GIBSON ES-335 ES-345 ES-355

That Little “2” on the Headstock

April 16th, 2018 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 3553 Comments »

The little “2” is lightly stamped into the headstock right in the middle of the “open book” shape at the top.

Back in 2012, I wrote a post about the “factory seconds” that turn up every once in a while identified by the little numeral “2” stamped on the back of the headstock. Since I wrote that post, I’ve learned a little more about how things were done at Gibson back in the Kalamazoo days. I had the good fortune, a while back, to speak with a gentleman who worked in the paint department there in the mid 60’s. In the course of our not very long discussion, I had the opportunity to ask a few questions and get a little bit of an education into how things worked back then.

I think that everyone assumes that the “2” means factory second but apparently it doesn’t-or at least it doesn’t only mean that. Like most companies who turn out a product for consumption by the general public, there is a quality control department whose job it is to make sure the product is up to a defined minimum acceptable standard. I don’t know if there were two QC people or 20 but it is clear that they didn’t have to work too terribly hard based on the relatively small number of guitars I’ve come across with that little “2” on them. I don’t keep close track of it but out of perhaps 600 ES guitars that have passed through me and my shop, I would guess that no more than 12 to perhaps 16 have had the “2”. That’s a little more than 1 out of 50. Well, if it doesn’t quite mean factory second, what does it mean? Well, according to the gentleman I spoke to, it means it went back to the paint booth a second time to fix a finish issue. That could mean covering a flaw in the wood by expanding the opaque area of the sunburst, it could mean buffing out or re-spraying a drip or flaw in the clear coat, or it could mean that the finish wasn’t up to standards and had to be completely redone. Unfortunately, they don’t include an explanation.

But wait, there’s more. Apparently, if an employee wanted to buy a Gibson guitar, he was able to do so at a discount but he (or she) was only allowed to buy one that had a flaw-a factory second. It was, according to my source, quite common for an employee to go to the paint guy and ask the paint guy to tell the QC guy that there was a problem and to stamp a particular guitar with a “2” so the employee could take it home at a discount. I’m told that a few dollars may have changed hands or maybe not. So, assuming this is true (and I have no reason to believe otherwise) we have some “2” designated guitars with no issues of any kind.  That might explain why you generally can’t find the flaw when you get one of these into your hands. In fact, out of the 12 or so I can recall, only 3 had obviously been redone. All three had very deep sunbursts with an unusually large  band of opaque brown/black in the burst. These are very distinctive and quite wonderful. They have a look similar to the old pre-war sunburst you see on some early J-45’s and LG’s and Nick Lucas’s.

In general, the “2” designation doesn’t affect the value much, if at all. A finish that was done twice at the factory is still a factory original finish. In fact Fenders that have a custom color over sunburst are quite desirable-at least enough that Fender is doing on purpose on their relic guitars. To further the point, I had a 59 with a very distinctive deep sunburst that had the “2” that was one of the top ten 335’s I’ve ever had. So, I don’t avoid the 335’s with the little “2” on the headstock. Mostly, I ignore it but sometimes, it gets me a very distinctive sunburst that will set the guitar apart from the hundreds of others made that year.

This “2” 335 is an early 59 and had a flaw in the grain on the top down below the tailpiece about an inch from the rim. A normal sunburst would not have covered it, so it went back to the paint booth for another go around. The flaw is still visible under black light but not with the naked eye.

Upside Down Guitars

April 5th, 2018 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 3556 Comments »

Mint 58 lefty that I authenticated a few years ago. A stunningly beautiful guitar. How did it play? Beats me, I couldn’t play it.

Recently I was asked by a reader if I had ever written a post about left handed ES guitars and I don’t recall if I have or not but it’s a good subject. There have been plenty of greats who were/are lefties. Some played right handed, some played a right handed guitar turned upside down (either strung lefty or righty) and some played left handed guitars. Jimi played a righty guitar strung lefty and turned upside down but Dick Dale learned to play with a righty guitar turned upside down and still strung righty so the high strings were on top. Albert King apparently played that way as well. Wanna feel like a total spaz? Pick up a left handed guitar and try to play. Strung either way, it’s incredibly difficult-more so for a crappy player like me, although a lefty strung as a lefty is a lot easier. Take your righty guitar and turn it over and try to play. Total spaz, right?

It’s not hard to source a left handed 335 these days but back in the day, they were only available by special order and they are incredibly rare. They also command a pretty serious premium. I don’t recall exactly how many 335’s, 345’s and 355’s were made from 58 to 69 but they number in the thousands. I figure I’ve owned around 600 or so since I started doing this and I’ve had no lefties. In fact I’ve seen less than a dozen. I know of a couple of ’58’s. Left handed dealer Alex Pavchinski sent me a mint 335 lefty a few years back to authenticate and I know he had at least one more ’58. I know of maybe five lefty 345’s from ’59 to ’64. I know of at least one red ’64 335.  Of the two known block neck blonde 335’s, one is a righty ’63 (which I owned) and the other is a lefty ’64 owned by a gentleman who lives 40 minutes from my shop. I wish we’d gotten a photo of the two of them together while I had the ’63. There was a ’68 on Ebay a while back but I can’t think of any others off hand. So, that’s ten I can recall. I’m sure there are lots more but I’d be surprised if they numbered as many as 100 during that period. In fact, if you told me there were less than 50, I wouldn’t be surprised.

ES-335’s have been relatively popular among lefty players over the years probably because they are symmetrical-you don’t give up any fret access when you flip over a righty 335. And they don’t look funny upside down like a Telecaster or Les Paul does. But if you’re a left handed player and you want a left handed vintage 335, 345 or 355, be prepared to pay a serious upcharge. “Find another” pricing is in effect here. You can ask whatever you want and leave it up to the buyer to decide if a 50% or 100% or 300% markup is appropriate. Typically, the prices seem to be in the 50% to 100% (double) range for pre 65’s. There’s a ’60 345 on the market now for $47,000. I sold a very early right handed ’60 345 last week for $16,500, so you can do the math. Fair? Ambitious? Outrageous? You’ll have to decide because supply and demand is a fickle law when both the supply and the demand are so low. The 68 on Ebay was around $8000, if I recall, which didn’t seem out of line. I have no idea if it sold or what it sold for but it was listed for quite a long time. I’m told the $47000 60 345 has been listed for over a year-I just noticed it recently but I don’t actively seek out lefty guitars.

I just checked Reverb-no vintage lefty ES’s. I checked Gbase-one ’85 335. I checked Ebay-none. Considering the number of right handed vintage ES’s on the market at any given time, the number of lefties is miniscule. I’m very happy to have been born right handed. Things would be pretty dull sitting around my shop being unable to play all the great guitars I get. I’d have to learn how to play upside down.

This 63 355 was brought to me a few years ago for authentication. It turned out to have been a converted righty. A new nut and a new top are all you need to turn a righty to a lefty. Or you could just turn it upside down.


Sleeper but not a Snooze

March 29th, 2018 • ES 3357 Comments »

Here’s a pair of gorgeous near mint 62’s. The red they used in 62 isn’t the one that fades to watermelon. If the guitar has been  kept out of the sun, the red is stunning. Leave it in the sun and it will go brown. PAFs all around. The nickel looks like chrome it’s so shiny.

Every year 335 seems to have its followers. Some (like me) love the 58 with its thin top and shallow neck angle. The 59 has the big neck aficionados (even though at least half the 59’s don’t have big necks). The 60 has that great medium neck for at least half the year and still has long magnet PAFs. The 61 is the bargain dot neck for those who can spend big but can’t spend huge. Late 63 and 64 have tons of followers due, in part to the Clapton connection and, in larger part, to that great neck profile. That leaves the 62 which sometimes gets treated like the red headed stepchild. Look it up.

I think the 62 simply gets lost in the shuffle. The neck is generally not chunky nor is it as thin as a 61. Sometimes it has PAFs and sometimes not. Or one of each. Mostly,  it’s a block neck but sometimes it’s a dot. No wonder it has something of an identity crisis. There’s a lot to like about a 62. First, the later PAFs seem to be remarkably consistent. There’s hardly a bad one to be had. While early PAFs can be magical or marginal, a late PAF is almost always excellent. Early patents are the same pickup with a different sticker. The build quality is a good as any other year and better than any year that followed. The neck profile is fairly consistent-usually around 82″-.83″ at the first fret and around .90″ at the 12th. That’s bigger than a 61 but smaller than a 64. But it’s a sweet spot for a lot of player-particularly the who have always played Fenders or those with relatively small hands. The baseball bat is not for everyone despite how it gets talked up on all the guitar forums.

What really strikes me about a 62 is that it costs about the same as a 63 or 64. Yes, PAFs and patents are the same through 64 but you really would rather have the PAFs wouldn’t you? I would. They are a big part of the vintage mystique. Don’t get me wrong, I love the 64 neck-I played one for years before I could afford a 58. But I keep getting 62’s and they keep impressing me. I think that maybe they got better mahogany during 62 than they got previously. 61’s are very prone to neck problems due certainly to the very thin neck profile but maybe, just maybe, the mahogany wasn’t so good either and Gibson decided that too many guitars were coming back with problems. I’ve had at least a half dozen 61’s with neck issues (I don’t buy a lot of 61’s for that reason). I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad neck on a 62.

The 335 was still a relatively low volume seller for Gibson in 1962. It wasn’t until 64 that the numbers started get to the point where the workers were playing catchup to the demand and quality sometimes suffered. In 61 they made 886 335’s. In 62 they made 876. By 65, that number doubled and by 67, it was up more than fourfold. Given that all the other models ramped up production during this “guitar boom”, it’s no surprise that quality began to diminish. That’s not to denigrate a 67 335-it’s still an excellent guitar but there are qc issues that occur with more frequency during these “boom” years than they did from 58-64. It’s not for nothing that these are called “the golden years” at Gibson.

One final point-I keep an informal “ten best” list of the 3×5’s I’ve owned. It changes a lot but for the past five years, there has been a 62 on that list.  It was a refinished dot neck 62 but still, a 62. The “average” 62 is a great guitar. I don’t know why it keeps surprising me that 62’s are so consistently good. Everything was going right for these guitars and Gibson had finally ironed out the few bugs that existed (shaved bridges (58), output jacks ripping out of thin top (58), deteriorating tuner tips (59/60), warping, twisting necks and truss rod issues (61). I think, as long as they remain well priced, the 62 will be a guitar that I seek out. I love 58’s and 59’s but sellers have gotten totally out of control with asking prices. Right now, 62’s are a sweet spot.

Here’s a 62 dot neck that’s been played hard and has taken on a bit of a brown cast. Not as pretty as the bright red but still a great player. And it’s a dot neck.

Getting Started in Vintage

March 20th, 2018 • Uncategorized16 Comments »

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.

Repro Parts

March 10th, 2018 • ES 335, ES 3454 Comments »

The Gibson Historic ABR-1 is pretty accurate but there are two ways to tell for absolute certain if its a real one or a repro. Can you spot the difference? One of these is a repro, the other is a 61.

One of the things I never entirely understood is why a lot of Les Paul guys put vintage parts on their reissue LP’s. You can’t convince me that it makes the guitar sound any better when you put a $1200 ’59 stop tail or an $800 bridge on your 2004 R9. You could convince me that a PAF might improve the tone but I’ve heard plenty of boutique pickups that are the equal of a typical PAF that cost 80% less. Of course, if you want your R9 to have a pair of real double whites, you’re going to spend more on the pickups than you did on the guitar. A real 59 harness with bumblebees? $1200 or more. Yikes. Before you get on my case for selling parts for stupid money, keep in mind that I don’t set the prices. If I’m lucky, I’ll find a broken 335 from the early 60’s and scavenge some parts that way. Also, did you ever notice that every time somebody has a vintage Gibson part to sell, it magically comes out of a 59? Every stop tail? 59. Every long magnet PAF? 59. Every no wire ABR-1 and single line Kluson? 59. When’s the last time you saw a listing for a 1960 stop tail? probably never. Not that it matters since a 60 and a 59 are the same. But you get the point.

OK, but how about the repro stuff? Most of it is pretty good and pretty accurate. The Gibson Historic parts are close to the real thing. There are ways to tell them apart and I often (really often) see repro parts being passed off as the real thing. That said, there are lots of repro parts that don’t try to be exact duplicates. The part in question has to do its job, has to look like the original (from a foot away, anyway) and it helps if it isn’t all shiny and new looking unless you have the skills to do convincing aging (which I don’t).

I’ll deal with metal parts in this post. The plastic parts have gotten really convincing as well and I see way too many of those too. The only bridge out there that will fool anybody is the Gibson Historic-the one that says “ABR-1” on the back and has that tooling mark next to it. You simply can’t tell them apart except that there are three separate “tells” that will tip you off. The saddles are the easy one-old saddles aren’t knife edged on the top and they have mill marks on the back side. But, it isn’t too hard to put vintage saddles on a repro bridge and it isn’t unusual at all to see modern saddles on a real vintage ABR-1. But take off one of the “E” saddles-high or low-it doesn’t matter. If there’s a round tooling mark under there, you’ve got a repro. Sorry. You can also look at the sharpness of the lettering on the underside but if you don’t have a real one for comparison, you’re not going to be able to tell. Use the tool mark under the  saddle. It’s 100% accurate.

Lightweight stop tails have become ridiculously expensive if you want the real thing. $1000 is actually a fair price these days. There simply aren’t very many out there. I saw one listed for $2000 on Ebay. Most of the repros are not very accurate but look pretty good and do their job perfectly well. The Gibson historic is shaped wrong-too square at the “ears”. The Creamtone is pretty good but the seam on the back is wrong. The real deal has a slightly hard edged hump on the top and that’s the first thing I check when I get a “new” vintage guitar. I eventually pull the tailpiece and check the seam but if its totally rounded on top, I know it’s wrong without any further action. The stop tail made by DMC, which has gotten tough to find,(usually sold by Crazy Parts in Germany) is really accurate as far as the hump and the seam goes. They were  pretty expensive but were the most accurate by a lot. The only element they got wrong are the little round tooling marks on the front side of the tailpiece. Real Gibsons from very early have the same tooling marks but most don’t. So, it’s accurate to a point but if I see those tooling marks, I can be pretty sure it’s a DMC. The best thing to do is to look for the “short seam” on the back. Most repro stop tails don’t have it. Then if it’s there, check for the hump and the tooling marks. If the hump is there and the tooling marks aren’t, you’ve probably got the real thing. Lucky you. It’s the most frequently found “wrong” part on guitars that I buy and it’s almost never disclosed. Not because folks are dishonest but mostly because they don’t know what to look for. Now you do.

That’s enough. We’ll look at other repro parts later this month.

A real lightweight stop tail will have a very distinctive seam on the back. Most call it a “short seam”. The bottom one has it and is a real 59. The top one is a repro-not sure of the brand.


Both of these stop tails have an accurate short seam. One is a real 61, the other is a DMC which is super accurate (and expensive) but has those little round tooling marks. Some real Gibson tailpieces have the tooling marks-usually really early ones-but not many. So, if you see these marks, don’t freak out but it could be a repro.



Takes a Knockin’ and Keeps on Rockin’

February 17th, 2018 • ES 34515 Comments »

Before: neck shaved and broken in two places, two big ol’ holes in the top, wrong pickups and electronics, wrong guard. But original finish and that’s why I bought it.

Every once in a while, I get an intriguing guitar offered to me that isn’t a one owner mint 62 or an ultra rare blonde 355 or an oh so desirable black 59 first rack 345. It’s a beater. Played to death and worth next to nothing unless someone comes to its rescue. I’ve had a few of these guitars and have put up the money to bring them back to the hands of appreciative players. It’s also very rewarding to bring a guitar back from the dead.

Taking a true beater (busted or twisted neck, holes in the body from added mini switches, all changed parts and any number of other indignities) and bringing it back to life is not an inexpensive proposition and, to be honest, generally won’t make sense with any 335 other than a dot neck or maybe a blonde 345 or a stop tail 355. Why not bring back a 64? Well, it’s a really expensive proposition and the finished reclamation guitar generally isn’t worth even half what a no issue one would be. So, if you don’t get the beater for really cheap, don’t waste your money. A luthier built new neck is going to cost you $3000-$4000 to get it done right using the original board, inlays and truss rod. Gibson will re-neck a guitar for you but they won’t use the original usable elements (and it’ll still cost you $3-$4K).  The good news is you can take a busted 61 that had a little teeny blade neck and put whatever size neck you want on it. I did that with a late 61 335 and also with a 60 335 and both came out great. But, say you get a beater 64 for $7000. By the time you’ve re-necked and put on correct hardware, you could be into it for $13,000.  I’ve bought no issue 64’s for that price, so it’s not good economics in that case. But, say you find a broken 61 for 9K with some original parts and you spend $4500 to resurrect it. Then you’ve got a dot neck with the neck you want for $13500. You won’t be able to sell it for much more but you could have a great guitar at a great price (considering a no issue 61 will cost you around $24K and have a neck you might not like).

So, meet my latest beater turned great player. I don’t suggest you go quite as nuts as I did on this one. This true beater 59 factory blonde ES-345 had nothing going for it except for an original finish nd a great top. The neck was shaved and then broken twice. The PAFs were gone. The bridge was original and studs were correct as were the tuners. It had two big fat holes in the front as well. So, it needed the two big holes filled and it needed a new neck. There are many good luthiers who can do the work but Gord Barry of 12th Fret in Toronto has done a few for me and he gets it. The CITES nightmare has made getting repairs done in Canada a real pain but we managed to get it done. Here’s what was done: New neck carved to my 59/64 spec-that’s around .86″ at the first and 1″ at the 12th. A little smaller than a 59. A little bigger at the first fret than a 64. He used the original headstock inlays, original fingerboard and the original truss rod. Only the mahogany was new. He filled the holes with cross grain maple dowels and did as little finish work as possible. New stock frets and new neck bindings which were thinned and rolled were done.

Hardware-wise, it’s getting double white PAF and a zebra, a new harness (335 not stereo 345) a no wire ABR-1 and a correct stop, original studs and tuners. The only repro part will be the guard until I can source a long guard with the holes in the right place (they vary a lot). What’s it worth when its done? Well the hardware, plastic and pickups alone are worth around $15K but it’s a bit over indulgent to put $10000 worth of pickups into a resurrected beater. But even with a set of double black long magnet PAFs, you’re looking at an original finish all correct blonde 59 ES-345 with a new neck and some filled holes. A no issue blonde 59 345 is a $55000 guitar. Is this worth half? I think so. I’d rather have this than a red or sunburst one that was refinished in blonde. The cool factor alone is off the charts on this one. It’ll be done in a day or two. It’s strung up now with no pickups and sounds great acoustically. I have very high hopes for this born again beater. UPDATE: It’s a monster and I’m keeping it for myself for now.

After: New neck using original fingerboard, headstock inlays, truss rod. A double white and a zebra PAF and some vintage plastic and it’s ready to rock. Converted to 335 spec. Tailpiece is a later 60’s one but I’m on the hunt for a worn short seam stop tail. Guard is a repro. Everything else is correct vintage. Killer player too.

Red Dot Necks and FONs

February 16th, 2018 • ES 3351 Comment »

Very early 60 red dot neck. Nice, right? It’s got all the 59 features including the transitional neck but the factory order number is a little odd. Factory Order Number? What’s a factory order number?

Red dot necks are not rare. They made 448 of them. OK, that’s rare when you compare it to Stratocasters and other Fenders but for 335’s it’s not that rare. 1958 red dot necks are super rare. There’s one or at least one that is known. 1959’s are stupid rare, there are perhaps 6 (I’ve had two). 1960’s are less rare with 21 shipped but 60’s have to be looked at a little differently because changes were afoot during 1960 and they didn’t all happen on January 1. In fact, none of them did. They mostly happened around mid year. We’ll get to those after I totally confuse you with the concept of Factory Order Numbers (which I keep a database of).

For those of you who aren’t complete geeks like I am, there is a number inside the body of a 58-61 ES-335 that isn’t the serial number. It goes on (supposedly), the day the assembly of the guitar begins. Assembly-not manufacture. The tops, necks and backs would have been made earlier than the FON indicates but when the folks at Gibson gathered the components together for a “rack” of guitars to be assembled, they stamped a number in there with a letter prefix to indicate what year they were built and what number the guitar is in the rack (usually 35 guitars, usually but not always of the same model). I’m only going to include 335 FON’s because the others make even less sense. The numbers are sequential-they start at 100 (although I’ve never seen one lower than 600) and they go to 9999 and then start over. “T” means 58, “S” means 59 and “R”means 60 and “Q” means 61 until they stopped using them at some point in 61.

So, pay attention. This gets kind of convoluted. At the end of the years, there is some weird overlap. Theoretically, say the last FON of 58 was T7303 (which is the latest I’ve seen). So, the first rack of 59 should have been S7304 (which it isn’t). I had a 335 with the FON S7303 which is odd since 7303 is a T rack. Maybe someone forgot to change the year like they did on some Fender amps in 66. To make matters worse, there is a rack designated S6525 which shouldn’t exist as an S rack unless they went all the way through 9999 and back to 6525 which they didn’t. Unfortunately, it gets worse, not better.

At the end of 59, the last 335 rack looks like S1765. It’s lower than the first S rack of the year because the numbers went through 9999 and started over in 59. But hold on, rack number 1762 is an R-the first R I’ve found. So is rack 1765 earlier or later than rack 1762? It should be earlier since the numbers are supposed to be sequential but it’s not an S (59) rack. Who cares, you ask? Well, me for one and here’s why. I recently bought one of those 21 red 335 dot necks from 1960 with all of the 59 features. Lucky me. I was ready to bet that it was a 59 FON and a 60 serial-it’s a very early 60 and I’ve had another 60 like this one with a fairly close serial number to this one with a much earlier 59 FON. 60 335’s with 59 FONs are essentially 59’s that got shipped in 60-that’s why I care. This one isn’t quite that even though the guitar is totally identical. As I mentioned, the changes didn’t start on January 1, 1960. I’ve had a few other 60 red dots with later 60 FONs well into 1960, all with at least some 60 features like double ring tuners, smaller neck, reflector knobs and at least one with a short guard in late 60.

So, I’m going to ignore the features and odd FON and call the guitar a 60 rather than what I usually designate as a 59/60. But make no mistake, if I put this guitar next to any 59 made after September or so, it’s identical. The last serial of 1959 is supposedly A32285. This 60 is A329xx. The last 60 red I had was A328xx and had a 3rd quarter 1959 FON. No wonder I’m confused.

Here’s a later 60 FON. The letter is the year T for 58, S for 59, R for 60 and Q for 61 and then they stop. The number that follows is a three or four digit number and that designated the “rack”-usually 35 guitars. The last number is the “rank” or the guitars number within the rack. Confused?

2017 Year Ender Part 2

January 24th, 2018 • ES 345, ES 3551 Comment »

This is a “first rack” ’59 ES-345-these are a little different than later ones and command a premium and sell for $20K or more if collector grade. Later ones with the black VT ring are up there too. Later 59’s with the gold ring are strong as well, in the high teens. 60’s are catching up too. Bigsbys are weak and can be a good deal right now.

This post will look back at 2017 with regard to ES-345’s and ES-355’s. 2017 started out with 345’s and stereo 355’s pretty much flat and pretty much not selling with the notable exception of 59’s. Owning a 59 of almost any model seems to continue to hold some voodoo cachet that no other year can quite match. Don’t get me wrong, 59’s are great but do they deserve the kind of reverence they seem to inspire? Maybe, but that’s a different post which I will get to.

At the beginning of the year, I swear, I couldn’t give away 345’s from 1960 on. I’d have been better off parting them out they had become so stagnant. I look back at my records for the year and I see the 59’s flew out the door at strong prices-hitting $20K (or more) for clean early 59’s and the high teens for later (transitional neck) 59’s. But the 60-64’s were just not going anywhere. I had a gorgeous red stop tail 60 with no issues other than a repro guard ($1000 part) for $13K and it took months to move. And Bigsby 345’s? Anything over maybe $11K was going nowhere and I simply stopped buying them. I don’t think I sold any in 2017. By year end, the stop tails had perked up and PAF 345’s are selling well again. Bigsby’s are still a tough sell but that makes them a relative bargain if you can find a seller who hasn’t dug in his heels. And therein lies the problem. Nobody wants to lose money on a vintage guitar so few owners are willing to sell at a loss. They simply sit there in standoff mode.

Stereo 355’s were no better than 345’s but monos were strong all year. Since 355’s, as a rule, always have a tremolo (Bigsby, sideways, Maestro), they can be a tough sell as well. Again, 59’s were the easy sell with prices pushing $20K for monos and stereos back in the mid to upper teens. Double white PAFs can tack on a few thousand. One 59 mono stop tail showed up this year and it sold at a serious premium (I only know of three) and a stop tail 60 sold recently as well from another dealer although I don’t know the price. In general mono 355’s sell very well and even those from 61-64 don’t hang around for long, although they  don’t show up very often either since they didn’t make that many. Again, mid teens for clean examples seems to be the norm right now. A 60 mono will be a few thousand higher. Stereo 355’s from 60 onward were pretty flat and seem to remain so. There aren’t ever that many on the market so a true assessment is difficult. I didn’t sell more than a few, mostly from 60. A footnote to 355 sales is that more of them have shipped overseas. With CITES regulations over rosewood getting tougher and more countries enforcing them, I’ve started shipping more ebony board 355’s to folks who want an ES but don’t want to deal with the paperwork (which, by the way, isn’t that complicated).

The OK crystal ball likes mono 355’s for 2018 and it also likes 59 and 60 ES-345’s. If you haven’t figured it out yet, late 59’s (gold Varitone ring) and early 60 345’s are virtually identical. The fat neck was largely gone by the early Fall and didn’t really get super thin until the late Spring of 60. So unless the 59 voodoo makes you woozy and opens your wallet, look for a fairly early 60. Any serial in the A33600 or lower range is bound to have the medium(ish) neck of a late 59. The blade thin neck is the rule after that right through most of 63. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to neck profiles, though. I’ve had fat 60’s and super thin 59’s.

There is nothing to stay away from. Vintage is still a good buy and ES-345’s and stereo 355’s can be real bargains. Do your research and don’t pay stupid prices. If you still aren’t sure, email me and ask. Even if it’s a guitar being sold by another dealer or individual. If I think it’s a good deal, I’ll tell you so. If it isn’t, I’ll tell you that to. It’s not always easy to tell everything from photos, so get an approval period of at least 24 hrs. 48 is better. And if you think I’m wrong, you don’t have to listen to me. It is, after all, your money.

This 59 mono stop tail ES-355 showed up in 2017 and sold to a rock star. But I don’t kiss and tell. 59 mono 355’s (Bigsby) ruled the 355 roost in 2017 and will continue to do so in 2018.

Year Ender 2017

January 16th, 2018 • ES 3358 Comments »

Red dot necks are one of my favorites. Rare but not impossibly so, unless you want a 59. This mid 60 went to a well known rock star in 2017

Contrary to popular belief, guitar dealers actually talk to one another once in a while. And, to have heard them talk last Summer and Fall,  you would have thought the bottom had fallen out of the market. There was all kinds of moaning and complaining going on. “Nothing is selling.” “Seller are asking stupid prices.” “The are too many Strats on the market…” and so on. I don’t generally speak to the broader market-I simply don’t sell enough of anything other than ES models to have any real street cred. OK, maybe big tweed amps but that’s a different market from guitars in so many ways.

First, what the heck gives me the credentials to analyze this market? Well, look at the market itself for ES models. I would say that the average big dealer might sell ten 58- 64 ES models a year and perhaps out of that one two or maybe three dot necks. The smaller dealers with 5o guitars or less in inventory, might sell half or a third as many. I sold 47 1958 to 1965 ES semi hollow guitars last year. Seventeen were dot necks. Right now, there are 29 1958-1964 ES-335s on the market. One third are mine. So, I know the market based not on research but on my own real world numbers.

Dot necks can’t really be looked at as a single category any more because the 58’s and 59’s have diverged in a big way from the 60’s and 61’s (and the handful of 62’s). You can lump early 60 335’s in with 59’s but these two markets have not acted the same at all. The 58 to early 60 market was strong all year with prices climbing through the first two quarters, stabilizing through the Summer and Fall and starting on up again in Q4. The problem is folks asking too much for them has stagnated much of the market. A sunburst 58 or 59 335 is not, in my opinion, currently a $45-$50000 guitar and yet four out of seven on the market right now are in that range. The other three? They are in the $32K-$39K range and all three belong to me. So, either they are wrong or I’m wrong. The difference is that my guitars are selling and theirs appear not to be. I think the current range for no issue 58 and 59 stop tail ES-335’s is $35,000-$45,000 depending on condition and other factors (double white PAFs adds a few thousand, figured tops add a few as well). More than $45K? Not yet unless its a blonde.

The later dot necks have not been nearly as strong. It’s still the big neck vs skinny neck thing. By mid 60, the necks were very slim-still wide-but slim from front to back. A 61 dot only occasionally reaches $20K. A super clean one might hit $23K and asking prices can be much higher but the sale prices are in block neck territory. I don’t sell that many 61’s because I don’t buy that many. That market is relatively stable right now. The sleeper in the dot market is the early 60. It is 100% identical to a late 59. Everything…the knobs-still bonnets, the neck profile-still medium “transitional”, the pickups-still long magnets, the tuners-still single ring, the caps-still bumblebees. All that changed by June but the early 60 averages $5000-$10,000 less than a late 59. But the “magical year” of 59 has some kind of voodoo cachet that commands the big dough.

Block necks are the interesting group this year because the dealers and most individual sellers somehow have gotten the impression that a clean block neck is a $25,000 guitar and an average one is a $20,000 guitar. For what it’s worth, I’ve sold at least a hundred blocks in the past five years and I’ve never, ever gotten more than $20K for one and that one was mint. Somebody else surely has gotten more-there are folks who don’t pay much attention to price when they really want something but that’s the exception, not the rule. But the market is trending upward and I have acknowledged that. I have a 62 PAF block for sale right now for over $20K. I hope I get it. Bigsby/Custom Made blocks have crept into the $15K range this year and exceptional examples even higher. That’s way up from last year. 64’s are the most popular due to the bigger neck but I think PAF 62’s are the one to watch. I find them consistently excellent and many have neck profiles that are what I would call medium rather than slim (.83″ at the first and .90″ at the twelfth). Some of those late dots are .79″ and .87″ which is really slim.

I’m running out of space, so I’ll cover 345’s and 355’s separately. There were some pretty striking changes over the year in these guitars.

Figured tops are not the norm on a 335 but every once in a while, one pops up. They command a premium for sure but not a ridiculous one. This 59 sold for well under $40K early in the year. I think figured dot necks are a great investment guitar.


Case in Point

January 10th, 2018 • Gibson General8 Comments »

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.