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Anatomy of a Beater

June 28th, 2021 • Uncategorized3 Comments »

Here’s my beater example. Overspray on the neck and front of the body, finish damage by the guard, screw holes from a “custom” guard and lots of wear. It’s a 62 or early 63.

Ya know what you don’t see that often? Beater 335’s. You see tons of beater Strats and even beater LP Juniors and beater SG’s. Let’s back up a little. What makes a beater a beater? Changed parts? Refinish? Busted neck? Bad condition? All of the above? And what’s a beater really worth? The sum of its parts? Or do we put a premium on a guitar that’s been played to within an inch or two of its life?

Most of you know that I deal mostly in collector grade stuff. That makes me something less than an expert in the world of beaters. I simply don’t see very many but I’ve seen enough to know one when I see one. The old saw about the good ones getting played is half a myth. The good ones do get played but the one’s that don’t get played aren’t necessarily bad. They just didn’t get played much or, more importantly, they were taken care of. Consider this…When I was a kid in the mid 60’s, a brand new Stratocaster cost $200 at Manny’s in New York. A brand new 335 was close to twice that. On the used market at that time, a Strat was maybe $150. Still a lot of money for a 16 year old but you could come up with that with a paper route or doing odd jobs on the weekend for a few months. Maybe a little help from Mom. But $400 for a 335? Not likely and if you were lucky enough to be able to afford one, you took care of it.

That might explain why there are fewer 335 beaters than Strats but what does a 335 beater look like and is it worth the price of admission in this somewhat inflated market? Heavy player wear is a big part of what makes a beater. And changed parts for sure, especially parts that don’t belong on a 335 like an extra pickup (Alvin Lee) or a string tree. How about stickers (Elvin Bishop and Alvin Lee)? For sure. “Custom” touches like non factory guards and oddball knobs are part of the beater mystique as well. A neck repair is almost mandatory for a 335 beater and maybe some overspray and touchup. Mix in three or four re-frets and you’re there.

Valuation is the tough one. Conventional wisdom says take off 40% for a neck repair. But it also says take off 40% for a refinish. What happens if it has both? Do you knock off 80%? I think not. If you use percentages to figure values, you end up with the parts being worth way more than the complete guitar. A pair of intact PAFs on a beater is close to $6000 worth of parts. A short seam stop tail is $1800 or more. My opinion? If it plays well and it sounds good (and the repair is stable), then there is a kind of base value that is the sum of the parts value and a set value for the husk (depending on the year). A 59 husk is worth a lot more than a 68 husk. I’ve sold more than a few husks in various states of disrepair and $4000-$5000 for a 58-64 with a repair, extra holes and some finish issues seems to be the average. Less for later ones.

A beater is a great way to stick your toe into the vintage market. You can always add back the parts that are missing over time or get good repro parts. If you’re in the used guitar market because you play and you don’t care about investment value, then a beater can make sense for you. The most important element of all? Do you like the way it plays and is it stable? A stable neck repair is often as strong (or stronger) than the wood. Finish issues don’t generally affect playability or tone. Repro parts generally don’t affect them either. You need a straight neck, good frets, a good nut, good bridge, pickups/harness and tuners that hold tune. If any of those elements are missing, you can easily source them. That takes us to only the straight neck, good frets and a good nut. The nut is pretty easy. Frets are for your luthier (and not cheap). The condition of the neck is the one place you can’t compromise. Back bow? Walk away. Excessive front bow? Walk away. Any kind of twist? Walk away. A functional truss rod, minimal relief and good frets? There’s your new best friend that won’t bankrupt you.

Finally, what about the guitar in the photo? It has lots of player wear. The serial number is sanded off and the neck has been oversprayed as has the front of the guitar. I don’t see a break anywhere, although I thought at first there was one. The really strange mod is a wooden pickguard (I still have it) that added a four screw holes to the top and it reacted badly with the finish (probably from whatever the wood guard was finished with). Tailpiece is a wrap tail but that’s fairly common in 62 as they used up the parts. The bridge and tuners are repro. The case is later. It needs a nut and probably frets. The nut was all wrong (too low) and I changed it for a vintage nut off of a 59 355. With better frets, I think it will be a good player. It sounds good already given the original pickups that somehow escaped being replaced. With PAF 62’s pushing $30K, a beater might save you close to $20K and you won’t have to worry about it getting stolen at your next gig.

Lots of holes back here from other tuners. There is some kind of headstock work but no evidence of a crack. The serial number was removed probably when sanding off the finish for respraying. Serial is still on the label so I don’t think it was stolen.

Mine’s Bigger than Yours

May 31st, 2021 • Uncategorized2 Comments »
An early 59 on the bottom and a fairly late 59 on top. It’s hard to see a .06″ difference but you can sure feel it. Most players can feel a difference of .03″ or even less. That’s 3 hundredths of an inch. That’s the usual difference between a 62 and a 64. The difference between an early 59 and a typical 60 is three times that.

I’m talking about guitar necks, of course. Neck profiles have always been variable and everyone has their preference. When I was a kid back in the 60’s, the word was “fast”. A slim neck profile (both width and depth) was touted by manufacturers as “fast”. All of us rockers wanted to play fast (thanks Alvin Lee) and anything that made us faster (or seemed to do so) was coveted. Gibson necks, way back in the 50’s, were deep and wide. The standard nut width was around 1.65-1.68″ which is approximately 1 11/16″. The depth at the first fret was anywhere from .85 to .95. Fender, at the same time was much slimmer. The nut was generally 1.62″ or 1 5/8″. Neck depths really were all over the place. In the early 50’s they were as deep a any Gibson but by 59, they were moving to as slim as .79″. The buying experience, back then was simple. You go to a music store (it was rare for a music store to sell both Fender and Gibson) and you try out a few guitars and you buy the one that is comfortable…the one you could play best. Tone wasn’t a huge factor like it is now. If the three way got you three different tones on a two pickup, then you were good. Sustain? Nobody even knew the term. Nobody measured he neck. If it felt right, then it was the one.

By the early 60’s, Fender was eating Gibson’s lunch. Their “faster” necks were what everyone wanted. In ’60, Gibson first saw the writing on the wall and slimmed down the depth to as small as .77″ (the “blade” neck) by the end of the year but the nut width remained the same. The result was largely that Gibsons started having breakage and other neck issues so they slowly beefed them back up until ’65. Early 50’s Fender necks were large but by 58, they had slimmed considerably. Fender necks kept that slim profile, with some variation, throughout the 60’s. There are some pretty big 63’s and some pretty big 66-69’s but, in general, they stayed under .82″ and mostly kept the 1 5/8″ nut width. I would note that Fender had optional narrower and wider necks designated by A, B, C and D. I’ve never seen a D neck. The 1 5/8″ B neck was stock. In 65, Gibson made a radical change. The nut width was lowered to 1 5/8″ to equal Fender and soon after was dropped to 1 9/16″ (1.56″). It’s no coincidence that Gibson 335 prices in the vintage market drop like a stone from 64 to 65. Few players want a nut that narrow these days.

So, that’s the history in a very small nutshell. The trends through the 70’s (narrow nut and medium depth) and 80’s (wider and often flat) are interesting as well. The one constant is that the neck profiles were always changing. The vintage market that I deal in covers mostly 1958 to 1964 and encompasses nearly every neck profile you could want. It should come as no surprise that the fat necks of the 58’s and 59’s are the most sought after. The big 64’s are right up there as well. The shallower depth 60-63’s (early) are considered excellent guitars but their popularity has been a fraction of the earlier ones and the prices reflect that. As 58’s and 59’s get more expensive, players are considering the later ones and their popularity and prices have risen. And a funny thing happened in the process. Players started to appreciate the slimmer necks. Faster? Definitely for some players. More comfortable? I have to say yes if you’re an older player with arthritis coming on (which includes me). I play a 59 but I’ve come to understand the attraction of the 62-63 profiles. The blade neck is still a bit slim for me and the narrow nut of the 65-69’s is still a struggle for my short stubby fingers. But the trend has become clear. Fat is no longer where it’s at.

That’s a little bit of an overstatement but the days when folks bragged about the size of the neck on their guitar have all but ended. There are still plenty of folks who prefer that baseball bat but it’s not the big deal it once was. It never made that much sense anyway. Gibson went way overboard with it in 76 (Explorer) and again in the 2000’s with the 335 “fat neck”. Both, to me, are nearly unplayable. Neither lasted that long and Gibson, wisely, has slimmed down the shoulders (a whole other measurement worth a post of its own) on most of the high end electric guitars making them more true to the originals and, more importantly, more playable for more players. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time before folks start bragging about how slim theirs is.

The 66 Epiphone Riviera on the left measures 1 and 9/16″ at the nut while the 64 335 on the right is 1 and 11/16. That’s a 1/8″ difference. Seems like a little? It’s not. It’s a huge difference in feel and playability for many.

Rarest Production 355

May 7th, 2021 • Uncategorized8 Comments »
This is one of the ten ES-355’s built and shipped in 1958. The red is unusual (for a 355). The tuners are different from all the others and, like the other 58’s it has some distinctive “58 only” features. It’s also a killer player with a huge neck profile.

Gibson appeared to have a hit with the new ES-335 guitar introduced in April of 1958. They only sold a few hundred of them in 1958 but it was apparently enough for them to expand the line and take advantage of the positive PR they were getting from the 335. So, they developed the ES-355 to be introduced in 1959. But ten of them left Kalamazoo in late 1958 and instantly doubled the number of models in the line. The 345 was, I’m sure, already in the pipeline but the stereo/Varitone feature wasn’t ready yet. All of the 1958 ES-355’s are mono as are all of the early 59’s. But the 58 355 is an interesting story in itself.

Gibson changes features all the time and they don’t do it in a structured way. They make changes when they think they are necessary or desirable. There are no “model years” wherein all changes are made late in the year for introduction as the next year’s model. So, a late 58 ES-355 should be the same as an early 59. But the 58’s are different from nearly all of the 59’s I’ve seen. Now, I’ve only seen four of the ten 58 ES-355’s including the one touted as the first since it has the earliest serial number. The build order is more accurately reflected by the FON (factory order number). So, what features distinguish a 58 from a 59?

As I mentioned, I’ve only seen four of the ten and three of those are very similar. The fourth is a bit of an outlier and that’s the one in the photo above. I’ll get to that in a minute. 58 ES-355’s are all mono, all, I believe, red, all have gold bonnet knobs and all originally had a low profile ABR-1 (most of which collapsed). Like a 58 ES-335, the 355’s have a thin 3 ply top and a very shallow neck angle. All have Bigsby’s and none were factory drilled for stop tail bushings unlike many of the 58 ES-335’s. A 58 355 that I owned a few years ago was drilled for a stop tail but I believe it was done aftermarket. 58 ES-355’s tend to fade due to the use of a dye that is reactive to UV light. 58’s tend to go toward orange while 59’s go more pink (watermelon). I don’t know if they changed the formulation of the dye in 59. They did change it in late 60 to minimize the fading.

So, what’s the story on the one in the photo at the top? It’s different in a few ways. First off, it’s still red. It has faded a bit but it’s a different fade and a different red. I noticed that where the finish is chipped, there is bare wood. That’s not normal. Gibson’s see through red is generally done by dying the wood red and finishing in clear lacquer. So, when you look at a chip or buckle rash, the wood under the lacquer is red or pinkish. Not this one. This one was finished in a tinted lacquer. I thought, “ok, refinish…” but there is no sign anywhere that it was ever sanded or oversprayed. Red Gibsons are nearly impossible to strip because the dye sinks into the wood. Chemical strippers won’t get rid of it and sanding is always obvious on a 3×5 (that’s another topic altogether). I have seen this red finish on other Gibsons-I had a L5/Gobel with it and I’ve seen at least one Byrdland with it. It is almost wine red. But wait, there’s more.

All of the other early ES-355’s I’ve seen have Grover tuners. Later they switched to Kluson wafflebacks but that wasn’t until 63. This 58 has wafflebacks but they are not the metal button ones you see on later 355’s, they are the plastic tipped ones you see on early Les Paul Customs from the 50’s. There is no sign of any other tuner having been installed. So, why the unusual finish and the oddball tuners? I doubt it’s a custom order this early in a run of a new model. I don’t think Gibson even announced the existence of the 355 until 1959, although the employees would certainly know about it. It certainly wasn’t in the catalog in 58. Two more oddities as long as we’re looking closely. The headstock has a three ply binding whereas 355’s usually have a 5 ply headstock binding. Early rosewood J-200’s had the same binding on the headstock. Also, the factory order number is hand written in red pencil. I’ve never seen that before and I don’t know why that was done. My guess? This is a prototype or employee guitar and it was singled out from its rack for special treatment. The Byrdland below (for sale by my friends at Southside Guitars in Brooklyn) looks like the same red.

This is a 60 Byrdland and probably a custom order. The red looks to be identical to the red in the 58 ES-355 at the top of this post. This guitar is at Southside Guitars in Brooklyn, NY

Bubble, Bubble…

April 26th, 2021 • Uncategorized4 Comments »

A no issue 62-64 stop tail block neck was a $20,000 guitar not long ago. They surpassed $25,000 late last year and kept going. The best ones are surpassing $30K. This mint PAF 62 is priced at $35K (by me). It is the cleanest one I’ve ever had but I have to admit, the market is in the stratosphere.

In general, I don’t call out folks who price their guitars way out of what might be called a “reasonable” range. I’d be doing that day in and day out if I did. For as long as I’ve been a vintage dealer, there have been sellers who ask outrageous, off the wall prices for their guitars. And not just high end vintage guitars. I’ll concentrate on vintage ES guitars because that’s the market I know best. Bubbles are dangerous. They burst eventually and people who have bought during said bubble and the market itself are impacted. Prices go up as demand goes up and there is plenty of demand right now, so incremental increases make sense. The market steadily rose out of the ashes of 2008 and prices, while higher in early 2020, were still following that slow, steady path upward. Then the pandemic happened and folks started buying a lot more guitars. Why that occurred is open to interpretation (I’m not a psychologist). But I sell guitars and I sold a lot more in 2020 than I usually do. After some moderate but still reasonable price rise, the market went nuts.

I have to make a very important distinction here. Asking prices and selling prices are often very far apart. I know what I can get for any vintage 335/345/355 built between 1958 and 1965. Beyond that, I’ll defer to others. When I see a 1964 ES-335 (a very nice red one) listed by a reputable dealer for $47,500, it sets off some alarms. I sold perhaps a half dozen 64’s in the past 12 months. High price was $29,000 for a near mint red stop tail. I think the lack of inventory has kicked them up a bit from there. You have to think that if collector grade 1962-1964 block necks are approaching $30,000, then where does that put a clean 1959 ES-335? The 59 is the benchmark 335. As 59’s go, so goes the 335 market. Interestingly 59’s have been relatively flat for 6 or 7 years. The good ones sell in the low $40’s, the players in the mid to high 30’s and the mint or near mint ones might touch $45K. So, where are they now? Well, I can’t answer that because there aren’t any on the market. But if a block is pushing $30K (up around 25% from 2019), then a 59 dot neck should be over $50K and they probably would be if there were any out there to buy.

So, if we consider the current situation a bubble, what happens next? The bubble bursts. The problem is nobody can predict when. Not me. Not you. Here’s the scenario that seems more likely than most to me. The market is currently very thin. There aren’t a lot of good ES guitars out there for sale and those that are are priced (including the ones I have) are priced higher than they’ve been since the crash in ’08. Unfortunately, I’m paying record prices and that means you’ll have to pay them as well. I think that older long time collectors may see this as a selling opportunity and start putting guitars that have been out of circulation for years if not decades on the market-at record prices of course. I hear “my kids aren’t interested in old guitars” from collectors all the time. And also, the famous joke “My biggest fear is that after I die, my wife will sell my guitars for the price I told her I paid for them…” Do you wait for the market to calm down or do you anticipate higher prices? Do you “thin the herd” now or hold out? If the big collectors (who are not youngsters, in many cases) start selling their gems, the supply increases while the demand doesn’t. Prices drop back. No crash just a flattening out and perhaps a modest drop. But, again, when does this happen? I have no idea. I’ve been wrong plenty of times before, so take what I say with the knowledge that I am not an economist nor am I clairevoyant. Use your judgement. Do your homework. Buy what you love. That way, if you spend a little too much and the market drops, you’ll still have a guitar you want to keep.

Early ES-345’s have perhaps benefitted most from the most recent run up. Prices were running way behind same year 335’s for years and years. They still aren’t anywhere near catching the more desirable 335’s but they have tacked on a good 20% since the start of the pandemic. Early 59’s have reached $30K, if you can find one. 60 and 61’s are up over $20K and some sellers are pushing the asks up over $30K. Again, asking prices and selling prices can be very different.

Worth 1000 Pictures

April 5th, 2021 • Gibson General10 Comments »

Can you see the Schaller holes in this photo? OK, now you can because I mentioned it but if this was simply one of 20 or 30 photos and no mention was made of the filled holes, would you have seen them? Maybe. Maybe not.

“Didn’t you see the Schaller holes in the photo? It was clear as day…” Call me old school or maybe just old but I believe that the buyer deserves an accurate description of what he is buying. The customer may not always be right but the customer always has rights and that right is being stepped all over by an awful lot of sellers. Is it that folks have simply forgotten how to write? I don’t know, with texting and tweeting more prevalent than talking, I would have expected the art of writing to have had something of a resurgence. Nope. So, what’s the problem?

I bought a guitar recently and before I committed to it, I received more than thirty high res photographs but no detailed description of what the issues might have been. The dealer (yes, it was a dealer) shall remain nameless-it’s irrelevant-I have a good relationship with the dealer and I’m simply using what happened as a cautionary tale. So, don’t ask. It turns out the photos showed the guitar in a very good light. But they didn’t show me all the issues. The best example is a small repaired hole by the end of the neck where it appears a second pick guard had once lived. The seller knew it was there but in the photo, unless you already knew it was there, you would may not have seen it. And why would that be? Mostly because I wasn’t expecting it. The seller could have written in the description…”there’s a properly filled holed from a second pickguard…” Simple. Fair. Reasonable. That alone would not have kept me from buying the guitar-especially since it wasn’t very noticeable. But it was other stuff as well.

I have a real personal bug up my ass about reproduction parts not being disclosed. In a world where a correct short seam stop tailpiece can cost you close to $2000, I’m not real happy when I spend top dollar on a guitar only to get it and find out the tailpiece is a repro. It’s usually a good repro but still a repro. When I brought it up, the seller said…”the tailpiece was clearly in the photos…” Yes, it was but nobody can tell a good repro from a real one without seeing the bottom. The repros have gotten very accurate but not so good that I can’t tell if I have it in front of me. It’s even worse when I make a deal and get into my car and drive 150 miles to pick a guitar up and find out, when I get there, that the tailpiece was replaced. Generally, I get back in my car and drive home without the guitar. It’s partially a matter of scale. I get plenty of guitars with the wrong (repro again) switch tip. Catalin switch tips are pretty easy to fake and a lot of the real ones get scavenged, usually by Les Paul owners who want to upgrade their R9 with real 50’s parts. But a catalin switch tip is a $200 part, not a $2000 part.

So, here’s what I’d like to see happen…When you are selling your guitar, write a description and mention every possible issue that a buyer might find upon inspection. If I hear …”it was in the photos…” again as an excuse for not disclosing an issue, I will simply return the guitar. By all means, put good clear photos in your ad-there’s nothing like a good photo to describe the condition but take 5 minutes and do a write up. It’s not going to take any more time than the last tweet you sent out about your dog.

Quick. Is that a legit stop tail or a repro? I can’t tell and neither can you. If I saw the under side of it, I’d probably be pretty sure it was real. Better still, write a description and tell me if it’s real or not. Don’t know? Then say you don’t know and we’ll deal with it.

Gone, Baby. Gone

March 14th, 2021 • ES 3358 Comments »

Where have all the 59 ES-335’s gone? There’s at least one in every major collection in the world. It is considered one of the five most collectible guitars ever made. Too bad there were only 592 built. Take away the broken ones and the ones with extra holes for coil taps and phase switches and god knows what other atrocities and there are probably a lot less than you think.

The major guitar makers of the “Golden Era” made a whole lot of guitars. Let’s take a broad view of that era and call it from 1950 until 1964 for electrics. There were plenty of really good guitars made before that and after that but the really desirable collector electrics fall into this Era starting with the Broadcaster in 1950 and ending with CBS’s purchase of Fender in January of 1965. We all love the guitars that fall into this era, especially those from Fender and Gibson. In fact every collector-serious or armchair-wants a Fender or Gibson from this era. They can’t all afford one but most will give up a lot to get one. It makes sense then that eventually most of them will end up in collections and not trade on the open market in significant numbers. That eventuality is here right now for some of them.

Fender made tens of thousands of Stratocasters from 54 until 64. Add in another few thousand Telecasters and Esquires and Jazzmasters and it looks like it will take a while for them to be bought up by collectors. Many of them aren’t “collector” grade anyway and those players tend to make up a good part of the vintage market turnover. Players (who aren’t collectors) buy and sell a lot more often than collectors (and players who are collectors). During that same era, Gibson also made thousands of guitars but they didn’t make anywhere near as many as Fender. I like to make the comparison between Stratocasters and 335’s since they are “must have” models for most collectors. Fender doesn’t release their shipping numbers but I believe that for every 335 shipped, there must have been at least 10 Strats hitting the market. You can argue that. But it is simple logic that there will be fewer 335’s on the market than Strats. Nobody will argue that. Let’s look closer.

My point about diminishing inventory for collectors is made crystal clear by the stunning lack of 1959 ES-335’s available for purchase today. There is one currently listed and it’s priced way over market value. It’s an interesting test of the market though. A 59 is, by miles, the most desirable 335 there is. How many were made, you ask? They made 592 (including blondes). If I choose a desirable year for Strats (say, 57), I would speculate that they must have shipped a few thousand of them. Therein lies the current dilemma.

Where are all the 59 335’s? They are in collections and they won’t be for sale until their owners decide to cash their babies out or they die and their families figure out what to do with all those guitars. I’ll go out on a limb and say that most collectors who are slimming down their collection will keep a 335, a Strat, a Les Paul, a Telecaster and a good acoustic. If I’m keeping a 335, it’ll be a 59. So even with diminishing collections, the 59’s are very likely to stay in the herd. I’m sure there will be a few hitting the market with the current price rise but the days when there were ten or more to choose from at any time might be over. If supply and demand means anything at all in the vintage market, you can expect 59’s to get even more pricey. The last three 59’s I’ve sold never even made it to market and I still have a waiting list that you can’t count on two hands for 59’s.

So, I will do two things. One, I will ask any of my readers who have a 59 335 that are considering selling (or simply don’t play much) to get in touch with me and I’ll find you top dollar for it. Two, I’ll buy it outright for more than you paid for it. I’m not going to speculate where the 59 335 market will end up. $50K has been out of reach since 2008 but, for a clean 59, it isn’t any more, IMO. I hate to give in to a bubble that may or may not be sustainable but without inventory, there are no sales.

What happens next, assuming the 59 supply is temporarily dried up? 58’s and early 60’s start to move up. Late 58’s are already up and early 60’s are as well. A 58 isn’t a 59 and a 60 isn’t a 59 either but they are wonderful guitars and simply may have to take the place of a 59 on your wish list. It’s not a bad thing. The good news is there are more than 500 60’s and 300 58’s. And while all three years together barely equal a couple of months worth of Strats in terms of production, you can take some comfort in the knowledge that there are even more 61-64’s to consider when the 58’s and 60’s are gone.

Blonde 59’s are already well into 6 figures but if you want one today, you are out of luck. I haven’t seen a stop tail 59 blonde on the market in over a year. the last two I’ve seen were mine.

What’s Wrong with this Picture?

March 4th, 2021 • ES 33512 Comments »

This guitar was offered to me as part of a fairly large collection. I made an offer to the seller but was outbid by another dealer. This “59” was part of the deal and I had serious reservations about it from the get go.

So, what’s the difference between a fake and a reproduction 59 dot neck? Mostly, it’s a matter of how you approach it as a seller. When a talented luthier like Ken McKay makes a 335, he puts his own name on the headstock even if it is more like a real vintage 335 than anything Gibson has come up with at this point. Don’t get me wrong, Gibson makes some really good 335’s but they still haven’t nailed the 59. I could go into detail but that’s another post. There are plenty of Asian made “copies” but they are generally laughably easy to spot. This one is a different animal altogether. When a 335 that isn’t made by Gibson is marketed as a real one, then it’s a fake. If a legitimate repro Gibson 335 is marketed as a vintage 335, it’s also a fake. I’m not completely certain what the guitar pictured is but I was sure it wasn’t a real 59. There’s a lot that looks right but there’s also a lot wrong.

Well, these don’t look right, do they. The stickers aren’t too bad but they don’t black light and that’s a pretty much foolproof test. Oh, where are the “L” tooling marks on the feet? The bowed out edges of the covers don’t look so hot either.

The construction is pretty accurate but the ears are a bit narrow. That’s what Gibson’s early attempts at reissue Mickey Mouse ears looked like as well, so the body could actually be made by Gibson. But they went to some length to try to fool the buyer. The orange label looked pretty good but the font was wrong. The neck tenon and routs looked real good. They even stamped a FON number into the body. Nice touch. Wrong font again. And, you wouldn’t know this, but the FON was non existent-there were many numbers that were never used. The placement of the stoptail is a little high but mostly, the controls are where they should be. There is some variation in the real ones so that’s not always a great tell. One of the biggest errors that the builder made was the in the neck. The heel on a real 59 (and also 60-68) is very small and rather flat across the top. This one was just wrong. The headstock inlays were also wrong. The mahogany itself didn’t look quite right either-the grain was too open and it didn’t look to be sawn the same way. Oh, and another huge clue? A 59 ES-335 is always between 1.5″ and 1.65″ deep. Later, the bodies got deeper reaching 1.75″ by 1964. Most of the modern reissues are around that number as well, at least the ones I’ve seen. This was 1.76″ so even if they had absolutely nailed everything else, it would have been clear to me that this wasn’t a real 59. A tenth of an inch isn’t easy to eyeball from a photo but your digital calipers won’t lie.

The heel was too tall and too rounded across the top. The work is competent.

Where it really went off the rails was the parts. Fake PAFs. The labels looked pretty good but they didn’t black light. No tooling marks on the feet either. And the nickel covers were those “raw” nickel ones that really don’t look like the real thing. But, they went to some length to make it look real. The tuners were repro Klusons but they actually aged a second set of repro Klusons and shrunk and broke the buttons and put them in the case along with a set of used flatwounds and a vintage Gibson string box and some old song chord charts. Nice touch and a big effort but, really, how dumb do we look? The scammer added a few relatively valuable vintage parts on it though. I guess a modicum of legitimacy fools some of the people some of the time. It was housed in a super clean brown Gibson case-a real one from the 50’s. The amber switch tip and knobs were the real thing too. As were the pickup surrounds. Wait, it gets better…These criminals actually went to the trouble to source an old harness (wrong year but it was a 62 and fairly valuable) and drop it in. But it had fake bumblebees (and bumblebees were gone by 62 anyway). The bridge and tailpiece were Gibson repro’s aged poorly. So, someone spent a couple thousand on parts and the case but probably made a huge profit selling this as a real 59.

The “crown” inlay is too thin and spindly but the logo isn’t too bad at all. Those are the shrunken Klusons that ended up in the case as “the originals”

The dealer that bought the collection saw the problems and asked the seller to take this guitar back. The seller asked if I would go through it and catalog what was wrong and what was right which I agreed to do. I don’t know what he paid but he did mention that it was a great player and had excellent tone. I played it and it was certainly as good as many modern 335’s. I made an offer for the value of the real parts and ended up buying the whole thing. I took the real parts and the good repros and put them away for when I get a guitar that needs them or another project That leaves me with some questionable pickups and the husk. I can’t sell it as anything but an unknown fake but, overall, it’s a pretty decent (and unscrupulous) attempt designed to fool anyone who simply has never laid eyes on the real thing.

Vintage Reissues

February 8th, 2021 • Uncategorized23 Comments »

This very cool black ES-335 is 37 years old. It is what they called a “dot reissue” and the ones from 81-85 are a great deal and quite good. Black ones are pretty rare but not terrible expensive. I’d be likely to call it vintage.

Is that an oxymoron? Time rolls along and we keep getting older but something has kept the guitar community from acknowledging the aging process. Post a question on social media about what makes an old guitar a vintage guitar and you’ll get twenty different answers. Twenty years old? Thirty years old? Anything before the 80’s but not including the 70’s? Only high end makers? Is a Teisco from the 60’s vintage or just an old guitar? Or maybe a Hagstrom? Or a Harmony? A great vintage wine can be from last year. I believe the guitar community has conflated the word vintage with the word classic and maybe the term iconic. A 2007 ES-335 is not considered vintage. The 335 design is considered classic but a 2007 simply isn’t old enough to be considered vintage. A 335 is iconic as well. And 2007 was a very good year for 335’s out of Nashville but nobody is going to consider it vintage, at least not yet. That circles us back around to how old does a guitar have to be to be vintage?

On the 335 front, I can make a pretty good argument that an 81-85 “dot reissue” should be considered vintage at this point. The newest of those are now 35 years old and if we’re using age as a caveat, it seems like 35 years is old enough to be considered vintage. No one will argue that a reissue 68 gold top is vintage and I think a 76 Explorer would be considered vintage as well. Are we going in circles yet? I find most Gibsons from the 70’s to be average at best and I feel the same way about Fenders from that decade. They are old for sure but are they vintage. Depends on how you define vintage. Technically, vintage means the year something is made-a vintage 1960 bottle of wine simply means it was made from grapes harvested in 1960, right? It’s still called vintage even if 60 was a terrible year. Please don’t ask, I know nothing about wine. So, again technically, a 1960 Harmony is vintage (made in) 1960. But the guitar community has given vintage another meaning. It means something fine, the way you would refer to a particularly desirable year for wine. A vintage 59 bordeaux is considered a great year but 2018 is considered a better year (I looked it up).

So, where does that leave us? It leaves us confused is what it does. My opinion? Vintage has come to mean old and fine and desirable, at least to the guitar world. Is a 60’s Teisco vintage? I guess that depends on how you feel about Teiscos. They can be kind of fun but fine guitars? I think not. Harmony? Maybe. I don’t particularly like Gretsches but I have to consider a 60 6120 vintage. I like Mosrites and I would consider a 60’s Ventures model vintage but not a 70’s. Is a 76 ES-335 vintage? They aren’t particularly fine, nor desirable but they are old. A same year Explorer is much more desirable and I would consider that vintage. It’s a quagmire, I tell you. Maybe it’s just easier to pick an age and say, “OK, anything older than 35 years old is vintage.” If it’s a piece of crap, then it’s a vintage piece of crap.

I’m not sure why anyone actually needs four pickups but this 60’s Teisco is considered vintage (and collectible) by plenty of guitar aficionados. And, it’s Lake Placid Blue (or maybe Pelham Blue). I think it’s fun and interesting. It’s also cheap and it’s old but vintage? I dunno. Your call.

Bubble, Puppies, Part 2

January 17th, 2021 • ES 345, ES 3552 Comments »

Bubble Puppy. 1969.

Nice outfits.

I can’t believe nobody gets the reference. I’ve had emails asking me what I mean by the title and the first line of the last post. Here’s the explanation, although I’m a little annoyed that I have to explain it…The guitar market is close to being in a bubble. That’s the bubble part. Most of you who read this blog are younger than I am, so I can certainly refer to most of you as “puppies”. OK, that was easy. But wait. There’s more. There was a band out of Texas-a one hit wonder, really, called Bubble Puppy in the late 60’s. Their one hit (and hence the opening line of my last post) was called “Hot Smoke and Sasafrass” (sp) a line they lifted from the 60’s sitcom, The Beverly Hillbillies¬†where Granny said, “Hot smoke and sassafras, Jethro, can’t you do anything right?” You could have simply googled it, ya know. OK, more stuff to talk about.

Nothing like a red ES-345. The 59’s are crazy rare (9 known) but a 60 is pretty common. Find an early 60 and it will have the guaranteed to fade “watermelon” red finish. But look out, 345’s are up. Way up. Make offers and don’t overpay.

ES-345’s have been, for as long as I’ve been a vintage dealer, the best deal in vintage Gibsons. You could get a 345 for half the price of a similar year 335 and it is every bit as good. Don’t like the stereo and the Varitone? Easy fix for around $400. The ceiling on a stop tail 59 ES-345 had been hovering around $20,000 for years. When folks became more aware of the early “first rack” 345’s, the $20K barrier broke and only the hundred or so first racks broke into the low $20K range. Red 59’s are crazy rare and don’t count here. A stop tail 60 345 was in the mid to high teens and a 61-64 hovered around $14K. Bigsby’s were 15-20% less. As block necks started creeping up, the 345’s followed. I’m seeing Bigsby 345’s over $20K. I’m seeing 60’s and 61’s pushing $30K. That’s nearly double what they were just a couple of years ago. I’m looking at asking prices since I don’t know what everybody else is actually selling them for. I’ve considered 345’s underpriced for many years and I’m happy they are getting some respect but I think they’ve overshot the mark. If I have to pay inflated prices, then you will have to as well. It is my hope that there won’t be the standoff between stubborn sellers and savvy buyers that can really hurt the market. I believe that if you’re spending $20K on a 345, it had better not have a Bigsby (or the “snakebite). Seriously, if a 62 335 is trying to be a $25,000 guitar, then a 62 345 isn’t likely to be a $20,000 guitar. There is a Bigsby 62 listed for $20K. There is a red 60 (with a snakebite) listed for $27500. Makes that 59 stop tail listed at $26K look like a deal. Blonde 345’s are so rare, it’s impossible to track them. They only made 50 of them and you can expect them to be in the $50K-$90K range if you can find one.

Finally, let’s take a look at ES-355’s. Monos have entered the bubble for sure. Last year, I sold a few mono 59’s and 60’s in the mid to upper $20K range. Until recently, mono 355’s have been undervalued but not any more. Now, if you can find any, expect to pay $30K or more. I haven’t seen many collector grade monos for a while. A lot of 355’s have a sideways trem and that keeps the prices a bit lower than a same year Bigsby. Stereo 355’s can still be found at fairly reasonable prices. I sold a stereo 62 for under $15K in 2020 and I see them holding in the mid to upper teens. I don’t like a Maestro on an ES guitar very much but you can still find a 64 Maestro equipped 355 for under $15K. That’s starting to look like a deal. And don’t overlook 65’s. A lot of them have the big neck like a 64. I even had a 66 last year with a wide nut. Unusual but not unheard of. Find yourself a big neck 65 for under $10K (they’re out there) and you’ve bought a great guitar for half what a similarly configured 335 might cost you. If you can manage the slim neck, a later 60’s 355 can be a great deal-you aren’t likely to get t-tops until 69. The 66 I had last year had one purple winding patent and one orange wound patent. Forget about blonde 355’s. I know of less than 10.

Mono 355’s are still one of my favorite guitars but they have gotten rather pricey and it’s no surprise. They didn’t make all that many (no more than a few hundred a year). Stereo 355’s can still be a relative bargain, especially those with a sideways trem (good candidate to convert to stop tail-no holes in the top).

Bubble, Puppies.

January 12th, 2021 • ES 335, Uncategorized3 Comments »
2020 was the year of the block neck. After at least 4 or 5 flat years, folks decided that maybe a dot neck wasn’t the be-all, end-all 335. I would look for a 62 with PAFs but the big 64 neck is a crowd pleaser as well.

Hot smoke and sassafras, it’s 2021 and not a moment too soon. What happens right out of the blocks? Never mind. Let’s do the 335 year ender. 2020 was strange all around. I expected the market to flatten out or even take a big hit but no. Everybody decided to buy a guitar and the asking prices went up. And then they went up some more. But those are asking prices and folks can ask anything they want for any guitar they want. Still, prices for many 335’s are up and some folks are calling it a bubble but I’m not so sure.

The big story is the block necks. Early in 2020, a clean collector grade 62-64 ES-335 was a $20,000-$23,000 guitar. A player stop tail was in the high teens. Now, I’m seeing asking prices creep into the mid $30K range. That’s a crazy big jump but I’m pretty sure nobody is getting that much. I sold a lot of block necks this year and none of them hit $25K. The way I see it, if I can’t get more than $25K for a 62 ES-335, then neither can you without some crazy luck. But make no mistake, block necks are most definitely up after a few years of being flat. That’s a good thing mostly. The problem is the standoff that occurs when individual sellers start seeing big asks from others and figure that must be what they’re worth and they start asking high prices as well. That makes it hard for dealers like me to source good examples at a reasonable wholesale price. If I have to pay big bucks, the you have to pay bigger bucks. Sorry, that’s just business.

What makes it even more difficult is he fact that folks seem to feel that any 335 from 62-64 has about the same value. 64’s are easier to sell because of the bigger neck but a 62 with PAFs is worth more. Reds are easier to sell but sunbursts are rarer. A sunburst 64 is a wonderful guitar but man, they are not quick sellers. Thanks, Eric. Bigsby versions have crept up well beyond the $15K-$16K we saw last year. The Bigsby asks are approaching, and in some cases, surpassing $20K. That’s also a big jump.

A bunch of overpriced block necks does not, however, a bubble make. I pay a lot of attention to the guitars that are listed and the overpriced examples are sitting and that, to me, is good. When they start selling at these currently inflated prices, then I’ll call it a bubble. Right now, it’s just optimism. Or greed. I’ll keep trying to sell them at fair prices but if I can’t get them at reasonable prices, I will eventually have to give in to the would be bubble and pay more. That means you pay more too. I’d rather you didn’t.

What about the dot necks? Beyond that, where are the dot necks? As of today, I know of two 58’s and two 59’s on the market. Mostly, the dots haven’t moved much but because they’ve gotten so hard to source, the prices are poised to rise. There are 61 dots out there and they have taken a similar jump in asking prices to the block necks. Last year, a collector grade stop tail 61 was a $25K guitar. Now, $30K is a typical ask and I’ve seen more than one break $35K (ask). In my mind, if a 61 stop is a $30K guitar, then a $50K ’59 isn’t far off. The two on the market now (one is mine) are just over $40K but neither is at the top of the range due to condition. Both are collector grade but neither is stunningly clean. Watch this space. Dots and blondes aren’t done running up.

Finally, let’s take a quick look at 65-69 335’s. Big neck 65’s are way up but they were undervalued in the past. I have no problem seeing them approach $15K but once the wide nut is gone, so is the value. Yes, a 65 will likely have better pickups than a 69 but I’ve seen plenty of 68’s with pre T tops. To me, a late 65, 66, 67 and 68 are pretty much the same. 69’s? Not so much. If you buy a 69, try to find one with the long neck tenon. Most don’t have it. Also, if there’s no dot in the “i” in the Gibson logo and the seller tells you it’s a 65, 66, 67 or 68, run away. 99.9% of the time, it isn’t. Like 62-64 blocks, asking prices on narrow nut 65’s through 69’s are way up. They are approaching $10K but that, I believe, is just wishful thinking. There are tons of them out there and plenty of well priced examples in the $6K-$7500 range. I still don’t see 65-69’s as investments but, then again, I don’t generally buy or sell 65-69 335’s. Especially not at the current asking prices.

We’ll look at 345’s and 355’s in my next post.

Where did all the dot necks go? Not long ago, I would have 8 to 10 of them in stock at all times. Now I’m lucky if I have 4 of them. Do the collectors have all of them by now? I sure hope not/.