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Oddities and One Offs

Monday, August 31st, 2020

I have to say that my favorite part of the vintage guitar business is finding rare or one of a kind ES guitars (or having them find me). I’ve done this post before showcasing the “greenburst” 335, a lefty block neck blonde 335 and a 355 with pointy cutaways. Gibson has always been accommodating to the needs and wishes of musicians and was happy to make something out of the ordinary for you (for a price, of course). It was often the owners name inlaid in the fingerboard or an alternative electronics setup (think Varitone in a 335). Interestingly, these things often diminish the value over a bone stock version. Who wants to play a guitar with somebody else’s name writ large across the fingerboard. Short of changing your name, there isn’t a good fix for this. But then there are one of a kinds that are simply colors or a configuration that isn’t offered in the catalogue. I’ve had a few of these recently and this is a good time to write another post about these wonderful oddities.

A cherryburst 335 is neither rare nor particularly exciting unless it’s a dot neck. This finish was common starting in 1965 but a cherryburst dot neck? Unheard of. This is the only one (as far as I know)

The cherryburst 1961 dot neck was offered to me recently (and I bought it). When I saw the photos, my first thought was “oh, another cherryburst 65…” I don’t particularly like this finish and I was ready to dismiss it until I noticed the dots. This finish was in the Gibson lineup as early as the 1940’s but not for a 335. That didn’t happen until 1965. This is the only cherryburst dot neck I’ve ever seen. Beyond that, it was also the cleanest dot neck I’ve ever seen. I rarely use the term “mint” but this one was all of that. There’s a very lucky, very happy collector out there who owns the only one of these known.

White ES guitars have never been common. Keith Richards has the one he calls “Dwight”. His is a 345. This is a 1965 wide nut ES-355.

I was really skeptical when I first saw this white 355 many years ago. But when I owned it years ago, I didn’t know much about these guitars and I sold it to the next owner as “ambiguous”. It was the paint on the neck binding that threw me off. Now I know that Gibson usually painted white guitars that way (look at any LP/SG Custom) and it’s definitely a factory white finish. They became a little more common by 1969 and into the 70’s but a mid 60’s white one is pretty rare. The white tends to turn yellow because the clear lacquer that goes over the paint tends to turn yellow over time. You don’t notice it so much on a sunburst or even a red guitar but on a white one, it really shows up.

Whenever I encounter a rare variant, I try to get hold of the ledger page for that serial number to see if there’s a note about it being a special order. Sometimes, there’s nothing. Sometimes it’s noted and sometimes, the serial number is left blank in the book. I’d say it’s 50-50. Having the page is a real plus but not having it doesn’t necessarily diminish its authenticity. Of the 5 black 59 ES-345’s, only three of them are noted in the logs but the others are very clearly original. This 1963 black ES-345 is one that we got lucky on. I don’t own this one but it’s the only black 63 I know of. Black is rare but has always been a popular color so there are a fair number of them around each year. I know of perhaps twelve of them from 59 to 64. Interestingly, most are 345’s. I’m not sure why. A black 335 seems to be incredibly rare until the late 60’s and even then you can count them on one hand.

Sometimes you get lucky. I was sent a photo of a black 63 ES-345 by a friend of the original owner who special ordered it. And there it was, 115826 plain as day in the 63 log book.

And here it is. I don’t own it but i’ve been after it for at least four years now. You’ll know if I get it.

Refinishes

Monday, August 24th, 2020

Sometimes a refinish is really obvious like when the guitar is finished in a non Gibson color. This Candy Apple Red 62 dot neck is one of the best sounding ones I’ve ever owned. Certainly in the top 20 if not the top 10. Looked pretty cool too.

It’s always been a bit of a mystery to me why a professionally refinished guitar is worth so much less than a factory original. Vintage and antique cars get repainted all the time and the prices don’t drop like a stone. Antique furniture, however, follows the vintage guitar rule: Don’t mess with the finish. A refinish knocks anywhere from 40-50% off the value. That’s a lot considering the guitar with a pro refinish is usually every bit as playable and attractive as it’s original counterpart.

I could go on about how a factory refinish isn’t as much of a decrease in value as an aftermarket refinish even though the work can be superior. I could also talk about Fender’s penchant for putting custom color finishes over sunbursts (and still be considered original). Or the Selmer Fiesta reds being considered by many to be refinished even though they were never sold with any other finish. Or put differently-it’s OK if Fender paints Fiesta over sunburst but not OK if Selmer does it. There’s a clear lack of logic to the vintage guitar rule book and I’m not one to rock the boat. I simply accept the rules and grumble about them occasionally (like now).

What I really want to talk about are refinished and oversprayed ES models. The good news is that folks didn’t feel compelled to refinish these guitars as often as the Fender owners did back in the day. It could be because the Fender finishes tended to chip and wear more easily than the Gibson finishes. It could also be the relative ease of stripping an unbound solid block of wood over a laminated, arched and bound hollow or semi hollow box. So, 335’s and the like simply don’t get refinished all that often but I’ve certainly run across my share. Some done brilliantly, some, well, not so brilliantly. The amateur jobs are pretty obvious but a pro job often requires an experienced eye.

The black light is a useful tool but it has its limitations but it’s a great place to start. The entire guitar should glow evenly under blacklight. If any areas look different, you can bet they were touched up for one reason or another. If the entire guitar black lights consistently, then it’s not so easy. A brand new refinish won’t glow much but an older one will look identical to an original finish under black light if the entire instrument was done. So ends the usefulness of the black light. So, how do I know if the finish is original or not if the black light fails me? Lots of ways.

I start with looking in the nooks and crannies. It is really hard to remove the finish from the deep corners of a pickup rout-especially on a dyed finish like Gibson’s red. The other place to look for remnants of the original finish is in the holes for the pots-folks simply forget to remove it. More obvious is to look inside the f-holes. There is never color in there. I’ve seen clear lacquer from the factory in there on very rare occasions when the guitar has the “2” designation on the back of the headstock-which, by the way, doesn’t mean factory second. It means it went back to the spray booth a second time. In general, any paint or clear lacquer inside the body is a bad sign.

Because it is very difficult to chemically strip a 335, you have to sand. And no matter how carefully you sand, you are going to take some wood off with the finish. Chemical strippers will melt the bindings and they won’t get the red dye out of the wood as it sinks in too deeply. You might get away with a chemical strip of a sunburst but not a red. So, let’s assume the finish is black and it looks really good. They taped off the f-holes and sprayed over the pickup routs and painted over the original color from the all the holes. I usually take a scraper and remove a little finish from inside the pickup rout to see if there is another color underneath. Again, easier on a red one than on a sunburst. But there is an almost foolproof way to tell if a 335, 345 or 355 has been refinished.

The original finish is sprayed on over the bindings and the bindings are then scraped clean of any paint. The bindings end up “lower” than the rim of the guitar or put differently, the rim will be “proud” of the binding. Run your fingernail from the body binding to the rim of the guitar. If its perfectly smooth, the guitar has been sanded and refinished. Period. End of thought. There are no exceptions. Every ES guitar that’s passed through my hands has had the ridge unless it’s been refinished. Do that test first and you won’t get fooled again. Next, we’ll look at oversprays. That’s when the finish is still original but someone has gone and sprayed a new coat of clear over it.

This super rare white ’65 ES-355 had me concerned until I was able to inspect it in hand. The usual photos simply don’t show enough detail to see the ridge I talk about in the post. You can see it here. There wasn’t a trace of any other color anywhere, it black lighted perfectly but I wasn’t going to be convinced until I felt the ridge between binding and rim.

There are no Rules

Monday, July 13th, 2020

This ES-355 has a 66 serial number but it has a wide-nearly 1 11/16″ nut. It could be that it was a leftover from 65 as 355’s were pretty low volume sellers. No rules.

I try very hard to find consistency when discussing Gibsons from the so-called “Golden Era”. Certain rules and features seem to apply most of the time…PAFs until 62, then mixed PAFs and patents from 62-64, wide nut until mid 65, stop tails until early 65 and a whole lot of other features that follow a fairly predictable timeline. Except when they don’t.

One of the most desirable features of 58- early 65 ES models is the wide nut. We call it 1 11/16″ but it varies from just over 1 5/8″ to just over 1 11/16″ but all of them are wider than the 1 9/16″ nut that was introduced in mid 65 and has rendered mid 65’s to 1981 models less desirable to many players and that’s a really big deal. Imagine if 68’s had the wide nut (it’s a common misconception that they do). They would be the most desirable year post 64 for sure. Yes, 68’s had the trapeze and often had t-tops but those things can be changed. But you can’t make a narrow neck into a wide one without some very expensive (and invasive) surgery. Then a rule breaker shows up.

It is pretty commonly known that models like Byrdlands, L-5’s, Kessels and 355’s sold in fairly low numbers. Even with the low volume, they would generally make a “rack” of the same model (usually 35 guitars) all at once and then sit on the unfinished guitars until they had an order to fill. That’s why you sometimes see patent number pickups in a 61 guitar or some other earlier feature in a guitar with a later serial number. The guitars were simply built in one year and sold in the next year (or later). That’s how we end up with 1960 guitars with 1958 factory order numbers for example. But there are no FON’s after 61, so we have only the features to go by when we are trying to figure out what year the guitar was built (or at least started).

I recently purchased a 1966 ES-355 with a wide nut-just under 1 11/16″. It is the second 66 ES-355 I’ve encountered with that feature. That probably means that the guitar was built in early 65 (or at least the neck was carved then) and sat somewhere until an order came in some time in 66. I’m sure that a bunch of narrow nut 355’s went out in 65 and early 66 because I’ve seen plenty of them. So why did this one sit? Maybe it had a small flaw or maybe it was at the back of the pile and more newly made ones were headed out the door first. Without a time machine, it’s hard to know. The larger point is that all the rules I write about get broken time and time again and it isn’t always possible to come up with a reason. You could easily ask “was it re-necked later with a custom ordered neck?” Or maybe it was simply a custom order that specified a particular nut width. I know it wasn’t re-necked (it’s pretty easy to tell) but I suppose it could have been a custom order. Again, where did I leave the keys to the time machine.

I’ve had a similar experience with another 66. This was a 345 with honest to god Mickey Mouse ears. Left over early 60’s body? Maybe. Probably. The rule is that MM ears were gone by late 63 when they redid the jigs for making ES 335, 345 and 355 bodies. But this 345 and at least two others I’ve seen made their way out the door in 1966. So, no rule is a hard and fast rule and no feature is 100% consistent over the era of 1958 to 1969. After 1969, you’re on your own-I just don’t see enough of them to know much. Let me know if you have an oddball like these. It gives me something to write about.

A 66 should not have Mickey Mouse ear cutaways. And yet, this one does and at least two others I’ve seen do as well. There is a fair amount of inconsistency in the shape of the cutaways from 66 to 67 (pointy ear, “fox ear”, etc) but Mickeys? No. Great player too, by the way, although I’m sure it had nothing to do with the ears. If I recall, this one had early patent numbers which might have had something to do with it.

Pandemic Buying

Wednesday, June 24th, 2020

Pandemic shmandemic. High end is selling. The low end is selling and in between is selling. This 60 burst went to Texas not too long ago. I’ve got another if you’re looking.

I thought that the pandemic was going to affect he vintage guitar market and I was right. But I thought the market would slow down and I was wrong. It hasn’t. I thought it might tank but I was afraid to say that (not that I have the clout to tank the guitar market-I don’t). What I didn’t think would happen was that folks would be buying guitars like there was no tomorrow (and maybe there is no tomorrow which would explain it). I am selling nearly twice as many guitars now as I was selling before the pandemic and social distancing began. I can’t say with any certainty why this is happening but I can certainly tell you what I see and what I think might be going on.

First, it’s everywhere, not just the USA. In the past two months I’ve sold guitars to folks in Taiwan, Ireland, England, Israel, Japan and Canada. So, what is selling? Well, everything. High end stuff is selling. Player grade stuff is selling, stuff I’ve had in my shop for two years or more is selling. Guitars that aren’t terribly popular are selling. I sold a Guild Thunderbird, an Epiphone Wilshire, an ES-175, a J-160E, a Gretsch 6120 along with the usual assortment of 335’s and 345’s ad 355’s. I even sold my personal Partscaster which I hardly ever played. But the usual high end stuff is selling too-a couple of 59 ES-345’s, a refinished 60 burst, a 58 335 and a 59 335. Tweed amps are going. Two Bassmans, a Super and a Deluxe since this thing began. I lowered some prices in anticipation of a weakened market but it hasn’t happened. Anybody know why?

I have theories. The most obvious is sheer boredom. Staying home, especially if you live in an apartment (which I don’t) must be suffocating. Nothing brightens up a dull existence like a “new” guitar. I get at least a hundred a year and it still feels like Christmas morning every time one arrives. Of course, you’re going to drive your family up the wall if you’re using all that spare time to practice your scales and learn some new licks and aren’t you all ready to kill each other as it is? No? OK. But there’s a limit to how much boredom can drive the market. You need money to feed the vintage habit and with so many folks out of work, you might think this is a bad time to be buying and selling guitars. Apparently not. That leads me to another theory. It’s the “I might die tomorrow, so I should get the things that will really make me happy now” theory. I like this theory because it transcends money and boredom. It also has no end. Just because a 59 335 makes you happy today doesn’t mean a 54 Telecaster won’t make you even happier tomorrow. And then there’s always the day after tomorrow to think about. Or maybe you just want to park your money somewhere other than the stock market. Let’s consider that.

The stock market has taken a hit and it is coming back strongly but with the long term economic effects of the pandemic still in the theoretical realm, who knows how long any perceived recovery is going to last. How long before the airline, entertainment, hospitality and restaurant industries will get back to something approaching normal? Opening states too early is showing some bad, bad results. See you in September? I think not. This thing is here until they can vaccinate about a zillion people. So, where do you put your money once you’ve lost faith in the stock market? Gold is way up so you’ve probably missed the boat on that one. Vintage automobiles? There’s no place to go (there’s a pandemic going on or haven’t you noticed?) and looking at your 54 MG in the garage has a limited appeal. Vintage guitars? At least you can sit and play your vintage guitar while it appreciates (or not) even if the wife and kids are ready to kill you for spending hours on end trying to be Jimmy Page in that little shoe box of an apartment you’re stuck in. How about real estate? Get a house with an outbuilding so you can play your guitar without raising the homicide rate in your town. Yeah. That’s the ticket.

Amps are flying out the door as well. I started this pandemic with 7 tweed Bassmans. I’m down to 5 (woe is me).

Fun Guitars that aren’t 335’s

Wednesday, May 6th, 2020

One of the (few) upsides to Covid-19 is that I have more time to play the guitars that I have in my possession. As a dealer, I have a pretty broad selection and during the old days (pre Covid), I didn’t play them all that much because I was too busy. I played my ’59 345 and one of the 12 strings (Ricky 660 or Breedlove Classic 12). But here at OK Guitars, there are a fair number of cool guitars that, until now, I haven’t played much. Here’s a sampling:

One of my favorites is the Epiphone Wilshire with P90’s. They only made a few hundred of them from late 60-63, so they are rare. This one is sold but I have another.

What I like so much about the Wilshire is the configuration of two P90’s and a stoptail/ABR-1. Gibson made these guitars in Kalamazoo on the same assembly line as the SG’s of the day. But an SG Special has a wrap tail. In fact, the only P90 Gibson with an ABR-1 other than the Wilshire is a Les Paul (55-57 and 68 and later). So, in the early 60’s this was it. Light weight, loud and nasty (and rare). These are a true sleeper in the vintage market. You can still find them in the $4K-$8K range but look out for changed bridge and tailpiece. Those two items are worth $2000 or more alone. Folks have started scavenging these guitars for parts.

Another rare one. This is a Rickenbacker Susanna Hoffs model. This guitar has monster pickups. The two single coils are as hot as a Mosrite at 12K ohms. The humbucker at the bridge is pretty nice too.

I think the Ricky 325/350 series are pretty cool little guitars. The Lennon connection has always been a factor, being a huge Beatles fan/aficionado. But the 325/350 is a little dull to play. It’s a decent rhythm guitar but it falls short when you want to step out front and wail. Enter the Susanna Hoffs model. Even cooler looking than the Lennon with the checkerboard bindings, the SH comes alive when you plug it in. It’s aggressive in any position and will send your amp into overdrive with a twist of the volume knob. And why is that? How about single coils at 12K? The humbucker at the bridge is pretty hot as well. Yeah, the middle pickup gets in the way for some but there’s enough room to work around it. My only complaint about the Hoffs is the nut width. It’s pretty thin at around 1 9/16″. I have short stubby fingers and I kind of fall all over myself playing narrow fingerboards at the first few frets. It weighs almost nothing and, while it’s a little pricey due to the fact they only made 250 of them, the SH is a fun diversion that couldn’t be more different than what I’m used to playing.

Bet you didn’t expect this. When I was 17, I fell in love with the looks of the Ventures Mosrite and bought one. The nut was so narrow and the frets were so small that I had to change my playing style to accommodate it. But I sure looked cool playing it.

From around 1969 until 1974, I played a Mosrite Ventures Model. It was a 65 and I put a patent number humbucker in the neck and it sounded pretty great. It was not the easiest guitar to play but it sure looked good on stage (I was still gigging until 1973). The pickups in a Mosrite are way overwound (10K-12K) and these bad boys will overdrive your amp to distraction. The frets are tiny (not so great for string bends), the nut is really narrow, they don’t stay in tune very well if you hit the whammy too hard and the single tone knob can be a problem for some players, although the single volume can be a good thing, I think. With the German carve on top, it’s still one of the most distinctive and recognizable guitars of its era even though it’s essentially an upside down Strat. Not expensive unless you are after one of the early “sidejack” ones from 63.

What’s this? Some low volume Gibson solid body with humbuckers. Yes. It’s a burst. This 1960 has been in the house for a while and, even though I’m not a Les Paul guy, this guitar could turn me into one. It’s heavier than my 345 by a pound or so and the neck is a little thinner but it’s a wonderful guitar to play. It looks pretty good too even though the red seems to have disappeared from the finish.

The first time I ever saw a Les Paul was while watching one of the mid 60’s after school programs-it was either “Shindig” or “Hullabaloo” or maybe “Where the Action is”. These programs ran from around 65 until 67 on network TV. The show that day featured the Lovin’ Spoonful and there was Zally with his Guild Thunderbird (also a fun guitar but I just sold mine) but Sebastian was playing a little solid body that I had never seen before. It looked really little and kind of funny (and it was black and white TV so the color and top weren’t much of a factor). Most folks first experience with a burst was Bloomfield, Clapton or Page but this was 1965 and those guys hadn’t really emerged to the mainstream yet with their LPs. I don’t think I have to describe what these sound like or play like. There is hardly a guitar on earth that has had more written about it. I have little to add other than they seem kind of pricey compared to a good vintage 335. Or maybe the vintage 335’s are undervalued. Hmm.

To Tank or not to Tank

Friday, April 24th, 2020

This photo is not totally relevant to the content but it’s such a cool picture, I thought I would show it again. I don’t think the guitars in this photo will go down in value.

Every year, in January, I write a year end post giving you my take on the market over the past year. Telling you where the market has been is easy. telling you where it’s going is something I’ve avoided and with good reason. Nobody can predict the future. If I had a crystal ball, I’d probably be living on a beach on my private island somewhere warm. I do not. So, in these difficult times, why would I go out on a limb and predict where the vintage guitar market is going? Because you asked. I’ve had a lot of emails and phone calls over the past month or so and that seems to be the compelling question. The economy is on hold. Is the market going to tank? I never took an economics course. I never took a business course. I don’t know Keynes from Fibonacci. I’m going to hypothesize based on what I do for a living.

I don’t know. That’s the simple answer, so take everything that follows as simple logic from the inside. I’m selling a lot of guitars. I dropped some prices-not so much because I think the market is in trouble but because I have no room for the gear. I moved out of my shop last month because my lease wasn’t renewed and I have to put my inventory somewhere. I will say that the current social distancing and the resultant diminished economy is going to be with us for a while yet. I don’t expect to open a new retail space for months going forward. But most of my business has always been online and that appears pretty healthy.

There are at least two important factors driving the current guitar market. One, folks are stuck at home with nothing to do and, for the guitar obsessed (like me), searching the internet for a “new” guitar is a fun, time consuming activity. (So are jigsaw puzzles but c’mon, what would you rather get delivered to your house?) Two, a lot of folks are out of work but even with that, the unemployment rate is “only” at 10%. Not a good recipe for a robust market but not lethal blow either. There will be folks who have to sell one or more of their guitars in order to meet their financial obligations (and to eat). But, I think that, in general, these aren’t the folks who were buying vintage and collector grade stuff in the first place. I believe the collector grade guitars will remain strong but will likely level off somewhat during the next few months. There will likely be some guitars hitting the market put there by sellers who really need to generate some cash. But they won’t list them at bargain basement prices. That’s human nature. This market is not one to tank over night. Look at 2008.

2008 is not the same as now; in many ways, it was worse. Yes, unemployment is worse now but long term prospects are better. But even as the economy tanked, the stock market sank and the housing market sagged, the guitar market held on for quite a few months before it started a relatively slow decline. That decline lasted a very long time and eventually took as much as 40% off the market but in 2008, that market was a bubble. The market today is the result of a slow, steady rise that, in many cases, still hasn’t reached 2008 levels.

I could go on for pages but I think I’ll just lay out my thoughts. The player market will, I think, drop. Possibly significantly. The high end market will level off. Because so many guitars are currently priced way ahead of the market (read as “overpriced”), the folks who need to sell will eventually cut prices probably down to where they should be. The one great truth in this business is that everybody (yes, everybody) thinks their guitar is worth more than it is. Does sitting on the market for months or even years deter those sellers? Nope. Not until they need to sell (for any reason-not just starvation).

So, if my opinion means anything, don’t worry about your guitars. Play them. If you’re in the market to buy, make offers that are fair and reasonable. If I’m wrong and the market tanks, you can tell me I’m an idiot but go back to paragraph two. Sentence one. That tells you everything you need to know.

This is our dog, Zoubi. She doesn’t know there’s a pandemic out there. She just knows I’m home all the time and that means more treats for doggies.

Things to Do (During a Pandemic)

Monday, April 6th, 2020

Watch some old episodes of “Shindig” or “Hullabaloo” from the mid 60’s. Why aren’t the Hermits’ guitars plugged in? Because there aren’t any amps…it was all lip synched).

Well, this is week number 4 that I’ve been conscientiously social distancing. A few trips to my shop to finish clearing out before my lease expires at the end of the month and one big trip to the local Stop and Shop for groceries and that’s about the extent of my travels. Binge watched “Ozark” and “Unorthodox” and am working on the Aussie quasi soap opera “A Place Called Home”. Oh, and there are guitars here. What to do.

Play. Just sit down and don’t just noodle the stuff you always play. Go to You Tube and learn a new song. Download some blues jams and try to break out of your old habits (I really need to do this). Or just practice your scales and picking. Learn to finger pick if you don’t already do it. Learn alternate tunings (which I’ve never really done other than drop D). For me, I’ve never been able to master any Steely Dan, so I’m going to try to learn a few of my old favorites. My up/down picking can always use a little more practice (I’ve got 55 years of bad habits-I only took lessons for 6 months when I was 11). You a blues player? Play some Bluegrass. A rocker? Learn some country licks. Put aside some time every day to play. I’m lucky to have a space where I can play and not wake anybody up. Play loud-just for fun. If you play sitting down, stand up. If you play standing, sit down. Mix it up. Play along with a favorite song and imagine you’re a rock star. You know you want to-even old guys like me never lose the dream.

Social Media. Post some of your favorite guitars on social media. Sharing your gear with others is a good way to make some new friends. OK, there’s a few douchebags out there who will tell you that your 66 is really a 69 or that the neck pickup looks like a t-top but mostly, everybody is nice. Go to You Tube and look for old footage of your favorite band from your favorite decade. I spent a couple hours watching old “Shindig”, “Hullabaloo” and “Where the Action Is” episodes. For anybody under 60, those were after school American Bandstand type programming with go-go dancers and big pop stars mostly lip synching their hits in black and white (man, I feel old). They aired from around mid 64 until late 66 or early 67. Watch some music documentaries. Ron Howard’s “Eight Days a Week” is wonderful. “The Wrecking Crew” is worth watching as well and there are lots of others.

Maintenance. Change your strings for crying out loud. What’s it been, six months? A year? And oil the fingerboard while you’re at it. Your guitar will thank you. Lube the tuners-nobody ever does this and spray the pots with some De-ox-it. How about you go and clean some of the gunk off your guitars as well. If you’re a gigging musician, you aren’t gigging at the moment and you’ve sweated all over your guitar for long enough. Virtuoso Cleaner is a good product. I’m sure you can order it online. Just let the box sit in the garage for a day or two or open it with your gloves on. This virus knows where you live and will wait you out.

Finally, go and buy yourself a “new” guitar or amp. You know it and I know that nothing makes you feel better than a new piece of gear. I’ve sold an astonishing number of vintage guitars and amps in the last few weeks and while everyone seems to be crying gloom and doom for the vintage market, some folks are taking advantage of that by making offers and getting some deals. A new amp will make you happy and not cost you an arm and probably both legs. I just bought a 70 Marshall JMP 50 because my 55 Twin wasn’t loud enough. Can’t afford vintage? I also bought a 3 Monkeys “Virgil” (best boutique amp out there). Or get an old Supro. A few hundred bucks for a whole new experience.

There’s lots to do at home. Just stay there until this is over. Somebody’s life depends on it. Maybe even yours.

Bored after a few weeks of social distancing? Buy yourself some “new” gear. Here’s a 69 335 in factory black. It will make you feel much better about being cooped up in your tiny apartment or your manor house.

(Anti) Social Distancing

Sunday, March 22nd, 2020

The fun part was that you never knew who (or what) was going to walk in the door next. We had some very interesting folks, some real cool guitars and lots of very cute doggies. Unfortunately, all of that is gone for now and the old train car is no longer mine, so when I come back, it will be in a new location (in the same town)

When you run a small brick and mortar business, it is kind of important to be sociable. Buying a guitar, especially an expensive vintage guitar, is a very often a process that requires a lot of interaction. It’s easy if you know exactly what model, year, finish and configuration you want. You walk in, you play it and you buy it, assuming you like it. But if there are 6 or 8 or a dozen 335’s in the shop, it becomes a process that requires a lot of discussion and a lot of handing guitars back and forth and in the current era of social distancing, that is a problem.

Corona virus is able to live on hard surfaces for a very long time. Nobody is quite sure now long but from what I’ve heard and read, it can live for days on a metal surface. That means the guitar strings are a Corona virus’s paradise. Good for the virus, not so good for you and me. For OK Guitars (meaning me-I’m a one man band), the timing of this crisis is notable. If you have checked my Facebook page lately, you will know that I lost my lease on my store at about the same time the virus hit. I was there for five and a half years and OK Guitars had become a destination shop for tourists. Kent CT’s economy is nearly 100% tourism driven. It’s a big hiking destination with the Appalachian Trail running along the ridge just west of town. And, being only an hour and a half (if you’re lucky with traffic) from New York City, making a day of hiking and a visit to OK Guitars to play a bunch of 335’s was a common Saturday or Sunday endeavor. Sadly, that’s over. At least for now.

I spent this weekend taking down the guitars from the hangers and taking down the hangers for the guitars. Fortunately, I mark all the cases but somehow I still ended up with 12 extra cases. I boxed up all the tools and the strings and the capos and the picks. I unplugged all the amps and covered the ones that have covers. I took down the little Beatles display that was on your right as you walked in (’66 Hofner, 64 Country Gent, Ricky 325, Ringo drum head and photos). Frankly, it was kind of depressing-I worked hard to make my little train car into a place that was equally friendly to well heeled collectors and to AT through hikers who just wanted to play a guitar-any guitar- after three months on the trail (and occasionally three months away from a shower). It was my pleasure to swap stories about the one that got away even though I have heard that story 1000 times. And the best part was that you never knew who was going to walk in and what guitar was going to walk in with them.

Neil Young and Daryl Hannah stopped by out of the blue on a Wednesday afternoon last October. Steve Katz from Blood Sweat and Tears was the very first customer I had-even before I had officially opened. Former Yankee Bernie Williams came in and bought a 59 Bassman. Old friends I haven’t seen in 50 years from my home town of Scotia, NY came by and Michael J. Fox and his entire family were here last Thanksgiving. He wasn’t up to playing that day but seemed happy to just talk about guitars. And it wasn’t just the people that made it so interesting and so much fun, it was the guitars. Litchfield County, CT is a place full of old hippie types a lot of acoustics walked in the door. A couple of Brazilian D-28’s from the 60’s, lots of Ovations and Guilds and probably the best J45 I ever played. A 1917 Martin 00 and a near mint 1939 Gibson L-0. The former president of RCA Records came in one day carrying two guitars and a mandolin and told me he was moving to Arizona and he didn’t want to take these instruments with him. A mint late 60’s Strat, a mint ’64 Gibson J50 and an absolutely stunning 1913 one owner (his wife’s grandfather) Gibson F4 mandolin changed hands that day. This is what I will miss.

So, even without the current pandemic, it would have been the end of an era at OK Guitars but I simply would have found other space and continued as before although in a somewhat less charming and distinctive space. Now, I don’t know. If everything gets back to normal or close to it, then I’ll open another shop. Buying online is fine if it works for you but for those of you who want to come in and hang out and play and talk guitars, I’ll be back eventually and we’ll tell all the same old stories and play all those great old guitars. We’ll crank it up to eleven and drive the neighbors nuts just like old times. See you then.

Jazz great Bucky Pizzarelli came in a few Summers ago and went right for the ’52 Super 400. At age 90, he was playing chords I couldn’t even name (let alone play). He was a little disappointed that he only had 6 strings to play on (he’s usually a 7 string player). That’s me in the background trying to figure out how he does that.

Best Defense…

Thursday, March 12th, 2020

This is what the virus looks like. It’s too small to see so just assume it’s there lurking on the guitar box that just arrived or maybe on the neck, strings and fingerboard. Either leave it for a few days or disinfect it before you play it.

Corona virus is causing all kinds of trouble and it is really important for us to take it seriously. I have closed OK Guitars, my little guitar shop in Kent, CT for the month of March as a precaution. I may close it for the month of April as well if this doesn’t get demonstrably better. The likelihood is that it will get worse. The virus can, as has been reported, live for a very long time on hard surfaces and therein lies the biggest problem in a guitar shop. And what hard surface gets touched in guitar shop, you ask? Guitars. Fortunately, I closed my shop almost two weeks ago, before any cases were active in the state of Connecticut so I’m fairly certain that the guitars are virus free. The good news is that the virus doesn’t live forever on a hard surface and even if a guitar has been played by someone with the virus, it won’t live there forever. The CDC says three days is the likely lifespan (of the virus, not the host).

There are a couple of points to be made here. First of all, if you buy a guitar from me during this time, you can rest assured that it hasn’t been played by anyone for way more than three days. I re-string and set all my guitars up before they hit the showroom floor, so they are ready to be shipped without having to be touched again. The simple precaution of wearing rubber gloves when I pack the guitar will assure you further that the guitar is virus free. I could wipe them down with disinfectant wipes but I don’t think alcohol is particularly good for the finish. I will do so if the buyer requests it. I don’t have any control over how many folks touch the box during shipping but you can take precautions on your own when the guitar arrives. Wear rubber gloves (or any gloves if you don’t have any) or let it sit boxed for a few days or simply wash your hands after you open it (and wipe down the case since you touched it when you unpacked it). Sound like I’m being an alarmist? Go read about the flu epidemic of 1918-19. This virus is up to ten times more deadly, especially to folks my age. I had a guitar delivered yesterday. I unpacked it and looked it over and played a few chords and then washed my hands. Now it will have a three day quarantine before it goes up for sale. Necessary? With cases doubling every few days and test kits still not being distributed widely, I would say yes. Necessary.

Wait, didn’t you say there were a couple of points to be made? What’s the other one? The other one applies if you have been exposed or test positive and you aren’t feeling very sick. Stay home. Quarantine yourself. Play your guitar. Think about how much better you will play after two solid weeks of “woodshedding”. There isn’t much to do if you have to hang around the house for 14 days. The “honey-do” list is out the window since you’re confined to quarters (probably the spare bedroom). It’s you and your guitar and a big box of tissues. What better way is there to run out the clock on this thing?

Gone Viral

Friday, March 6th, 2020

If the economy tanks because of the economic impact of a viral pandemic, I believe that the best of the investment grade guitars will be just fine. This 58 is guaranteed not to harbor any viruses. As a precaution OK Guitars will be open by appointment only for the month of March. Call for an appointment.

If you are an investor, the past week has been discouraging. The stock market is down 15% or so and the threat of a pandemic is the engine driving this. An economy that is chugging ahead nicely, along with a stock market that seemed unsustainably high (and going unsustainably higher) is bound to react to global bad news-especially bad news that has long term consequences. Me? I’m just a guitar guy. I don’t know much about economics (making the previous statements totally suspect) nor do I know much about investing in stocks other than a personal history of investing in a totally safe stock that promptly tanks the moment I buy it. I learned long ago that the stock market doesn’t like me and I don’t particularly like it. But I know about “investment grade” guitars and that’s what we’re going to talk about here.

What does “investment grade” even mean? Isn’t any guitar that has a value that can go up “investment grade”? After all, that’s the point of investing. Buy low, sell high, right? That’s true but history shows us that some guitars are simply better investments than others. I’m not going to be your investment advisor. You’d be nuts to listen to me about any guitar that isn’t a 335, 345 or 355. So, that’s what we’ll talk about. In my year ender posts, I looked at the past year from an investment perspective. But it was a pretty general discussion…block necks, dot necks, blondes, mono 355’s and so on. But now, with your stock portfolio, which did so well over the last…what, ten or twelve years?, heading into losing territory, what does that do to the guitar market? I don’t know-if I did, I’d be rich and retired-but I have a pretty good idea.

Here’s my opinion from a guy who believes in the vintage guitar market and a guy who knows that you can’t play the blues on a stock certificate (although you can sing the blues over a stock certificate-especially recently). The stock market downturn has to do with worldwide economic concerns. The supply chain for new products largely flows through China. A pandemic will keep people from going to work and things won’t get made. The travel and tourism business drops to near zero in a pandemic. The entertainment business, including professional sports, suffers because folks won’t congregate in large numbers. You can trade your stock portfolio in your pajamas from your home office but that doesn’t help the companies whose stock you are buying and selling from tanking in the wake of a worldwide economic standstill. But vintage guitars don’t follow these economic realities. They simply are.

There is no supply chain to speak of except, perhaps, reproduction parts. There are no crowded public spaces required. You can, indeed, buy a vintage guitar in your pajamas. With an approval period, your risk is minimal. Your risk of getting an illness from a guitar is pretty slim. Does a significant economic downturn hurt the guitar market? It could, by diminishing the wealth of prospective buyers. But it doesn’t hurt the demand for the product. Truthfully, if I’m stuck at home because it’s too dangerous to go out in public or I’m self quarantining , I’m going to really happy having my guitars to keep me company and the thrill of getting a “new” one-if I can trust the Fedex man not to have a communicable virus-will likely be enhanced. If I have to wear gloves and a mask to unpack my purchase, I’m OK with that.

My general advice, from an investment standpoint, is to buy no issue guitars. Mint guitars are great investment pieces because the serious collectors will always want the best example available. Player grade guitars are not the place to go in an uncertain market. Buy them and enjoy them but they will not keep pace with what is still a vibrant and rising market. The values will likely hold up in the short term, but the liquidity (ease of selling) may not and that will drive the values down. If the global repercussions of a pandemic affect all aspects of the economy, including collectibles, then the best of the collectibles will likely become more desirable while the lower grade stuff will likely stagnate or back down. The reality is that the folks who can afford the best of the best will still be able to afford them after the potential pandemic has either fizzled (like SARS) or blown up (like Spanish Flu). It could take a few months or it could change our lives for years.

You can’t go wrong with a Fender narrow panel tweed. These will never die. I’ve heard they are loud enough to drive any virus out of your house.