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Caveat Emptor (Let the Buyer Beware)

 

Gibson is Making Really Nice New 335s Now. Look for the Historic line. The others are less than stellar. This is a 63 Block neck reissue. There is non Historic block neck reissue for a couple of thousand dollars less. Don't buy that one if you can afford this one.

 

Not that long ago, if you wanted a vintage guitar-I think we called them old guitars or used guitars back then-you had to either go to a music store or look in the newspaper in the classifieds.  With the advent of the internet, it’s gotten a whole lot easier and a whole lot more dangerous to find great vintage pieces. I don’t mean dangerous like the guy you’re buying from is going to dice you up into little pieces and bury you in the root cellar. What I mean is that you don’t always get what you think your getting.  Most guitar shops, particularly those who specialize in vintage guitars, are going to treat you honestly but you will pay a premium for that. Let’s take the 1964 ES 335, my favorite of all of them. A 1964  issue free 335 can cost anywhere from $14,995 (Cheapest on Ebay on May 15) to $34,500 from the nice folks at Fretted Americana. Is the high priced one a rip? Not if you want a near mint example that the dealer will stand behind for as long as you own it and you want it today. Also, most dealers will give you a day or two or three to decide if it’s right for you. That’s a lot of what you are paying for. Let’s see you do that on Ebay. If you buy from a reputable dealer, you will get what you are looking for with no excuses. If you buy on Ebay, you may be able to find the same guitar in the same condition for far, far less. The problem is that the seller may not have described the instrument accurately-whether from a lack of knowledge (I just know it’s a 64, I got it for my 12th birthday from my Aunt Shirley) or flat out dishonesty.  I bought an ’61 Epiphone Crestwood for $4,000 on Ebay that the owner insisted had never been broken. I looked it over when I got it and it looked fine. Much later, when I brought it to my repair guy for some electronic work, he said, “Hey Charlie, did you know there’s a repaired headstock crack?” I had owned it for at least 2 months and I felt that I couldn’t go back to the seller and complain. Or the 54 Les Paul Custom that cost me stupid money that had a rout for a Kahler that had been filled and repainted? The seller gave me back my money even though he pointed out that his ad clearly stated “no returns”. I explained to him that I thought the rule shouldn’t apply if the seller is lying about the condition. Point is you don’t always get what you pay for and when you can’t inspect the guitar or have an expert inspect it for you, it’s going to happen a lot more frequently.  Not always big significant problems like a break but often little ones like a changed pot or knob. Or maybe the pickguard is a repro-you know-stuff you can’t always see in the photos.  And don’t expect the bureaucracy at Ebay to take your side when you tell them something was left out of a listing. they’ll tell you you should have asked about it. So ask. If the price is so good you just have to buy it immediately before someone else gets it, then you’re asking for trouble. I know. I’ve done it more than once. Good pictures can be a big help and buying from sellers who specialize in vintage guitars can even out the odds as well. But if you’re looking for the bargain of the century (like the 64 ES 335 that went for $3000 last month and resold a week later for $12,500) they’re out there but you better know what to look for. So, if you want a top quality instrument that you can play for a few days before you buy, go to a dealer. Haggle with them; they often have some wiggle room. If you’re looking for a real bargain on Ebay or Craig’s List be prepared for surprises and not the good kind (not that they don’t exist). Here’s another interesting example. I bought a 61 ES 345 from a not terribly reputable dealer on Ebay a few years ago. It had the short pickguard but it had a 59 serial number. I could have emailed the dealer and told him I thought it was a 59 and he would have either raised the price or not cared one way or the other since he was still making his profit. So, I didn’t say anything and sure enough, it was a 59. I acquired a long guard for it and played it for a number of years (It’s the one in the middle of the “3 Sisters” shot) and then sold it. But I knew what to look for. Now maybe you do too (if you read everything I’ve written). Ask loads of questions, that way if anything is different than the answer the seller gave you, you have some recourse. Most sellers will take a guitar back if they have misrepresented it and you can prove it in writing.  So ASK.

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