Archive for February, 2011

And The Winner Is…

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

And the winner in the best neck on an electric guitar category...a '61 Epiphone Wilshire.

Seeing as how it’s Oscar Night, I thought I would do an awards theme using the guitars I own or have owned as the nominees. The categories will be “Best Neck”, “Best Overall Appearance” and “Best Overall Player”.  I get emails all the time from players who love these guitars as much as I do and many of them ask “what do you play?” What makes a guitar speak to you is very subjective-perhaps as subjective as finding a mate or buying your first home. It just depends on what you like. The guitar that’s perfect for me may flat out suck for you.  A lot depends on your own physical type-big hands? small fingers? all thumbs? and on what kind of music you play. But I understand the question. I get to play a lot more guitars (and not just 335s and 345s) than most people and that experience translates into a rather distinct (and somewhat narrow) set of likes and dislikes. And, just for the record, I don’t have my ideal guitar yet but I think I know what it would be. We’ll get to that in another post because it’s time for the envelopes, please… In the “Guitar with the Best Neck” Category, is a guitar I have with the best neck I’ve ever played and it isn’t even, technically, a Gibson. It’s a 1961 Epiphone Wilshire with a pair of P90s. It’s a great sounding guitar which duplicates a guitar I had in High School so there’s the sentimental value aspect as well. Amazing neck-nearly 1 3/4″ wide at the nut which I love and sort of medium in profile-a lot like a slightly wider 64 ES 335. Certainly not as large as the average 59 until you hit the 9th or 10th fret where it fattens up to a big handful. Speaking of 59’s, that takes us to the next category-“Best Overall Appearance”.

The prettiest damn guitar I've ever seen. This photo almost captures the stunning color. Sort of a faded watermelon reddish sunset orange-pink.

Yes, it’s a beauty contest but this guitar makes no apologies and takes no prisoners when it comes to tone and playability. It is also up near the top all time favorite player that I’ve owned. It is certainly my all time favorite for looks. I’m kind of sorry I sold it but if I kept every guitar I got that I loved, I’d never sell anything. That guitar is the wonderful 59 red ES-345 which, since it was probably the first red 345 ever made, I called “Red One”. The color was just stunning-that faded red-watermelon pink, sunset orange color that only exists from 58-early ’60. I know the current owner is enjoying it as well. You can see a bunch of photos here on Tom H’s ES 335 site. I love red 345’s. I would buy every 59-64 I saw if I had the money. The next and final category will be “Best Case”…nah, just kidding. “Best Overall Player” is up next. This would be the guitar I would take on a gig if I still played gigs. This is the guitar I bring with me to jam with friends. It’s a red 64 335 that I love with a very nice set of patent numbers and a fabulous medium chunky neck profile. An all around great player. Used to have a Bigsby but is now set up as a stop tail (the Bigsby is still in the pocket with the “Custom Made” plaque). The truth is, I’ve owned at least a dozen 64’s and they are the most consistently excellent guitar of any year. I don’t think I’ve ever played a bad ’64. Next, we’ll look at what the nominees were wearing. Some wore Lifton, others looked stunning in their Ess and Ess or Stone. There was the occasional Geib and few Victorias as well. Black and brown were the dominant tones paired with hot pink or marigold orange interiors. And the latches…

In the "Best Overall Player" Category, the award goes to my 1964 ES-335.. '64's have wonderful necks and pickups that are remarkably consistent and excellent. Never played a bad 64.

Forgive Me

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

I don’t know how you can help but notice the “Sponsored Links” area off to the left of the posts. This blog has started to take up an awful lot of my time and I’ve been neglecting some of my real work. I’m the boss, so it’s only me that gets hurt. So, I’ve signed on to Google AdSense to see if this blog can generate some income. I’ve asked only for site relevant ads but the first one to pop up was for some auction site that sells household goods like blenders but then Musicians Friend popped up and I guess that makes sense. How dumb can I be-advertising my own competition?  Well, maybe not my direct competition until I start selling strings and pedals and stuff. I’m really not sure this is going to work without making me look way too mercenary. On the other hand, I’m offering free advice and trying hard not to turn this blog into a raging commercial site. I think I’ve been successful at that. I don’t flog the guitars I have for sale and I don’t stick links to my Gbase site everywhere (I think there are 2 of them). So, now that I’m approaching 10,000 unique users, I thought that perhaps I could generate a couple of dollars a month. We’ll test it for a month and see how it does. If it proves incredibly annoying, then I’ll stop. If it doesn’t generate any income, I’ll stop. If you see something you want to click on on your way out of here, by all means, please do so-your only generating income for me and this site. The more I can make here, the more time I can spend doing this. This is a lot more fun than my real job anyway. Thanks for reading and bearing with me for this experiment.

Re-Creating the Magic

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

Here's Ken's completed body without the routs, finish or neck. The 59 he copies is next to it.

Through this site, I was contacted by a 335 aficionado and luthier named Ken McKay up in Traverse City, Michigan. I spent a little time there many years ago when I was making training films for Uncle Sam’s Army. It’s a beautiful spot and probably a nice place to spend one’s life building guitars. Well, Ken so loved the old dot necks that he decided that he would try to build one. He learned everything he could about Gibson’s production techniques from the late 50’s and got hold of a real 59 to copy the specs from. Ken had already built a number of archtops but an ES-335 isn’t your ordinary archtop. He certainly couldn’t tear apart the ’59 he had in his hands-it wasn’t his and it was a very, very valuable instrument. But he was able to figure it all out anyway. He like most of us, was particularly enamored of the blondies and decided to try to build an exact replica of a 59 ES-335 body using the same materials and techniques used back in the “Golden Era”. Ken has found a source for the same type of plywood used in the 50’s and is using the same techniques that the workers in the Gibson Kalamazoo plant used back then. The same glue, the same center block made the same way, the same kerfing, the same binding material too. Early on in the process, Ken asked me for whatever advice I could offer which amounted to “do it.”   He isn’t building complete guitars. You’ll have to get someone else to complete it because Gibson would call in the lawyers if Ken was building complete copies. Apparently, you can replicate the body-just not the guitar. Ken has been sending me photos of the plywood he’s been getting and photos of his progress going forward. The last set of photos he sent me showed a pretty dead on replica and I was impressed. I’ve asked him to find me a lightly figured piece of maple plywood to make one for me and I’m on the list for April. I kind of wanted to be the first but that ship has already sailed. Why would I want a copy when I can have the real thing? It’s pretty simple, really. The real thing-and I mean a stop tail dot neck-has gotten so valuable that you really can’t leave the house with it. I suppose I could have kept the ’61 I had with the neck repair but I had a friend who really wanted it, so it’s gone. I could just go buy a Historic-great guitars, to be sure, but they aren’t made by hand the same way any more. The materials are different, the machinery is different and it has become so much more of a mass produced commodity. Don’t fool yourself, they were always mass produced but the production techniques required a lot of hand work. With CAD routers and the like, the human element is all but gone. They are all the same. Every 59 Historic is virtually the same guitar with few distinct characteristics.  You can visit Ken’s site at Ken’s been building double basses for years and has built some pretty cool guitars too. But check this out. A real “tribute” ES-335. Available for order now. The line forms on the right (babe).

Have We Seen the Bottom?

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

Lookee here! Only $17K and it's even got a coil tap or a phase switch or something. Oh, and the wrong case and Grovers. These are the same people that buy lottery tickets week after week, I'll bet.

That’s kind of provocative, isn’t it?  I mean the bottom of the vintage guitar market, of course. Judging by the prices at this past weekend’s Heritage Auction, it’s beginning to look like the worst is over and that prices will start creeping back up. let me temper that, however. For all of you sellers who have been holding out for prices unseen since 2007, you’re still completely out of touch and that includes a lot of the dealers as well. A ’63 for $37K? Are you nuts? Or a 64 for $28K and another with a Maestro for $19K and these are all dealers. Wake up, gents. Doesn’t it occur to you after 8 or 10 weeks that maybe your prices are too high? It isn’t just the dealers. Here’s a ’62 ES 345 with a freakin’ coil tap drilled through the body and Grovers. Sorry, that’s not a $17,000 guitar-that’s a $6,000 guitar. I believe that a live auction is the best indicator of the market because it’s a “put your money where your mouth is” kind of atmosphere. If you bid, you buy. These auction companies don’t let you weasel your way out of a purchase because you accidentally hit the bid button or you just noticed that there’s a headstock crack. The prices on the ES 330’s were really strong. They’ve been around $4K for awhile now and here we had 2 sell in the $5K range and both had Bigsbys. Heritage sold a 61 dot neck in gorgeous condition for over $25K in a previous auction which I think is a relatively strong showing as well. I’ve had mine listed at that same price for months with no results so maybe the market is coming up to meet me. There were still bargains to be had. The beautiful red 1960 ES 345 went for $12K which I thought was a great price for a near mint piece. While this would have been an $18,000 guitar at the top of the market, it would have been a $10000 guitar at the bottom, IMO. I think there’s nowhere to go but up now. The market will prove me right or it will prove me wrong. There will always be the Wall Street types out there with too much disposable cash buying up the cream of the crop at stratospheric prices but they aren’t the factor they once were-even though they have as much money as ever (thanks, Mr. President!). The rest of us, who didn’t get bailed out, will be the ones who bring the guitar market back to its former glory. It doesn’t take much to convince me that with new Historics going for close to $5,000, that spending $4000 on a 66 Trini at auction is a deal right now. I know which one I’d rather own even though the Historics are wonderful guitars. I’m a fan of 81-85 dot reissues in the $3K range as well. That doesn’t even get you a used Historic. The 80’s dots are great guitars and, in case you’ve been asleep for awhile now, they are nearly 30 years old. In 1989, when a Les Paul ‘burst was 30 years old, were you buying? I thought not. Of course, you can argue that the 70’s 335’s are approaching 40 years old but they’re still mostly crap to me. I don’t think it matters how old crap gets. It stays crap. Until it becomes dirt.

Sweet, sweet 1960 ES 345 at the Heritage Auction. Needs tuner tips and that's it. That's just about as pretty as my old 59 "Red One". I'll let you know when I get it.

Auction Madness

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

Looks pretty good, doesn't it? Go to the end of the post and see the close up of the f-holes. Yikes! Who lets an 8 year old with a magic marker draw on a 1958 335? An extra 10 or 12 filled holes in the top doesn't help either.

I love auctions-not the Ebay type which is really just a sale that takes place over 15 seconds at the end of the auction-but the real thing with “going, going, gone!” The folks at Heritage held one yesterday in Beverly Hills and on the internet and it was pretty interesting. I don’t know if it’s a concession to the relative slowness of the internet but “going once, going twice…” didn’t mean anything to Heritage. They would be writing down the winning bid after the bell and then open the auction back up a good 10 seconds after the item was “gone”. It was pretty annoying if the item they reopened was one on which you were the high bidder. That little gambit cost me an extra $1,000 on one of the 2 guitars I bought. Sold should mean sold-not “OK, let’s go on to the next item and then go back and take a few more bids on this one.”. One of the great things about a live auction is the “snooze, you lose” element and Heritage did their best to eliminate that. Too bad. That changed by the time they got near the end. They were gaveling the lots closed with reckless abandon after one or two bids. I missed a very nice PRS that went for stupid low money. On the other hand, I don’t really like PRS’ that much so maybe they were doing me a favor. Beyond my gripe about the procedural elements, the auction showed a relatively strong market. There weren’t a lot of ES’s but those that were there went for pretty close to retail. The two Trini Lopez Standards went at very strong prices, in my opinion. One ’66 went for just over $4000 and the other for  $3465 including the BP.  The BP (buyers premium) was nearly 20% which is a lot. It makes a $10,000 guitar into a $12,000 guitar which is considerable.  There was a ’58 sunburst that went for $15,535. Huh? $15K for a 58-that’s a steal, isn’t it???  That’s what I though until I zoomed in on the photo. In addition to the 10-12 filled holes in the top that I counted, it looked like an 8 year old drew black borders around the F-holes with a Sharpie. I went to $10,700 on it but felt even that was generous for a guitar that had been trashed that badly. Maybe you could get the black lines off without further damage to the finish (and maybe not)but it still has a ton of holes in the top and replaced tuner buttons. I liked the 68 ES 355 that went for $3883. It was marked a 69 but it was a 68 or even a late 67 (small f-holes). That was a very good buy by a smart bidder. I was out at $3734-the second highest bid.  The ’66 12 string went cheap at $2270. The red Bigsby 62 ES-330 at $5377 was a surprise. That’s top dollar for one of these and then some. The ’60 dot neck 330, also with a Bigsby (the wrong type for a 330) went for the same price, so I guess 330’s are strong at the moment.  Aside from one incredibly annoying auctioneer, it was a good day (cold and windy) to sit in front of the computer and be entertained by watching other people spend their money. Me? As I mentioned earlier, I bought 2 guitars which I’ll write about about once I get them in my hands.

The so-called "experts" called this ES-355 a 69. The serial said '68. The small f-holes suggest a 67. This was a very good deal for someone at under $4,000. Changed guard but otherwise a nice straight example. You can't buy a Historic for that. Smart buyer beat me out at the end.

Like I said. Yikes.

Klusons. Krap?

Friday, February 18th, 2011

Ya gotta love the retro colors and design of Klusons logo. I'm sure it's been the same since 1925.

By the early 70’s, quality and  quality control plummeted almost everywhere. From cars to guitars to fishing reels to sewing machines, plastic started showing up where metal once was and craftsmanship became a faint and fading memory of a bygone era. All of the “big” guitar companies were guilty. Fender was now CBS and interested mainly in profits. Gibson was Norlin (beer, concrete) and was the same. Gretsch was Baldwin and they all went down the tubes together. Many players responded by doing one of two things. They either made their old guitar more “modern” or they tried to make their crummy new 70’s guitar “better”. The main victim of these “upgrades” was Kluson. It was an obvious choice. Kluson seemed prone to a world of problems with slipping, bending and stiffening up. Countless guitars were “Groverized”. Don’t get me wrong, Grovers are an excellent product. There are clearly technologically superior to Kluson with their sealed gears and robust case. Klusons seemed archaic and flimsy next to Grovers. But were they really so terrible? The fact that Gibson used Grovers on their top of the line ES-355 and not on the 335 and 345 meant that they probably thought they were better. They were also more expensive which is why Gibson used Klusons almost everywhere else. I’ve owned a lot of guitars with Kluson tuners and they can be awful. It’s frustrating when you have to tune your guitar after every song or even during a song. Up until recently, I always blamed the Klusons. I too, thought they were crap. But I’ve done some rethinking. Whyizzit that some 335s stay in tune just fine with Klusons and some that have been “Groverized” slip out of tune just as much as the Klusons? I’ve come up with two reasons for the problems that plague Klusons in particular but other tuners as well. First off, I’ve never (and I mean never) seen anybody oil their tuners. Most Klusons have a little hole in the back especially for that purpose but nobody seems to bother. That’s why they bind up-a lot of crud gets in there. Grovers are sealed, so they don’t need to be maintained much. Good idea. But that isn’t the big reason. The second reason your Kluson equipped ES-335 or 345 goes out of tune so much probably has nothing to do with the tuners and everything to do with the nut. The guitar nut on the neck-not the guitar nut playing it, although I guess both come into play. String benders take note: When you bend a string, it moves and causes friction in two places-the nut and the bridge saddle. Both are immovable objects and both are under the laws of inertia. When you bend the note sharp, it wants to stick in the nut slot or, to a lesser extent, in the saddle. If you hear a ping when you tune, your nut slot is too tight. I’ll stay away from the jokes here. If, after bending strings, they seem sharp, your nut slot is too tight. If they go flat, you may have a tuner problem but you also may need to stretch your strings a bit more when you change them.  Grovers don’t really help if your nut slot is too tight. Try this: Lubricate your nut. Again, insert joke here. I use graphite in the form of pencil lead. I just run a soft pencil over the slots. There are various products for this as well with cute names like “Big Bends Nut Sauce” and all of them probably work (with graphite as their main component, I’ll bet). So, before you condemn your original Klusons to a life in the case pocket, try taking care of them with a little oil (3 in 1 works for me). Then take care of your nut. If the graphite or nut sauce doesn’t work, try cleaning them with some string or unwaxed dental floss and lube them again. If that doesn’t work, you made need to widen the slots with a nut file. Be careful not to make them too wide or take the guitar to your favorite tech who won’t charge much to do this. Yep, Klusons are pretty low tech and they do bend when you whack them into the drum kit or the side of the mike stand but they work when they are properly cared for. And don’t change ’em on your vintage piece unless you can do it without drilling any holes or enlarging any because it will  lower the value of your vintage guitar by 10-15%. Even more if it’s close to mint and pre 65.

Here's a set of single line single ring Klusons on my 59 ES-345. Note the shrunken tuner buttons. Yeah, they do that, especially the 59's. See that little hole? Drop some oil in there more than once every ten years. These work just fine.

Refrets Revisited

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Nothing quite like a good fret job. This one's by the very well respected Michael Tuttle. Better than factory? Uhhhh, yeah.

One of the most frequently asked questions I get is: “Does a refret affect the value of the guitar?” I’ve written about refrets before but I feel like it’s worth expanding a bit. I wrote about what to look for in a refret and didn’t really fully address the issue of a refret affecting the value of a vintage piece. The answer isn’t always yes and it isn’t always no. A bad refret will most certainly lower the value but the good news is that you can refret the guitar again with a good refret as long as the butcher who did the last one didn’t wreck anything. An original fret job that’s so worn you can’t play it will lower the value too and it will cost you around $400 to replace the oh, so desirable original frets if you actually want to play the thing. Here’s something to get out of your head right now: A factory fret job is going to be better than a refret. NOT. I think we can agree that we’ve all seen some less than stellar work at the Gibson plant over the years. Even the Golden Years. I’ve had 58-64 ES 335’s that have the bridge misplaced so they don’t intonate, I’ve had guitars with terrible fret height differences-although I can’t prove they came from the factory that way, I’ve seen poorly set necks, although that’s more of a 70’s phenomenon. These folks were mostly just factory workers on an assembly line. It was a great product but most of the workers can’t be described as luthiers. A 335 is, essentially, a mass produced guitar. Granted, there were some real artisans at work. The painters and the neck carvers and maybe the pickup winders to name a few. Take a look at the glue work inside your early 60’s 335 sometime. It’s a mess, usually. Globs of glue poking out everywhere.  So back to the frets. A recent fret job by a dedicated and talented luthier will be waaay better than the factory job. A hack job will likely be worse. I have a 61 right now that I play every day that I absolutely love. Yes, it had the misplaced bridge I talked about which was moved and yes, it’s a refret. And it’s a great one. I’ll put that refret up against anything Gibson did at the factory at any time. There are some guitar techs and luthiers who spend many hours on every fret job doing it right and doing it beautifully. Does it lower the value of the guitar? Well, here’s where it might: If you have 2 relatively equal guitars in terms of originality and condition and both are 100% straight, then a collector is going to go for the one with the original frets over the refret. The price won’t likely be terribly different, however. If there are other issues, then a good refret is preferable to almost every other issue there can possibly be. Would I take a refret over a non original part? Maybe, depending on the part. Would I take it over extra holes from a tuner change? Definitely. Would I take it over holes from a removed Bigsby? Again, definitely. I would also prefer a refret to any kind of crack-benign or otherwise. Finish checking is another story, however. In fact a good refret is one of the least objectionable things you can do to a guitar-especially if it needs one to play properly. So, before you buy, ask if its a refret and if it needs another. Then, if it is, take a look at the work. If it’s good, then don’t worry about it. If it isn’t, then knock off a few hundred bucks so you can get it done right. It’ll be better than factory if you get the right guy to do it.

This is my player '61. The frets are great even if it isn't quite the aesthetic equal of the one at the top. This guitar intonates better than 95% of the 335's I've owned.

Where are the Deals? Ask Mr Lopez.

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

Here's my first Trini in some very good company. It's a nickel hardware wide neck 65 hanging out with a 60 345 and a 61 dot neck. All three have gone their separate ways but that Trini held its own against it's company here.

I get a lot of emails, which I enjoy answering, asking me about the best “bang for the buck” 335 out there. With more than 50 years of 335’s to choose from and imports from at least 3 countries that qualify, that’s a lot to choose from.  Everybody has a price range and I’m not going to try to cover them all but I’ll cover that middle ground that seems to come up in so many emails. Most players are comfortable spending somewhere between $2500 and $3500 for a high grade 335. There are an awful lot of choices in that range but a couple seem to rise to the top. Much as I like the Historic line from 2004 or so until 2009, they aren’t my top pick. Not because they aren’t great guitars but because I prefer vintage and there are some great vintage 335’s in the same price range. With most folks dreaming of $5,000 plus for their 65-68 ES 335’s, it is very hard to find one in that $2500-$3500 range. Nearly impossible if you want a no issue guitar. But folks don’t seem to ask quite so much for a guitar that is every inch a 335 and vintage to boot. And pretty cool, if you ask me. The Trini Lopez Standard from ’64-68 or so. You probably won’t find a 64 (there were only 4 shipped) or a 65 in that range because they had the wider neck and seem to command a premium. But there are 66’s (with nickel hardware) in the $3500 range and 67’s (with chrome hardware) at just about $3000. The construction is identical, the electronics are identical and the tone is, to my ears, identical. If you absolutely can’t stomach the slash f-holes or the Firebird headstock, then you’ll have to make further compromises. But for my money, the Trini is the real deal. The Deluxe is a completely different beast and not for you if you want a 335. If you’re willing to accept a few issues, you can probably find one below $3000. Try to get one with the original case because the headstock is longer than stock and a correct case is going to be really tough to find. EB-2 bass cases will work but they aren’t exactly plentiful either. A 335 12 string case will also work. Good luck. Trinis came in red (common) Sparkling Burgundy (fairly rare) and Pelham Blue (really rare). The last SB I saw went in the $4500 range and the mint PB I had went for well over $10K. Then there’s the hip factor. Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters) loved these guitars and was rumored to have bought up a lot of the PB ones (not mine, although his tech inquired about it). We all know that Firebirds are very cool guitars and so are 335’s…so what could be cooler than a 335 with a Firebird headstock? I loved my first Trini (a 65) which I bought at a time when I was only buying guitars to keep forever. Even though that has changed, I still think there is no better choice for money.

How's this for rare? A Pelham Blue Trini with a Varitone. I know where it lives if you're interested (No, it isn't mine)

This is one of the four 1964 Trinis. I had this one about a year ago. It had a 64 serial number and mid 64 pot codes. I sold it for $4000. Where are you going to find a 64 335 for 4 grand?

My Dad

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

This is my Mom and Dad with their sons at my Dad's 94th birthday party. That's me on the right (his left)

My Dad died yesterday. He was 95 and lived about as full a life as anyone I’ve ever known. He grew up poor and was the first in his family to attend college. He went on to Med School, fought a war both in the South Pacific and at Normandy. He came back and fathered nine sons. Any one of those things would have been extraordinary but he did them all. I can’t say that he was the reason I became a guitar player but he certainly was something of an enabler. In 1963, he came home with a Kay flat top acoustic guitar with the stipulation that I take lessons and learn to play. He bought the guitar at that musical Eden called Woolworths. I tried to play it, I really did, but it was just impossible. It took me 6 months to be able to play an F chord but I persisted. Finally, my Dad relented and took me to Hermies Music Store in Schenectady to buy an electric. My guitar teacher was a Magnatone dealer and pressured me to buy a Magnatone Typhoon (with the tilt-lock neck!) but I had my heart set on  a Stratocaster. At the time, a Strat listed for around $320 but you could buy them in New York City, 160 miles away for $200. I was not aware of this. Hermies’ prices were just North of retail and I wound up with a 64 Duo Sonic and a Princeton amp for the princely sum of $159. I had to haul the trash cans down the driveway to the curb every week for 5 years to pay for it. Interestingly, this was the cusp of the Duo Sonic’s transition to the Duo Sonic II and when I tried the guitar out at Hermies, I played the newer model. Hermie said he had to set the guitar up and that it would be ready in a few days. The guitar that showed up at my house was the older model. Nice. I mentioned this to my Father but he thought I was just angling for the Strat. I played that Duo Sonic in my first band in 1964-65 (I was 12). I’m pretty sure we were called the Dimensions (this predates the Fifth Dimension, so we weren’t quite as lame as you might think). It was clear to my Dad that the guitar was here to stay and I would practice endlessly at high volumes. “Turn that damn thing down…” he would yell up the stairs to my room. I knew the amp sounded better when it was loud but I wasn’t sure why. A year or so later, I had saved some money from our gigs ($15-$25 per gig-not for me-for the whole band) and my Dad said he would match it. By then I knew that going to New York was the way to get a new guitar for less money, so we skipped Hermies and headed South to Manny’s on 48th Street. I went with 2 guitars in mind. I wanted either an Epiphone Crestwood Custom (which a friend of mine played) or a Stratocaster. When we got to Manny’s, I asked to try the Crestwood first. I liked a wide fingerboard and the old style Crestwood definitely had that. The bad news was the new ones with the batwing headstock had little skinny necks and I knew I couldn’t play it. So, I asked for a Strat next. I wanted a sunburst and they only had a Sonic blue one which I thought was a bit girly. I still can’t believe that I let that one go. I also can’t believe that Manny’s didn’t have a sunburst Stratocaster at the time.  So, I wound up with a sunburst Fender Jaguar which cost $240 which was more than I had. Back to the garbage cans for another year. My Dad never liked my guitar playing but he had other good attributes. He only came to watch me play once in the ten years or so that I played gigs. He stuffed cotton in his ears and left early. I guess I can’t blame him. We were very loud. So, thanks Dad. Thanks for supporting my guitar habit even if you thought it kept me out of trouble (it didn’t). When he was much older, he loved to hear my son play piano when we came to visit. It often brought tears to my Dad’s eyes to listen to him play. Maybe I should have taken up the piano. ‘Bye, Dad. I’ll miss you.

Vintage Feel Vintage Sound

Monday, February 7th, 2011

Here's a couple of mid eighties 335 dot necks made by Norlin (beer, cement). One of them has been upgraded to be more like a "Golden Era" ES 335. It's got a Faber bridge and tailpiece and an RS harness with 500K pots. It got pretty close to the real thing (although the Shaw PAFs are a bit on the dark side) and was under $3000. It was the one on the right. Note the different body shapes. Can't see it? C'mon, look at the ears.

I got a phone last week from a reader who was looking for a player guitar. He already has a ’63 ES 335 that’s pretty close to mint and like a lot of us, he is hesitant to take it out of the house and subject it to the forces of nature-not to mention the forces of ill-natured people who will steal it. He asked me what he should get as a player and I suggested an early 80’s dot neck reissue. I’ve written about how good these can be and I stand behind that statement. They are very good guitars. But he wanted one that was going to sound like and feel like his beloved ’63. An 80’s dot neck is not that guitar for a number of reasons. They don’t sound the same. The probable reasons for this are myriad. The most obvious difference would be the pickups. The Shaw PAF that came on most of these is a very good pickup but it is often rather dark. The one’s I’ve stuck a meter to often are in the low 7K range which can make for a lack of brightness. They are still excellent sounding pickups but they suffer from the poor quality 300K pots that these normally have. A harness change is a good idea. Next, they have a Nashville bridge. I don’t think this makes much difference but it could. They also have a very different neck tenon-it is narrower and has a lot less mass. The body shape (there were 2 different shapes) is a bit different as well. Those things, I think, account for a good bit of sonic difference. they sound different acoustically and therefore, they sound different amplified. The reader also wanted a guitar that felt like his ’63. Feel is a bit more subjective but I know exactly what he means. The neck profiles on 81-85 Norlin dot necks are all over the place but are generally pretty comfortable and not dissimilar from early 335’s. What is very different is the finish. I’m not sure whether they are poly but the finish seems very thick and feels like poly. They tend to be a little sticky and that isn’t so good. So, what is the closest you can come to a “Golden Era” 335? I suppose if you took an 80’s 335 and swapped the Nashville bridge for a Faber or other ABR-1 that will fit, changed the harness and pickups and refinished the neck in nitro, then you would have a pretty good substitute. But there’s a better solution-it might cost you a few bucks more and it won’t appreciate in value any time soon. Get a Nashville built Historic. I’ve had 2 so far-a 2009 block neck and a 2006 dot. If I close my eyes and I pick up one of these, I could be fooled into thinking it was the real deal. From a tone standpoint, they are excellent. From a “feel” point of view, they are excellent. I think that the most likely give away is the smell. New lacquer smells like, uh, new lacquer. Look for a recent one-they seem to get better year after year. I’ve played a 2003, a 2006, a 2009 and a 2010. the only one I didn’t like was the 2010. I’m told that all the bodies are made in Memphis now but that they are still assembled in Nashville. maybe they’ve gone downhill in the past year-I really can’t say. But if you can find a 2003-2009 for a reasonable price (I paid $2600 and $2800 for mine) then you can get very close to the vintage 335 experience. You want to get even closer? Find yourself a Clapton reissue. best guitar to come out of Gibson in 47 years, if you ask me.

2006 ES-335 Nashville 59 Historic. Great guitars, beautifully made. These are the guitars your kids are going to want in 20 or 30 years and there aren't that many of them being made. You might think about getting one now. You can find them for under $3000.

Ok, this is the real one but the Gibson Clapton 335 is perhaps the best guitar that has left the Gibson factory since early 1965. These are still pricey but they come up every now and then. I saw one go for under $6000 recently. Again, only the smell will give this one away as a newer guitar.