Archive for June, 2010

Another ES-335 Head Scratcher-Thanks Norlin!

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

1969 ES-335. What's Missing from this Picture? Hint: A Tenon.

When the Norlin Corporation bought Gibson from CMI (Chicago Musical Instruments) in 1969, they were a multinational conglomerate. I believe they were in the cement business and the beer business among other things. It’s clear they weren’t in the guitar business. I’ve always thought that the transition from good high quality instruments to nearly unplayable crap took a few years but the 69 pictured above gives me pause.  Is the neck just glued at the heel? There’s no visible neck tenon at all. This can’t be a very stable joint. I’ve looked at a lot of 335s and while I don’t spend a whole lot of time with 70’s stuff, I’ve seen a fair number of 69 models but this is the first I’ve seen with this configuration. It’s got to be a late 69 since it has the 3 piece neck, but it has no made in USA stamp and I’m not sure about the volute because every seller cuts off the photo so you can’t see it. That’s a whole rant in itself. In any case, if you’re buying a 335 from this transitional era, take off the neck pickup and look in there.  This could be the deal of the century but be aware of what you’re buying. The owner of this guitar (on Ebay) has shown his honesty and integrity by pointing this out and showing a photo. he also points out some weirdness in the headstock inlay so take a look at it and if the price appeals to you, then take a second look.  Those look like virgin T-tops in there. They could even be pre T-tops. I’ve seen them on a 68 so why not on a 69. The screws are philips which indicates that the pickups could be pre T-tops. So, buyer beware and buyer be educated too. I owned a 1980 Hamer Special back in the 80’s and it also had no tenon and I could bend a note nearly half a step just by pulling on the headstock. Yikes.

ES-355: Top of the Line or Poor Stepchild?

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

The Annie Leibovitz (please don’t sue me) photo of Keef with his black 355 in the Louis Vitton ad he probably took so much heat for from his bandmates. What was their name again? How much for that LV case? And what’s in that teacup anyway-certainly not tea.

I seem to neglect the 355 when I write and it isn’t because I don’t like them. It’s more likely because fewer players seem to like them-the 335 is way more popular. That said, there are a lot of big names who have preferred the 355. Names like, uh, BB King, Keith Richards, Alex Lifeson and Chuck Berry. Big enough? But this post isn’t about the players. I’ll do that later. Rather, we’ll take a look at what makes a 355 so different than a 335 or 345. The concept of the 355 is exactly the same as the 335-a pressed (not carved) plywood body with a big ol’ maple block down the middle and 2 pickups. The rest is pretty much decoration. The 355 had only one real option beyond special order options. It only came standard in red. It always came with a Bigsby or Vibrola or Sideways trem (except for a few special orders with a stop tail that have emerged-some questionable). The option was the stereo Varitone which was designated on the label-usually as SV-as in ES-335TDSV. Actually the SV was more the norm and the mono version was more the option since there are so many more SV versions. While the 335 was a basic no frills workingman’s guitar, the 355 was a showman’s. It is not a subtle piece of work. It’s fancy. Big fat pearl block markers set elegantly into a deep black ebony board, split diamond headstock inlay and a 7 ply white-black-white-black-white-black-white binding. The 345 binding only had 3 plies and the 335 just one. All the hardware is gold and the rumor is that the 355s got the best wood. They weren’t fooling around-this is one pimped out guitar. I have to admit, somewhat sheepishly, that I’ve never owned a 355. I’ve played a number of them but somehow never bought one. I won’t get into the Varitone debate in this post (but I will eventually). Electronically, a mono 355 is a 335 dressed up and the SV is a 345 more dressed up. There have been discussions about ebony boards being brighter but either I don’t have the ears for it or it’s a myth-I just don’t hear it. If I close my eyes and play, I won’t know whether I’m playing a 335 or a 355 mono. The 355 might be a bit heavier but my ears won’t know. So why are they so much less popular? Why do they command so much less money in the collector market? I think the fact that they all have trems is a negative-after all, a Bigsby will knock as much as 25% off the price of a 335 and a Maestro makes it a very tough sell. The sideways is cool looking but rare and impossible to use. The ostentation seems a factor-just like in the Les Paul Custom but it goes counter to American tastes. American males like ostentation-look at what people do to their Harleys (and what musicians do to attract attention). So, it’s a bit of a paradox but I’ll just accept it and move on. You have to admit, it looks mighty snazzy up there on the bandstand. The only negative I can really come up with-other than the trem (since I don’t use one) is the often thin necks that Gibson put on them. I think this was Fender’s fault. Sometime around 1959, the concept of the “fast” neck came about and the manufacturers were falling all over themselves trying to provide the thinnest “fastest” neck possible and which Gibson model should be all that? The most expensive one. So 355s by mid 59 have thin profiles. I don’t play as well on a thin neck so I avoid them. That limits the number of 355s I would consider owning to the 58 and early 59 model years. If someone comes up with a nice fat necked mono 355 from 58 or 59, then I might become an owner. The 355 is the best deal out there right now. A 64 went for around $4500 recently IIRC and a 66 didn’t get any bids a $4000. A nice well played 59 SV with PAFs just sold for a shade under $12K. There’s a stunning 60 SV that’s been listed in the $14K range for a while that would look good in any collection. Offer him $12K-maybe he’ll take it. If you’re jonesing for a 335 and you see a 355 that catches your eye, don’t rule it out-they are excellent guitars and worth the money if you pay attention to their few limitations.

This is the first ES 355 to leave the factory in 1958 and it’s a MONO. Owned by Les Paul Forum member Mac Daddy 355 who was at my house a while back when his friend Russ bought my 62 335 and I can’t remember his name. He brought along the most incredible 58 ES 335.

How about this spectacular ’61 TDSV with the “Flash Gordon” sideways trem. Also owned by a LPF member-MikeG59. Why aren’t these popular again?

Rant Part 2: The Great Guitar Standoff

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

A Beautiful 1960 Dot Neck 335 with a Removed Bigsby. But, other than the PAFs, almost all the parts are repro. What would you pay?

These are strange times indeed. Your house is worth 20-30% less than it was in 2006. Your stock portfolio is down 50% from its high. I paid $16000 for a 59 ES 345 and now it’s worth $12,000 if I’m lucky. I acknowledge all these things as a result of the bad economy and, while it upsets me, I am not in denial. I get it. And if you’re patient and I am too, this will change-for better or for worse-it always does. Why are so many people in denial about the value of their vintage guitars? In fact, many sellers-including dealers have actually raised their prices based on what they think their guitar would be worth if the huge runup that occurred in the past decade had actually continued. Examples?-I got a load of ’em.  I bought a really nice 66 ES 345 near the top of the market for $3600 or so.  I found one on Ebay today for $7489 described as a 66-67 (it’s actually may be a 68 but there aren’t enough photos to tell for sure). It’s a Bigsby (-25%) it’s been Grovered and it isn’t going to sell. If this was 2008, the top of the market, this was a $4000 or $4500 guitar at best. So, this guy thinks the market just continued to go up for the past 2 years. There are no buyers as I pointed out in Part 1 of my rant. Well, actually there are would-be buyers but they aren’t buying overpriced guitars. Thus, the standoff. There’s a 59 345 for $12,500-that’s about what I thought mine was worth at the top of this post-that’s a good deal, right? Wrong-it’s got DiMarzio pickups and if a pair of PAFs is worth $3000, then would this be a $15500 guitar? Nope. Not since 2008. The dealers aren’t any better. Some of the most venerated of the vintage shops seem as out of touch as Joe E. Bayer from Dogfart Falls, Michigan. There a very nice 1964 (my favorite year!) ES -335 in red-just like mine on Ebay. All original-just like mine. But there aren’t any stickers on the pickups-well, that’s a problem. This should be, in my opinion, a $20000 guitar at most.  This particular dealer is looking for $27,500. Twenty seven thousand five hundred dollars for very nice 1964 ES-335. If this guitar had been under the bed since 1964 and was a virtually unplayed 9.9 museum piece, I can see it-barely. Wishful thinking? Wiggle room? These guys have a lot of money tied up in these guitars and I understand the desire to get their money out.  The problem is that the individual sellers are getting their pricing information from other listings and from Gbase. And you know they are going to find the same guitar they have and look for the highest price and offer up Grandpa’s beat up and modded old 335 for top dollar. Yeah, top dollar for 2008.  Here’s an example from a dealer not listing on Ebay. Let’s look at a 1960 removed Bigsby ES 335 dot neck. Issues? You bet: repro bridge, repro tailpiece, repro knobs and filled Bigsby holes on the top. Oh, and a new nut and a repro switch tip. And it’s been refretted. Price? $25,000. I think that this price is way high. These are very expensive missing parts. This was a Bigsby guitar (-25%) If the market is down 30%, then was this ever a $37000 guitar with all these missing parts? Not a chance-do the math. The reason I used these 2 examples is because while they are both high, they illustrate another market reality. The no issue guitar will hold up better in a down market than an issues guitar. I actually think that the 27000 ’64 may be a better deal than the issue laden ’60. When and if the market finally rises back up, the most desirable vintage pieces-the ones that command the largest premium and the one’s that will lead the market out of its funk are the no issue “museum quality” examples. So, make ’em an offer. Take it upon yourself to negotiate with these guys. Just because they set the prices doesn’t mean you have to pay them. And don’t make the mistake of thinking that because many of these dealers are experts, that they wouldn’t charge you way more than a guitar is worth. Most will sell them for as much as they can get. Period. That’s how capitalism generally works. When’s the last time you made an offer for a guitar and the seller said-“you know, it isn’t really worth that much, why don’t you knock 20% off.” And what about Joe E. Bayer? He won’t lower his price until he really needs the money. He also won’t sell his guitar until he does so. Update: I noticed that the dealer with the 64 has added a “best offer” to his listing which is what he should do. At least it shows a willingness to negotiate. However, to me it says-“if you aren’t dumb enough to pay my asking price, how dumb are you?” But that’s just me.

A Spectacular 9.5 condition 64 ES 335 but the pickups have no stickers. Is it worth top dollar to you?

The Evil Volute

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

Volute on an ES-355. Big, fat later type.

Volute-evil shorter brother of Voldemort? Not exactly. Whenever I see an Ebay ad that shows a 335 with questionable dating, it is inevitable that there is no shot of the back of the headstock below the tuners. Some owners are very very careful not to show that telltale bump that it so hard to describe. I’ll email the seller and ask if the guitar has a volute. Answers like “it has 2 and 2 tone controls as well” or “no, but I have one I can sell with it” and any number of other erroneous and often humorous descriptions of whatever it is people think I’m asking about.  I usually call it a ridge or bump at the base of the headstock-usually at the thinnest point on the neck behind the nut or slightly toward the first fret. Anyway, it’s pretty useful when it comes to dating 335s because they began in mid 69 and were used until 1981. The reason for them was that Gibson was getting too many complaints about broken headstocks. The volute is intended to be a reinforcement for the weakest point on a Gibson. It is carved into the neck. It’s interesting, Fenders never seem to break there. I see 100 broken Gibsons for one broken Fender. maybe it’s because it’s easy just to unbolt a Fender neck and put on a new one if you break it. Or maybe maple is stronger than mahogany (which it is) or more likely, a combination of a number of factors.  I’ve knocked my Stratocaster off the stand at least once and it made a lot of noise but it didn’t break. And yes, I have a Stratocaster-everyone should have at least one. Actually my son took it to college and I haven’t seen it since. Anyway, I digress.  I can say a couple of things about the volute categorically. Everybody hates it. It’s ugly and ungainly. It doesn’t work. I’ve seen plenty of volute equipped Gibsons with broken headstocks.

Volute with a 3 piece neck and the big, dopey looking 70's headstock. No wonder they couldn't give these away.

One other thing is certain-even though you hate it, it doesn’t affect the playability of the guitar to any great extent and it doesn’t affect tone at all. The problem is that coincidental to the addition of the volute came the cost cutting that  ruined Gibson for all of the 70’s. the volute was the least of their troubles. I had a 73 Les Paul Custom with a volute that was a very nice guitar (if a bit heavy). It never got in the way and the guitar had wonderful tone. The first volute which appeared in mid to late 1969 was very small-just a bump really but that wasn’t enough for the suits at Gibson, so shortly after-within months-it became really huge and downright offensive to look at. The necks also became 3 piece which are much cheaper to make. I could write about why everybody hates them but I think I’ve got that covered, so why don’t I take a positive approach. Let’s assume you have a limited budget and you have your heart set on a 335 and you can’t afford a 60’s, a mid 80’s or a Historic. Let’s say you have less than $2000. I would look for a cheap mid 80’s first. Then I would consider a recent Memphis 335. Then maybe a late 80’s. But if you really, really want a vintage piece-the older the better-look at the early 70’s. They are currently way overpriced-nobody should pay even $3000 for one of these in this market. But if you find one from 1970-1974, you may get a good sounding, good playing guitar. By 75, they start getting really poor in terms of build quality and I would avoid them. With few exceptions, which I’ll get into in another post (like the ES Artist), stay away from 76-early 81 unless you can play it before you buy it.

This is original small volute seen mostly in late 69. This is a Les Paul Recording but you get the idea.

The Mysterious Neck Tenon

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Long tenon on the left. Short tenon on the right. Both look pretty substantial but which one do you want holding the neck onto your guitar?

You hear a lot about long tenons versus short tenons on vintage guitars usually in reference to Les Pauls because those guys are nuttier than we 335 guys are and we’re plenty nutty. A tenon is simply a “tab” of wood that fits into a similarly shaped slot (called a mortise) to form a joint. Mortise and tenon joints are strong and well suited to guitar making where you need an immovable connection between 2 separate pieces of wood-the neck and the body. It stands to reason that the longer the “tab” and the longer the slot it fits into, the more stable the joint will be-more surface area means more glue and better hold. The physics of leverage probably comes into play as well. Gibson, in order to save money on manufacturing costs (you mean they would actually do this???) has periodically cut corners and one of those corners was the neck tenon.  As Gibson limped its way into the 70’s) the tenon, at least in the Les Paul, started shrinking. I’m not certain about 335s during this period since  don’t like them, I don’t have one to check out. I do have plenty of experience with 80’s 335s and they too have a smaller tenon. Does this make it an inferior guitar? Well yes, in a way. It may sound as good and it may be perfectly adequate but it won’t be as strong as the original long tenon neck joint found from 58 into at least the early 70’s. Should you care? Well, lets look at the relatively inexpensive 80’s 335s that I like so well. I’ve never seen one break at the neck tenon and I’ve never had one that has excessive movement in the neck join, so no, I don’t think you should be terribly concerned about the smaller neck tenon in the 80’s 335. To my knowledge, Gibson didn’t go back to the old style neck tenon until around 2006 with the Historics. I know this because I sent my 68 (which I thought was a 65 at the time) to Gibson to be renecked in 2006 and I was told that they don’t make any necks with that tenon except for the Eric Clapton 335 which was, of course, an exact copy of his ’64. I had an occasion to ask the same thing this year and was told that the Historic necks were now being made with the same long tenon as the original 335s. Apparently it’s only the Historics-not the Anniversary Models and not the Memphis Custom Shop Models either. If you want your new 335 to be constructed the old fashioned way, you will have to buy a Nashville Historic.

Here's the short tenon in a recent memphis ES-335. Note how far it extends into the pickup rout. Not very.

Here's a long tenon in its mortise on a Nashville 335. Note the width and how much farther it extends into the pickup rout.

Pride of the 80’s: Part 2

Monday, June 21st, 2010

Here's a pretty and authentic looking 81. These are the good ears.

When I last posted, I talked about the Norlin Corporation’s last ditch attempt to keep the good name of Gibson from going irrevocably down the crapper. the result of this effort was the 335 Dot reissue and the Les Paul Heritage series-later the reissue series. Up until Norlin sold the company to the present owners, they systematically cut costs and quality in order to maximize profits.  Even though it was too little too late, these late Norlin guitars can be really excellent guitars. As I discussed yesterday, the Shaw PAF was a big part of this. But there was more to it than that both to the good and to the bad.  When the ES-335 Dot Reissue was first introduced in 1981, it was the first 335 not to have a neck volute (that reinforcement bump where the headstock meets the neck) since 1969. That was an improvement because everyone hates it. The nut width went back to the original 1 11/16″ measurement that the original had and the neck profile, while somewhat inconsistent, was certainly very playable.  Add to that the reintroduction of the stop tail and you’ve got something that almost resembles a 58-61 dot neck. Almost.  There are elements that diminished the quality as well. A holdover from the earlier Norlins is the 3 piece neck-cheaper to make and, arguably more resistant to twisting. I don’t like three piece necks because I believe that by turning the grain and gluing the pieces together for strength, you diminish resonance. The physics behind that will take me way too long to explain. There are examples with a one piece neck

here's the back of a sunburst. I don't mind them even though they are very different from the ones made in the old days. More subtle with less yellow.

but they are harder to find. Look for them if you’re considering one of these. The stoptail on these weighs about a half a pound or at least it feels like a half a pound. Take it off and get a lightweight one. The bridge is the Nashville type. Good because of the increased range of travel for intonation. Not so good because it just looks wrong. You can swap it out for a Faber (made in Germany-just Google Faber bridge). It fits right on the Nashville studs with no redrilling. It’s a very good bridge and looks just like an ABR-1. You can also just leave it-it works perfectly well. I find the biggest issue with these guitars is the wiring harness. For some reason probably to save money, they used 300K pots rather than the 500K pots used on the original 335s. For some reason that’s steeped in elementary electronics, it gives the pickups a markedly darker tone-muddy, and not the Muddy with a capital M either. My advice? Well. it’s still a vintage guitar and I think it’s important that you make no changes that can’t be unmade. So, rather than changing out the pots-which is a lot of work-just pull the entire harness, put it away somewhere safe and put it a new pre-wired harness from any of a few makers-Dr. Vintage, RS and Mojotone. I won’t comment on one being better than another but I will say that the Mojotone costs less. The replacement harnesses all use the same spec pots and caps as the original ES 335s. Other changes from the original run include Grover tuners instead of Klusons (I’d leave them alone but you could drill some new holes and put Klusons on but then you have extra holes that you will regret down the road a few years when these started getting valuable as vintage pieces). Grovers generally work better than old Klusons anyway. I’ve swapped out the short guard for a long guard but that’s just because I like the way it looks. I leave the knobs alone even though the color is more amber than gold on the blondies mostly because they look just fine to me and I’m not fooling anyone into thinking that my 85 is a 58 and with good reason. All you have to do is look at the logo. It’s completely different and unless you have a great deal of time on your hands and a good bit of woodworking skill, you wouldn’t even think of doing anything about it. The “flowerpot” inlay is also in the wrong position if you want to get all micro here. Too low. But, even if you leave the thing bone stock, you’ll still have a very well made guitar that, when properly set up will sound and play beautifully. Maybe it won’t be on a par with a 58-64 and maybe not even a 65-69 but it will beat the crap out of any ES-335 from 70-80 and, in my opinion anything from the 90’s and up to when they started getting the Historics right. I’m not sure just how good the early ones are since I haven’t played many of them but the 2006 and 2009 Historics I’ve owned have been stellar. If you’re a stickler for accuracy in a reissue pay particular attention to the body shape. There are two very distinctive types and perhaps a third. Watch out for the one that has stubby little ears. It just looks wrong. The last issue is one of personal taste. Many of the 80’s ES -335s have flame tops. I don’t like a lot of figuring on 335s. Especially blondes. Your mileage may vary.

Here's my comparison of good ears and bad ears. 83 on the left is bone stock. 85 on the right has al the upgrades that I spoke of. The one on the right has the good ears and the one on the left has the stubby little funny looking ears. Anybody know a good plastic surgeon?

The Pride of the 80’s: The Shaw PAF

Saturday, June 19th, 2010

Tim Shaw PAF on my 1985 ES 335. Note the Sticker

I’ve already done a post about the 1981-1985 ES 335 but I didn’t go into very much detail about what’s right and what’s wrong with them.  As the most affordable of the breed (again, I write off the 70’s because there were more bad ones than good ones) the 81-85 335 can be a real gem.  Prices range from under $2000 for a sunburst to $3500 or more for a one piece neck blonde. These guitars come in a large variety of flavors and, kind of like late 60’s-ear;y 70’s Les Pauls, the value depends on what you have and how it was made. The good news all or nearly all of these guitars have what are known as Shaw PAFs.  These first showed up on the Heritage 80 Les Pauls in, uh, 80. Gibson was getting all kinds of complaints about quality and sound by 1980 because, under the ownership of the Norlin Corp, they had been cutting costs and making absolute crap for more than 10 years and the Gibson reputation was in the toilet. They asked an employee named Tim Shaw, who had working as an engineer at Gibson to re-create the pickup of the Golden Era at Gibson-the venerable PAF and to do so without spending any money. Because the mold for the old T-top bobbins was worn out, they let him make a new one and he brought back the PAF style bobbin-not that it would make the pickup sound any better. He studied a large number of original PAFs and came up with a remarkably good reissue PAF. He was not allowed to spend extra money for enamel coated wire like the originals, so he used the cheaper poly coated wire of the that was thinner to compensate for the coating being thicker to try to keep them close to the originals in terms of “turns” of wire on the bobbin. He used both Alnico 2 and Alnico 5 magnets. As I understand it, he wanted the sound of the Alnico 2 and he got it by using Alnico 5’s that had been magnetized in an “unoriented” way. Apparently, an unoriented Alnico 5 sounds a lot like a 2. He was quite successful-these can be wonderful sounding pickups. They look a lot like PAFs-the have a similar bobbin but the wire is orange instead of purple due to the different coating. I’ve had Shaws in the low 8K range and others as low as 7.1K. I find Shaws to be generally in the low 7K range and I also find many to be rather “dark”. This is not a bad thing because I find it easier to dial in more high end than to dial out harsh highs in a pickup. So, there were great pickups in virtually all of this era’s 335s. Identifying them can be tricky. Tim Shaw himself has said that they had no particular markings on them but most point to the stamped on numbers to indicate a Shaw. There’s usually a date stamp and a 3 digit number. The conventional wisdom is that the number 137 indicates a neck pickup and 138 indicates a bridge. But I’ve seen other numbers as well that seem to indicate Shaws. My 83 had 329 and 330. I’ve seen 179 and 180 too. There might be a few others as well. Some have a PAF sticker on them in a script like font and some have the same sticker on the pickup ring in plain sight on bass side edge. One of the obvious downsides however is wiring harness. Gibson used 500K pots on the original 335 but, for some reason (probably cost), they saw fit to use 300K pots which don’t sound good in my opinion-I find they give the guitar a very dark bassy tone that is a bad combination with a darkish pickup. I swap the entire harness with an RS or a Mojotone. Keep the stock harness intact because these will be collectibles very soon and folks might want them bone stock.  The pickup is just one of the positive things about these affordable Norlin Era gems. There is a lot more to talk about-the Nashville bridge, the smaller neck tenon, the 1 piece vs 3 piece necks, the harness and pots, the Grover tuners and a lot of other elements that make these great and some tips on how to make them even better. lastly, these guitars are 25-nearly 30 years old. Not only does that make them vintage-it makes them old. Think about playing a guitar from the 1940’s during the late 60’s and you’ll get the cold slap in the face that tells you that your youth has flown the coop. Yikes.

What the Heck is a Shielding Can?

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

I get asked this a lot.  Most people have seen the wiring harness of a guitar before-usually because they want to go snooping around to see what makes the thing tick. It’s a natural urge for guys and maybe for women as well. Most of us took stuff apart as kids and only paid the consequences when we couldn’t get it back together and Dad was due home at any minute and his lawnmower was in 150 pieces on the garage floor because you wanted to see what the inside of an engine looked like. Or something.  While most of you have seen a wiring harness, it’s probably been from a solid body guitar like a Les Paul or a Stratocaster or an SG-guitars which are easy to put back together again. Want to see the harness on a 335? No you don’t. Go look for a photo on the internet. You do not want to take out the harness on a 335. Once you get the hang of it, it isn’t that hard to get back in on a 335 made after 1964, unless it’s a recent 59 reissue Historic. These have no cutout in the center block-put there by Gibson in 65 to make getting the harness in much easier. The harness on these early 335s and the most recent Historics has to be installed through the f-holes. This is something you might want to think twice about before your curiosity gets the better of you. Especially if its your Dad’s guitar.  Here’s 345 harness.

You can see that 3 of the pots have a cover on them. These are called shielding cans and their purpose is to keep the pots from being affected by various forces-like power sources, magnets and so on. Why only 3? Simple. The 4th one which would be the tone pot for the bridge pickup won’t fit in its hole with the can on it-it would hit the edge of the body. The ES 175 has 4 cans but not 335s/345s and 355s. Obviously, they didn’t do that much because having one missing didn’t seem to make enough of a difference for Gibson to move the holes to make it fit. I think the most valuable effect a shielding can has is that it pretty much tells you if someone has messed with the harness because nobody ever bothers to put them back on after they’ve replaced a pot. I’ve never seen a pot replacement with the can soldered back on. I’ve seen harnesses with 2 cans and 1 can because pots have been replaced. The truth is, its tough to get a harness through a f-hole and the cans make it even tougher because they are big-big enough to barely fit through and big enough to scratch the hell out the top of the guitar when you try to stuff them in there.  Wait a second-why are there 5 pots in this harness? There aren’t. The one with the green wires is the 6 way Varitone switch-remember this is a 345 harness. And that big silver boxy thing? That’s the choke-a transformer of sorts that’s part of the Varitone circuit. This big thing is why so many people remove them. While some feel they steal tone-we’ll talk more about that another time, the other reason is they weigh about half a pound. Fortunately, all 345s have the block cutout because it would be impossible to get all of this through the f-holes. I’ve replaced a 345 harness and will never, ever do it again. You think that lawnmower was tough to put back together? Don’t start messing with your Father’s 345. He will kill you where you stand.  So, don’t worry about the shielding cans. They aren’t really necessary and if they’re gone, don’t bother trying to replace them unless  you are going to pay someone to do it on your 58-64 335 or your 345.  And, to be clear, they stopped using the cans some time in the mid 60’s. My 66 had them. My 67 (the notorious blue Trini Lopez) did not. So, don’t make a big deal out of them unless you have a serious collector museum piece. Then, to be correct, one of them should be missing. If you see a pristine dot neck with 4 cans, then something isn’t Kosher. There are a number of videos on You Tube and around the internet that show you how to pull and reinstall a 335 harness. Watch one before you try it. I’ll do another post with all the tricks and find a good video to post with it.

Big F-holes and Logos with Breasts

Monday, June 14th, 2010

The logo at the bottom only existed for about a year.

No, I’m not talking about politicians or oil executives. I’m talking about a little known change that occurred in 335s in 1968.  In the beginning, God created…nope, wrong story. In the beginning, in 1958 when the 335 was developed, the wiring harness was stuffed into the body through the f holes. If you’ve ever tried to repair the harness on a stereo Gibson-a 345 or 355-then you know how close to impossible it is. The 335s are a little easier but it wasn’t always that way. Until sometime in early 65, the harnesses were installed through the f-holes. Then, sometime in 64 (I’ve seen it earlier but it became routine in early 65) they cut a big piece out of the center block so that the harness could be installed through the bridge pickup rout.  It probably made build time shorter and eliminated a lot of scratches that probably occurred in the process.  Then, inexplicably, Gibson made the f-holes bigger in 68.  The cutout in the block was still there, so it couldn’t have been done to facilitate the build process.  It makes simple repairs a little easier-you can pull a pot through the f-hole more easily and fix a bad solder joint. What it did is it made the guitar look cheap. Japanese guitars always had bigger f-holes-probably for the same reason-to facilitate the build and that’s why I think the big f-hole 335s look cheap.  The big f-holes are a big help in another aspect of collecting 335’s-dating.  Because Gibson reused the same serial numbers over and over and over and over again (as many as 7 times in 10 years), the big f-holes allow you to eliminate guitars with mid 60’s serial numbers (65-67) from being dated as the earlier of many years. If its got a serial number that was reused in 65-66-67 and 68 and it has big f-holes, it’s a 68. End of discussion. Conversely, if it has small f-holes, it’s pre 68. Or is it. I always thought that this change occurred pretty much right at the beginning of 68 until I saw a recent Ebay auction of a 68 with small F-holes. I thought maybe it could be a 67 but no-it doesn’t have an ambiguous serial number and it has the pickguard with the Gibson logo on it which occurred, to the best of my knowledge only in 68. The pickguard logo was apparently a very short-lived version and appears very briefly on a few models and some cases and then disappeared forever. I guess they felt they needed a more modern logo-it looks a little like fingers bending strings or a boob with a bright red nipple pushing against the guitar strings. So, big f-holes-68 or later. Small f-holes up to 68 and including the rare 68. The oddball logo on the pickguard is 68 only and maybe a month or two into 69.

Here's a 68 with small f-holes. You can see a faded remnant of the boob logo. This guitar has been modified with stop tail studs. It would have had a trapeze tail or maybe a Bigsby and no studs

This is the usual large f-hole version from 68 with the boob logo much more clearly.

Refins. Curse or Collectible?

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

My Refinished 1961 Dot Neck

My (former) 2004 Les Paul R9 refinished by Scott Lentz

I used to be something of a car guy.  I subscribed to Hemmings Motor News and drooled week in and week out over 50’s Porsche Speedsters and Jaguar XK 140’s and the occasional American classic like a 57 T-Bird or a 54 Skylark. Now I drive a 97 Volvo station wagon and my car days are behind me.  Probably 99% of the beautifully restored classic automobiles I coveted had one thing in common-they had been repainted. It’s acceptable in the automobile collector community to restore a great old car. Perhaps because a car is made to be out in the elements, the paint isn’t expected to last 50 years or more.  And, while I won’t deny that an untouched original commands a premium, a repainted car doesn’t have its value cut in half. On the contrary, a nice new paint job enhances the value over a rusty, faded, worn or damaged original. So, why is a refinished guitar worth no more than half its unmolested sibling?  A proper nitrocellulose refinish doesn’t appreciably alter the tone and can certainly enhance the beauty of a guitar but a completely road beaten 335 with its original parts is always worth more than a refinished one with the same credentials.  I get the value being diminished but 50% or more? It has changed a little with the “relicing” movement of the past decade or so. If I go out and buy a brand new Les Paul and send it to one of a few well respected refinishers (Tom Murphy, Dave Johnson, Scott Lentz and a few others), I can actually enhance the value a bit. Perhaps in the future these “artistic” refins will be the real collectibles.I had a beautiful 2004 R9 that had been refinished by Scott Lentz back when he was doing them and I paid about a $1000 premium for it and when I sold it, got exactly what I paid. The fact that his finish was far, far superior to the original Gibson finish may have had something to do with it. I should also note that it wasn’t a relic-it was refinished as new-a glossy thin skin darkburst that Gibson only wishes it could do in its shop. I could sit and stare at it for hours but, as a 335 player, I didn’t do much more than exactly that. I found that I was reaching for my 64 ES 335 95% of the time and not playing the Les Paul. So I sold it. The new owner should be proud to own it, especially if he actually plays it.

This one is on Ebay right now. It's a beauty but what's it worth?

It is quite possibly the most gorgeous R9 I’ve ever seen.  Had this been a vintage guitar though, it would have cut the value in half. Right now there is an absolutely stunning 58 ES 335 on Ebay that was refinished by RS (a respected refinishing and relicing company) who does very good work. The seller is asking $18,950 which is pretty ambitious in my opinion. Not because it may not be worth it in this market but because it’s a poor investment and anyone who spends this much money on a guitar wants to be able to get his money out of it if he decides to sell. The serious collector will never touch it and that limits the market considerably. There aren’t that many people who will pay nearly $20,000 for a “player”. I think it’s true that no matter how awful the collector guitar market gets, the “museum” pieces will hold their value best. The ones that have been refinished will not hold their value well. In fact, of all the issues a vintage guitar can have, refinishing seems to be the biggest curse of all (with a neck repair right behind it). Like most 335 lovers, I’d love to own a museum piece 58 but, like a 58 Porsche Speedster, I’ll have to just dream. Even in this market, I can’t justify a high dollar purchase like that. So few have sold recently that it’s nearly impossible to assess a true market value and that makes it a risky investment and an expensive player.  I’ve recently seen all original 59 dot neck 335s break below $20,000 for the first time in years. Maybe for 50% of that, I’d consider a refin but only if I wanted one to play and not have to worry about.  There is this problem with museum pieces: They don’t remain museum pieces for very long if you play them too much.  That, friends, is the second biggest reason I don’t buy them (Biggest? I can’t afford them). But a refinished 58?  I think it would look great strapped to the back of that 58 Speedster (with the wind in my hair if I had any left) -don’t you?