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Archive for the ‘Gibson General’ Category

Point of No Return

Wednesday, June 13th, 2018

A dealer with a big inventory should still go through every guitar from the pot codes to the tuner tips to make sure it is as described and there are no hidden or undisclosed issues. An individual seller with one guitar to sell should do the same or consult a vintage dealer to help out. Most will be happy to. This is the famous “A” rack at OK Guitars.

You want a really good reason to buy a guitar from a dealer? Return policy. You probably already knew that but dealers tend to charge more than individual sellers but there’s more to this than meets the eye. I buy plenty of guitars from individual sellers and I buy a fair number from other dealers. I prefer to buy from other dealers even though I sometimes have to pay top dollar for them. But wait, why would someone like me who is supposed to know what to look for prefer buying from a dealer? Return policy. Here’s the problem:

I’ve been keeping close track of the accuracy of the descriptions of guitars I buy for at least 8 years now. When buying from an individual seller (usually without a return policy), I ask for a lot of specific photos but when you’re buying from the 90 year old widow of the original owner, you can’t really ask her to pull the pickups and photograph the PAF stickers. Sometimes, you can’t even get a single photo. You simply take your chances. But even when I get all the photos I need, there can still be issues that don’t show up in photos. Overspray for one, rewound pickups for another. Fortunately, the issues are mostly minor but sometimes an undisclosed or unknown big issue like a well repaired headstock crack can sneak by. After all, Grandpa (may he rest in peace) didn’t usually tell Grandma that he broke his $400 (in 1959 dollars) guitar and had to spend $50 to get it fixed. She would just get upset. So, a dealer has to walk a very fine line when buying a guitar from someone who knows nothing about guitars.

You might ask what percentage of guitars that I get are not accurately described? 20%? 25%? 30%? Nope. 90%. Seriously, nearly every guitar I buy from an individual seller has a hidden or undisclosed issue. It’s usually something pretty benign like a changed switch tip or pot that I can address from my parts stash. But, as I mentioned, sometimes it’s rewound pickups, undisclosed damage (usually a minor crack or delamination), repro parts, touchups and on and on. I have horror stories. And here’s the upsetting part-when I buy from dealers, the percentage isn’t all that much better. Since the rise of Reverb.com, everybody seems to be a dealer which is OK but it can be hard to differentiate between really knowledgeable dealers who offer up a healthy dose of expertise with their guitars (and a liberal return policy) from those who don’t. That said, many “hobby” dealers are as knowledgeable (or more so) than established dealers and, with their smaller inventories, can be more careful with inspecting and describing their inventory. After all, I was a hobby dealer for 10 years before I became a full time dealer with a brick and mortar shop. I still go through every guitar with the same attention to detail as I did in 1998 when I was cruising Ebay for bargains.

So, what’s the bottom line here? It is this: Expect issues. Build it into your offer. Inspect every guitar you buy and every guitar you sell as if it were your forever guitar. Fix what’s wrong or disclose it before you list it for sale. It might cost you a sale or two but it will save you from returns, a bad reputation and angry customers. If you aren’t sure what you have or what’s correct and what isn’t, consult a vintage dealer. Most are very generous with their advice. Or take it to a guitar show-everybody at a guitar show seems to be ready willing and able to tell you everything that’s wrong with your guitar-even if there’s nothing wrong with it. And if you buy a guitar and it isn’t as described, talk to the seller and explain the issue. If that gets you nowhere and there’s no return policy, talk to the folks who run the venue where you bought it. Ebay is good at this as is Reverb.com. I’ve had success with both when I’ve run into intransigent sellers who insist that the guitar was perfect when it was shipped and that the frets must have gotten worn or it somehow got oversprayed in transit or in the 24 hours I had the guitar in my possession.

Can you tell that this guitar was refinished from the photo? I sure can’t. Can you tell the guard is a repro (I can)? Photos help but they don’t always tell the whole story. Check your purchase out in person if you can. Get a guitar from someone who will accept returns (for any reason) if you can’t see it in person.

Double Your Pleasure-EDS-1275

Sunday, May 27th, 2018

How cool is this. 4 PAFs, no waiting. This was owned by Steve Howe for the past 45 years or so and now I have it. It’s from 1960 and is a very cool piece.

I’ve owned most Gibsons that have the letter ES (Electric Spanish) in their model name. Up until now there was one I had never even seen in person, let alone actually owned. It’s a rare one and it’s certainly not for everybody but, being a 12 string player, it appeals to me. It’s the EDS-1275. But wait, isn’t that a double neck SG? It is but there’s an earlier full hollow version with the same model name. The first version, built from 1958-1961 is unique among Gibsons. This iteration has a spruce top but is not an arch top. It appears to be a flat top with a German carve.  Well, now I have one in the house and it’s makes a rather striking impression. It’s big. It’s heavy but not as heavy as I thought it would be. It doesn’t help that this one has 18 Grover tuners on it which add at least an extra pound. I will probably remove them and put Klusons back on in the near future. This black 1960 has some interesting history.

I really didn’t know much about these when this one came on the market in the UK. It was last sold in 1974 by Gruhn’s and was owned from 1974 until a couple weeks ago by the great Steve Howe (Yes, Asia). I’m no expert in these guitars so I reached out to the dealer who is. Eric Ernest (Abalone Vintage) knows more about these than anyone and I got him on the phone before making this considerable purchase to find out what he knew about the guitar. He knew about it and warned me that he believed it was refinished black over factory white by builder Roger Giffin. That seemed likely since I could see white showing through wherever the guitar was chipped.  But wait a second, there are photos of at least one other black one all over the interwebs that show the same thing. So, I asked a few people about it. George Gruhn couldn’t remember, telling me he had sold over 100 guitars to Steve. I had the UK dealer ask Steve about it and Steve, who knows Roger, said no, Roger wasn’t doing refinishes at the time this one would have been done (before Steve bought it in 1974).

I’m pretty good at spotting a refinished ES guitar. I believe the guitar, like many of this model, was painted white when first made but was ordered as a black guitar and resprayed at the factory. Why do I think that? Well, the serial number, for one thing. I sent a photo of the yellow ink stamped number to my inside guy at Gibson and he agreed that the serial number looked dead on. I’ve owned a fair number of black ES guitars from the 50’s and 60’s and the black paint has a distinctive look to it. This appears to be Gibson paint and I believe that it is a factory black guitar. Feel free to argue the point.

How’s it play? I was a little nervous about the playability when I bought it because 12 string necks take so much strain that they often end up impossibly bowed with the truss rod tightened all the way. Steve clearly hadn’t been playing it much since the strings were years old. But the neck looked pretty flat-in fact I loosened the truss a half a turn on the 12 string neck and restrung it with light gauge strings. Steve had the 12 string neck strung like a Rickenbacker (low string, then octave rather than the other way ’round) so I strung it the same. I put 11’s on the 6 string neck and plugged it into a 60 Bassman. I figured the guitar is a 60, the amp might as well be. It’s not light. I didn’t weigh it but its probably 11 pounds. The Grover tuners don’t help the balance any either. I played the six string neck first. Nice 59ish profile and lots of PAF snarl. No feedback even though it’s full hollow. The lack of f-holes helps. Sounds rather like a good 175 or Byrdland that doesn’t feed back. I think a 6 string using this design would be a great player. The spruce top is probably a factor as is the fairly thin body. The 12 string was very articulate with every note punching through. Some electric 12 strings get a bit lost in their own world of many stringed chaos but this one was more like an acoustic. I could make it do jangly but it wasn’t the default tone like a Ricky.

Double necks are not for everybody. They make a big statement onstage and they are a lot of fun. There are plenty of double neck choices-I’ve owned a Mosrite and was recently offered a Carvin. This one is different. It’s as rare as hen’s teeth (fewer than 40 1275’s made) and wonderfully playable. For the collector, it represents Gibson at it’s pre Custom Shop custom best. And I’ll bet you don’t have one.

Steve with the EDS-1275. He also has a black double with an octave neck and also a white solid body 1275.

Case in Point

Wednesday, January 10th, 2018

That’s wrong with this picture? No, it’s not the price of the guitar, it’s the price of the case. Read on.

I’ve written about cases before and I actually find them pretty interesting but this isn’t about the arcane, geeky finer points of vintage cases. This is something that occurred to me when I recently bought a 62 ES-335 that had the price tag in the case. A red stop tail ES-335, in 1962, cost $327.50. Cheap, right? Well, in 2018 dollars, that 327.50 is $2654 which is a lot for a guitar but doesn’t compare at all to the $5800 Gibson wants today for it’s (almost) equivalent. So, on top of the 710% inflation, Gibson has more than doubled the price of a 335 over 1962-up a whopping, uh, I dunno, 1400%? Seems like a lot but that hides the real issue, to me.

A good quality guitar case today is around $240 for a high end TKL. You can spend $600 on a Cedar Creek or other high end case. You can also spend around $100 for a decent molded plastic case that will protect your guitar relatively well. Or you can buy that $5800 59 reissue and get the case for free. Good deal right? Well, it’s a good deal when you consider that in 1962, the cost of the case was more than 15% of the cost of the guitar. Yikes. The inflation calculator says that 1962 case would cost $425.54 today. And the cases weren’t all that great. It’s a little like the drinks at a McDonalds. They probably make a nickel on that Big Mac but they make it up big time on the drinks at whatever drinks at McDonalds cost these days. But let’s take it a step farther. If your local Gibson dealer was marking everything up equally to how it was marked up in 1962, that case would cost you  close to $1000 (figuring 16% or so of the purchase price of the guitar).

So, somebody was making some pretty serious money. In fact, if you consider inflation, that $400 vintage black case you just bought for your 335 has actually gone down in value since it was new. How does this work? The guitar is up by 900% or so but the case is down by 25 bucks. Just thought I would bring this up while I wrote my “year ender”.

This Lifton case cost the 2018 equivalent of $425 in 1962.
Today, it’s worth about the same but the guitar has gone up by 900%. Go figure.

 

 

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.