GIBSON ES-335 ES-345 ES-355

Red Dots Before my Eyes: Update

November 15th, 2023 • Uncategorized3 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.

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 the same collection as the “diamond” Bigsby AND the Varitone one. I bought all three.

Here’s one of the known stock stop tail 59 ES-335’s in red. It is 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.

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?

Witch Hats, Chicken Heads and Cupcakes?

August 31st, 2023 • UncategorizedNo Comments »

Do these look like a bonnet to you? Thanks to Vintage Correct Parts for the photo.

You won’t learn a whole lot from this post but it might be fun. Guitar players seem to have a soft spot for nicknames for their instruments and for certain guitar parts. When I first heard the term “whammy bar”, I knew what they were talking about. Well, the guitar community never met a knob that it didn’t have a descriptive nickname for. Gibson seems to have the most knob nicknames but Fender and Epiphone have a few as well. Some are descriptive and some maybe not so much.

For example, the simple numbered knob that was found on nearly every Gibson guitar from the mid 50’s until the early 60’s is called a “bonnet” knob. It doesn’t resemble a bonnet to my eye. It looks more like a derby but nobody calls it a “derby” knob. Earlier, there was the “speed” knob which mostly just stays still but I guess the idea was that it was somehow faster at turning. Speed knobs were largely used in the late 40’s and 50’s. More descriptive is the Gibson “top hat” knob. It looks like a top hat. It’s also, for obvious reasons, called a “reflector” knob as it had gold or silver foil on the top with the function printed on the reflector part…either “volume” or “tone”. Continuing the descriptive slant is the ubiquitous “chicken head” knob. With a little imagination, this knob, found mostly on Fender tweed amps and Gibson guitars with a Varitone, looks like a cartoon chicken head. Clever bunch, these guitar players.

Top hats. Or reflectors. They look a little like top hats. There were a few versions of these-short knurl, long knurl, tall, gold and black. They all look like little top hats.

The always popular “chicken head”. So named because it sort of resembles the head of a, you guessed it, chicken.

My favorite is the “cupcake” knob. It looks like a cupcake. OK, more like a cupcake liner than a cupcake but it leaves no doubt what knob it describes. Look at a Fender brownface or white Tolex amp built from 1960 until around 1963. There are white ones and brown ones but they are apparently all the same flavor. Two knobs-one Fender and one Gibson-are very similar. The numbered “skirt” knob is the knob of choice for the Fender blackface and silverface amps. The Gibson version is called a “witch hat” because, uh, it looks like a witches hat. They showed up in late on ES guitars and later on Les Pauls and SG’s.

The very illustrative “cupcake” knob. Comes in vanilla and chocolate and it does, indeed, look like an upside down cupcake. Or a Reese cup.

There are knobs that don’t seem to have been given descriptive names and, frankly, if they were all like that, I wouldn’t be writing this post. The black knobs on a Fender Jazz Bass and Jaguar don’t have a name (that I know of). Strats and Jazzmasters have versions of the “skirt” knob including a “short skirt” found on early Strats (well before short skirts on women became popular in the 60’s). Telecaster knobs are called “knurled” knobs because, well, they are knurled. Not terribly creative. I’ve seen them referred to as “barrel” knobs as well but they don’t look a whole lot like barrels. Epiphone has a real imaginative one that appeared on 50’s Epiphones. It looks kind of like a circus tent and most folks call them “carousel” knobs or “big top” knobs. This from the company that brought us the “bikini logo” Guess what it looks like.

The “carousel” knob looks something like a circus tent. This pair is a little dirty but so are most circus tents.

Find Another

August 19th, 2023 • Uncategorized1 Comment »

They don’t get any rarer than “one of a kind”. This is the only known sunburst stop tail mono ES-355. It’s a 1959. There are a few other sunburst 355’s from the early 60’s but this is the only stop tail and the only 59 as far as I know.

You would think that after decades of buying and selling guitars that I would be jaded. Ho-hum, another blonde 59 335 (yawn)…Nope. I’ve written many times about the thrill of finding and ultimately buying a one of a kind vintage guitar. You know, the guitars that simply aren’t supposed to exist but, somehow, they do. Gibson and Fender both would custom make a guitar for you during the fifties and sixties. These custom orders usually took a very long time to get (a year or more) and were fairly expensive although I’ve never seen paperwork showing exactly what you might pay for a custom color or an unusual electronic configuration. The records kept by Gibson are notoriously poor so if you are lucky enough to find the ledger page that goes with the custom order you just paid stupid money for, it might show no sign that it was anything but a stock example. Early on in, say, 59, it was more likely that the ledger page would list the unusual characteristic of a special order and even show the name of the buyer or dealer it went to. By 61, that was pretty much gone and you only see the serial number, model, color and maybe if it had a Bigsby. Using the ledger page to prove your guitar is a special order is, more often than not, a fool’s errand.

I know of five black 59 ES-345’s. I’ve owned four of them. This one belonged to Geddy Lee for a while and now lives in the UK.

I love the one of a kind Gibsons and I almost always buy them when they come up. The average player/collector probably scratches his or her head and wonders why a sunburst, stop tail, mono ES-355 would be worth $125,000. Find another. (it’s the only one known). Why would a 1959 ES-345 in black be worth close to $200K? Find another (there are five of them and black is a hot color right now). There are 211 blonde 335’s from 58-60. There is one from 63 and one (a lefty) from 64 as far as we know. These rarities are all special orders. There are some other unique custom orders that I’ve found or heard of over the years. There’s a green burst 335. There are a few blonde 355’s-I’ve had a 60, a 62 and a 63. There are a couple of tenor (4 string) 345’s. There’s a lovely white ES-345 and a black 355 – both owned by Keith Richards. It goes on. If you have unlimited resources, you could probably put together a wonderful collection consisting only of special orders. There are lots of them and at the same time, they are rare as hen’s teeth.

I wish I could have afforded to keep many of them. I still have the blonde 63 ES-335 and the blonde 63 ES-355. The white ’65 ES-355 is gone as are the four black 59 ES-355’s I’ve owned. The sunburst mono stop tail 355 is gone. The blonde ebony block 62 ES-355 is also gone. There are lots more but if I think about these gems for too long, I will try to buy them back. I know where all of them are. Part of the appeal of collecting is the hunt and finding these often one of a kind special orders is great fun and very satisfying. Early in the internet era, I joined a few of the guitar forums (fora?) and used the screen name “red59dot”. I didn’t have one at the time and, in fact, I had never seen one but I was aware that a few existed. I knew about the one 58 but not a 59. I scoured the internet, magazines, newspapers and every other source I could find looking for that elusive example. I bought what was supposed to be a red 59 335 in 2001 but it turned out to be a fake. It was a 335 body but the neck was from an Epiphone with a cut down long headstock and a dot fingerboard added. The give away was a cut out in the center block under the bridge pickup which didn’t exist in 59. I eventually found 5 red 59 dot necks. It took decades but the hunt was great fun. In keeping with my “don’t fall in love” rule, I didn’t keep one for myself.

Near mint and simply stunning watermelon red 1959 dot neck 335. There are five or six of them. If there is one guitar I wish I had kept, it is this one. This ended up in California.

I recall another guitar that took me nearly five years to acquire. One of my readers wrote to me to tell me about his elderly guitar teacher’s beloved 1963 black ES-345. I made an offer immediately and was, of course, turned down. Every year for the next four or five years I made another offer (always higher). The teacher eventually passed away and the guitar was gifted to my reader. He didn’t want to sell it either as it had special sentimental value (and it was a great guitar). Eventually, the purchase price became compelling enough to make the sale happen and the hunt was over. I didn’t keep that one either. I’m a dealer, not a collector. If I was a collector, I would have an incredible collection (and I would be dead broke).

One of a kind 1963 ES-345 in factory black. Near mint and a wonderful player. Yes, it has f-holes they are just hard to see.

If you have an unusual (or unique) ES guitar from the 50’s or 60’s, let me know. If you want to sell it, I’ll probably buy it. If you don’t, I’d still like to see it and maybe write a post about it (with your permission). One more super rare one that I just acquired that is currently for sale. It is a 1963 ES-355 in factory blonde. I’ve owned a blonde 59/60, a blonde 62 and a blonde 63. Of course, Gibson didn’t make any blonde 355’s until they did.

I know of five blonde ES-335’s made before 1965. There are a few made in the late 60’s as well (I had a 68 a few years ago). I know of one 59, two 60’s, a 62 and this 63. Surprisingly, the sideways trem on this guitar works perfectly.

Not a 335.

July 23rd, 2023 • Uncategorized4 Comments »

The sleeper of all sleeper guitars. Epiphone Wilshires. The only Gibson made guitar with 2 P90’s, stop tail and ABR-1 from 1958 until 1968. The only other is the LP Standard from 55-early 57 and 68 and later. From the left: 62, 61, 60 and the Custom Shop reissue from 2004 on the floor.

Folks ask me about my personal guitar collection all the time and they are always disappointed with the description…”I don’t have one.” It’s not that I don’t own any guitars, I own lots of them but I’m a dealer and I sell them. I do have a few “keepers” (and even they get sold on occasion) and I’d like to talk about one of my favorites. And it isn’t a 335. It isn’t even a Gibson (except it is but I’ll get to that). It’s the Epiphone Wilshire. The what??

First, a short history lesson. Somewhere around 1958, Epiphone was sinking rapidly toward bankruptcy and Gibson wanted the Epiphone upright bass line. A deal was made and Gibson got the name and the line of instruments. The bass thing never worked out and the instruments didn’t last long but the name became a whole new line of slightly lower priced guitars and amps that were nearly the same as the Gibsons of the era. Epiphone never made the models you know-Sheraton, Casino, Riviera, Wilshire, Crestwood and others. Those were all new models based on existing Gibson designs. Epiphone actually never made solid body guitars at all. The first Epiphone solids showed up in 59 as the Crestwood, Wilshire and Coronet. End of history lesson.

I started playing in local bands when I was in the 7th grade which would have been 1964. I had a new Fender Duo Sonic and a Princeton amp. Between 64 and 68, I probably played in a half dozen different bands and none of them lasted very long but all of them played local gigs and I became a fairly well known lead player among the local musicians (and hacks). In late 67 one of the better known local bands (named after an historic house in my hometown of Scotia, NY called Sanders Mansion) broke up and the keyboard player got the name but not much else. He put together a new band with the same name and I was tapped to play lead. We were six pieces (which meant we didn’t make much money considering the average pay for a night was around $100 for the better bands in the area (and $75 for most). We had two lead singers (one male, one female), keys, drums, bass and guitar. I played a Gibson ES-330 by then and was heavily influenced by Eric Clapton. Cream was at its apex and that’s what I wanted to sound like.

I couldn’t get the sound I wanted out of the 330 because as soon as I got the volume and tone settings right for the “woman tone”, the 330 would feed back and drive everybody nuts. I couldn’t afford to go out and buy something else but the lead singer (the male one) had a friend with a guitar I could borrow. It was a 62 Epiphone Wilshire in a falling apart cardboard case. I would borrow that guitar for every gig and use it on the Cream covers and a few other songs and it nailed the tones I wanted (without the feedback) and I became quite attached to it.

He wouldn’t sell it so I bought an SG and life went on without much change. Fast forward to 1995 or so. I haven’t played a gig since the mid 70’s and I’m starting to get interested in vintage guitars (with the advent of Ebay). The first vintage guitar I looked for was an Epiphone Wilshire but I couldn’t find any of the P90 version which they only made from 59 until 63. The mini humbucker version was out there but they had a very narrow nut and I knew I wouldn’t like that. So I bought a white, refinished 63 Crestwood for $600. It was the same as a Wilshire except it had mini humbuckers and a “Trem-o-Tone” vibrato. I sold that for a decent profit and suddenly, I was a vintage dealer. My personal Wilshire would have to wait.

Between ’95 and now, I’ve probably owned 15 60-63 Wilshires (I’ve never found a 59) and every one of them has been a great player. What’s so great about this guitar? Well, the P90 pickups, while somewhat limited in their tonal possibilities, are great for rock and roll and blues. The guitar weighs almost nothing (5 to 6 pounds usually), has great access to the upper frets and costs very little compared to most guitars from that era. It also has an unusual configuration. Two P90’s, ABR-1 bridge and stop tail. What’s so unusual about that? LP Special and SG Special both had wrap tails. ES-330 had a trapeze tailpiece. At the time, only the ’55 and 56 (and early 57) goldtop Les Paul had this configuration. If I’m given the choice between close to 9 lbs of mahogany over my shoulder and under 6 lbs, I’ll take the lighter one please. I’m not 16 any more (much to my chagrin).

I currently own four of them. A 60, two 61’s and a very good 2004 reissue made in the Gibson Custom Shop. The 61’s are for sale but the 60 is my go to guitar when I don’t want humbuckers. There is little difference between the 60, 61, 62 and 63 other than the neck profile, the logo and the position of the three way switch. The 60 is chunky. The rest are pretty slim and wide. There are mostly red ones although I know of a few white ones and one black one. Tuners were three on a side Klusons-usually oval button single lines although my 60 came from the factory with strip type Klusons (like an LP Special). All had unbound Brazilian boards and celluloid guards (which will off gas and make a mess if you don’t open the case once in a while). They are wonderful players and perhaps the easiest guitar to set up of any I’ve had. You can set it up and leave it for a month and it will still be in tune.

You can still find these in the $6000-$12000 range. Many (and probably most) have had the short seam tailpiece scavenged (it’s a $2500 part these days). Any Wilshire over $10K should be all original. Mods are common especially tuner changes. At $6000 for a slightly unoriginal or lightly modded Wilshire, you’re getting a huge bargain. A comparable early 60’s SG Special or LP Special will run you two to three times as much (and have a wrap tail).

This is the guitar I pick up when I want to play a solid body or I want a screaming rock and roll steamroller of a guitar. I love my 59 ES-345 but sometimes you gotta have P90’s. This is a very early 60. Note the “bikini” logo and oddly placed 3 way switch. That’s not the original case. I have it-it’s cardboard and pretty useless.

Price v. Value

June 30th, 2023 • Uncategorized2 Comments »

What’s the ever popular red stop tail ES-335 worth these days? Less than most sellers are asking or so it seems because a lot of them are sitting unsold after months including one of mine.

Every few years, the market gets ahead of itself and folks start asking prices that seem way too high. It usually happens after a sustained run up in prices that has reached its peak. The market for vintage guitars went a little nuts during the pandemic. The breathtaking rise in prices mirrored, in many ways, the guitar market in 2006-2007. It also mimicked the stock market during the internet bubble in the late 90’s. Everybody was happy that they had made lots of money on their portfolios and kept buying hoping the market would continue to rise. And it did. Until it didn’t. The differences between stocks and vintage guitars are huge but the difference that makes all the difference is the size of the market. When folks start selling their stocks, there is nothing an individual can do about it. The market is too big for that to happen. When vintage guitar owners see their “portfolios” rise by double digits in a year, a couple of things happen. One of those things is they think about selling. They assume the market will continue its rise and put their guitar on Reverb or esewhere for an unprecedented price. And folks will pay it. Until they don’t.

That where we are right now. The big rise that occurred from 2019 until 2021 looks to be over for now. Your guitars are worth more than ever but the market isn’t rising. The good news is that is isn’t dropping either. Higher interest rates have cooled the housing market. The stock market is a little wobbly with all the talk of recession. But the guitar market doesn’t seem to respond to interest rates and it seems somewhat immune to the current economic woes. In fact, fear of a recession has been feeding this guitar market. The question comes up in serious conversations about this economy. Where do you put your money? Not cash-inflation makes that kind of dumb. Not real estate with interest rates as high as they are. T-Bills? Well, at 5%, it’s not a bad idea if you’re happy making 5% on your capital. Guitars ran up more than 10% a year for almost three years. That’s a great rate of return but I think it’s over.

When I talk to players and collectors about the current market, they all complain about the high prices unless they are selling. Then they talk about how this guitar sold for this and that guitar is listed at that. New inventory is down but old inventory is sitting unsold because the asking prices simply aren’t realistic. You want examples? I listed a very clean red stop tail 64 ES-335 at a price that reflects the average asking price for a 64-$30,000. That’s nearly 30% higher than it would have been in 2019. It hasn’t sold after 4 months. I listed a rather beat up 58 ES-355 with some issues a few days ago for $29,900. It sold in a half hour with two backup buyers. I’m supposed to be the expert but buyers were writing to me telling me it was massively underpriced. It wasn’t. It was priced right. I’ll explain.

In a busy market, a properly priced guitar should sell quickly. Especially a guitar that is a popular model. There are few guitars more popular than a red 64 ES-335 but that one is sitting. There are few guitars more desirable than a 59 blonde ES-335 but the one I have has been on the market for a year. But that makes some sense because that’s a tiny market-most folks don’t want to spend $100K+ for a guitar. So, how do I explain a 58 mono 355 selling in a half hour? The market for that guitar is pretty small too. Simple, it was well priced. I try to price my guitars sensibly and I’m never in a big hurry to sell so I will let a guitar sit on the market for a long time if the market for it is a small one. But a red 64 335 that hasn’t sold in four months must be overpriced. And I guess it is.

Everybody says the value of any guitar is what someone will pay for it. I agree with that assessment. So, if your guitar is sitting on the market for months (and it isn’t an unpopular model or a model with a tiny market), then it’s likely overpriced. I know this because my guitars are mostly still selling well. I guess $30K for a 64 with some minor issues is too much (and I just lowered it). I could have let it sit and hope the market rises some more or wait for someone who has to have one right away but that’s a fool’s errand. That guy is out there but that segment of the market (guitar buyers with more money than they know what to do with) is even smaller.

I’d rather be a smart buyer than a smart seller. If you buy smart, you will be able to sell smart. If you don’t buy smart, it will be harder to sell smart.

This rare 58 ES-355 (also with some issues) sold recently for under $30K. What happens when a smart buyer meets a smart seller? A sale, that’s what happens.

Act Two

June 15th, 2023 • Uncategorized4 Comments »

It certainly makes sense to write about the Gibson made semi hollows like the Sheraton and Riviera but also the solid body Epi/Gibsons like the Crestwood, Wilshire and Coronet. Not only because I really like them but they are great, under appreciated guitars as well.

First, I’m moved by the comments from all of you. It’s very gratifying to know that you aren’t just reading my posts but you’re also paying attention. The premise of the last post was to get an idea of what you think might make sense for me to write about now that I seem to have exhausted most of the topics related to 58 to 64 ES guitars. There were a number of folks who thought I should cover Strats and Telecasters. Others thought Les Pauls should be next. Still others like the idea of SG’s. Amps got a few nods as well. The obvious follow up is, of course, later ES guitars. Each “act two” has its merits but I think I need to narrow down the choices.

The reason I know so much about ES guitars is because that’s what I sell. Therefore that’s what I see. I don’t sell that many Strats and Teles and I don’t consider myself an expert. I also don’t play Strats and Teles very often so my opinions about tone might be a little skewed. So, I think we’ll eliminate writing about Fenders and besides, there are plenty of folks writing about them already. Newer ES guitars make a lot of sense but that topic has its problems too. Certainly 65-68’s are worth writing about but Norlins? I’d have a lot of bad things to say and where’s the joy in that? We could skip the 70’s and jump to the early 80’s ES guitars. I’ve written a fair amount about 81 to 85-the last gasp of a dying Norlin that turned out some really good guitars but I don’t think I’ll get anywhere near the thirteen years I got out of 1958 through 1964. The Henry Juskiewicz era at Gibson (1986-2018) is interesting but for me to write about them, I have to have them in hand and I can’t see starting to sell 90’s and later Gibsons just so I can write intelligently about them.

That leaves me some really good options though. I will continue to write about 58 to 64 ES guitars especially when an unusual one turns up. I think posts about Gibson era Epiphones are definitely worth doing. These guitars are vastly underrated, undervalued and underappreciated. They deserve some attention so, I’ll do some posts about them. I also think that writing about vintage Les Pauls-especially as they relate to 3×5’s makes some sense. For example, I might buy a 59 burst and write about how it’s authenticated and how provenance is such a big part of that market. I can certainly make comparisons between the Les Pauls I get and certain ES guitars (is a first rack 345 really a “burst killer”?). I’ve been doing a fair amount of business in 57-60 Les Pauls lately and I’m getting comfortable with the idea of writing about them but probably not Jr’s and Special’s-at least not yet.

Finally, I had a suggestion about writing about the best amps to use with ES guitars. Great idea but I’d have to try out an awful lot of amps to come up with a credible opinion about it. I do think I have the knowledge and experience to write about Fender tweed amps. I buy and sell plenty of them. I play them every day and I am nearly as passionate about them as I am about ES guitars. The problem is that so much of amp knowledge is technical and I barely know a resistor from a transistor from a big sister. I can address tone but I can’t tell you why it’s buzzing or “motorboating” whatever that is.

So, expect posts about 335’s to continue when I have something to write about. There will be posts about Les Pauls if I get an interesting one. I’ll discuss Sheratons, Rivieras, Casinos, Crestwoods, Wilshires and Coronets built from 59 until 68. If I get an interesting SG, I’ll write about that and a series on narrow panel Fender tweeds will be fun to write. That ought to keep me busy for at least a year at two to three posts a month.

Everybody seems to write about Les Pauls but I think that you might get a different perspective from me. I am buying and selling bursts but most of the transactions are private and you never get to see them. I let you in on some of the interesting inside stuff that you don’t generally read about. This 58 sold recently and was owned by a few rock stars.

What Makes the Great Ones Great?

May 21st, 2023 • Uncategorized3 Comments »

This is 1959 ES-335 SN A30248. It is the best sounding ES-335 I’ve ever played. It has a 58 FON, thin top, double white PAFs. Neck depth is around .88″ at the first fret and 1″ at the 12th.

I have a post ready to talk about what to do now that I’ve pretty much exhausted the ES guitars but a reader suggested that I write about the best of the ES guitars that I’ve had. I’ve covered the topic in dribs and drabs but never really drew a solid conclusion about what makes the best ones any better than the not quite the best ones (or the worst for that matter).

Let’s look at the top ten. It’s a fluid list…if you follow it through the years (if you can find the posts where mention it) you’ll see that it changes every time I talk about it. That’s simply because I get “new” guitars all the time and one of those new ones might step up and take the place of one of the others. It’s a pretty loose compilation because it’s hard to remember how good a guitar sounded that I owned twelve years ago compared to one I just got yesterday. I suppose I could have recorded them all but I don’t have good recording equipment and everything sounds like crap on an iphone. That said, there is a very clear common denominator among the top ten (and most of the top twenty). Let’s look at number one, two and three. All are 59 335’s. All have thin tops. Two of the three have double white PAFs (I’ll get into that later) and two of three have 58 FON’s. All have big necks (at least .87″ at the first fret and .98″ at the 12th. Two of the three come from the same rack T5792 and all three have serial numbers in the A30xxx range. They are A30248, A30173 and A30957…so they aren’t particularly close together by serial number.

Now, all of those things could be factors or none of those things could be factors. If we look at the rest of the top ten, all but one are thin tops so I think I can safely say that the thin 58 three ply top is a big factor. The top ten as I currently have it is as follows:

1.59 ES-335 58 FON. 2. 59 ES-335 59 FON. 3. 59 ES-335 58 FON. 4. 59 ES-355 mono 59 FON 5. 59 ES-345 59 FON. 6. 58 ES-335 58 FON. 7. 59 ES-345 59 FON. 8. 60 ES-335 58 FON. 9. 58 ES-335 58 FON. 10. 62 ES-335 (dot neck) no FON.

Five have double whites or zebras which means five have double blacks. We all know that the color of the bobbin doesn’t affect tone but the windings certainly do. Because there was no automatic stop on the old winders, the folks who did the winding (mostly women, by the way) stopped when the bobbin looked to be full. Because the color of the wire and the black bobbin are both quite dark, the winders probably were al little more cautious about overwinding. If the windings came off the bobbin, it would slow down the assembly and cost the bean counters time and money. With a white bobbin it was easier to see how close to the edge of the bobbin the windings were and because of that, double whites and zebras got a lot more turns and higher DCRs. Do higher DCR’s sound better? Some say yes. Some say no. It’s pretty subjective. Everyone has an opinion. I like a neck pickup to be in the mid 8’s and the bridge in the low 8’s. Most like a “hotter” bridge. I might add that DCR doesn’t equal output. It’s a common myth and everybody has to stop thinking that a higher DCR is better.

All are stop tails (including the 355). If we go to the top twenty, there is only one Bigsby in the group. So, I THINK I can safely say that a stop tail is a factor. All but one has a big neck (as do most of the top twenty) so that’s a likely factor as well. Neck angles are all over the place among the top ten. At least three have very shallow angles. Maybe a factor, maybe not. There are probably characteristics that are unmeasurable or impossible to know. I don’t know the composition of the plywood for any of these (and it varied). Body thickness also varied a good bit but I don’t usually measure that. For all I know, The amount of glue used to attach the neck could be a factor-I don’t look at that either.

One thing worth noting…the difference between an “average” 58 to 64 ES guitar and a top twenty ES guitar isn’t much. I don’t know that I can say that there is a measurable percentage difference. I could guess 5% maybe? Out of around 600 ES guitars that have passed through my hands, only one was a total irredeemable dog and perhaps a dozen were playable but not terribly good. So 2% of them aren’t worth playing (or paying big bucks for). Those are pretty good odds. Consider that by the 70’s, the odds of getting a bad guitar were more like 75% or 1 good one out of four (my opinion only. YMMV). Keep in mind, the best 335/345/355 for you is the one that sounds best to your ears, not mine.

This is number four. Look closely. It’s not a 335. It’s a sunburst mono ES-355. This sat in the number two position for a year or so and still resides in the top five. It is certainly the best 355 ever and is so close to the number one 335 that on a given day, I might like it better than number one. At that point it depends on the amp and my ears.

What to Do Next

May 14th, 2023 • Uncategorized15 Comments »

I have recently moved into the Les Paul market and have learned a lot about them. The marketplace itself is very different than what I’m used to but I guess the buyer of a $400,000 guitar is a bit different than the buyer of a 335. I sold the 58 in the photo recently as well as a museum grade 59.

Well, I knew it would happen eventually. After 12 plus years, I’ve just about run out of things to say about ES-335’s, 345’s and 355’s. I could repeat some things and maybe correct some errors (yes, there are a few errors, mostly in the early years) but unless someone wants to tell me otherwise, I’ve covered pretty much all the aspects of these guitars. I suppose I could get into real esoterica like taking apart the pots and pickups going through the components but I don’t think there would be that much interest. I’ve thought about covering later 335’s from the mid 80’s onward and maybe even the 70’s but there is a problem with that as well. I simply never see any of them. You all know what I think about 70’s Gibsons and for me to write intelligently about them, I’d have to buy and sell them. All my knowledge comes from observation. I don’t generally read guitar books (although I’ve helped to write a couple). There are some great later 335’s but, again, I don’t see enough of them to write with the kind of detail that you’ve come to expect from me. I think most of you understand that I’m a vintage dealer who writes and not a writer who sells vintage guitars.

There are a couple of interesting options though. I’ve started dealing in vintage Les Pauls and I’m learning a lot. I’ve sold my fair share of 50’s gold tops and lately a few bursts. I’ve always felt that the burst market was a little too scary but now that I’ve gained a lot more knowledge about them, a $400,000 guitar no longer scares the crap out of me. Well, actually it still does but that’s probably healthy. So, maybe I write about Les Pauls. The problem is that everyone writes about Les Pauls and unless you love the way I write, you might not learn anything new or be entertained. I actually find the Les Paul marketplace to be more interesting than the guitars themselves. I have to admit a great Les Paul sounds like a choir of angels but, like 335’s there are good ones, better ones and great ones. Provenance is a big deal with LPs and I find that very interesting as it hardly ever figures into the value of 335’s. How pretty the guitar is (read how much figure in the wood) is another factor that is largely absent from the 335 market. 335’s are all about tone and condition. LP’s seem to be about flame and provenance (and, yes, tone).

I could write about SG’s. I’ve always liked SG’s and I’ve owned at least 100 of them over the years. There’s a lot of overlap between SG’s and 335’s (and Les Pauls) but there are quite a few issues that are unique to them-like the terrible neck join that they kept changing because it wasn’t stable. The other guitars that I have a good base of knowledge about (and really need somebody to champion them) are Gibson made Epiphones. They are, by far, the most underappreciated guitars in the vintage realm. I’ve owned lots of Sheratons, Crestwoods, Coronets, Casinos and Wilshires. I keep a 60 Wilshire in my very small personal collection. I play it as often as I play my main guitar which is a blonde 59 ES-345 with two patched holes in the top.

It’s a tough call for me. I could probably come up with more ES topics but I don’t know if I want to start writing about pickup slugs and height springs. But I could. Let me know what you think. I’d love to get your input.

Gibson made Epiphones are worth writing about. A blonde Sheraton is maybe a $25000-$30000 guitar while a Gibson in blonde is three times that or more. That’s a pretty good deal. Also, the best P90 guitar I’ve ever played (and I own four of them) is the 60-63 Wilshire.

Pole Dance

April 17th, 2023 • Uncategorized1 Comment »
These babies are the beating heart of your guitar. Treat them right and they will treat you right.

“My neck pickup is muddy.”

“My bridge pickup is too bright.”

“My pickups are poorly balanced.”

All are legitimate complaints about the tone of your 335, 345 or 355. All have fairly easy solutions so before you start swapping out your pickups, there are some really simple things you can do to improve the tone of your guitar. I’ve written in some detail about saddles and the nut and how they are two of the most important elements in getting the best tone out of your guitar. After all, the vibration of the strings are the source of your tone. The pickups main job is to get that tone from the strings to the amp. Sustain is important and that’s a function of good strings, a well cut nut and properly notched saddles. The strings need to vibrate freely without interference. Too deep saddle notches will choke your sustain as will a poorly cut (to tight or too loose) nut. Uneven frets will also affect the string vibration. You’ll need a good luthier to get these aspects of your guitar optimally set up. Once this is done, your guitar should play beautifully unplugged up and down the fingerboard and on the open strings. Then it’s time to address the issues that led off this post.

It makes perfect sense that raising or lowering the pole screws is a great way to adjust the volume/output of each individual string. Except it doesn’t work very well. Seth Lover’s original design didn’t even have pole screws but the brass at Gibson thought that players would feel that they had lost some control over their tone, so pole screws were added. Unlike the poles in a lot of pickups, the poles in a Gibson humbucker aren’t magnets. They pick up a very small magnetic charge from being next to the magnet but they sure don’t do much when you raise them or lower them. That’s because the magnet is still in the same place no matter where the pole screws are and the amount of magnetic charge on the screws isn’t enough to affect the magnetic field very much. I’m no engineer but I have ears. Do you hear a difference? Good for you if you do…adjust away-I don’t hear it. That said, when you raise or lower the pickup itself, the difference can be massive. The best method for adjusting your pickup height is good old trial and error. I start off with the pickups as close to the strings as possible (without the strings hitting the pickup).

My next step is to listen to the neck pickup. If it’s muddy, I lower only the bass side until I’m happy with the low end frequency response. Then I switch between the pickups to get a sense of the balance. If the neck pickup is louder, I first lower the treble side. If it’s still louder than the bridge pickup I lower both sides until the balance is good. I generally leave the bridge pickup as high as I can get it because I want it to overdrive the amp-that’s a personal preference. If you want the bridge pickup to be a bit more “musical”, lower it equally on both sides. Once you like the tone, you can raise or lower either side to get the strings balanced with each other. Check the balance between the pickups again. If your adjustments of the bridge pickup have made the two pickups out of balance again, your next step should be to lower the neck pickup until they are balanced to your ears.

There is one other adjustment that can make a difference. Often, the neck pickup sits at an angle to the strings usually with the lower edge closer to the strings than the upper (closest to the neck) edge. In that situation, I reverse the pickup ring so the tall side is toward the neck rather than the lower side. That will usually flatten out the pickup. Once the pickup is sitting flat, it will often be a bit louder than it was before. Lower accordingly until the pickups are balanced.

And keep this in mind when choosing pickups…DCR is not a measure of output. It is related to output but the relationship between DCR and volume is not a direct one. a 6.9K pickup can be as loud as an 8.8K. There are too many factors other than DCR that affect loudness (including pickup height). So, don’t assume something is wrong when your 7.6K neck pickup is louder than your 8.8K bridge pickup. Start adjusting the heights and don’t quit until you are happy.

You can clearly see that the neck pickup is sitting at an angle to the strings. That may or may not affect the output or the tone of your pickup. The fix is to reverse the pickup ring so the tall side is toward the neck