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I Learn Something New

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019

A guy walks into my shop with a guitar and would like an appraisal. It belonged to his late brother and, while it has sentimental value, he wonders whether it has vintage value. I open the case and it’s a thin body, single cutaway, double humbucker Gibson. The neck volute tells me 70’s but there is no label and no serial number-only the letters BGN on the headstock. Well, for those who don’t know, BGN stands for “bargain”. BGN guitars were, essentially, factory rejects-too substandard to be called a “second” and too good to toss in the trash bin. But that’s another post all by itself (which I think I already did). It looked like an ES-125 with hum buckers and parallelogram inlays. Or an ES-175 with a thin body.

I’m not an expert in 70’s Gibsons but, in general, the model names didn’t change all that much during the much maligned “Norlin” period (1969-1985). I don’t think I can remember a Gibson guitar coming in my shop that required my having to research the model. I thought ES-135? No, that came later and had stacked hum buckers that look like a P90. ES-137? No, that was later and had different inlays. It also had a very strange finish. Almost blonde but maybe more like a cherry sunburst that had been left in a shop window for year or two. It was, essentially, dark reddish blonde around the edges and blond everywhere else. I recall that Ibanez made a lawsuit thin body that looked like a 175 in the 70’s that had a finish that looked like that but this guitar had a Gibson neck and logo. Nobody is dumb enough to counterfeit a Gibson and put the BGN designation on the headstock. So, I conclude (yes, Dr. Watson, its definitely a Gibson, says so right here on the headstock) that it’s a Gibson.

To the Googler…I search ES-135 and 137 and they are, as I thought, later and a bit different. But wait, there’s a photo that looks right in with the 135’s and 137’s. If I was Homer Simpson, I’d smack my head and go d’oh. It’s an ES-175T. Never heard of it? Neither had I. The ES-175T is exactly how I described the guitar in the first paragraph…a thin body ES-175. How did I miss this? It was introduced in 1976 and sold poorly. According to the information available online, it was gone by 1980. Except it wasn’t. This one has pot codes from 1981 and pickups from November of 80. So, it’s likely an 81.

It is my opinion that the very bottom of Gibson/Norlin’s quality troubles occurred during this very period. Sales were down and the company had squandered 80 years of customer good will by making some pretty awful guitars and ruining some really good ones. In 1980 (I think), somebody decided it was time for Gibson to make decent guitars again and by 1981, they actually started doing so. Tim Shaw (yes, that Tim Shaw) was an engineer at Gibson at the time and was instrumental (no pun intended) in getting Gibson back on track. Again, that’s another post for later.

But back to the mystery guitar. It hadn’t been played in decades but seemed to have weathered its years in the case without major damage. The label was gone and I dunno about that finish. The truss rod needed some adjustment and the strings were 30 years old but those are easy fixes. The pickups are dated embossed t-tops which makes sense for the era and the bridge is a Nashville type-also makes sense. It isn’t pretty but it does play reasonably well and there’s nothing wrong with t-tops. So, I took the guitar as a consignment. Let’s see where it goes.

Life Changing Moment.

Sunday, February 10th, 2019

I was eleven. Eleven and a half, to be precise. The rule in my parents house was no TV in the living room, so the big old black and white Zenith was in the basement playroom (remember basement playrooms?). We didn’t get a color TV until a few years later and most of the programming was in black and white anyway. As I recall on February 9, 1964, there were four of us sitting in front of the TV to watch the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. My brothers Bob, Frank and Brian and me. My oldest brother, Ben, was a classical music snob and wanted no part of the “noise” made by these British interlopers (Oddly, he was a big Elvis fan 5 years earlier when he was 11). My parents were not interested although my father generally watched the Ed Sullivan Show and made a short appearance in the basement to offer his opinion. “You call that music?” and he stomped off up the stairs (he did a lot of stomping off). I was enthralled.

It’s easy to look back and try to analyze what goes through the mind of an eleven year old boy. While you would think eleven was a little young to want young girls screaming for you, I can assure you that at age eleven, I was well aware of the attraction of the opposite sex. We knew the music already. It had been on the radio since the Fall of 63 and the four brothers were already, to varying degrees, fans. I loved the music and, as most of you know, I still do. I can play 95% of the catalog with relative competence. I know every word to every song and can sing the harmonies to them. I can recite the American album songs in order from memory (and I can’t remember what I had for breakfast this morning). I remember sitting a foot from the screen, trying to read the brand name on the headstock of Lennon’s little guitar and it sure looked like Rickenbacker to me, although I’d never heard of the company but then that’s no surprise because at the age of eleven, I hadn’t taken up the guitar. Not yet, anyway. That’s where the life changing moment comes in.

I knew, at the moment the first notes of “All My Loving” left Paul’s lips, that I was going to be a guitar player. Not a bass player, not a drummer, maybe not even a rock star, but I was going to play guitar. It was, in part, the screaming young girls or to expand, the adulation from nearly all sides or, more simply, the sheer attraction of being noticed and appreciated. It’s worth noting that when you grow up as a middle child in a family of nine (yeah, nine) brothers, a little recognition and a small bit of praise goes a long way. There was precious little of that. Of course, I loved the music but the visceral desire to play that instrument was so much more than that. It was more like a calling and I planned to do something about it.

I was eleven. I had no income. My father didn’t believe in the “allowance” so saving money was next to impossible. The only money earning options were a paper route (I tried that and failed miserably-too early in the morning), raking leaves for my parents-they paid 10 cents an hour (seriously) and shoveling snow (it was February in upstate New York so there was plenty of that). I’d walk around the neighborhood with a snow shovel over my shoulder ringing doorbells. For a buck, you’d get your walk shoveled. That didn’t exactly pay off either, so I took the next most promising approach. I started bugging my father to buy me a guitar. And, to my surprise, he came home one day in March or April with a Kay flat top that cost him $15 at Woolworths (remember Woolworths?). “Learn how to play this and I’ll get you a better one…and you have to take the garbage cans out to the curb for the rest of your life.” Deal. By the way, a family of 9 kids generates a lot of garbage. I was on my way to something..stardom? adoring fans? a musical career? OK, none of the above but my life would have been very different without the guitar. Very different and not nearly as good.

So, it started with the words “Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you…” It ends the day I stop breathing. The guitar takes a back seat only to my wife, my son and his wife, my brothers and my dog. And it fits very nicely in the back seat, so I’m happy with that arrangement.

Christmas at OK Guitars (Again)

Tuesday, December 18th, 2018

OK Guitars (not at Christmas) but this is the place where it all happened

I was going to write a new Christmas poem this year (like I promised last year) but I re-read the one my wife and I wrote in 2015 and threw up…my hands and said, “I can’t do any better than this. I know my limitations”. So, for the third time (first time if you’re new to the site this year) here is “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas at OK Guitars”

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the pad

I was playing my Gibson- not great, but not bad.

I remembered a blues lick and played it with flair

Just like in the days when I had all my hair.

The block necks were hung not too tight or too loose,

As I waited for Santa inside my caboose.

I had them all tuned and I played every one.

The truss rods were perfect, the strings tightly strung.

All of a sudden on the roof of my shop,

I spied an old fat dude just reeking of pot.

He fell off the roof and into the snow.

I asked him right in. Why he came, I don’t know.

There was ice in his beard and mud on his boot,

And I thought only rock stars could wear such a suit.

He took down a red one, just like Eric C.

His fingers flew faster than old Alvin Lee.

It was wailing and screaming all over the town.

I could hear my Dad yelling, “Turn that damn thing down!”

Who knew this weird guy, such a flash with a pick

And a love of guitars, would be old Saint Nick?

I couldn’t believe all the sounds in my ear.

He said, “You get good working one day a year.”

Now Jimi, Now BB, Now John, George and Paul

Would bow to this master, the best of them all.

“You remember that Christmas back in ’63?

When you found a new six string left under your tree?

You started to doubt that I was the truth,

But my gift to you then was a link to your youth.

So for all of the years that would come in between,

Way deep down inside, you’d still feel like sixteen.”

He picked up some cases by Lifton and Stone,

Some old Kluson tuners and a worn out Fuzztone.

“Now, Charlie Gelber you must hear my pitch,

‘Cause this is my time and payback’s a bitch.

The 335 please, the red 59.

I gave you your first one, now this ax is mine”.

And quick as a flash it was stuffed in his sack,

And he waved a goodbye as he snuck out the back.

He jumped in his sled and sparked up a j,

Flew into the sky and was off on his way.

So if feeling sixteen is what sets you right,

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

 

By Charlie and Victoria Gelber

With apologies to Clement Clark Moore

The Space Between the Notes

Saturday, October 6th, 2018

D’Angelico Style A from the 30’s. Not just a great looker but a wonderful player. I didn’t want to put it down. It wasn’t particularly loud but for some reason every note took on a life of its own. It was quite an eye (and ear) opener.

I’ve been playing more acoustics lately and one of the characteristics of a good acoustic has become clear to me as I play more and more really good ones. Some guitars have what I can only describe as more separation between the notes. Even when playing chords, it is apparent that some guitars are better than others at keeping the notes coming out of the guitar distinct and separate. I use the term “articulate” to describe this. With an electric guitar (plugged in) it can also be a factor but many electric players, especially those who like some dirt in their tone, want just the opposite. Part of the beauty of distortion is the fact that it fills the space between the notes making you sound perhaps a little more proficient than you actually are. I know that when I was playing gigs as a teenager, I relied heavily on the ol’ Fuzztone to make my solos sound a bit more coherent. I also learned that practicing  said solos playing clean made me a better player. I’m sure many of you can relate.

Most electric guitars are not terribly articulate when plugged in. It may have more to do with your ears and your amp than the guitar. Some amps seems to enhance note separation and some do the opposite. The 5F6-A tweed Bassman is famous for bringing out the individual notes from any guitar and is, because of this, considered an amp that forces you to be a better player. It is not forgiving until you get really loud. For an electric, a 335 is a fairly articulate guitar. Unplugged it always seemed pretty good to me until this week when I played a guitar that was in another league entirely when its comes to note separation. It was a 1936 D’Angelico Style A. I’ve seen plenty of D’Angelico’s but I had never played one for more than a strum or two. My good friend, Bob, traded his 68 Johnny Smith for this particular guitar and brought it to me to go through it.

I don’t generally fall in love with a guitar. I don’t actually own any keepers. Anything I play, I have for sale in my shop. It’s a simple rule that keeps me from having 150 guitars in my rather small house. But this one could have broken the rule. What was so interesting and compelling was, of course, the great separation between the notes. While arch tops are not generally considered a finger pickers guitar, that’s how I usually play an acoustic and that’s how I played the D’Angelico. I do a lot of hammer on and pull off technique and a lot of grace notes when I play acoustic. Some of it always seems to get lost. My test song when I pick up an acoustic is usually “Anji” and it’s a great test of a guitars articulation. I’m not a particularly good player but somehow, I sounded really good on this guitar. The song is loaded with hammer ons and pull offs and every note just jumped out of the guitar. The double stops were clean and clear and the chords seemed more like three or more individual voices than a chord. Pretty cool.

I’m not going to start playing a D’Angelico and get rid of my 335’s. I’m an electric player most of the time and all that wonderful articulation isn’t necessary for most of what I play. I also generally play through a tweed Bassman or Bandmaster and both of them are pretty articulate, so I get some of it whether I like it or not. It’s a factor that I never paid that much attention to before but now I get it. I need to do a little more experimentation and research before I can figure out just what factors make this happen. It’s probably like figuring out what makes a Stradivarius sound like it does. They’ve been trying to figure that out for 300 years or so.

Fathers Day 2018

Sunday, June 17th, 2018

Me and my Dad circa 1958. No guitars yet but they were coming. Nice shirt.

I’ve been a guitar player since I was 11 years old and I probably don’t give my father enough credit for moving my guitar playing “career” along in the early days. My father was monumentally unmusical. Couldn’t carry a tune, couldn’t play an instrument but he appreciated music and listened to it frequently. There was always something playing on the “hi-fi” in the living room. It was usually either classical (Beethoven was a big favorite) or show tunes. My father loved “South Pacific” probably because it echoed his WWII experience on Christmas Island in the middle of  the, you guessed it, South Pacific. So, I got to have “There is Nothin’ Like a Dame” running through my head when I barely knew what a “dame” actually was. But rock and roll was not allowed on the big stereo in the living room. You want to hear “that awful music,” play it upstairs in your bedroom (on the crappy little portable 45 player). A 45, for anyone under 50, is a record that contained two songs, one on each side – yes, you had to physically flip over to play the “B” side. They were also called “singles” and they cost around a buck which was a lot of money to an 11 year old in 1964.

So, while he didn’t much like rock and roll, he was OK with me playing guitar. I had already taken violin lessons from grade 4 to grade 6, double bass after that and organ for a couple of years after my oldest brother, Ben,  convinced my father to buy an electric organ for the living room. So, taking up the guitar wasn’t met with a lot of resistance. In fact, the day after The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan in February ’64 was the day I started bugging my father to buy me a guitar. So, one day, probably in April or May (it took some fairly persistent bugging), he came home from work with a Kay flat top with no case. $15 at Woolworth’s. Again, under 50? Woolworth’s was a “five and dime”- the 50’s and 60’s equivalent of Walmart today. “Learn to play this and I’ll get you a better one…”

So, I found a guitar teacher in Schenectady. His name was Charlie Orsini and he, like my Dad, hated rock and roll. He was a jazz guy and was happy to teach me the stuff he liked but not the stuff I wanted to learn. Fortunately, I learned a lot of useful chords and a little theory but the pentatonic scale never came into the picture. The lessons lasted less than a year but I kept on playing. Dad eventually (in early ’65) took me to the notorious Hermies Music Store in Schenectady where retail was a vague, nebulous concept. Retail plus 10% was more like it. I tried out a ’65 Fender DuoSonic and Princeton amp and my father sprung for the $159. “I’ll set it up and send it to the house,” Hermie said. When it arrived, it wasn’t the same guitar I played. It was a left over ’64 (three way rather than slide switches). He tried to upsell my father with the Princeton Reverb but Dad was having none of it. “Twenty bucks for one extra knob? Are they nuts?” So, the non-reverb unit would have to do. Also the phrase, “turn that *$@$%!! thing down” entered the family lexicon.

Less than a year later, my little brother, Brian, two years younger, decided he would play the guitar and he would get the hand-me-down DuoSonic and I would get a new one. By this time, I was playing in a band pretty regularly, making pocket change -$25 for four of us was pretty standard for a 3 or 4 hour gig. We only knew about 20 songs, so repeats filled the last hour or so. I had learned that Hermies was jacking up the prices on Fenders and that a Stratocaster could be gotten in New York City for around $200 – Hermie wanted $410. New York was three hours away but Dad loaded me into the car and made the trip to Manny’s on 48th St. to buy my next guitar. I wanted either an Epiphone Crestwood (I still love those guitars) or a Stratocaster. Strangely, the only Crestwood they had was Inverness Green and I wasn’t about to play a green guitar. I wanted a sunburst. Even more oddly, there were no sunburst Strats available either. There was a white one (the DuoSonic was white and I was sick of it) and a Sonic Blue. A baby blue guitar? Are you kidding? So, I got my father to spring the extra $35 for a sunburst Fender Jaguar -fanciest guitar on the lot. I played the Jaguar for at least a year but by then Dad said he was done buying guitars. I did get him to spend $600 on a Vox Royal Guardsman amp before he gave up though.

Dad died in 2011 at the age of 95. He still didn’t like rock and roll but grudgingly accepted The Beatles into the living room somewhere along the way. He actually bought a full set of Beatles CDs when they first came out. I think he was a closet Beatles fan all along (except for the long hair but that’s a long story for another Fathers Day). So thanks Dad for helping me find a lifelong passion. It’s still working for me 55 years later. Not every Dad does that for his children and I appreciate having had a Dad that did.

That’s me playing a Gibson ES-330 in 1967 or so at a gig at the Ridgewood Swim Club in Glenville, NY. The Jaguar was gone by then. I owned the DuoSonic until 2004 though.

 

Happy Earth Day to You

Sunday, April 22nd, 2018

Guitar box central at OK Guitars. I reuse them and reuse them until they literally fall down. Then I recycle.

 

OK, what does Earth Day have to do with vintage guitars? Playing vintage is, after all, a recycling victory. But not totally. I have a few ideas and observations about recycling that have impacted me and I’d like you to be aware of them. I’ve always been something of an environmentalist-at least in thought and deed. I’ve never been an activist but I dutifully and regularly recycle just about everything. This is where you come in, vintage guitar folks. You can help.

I suppose there’s some comfort in the fact that everything in my inventory is used so that no trees are being cut to make the guitars I sell and no PCBs are being dumped into rivers to make semiconductors to manufacture the amps I sell. Small contribution, I know but there’s more. I ship about 60-70 guitars and amps a year. Each one requires packing material and a box (and usually some miles of driving either by me or the Fedex man). Packing materials are notoriously environmentally unfriendly but the safety of the guitars I sell is pretty important as well. Vintage cases don’t protect guitars very well. It would be ideal if everybody could agree to have their guitars shipped in a modern case by a shipper who is careful. Not gonna happen. So, we pack and we use horribly non biodegradable stuff to do it. But we can still minimize the impact by being sensible and creative.

Packing peanuts are horrible in nearly every way but they work really well and I sometimes use them for guitars but I never fill the box with them. I always leave enough room so the guitar can be pulled out of the box without a single piece hitting the floor. OK, maybe one or two escape. The idea is that you can get your guitar out of the box, dump the peanuts into a plastic bag and use them again. I never throw them away. And I never, ever use peanuts to pack an amp and if I ever get another amp packed in peanuts, it goes right back to the seller. The heavy amp crushes the peanuts into tiny pulverized styrofoam, static charged, clingy little bastards that get into every corner of the amp, every corner of my garage and stick to every article of clothing I wear when I unpack. Even the dog was covered with styrofoam bits when a tweed Bassman came from California packed in styrofoam peanuts, the worst kind. They get outside, they get into the river and the wildlife and they don’t go away. I know there are biodegradable peanuts out there and that’s a much better choice. So, if you’re going to use them for guitars (which don’t crush them into little pieces), use them more than once and try to use the biodegradable ones made from corn starch.

Much less annoying is the bubble wrap. It works great and doesn’t make nearly the mess that peanuts do. Use it more than once. I know it gets covered with packing tape and its a complete pain to remove all the tape but I do it all the time and I re-use bubble wrap until there are no bubbles left. I buy these huge rolls of what they call “kraft paper”. It does a great job of keeping the guitar from moving around the box and I use it over and over again. I probably have paper that’s been used 7 or 8 times. As long as your packing material fills the voids in the box, it will be effective at protecting the guitar.

And the box. Guitar boxes can be used as many as a dozen times before they become ineffective at their assigned duty. Recycle them when they no longer are stiff enough to protect the guitar and if the bottom becomes rounded. Huh? Yes, if the bottom becomes rounded and the box won’t stand on end, it’s time to retire it. A box with a guitar in it that easily tips over is, essentially, the same as dropping the guitar (in its case) from 4 feet in the air, flat on its back or face. This is an excellent way to break the headstock off or at least crack it. I’ve been pretty lucky with getting my guitars to clients in one piece. Only one busted guitar out of hundreds-and it was pretty minor. I’ve been less lucky with guitars shipped to me by others-5 broken guitars-again, out of hundreds.

So, let’s see if we can find a happy place where we re-use packing materials in a environmentally conscious way and still protect our instruments. Our environment is a lot more important than a bunch of old guitars. Our current EPA is a joke (or worse) and, truthfully, we, not the government, are the stewards of Earth.  So, do your part and be nice to our planet. Just don’t ship me an amp in packing peanuts. I mean it.

And here’s packing material central at OK Guitars. Everything gets used until it no longer functions in its capacity to minimize damage. Then it gets recycled.

Getting Started in Vintage

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018

Not a 335 but a Guild Starfire V from the late 60’s. I don’t generally buy these but I should.

I really like vintage guitars but you already knew that. I’m aware that this blog can look pretty elitist-I’m talking about guitars that cost $10,000 to over $100,000 and I don’t talk much about the really affordable stuff that has all the vintage vibe of a 59 335 and none of the sticker shock. In fact, it goes beyond the “vibe” and into playability and tone. There are guitars that are extremely well made and can be incredible players. These guitars are generally not on the serious collectors radar but should be on the serious player/collector’s radar, especially if you’re young and still making your way in whatever career you’ve chosen for yourself. And I’m not just talking to millennials. I’m talking to old guys like me who really love old guitars but don’t want or don’t have the means to drop $10K or more on a guitar. I have one word for you. Guild.

When I was a teenager in the mid 60’s, Guilds were part of what we might call “the big four” of electric guitars. Lots of kids played Hagstroms, Teiscos, Kays and Harmonys but those of us who had a gigging band (or rich parents) played Fenders, Gibsons, Gretsches and Guilds. There were other good, though less common, American electrics-Rickenbackers, Mosrites (I played a 64 in the early 70’s),  Epiphones (I played a 61 Wilshire in the late 60’s) and maybe Standels (I owned one in 68) but they were outliers due to rarity and perhaps cost (Mosrites were really expensive). We know the virtues of Fenders and Gibsons and the good stuff is pricey. Gretsches can be hit and miss (in my opinion) although I’ve had a couple of really great early 60’s 6120’s, they were not cheap. But Guilds are consistently good and consistently cheap. And why is that? It’s not that rock stars of the era didn’t play them. Jerry Garcia (and Bob Weir) played them, Jack Casady played a Guild bass, Zal Yanovsky of the Lovin’ Spoonful played a Guild Thunderbird which is a very cool guitar. Muddy Waters had one too.  Lennon had Guild 12 but he didn’t play it much, apparently. So, that can’t be it. To further that point, George played a Gretsch Gent and they aren’t terribly expensive either, so I don’t think the rock star thing holds much water.

So, I don’t really know why Guilds are so cheap. But cheap they are. The Starfire line which is somewhat derivative of Gibsons ES line can be really excellent, although sometimes heavy. The single cuts with DeArmond pickups, which are pretty great single coils, started in 61 and the double cuts with hum buckers followed a few years later. I’ve seen plenty of 60’s double cut Starfire IV’s, V’s and VI’s  for $2000-$3000. These were about the same price as 335, 345 and 355’s back in the 60’s and were considered good alternatives. I think Gibson made the better pickup but the playability is pretty close especially for mid to later 60’s which often have a wider nut than their Gibson counterparts. The early single cuts with DeArmonds cost even less.

Then there are the Guild hollow bodies from the fifties and into the 60’s. These are wonderful players and as beautiful as any big Gibson jazz box. Many had pickups made by a company called Franz and they are quite wonderful. Think of it as a P90 with manners. The nastiness of P90’s is legendary but the Franz has a sweeter tone when backed off and plenty of snarl when you cut them loose. I really like the three pickup Guilds (X-375,  with the pushbuttons which are simply selectors- not a Varitone). I like the more conventional two pickup X-175 and the CE-100 as well. And cheap? You can score a clean one for a couple of grand. When’s the last time you saw an L5 CES for that?

So, if you want to get into vintage for the love of playing and owning old stuff, Guild is a great way to start. I don’t think they are going to appreciate much any time soon but maybe they will if folks start buying them. Not because they are great investments but because they are great guitars. Now back to our regularly scheduled (elitist) programming.

I actually own this one. It’s a 60 X-350-I think they called it a Stratford. It’s full hollow and every bit as pretty as anything Gibson made. Those are Franz pickups.

Christmas at OK Guitars, Redux

Friday, December 22nd, 2017

No visions of sugarplums dancing in this head. Just waiting for Old St. Nick at OK Guitars.

I never re-run posts and I was going to write another Christmas post and try to be clever and make you all smile. Just for laughs, I pulled up the poem my wife and I wrote while on vacation in Mexico back in 2015. Well, no trip to Mexico this year and maybe I’m less creative in the cold and the snow, so I’m not going to write another Christmas post because this one says what needs to be said (and my very creative wife helped me-or maybe I helped her). So, here’s my first ever re-run. I promise, I’ll write a new Christmas poem next year.

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the pad

I was playing my Gibson- not great, but not bad.

I remembered a blues lick and played it with flair

Just like in the days when I had all my hair.

The block necks were hung not too tight or too loose,

As I waited for Santa inside my caboose.

I had them all tuned and I played every one.

The truss rods were perfect, the strings tightly strung.

All of a sudden on the roof of my shop,

I spied an old fat dude just reeking of pot.

He fell off the roof and into the snow.

I asked him right in. Why he came, I don’t know.

There was ice in his beard and mud on his boot,

And I thought only rock stars could wear such a suit.

He took down a red one, just like Eric C.

His fingers flew faster than old Alvin Lee.

It was wailing and screaming all over the town.

I could hear my Dad yelling, “Turn that damn thing down!”

Who knew this weird guy, such a flash with a pick

And a love of guitars, would be old Saint Nick?

I couldn’t believe all the sounds in my ear.

He said, “You get good working one day a year.”

Now Jimi, Now BB, Now John, George and Paul

Would bow to this master, the best of them all.

“You remember that Christmas back in ’63?

When you found a new six string left under your tree?

You started to doubt that I was the truth,

But my gift to you then was a link to your youth.

So for all of the years that would come in between,

Way deep down inside, you’d still feel like sixteen.”

He picked up some cases by Lifton and Stone,

Some old Kluson tuners and a worn out Fuzztone.

“Now, Charlie Gelber you must hear my pitch,

‘Cause this is my time and payback’s a bitch.

The 335 please, the red 59.

I gave you your first one, now this ax is mine”.

And quick as a flash it was stuffed in his sack,

And he waved a goodbye as he snuck out the back.

He jumped in his sled and sparked up a j,

Flew into the sky and was off on his way.

So if feeling sixteen is what sets you right,

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

 

By Charlie and Victoria Gelber

With apologies to Clement Clark Moore

In case you can’t decide what to get yourself this Christmas, here’s the “A” rack at OK Guitars. Why is it called the “A” rack? Because all guitars whose serial numbers start with “A” a hung here (and a few that don’t)

The Least Popular ES Model

Thursday, December 14th, 2017

Gibson basses never exactly set the world on fire. Here’s an EB, couple of EB-2’s and an EB-0 courtesy of Tom H. who runs the es-335.net site.

While the 335 is not the most popular guitar in the history of the Gibson line, it has been in production the longest. They’ve been in production since they were first introduced in 1958. 1958 saw the introduction of another innovative model that hasn’t exactly set the world on fire. Call it the 335 bass if you like. It is the never popular Gibson EB-2. EB stands for electric bass in case you’re wondering. Perhaps it would have done better if they had called it a 335 bass. In any case, it was not a rousing success.

It is, in most ways, a 335 bass. Like the 58 335, it had an unbound fingerboard, a full length center block, the same body and finish options but it had some differences as well. It had a single pickup mounted at the neck and, in 58, it was a single coil. There was a volume control and a tone control. The tuners were Kluson banjo style with plastic buttons. It was a pretty basic instrument but then, so was the leader of the pack- Fender Precision.

Like most Gibsons, changes were made along the way and, while they largely improved the model, it still wasn’t exactly selling very well. In fairness, Fender had a virtual lock on the bass market all through the 60’s and with only slight competition from Rickenbacker, into the 70’s. Hofner sold a lot of basses in the 60’s but not so much among the pro players. That was McCartney’s trademark bass and few others played them on stage. Alembic made big inroads in the late 70’s and was popular into the 80’s. Gibson was still largely absent. Quick, name one bass player who played a Gibson bass? OK, Jack Bruce played an EB-3 and Chas Chandler (Animals) played an EB-2 (and an Epiphone Rivoli which was nearly identical). I can’t think of any others off the top of my head. In 59, they changed the pickup to a humbucker, known by it’s nickname, The Mudbucker, for obvious reasons. They added a notch filter that they called a “Baritone Switch” which cut some of the low end from that huge pickup. And then it was gone. By mid 1961 or so, Gibson had enough and discontinued the EB-2.

But fast forward to 1964 and it was back just in time for the “guitar boom” caused by the Beatles and others in the mid 60’s. The 64 had the pointy cutaways like a 335 and the banjo tuners were gone, replaced by the usual elephant ear tuners that you see on Fender basses. Unlike the 335, the dot markers stayed.  A chrome pickup cover replaced the black plastic one and you could get an EB-2 in red but no longer in blonde. Still no binding on the neck but a string mute was added. By 66, a second pickup was optional (EB-2D) with a second volume and tone and a three way switch. The “Baritone” switch remained. By 66, in my opinion, it was a pretty good bass. The second pickup made up for the narrow tonal possibilities of the Mud bucker and, with the popularity of the 335 by the mid 60’s, I would have expected it to have been more successful. That’s not to say to was a flop. It wasn’t. In 1959, they sold 263 EB-2s. By 67, the number was 2746. That’s a ten fold increase. The 335 between 59 and 67 saw a similar increase, so you really can’t call it a flop unless you consider Fenders numbers which don’t appear to exist but I’m willing to bet they were at least 10 times the number of Gibson basses sold.

If you’re in the market for a vintage bass, you probably aren’t looking at Gibsons but maybe you should. I find the EB-2 easy to play (30.5″ scale as opposed to Fender’s 34″ scale which I can’t play at all with my small hands). If you can tame that pickup with an amp that has some good headroom, you can get some great tone out of it or look for the two pickup version. EB-2s  are not terribly expensive with prices topping out at around $8000 for a blonde 59. EB-2D’s from the mid to late 60’s can be found in the $1500-$2500 range and are readily available. You can get a 58-60 EB-2 for under $5000 although many have had their tuners changed from the banjo tuners to elephant ears.

Bum bum, bum-bum-bum-bum-bum…remember the opening notes to “We Gotta Get Outta This Place” by the Animals? That’s Chas Chandler playing an EB-2.

Thanksgiving 2017

Thursday, November 23rd, 2017

I’m thankful for my dog, Zoubi who doesn’t really appreciate my playing that much.

As usual, I have plenty to be thankful for this year. There’s the usual things-my wonderful wife (who takes very good care of me), my son who has not “borrowed” a guitar from me for years now and his fiancee and my dog (Zoubi) and my eight brothers who have always been there for me and my health (OK, I’ve got back surgery coming up but after that, I should be lifting Twin Reverbs again). Then there’s the other stuff.

I am very fortunate to have the business that I have. I worked for 45 years in the film and TV business and, while I was a very well regarded editor and sometime director, I sometimes struggled to keep it fun and engaging. Some of my clients were, predictably, difficult and some were incredibly cheap. Because editing was the last step in the production process, I simply didn’t get paid sometimes. The producers simply ran out of money and didn’t bother telling me. Happily, that doesn’t happen in this business. I’ve been a guitar dealer full time for 6 years now and I have had very few bad days. This is my retirement but it doesn’t feel like it. It’s a lot of work but I love every day of it. Gotta be thankful for that.

My clients (and readers) are the nicest, most knowledgable and most appreciative people in the world. I have many here in the USA and all over the world. I just checked–I’ve sold guitars in 21 different countries and I have readers in every country in the world except for seven countries in Africa (c’mon Somalia, get with it). I’ve sold guitars in every state and every Canadian province. Player, collector, beginner, hack (like me)…it doesn’t matter. The love of guitars makes us all the same. The common ground brought to us through these instruments is priceless. Whether you spend $300,000 on a 59 Les Paul or $900 for an old ’61 Epiphone Olympic, the anticipation and the joy when you open that box that shows up at your door after way too long in transit is the same. Gotta be thankful for that. Even after many hundreds of “new” guitars, it’s still like Christmas morning every time one shows up at my house or my shop.

Please feel free to continue to email me to ask questions about 335’s and the like. I’ll try to help with other guitars but there are plenty of other dealers who know more than I do. Also, feel free to email me about a 335, 345 or 355 that you are considering buying and I’ll do my best to make sure you don’t make a mistake. Of course, it’s hard to know everything from a photo but I’ll make sure you know what questions to ask. There are no inside secrets here. If I know something, you know it too. And if I disparage your 1979 ES-345 and you love yours, please don’t take it to heart. There are good ones and there are not so good ones. Your guitar only needs to speak to one person. You. Gotta be thankful for that, too.

The “A” rack at OK Guitars today. It changes a lot and often. I’m thankful for the A rack.