Archive for September, 2010

Ebay ES of the Week #6

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Wow, this is a really pretty 61 ES-345. All the guts are intact and it's still got its original PAFs. Nice guitar-make him an offer.

It seems I’ve been shortchanging 345’s a bit lately which I shouldn’t do because I like them so much. There is just so much to like about them-the gold hardware, the beautiful split parallelogram markers and, of course, the always controversial Varitone. Over on the Les Paul Forum, you can’t bring up a 345 without starting a new debate about it. Year in and year out, somebody asks an innocent question about it and the naysayers and haters come out to play. The Varitone is an incredibly outdated onboard effects knob that is so antiquated that it’s an absolute delight. A bit like those analog freaks in a digital world. The Varitone is about as analog as it gets. It’s a whole bunch of capacitors hand soldered to a 6 way switch connected to a big ol’ transformer inside the guitar-two of ’em actually because the guitar is stereo. The capacitors act as a notch filter, removing certain frequencies from the sound of the pickup you’ve chosen. That gives you some very Strat like quacky sounds and some other sounds that are maybe a bit less useful. But fun? Yep, hours and hours worth. Lessee, thats 6 positions times 2 pickups times 3 positions on the 3 way, times I don’t know what else for a total of 8,671 different tones.

Looks real nice from behind too.

OK, maybe 18. But still fun. The naysayers call them tone sucking or worse but it is my experience that what they are hearing is phase cancellation. The pickups are out of phase magnetically on a 345. The guitar is meant to be played through 2 amps or 2 channels of the same amp which the bridge pickup going to one side and the neck to another. The sound of the pickups each going their separate ways is very different than the middle setting on a 335 where they both are processed the same. On a 345 in stereo, you hear 2 distinct tones-not one “in between” tone. So, here’s a great looking ’61 with a gorgeous sunburst finish. There’s a lot of red in some of these early guitars and as they age, they get more and more beautiful. Rumor has it that the best wood was used for the upper end of the line meaning the 345s and 355s. While less expensive on the vintage market, it wasn’t so when they were new. The 345 was an adult guitar. The teenage rockers never drooled over this one. As a 61, this guitar has it’s Mickey Mouse ears and a pair of PAF’s. They could be long magnet or short. A 61 335 would always be short but with 345’s, you never know unless you take it apart. I suggest not doing that. To my ear, the short magnet PAFs are more consistent and sweeter sounding than the long magnet ones. That’s just me though. The ’61 is going to have a wide flat neck which I find very comfortable. Not everyone does but I suspect that the trend toward big fat necks isn’t as all consuming as it might appear. These are very comfortable necks especially if you’re used to a Fender B or C neck. So many 345s have had the Varitone removed that they are becoming an endangered species. Seller states that the tuners may not be original because they are “too clean”. .They are probably original-I’ve seen this over and over again.

You would expect a 61 to have double ring tuners but 345s sometimes don't follow the rules. My '60 had double ring but I had a 64 with single ring single line. The tips could have been replaced or they could be factory. Does it matter to you? If so, find a pair of double ring gold Klusons and swap 'em out. You should come out ahead.

The tuners look better than the rest of the gold plated parts but think for a moment-do you sweat on the tuners? Do you rest your hand on them? Do you whack them over and over with a pick? I thought not. I’m willing to bet they are the real deal. There has been considerable downward price pressure on all of the ES models but the 345 has been hit a bit worse than the 335. While it’s always been the case that the 335 is more popular, the 345 was always the choice of those who wanted early 60’s quality and tone for a bit less money. This one is priced better than many of the 345s I’ve seen and well under what the dealers with their heads buried in the sand are looking to get. I don’t like to comment on whether an Ebay listing is worth the money but I’ve decided that that’s kind of what I’m here for. I think this one is high-not stupid high like some of them but still, unless you’ve been searching for this exact guitar, I think you might be able to get one like it for a bit less. If a gorgeous 61 sunburst 345 with PAFs is what your heart cries out for, then go ahead-make him an offer. Or go to Gbase, where you could do a lot worse.

Caveat Emptor

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

Looks like the real thing doesn't it? The fingerboard and frets look too clean for the amount of "wear". Also, those knobs are awfully shiny.

For those of you who weren’t subjected to Latin 101, it means “let the buyer beware”. I’m pretty sure you all know what that means-probably through the harsh light of reality meaning you got screwed on a purchase. Don’t feel bad, it’s easy to fall for scams and fakes. I almost did and I was tipped off by the seller.  The guitar was a 335 listed as “maybe” a ’61. I spoke to the seller on the phone and he said he thought it might be either a fake or a different year. He said the label had the wrong font for the serial number. I’ve seen all manner of different

This looks pretty good except for the font for the serial number.

fonts as well as handwritten serial numbers, so I asked for photos. The first set of photos showed a black ES 335 with heavy checking and a lot of chips and scratches. Strangely, it showed very little fret wear and the plastic looked too clean. On the other hand, the tuners looked dead on for a ’61. So, I thought, OK, it’s probably a recent body that’s been relic’d amd had some vintage parts put on it as well as a fake label. Fake labels are pretty common. Next, I asked to see the pickup backs and the routs and this threw me a bit. The pickups had PAF stickers but they looked like the stickers on a burstbucker not on a PAF-the font was too wide and open. But the rout looked dead on for a Historic 59. There was no block cutout and the rout looked very clean. because there was no cutout, I was able to eliminate the possibility that it was a Memphis dot neck and was

Certainly not a real PAF but quite possibly a real Gibson.

leaning toward it being a black historic 59. The price was very reasonable for a Historic and I was ready to pull the trigger but I hesitated. Ya know, I haven’t seen the headstock or the logo and that’s a really good way to spot a fake. The photo arrived in my email yesterday and it looked wrong. There’s a little bit of variation in the logos especially if you aren’t certain of the year but this one just looked a bit off. It was the “s” in Gibson that gave it away. It was tilted. I went back and looked through the logos of recent Historics. The flowerpot was lower back in the 90’s and the “s” was a bit lazy, too. But the dot in the eye was still wrong and the connection between the “o” and the “n” was low like an 80’s. Too many wrong details for me so I wrote back to the seller who, to his credit, told me he thought it could be a fake. It was just that I thought it might not be that I got so far along in my quest to buy it. Chinese fakes are everywhere and they are getting harder and harder to spot. It doesn’t seem like such a difficult thing to get the logo right. I’m sure it won’t be long before they are able to do a fake that will convince even me that it’s the real thing. I don’t get to see very many new Gibson’s so I’m at a bit of a disadvantage. I don’t think they’ll be turning out fake 59’s for awhile yet. It’s hard enough to verify the real ones due to the incredible lack of consistency on the part of Gibson. maybe they were doing us a favor.

This really threw me. That rout looks awfully good. Of course, not having the cutout means the guitar would have had to have been a Historic. That made things a bit easier. Now all I had to do was compare the logo to the logo on a 59 dot neck Historic.

Finally, something definitive. Why is the dot in the "i" too high and what's with the lazy "s"? The "flowerpot" logo is in the low position as well which tells me it can't be recent.

The Mysteries of Gibson (cue the scary music)

Friday, September 24th, 2010

This is a 66. What's wrong with this picture?

I love this stuff. You spend half a lifetime studying something and learn everything there is to know and then you neatly categorize it and write about is as if it’s the simplest most elementary thing in the world. OK, granted, it isn’t rocket science or quantum physics but it is a genuine body of knowledge based in logic , reality and a little hypothesis. So there. I’m not sure even why I was drawn to this particular guitar-it’s not like any of my childhood heroes played one. If that was the case I’d be writing about Gretsches and Rickenbackers-which are probably real interesting in their own ways. But Gibson-ah Gibson-it just gives and gives and gives some more. To quote one of my childhood heroes in  song (Sexy Sadie) …”you broke the rules…”  The guitar you see above is a ’66. What’s wrong with this picture. Well boys and girls (OK, mostly boys) you remember your body types don’t you? Mickey Mouse ears and all that? Well here’s a 66 with a damn perfect set of mouse ears. How does this happen? Was an old body kicking around at Gibson (maybe it fell behind the refrigerator)? Did someone return a broken ’61 for a replacement and in their waste not want not way, refinished the body, put a new ’66 skinny neck on it and sold it as new? Sounds more like a Fender ploy than a Gibson one but, as Baron Munchhausen used to say, “Vas you dere, Charlie?” And, frankly, I vasn’t. So, no reasonable explanation here just another anomaly that once again proves that  everything I tell you has to be taken with the proverbial grain of salt . You need to look at everything about the guitar not any one or two things. It’s a bit like a reverse version of the Ebay ES of the week this week. While that guitar had all sorts of clues that pointed us eventually in only one direction-that it was a 66, this one has one clue that points us anywhere but where it should.

Look at that. This Pat # pickup has nickel screws. The other one has the usual brass. Maybe this is an old PAF that they relabelled. Or maybe not. Maybe they just had both types of screws in the bin and the pickup lady grabbed these.

If you really want to get arcane, look at the pickups- one has nickel screws which you usually see in an early PAFEverything here says 66 except for the ears (and the seller who thinks it’s a 67). I love these anomalies and I would be buying this one if it weren’t for all the damn holes in the top. Who puts a horseshoe Bigsby on a 335? According to the dealer who is selling it, the store who sold it back in early 67. I spoke to the gentleman who runs (or perhaps owns) Warp Drive Music/Cream City Music in America’s Dairyland and he said it came from the original owner. I have no reason to doubt his veracity. Seemed like a knowledgeable guy who was very helpful. I meet the nicest people when I do the guitar thing. Anyway, he explained that he dated it a 67 just to be on the safe side in case someone disputed it and that is actually kind of noble for a dealer to err on the side of later rather than earlier.  So, anyway, if you’re interested, there’s a real honest to gosh Mickey Mouse eared 66 on Ebay for $5000. He’ll listen to offers (although he didn’t take mine). If you can handle the holes and the skinny neck, you’ll have a pretty damn near unique 335. I’ve seen 4 of these so far. 2 were 345’s and I bought them both and one was a 335 which I bought and returned because it had extra holes that weren’t disclosed. I’m sooo close to buying this one too.

M-I-C-see ya real soon-K-E-Y why? because we like you-M-O-U-S-E (where is Mousketeer Jimmie these days and why would a grown man wear those ears? And Mousketeer Roy...oh please, don't get me started. He was 50 if he was a day and furthermore...)

You wanna see Mickey Mouse Ears? Jimmie was already in his 30's here. He'd be 100 years old if he was still alive. Roy would have to be around 150 by now. Now do you feel old?

Ebay ES of the Week #5

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

This weeks ES of the week thinks it's a 69 but I don't. How many things can you spot-before you read the text, I mean, that tell you otherwise.

Here’s something you don’t see every day. A dealer with a reasonably priced 335 that’s dated wrong. On top of that, it appears to be dated later than it actually is-how often does that happen-oh, like NEVER!! I’ve dealt with Ben at Southside Guitars and he’s a nice guy and a straight shooter. I’m not sure how he got 1969 as the year on this one. **UPDATE: Seller read this post and changed the listing**Let’s see what we see. We’ll do the easy stuff first. High flowerpot inlay: These were all over the place so it’s hard to date a guitar from that alone but it’s easy to see and it tells you it’s more likely from 66 or 65. But I’ve seen this inlay on later guitars as well so we’ll move on. In ’68, the cutaways got kind of rounded again-not so round as the Mickey Mouse ears but a lot rounder than the pointy 64-67 ears I’m seeing on this one. In 1969, the nice folks at Gibson decided it was too expensive to put a dot on the “i” in Gibson. After all, you had to buy  the pearl dot and stick it in there and time is money and all that economic stuff. This has the dot which would indicate that it probably isn’t from ’69. One of the more consistent changes made during this long transitional era of 65-69 was the size of the f-holes. It can be really hard to tell the big ones (68 and later) from the thinner ones (65-67). These look like they could go either way but I’m going to call them the small ones which would suggest 65-67. Now, the tougher things-tougher not because they’re harder to spot but because they are easy to change and thus can be misleading. The knobs appear to be witch hats which appeared in late 66. The tuners are another tell but they are hard to see in the photos. What I’m looking for is whether they say Gibson Deluxe (68 and later) or Kluson Deluxe (65-68). They are certainly double line double ring but all I can read for sure in the”… son” part which doesn’t help me. I’m going to guess Kluson which would make it a 65-67. So, there’s isn’t much that says it’s a 69 is there.  Pot codes wouldn’t tell us much because Gibson bought so many in 1966 that you see them for years. The bottom of the pickups might help. If the screws are slotted, we can pretty much eliminate 66 since they were just about all philips then. I’ve seen philips through 1969 but if they are slotted it will get us another step closer to a conclusion. I wrote an email to Ben to ask him how he came up with a 69 date for this but I haven’t heard back yet. I also gave him the URL of this site. If this guitar is, in fact, a 66, then the asking price is in the ballpark. You could also make him an offer. I’ve played some amazing 66’s and as long as you can deal with the thinner nut (and this one looks pretty thin), they can be great playing and great sounding too. I don’t like 69’s very much due to the lack of a long neck tenon and the workmanship can be pretty shoddy but this one looks good to me. I’m going to conclude it’s a very late 66 or very early 67. This guitar, whatever year it is has been played a lot (always a sign that it plays well) and it’s been in some less than ideal conditions. The finish has some serious checking. If you like that look, you can call it serious mojo. If you don’t, you can say the finish is cracked. Keep in mind it’s purely cosmetic, so if you’re looking for something to play rather than look at, this could be your guitar. Oh, and what about the serial number? It looks like 855157 although it’s tough to read.  If I’m right about the serial, that would make it a 66 but of course the last thing you want to go by is the serial number on a Gibson.

Call it checking, call it mojo, call it finish cracks, hell, call it Bob if you want. It says to me that this guitar has been through some rough weather. Takes a knockin' and keeps on rockin'

The ’65-’69 ES- 335 Market Right Now

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

Here's a nice '66 that you can have for just over $5000. But do you even need to spend that much? last week's Ebay ES of the Week went for around $4500.

It isn’t 2007 any more. W. isn’t the president, but we’re still at war. Lehmann Brothers does not exist any more and General Motors is largely owned by the government. In 2007, you could get a mortgage if you were breathing. Now, even if you have 75% equity in your home, you can’t get a dime out a bank. The New York Times costs $2 (and they wonder why no one buys it any more). The vintage guitar market is no longer at its peak and rising. I’m sorry, did you hear me I said THE VINTAGE GUITAR MARKET IS NO LONGER AT ITS PEAK. I know that. If you’re reading this, I hope you know it too-after all I’ve mentioned it before. Then why are there still 1965-1969 ES-335’s listed for as much as $10,000?  Did you not get the memo? You are listing your guitars over and over again on Ebay at ridiculous prices and no one is buying them. Do you think it’s because they don’t understand that your guitar is so wonderful that it transcends all trends and economic conditions? In fact, even at the top of the market, a ’65-69 wasn’t worth $10,000. It’s as if these sellers assumed that if it was worth $7500 then, it must be worth more than that now because these things always go up don’t they? Yeah, just like real estate.  The dealers are just as bad, by the way.  So let’s take a more realistic look at the market right now for the “affordable” vintage ES-335’s. By that I mean pre Norlin trapeze tail 335’s made from early 1965 (excluding the few stop tails made in the first few weeks) until some time in 1969 when the necks went to 3 piece and the tenon all but disappeared.

The overwhelming reason that these guitars are worth so much less than their predecessors is twofold. First, the necks got very small-especially at the nut. Now 1/8″ doesn’t seem like a lot but it made quite a difference in the playability of these guitars for most players. The nut went from 1 11/16″ to 1 9/16″ and that’s a big difference.  The other issue is the trapeze tailpiece. I don’t know what Gibson was thinking. The idea of a trapeze is to keep the strings off the top of the guitar so it can resonate unhindered by the stop posts or any other attachment. But the 335 isn’t a hollow body so the top doesn’t resonate the same way-the center block stops that from happening. The stop tail allows the string vibrations to resonate in the solid wood of the block much like a true solid body-like a Les Paul.  So, the guitars got the trap and never sounded the same. Hence the drop in value.

So, your ’65-69 isn’t worth $10,000 but a 64 is still worth $12,000 or much more. OK, then what is a 65-69 worth? It’s worth what folks will pay. Period. Always was and always will be. The truest measure of the market is an Ebay auction with no reserve-so let’s look at some recent results: Last weeks Ebay ES of the week finished at $4550. That was a ’66 wiith a removed trap and an added Bigsby. A nice guitar for a nice price.  Accordingly, it was a no reserve auction and just about the only 335 that sold. There was one other in the range-a bone stock ’69 that went for $5000 which I thought was high since it was a late 69 with no neck tenon. It likely went to someone who doesn’t know what a neck tenon is. ’69’s can be awful but they can also be every bit as good as a 65.  And those were the only 2 sales from the era. Not much of a market, is it?  Currently, there’s a ’67 for $10,000 listed, a 68 and a 69 lefty for around $8,000, a bunch of 66’s in the $5K-6K range, a 69 with a bid of $4200 (what is it about these 69’s?).  There’s a 67 at $3500 but it has a reserve (probably $8000 or something dumb like that).  There is only one 65-69 listed without a reserve this week and it’s a 66 that would be the Ebay ES-335 of the week but it can’t be because it’s mine. My money is where my mouth is. I’m left with one thought. These sellers all think their guitars are worth what they were worth in 2007 and this great “standoff” will continue until folks either have to sell or they decide that they actually want to sell. Right now, there is no such thing as a $10,000 trap tail 335. Nor is there an $8,000 trap tail 335. If there’s a dead mint one out there, you might get close but beyond that, you are looking at $3500-$5000 and that’s it. Really.

This baffles me. It's a 69 with the dreaded neck volute (see below) and it's got a bid of $4200. I would value this guitar at a lot less than that. And it's missing a pickup cover.

It has the little volute that appears only in 1969. The big one shows up shortly thereafter. If I had $4200 to spend on a 335, I don't think I'd be spending on a 69 with a volute.

Brazilian vs Indian…REALLY?

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

There's no question which one is prettier to look at but is there really a difference in the tonal qualities on a piece of wood as small as a fingerboard? Many think so.

Seth Myers does a bit on SNL that essentially answers stupid or misguided premises with the answer “Really?” It was funny once but it got pretty tired pretty fast. That said, I have one more. “I can hear the difference between Brazilian rosewood and Indian rosewood…” REALLY? You might be able to convince me that you can hear the difference between ebony and rosewood or maple and rosewood but between rosewood and rosewood? I don’t think so. Anyone who thinks they can usually will respond with “well you’d have to test them on the same guitar and/or the same neck..” which no one is going to do. Anyway, it isn’t my intention to discredit folks who have such discerning ears, it’s merely my intro into the topic of fingerboards. The use of Brazilian rosewood as a fingerboard material goes back a long way. In the beginning, ebony was the preferred wood on stringed instruments but it was expensive and difficult to come by. Brazilian rosewood was cheaper and easier to get. This was 100 years ago, however. Now Brazilian rosewood is illegal to import. Gibson has had some trouble in this area but I don’t know what the outcome of the “raid” was other than Henry Juszkiewicz, The Gibson CEO stepping down from the board of the Rainforest Alliance. Legalities aside, the ES-335 and 345 used Brazilian rosewood in its fingerboards from the very beginning. Gibson supposedly switched from Brazilian to Indian rosewood during 1966. It seems that a lot of ’66s are Brazilian. I don’t think I’ve seen a 67 with it, so the transition must have been complete at some point in 66.  Again, the way I picture it, there was a big bin full of fingerboards for each model and the worker would go and grab however many he needed for that day’s run of necks, paying no heed to whether it was Brazilian or Indian. It made no difference to the worker as far as I know. And, while I’m sure some woods are easier to work with than others, these 2 are quite similar. Most of us agree that Brazilian is the more interesting and attractive of the 2 woods with its swirly and interesting grain and figuring. Indian rosewood is generally straight grained and homogeneous. It’s completely clear why Brazilian is the preferred wood from an appearance standpoint. From the tone side of it, I don’t hear any-at least not from a piece of wood as small as a fingerboard. If the entire guitar is made of rosewood and is an acoustic? Well, maybe but I’d have to hear them for myself and decide on that basis.  But an audible difference between an Indian rosewood and a Brazilian rosewood board? How about Patagonian rosewood and Madagascar rosewood? I don’t think so. Really.

Ebay ES of the Week #4

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

This weeks Ebay ES of the Week. It's a cherryburst '66 with all the usual 66 features. It's nice that it isn't a transitional one where it's got both 66 and 67 attributes. Those can be difficult to date precisely.

This week we’ll take a look at a ’66 ES-335 that caught my eye. You don’t see a lot of cherryburst 335’s and even fewer 345’s. First, they didn’t make all that many, although the very first ES-335 I ever saw had this finish. That was probably in 1965 when the cherryburst was first offered as a color option. My early 65 (“The Mexican” is a cherryburst as is my other ’65) The logs don’t differentiate between regular sunburst and cherryburst so there’s no way to be sure how many were made. While it isn’t my favorite finish (nor my second or third favorite), it isn’t my least favorite either. That distinction falls to the horrible “walnut” finish that Gibson thought they could save money with since it was a one step process (put stain on rag and wipe). As of right now it’s in the $2,000 range but I’m sure it won’t stay there. These are running in the $4K-$5K range lately. This is a no reserve auction which I always prefer because when you buy, you know somebody else out there wants it almost as much as you do so if it doesn’t speak to you, you know you can resell it. It’s only when you find something wrong that the seller didn’t mention (that you have to) that it goes wrong. Anyway, it looks to be in really excellent condition. It’s a Bigsby so I would ask if it ever had a trapeze-mostly because the holes don’t line up and you don’t want extra holes even if you can’t see them.  I prefer Bigsby’s to a trap but that’s just me.  Seller notes that the pickups are

Note the "non transitional" features: High inlay position, big bevel guard, reflector top hat knobs and big pointy ears. Nice.

NOT T-tops which I also think is a good thing. I find T-tops a little thin sometimes and they have very little character since they are virtually all the same due to automated winding. It has the old reflector type top hat knobs which look great in gold on a cherryburst and it has all chrome hardware which never tarnishes (but it does scratch).  It appears to have the wide bevel pickguard-this was the last year for that feature. It also has a very graceful cutaway shape-I call it the long pointy ear version which is the same as the 64’s. later, a stubby version shows up which is not nearly as graceful looking to me. It’s nice that this is so clearly a 66. So many of them have one or more transitional features that, in the absence of reliable serial numbers, are very difficult to date with any accuracy. It even has the high “flowerpot” inlay which is always a tricky feature-what with the lower version screwing up so many slam dunk 66’s and turning them into “maybe” 67’s. This one has all the 66 specs and none of the 67. It’s a strange world when the normal version seems to be the oddity but that’s Gibson for ya. The case is almost certainly an Ess and Ess which is fairly typical for this era. The spring latch is the giveaway here. So, on photos alone, this one gets my seal of approval as a good example of a cherryburst 66. It’ll be interesting to see where it ends up.

For Non Collectors Only

Monday, September 13th, 2010

An absolutely brilliant '63 ES-335 but look where they put the stop tail. Yikes. What did they do, use the Bigsby as a guide? It's right where the tension bar on the Bigs would be. But, wow, what a player.

If you collect ES-335’s, 345’s and/or 355’s, this post is not for you. If you play them, then readon, by all means. I’ve done a number of posts about 335’s with issues and this is another. What I love about a vintage 335 is the neck, the tone and the look.  The first 2 are not affected at all by most issues that devalue a collectible guitar. You could argue that a poly refinish might adversely affect the tone and you would be right. You could also argue that a repaired headstock might do that too and you would be right again. But perhaps not. Once again, whether you get to play a guitar before you buy it comes into play. On Saturday, I drove 150 miles to Albany, NY to see an issues laden ’63 ES-335. I had made a tentative deal to trade my 65 Jazzmaster plus cash for it. It had a lot of things wrong with it and I knew this deal might wind up being a colossal waste of time-3 hours up and 3 hours back. But, since Albany is ony 15 miles from my home town of Scotia, NY it wouldn’t be a total bust.   I could go see my oldest brother and his family who were visiting my elderly parents (who still live in the house I grew up in) and I could stop in and see a guitar enthusiast friend from college who lives in Schenectady. And my wife came along which I always enjoy even though she says she feels like a “gun Moll” every time she goes on a guitar finding mission with me. I met the owner in a local Starbucks since he was meeting me halfway. I was late. Issues? You want issues? Well, I knew the guitar had had the misfortune of having a stop tail installed in the way wrong position, so that pretty much cut its value in half. I knew the pickups weren’t original and that the case was an old Epiphone. The pickguard was home made and the bracket was wrong. It had no less than 7 extra holes in it from a Bigsby and a moved strap button. Here, I’m trading a fairly nice, all original 64 Custom color Jazzmaster (Oly White) for this and cash??? Am I out of my mind? You might think. But wait…here’s where it gets good. Some 63’s have that great 64 neck. The pickups were older than the originals (they were very early patent #’s-purple wire/black leads). The condition was a solid 9.0. The frets and fingerboard were perfect. There was no amp but I knew that if it felt good when I played it, I would be hooked. I made the deal. This will always be a player but when you add up the cost, it’s a great, great guitar for a few hundred dollars more than the price of a Historic. This no beater, it just has the stop in the wrong place. The proverbial $5000 holes. Had this guitar it’s original Bigsby and no stop, it would have been a $14,000-$15,000 guitar. So, I’ll get the stop moved to where it belongs and plug the holes and I’ll buy a repro or original pickguard. A player is a guitar you can leave on the bandstand between sets or in the trunk of your car after a gig while you and the bass player get a drink and not worry about it. I might even invite the drummer if he doesn’t get too loaded. If my player can be a great vintage instrument at the same time, then I’m a happy camper. For you gear heads, the pickups are from a 61 or 62 Les Paul (SG) and are hot, hot ,hot at 8.61K and 8.55K. I guess the winder was out with the drummer the night before.

On the Cusp of an Era

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

This is my 64. The serial number may have been re-used in 65. Look at the charcteristics for an accurate date. Serial numbers are rough guidelines at best when it comes to Gibsons. Pot codes can be useful but I’ve seen 66’s with 64 codes. If it quacks like a duck…

There are, in the world of ES-335’s in particular, certain years that have a level of desirability and cachet that others don’t. Specifically 1959 and 1964. What makes those years set the aficionado’s juices a flowin’?  I covered both of these years in some detail in earlier posts but a situation has come up that brings this issue to mind again. A gentleman who is very interested in buying my ’64 has called the year the guitar was made into question because it has one of the many ambiguous or re-used serial numbers. He thinks it might be an early 65 and that, to him, seems to be a dealbreaker, I’ll get to him in a minute. There are really a few reasons why the 64 ES-335 is so coveted. It might seem strange since it doesn’t have PAFs but, say, a 62 usually does. One reason is the Clapton connection. If Mr. Clapton had played a ’63, there would be a clamor for 63’s but  there is a bit more to it than that. After all, why pay a premium just because your favorite guitar player played one. He played a lot of guitars. I think the biggest reason the 64 has so many followers is the neck profile. It’s as wide as a 59 but not quite so chunky. The 60-61-62 and early 63 had wide thin necks which a lot of players find less than ideal. But the later 63’s had the same neck as a 64. So did the very early 65’s. There were pickup changes as well and a change in body shape during this period so there is no one set of attributes that define those years. The 63 is a good case in point. A 63 can have PAFs or early Pat# pickups (like a 64). It can have “Mickey Mouse” cutaways or pointy ones (like a 64). It can have a thin, wide neck or a wide medium fat neck (like a 64). It can, in fact, be identical a 64. So, if the guitar in question was “on the cusp” of ’63 should you care? Let’s look at the early 65. I have one and it’s one of my favorites. It has the exact same neck as the 64. We’ll assume it has a stop tail since we’re talking about the earliest 65’s. It has the exact same body as a 64 and, most likely, the same pickups. Anyway without getting too deep into esoterica, an early 65 is identical to a late 64.  The pickup wire changed from the PAF type purple wire to a more reddish wire some time in early 65 although some say late 64. I’ve never seen a 64 with the orange wire but then I don’t generally open up the pickups unless they’ve been opened already. Both pickups sound excellent so I don’t really think it matters all that much. The hardware started its changeover to chrome in 65, yet some 65’s (like mine) are all nickel. Most 65’s have the block cutout under the bridge pickup and only a few don’t. I’ve only seen one 65 that doesn’t have the cutout (which probably makes it a late 64-only the serial number dates it as a 65). The larger point is that you should be looking at the features of the guitar and not a designated year. The serial numbers are difficult if not impossible to navigate. There are various charts and they all have discrepancies. I had a 66 with a serial number that, according to Gibson’s chart, didn’t exist.  If you want a 64 because Clapton played one wouldn’t you want a guitar with the same specs? You can’t have his actual guitar but do you want one from the same year that may be completely different or do you want one that is virtually identical? I owned a 335 that was 23 numbers away from Clapton’s-made on the same day. But EC’s had Grovers added and a later bridge. Are you going to diminish the value of your guitar by changing out the tuners just to be like your hero? Go ahead if that floats your boat but make sure they’re gold and make sure you read my post about the $10,000 hole. While it’s true that we value some years more than others, it’s really the characteristics of those years that we value. That’s why you see ’60 Les Paul’s advertised with ’59  features. Gibson even did 3 separate types of ’60 Les Paul reissues because the changes occurred over the course of the year. So, if you decide you want a 64, make sure it has the things you want and don’t worry too much about the serial number. It’s pretty clear that the nice folks at Gibson didn’t.

Here’s a 64 from Tom H’s site that appears to be a late 64. The serial number is higher than my “ambiguous” 64. This one has a lot of chrome hardware which is not unusual on a later 64. It looks like the bridge and stoptail are chrome and I think the pickup covers are as well. It’s also a one owner guitar, so we know it’s original.

Finally, here’s another 64 from Tom’s site that appears to have chrome pickup covers. It’s got a 5 digit serial number which logic dictates would be earlier than the 6 digit one my 64 and the above 64 have. But it isn’t necessarily an earlier build date. I know that 67473 is the Clapton 335 and that had a ship date of May 20th 1964. That series of serial numbers is the lowest of the year but probably not the first.

A Little Knowledge is Dangerous?

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

This is the 59 in question. It's a beauty all right. The flowerpot inlay is lower than we're all used to seeing on a dot neck but it is correct for the period-just unusual. The shape of the ears is sharper and narrower than the usual "MIckey Mouse" ears of 59-63. This is also correct for the era. Compare it to the one at the bottom of this post.

I also could call this post “Ignorance is Bliss” because sometimes the more you know, the less you like it. Fortunately for one reader, this wasn’t the case. I frequently receive emails from readers who have a 335/345/355 and believe that it is from a particular year. Then they read one of my posts dealing with dating an ES and they get freaked out that their guitar isn’t what they were told it was (or what Grandpa said it was). One reader had bought a very expensive vintage ES 335 dot neck from a well known dealer and became concerned that what he had wasn’t what he was sold. The gentleman had bought one of the ES “Holy Grails”-a 59 dot neck (with double white PAFs, to boot). That is an very expensive guitar and I don’t blame the gentleman for getting a little freaked about its authenticity. It is important to point out that Gibson didn’t make changes on January 1 of a given year. It wasn’t like the cutaways were Mickey Mouse ears on Dec. 31 1963 and pointy on January 1, 1964. Changes could occur at any time and. more often than not, occurred as a slow transition as they used up the “old” part and phased in the new one. The changes that took place between the very first 335’s made in 1958 to the second year entry of 59 were few and sometimes subtle changes. The most obvious occurred very early in the run. That was the addition of the neck binding. There are 58’s without it and 58’s with it. It was completed before 1959 however. The earliest 335’s had a slightly different cutaway shape-not quite the full “Mickey” but slightly shorter and slightly more pointy. This shape seems to creep into 59, although most 59’s are the big, round Mickey Mouse type. The headstock inlay moved at some point as well. The “high” position “flowerpot” inlay is typical of 335’s and 345’s from 1959 to some time in 1966. However, in 1958, the position was slightly lower-not as low as it was in 67 but maybe a few millimeters lower than the 59. Well, it seems that our gentleman purchaser has a 59 serial number but some 58 specs and he was concerned that perhaps he had been taken. When he mentioned the FON (factory order number) began with a “T”, it began to make more sense. Clearly he had one of the earliest 59s (or perhaps one of the last 58’s). I’ll usually go with the later of the possibilities for the simple reason that nothing ever gets back dated-so if a guitar has a 58 FON and a 59 serial, you can bet it was completed in 59. I asked him about the neck angle and he said it wasn’t one of the very shallow early ones where you have to crank the ABR-1 all the way down and even shave it to get the action low enough. The very shallow neck angle is associated with the 58. 59’s are pretty shallow too but not generally as extreme as the 58’s. I also asked him about the plies in the top. Some 58’s have 3 rather than 4 and I know of at least one that has only 2 plies in the plywood top. If the guitar had turned out to be a 58, it really wouldn’t have mattered very much. A 58 with no neck issues would have roughly the same value as a 59. I also noted that if the pickups are double white, the guitar would have had to have been put together in 1959. It is my understanding that double whites didn’t exist until 1959. Small cosmetic changes don’t really have much affect on a collectible ES. If I had a choice between a 66 with a low inlay and a 66 with a high one, I’d take the guitar that played and sounded better. same with a 63 with Mickey Mouse ears or pointy ears. But, if I had my choice between a stop tail 65 and a trapeze 65, I’d take the stop in a heartbeat. Why? Because that isn’t merely cosmetic-it changes the tone and feel of the guitar (not to mention the value).

The Full "Mickey". Note how vertical the inside edge of the ear is.

This is the inlay position you would expect on a '59-'66. 58-59's were sometimes slightly lower and in late '66 they went lower still.