GIBSON ES-335 ES-345 ES-355
RSS

Double Oh

May 21st, 2024 • UncategorizedNo Comments »

Here’s a very attractive and very early (January) 1960 ES-335. It is 100% identical to a December 1959 ES-335 but would likely be priced many thousands less simply because it is a 60 and not a 59.

In addition to the dozens of ES guitars I acquire and sell every year, there are a few other models I seek out and sometimes buy. Regular readers know how much I like the early Epiphones (1959-64) and Fender Esquires. I buy reverse Firebirds, Telecasters, Strats and even the occasional Les Paul. My previous post was about the year 1959 and how the vintage guitar market has come to embrace that year as the absolute pinnacle of quality and tone (at Gibson anyway). I also pointed out that guitars don’t have “model years”. Gibson (and others) made changes to their models when the changes were needed whether to address an issue like neck angle problems or to lower the production costs like the switch from stop tail to trapeze in 65. These changes didn’t happen on January 1 of the given year.

I prefer to date a guitar using the serial number. Many feel that the factory order number (on hollow body Gibsons) is more accurate. But the FON only tells us when the guitars’ assembly was started. I’ve had three 1960 ES-335’s with a 58 FON. Are they 60 or 58? I call them 60. Argue the point with me if you like. That brings me to a very interesting phenomenon among Les Paul aficionadoes. They call them “double zeroes”. What’s a double zero? It refers to the serial number. The first digit on a Les Paul is the year-a 58 is “8”, a 59 is “9” and a 60 is “0”. That’s the first zero. The second set of digits is the numerical order within that year. The first one made in 1960 would be (I believe) 0 0100. The last “double zero” would be (theoretically) 0 0999. I bring this up for a couple of reasons. First, I own one. Secondly, they are very desirable guitars-nearly as desirable as a 59 but not quite. Why is that? Well, it’s not dissimilar to a 60 ES-335 with a 59 factory order number and 59 features. A “double zero” was probably built in late 1959 and given a 60 serial number in January or maybe February. While I haven’t owned a whole lot of Les Paul bursts, I’ve had a few-many of them from 1960. The necks on those were slim and that is a factor in the desirability of both a LP and an ES. Bigger necks are simply more popular although that can change over time. That seems to be a very big factor here…”double zeroes” often have big necks.

I went to the burst serial site to see how many double zeroes are accounted for and I found 55 (not including a couple of re-stamped serials). I don’t know if all of them have all of the 59 features but they all seem to have the bonnet knobs of a 59. I can’t determine neck shape from the photos but I understand that many have the big 59 neck. Plenty of them have double white PAFs which was kind of a surprise because double whites aren’t common on 60 335’s (but they are on 345’s and 355’s). Well, it seems reasonable that these somewhat rare guitars should command some kind of recognition especially given the price differential that has emerged between a 59 and a 60. I believe we (meaning guitar aficionadoes) have become a little too obsessed with model years. The price differential between a collector grade 59 and 60 ES-335 can be $30,000 (or nearly 30%). The price differential between a 59 burst and a 60 burst can be $100K or more, also approaching 30%. It shouldn’t be, in my opinion. I’m tempted to start buying up all of the early 60 335’s with the bigger neck profile and waiting for the market to catch on. It appears that the Les Paul folks have started to do this simply by creating the term double zero. This is a good thing. 335 folks will eventually catch on, most likely when 59’s simply are out of reach.

This is Les Paul serial number 0 0119. It is the third lowest 60 serial number known on the burst serial site. I bought this guitar recently and it has the big 59 neck, double white PAFs, mid 59 pots, a very pretty top and is, essentially everything I would want in a burst except for a 59 serial number. A 59 like this one would be over $500,000 today. So why is this nearly $100K less?

1959

April 29th, 2024 • UncategorizedNo Comments »
It’s 1959 and cars look a lot like this.

It’s 1959. I’m seven years old. Cars have huge fins and the Yankees, after winning pennants in 55, 56, 57 and 58 stunk up the place in 59 finishing in third place. Lots of news in 59 but, as a seven year old, who cares. In music, Elvis is a hunka hunka burnin’ love, Dion is a teenager in love and a rodent named Alvin was outselling them all (12 million sold). Gibson has been making guitars for around 57 years. Some might say it was downhill from there, especially for electrics.

I love 59 Gibsons. I play one (a 345). I’ve owned dozens of ES guitars from every year from 58 to 68. Most are good, some are great and a few are nearly magical. If I am judging years based on how many magical ones I’ve owned, 59 comes out on top. The three best I’ve ever had were all 59’s. Out of my top twenty, 15 or so are 59’s. You might ask, “what makes a 59 so different from a 58 or a 60 or a 64?-all good years. And “are all 59’s the same?” Good questions. Not so easy answers.

A few observations…guitars aren’t automobiles. In the fifties, cars were redesigned every year. As a kid, I couldn’t wait to see the new models. The local newspaper would publish a photo of the latest car to be released to the public. My Dad would take me and my brothers around to the local dealers on a Saturday, usually in October, to see the new models. It was a day to look forward to. My Dad, being a locally prominent doctor, was probably seen as a hot prospect so we were treated very well by the dealers. Guitars didn’t really have model years. That’s something we collectors and players assigned to them as we are a species that needs narrow definitions and parameters. Gibson made changes to a model when it was necessary-not based on model years. A late 58 is exactly the same as an early 59. A late 59 is not the same as an early 59 and an early 60 is the same as a late 59. There were often some big changes made during a given year-some practical, some cosmetic some baffling.

I can make a strong argument for late 58 ES guitars being the best but if we’re looking at the guitars from a single year on average, the best have to be 59. The thin top of the 58 is a compelling argument for 58’s but the small frets and the shallow neck angle kind of negate that. And there are thin top 59’s with a good neck angle and big frets -the best of the best, in my opinion. Gibson changed the neck profile many, many times through the life of the instrument but two of the best neck carves were from 59…the early one is huge up to .94″ at the first fret but more typically .88″. The twelfth fret measurement is a full inch or more. The late 59 “transitional” neck is also very desirable at around .85″ at the first and .95″ at the 12th. That neck continued well into 1960 so you could probably make an argument for early to mid 60 335’s being up there as well. After that though, the neck got very slim and, for most folks, too thin. Not only is it uncomfortable for many players but that “blade” neck is prone to truss rod cracks and back bows. It stayed thin until late 63 with only slight changes in 62 and early 63. By late 63, it was still fairly thin at the first fret but shoulder had increased and the taper to the 12th fret was considerable-back to an inch or more. Lots of players find the 64 neck to be the best ever.

Then, we can look at the pickups. a 59 will always have long magnet PAFs and that’s pretty much enough said. 58’s had them as well as did most 335’s from 1960. Short magnet PAFs and early patents (at least through 64) were great pickups as well and are much more consistent than long magnet PAFs. I’ve said, more than once, that the average short magnet PAF is as good or better than the average long magnet but the best long magnet PAF is better than anything.

Here’s something that perhaps you didn’t know…the body depth of the 335 goes through a number of changes. In 58 and 59, the average body depth is just over 1.6″ (some early 355’s are actually less than 1.6″). By 1964, the average body depth had increased to 1.77″ or so. That’s a big change. I don’t think it affects anything tone-wise but it makes for a somewhat heavier guitar.

Many other components were changed during the “golden years” but I don’t think they had much of an effect on tone or playability. Tuners went from single ring to double ring and from single line to double line. No real difference. The bridge went from no wire to wire in 63. That’s an improvement when you break a string and the saddle doesn’t go flying across the stage but there is no improvement otherwise. Knobs changed, fret markers changed, body shape changed but these were all cosmetic changes. Perhaps the biggest (and dumbest) change was the nut width. In 65, it went from 1 11/16″ to 1 5/8″ to 1 9/16″. That’s the main reason 65’s are so much less expensive than 64’s. The other dumb (in my opinion) change was the change from the stop tailpiece to the trapeze, also in 65. That was strictly a cheaper way to build the guitar and it didn’t help anything but that. 65 to 68 ES-335’s could have been great guitars if those two changes hadn’t occurred. Instead, they are a lower cost alternative that has, arguably, compromised playability.

So, taking all the features into consideration and trying to define a single year with the best 335’s, I come to the conclusion that it has to be 59. If all 58’s were like the late ones, it would be a tossup but early 58’s simply don’t play as well as the average 59 because of the neck angle. A good argument can be made for 64’s. An excellent year with consistently great pickups. But a 59 might have those absolutely magical long magnet PAFs which weren’t available in 1964. It is no wonder that the price of a 59 has broken away from the pack. I don’t think they will catch the venerable 59 Les Paul but the gap is closing for sure. There is a way to get yourself a 59 and not pay the huge premium that 59 ES-335’s command. Buy a 59 ES-345 or, better yet, a mono 59 ES-355. They are currently selling for less than half the price of a 335 but you’ll have to deal with the stereo circuit and Varitone in the 345 and the Bigsby on a 355.

Can’t afford the $80K plus price tag of a 59 ES-335? The best alternative is a 59 mono ES-355. Half the price and worth every nickel.

Big Change

March 30th, 2024 • Gibson General3 Comments »

Let’s see, we’ve got a Great Lake and a couple of big rivers. We have the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Cleveland Guardians (terrible name of the former Indians). It’s close enough to Canada in case I want to escape. Columbus has a pro hockey team-The Blue Jackets-so that might be fun (I played in college but only intramural).

Until three weeks ago, I lived on the East Coast. Been there my entire life. Grew up in upstate NY in the 50’s and 60’s. Went to college in upstate NY. Went to grad school in New York City. Moved to CT in 1988 (and continued to work in NYC). Then, in 2024, I moved to Ohio. Why would I do that? Well, my son and his family are here and we thought it would be nice for my grandson to have grandparents close by. After all, I can sell guitars anywhere and there are players everywhere. So, big change for me but just about no noticeable change for you. I closed my retail store in CT right at the beginning of Covid and never found a place to reopen. Online is easy but it isn’t nearly as much fun as having a real brick and mortar shop. You never knew who was going to walk in. Neil Young and Darryl Hannah came in one day. Michael J. Fox and his family one Thanksgiving Eve. The great Bernie Williams (NY Yankees) came in and bought an 58 Bassman. Steve Katz from Blood Sweat and Tears was the first person to walk in (the day before I even opened). It was truly a guitar shop for guitar players. If I wasn’t so damn old, I’d probably do it again.

Being online is dull. Finding and buying great old guitars is still often a thrill but the great joy of talking guitars with guitar folks in person is missing. A phone call isn’t the same. And it wasn’t just celebrities. Having some 17 year old whiz of a player come in and play way better than I can after 60 years of playing is both exciting and discouraging at the same time. I generally know who can afford a blonde 59 ES-335 and reaching up and grabbing that $125,000 guitar and putting into that 17 year old’s hands and watching him light up is a thrill that I hope will stay with him (at least until he can afford one). I did the same thing dozens of times-sometimes a 53 Tele, sometimes a Fiesta Red Strat and once, a half million dollar Les Paul.

Even after I closed my shop in CT, I still had some of my regular locals come by and play but I had a barn set up as my workshop and quasi showroom. Here in Ohio, outbuildings are not so easy to come by so even that small element of in person business will be gone. I’ve also gone from living in the country on many acres with no neighbors in earshot to living in a city with lots of neighbors. I think the days of cranking old JTM 45 to “11” are over. Maybe I can soundproof my basement.

But I’m here in Worthington, Ohio…right outside of Columbus with all of my wonderful inventory waiting for the locals to find me and, of course, taking care of everyone else by phone, email, text and any other means of communication they can find. Ohio is sort of in the middle of everything and the music scene is here seems pretty healthy. I’m told that Eric Clapton lives one town to the west of me in Dublin, Ohio. I haven’t run into him at the local coffee shop but I’ll make sure to say hi for you when I do.

Lots of brown cases full of cool guitars waiting for you to come and get them.


I Just Inherited…

March 25th, 2024 • UncategorizedNo Comments »

Uncle Harry has passed away and he left his old Gibson with no explanation of what it’s worth. Aunt Harriet is at her wits end. What should she do?

This happens a lot. Grandpa or Uncle Harry passes away and the guitar that he cherished since 1966 is now an orphan. Aunt Harriet has no idea what to do with it and she has no idea what it’s worth but she thinks it’s worth a lot. At least that’s what Uncle Harry kept telling her every time he bought an expensive guitar. “It’ll be worth a fortune in twenty years…” and Aunt Harriet bought it hook line and you know the rest. But now she actually has to figure out what to do with the old thing so she does a little research.

The brand on the part where the tuners are says Gibson. The label inside says ES-335 guitar so she knows it’s a guitar (OK, she knew that already) and it appears that the model number is ES-335 so she taps into the Google machine with “Gibson ES-335”. Unfortunately, my site doesn’t come up at the top of the page so she has to go through a lot of new dealers and Gibson’s own site. Those are all new ones and she needs to know about the old ones. Finally she gets to one of many vintage dealers and there are ES-335’s for sale for as much as $100,000. But there are others for as little as $5000. What is Aunt Harriet going to do? Well, she’s probably going to call her guitar player nephew Larry who will do everything he can to get the guitar for himself. What follows is a tutorial for Aunt Harriet.

Look at the label. There should be serial number. Gibson reused them over and over again but it will get you started. There are chart of serial numbers available here. Find the serial number that corresponds to the one on either the label or the back of the doohickey with the tuning keys (called the headstock). If you know Uncle Harry bought it in the 50’s or 60’s before the middle of 61, then the serial number will start with the letter A. After that it will be all numbers. You’ll find as many as four years with the same serial number and if it’s from the 70’s, it’s even worse. If there’s just one year that corresponds to the number, then you’re lucky. You now know the year of the guitar and you can go to any dealer site (or Reverb or Gbase.com) and see what others are asking for the same year guitar. Most folks ask more than the guitar is worth so expect to sell it for less than the highest price you find online. If there are multiple years with your serial number, you will have to do a lot more research to ascertain the year.

There are simple things you can do get a better handle on the year a 335 was made. First, what color is the label. If it’s orange or possibly faded to yellow, then it was made between 1958 (for a 335) and 1970. After mid 1970, the labels are purple and black (Norlin). By 81 or so, they are white. After that, I don’t know because I’m a vintage dealer and I don’t see a lot from the 90’s and later. They’ve gone back to the old style orange labels but the serialization is different. Next, look at the markers on the fingerboard (where the strings are). Are they little dots or little blocks? Dots mean 1958-early 1962. Blocks mean mid 62 to 80. Dots again from 81 to today. Blocks again on 60’s reissues done (I think) in the 90’s and 2000’s. There are a dozen other things that will tell you the year but it can be pretty arcane. I would suggest, Aunt Harriet, that you consult with a vintage dealer with a good reputation and find out what you have. Don’t take his offer as gospel (or even fair). Once you know the year, you can look online at sites like Reverb.com or Gbase.com to see what others are asking.

Big, big asterisk on that last sentence. Folks selling their guitars on sites like those mentioned often (not always but often) ask crazy high prices so before you go off thinking Uncle Harry’s treasure is worth $120K, look at a number of similar guitars and maybe get your hands on a recent price guide. They are often low but they are also more realistic than some of the asking prices, especially on Reverb (Gbase is largely dealers so, believe it or not, they tend to be more in line with the real value). If you have a 335, 345 or 355, you can always get in touch with me (and I’ll encourage you to do your homework) at okguitars@gmail.com. I’ll never ask “what do you want for it?” I’ll always make an offer based on what you have and what I think I can sell it for.

This is a label from late 1960. Note the A prefix. If the llabel looks like this and doesn’t have the A, then it’s from 61 to as late as 1970. Then, in the 2000’s, they used a nearly identical label (with the prefix) for some Custom Shop models

Gibson used this label from mid 1970 through 1980 (and maybe a few in 81). These are less valuable than the earlier ones but can still be worth thousands (but not tens of thousands)

By 1981, it looks like this. This is from 1983. You can tell by taking the first number and the fourth from the last number. They change again in the 90’s and 2000’s but the serial number scheme stays (mostly) the same.

Year Ender 2023-Part 2

February 24th, 2024 • UncategorizedNo Comments »

It’s been a bit of a rough patch for 345’s since they surged big time during Covid. They have dropped back and the market is at a bit of a stand off. 59’s are strong but the rest seem to sit unless really well priced.

The second part of my year ender generally deals with 345’s and 355’s and this year is no different. Last year it almost looked like 345’s were going to catch up to 335’s in value. They surged ahead and sold like there was no tomorrow. And that may have been the impetus-during Covid, folks might have felt like there was no tomorrow and if there was, it didn’t look all that good. No tomorrow? Better buy stuff that makes you happy today. I think that’s what happened.

It couldn’t last. These guitars were bound to hit resistance and, sure enough, they did. Those sellers on Reverb who think they are going to get $40,000 for a 1960 or 61 ES-345 are going to be disappointed. I don’t think they will get even $25,000 and probably not even that. During Covid, I sold a 59 for $40K. That is the highest I’ve ever gotten for a non blonde or black 345 and that was a pre first rack prototype. The good news is that 345’s are, once again, a relative bargain. Most folks convert to 335 and never look back. It’s such a popular mod that it doesn’t diminish the value at all (especially if the original stereo harness and Varitone are included). There are very few mods to vintage guitars that don’t hurt the value. I think a 60-64 ES-345 in the high teens or low 20’s is a good buy. Keep your eyes open. Later ones have settled a bit as well but, as you all know, I don’t pay a lot of attention to 65-69 and I pay no attention at all to the 70’s.

Stereo 355’s didn’t really run up like the 345’s did during Covid. Probably because they all have a vibrato of some sort and that makes for a less desirable (or at least less popular) model. Big neck 59’s are rare (they went to the slimmer neck mid year in 59) and still can command a premium and stop tails are so rare, it’s hard to quantify the price trend. If yu want a stop tail, prepare to pay what the seller wants or wait a long time for another. I only know of about a dozen to 15 of them from 58-64. Bigsby versions always command a fair bit more than sideways (great for stop tail conversions) or Maestros. 99% of them are red so any color other than red is going to cost you some big dollars (especially black or blonde).

Mono 355’s have become kind of rare. I used to see a few dozen come up for sale every year but lately, they seem to be the Bigfoot of the guitar world. Today, there are just three for sale that I can find. 59’s are, as usual leading the charge. A mono 59 can command $40K if it’s clean. And that makes sense given what a 59 335 is selling for (as much as $90K for a collector grade sunburst). I’m not sure anybody is getting $90K but I know of at least two in the mid 80K range. If you don’t mind playing a guitar with a Bigsby, mono 355’s are a great choice. It’s just a fancy 335-the fancy bits used to double the price back in the day. Now they nearly cut it in half. The bargain 355-mono or stereo-are the 61-64’s. And look closely at 65’s and even some 66’s. There are wide nut versions out there from those years.

The market hasn’t really acknowledged that the “Covid Surge” is over. Folks have a hard time accepting a flattened or declining market. Most of it just leveled off but 345’s have softened and the sooner the seller acknowledge that, the sooner they will start selling again and maybe even start to run back up. They can’t appreciate of they sit on the market for months at inflated asking prices. The over all vintage market has picked up considerably after a very slow Summer, Fall and Holiday season. But January was excellent and February has shaped up pretty well too.

Clean, mono 355’s have gotten kind of scarce and the prices are quite strong for them, especially early 59’s. This one is a 60 and sold for a very high price because it was virtually brand freaking new.

Year Ender 2023 Part 1

February 1st, 2024 • Uncategorized1 Comment »

2023 is the year that sunburst big neck 59’s broke $80,000. They have become so hard to find that they haven’t rolled back like the rest of the 335’s. It’s also the year that two more red 59’s turned up (I bought both of them). They both sold well into six figures (and were both Bigsby’s)

I know the folks who have posted their 335’s to sell on Reverb haven’t gotten the message yet but it will sink in eventually, I hope. After the nearly breathtaking appreciation that occurred during Covid, the 335 market has dropped back a bit. A rather sizable number of sellers seem to think that, because the market ran up 20% or more during Covid, that it would continue to do so pretty much forever. It doesn’t work that way. Guitars are subject to economic fluctuations just like the stock market, the housing market and even the food prices at your local Stop and Shop. To make matters even more complicated, some years have dropped back more than others.

Predictably (in a market that is now pretty unpredictable), 59’s led the way up with collector/museum grade sunbursts selling very quickly at over $80,000. But for that money, it had better be a 9+, preferably with a thin top and double whites. It has gotten so hard to find 59’s that they have been completely unaffected by the recent softening of 335 prices. An average 59 with perhaps changed tuners might be in the $65K-$70K range. A Bigsby or ex-Bigsby, around the same range. Late 58’s are still strong in the mid $70’s for clean ones but early 58’s are a tough sell. Maybe the huge price realized on Mark Knopfler’s blonde unbound 58 will goose the price a bit.

That brings us to 60 and 61 (and early 62 dots). I can’t explain why they have fallen back as much as they have-maybe because they ran up very quickly into unheard of prices. At their peak, folks were asking $65K or more for a stop tail sunburst 60. I had a few over the past year and they didn’t sell anywhere near that. I expect the price to settle in the $45K to $50K range for clean ones. 61’s are even worse. 61’s were stuck in the $25K range for a very long time but shot up to over $40K or more during Covid. Good luck getting anywhere near that right now. A clean stop tail 61 is a mid $30K guitar again with some nice examples dropping back into the high $20’s. Look out for the truss rod stress crack on 61’s. About 20 to 30% of them have it. It’s not like a cracked headstock as there is little stress down the middle of the back of the neck but stabilizing it is still a good idea. Knock off at least $5K for it but don’t necessarily reject them out of hand. Properly repaired, it should never be a problem unless you overtighten the truss rod. 61’s have always been the “bargain” dot neck and I think that $25K for a stop tail PAF 335 with some issues is a pretty good deal. Just be aware that the oh so slim neck is fragile. 62 dots are fairly rare but follow the 61 price wise unless equipped with pat #’s rather than PAFs.

That brings us to block necks from 62 to 64. These ran up just like the dots to never before seen prices during Covid. I never thought I’d see a $40,000 1964 but that’s about where they peaked. I didn’t get $40K for one but I got close for a near mint stop tail in red (yes, reds and sunbursts are worth the same but reds are easier to sell). A clean stop tail 64 (as well as a pat# equipped 63) should now be selling in the $28,000 to $30,000 range. If PAFs (rare for a 64), add $4,000 or so. Bigsby’s are still a 15% to 20% deduction if they are the correct B7. Same goes for stop tails with the “snake bite” holes from the B7. So, what about 62’s? 62’s follow their own set of rules because there is a lot of variation in them. You have blade necks and medium necks. You have dots and blocks. You have PAFs, patent #’s and one of each. I would look for a medium (.82 and .92 depth) neck with PAFs. That neck profile will almost certainly be a block neck. The dots are usually slim like a 61. A medium neck 62 with PAFs might cost you $32K-$34K if it’s a 9 or better with no issues. It will also probably be a great guitar. 62 is the sleeper year. They can be right up there with the best of the dot necks.

This post is always a bit of a loose guideline because the market changes quickly and there are always examples that are either stunningly clean that command a premium or stunningly worn or modded that drive the prices way down. If you see a 335 that you like,. do some comparison shopping. In a falling or softening market, look at the dealer prices. Dealers usually catch on to price changes a lot faster than individual sellers. I’ll also add, as a caution, that you should look at every part with a critical eye. I’ve said this about a zillion times…fully 95% of the 58 to 64 ES guitars I buy have an undisclosed issue (that I always fix, if possible and always disclose). In general, it’s not that folks are dishonest, it’s that they don’t know what correct parts look like. With a 58 to 64 nickel stop tailpiece selling for $3000, it’s no wonder they get scavenged. Do your homework and feel free to shoot me an email and ask what I think. I’m always happy to help you get the 335 you want even if you buy it from someone other than me.

64’s (especially red ones) briefly got into the $40,000 range during Covid but have dropped back into the lower to mid $30’s if it’s a 9 condition or better with no issues at all. It’s still (along with a 59 sunburst) the easiest ES-335 to sell.

Red Dots Before my Eyes: Update #2

January 13th, 2024 • ES 3355 Comments »

This is the very first red ES-335. It shipped in December of 1958 and was wired in stereo. Gold knobs were probably factory (355’s had them too in 58). I don’t know the FON. The serial is A28800.

Red 59 ES-335’s are rare. It was my holy grail guitar. I was told by folks who were “experts” that there were no red 59’s. There was one red 58 and 21 red 60’s but no 59’s. Well, experts, I’m going to update this post every time another red 59 335 surfaces. New information…I was recently told by a Gibson employee that the shipping ledgers (which they hold pretty close to the vest these days) showed that 15 cherry red ES-335’s were ordered in 1959. All had to be special orders as red wasn’t offered as a standard finish until 1960. As of January 2024, I know of eight of them. The latest turned up in Germany and I bought it through a dealer in the UK.

I first posted this in 2018 and a few more red 59 dot necks have turned up and, of course, I bought them (and sold them). First, a little history…

I formerly used the user name “red59dot” on guitar websites and forums (fora?) because I had been on the lookout for a red 59 335 for years. The rumor back in the late 90’s was that there weren’t any-only a stereo 58 that left the factory in December of that year. Then, out of nowhere (well, out of New Jersey, actually) a guy calls me (this was maybe 2008) and says he has a red 59 and I said “I want it”. I was skeptical. He said to meet me at such and such a park in North Jersey and bring cash. It was $18000 which, at that time was in line with what a sunburst 59 would cost. I’m always hesitant to meet someone I don’t know with a paper bag full of Benjamins but I really wanted the guitar. It turns out it was a Bigsby with a big neck and a zebra in the bridge (I think). Anyway, all went well (whew) and my search was over. Only it wasn’t. I wanted a stop tail.

After a trip to North Jersey, meeting the owner on a park bench with a paper bag full of cash, this is the first red 59 dot neck I owned. And the first one I ever saw. SN A30906

It’s maybe ten years later and while I’ve had a few red 59 345’s, I hadn’t seen another red 59 335 except another Bigsby that had little black diamonds painted on the cutaways. That was a mint example and was for sale for $55,000 at a well known dealer. I saw it at the Philly show and passed mostly because it was a Bigsby. The diamonds, supposedly factory, weren’t that big a deal. I had actually seen a 330 with the same decoration. And they were under the clear coat so I assumed they actually were factory. I figured someone had sanded through the thin spot where the cutaways bulge upward.

The “black diamond” ES-335. Mint. I should have bought it back when I first saw it at the Philly show. $55K seemed like a lot back then. Not so much now for any mint 59. SN A31962. I did eventually buy it in 2020 (for a lot more than $55,000) and sold it shortly after locally. It sold again recently and is still in CT. Factory Bigsby with zebras I think.

The following year, I get an email from a dealer in Paris (France, not Texas) asking me if I’d be interested in a red 59 335 stop tail. Yes. I would be interested. It’s a fairly early 59 with a 58 FON. Oh, and it has a Varitone. The Varitone first appeared in February of 59 on a short run of 4 or 5 ES-345’s that pre-date the “first racks” of April 59. But this guitar, which had to be a special order, started its build in 1958. So, is this the very first Varitone equipped guitar ever built? The serial number of the earliest known ES-345 is A29132 shipped in February 59. The FON is T7303-xx. This 59 ES-335 is serial A29553 but the FON is much earlier. It is T6473-xx. FONs are sequential. Serial numbers are not. Also worth noting, I’ve never seen a stereo 355 with a 58 FON. So, the question remains. Is this the first Varitone? I don’t know but it certainly could be.

This is the Varitone red 59 out of France. This was, I thought, the second one shipped and has a 58 FON. Turns out it wasn’t-it waas the third. Serial is A29553. 58 FON. The shipping log makes no note of it being red or being a Varitone.

Another year goes by and I still haven’t had a stock red 59 stop tail 335 but I believed there are two of them. I consider the red 59 dot neck to be the holy grail of 335’s. Yes, blondes are nice but they are relatively common (they made 71 of them in 59). And I’d really like to find a black one (I know of only one) but I don’t expect to. If you recall Dan Erlewine’s “rule of two”, I’ll probably end up with both of them the same week. The elusive stop tail red 59 turns up in a large collection in Toronto. The owner also owned the “diamond” Bigsby 59 and the Varitone 59. I bought all three from him.

Here’s one of the known stock stop tail 59 ES-335’s in red. It was owned by the same collector who has the “black diamond”-you can tell by the photo background. It is also near mint. A29919 serial number.

Just when I think that’s the end of them, another turns up out of the blue (or red) in the Summer of 2021. This one is also a stop tail but had a Bigsby added at some point later. It isn’t as clean as the other one but it’s still a collector grade. While the first one cost me $18,000, this one was $80,000. It came out of North Carolina if I’m recalling correctly.

This is a factory stop tail that had a Bigsby added and then removed. No holes in the top. It’s a fairly late one…serial number A31481

One other point worth making. Until mid to late 1960, the red dye used to color the wood red was particularly UV sensitive. While it starts off a rich vibrant blood red, it often fades, with UV exposure, to a pinkish light red we’ve all called “watermelon”. In more extreme cases it can fade to a pale orange. In guitars that spend most of their life in the case (and not a store window), the red can retain nearly all of its original color. The guitars pictured in this post are a pretty good representation of what these early reds can do. The 58, the Varitone 59 and the “diamond” 59 are still vibrant. They look similar to later reds that haven’t faded. The New Jersey Bigsby is clearly faded to that wonderful watermelon shade. When a later red ES guitar is exposed to sunlight it tends to darken rather than lighten, moving in the direction of brownish maroon. These watermelon 335’s are, I think, among the most attractive 335’s on the planet. Sadly, by the Fall of 1960, they were gone forever.

Fast forward to November 2023. I get a phone call from a gentleman, again in the Carolinas (South this time) and he tells me about a near mint Bigsby 335 from 1959. One owner, tags and all original. I make an offer. I buy the guitar. It’s expensive but what do I expect? Now there are seven (not including the 58) that I know of and I’ve owned all but one (I think Vince Gill owns that one). This one is a factory stop tail that has had two different Bigsbys. The first was probably a B6-the triangular hole pattern is at the endpin. It also has the four hole configuration from the late 60’s or early 70’s B7 that was on it when I got it. It’s now set up as a stop tail with a proper 50’s Bigsby in the case. It’s also already gone.

This red dot neck now gets the notation of being the earliest 59 red 335. Serial number is A29258 making it a February build, although you never really know with serial numbers.

I think we’re getting to the point where “new” finds are rare and infrequent. The guys who bought 59’s in 59 are in their 80’s and 90’s and have already sold off their collections. I am surprised (and thrilled) when a rarity like a red 59 shows up out of nowhere. It’s like Bigfoot showing up at your campsite. Usually it turns out to be a moose but sometimes it’s a red 59 dot neck.

So, I wrote the above post (minus the first paragraph which I just wrote) in November of 2023. Clearly, I didn’t expect another red 59 to turn up 6 weeks later. I get an email in mid December 2023 from a dealer in the UK with whom I do a fair amount of business (I’m usually buying, he’s usually selling). He tells me about a red 59 335 in Germany that he has been offered. He is skeptical about the finish (and so am I). It has faded a bit more than most early reds and it has the most spectacular flame top. It’s hard to strip a sunburst and refinish it in red without some sign of the darker parts of the sunburst being visible. A factory blonde would be easier to refinish but the economics of that don’t really work unless the blonde was already refinished. Fortunately, my connection at Gibson was able to look it up in the ledger and there it was. Part of a run of four of them done in or around May of 1959 A30220-A30223. The one in question is A30222. That answered the refinish question. I bought the guitar and it is perhaps the most beautiful 335 I’ve ever seen.

This is number 8 out of 15. Where are the rest? Under a bed? In a closet? In a dumpster? This is a factory Bigsby that had pearl dots over the stop tail bushings. Double white PAFs and a thin top, too. This is the fun part of being a vintage dealer. I know they are out there. They just have to find me.

Mods for Rockers

December 31st, 2023 • UncategorizedNo Comments »

A group of Rockers surround (and probably harass) a lone Mod. It could get pretty ugly and the adults in the UK at the time were very worried.

If you are over the age of, say, 65, you might recall two British entities called Mods and Rockers. Apparently the youth of the UK split into two easily definable groups…Mods and Rockers. Both groups could be considered hipsters but neither thought the other was and thus they clashed. Sometimes with violent results. Mods wore the latest Carnaby Street fashions and rode around on little motor scooters. They were usually middle class. Rockers were leather jacketed greaser types who were mostly working class. The Rockers rode big Triumphs and BSAs. They thought Mods were effete snobs. The Mods thought the Rockers were low class and dirty thugs with no taste in anything. It was a moral dilemma in mid 60’s Britain but hardly touched us here in the USA. All this history just so I can have a clever title for this post which has nothing to do with Mods and Rockers. Ringo (yes, that Ringo) was asked (in Hard Day’s Night)…”are you a Mod or a Rocker?” His answer? “I’m a Mocker.” Clever, these Beatles.

I’m actually writing about modifications done to ES guitars. Mods for rockers…get it? Thought so. Most mods are ill advised, especially on vintage guitars as they almost always lower the value. Adding a mini switch for a coil tap or phase is a bad idea. In fact, just about anything that leaves visible holes in the guitar is going to diminish the value. Want to use an aftermarket bridge? Great. Use one that fits without modifying the bridge posts. If you want to add a Bigsby to your 64 stop tail 335, you are asking for a sizable decline in its value-as much as 25%. A better idea would be to sell the stop tail and buy a 335 with a Bigsby already installed. Adding a Bigsby is not a bad mod (if you use a Bigsby) but it’s bad economics. That leads me to my larger point. There are certain mods that are good for the guitar and/or the player. All of them will diminish the value but they are worth looking for.

The most popular is adding a stop tail to a trapeze tailpiece ES. It requires two big holes in the top of your guitar and leaves four holes at the end pin. That hurts the value. But if somebody else has already done the mod (and did it right), it’s worth seeking out. It will make the guitar better and it will lower the price. Everybody’s happy, right? Yes and no. If the tailpiece is installed in the wrong location, it is glaring. So make sure you get it right. Another useful (and common) mod is moving the bridge back slightly (toward the tailpiece). 50’s and 60’s ES guitars shipped with a wound G string (plain G strings didn’t even exist) and intonated just fine. Once plain G strings became the norm, ES guitars (and most other Gibsons) ran into an intonation problem. To get the G string to intonate properly, you had to reverse the saddle and move it all the way back in its slot. If you used 10’s or 11’s, that was fine but if you wanted to use lighter guage strings, you simply ran out of room and your G string was always sharp at the upper frets. The easy fix was to move the bridge posts back about 1/8″. Fortunately, the holes from the original posts were hidden under the thumbwheels. Intonation was no longer a problem but you just dropped the value of your guitar by perhaps $1000 to even $2000.

Modding a vintage 335 doesn’t happen much these days. Most of the mods you see were done years and years ago before 335’s were worth much. If you’re going to put a stoptail on your Bigsby 335, for the love of god, put it in the right location. Unless you’re Larry Carlton, this just looks wrong. This one is off by more than an inch. Even if it’s off by 1/8″, it will look odd.

So, if you want to use 9’s on your 335, flip the G saddle around and see where you are intonation wise. If you can’t get it right, you might consider finding a 335 (345 or 355) that has already had it done. That way, it’s priced in and you haven’t diminished the value of a collectible vintage guitar.

This 59 335, once owned by Mike Landau had its bridge moved back to improve intonation. Most times, folks just drill new holes. For some reason Mike’s luthier filled the original holes before drilling the new ones. Not usually necessary.

Twas…

December 22nd, 2023 • UncategorizedNo Comments »

This is the only blog post I ever rerun. My wife and I wrote this together while on vacation one Christmas in Mexico. Every year I reread it thinking it’s kind of dopey and every year I rerun it because it’s not as dopey as I remember. Here you go. If it’s too dopey, too bad. You’ll get it again next year.

The OK Guitars Christmas tree. Yes, it had a theme complete with the traditional star(r) on top.

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

No Christmas tree is complete without the traditional Starr on top.

Les Paul vs ES-335

October 12th, 2023 • Uncategorized6 Comments »

I used this mid to late 59 ES-335 as my test case for 335 tone. It has a set of very hot pickups (8.5K for both) and has been played a lot. It is not the best sounding 335 I’ve ever owned but it’s in the top twenty and maybe the top ten.

I’ve thought about writing about this subject since I started this blog back in 2010. I’ve held off because I simply hadn’t owned enough vintage Les Pauls (with humbuckers) to make a fair evaluation. I could have compoared modern LP’s to modern 335’s (or even vintage 335’s) but I held off until I gained more experience with Gold tops and bursts made from 1957 to 1960. I’ve owned hundreds of ES-335’s built during this period but only about a dozen Les Pauls but I think that’s enough to speak intelligently about these two Gibson icons.

This is my reference Les Paul. It’s an early (ish) 60 with excellent tone. To keep it apples to apples, I put a set of covers on the pickups for the comparision. I didn’t solder them, however.

The first problem I encounter is having to generalize about a subject that has a lot of variation. Finding two 335’s that are exactly the same is tough enough but at least I’m working from a huge sample. The dozen Les Pauls I’ve owned have a lot in common but they certainly aren’t anywhere near identical. The biggest area of variation seems to be the pickups. Even comparing a 335 with, say, an 8K PAF in the bridge and a 7.75K PAF in the neck to another one with the same DCR doesn’t yield identical results. The wood will always be a little different-no two trees are identical and the build might have significant variation as well. Big neck profile vs small profile will also affect tone (and playability). Perhaps the biggest factor in the level of variation between two presumably identical guitars will be the setup. Flat neck or minor relief? Properly cut saddles and nut or cut too deep? Even different string brands will make a difference. I could go on-drift in the values of the electronics-pots and caps will have a small effect on tone. All this and trying to compare two very different build types makes the task difficult if not impossible.

Let’s go even further. How do you describe tone. We have all kinds of good adjectives but they don’t always mean the same thing to all readers. A Les Paul is often described as “woody”. I think I know what that means but I couldn’t really describe it. A 335 often gets the term “airy” which is different than woody but I couldn’t really describe that either. I think my best bet is to first talk about what is similar about the two guitars. The circuit is pretty much identical-only the ground circuit is different. Same pots, same caps, same jack, same three way. There is more wire in a Les Paul but I doubt that makes much difference. The pickups are the same but the variation among early PAFs is pretty glaring (and DCR alone doesn’t really tell us much about the tone or the output for that matter). I’ve had 335’s that sound like Les Pauls and vice versa. So, how do I make a general statement about these two guitars that a consumer can use to decide which one to buy? I can’t. I don’t think anybody can. We can talk about investment value-that’s easy. A burst will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. A gold top with humbuckers will be around half. A 335 with early PAFs can be bought for under $50K. A high quality collector grade guitar has been a very good investment but even the best 335 hasn’t kept up with the appreciation of a burst.

I’ve had a few conversations with musicians who have better ears than I have about this. Some have pointed out, correctly, that they don’t sound alike when played acoustically. True enough but at that point, I have to remind them that pickups aren’t microphones. They are not simply reproducing the acoustic tone of the body. If that were the case, they would sound very different. A pickup works by the vibrating string affecting a magnetic field and that disturbance being translated into sound. You can yell into a pickup and you won’t hear it through your amp (unless there’s something wrong with the pickup. So, forget about the difference in unplugged tone. It isn’t that relevant.

So, I will give you my very basic and non scientific comparison of a great 335 and an excellent burst. The burst seems to have a very slight edge in sustain. There is an element that I call “musicality” which is kind of a combination of note separation and the manner in which the notes interact with each other. 335 has the edge in musicality. I can’t tell you why. The Les Paul tends to have a cleaner (less muddy) sounding neck pickup although that’s a gross generalization…I can adjust most muddiness away by lowering the pickup. On the bridge pickup, I’m damned if I can hear any difference at all. Both guitars seem to be the same tonal range. If I dropped in a different pickup-say, a T-top, I’m sure they would sound different. Note bloom (or harmonics) are a big part of why these guitars are so desirable. Both guitars can have this in spades but, in general, I find 335’s to be superior. Maybe it’s that “airy” thing.

My conclusion…the guitars are nearly interchangeable. I could write a 100 page post comparing these guitars but the more I played them, the less I had to say. Both are at the pinnacle of humbucker equipped guitars. I love SG’s but they don’t do everything a burst, gold top or 335 will do. Feel free to disagree as loudly as you want. This is subjective stuff and your ears are different than mine (mine are old). My takeaway is that you can achieve great tone without spending $400,000 on a burst but if you can afford it, why wouldn’t you own one?