 or 355, make sure it hasn’t been refinished because the likelihood is, it has. Gibson didn’t keep a record of how many black guitars were shipped, although they sometimes show up in the shipping ledgers as special orders. Unfortunately, they weren’t terribly consistent about noting special orders in the ledgers and if you happen to have a copy of the page, it may or may not mention the color. And, there is always that possibility that a factory black guitar was refinished in black either for cosmetic reasons or to hide a repair.

Considering that you’re going to be spending some really serious bucks on a factory black guitar, it is in your best interests to do what you can to authenticate it. A black light is a good place to start but be aware that a black light won’t do you any good on a guitar that has been totally refinished. It will show you touchup and show newer lacquer vs. older but a 30 year old refinish is going to look like original lacquer under a black light.

Try to get the ledger page. Call or email Gibson customer service. They can be pretty close to the vest with these pages but it’s worth asking. Also, do a search on the internet for ledger pages-there are perhaps 20 of them out there from various years. If the page shows your guitar as black, then it’s a factory black example-that doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been refinished at some point but at least you know it started as a black guitar. Here’s the tricky part-if the ledger doesn’t show it as black, it doesn’t mean it’s a refinish. It may simply mean they didn’t note the special finish. Out of the five black 335’s and 345’s I’ve had, three are noted in the log-all 59’s.

There is a technique that I use to determine a refinish that is quite nearly foolproof. When doing a total refinish, the guitar is generally sanded to remove the old finish. Even if it’s done with great care, there will usually be a tell tale sign left behind. If you run your fingernail between the body binding and the rim of the guitar-not the top-there will be a ridge that you can catch your fingernail on. If the transition from rim to binding is smooth and even, it’s been sanded. Period. Every original finish ES model that I’ve owned has that ridge. Every refinish hasn’t. I say nearly foolproof because if the body was chemically stripped or the new finish was added over the original, the ridge will still be there. Chemical strippers usually damage (melt) the bindings so pay attention to that as well. Look inside the f-holes for any sign of black overspray. Unless the guitar was touched up-like one of the 59’s I had, there shouldn’t be any.

So, how many black guitars are we talking about here? The 59 ledger pages that I have show five 345’s, one 335 and no 355’s. I know of three of the five 345’s, the 335 and at least two 355’s (Keith Richards has one of them). There is a black early 60 345 that surfaced last year that has a 59 FON. I had a black 66 335 a while back (and a black 66 330). I know of a black 65 or 66 345 as well. I’ve owned three black 59 345’s. There are at least two black 59 EB-2’s. Let me know if you find one, I have a client looking for one. There are photos of a few artists playing black ES’s-Bill Haley’s guitar player (345)  and Dave Edmunds (335). There is no way to know if they are factory, although the Haley guitar is likely original since the photo is from the late 50’s or early 60’s. Roy Orbison played one but it was much later-from the 80’s. Black was a catalog color in the early 80’s and there are a lot of them out there.

Black ES guitars are valuable enough that they are worth the effort to fake by unscrupulous scam artists. If you have any doubts, you should probably pass. It’s too much money to take chances with.

Two of the three black 59 ES-345's that have passed through my hands. Both were great. Both were "first rack".

Two of the three black 59 ES-345’s that have passed through my hands. Both were great. Both were “first rack”.

CITES in the Real World

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017
If any of these guitars are going out of the USA, they need to be certified by US Fish and Wildlife as "pre-convention" rosewood. That means built before 1992 for Brazilian and pre 2017 for Indian or other rosewood.

If any of these guitars is going out of the USA, it needs to be certified by US Fish and Wildlife as “pre-convention” rosewood. That means built before 1992 for Brazilian and pre 2017 for Indian or other rosewood. It’s time consuming, costs $75  and I’m complying.

CITES or The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora has changed the rules. As a vintage dealer, I’ve had to jump through hoops for the US Government for quite some time. Up until January 1 of this year, only guitars with Brazilian rosewood needed to be certified by the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife and the Dept. of Agriculture. If your guitar was built before 1992, it was legal to ship (with certification). Nobody seemed to pay that much attention to the regulations mostly because everybody knew that the Customs agents had better things to do and they couldn’t tell Brazilian from East Indian from Honduran anyway. So, some dealers and most individuals ignored the regulations and guitars flowed across borders pretty much unscathed. In fact the only time I encountered any trouble was with a guitar coming into the US from Italy. They questioned me about the wood and the year and I explained that it was Indian rosewood and that was the end of it. I did have a guitar come from Mexico a number of years ago that was stopped for having mahogany and I had to explain to the agent that mahogany was legal-he had misunderstood the regulations that applied to raw wood but not finished products. It’s a sad state of affairs when the general public has to explain the rules to the government.

But all that has changed, at least for now. For all the Trump White House talk of deregulation and improved conditions for international trade, it has become a lot more of a pain to ship guitars out of the country and many governments are actively looking for proper documentation. They solved the problem of agents not knowing Indian from Brazilian by making all rosewood fall under CITES regulations. Lucky us. I’m all for conserving the world’s supply of rosewood but it isn’t the musical instrument companies that are responsible for the demise of the trees. The amount of rosewood used in guitar making is only a small fraction of the rosewood being used for furniture. Furniture? Who buys rosewood furniture? The Chinese, that’s who. There is a traditional furniture called “hongmu” after the wood itself.  Here is what I gathered from the independent environmental website, Mongabay:

China is the largest global consumer of rosewood and skyrocketing demand over the past decade and a half is having serious repercussions for some of the world’s most endangered old-growth forests and local forest communities. Rosewood imports into China increased some 1,250 percent since 2000 and were worth an estimated $2.6 billion between 2013 and 2014 alone, according to a new report from Washington, D.C.-based non-profit Forest Trends. Several species of rosewood, collectively known as hongmu, are prized by Chinese furniture manufacturers who use them to make products that are highly coveted status symbols. The majority of rosewood imports into China traditionally come from Southeast Asian countries like Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. But in 2014, when imports were at an all-time high, nearly half came from Nigeria, Ghana and other African countries, whereas those countries supplied just 10 percent of Chinese rosewood imports a decade ago, per the report.

So, the problem isn’t us, the guitar playing universe, it’s the Chinese consumers who are making it harder for the rest of us. To make matters worse, much of the rosewood is cut illegally and imported illegally. So, we are bound by laws that cover 183 countries (including China) to prove that our guitars were made from legally harvested wood. And I, for one, am happy to comply but we are a drop in the bucket in the fight to preserve the rosewood trees. Considering the sheer number of guitars shipped all over the world that contain small amounts of rosewood, the time spent certifying and inspecting guitars could be better utilized by going after the criminals who are causing the problem. Confiscating a ’59 335 does nothing at all to solve or even ameliorate the problem. I don’t know what they do with confiscated guitars or even if they have actually confiscated any but they are allowed to do so if the guitar isn’t properly certified. I don’t want to find out first hand so I’m crossing all the T’s and dotting the i’s and doing it by the book. So, if you are in Europe or Asia or even Canada and I ask you for an extra week or two to get  your guitar to you, please understand that if I don’t, your guitar could be tied up for a lot longer by Customs and may never get to you.

This is the real problem. It's Chinese "hongmu" rosewood furniture. The Chinese people love this stuff. I suppose it's like Americans and stainless steel appliances.

This is the real problem. It’s Chinese “hongmu” rosewood furniture. The Chinese people love this stuff. I suppose it’s like Americans and stainless steel appliances.

 

Sometimes It’s Just Firewood

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017
Is this going to be Fender necks? Maybe Les Paul tops? Or is it going to heat my house?

Is this going to be Fender necks? Maybe Les Paul tops? Or is it going to heat my house?

The Les Paul guys all go nuts over their beautiful flame maple tops. “Mine’s AAAAA.” Oh, yeah? Mine’s AAAAAA. I don’t know what any of that means but sometimes you have to wonder about all the fuss about figured maple. It’s pretty wood-no doubt about that and it makes a real attractive top for a Les Paul. It’s not terribly common on ES models and those that have it get a lot of attention but really don’t command much of a premium, if any, on the open market. Figuring doesn’t improve tone but there’s more to wood than its tonal qualities. I like figured wood a lot but it’s really hard to split.

Yes, that’s firewood in the photo. I get my wood from a local landscaper and I always ask for maple (because it smells nice and burns well). And I always find a few logs of figured maple. It really isn’t that uncommon up here in New England. In fact, I can’t recall a year when I didn’t get any in my usual cord or two of firewood. There are a few points to be made here. One, wood is just wood. What talented folks can do with it separates a Les Paul top from that stack of firewood. I’m told that the figuring in maple is the result of some kind of stress on the tree-like a virus. I’ve also been told it has nothing to do with that. I read a good article about it written by collector Mike Slubowski who runs the Les Paul Forum. Here’s a link. Read it. You’ll learn something. The next point is that when used in a guitar, it is ornamental. How important that is has to do with how you see your guitar. Is it a work of art? A thing of beauty? A tool of your trade?

That’s one of the very cool things about guitars. They are all of those things. Or none. They can be monumentally ugly (reverse flying vee) or stunningly beautiful (too many to list). A beautiful guitar can play like crap. An ugly guitar can play brilliantly. There is no doubt that beautifully figured wood is a large part of what makes a guitar a work of art. Figured maple, koa, macassar ebony, bubinga, cocobolo and a zillion other species make for stunning guitars.

It also makes a pretty good fire. Stay warm.

Flamey ES's can be pretty stunning and the equal of any Les Paul. This 59 ES-345 was actually a refinished sunburst.

Flamey ES’s can be pretty stunning and the equal of any Les Paul. This 59 ES-345 was actually a refinished sunburst. I don’t think it will burn that well though.

I Love Surprises (Sometimes)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Evasive Gibson Shipping Ledgers

Monday, August 29th, 2016
Here's a good page from May of 59 and it's chock full of special orders. A couple of stop tail 355's show up here which I'd really like to get my hands on.

Here’s a good page from April of 59 and it’s chock full of special orders. A couple of stop tail 355’s show up here which I’d really like to get my hands on.

So, you get a rare black ’59 ES-345 from a guy who says he got it from a guy who got it from his now deceased cousin who special ordered it from Gibson in 1959. Black was a custom order only color and there aren’t very many of them. You think it’s legit but how can you be sure? The short answer is to have an expert look at it and tell you what he thinks but a good refinish can be tough to spot. You can also call the folks at Gibson customer service (who, by the way are very nice) and try to get the shipping ledger page for your guitar and see if it shows any special order information.

They seem to have gotten a little tight fisted with this information lately but I guess it depends who you end up talking to. In any case, it’s always worth a try but it can be pretty frustrating because Gibson didn’t always note these things in their records. It seems that in 58-60, they noted a lot of custom order information but later, it all but disappears. If you look at a mid 60’s page, there are generally no special order designations at all. Here’s a good example–I had a pair of very clearly custom ordered black guitars two serial numbers apart made in 1966. One was a 330 and the other a 335. They were allegedly ordered by the same buyer at the same time. Both had gold hardware, fancy 355 type bindings and bound f-holes. I asked Gibson for any information they could find on these two guitars and they told me none existed. I was later told by another dealer (who was interested in the 335) that he was able to find the page and that no special order designation was noted. So much for accurate record keeping. I guess they were kind of busy at the time considering that yearly 335, 345 and 355 sales went from hundreds in the late 50’s to more than 6000 in 1966-the heart of the so called “guitar boom” (thank you John, Paul and George).

Even when you are able to find your guitar on a page that you find on the internet (there are quite a few out there), you may not be happy with the result. I have acquired three black ES-345’s in the past year. They are stupid rare and always subject to very close scrutiny by me and by my buyers. All three have been so-called “first rack” 345’s and two of them are only a few serial numbers apart. I asked the folks at Gibson for the ledger pages and they very kindly sent them to me. The first 345, a stop tail from rack S8539, was clearly noted on the page with a pair of initials and the word black. The Bigsby 345 was from the same rack S8539 but had a much later serial number. So does the other stop tail that is 13 numbers away and from late in the previous rack (S8538). The likelihood is that they painted a few of them black and put them aside to cover any special orders. But, these last two don’t show up as black in the ledger and that’s frustrating. They simply show up as ES-345’s.

The lesson here is that you can use the ledger pages to prove whether a guitar was custom ordered if it is so designated on an available ledger page. The other lesson is that you can’t use a ledger page to prove that a guitar wasn’t custom ordered because the pages are pretty inconsistent. It’s pretty interesting stuff and can be a fascinating snapshot into the goings on at the Parsons Street factory back in the day.

Looks like a busy day at Parsons Street. How can you get any work done around here with guys like Les Paul and Ted McCarty doing photo ops while you're trying to build a guitar.

Looks like a busy day at Parsons Street. How can you get any work done around here with guys like Les Paul and Ted McCarty doing photo ops while you’re trying to build a guitar?

Here's the adjacent page to the one at the top and there on the right side is the very first black 345 with the designation J.H. Black. I suppose it could have been another sunburst 345 sold to someone named JH Black but I had it in my hands and, sure enough, it's black.

Here’s the adjacent page to the one at the top and there on the right side is the very first black 345 with the designation J.H. Black. I suppose it could have been another sunburst 345 sold to someone named JH Black but I had it in my hands and, sure enough, it’s black. A special order Byrdland for Hank Garland is there too. Pretty cool stuff.

Didja Ever Notice…

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016

Rooney obit

Those of you old enough to remember Andy Rooney on “60 Minutes” will recall that the opening line of many of his segments was the title of this post. So, “didja ever notice” how every guitar seems to be all original except for something somebody did to it along the way? All original except for the Grovers. All original except for the frets, the nut and the saddles. All original except for the plastic, the pickups and , oh yeah, the finish. You’ve done it, I’ve done it. It’s just marketing. But beyond the typical stuff people do, there are some other things they do beyond the usual disasters.

Not all mods are terrible but they all will take something away from the vintage value. I can think of a couple that are kind of break even like taking the stereo circuit out of a 345 (as long as you keep it with the guitar). Adding a stop tail to a trapeze equipped 60’s ES-335 won’t hurt the value much (as long as you put it in the right place) since everybody seems to want to do that anyway. But there are some pretty alarming things have have perpetrated on these (and other) guitars over the years. And even rock stars aren’t immune to the overwhelming desire to somehow make what is nearly a perfect guitar somehow better.

Alvin Lee put a single coil between the hum buckers on his 335. Larry Carlton stop tailed his 68 and missed by about a half inch. At least all EC did was to add a set of Grovers, a Hare Krishna sticker and a “custom” truss cover. Somehow that added around $800,000 to the value (oh, yeah and he played it). Neil Young swapped out some pickups in that old black Les Paul and Frank Zappa never met a guitar he couldn’t “improve.” But beyond rock stars, we mere mortals have done some monumentally stupid things (and some that were simply ill advised).

One of the most frustrating things about a 3×5 is the harness. It’s really hard to remove ad even harder to install especially if the center block isn’t cut. Then it has to go in and out through the f-holes. Well, that’s an easy fix. Just cut a big hole in the back and put a plastic plate over it. But wait, that will show. I know, cut a big wedge out of the top-it’ll be covered by the pick guard. Nobody will ever know (except that they will). Bad intonation? How about a 70’s “harmonica” bridge-that won’t look too bad. A lot of mods were supposed to be improvements (I’m sure Alvin Lee really liked the extra pickup) and they were simply the fads of the era. Coil taps were a big deal in the early to mid 70’s and a lot of mini switches sprouted on the tops of 335’s. Master volumes were also added during that dark decade. The 80’s brought DiMarzio pickups and, eventually, active electronics. Fortunately, plenty of players left their guitars alone and those are the ones getting the premium prices these days. Also, many of the mods over the years have been reversible. You can take the DiMarzios or the EMGs out but you can’t grow the wood back where that coil tap and phase switches went.

Yep, we’re idiots all right but we can take some comfort in the fact that we were young when we did all this dumb stuff and we know better now. After all, they were just old guitars back then. Vintage was for wine (which we didn’t drink-we were men-we drank Jack Daniels). So, when you send that Les Paul R9 out to Historic Makeovers for the full treatment, just remember that in 2060, somebody is going to moan that some idiot messed up a perfectly good 2000 Les Paul by refinishing it, changing the fingerboard and taking the all important “condom” off the truss rod. Everybody knows the tone for those comes from that truss rod condom.

This probably seemed like a good idea at the time. This is a 64 ES-335. Heartbreaking.

This probably seemed like a good idea at the time. This is a 64 ES-335. It’s all original except for this big ol’ hole in the back.

I guess this mod worked out OK for Mr. Young. I'm guessing you wouldn't touch this guitar with a ten foot pole if I had done this.

I guess this mod worked out OK for Mr. Young. I’m guessing you wouldn’t touch this guitar with a ten foot pole if I had done this. It’s all original except for a couple of changed pickups.

 

 

Nothing Like Old Wood. Or Not.

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016
Built the old school way by Ken McKay in Traverse City Michigan. Neck by Chris Wargo in Somerset, NJ and the finish and pickup rewinding was done by Dan Neafsey (DGN Guitars) in Fairfield CT. I put it together.

Built the old school way by Ken McKay in Traverse City Michigan. Neck by Chris Wargo in Somerset, NJ and the finish and pickup rewinding was done by Dan Neafsey (DGN Guitars) in Fairfield CT. I put it together.

When you talk to vintage players and collectors, many will sing the praises of old wood. Many will sing the praises of classic old electronics. And old wood. Many will wax rhapsodic about great craftsmanship. And old wood. And you can count me in on all of the above but I’m having some second thoughts. About the old wood part. Perhaps we should be talking about good wood rather than old wood.

Is it possible that wood is good just because it’s old? There are plenty of theories out there regarding old wood and most seem to make a lot of sense. The trees weren’t farmed or fertilized or even planted by humans. They were simply there. They grew at the speed at which nature intended and they grew under conditions that generally weren’t under the control of humans. Old growth predates the guitar business by eons. Then there’s the processing part. Some  of the tonal qualities of wood come from moisture content or the lack thereof. Generally, wood was dried before it was turned into a guitar. In the ways of old school guitar building, the wood was dried over a long period of time-years even until someone who knew about these things said it was ready to use. I’m no expert and would welcome any details as to how this worked. Today, the process is speeded up by managed growth and enhanced methods. The time to season the wood has been replaced by heat and dehumidifiers and I would expect that might make a difference. Again, not an expert, just using some logic.

So, let’s say a builder sources some high quality (but not old) wood and lets it season the old school way and even makes his own plywood, again the old school way. We are talking about ES’s here and they are, of course,  plywood. The maple center block contributes to the tone as well, so the builder seasons that the old school way as well. Then he builds the guitar using the same methods that the folks at Gibson used in 1959. He shapes the plywood using a form and methodology that is the same. He hand carves a neck from a piece of seasoned Honduran mahogany and attaches the components together with hide glue. He scavenges some Brazilian rosewood from a secret source and builds a 335. Next, it gets finished using nitrocellulose lacquer-the old kind that you can’t get in the US anymore-maybe he goes to Canada-maybe he has squirreled away a few cans.

Of course, the question will be “does this guitar sound as good as the real thing?’ Does the fact that the old fashioned way of building and the use of old wood when possible and new wood treated the old way make a difference in tone in an ES style plywood bodied guitar. One way to find out. Let’s drop in a set of old pickups and use some other older parts (although I don’t think we have to). I had a double white re-wound  PAF on hand that measured well into the 8K range, so that went into the bridge position. For the neck, I used a Tim Shaw husk that had been re-wound using enamel .042 wire like a PAF and was wound to the low 8K range. I used a newer harness because it simply was easier and I’m a big believer in the concept that proper electronic values will sound the same no matter what age the components are. I defy anyone to actually hear a difference between same value tone caps. You might sense a difference in how the tone changes when you crank the tone knob and you might like having a bumblebee better than a 25 cent disc cap but the tone will be largely the same. Feel free to disagree.

So, this guitar actually exists and I’ve been playing it a lot lately. It’s my Ken McKay “tribute”. I can feel the “newness” for sure. The neck bindings need to roll off a bit but that will come from years of playing not a number 12 bastard file (whatever that is). I can still smell the lacquer and that’s most un-vintage like but that will go away soon, I think. The frets are a little high and angular  but an hour or two a day of playing ought to fix that. I really like the feel of the guitar probably because the neck was made with me in the room. Play a little, sand a little, play little, sand a little more until it feels exactly right. That’s a real luxury. The neck on the guitar is kind of 64ish at the first fret-maybe .85 with a little more shoulder than the usual 64. Then, by the twelfth fret, it’s a full tilt 59 at 1″. The fingerboard was made very slightly wider than usual as well at 1 23/32″. You don’t think you can feel an extra 1/32″? I promise, you can.

Last, we plug it in. I’ve got a 59 Bassman here that wants to be played loud. Old wood? We don’t need no stinkin’ old wood. This is mostly new wood treated like old wood. The only old wood here was the Brazilian and that wasn’t more than 25 years old. I’d been saving  a few pieces for projects since 1990 or so. This is mostly new wood with old pickups with new windings. It took four years to complete.  And this thing plays and sounds as good as any 335 on the “A” rack here at OK Guitars and that currently includes 2 59’s, 2 60’s, a 62 and a 64. Another sacred cow, shot dead? I think so.

Heart of Darkness

Monday, April 4th, 2016

 

Most sunbursts have a dark heel but the rest of the neck is lighter. But there are exceptions.

Most sunbursts have a dark heel but the rest of the neck is lighter. But there are exceptions.

Lots of aspects of any guitar made by Gibson in the 50’s and 60’s are going to be inconsistent but nothing raises suspicion like a dark finished neck. There are a few variations of this but all of them tend to bring up more questions than they answer. I’d like to try to dispel some of the fear.

Some have dark paint at the headstock as well. That's less usual but still fairly common.

Some have dark paint at the headstock as well. That’s less usual but still fairly common.

It would appear that the QC folks at Gibson had a problem with wood. Specifically, things like knots or weird grain. They didn’t like to see these things and would take evasive action when a piece of less than perfect wood was used on one of their guitars. The guys in the paint department were, I would guess, told to minimize things like this by covering them up with paint. We’ve all seen Gibsons with dark heels, dark headstock backs and even completely dark necks. There were also stingers-heel and headstock to cover blemishes and marginal wood. The question is usually “…what are they hiding? Is there damage under there? Is it factory or an aftermarket repair?

All good questions. Most 58-68 ES’s have a consistent finish on the backs of the necks and headstocks. Sunburst got a medium brown stain, usually darker at the heel than at the headstock but not always. Plenty of sunbursts got a shot of dark lacquer at the headstock as well. I don’t think they were always trying to hide something but sometimes, I’m sure they were.  The dar finish at the heel was generally cosmetic. The heel was up against the dark edge of the sunburst and they probably felt it was a more natural color transition to spray the heel dark and feather it up the neck. Makes sense. The dark spray at the back of the headstock? Maybe not so natural but still very common. I’ve seen a pretty significant number of ES’s with a dark finish from heel to head. I’m sure some are simply the painter not getting the fade right and just spraying the whole thing to cover his error but I also think that it might be covering bad looking wood. However, unless I start taking the dark

Most reds are completely consistent color-wise. This one has a dark heel, however. Less common than a consistent red. Dark heel and dark headstock is a rare thing on a red 335 but they do exist.

Most reds are completely consistent color-wise. This one has a dark heel, however. Dark heel and dark headstock is a rare thing on a red 335 but they do exist.

finish off these guitars, I’ll probably never know for sure what’s under there. Here, the black light is your friend. If the finish is original, then don’t worry about what’s under there. Bad grain doesn’t make for a bad neck. If an opaque finish doesn’t black light correctly, then you want to do some further investigating.

The red ones are more consistent. The dark heel and headstock are rare, at least in the early ones. You see a few more by the late 60’s. The neck is usually somewhat different looking color-wise than the body but that’s due to the difference in the wood. Mahogany is darker than maple and the red dye reacts differently resulting in a bit more brown color in the neck. The dark heel and headstock seems more common on SG’s although I can’t tell you why. I went through my archives of red ES’s (there are about 100 of them in there) and probably 85% were consistent color-wise. A few had stingers (mostly 355’s) and really just a handful had the dark red finish at the heel and/or headstock.

I think the best approach to a darker neck is to get out the black light. If any funny business shows up, question it and decide whether it’s a big enough issue to make you walk away. And use a little logic. If it looks wrong, it probably is. You can’t get burned if you walk away.

The stinger may or may not be hiding something but they look pretty cool so nobody complains. Usually on a 355 or blondes.

The stinger may or may not be hiding something but they look pretty cool so nobody complains. Usually on a 355 or blondes.

Another Rare One

Sunday, February 7th, 2016
At first glance it's just an ES-140 with a PAF instead of a P90. But look closer and you'll see about a dozen upgrades.

At first glance it’s just an ES-140 with a PAF instead of a P90. But look closer and you’ll see about a dozen upgrades.

In an earlier post, I wrote about the diminutive ES-140. You can find that here. They are fun little guitars, great for travel and far from being some toy. They were, however, fairly low priced “student” grade guitars. They were also popular with women who didn’t want to wrestle a huge ES-175 or other big guitar. None of the manufacturers were making a high end short scale or “3/4” guitar. Gibson made the ES-140 and 3/4 size Les Paul Jrs, ES-125’s and the occasional Les Paul Special (I’ve seen one). Fender had the Duo Sonic and Musicmaster (and later, the short scale Mustang). The other big makers had similar choices but nobody made anything that approached a pro players guitar. Enter this little unit.

Clearly, a custom order, this 1961 ES-140 looks like somebody shrunk  a blonde single pickup ES-350 or 175. While the stock ES-140 had a P90, this one has a PAF. The neck on a stock 140 was unbound mahogany. This one has a three piece flame maple neck with fancy multi ply binding like a Byrdland. The body on a stock 140 has single ply binding. This one has multi ply binding on the body like a 345 (front and back unlike a 345) and the same fancy parallelogram fret markers except that these are real mother of pearl as opposed to celluloid. But wait. There’s more. Check out the star inlays on the bridge base. Pretty cool and definitely custom. Factory Grovers, upgrade headstock overlay and a multi-ply guard as opposed to the single layer tortoise guard on the stock version. Did I mention the bound f-holes? Somebody really wanted a very special little guitar.

pope

Is that the Pope? Sure looks like his hat.

Back in the 60’s, the Gibson folks were very accommodating to professional musicians and well heeled players. They would make you just about anything you could think of. There are, as you’ve probably seen, ES-355’s with the players name inlaid on the fingerboard, snazzy headstock inlays including one that looks suspiciously like the Pope. While Gibson maintains a “custom shop”, they don’t really do true customs there as far as I know. I looked at the Gibson web site and saw no mention of the kind of custom work they did back in the day. They do the “artist” models and a lot of the reissues but it really seems like an excuse to charge more for what is simply a slightly upmarket guitar. Maybe it’s more a factor of the artists not wanting to be quite so ostentatious these days, although I rather doubt it. I’m a huge fan of custom guitars-it speaks to the history of the instrument and of the artist. There are a pretty fair number of custom inlaid guitars out there with the names of some pretty obscure (mostly country) artists. You just don’t see that very much these days.

And more’s the pity. I like personalized guitars. They carry their provenance with them forever and, in a small way, immortalize the original owner. Elvis had one but he didn’t need an inlaid fingerboard to become immortal. I don’t know who JS Peterson was but he thought enough of himself to have his guitar do the job of immortalizing him (on an admittedly small scale). That’s the Pope headstock inlay. Sorry it;’s a fuzzy picture.

JS Peterson-a name that will live on for as long as somebody is playing this guitar. The Custom Shop really was a custom shop back then. That looks like a 64 ES-355.

JS Peterson-a name that will live on for as long as somebody is playing this guitar. The Custom Shop really was a custom shop back then. That looks like a 64 ES-355.

Market Wrap 2015 Part 2

Wednesday, January 13th, 2016
Biggest surprise had to be the blonde block neck I found in March. One of only two known. That's rare.

Biggest surprise had to be the blonde block neck I found in March. One of only two known. That’s rare.

Call it the Year of the Blonde. This past year, the value of blonde 335’s started approaching the 2007-2008 level and I’m not surprised at all. A very few stellar examples turned up in 2015 including two stunning birdseye topped late 58’s, a killer flame top Bigsby 59, a 63 blonde block neck and a 59 blonde 355. In a time when great examples are getting really tough to find, it was both astonishing and gratifying to see these stunning guitars see the light of day. I didn’t have all of them (OK, I had two of the ones I mentioned). I wouldn’t be surprised to see top quality blondes passing the $100K mark in 2016.

In general, dot necks were very, very strong in 2015. Part of this is due to the fact that really clean ones are getting scarce. They really didn’t make all that many to begin with and so many are already in the hands of collectors that the few still with their original owners or owner’s families just don’t come up that often. That said, even the player grade 59’s are selling at very strong prices. You aren’t likely to find a 59 under $30K any more. Unbound 58’s continue to be fairly strong but bound 58’s are a standout. Early 60 dot necks are right on the tail of the 59’s. Neck size still counts and that’s what keeps the later 60 and 61 dot necks well below $30K unless they approach mint condition.

That same desire for a big neck has kept most of the block necks from moving very far upward in value in the past year. A red 64 used to be the easiest 335 to sell, especially right after the market corrected but now they seem to have slowed to a crawl. 62 and 63 blocks with PAFs sell better than those without although the asking prices are pretty close if not the same. The bigger neck 64’s still lead the pack in terms of sales but not by all that much. Maybe the era of the big neck is winding down.

Based on the folks who come into my shop and actually play multiple 3×5’s, the consensus is that the huge neck is a great talking point (mine’s bigger than yours) but when it comes down to actually playing the thing, the medium and smaller necks are getting the nod from the buyers. For many, they are simply easier to play. The narrow nut versions are still considered less desirable but “wide flat” and “wide slim” are not the dirty words they once were. This may signal a coming trend that will see late 60 and 61 dot necks bump up to closer to the levels of the 58-59’s. We’ll just have to wait and see. I think many players can adapt to almost anything but there is an odd paradox that still baffles me.

Strat and Tele player typically love the necks on their guitars and there aren’t many that measure any wider than 1 5/8″ at the nut and, with a few notable exceptions, much deeper than .83″ at the first fret. That’s barely 64 territory on a 335 and yet, Strats and Teles keep on selling. The baseball bat and boat necks of the early 50’s are the notable exceptions. Nobody seems to bat an eye at a Strat with a first fret depth of .79″ but put that on a 335 and let the negotiations begin. “Gee, that neck is awfully slim…”

2015 was great fun for me. I found (or lucked into) some very cool guitars. The aforementioned blondes, a black 345, a blonde mono 355, a 59 red dot neck with a Varitone, a killer red 60 and quite a few others. And they came from some surprising places. The blonde 63 block came from somewhere in the north of Scotland (beyond the wall to you Game of Thrones fans). Lots of 335’s made the trip back across the pond from Europe this past year probably because the Euro was so weak and the dollar was so strong. But some still go the other way. Thanks to all the readers who keep me doing this and to all the buyers and sellers who make this business so much fun.

Happy New Year.

66345

First guitar to arrive in 2016 was this absolutely baffling MM ear 66 ES-345 with a ginormous neck. The only rule at Gibson is “No Rules”