Archive for April, 2011

Off the Cliff: ’64 to ’65

Friday, April 29th, 2011

Here's a 65 with an original stoptail and all of the 64 features EXCEPT the narrow bevel truss. Nickel hardware, wide nut and, although I don't talk about it here, no cutout in the center block. Rare enough on a 64 but on a 65? This is the only 65 I've seen with the full center block. These can be a bargain if you can find one

One of the more frequent questions I get asked is why the value of ES 335s falls precipitously from 1964 to 1965. I’ve covered some of this but to some, the reasoning behind the drop seems less than clear. Contrary to popular belief, it had nothing to do with LBJ and his “Great Society”. The biggest reason, of course, is that we collectors are totally nuts and what we do makes sense only to another collector or aficionado. There are, essentially, 3 major differences between a 64 and a 65. And, true to form, Gibson “transitioned” the changes in. The biggest change, to me, and the biggest reason the guitars from 65 onward are worth so much less is the change from a 1 11/16″ nut to a 1 9/16″ nut. That’s a difference of 1/8″ which doesn’t seem like much until you actually try to play. Some folks have no trouble at all making the adjustment. Others just can’t do it. Most of us fall in the middle. But wait. What about the change from stop tail to trapeze? Doesn’t that make just as big a difference in value? You would think so but it doesn’t. You want proof? Look at the price of a 64 Bigsby (around $9000) and the price of a 65 Bigsby ($5000)-the figures are for average guitars. There’s still a big difference in price. There is no doubt that a stop tail commands a premium but it’s something you can change if you’re a player. Taking off a trapeze and having a stop properly installed will hurt the vintage value, no doubt about it, but it will also make your guitar sound better and sustain better, IMO. Conversely, you can’t make a narrow neck wider unless you want to put on a new neck. The differences between a trapeze and stoptail with regard to tone is for another time.  But, back to the 64-65 transition. There’s more. By late 64, most 335s still had nickel hardware. I’ve seen a chrome pickup cover on a 64 but not a chrome bridge or pickguard mount or stop tail. The first 65’s were identical to 64’s and most everyone who has an

Little skinny neck on a '65. Can you get your fingers in there to play an "A" chord? I can't. Thats a narrow bevel truss rod cover in case you were wondering what they look like.

early 65 calls it a 64 but there are some smaller elements that give it away-beyond the serial numbers, which, by the way, were still pretty accurate at that time. In early 65, before the stop tail disappeared and before the hardware turned to chrome, something else occurred and it seems to have occurred very close to the first of the year. The truss rod cover bevel got narrow (but not the pickguard bevel). I have never seen a narrow bevel on a 64. There may be a few but I haven’t seen them. Likewise, I’ve only seen one big bevel TRC on a 65 335. As one of my readers points out, they are somewhat more common on 345s which had the word “stereo” on them. So, its a good “tell”. But wait…there’s still more. At some point Gibson began to transition from PAF type pickups with enamel wire to PAF type pickups with poly coated wire. Supposedly it took place in ’62 but I’ve seen too many Pat# pickups on 63s and 64s with enamel wire to believe that. But by 65, the change seems to be complete. The poly wire Pat# is still a great pickup but it isn’t “the same as a PAF” as most sellers are fond of telling you.  Is that it? Let’s review: Stop tail changed to trap. Wide nut to narrow. Nickel hardware to chrome. Wide bevel TRC to narrow. Uh, oh. Still more. These, like the TRC make not a particle of difference to the tone but collectors want to see the earlier stuff on their transitional 64/65. Tuners went from single line to double line Klusons. The bridge went from type 2 (ABR-1 with wire) to type 3 (patent number with wire). Also makes almost no difference in tone, although the newer bridges are a little beefier and seem to wear better. Most of the changes don’t make a particle of difference and the transition year of 65 would be worth about the same as a 64 if only they had stuck with stop and the wider nut. There would have been so many more great guitars for us to run the values up on. But, you can still take advantage of the fact that early 65’s are virtually identical to 64’s. Keep an eye open for them. They can be a bargain. I found a stop tail 65 recently for $7500. It’s been a looong time since I found a stop tail 64 for that price.

Here's the wide nut. This happens to be a 58 but it's the same width as a 64 and an early 65. 1 11/16". That's a wide bevel TRC on there. What gives this away as a 58? You tell me. And it isn't the shrunken tuners.

Fun and Games with the Dreaded Truss Rod

Monday, April 25th, 2011

Here's the original patent for the truss rod. It could have said "screwing up necks since 1923"...but only if you don't understand what it does.

I remember, as a kid, Hermie, slightly slippery owner of Hermie’s Music Store in Schenectady, New York, told me NEVER to touch the truss rod on my Fender Duo Sonic. Hermie said it was factory adjusted and that it should never need readjusting and if it does, to bring it back in. That was enough for me. I never touched it. Then, when I was 17, I bought a 68 SG Standard at Manny’s in NYC and never could get the intonation right. Someone told me to adjust the truss rod. Adjust it how? Tighten it? Loosen it? I had not idea what it did and only later found out that it has very little to do with intonation and everything to do with “relief”. What a relief. It didn’t help my ill fated SG, but, years later, I eventually understood its purpose and was no longer deathly afraid of it. One of the main problems folks have when they start messing with the truss is that they have the wrong tool. Don’t try to adjust the truss rod with a pair of pliers. You’ll just bugger up the nut on a Gibson. A 5/16″ nut driver will do it if the head fits in the space allowed for it as will a socket wrench, again, if it fits in there. The best thing is a big long “T” wrench that Stew-Mac makes for the purpose. Since you’ll only be turning it a quarter turn or less at a time, the big T end is a good way to see what a quarter turn looks like. If the T goes from 12 oclock to 3 o’clock, that’s a quarter turn. If you round nut driver does a quarter turn, you better be paying attention or place a mark on the handle. Elementary stuff, right? What’s harder is figuring out just how far to turn it and in which direction. What the truss is doing is compensating for the pull of the strings which want to pull the headstock forward and cause the neck to bow slightly ( or a lot). By this I mean it will be lower in the middle than it will be at the first fret and the last fret. If it’s higher in the middle, it’s called a backbow and this usually results from a too tight truss or sometimes if the strings are left off the guitar for a very long time (like years). If the neck has a backbow, loosen the truss an eighth to a quarter turn at a time. Give the neck some time to stabilize and, if its still there, turn it another eighth turn. If you’ve loosened the truss all the way and the nut is turning freely and you still have a backbow, it’s time to get a new guitar if its a cheap one and time to see your friendly luthier if its worth saving. It’s a process that you don’t want to have to do. It sometimes requires planing the neck to level it. There are other techniques as well but that’s a different post. But let’s get back to the regular bow as its the more common issue. Few guitars are set up dead flat. Most guitars won’t play well that

You can use one of these crappy little Gibson wrenches that they give away with their high end guitars or you can use what I use.

way and will either buzz  at the middle frets or fret out easily when you bend strings. This is especially true if you like your action very low. If you use your low e”E” as a straightedge, you can observe the amount of “relief” or bow the neck has. Hold the string down at the first fret and at a very high fret and see how far from the frets between those two the string sits. I’ll bet it doesn’t sit on all the frets. The less you have-the closer to flat, the more critical your setup. A bit of relief gives your strings some room to vibrate without buzzing. I like my action fairly high which would allow me to have a dead flat neck but I choose not to. I always adjust in some relief for a couple of reasons. the first is obvious-I don’t like fret buzz. The second reason is a bit more esoteric. I don’t even know if this follows any logic but it seems to work. I mentioned that the truss has very little to do with intonation and I’ve mentioned how hard it can be to intonate a 335 because you tend to run out of range on the ABR-1. Bear with me here: When you add relief, you are actually shortening the distance from the nut to the bridge by a very small increment. That changes the string length and string length is the basis for intonation. Gibsons, particularly ES-335s tend to need a pretty broad string length adjustment to intonate correctly-that is, to be in tune everywhere on the fretboard. Most of the 335’s I’ve had have the G string and/or B string saddle all the way back in the saddle. On many, I turn the saddle flat side back to get a little more length. By loosening the truss rod-adding relief, you effectively shorten the scale ever so slightly and give yourself a little more room to get the intonation spot on without running out of bridge. I don’t know how the physics works here-it seems a bit counter intuitive but it works. The larger point is when you sight down the neck of your 335 and you see a small bow, it doesn’t mean the guitar has a warped neck. It means that the truss rod needs a tweak or the guy who set it up felt that a bit of relief is just what the doctor ordered. Let me know your experiences with these kinds of adjustments. I learned setups by doing them and I’ve made my share of mistakes but the little bit of college physics I took at least helps me understand what it is I’m doing when I start adjusting things.

I use a big honkin' T wrench so I know what an eight of a turn looks like. The bigger the T, the easier it is to see how far you've turned it. Stew Mac used to sell these but I think they stopped.

Ebay ES of the Week

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

I was surprised my original stop tail 64 (which this isn't a photo of) didn't sell on Ebay last week. This 63 is currently listed on Ebay. I dunno, at first glance, a 63 335 for $8200 sounds pretty, pretty good. But that blotch on the treble side horn is not a reflection, so read very carefully.

Yep, I still do this when I see something interesting and this week, I do. The Ebay marketplace is a strange place where things happen with no apparent rhyme or reason. I had a 64 ES-335 original stoptail listed last week with a starting price of $9500 and a BIN of $10,500. I got no bids which kind of surprised me. That’s a pretty good price for an original stoptail 64, if you ask me. Even stranger is that I got no less than five offers right after the auction ended for $9500. My question is, then, why didn’t you just bid on it? You had a shot at a great deal but you couldn’t pull the trigger until somebody else did, right? Buying vintage often requires guts. Sometimes, you can get the deal of a lifetime. Sometimes you don’t. Ebay and Paypal make it pretty easy to take the chance with their return policies. If the guitar isn’t what the seller says it is, send it back. But if the seller fails to mention a broken headstock or a changed bridge, it’s up to you as a buyer to ask the question. So, this week there’s a “player” grade 63 with a BIN of $8200. Whoa, that’s lower than my “player” grade 64 was by $1300 but is it a deal? Well, to begin with, most collectors will tell you that the Bigsby alone knocks off 25%. So, already, mine looks like the better deal. But let’s look closely at this guitar on its own merits and see if maybe it’s worth more than a look. What concerns me more than anything is the fact it was refinished and stripped back to its original finish. That’s a dealbreaker for me but maybe not for you. There’s a lot of missing finish but, hey. I’ve seen Strats with no finish left at all sell for some big numbers. It won’t affect the tone or playability, so maybe it’s still worth looking into. There are some changed parts-bridge ($300 for a vintage correct one), truss rod cover-which he thinks might be original-it isn’t ($75), seller calls the Bigsby original but I’ve never seen one as late as 64 with no black paint on the plate, so I wonder about that. I guess it could have been taken or worn off. It has what appear to be factory Grovers-that’s pretty rare and pretty cool but one was changed to chrome, so you’ll need to find another nickel one. Just an aside here: call me crazy but those Grovers look like worn gold plated ones to me. I’ve got a set that look exactly like that. The back of the neck has been refinished-well, we never said it was a collector example. Oh, and the binding on the bass side of the neck is repaired poorly and the binding on the treble side is totally gone but, not to worry, you can’t feel it when you play. Take a look at the photo of the end of the fingerboard. Yikes. The board is heavily scalloped. That’s from the rosewood drying out. What happens when the owner never oils the board is that it dries out in the areas that don’t get a lot of finger contact. The lower part of the fingerboard gets oiled plenty from the oils in your fingers but up by the top 6 or 8 frets, it doesn’t get much play and it dries out and shrinks. That’s the scalloping you see. Seller says the frets are low ($300 or more for a pro fret job). Then there’s that funky pickup surround. Lastly, I would have to think twice about the neck. I don’t think it’s been reset and the seller says it hasn’t been but any time I see the finish broken around the neck join, I get worried. But that’s just me. I’ll bet it sounds just great but is this an $8000 guitar? That’s your call. I try not to judge other people’s prices when I do this type of post. I just call it as I see it. I will say this, however…if I had a chance to buy an original stoptail for $9500 or a Bigsby “custom made” for $8200, I would buy the stop tail. Not because I don’t like Bigsbys but because the stop will always command a premium-no matter what the market does. And by the way, the 64 is sold (for a lot more than $9500 and still a deal). Don’t hold your breath for another on Ebay at that price any time soon.

ES-335's don't require a whole lot of maintenance but you have to oil a rosewood board every once in a while. Or this happens. Yngwie might like the scallops but I sure don't.

PAFs, PATs and T-Tops

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

This is what the purple wire looks like. This PAF is fuller on one side than it is on the other. Sometimes it fuller in the middle. Sometimes on both edges. These things make them sound different from one another. Thanks to the Throbak site for the photo.

I’ve written a good bit about these three types of pickups but I’ve been asked a lot of questions lately and thought I would revisit the timeline in greater detail. The venerable PAF or patent applied for pickup was developed in the mid 50’s by Seth Lover and began showing up in pedal steels and guitars in 1957. There may have been some in late 56 in the steels but it isn’t totally clear. No matter, since we only care about the ES models. The first 335s had the long magnet PAF that are so coveted. They were used through 59 and 1960. It seems that in early to mid 1961, Gibson started using a stronger Alnico V magnet and since it was stronger, it became a bit shorter in order to have the same strength. I believe the winding of the pickups became more consistent as well, although its hard to prove. The circumstantial evidence is pretty convincing. There is no typical long magnet PAF because they vary so much in the way they were wound and in how many winds they actually have. That’s why you see DC resistances from the high 6K mark to the low 9K. By late 60, there seems to be a lot more consistency and the pickups are more generally in the 7.4 to 8.1K range. There are some outside that range but they are far less common once the change to the later short magnet PAF occurred. Many the things that give a long magnet  PAF it’s tone are random-like how the wire is wound on the bobbin-loaded up in the middle or loaded on one side or completely even. Or how much wire there is. Some sound great and some, simply don’t. It’s largely the luck of the draw. I’ve had great ones and some pretty dull sounding ones. Once we get to the short magnet PAF, they seem to be more consistently good. Here’s my take. The best long magnet PAF is always “better” sounding than the best short magnet PAF. But the average short magnet PAF is better than the average long magnet PAF. That’s my opinion based on the tone of about 200 PAFs that I’ve heard. By 1962, Gibson started putting the patent number sticker on the pickups. Until some time in 64, it’s the exact same pickup as the short magnet PAF. Ever wonder why 64’s are so consistently great sounding? The pickups have something to do with it. They mixed PAFs and Patent numbers from 62 through 63 but only the stickers are different. And the price. A PAF equipped 63 can command a few thousand dollars more than a PAT # 63. Some expensive stickers. There is a lot of disagreement about when Gibson went from the enamel coated (purple/maroon) wire to the poly coated (orange) wire. Some say as early as 62. I’m not one to pull apart unopened pickups but I’ve seen the enamel wire in at least one 64, so the transition must have taken awhile. Guitars with gold hardware have the early patent numbers a bit later since they didn’t sell as many gold hardware guitars, so the earlier stock lasted longer. I don’t find all that much difference in the pickups from 61 to 64. They do start to change by 65, to my ears, anyway. It’s a subtle change. these can be excellent sounding pickups and can be found as late as 1968 and maybe even early 1969. Shortly after Gibson changed the windings, they changed the bobbins and further automated the process of building pickups. It’s very hard to pinpoint the exact moment when the T-top first appeared. I don’t see a lot of mid 60’s 335’s but I’ve seen enough of them to know that T-tops don’t really become prevalent until 1967. The problem is that you can’t tell which pickup is under the cover unless you remove the cover. Fine, if it’s already been removed but if it hasn’t, most recommend that it not be. It lowers the vintage value-although knowing whether you have a T-top or a late patent number can be worth something too. There is another way to, at least, improve your odds of getting the more desirable patent number non T-top) and that is by looking at the screws that hold the bobbins to the base (the 4 screws on the back). If they are slotted, you can pretty much bet that the pickups are T-tops. If they are philips, it’s a tossup if the guitar is from 67 or later. I’m sure there are 66’s with T-tops. I’ve never seen a 65 but I’ve only had 5 or 6 65’s to look at and most hadn’t had the covers removed. They sure sounded like patent numbers to me. The fact that the sticker is identical on a “late” patent number and a T-top makes it even more confusing. You might try taking a reading with a multimeter. If the reading of both pickups is between 7.47 and 7.52 or so, then you’ve probably got a t-top if the guitar is from 66 or later. They are very consistent that way. The fact that most people don’t differentiate when they talk about early patent number, late patent number (or pre T-top) and patent sticker T-tops makes it even more confusing. People call T-tops PAFs in many cases. PAF has become almost generic for a Gibson humbucker with a sticker on it and that is wrong. So, know what you’re looking at if you’re buying loose pickups. It’s pretty easy to change the screws to be phillips. It’s also easy to change the covers to nickel but, once the solder is broken, that’s your invitation to take the covers off again and look for the telltale T that’s on each bobbin. Still, not a bad pickup, but not worth $500 or more like their predecessors. There is also the problem of telling a fake PAF from a real one but that’s a whole post in itself.

Is this the reason for that ol' PAF magic? An old Leesona coil winder. There are a few of these out there that are still in use today, although there are newer, more modern winders. Seymour Duncan has one and Throbak has at least two. This one is from the Throbak site. That looks like enamel wire on the spools.

Nines, Tens, Elevens…

Sunday, April 17th, 2011

This is how I buy my strings. Since I don't gig anymore, it's a convenient way to keep a lot of strings around and I don't end up with 10 5 string sets because I use up all the high "E" strings. Of course, I always run out of "E"s first with these.

No, I’m not rating the women passing by my window, I’m talking about string gauges for your ES 335/345/355. What strings you use is very subjective but I think these guitars have a “sweet spot” that you can capture with certain strings but perhaps not with others. I don’t usually mess around with custom gauges where maybe you take a low E from a set of 9’s and an A from a set of tens and so on. I generally use them as they are packaged. I also don’t have a lot of brand loyalty but I usually wind up with (no pun intended) D’Addarios (XL). I change my strings frequently (at least once a month) and I buy the big 25 set bulk packages that you can pull a single string from instead of opening a pack. They are a very good deal too. I found them for around $65. That’s like $2.50 a set. I like to use 10s on a 335 but they can present some problems. Very light gauge strings were not really in use in the late 50’s and early 60’s-in fact, I’m not even sure they existed. It seems that 12’s or even 13’s were pretty much the norm (.051-.041-.031-.023w-.016-.012). The problem is intonation. I’m not sure about the physics-I’m sure it has something to do with the size of the string as it relates to the length of the scale. These guitars were made for a wound G string and heavier strings than most of us use today. This also can cause nut problems (insert joke here). The smaller gauge string sit lower in the slots and can bind and cause all sorts of tuning problems too. It doesn’t end there either. Most players seemed to be using flat wound strings back in the early to mid 60’s as well. I remember Mr. Orsini, my guitar teacher getting upset, when I switched over to round wounds on my Fender Duo-Sonic. He said they were too noisy and too “twangy”. Well, I kind of liked twangy and didn’t listen to him when he told me to change back. Flat wounds don’t bind as easily in the nut slots and they stay in tune better as a result-unless, of course, you prepare the nut properly and lubricate it. That’s a different post, however. So, anyway, I use 10’s and they can be a problem. When intonating, all the strings are usually pretty well in the range of the ABR-1 saddles except for the G and occasionally the B. I find that the plain G string gets pushed all the way back toward the tail of the guitar and I usually have to turn the flat side of the saddle toward the tail as well, to get that extra little bit of range. On one or two guitars I’ve encountered, the G string is impossible to intonate and then I go to a higher gauge on that string and it usually is OK. Why 10’s? I don’t have terribly strong fingers (arthritis from advancing years) and I can’t do the kind of bends I used to do and so the lighter the string for me, the better. However, 9’s just don’t work very well on a 335. They are very tough to intonate for the same reason as the 10’s-only worse- and the guitar loses a lot of the resonance that makes 335’s so great because the strings don’t vibrate with the same power. A lot of folks swear by 11’s on a 335 and I agree that they sound excellent and are better to intonate but I just can’t get the bends I want out of them. I recently discovered 9.5’s and I put them on my ’64 about a week ago and I really like the feel of them but they lack the power needed to coax that 335 into its “sweet spot”. I also recently received a guitar from a seller with 12’s on it. I usually change the strings as soon as I pull the guitar out of the case but I saw they were pretty heavy looking, so I figured I’d play it for awhile and see what it sounded like. I think if I wasn’t a “lead” player, I would really consider the heavier gauge because I found the harmonics coming through beautifully. Power chords never sounded so powerful. So if you’ve got the strength, try a set of 11’s and if you’re a 98 pound weakling like me, go with the 10’s. Leave the 9’s for your Strat or your Tele. They have a longer scale and a set of 9’s will have some extra tension for that reason (the longer the scale length, the higher the string tension at pitch). And, my wife says I’m a sexist because of the thing about nines, tens and elevens and “rating” women. I didn’t come up with that myself. I wonder what she would have said if I had called it ones, two and threes. I also mentioned that she was an eleven, so she dropped it.

66 or 67? Does it Matter?

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

Here's a pretty typical 66. I can't see all the details but it has the high inlay and top hat knobs and a wide bevel pickguard. Those three things together pretty much nail the year as a 66.

The differences between one year and the following year can be pretty confusing. That’s mostly because there are all kinds of overlapping features and also a lot of changes that took place during those years. Next, does it really make that much difference? Is a 66 worth more than a 67? The answer, which you hear from me more often than you would probably like to is “yes and no”. A lot of things are exactly the same. Both are likely to have all chrome hardware. You might find a 66 with a nickel pickguard bracket. Both have the skinny 1 9/16″ nut but the front to back profile can vary a good bit. The 67’s often seem to be a little thicker. Score one for the 67. The tuners are always double line double ring Klusons on both years. The TRC is always the narrow bevel type. Both are, of course, always trapeze or Bigsby equipped. The body shape is the pointy ear type although there are a couple of distinct variations of that shape. So, what’s different and why would I prefer a 66 to a 67? The pickups are the big question here. Gibson started phasing in the T-top pickup during this period but you rarely see a T-top on a 66. I’ve seen pre T-tops as late as 69 but a lot of 67’s seem to have them. Look for the slotted screws on the back. That’s a tell for T-tops although a philips can be used on either type. I prefer the pre T tops but both are good pickups. Score one for the 66. Another consistent difference is the pickguard. Most 66’s and few 67’s will have the wide bevel guard-the same one used from late 1960 until 67. It’s a much better look if you ask me and also, a pretty valuable part should you ever decide to part out your 66. If the guitar has a Brazilian rosewood fingerboard (swirly, not straight grain, distinctive smell) rather than Indian, it’s a 66. If it has Indian, it can be either. I don’t see that many 66’s but most of those I have had in hand have had Brazzy boards. Score another for the 66-although I defy anyone to hear the difference (don’t get me started).  The knobs were changed during late 66 from the great looking top hat reflectors to the Fender amp looking witch hats which I really don’t like. If the guitar has top hats, it’s not a 67 (unless they have been changed which is easy and not unusual). One of the best tells is the peghead inlay. While there are exceptions here and there, it’s a pretty consistent marker for 66-67. If the guitar has the higher inlay position, it is almost certainly a 66. If it has the low one, it’s either a late 66 or a 67. The bridges can be a little different too. Some 66’s have the old style ABR-1 in chrome while the majority have the patent number type which are slightly more robust (slightly heavier duty). All 67’s have the patent number type. When I’m dating a guitar, I always wonder where I went wrong and stopped dating women rather than guitars (OK, my wonderful wife had something to do with that but I had to make the joke). Once again. When I’m dating a guitar I use a process of elimination…if it has this, it can’t be this. If it has that, it must be this. It’s pretty simple, really. Transitions at Gibson don’t occur overnight and sometimes the most unreliable feature is the only thing that you can use to tell a 66 from a 67. That feature? The serial number, of course. Start with that. Not much help right?  But if you go through each of the features I’ve mentioned using an “if/then” approach, the year will emerge fairly clearly. Make yourself a little chart if it helps and check off the features your guitar has. It’s likely that once you’ve gone through the various features that your conclusion will match the year of the serial number. If it doesn’t, trust the features. As far as value goes, the 66’s seem to command a very small premium over the 67’s. Certainly less than $1000 for equal condition guitars. Probably more like $500. 66 and 67 ES-335s seem to be priced from around $3500 on up to as much as $8000.   IMO, there isn’t a 66 or 67 on this Earth worth $8,000. Find one with philips screws on the back of the pickups and a Brazilian board for $4000 and you’ll be a pickin and a grinnin’. The difference in price between 335s and 345s from 66-67 is slight. It’s really the early years that show that big discrepancy. That wasn’t too bad, was it? Wait’ll we look at the 64 to 65 transition. That one gives me a headache just anticipating it.

Uh, oh, this one's not so clear. It's got tophat knobs but those can be changed. It's got a small bevel guard but those can be changed too. Body shape looks a little like a 68 but its got little f-holes. It's got the lower inlay position which isn't a sure thing. Fortunately, it has a serial number that wasn't reused. If the serial begins with a zero, it's always a 67.

Get What You Pay For: Part Two

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

I discussed guitars with extra holes and holes where they don’t belong but how do you assess the value of a guitar with no obvious issues like the ones I discussed but with other problems that may or may not be repairable. Years ago, I had a 59 dot neck that had a back bow in the neck. The truss was all the way  loose but the neck just wouldn’t straighten out without some larger intervention. I had purchased the guitar sight unseen and, even with the undisclosed issue, felt I had paid a reasonable price. As a seller, I suppose the smart thing to do is to have the guitar repaired by someone who knows how to do these things before the guitar goes up for sale but supposing you come across one on the open market? Well, first of all, don’t expect the seller to disclose it. But if you are lucky enough to find one in an estate sale or a pawn shop, you should know how to assess what to pay for it. First, I’ll say this: A good luthier should be able to fix a neck issue. Sometimes, it’s just a truss rod tweak, other times its a “compression” refret or “steaming” or planing the fingerboard to remove a hump or bump. The good news is that the repair doesn’t cost thousands of dollars. It should cost hundreds unless the entire neck has to be replaced. If the guitar in question is an expensive 335 or 345, it may be well worth the effort and expense to have the work done. You could save thousands on the price of the guitar. Pawn shops are generally pretty negotiable but if you come across a great looking 335 being sold privately, you should be able to get a substantial price reduction. Anyone can see a poorly adjusted neck. Just sight down the fingerboard and if you see a hump, bow, backbow or twist, then you know it needs work. There is a point where it becomes impossible to repair and it should be fairly obvious to you or the seller when that point is reached. If you can see the problem without sighting down the neck, it’s probably major and you might want to walk away. The luthiers are going to tell me that they can fix anything-and perhaps they can-but use some judgement. I would expect at least 20% off the price for a neck issue that’s clearly repairable and as much as 50% off one that has a problem that might require more drastic measures. Wood is not a very stable substance and over time it will change shape (or crack or discolor or shrink). A 50 year old piece of solid wood-like a neck-is going to go through some changes in its lifetime. Approach it with some caution and a bit of knowledge and you could snag yourself a great guitar that will eventually play as well as any once someone with the proper skills is through with it.  The final thing I want to address is issues with the finish.  The most common one is damage from being in contact with something made of plastic-like a cord (especially the coiled ones everybody used during the 60’s and 70’s). Certain types of plastic will melt the finish a cause it to become sticky and permanently disfigured. Water is the other enemy of the nitrocellulose lacquer finish. It will cause the lacquer to flake right off. Neither of these issues is going to affect the playability but both are going to affect the vintage value, so you should be ready to negotiate when you see them. A tiny area of “cord rash” isn’t going to devalue the guitar much but a heavily flaking finish will. Wet wood is not happy wood and water damage can go a lot deeper than just a flaking finish. It can wreak havoc on the electronics and can cause the plywood to delaminate. You can’t see the delamination if its the bottom layer. My approach is simple. If the guitar has been wet, I don’t buy it. Period. I may miss a deal or two along the way but so be it. A delaminated plywood guitar is not something you want. Take a look at the effect water had on the guitars in the Nashville flood and you’ll see why lacquer, glue and water are not happy together. A minor “bubble” in the lamination is fixable but if the glue between the plies has given it up, you have a seriously compromised guitar. As far as minor finish damage goes, I might ask for a small discount from a seller but I am likely to just leave it alone and not attempt to have it repaired. I consider it just another battle scar like a ding or a scratch. I don’t put a “per scratch” value on a guitar and I don’t consider a little finish damage to be much more than that. This is a good time to remind my readers that this blog constitutes my opinion on these matters. Use your own judgement and assess every guitar on its merits. That ’59 with the backbow was repaired and was my main player for a number of years. I expect it’s still out there being played.

Get What You Pay For- Part One

Friday, April 8th, 2011

This is a good example of a great player that is seriously compromised as an investment but what a player. Bigsby holes and a misplaced stoptail took the value of this 63 from around $12000 down to around 8000 or 33%.

When you buy a vintage guitar like a 335, you are buying the sum of its parts and then some. Unlike a car, when you break down a vintage guitar purchase, the parts will add up to less than the total value of the guitar. The reason for this is simply that a vintage piece is much more than the sum of its parts. A vintage guitar is something that, at best, has survived 50 or more years with no changes in a world where modifications are rampant. After all, the removable parts of a 58-63 PAF equipped 335  are worth the same on a beater as they are on a museum piece of the same year with small variations for condition. The part of the equation that has the huge variation is the husk. Husk? What’s a husk? It’s the wood. Nothing will lower the value of a vintage piece faster than a compromised husk. How does a guitar’s husk get compromised and how does it affect the value?  Some answers are pretty easy. A broken/repaired neck will immediately cut the value in half. So will a refinish. The hard stuff to evaluate is the little things. Bigsby holes. Tuner holes. Coil tap holes. Cracks in the wood in a non stress location. Cracks in a stress location. Necks that need straightening. Fingerboards that need planing or filling. These are much harder to evaluate, especially when the rest of the guitar is in great shape. If you’re a player who wants a great sounding guitar that will give years of great service and still retain its value might want to look at one of these compromised pieces. I recently sold 2 very similar 61 dot necks. One was a no issue guitar and the other had three little holes from a Bigsby B6. Both were solid 9.0 guitars. Really, the only difference was the three tiny holes. The difference in price? $5000. I suggest that both will hold their value but the uncompromised one will be more likely to appreciate and you pay for that. To a player who is going to keep the guitar for years and probably add considerably to the wear and tear makes a smart decision to buy the guitar with the issues. Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast set of rules for evaluating compromised husks. You could certainly make the statement that the more holes it has that don’t belong, the less it is worth but it really doesn’t work that way. A “Groverized” 335 can have as many as 12 extra holes in the headstock but the vintage value only drops by around 10%. My ’61 with the 3 little holes dropped in value by 22% (although I don’t think it should have dropped that much). I’ve sold a lot of 64’s lately and they point out the seriousness of holes in the top rather than somewhere else. I sold a very nice 64 original, no issue stop tail for $15,000 recently. The typical 64 with Bigsby holes-4 at the butt and two in the top  might go for $11,000 or a 25% drop. None of these issues change the tone of the guitar. They are purely cosmetic. The fussiness of the collector who will pay a tremendous premium for a no issue guitar does a great service for the player. He helps to put these guitars with compromised wood and uncompromised tone into the hands of player. Want an even bigger drop? Find a vintage 335 with holes where they don’t usually have holes-like a coil tap or mini switch somewhere on the top of the guitar. I don’t deal with these very often but I’ve seen enough of them to know that they can knock as much as 40 or even 50% off the value of the guitar. What about cracks? As I wrote in an earlier post, it depends on where the crack is. A split along the grain in a non stressed area makes very little difference in the value. Wood will do that over time as it dries out and while I’d rather have a guitar that is immaculate, a split along the grain line in the side of the guitar or almost anywhere else that isn’t the heel or the headstock or the top is going to be relatively benign. It also won’t affect the price very much unless there are signs that the crack came from some kind of outside stress like a flood, being dropped or high levels of heat. Finish checking is a crack in the finish. Most collectors accept checking as a non issue. I’m not entirely sure why this is the case. I guess if collectors are going to discount a refinished guitar by 50%, they have to accept the ravages of time on a lacquer finish. Now, consider this:  You’re presented with a gorgeous collectible museum quality instrument with a backbow in the neck. Other than that, it’s dead mint. What does that do to the value? I’ll look into this in the second part of this post which will follow in the next day or two.

This is an interesting example of what I'm talking about. This has Bigsby holes and a repaired hole from an output jack on the side and a repaired hole from a moved strap button. The asking price on Ebay-which has been lowered quite a few times is around $30,000. If this guitar didn't have the holes, I would expect the asking price to be at least $45,000. That's $15,000 worth of holes or 33%. I don't think the seller will get his $30,000, however. That's not an opinion about whether it's priced correctly, that's an assessment of the people who buy these.

Brooklyn Show Post Mortem Ramblings

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

Sorry about the crappy photo. I only had my phone with me. I had too much other stuff to remember. That's a '60 345, a 64 335 and a 61 335. That's my old '57 Duo Sonic next to it.

The first thing I noticed when I parked around the corner from Brooklyn Bowl was that it was, in fact, a bowling alley and not some big venue like “The Hollywood Bowl” The second thing I noticed was that there was a stream of bile green fluid running into the street from under my car. This was not starting off very well. OK, my radiator has sprung a leak. I’ll deal with it later. Here’s a question: When you have a car full of very expensive guitars, do you carry in the best ones first, leaving the less valuable ones unguarded in the car? But then when I leave the venue to get the others, I’m leaving the guitars alone inside. How do you not get ripped off? I mean everybody knows that there will be carloads of expensive guitars there. Fortunately, my son met me at the site and helped me out. He couldn’t, however, give me any advice about what was wrong with my car since he knows less about cars than I do. I’ll deal with it later. Once we got inside, I was shown our table. It was the first table as you walk in the door. How lucky was that? Now I can pounce on every interesting guitar that walks in and get all kinds of exposure. Then Mike, who along with Lisa, was running the show told me that those doors weren’t the entrance doors. In fact, my table was the farthest from the entrance and I felt like the guy who doesn’t grease the maitre D’s palm and gets stuck at the table between the kitchen and the men’s room which is usually used by the cooking staff to have a smoke and they were all annoyed that I was sitting there. My business partner came down from upstate NY to share the fun and he brought a couple of Stratocasters to broaden out our appeal. Overall, the show was a lot of fun and everybody was very nice and helpful and it appeared to be a great success. About halfway through, I called AAA to see if they could fix my car. They sent a truck. The AAA guy told me he couldn’t do anything but tow the car, jump start it, change a tire or get my keys out of a locked car. I was on my own. The guy said he could tow me to a gas station or drive me to the nearest auto parts store to see if they had a radiator drain plug for a 1997 Volvo. I wasn’t optimistic. After a short ride in the tow truck (listening to the really awful “Easy Listening” station at ear splitting levels) I found out they didn’t have the part but I found something I could jury rig with a little duct tape a maybe, just maybe, I’d make it the 60 miles back home with a carload of guitars. Or maybe I’d sell them all. I figured I’d just deal with it later. I noticed a couple of really interesting things about guitar shows. There are essentially 2 types of buyers. One type asks a lot of questions, plays the guitar, asks more questions and says he’ll let me know-which is fine. I don’t expect anyone to show up and buy a $20,000 guitar on the spot for cash. The other type comes up and starts telling me what’s wrong with each guitar. “The switch tip on that 61 can’t be original, it’s too white. It should be yellowed like the one on the ’60 over there.” Note that he doesn’t ask if its original, he just tells me it isn’t. And of course he was wrong-the 60 switch tips were catalin which turns yellow and the 61’s are plastic-maybe polystyrene or some other more modern plastic. Then he tells me that the frets aren’t original. I asked him why. He said “They aren’t worn.” I explained that the guitar had sat in a case for 48 years and had flatwounds on it when I got it and that lack of wear doesn’t necessarily mean a guitar has had a fret job. Especially one that’s almost mint.  It’s a cheap negotiating tactic that unscrupulous dealers often use on unsuspecting sellers to devalue their guitars. Interesting that the buyers use it on the dealers too. Then he said “Would you take $8,000 for it?”  It was marked at $22,000. End of story. This kind of thing went on a lot all day long and I guess I expect it but I have to point out that if you’re going to act like a big expert and tell me what’s wrong with my guitars, you should, at least, know what you’re talking about. I liked the ones who asked questions so much better. Also interesting to note was that the most popular guitar at my table wasn’t a 335 at all. It was a 61 Epiphone Wilshire. Other than the guys who told me they bought the same one a Guitar Center for $250, most people really liked it and had never seen one before. No wonder, they only made something like 175 of them in 61. My old refinished ’57 Fender Duo Sonic got a lot of play too. The three big ‘ol red 3×5’s got a lot of oohs and aahs but no takers. Not hip enough for Brooklyn I guess. Finally, it was after 5 and I figured I would pack up and go. It was now later and I had to deal with the old Volvo. Let’s see, a little chewing gum and….