Archive for May, 2011

Switch Tip: Too Small to Care?

Monday, May 30th, 2011

Here's 4 real early 60's switchtips and one from a later guitar. Note the dominance of the top seam on the newer one and how it tapers less. And notice the cracks.

Other than the screws, the smallest piece of a 335 is the switch tip. That shouldn’t make it any less significant to a collector or someone who wants a completely original guitar. People act differently toward this particular part than they do toward any other. If the guitar is a 58, 59 or 60, the tip is treated like all the other parts. It has to be the catalin (bakelite) amber tip and pass all sorts of tests to prove that it is indeed the formaldehyde based plastic. The fakes have gotten really good but I don’t think they’re making them out of catalin. But, once we get to 1961 and the switch is white, nobody seems to care any more. There are 2 different types of white switch tip that show up between 61 and 64 and none of them are the ones with the big seam on top. No one has written about this, as far as I know and it only occurred to me recently. I’ve had a lot of 61-64 ES 335s and 345s lately and a couple have been from the original owner, so I can find out if things have been changed. Switch tips get lost a lot. They also get stolen or unscrewed by folks who seem to have an OCD related penchant for unscrewing anything that can be unscrewed. These are same people who can’t drink a Bud without peeling off the

The one on the left is the newer one. The one in the middle is a 61-64 and the one on the right is the one you rarely see. It has a top seam but is shaped more like a catalin tip and has the smooth bottom that a catalin tip has. I've only seen these in late 60 and early 61.

label. Anyway, there seems to be more than one type of white switch tip used from 61-64. Making matters more difficult is the fact that catalin doesn’t start off amber, it starts as off white and turns amber when exposed to sunlight. By now, most catalin switch tips are amber, so we’ll ignore the fact that there could be yet another type of white switch tip. Most of you already know that a catalin switch tip has no top seam and the top is usually relatively flat. The first switch tips that follow the catalin ones are some sort of plastic that is molded with a barely visible top seam. But they look almost exactly like the catalin tips but with a rounded top -the bottom is cleanly finished and rounded off  and they taper like the catalin tips.  But the seam is very subtle-it is not a raised line like most of the white plastic tips you’ll see from the late 60’s until today. I’m not certain when they started using the fatter tips with the prominent seam but I suppose it doesn’t matter much after the 60’s. The typical 61-6? tip is also plastic with a very subtle seam but not nearly as tapered. the bottom is a bit more ragged.  There are a couple of things to look for in these early white switch tips to ascertain correctness.  These tips also taper a good bit from top to bottom but not as dramatically as the catalin tips. Later tips are fatter at the base. The “tell” that I use for a 61-64 tip is an odd one. I look for a crack. Since I’ve started paying close attention to these guitars, I’ve probably had 60 or 70 from 1961-1964. Of those, I think fewer than 5 have had an intact switch tip. They all seem to crack. The plastic was apparently a little more brittle than it should have been and when they are even slightly overtightened, they crack-and nearly all in the same place-from the bottom to the seam in a vertical line. So, if you have a 64 and the switch tip isn’t cracked, is it a replacement? Not necessarily but there’s a real good chance that it is. However, to complicate matters, modern ones crack although not as frequently, so we need something else to help us authenticate the tip. Run your finger across the seam. If it’s big enough to “catch” your fingernail, it’s probably a later one. It may be that they just finished them better back then and now they don’t. There is a pretty robust market for the catalin tips and they can cost as much a $250. There isn’t really much of a market for the early white tips because there’s so little to tell them apart from a 75 cent modern replacement. Someone has a “61” on Ebay for $85 and it looks like every other plastic switch tip I’ve seen from 1969 or so until yesterday. Look for the well finished seam and the more dramatic taper. And the crack.

Here's a couple of catalins from 58-60 with the "transitional" tip that has a lot of the same characteristics but it has a top seam.

The ES-345 Market Bottom?

Saturday, May 28th, 2011

Nothin like a big ol' red 345. This ones got the "fade" that only the early ones get and it plays like a dream. Long guard is a great look too. This came from an older gentleman in North Carolina.

I don’t know if this is good news or bad news. I guess it’s goods news for everyone except the dealers who were furiously buying at the top of the market and are now trying to get back their investment. I think there is a bottom forming here for ES-345s from 1959-1964. You’ll still find dealers flogging them in the high $20K range but, unless you’ve got a blondie, the days of the $28,000 ES-345 are over. And now, even if you have a mint stop tail, you are going to be hard pressed to see $20,000. But most of you aren’t looking for a mint stop, you’re looking for a great playing, mostly original, PAF’s if you can get ’em, ES-345 for under $10K. One thing I’ve noticed is that the sellers who have owned these guitars for years have finally gotten the memo-even if most of the big dealers haven’t. I’m seeing the lowest prices I’ve seen for awhile on really high quality 345s. I don’t have to mention again how much I love these guitars. I like the design, the parallelogram inlays and, yes, I like the Varitone in all it’s anachronistic analog splendor. It’s no secret that the players who bought 345s brand new back in the day, are getting very old and most have stopped playing. If you were a 25 year old pro back in 1960, a 345 was a great choice for you. But, now you’re 75 and not making a living from your music and that old girl is sitting under the bed doing no one any good. So, the market is coming alive, especially for these wonderfully cared for one owner 345s. There are often a few changes. These pros were subject to the same “fads” as the rest of use. You’ll see a lot of Grovers, a few coil taps, wide travel bridges, a master volume on the pickguard and a lot of pickup changes. Fortunately most of these players saved the old parts and they are right there in the case pocket. The guitars are often in much better shape than the case. These old brown Liftons and early black ones have taken a beating but have continued to protect the guitars in them . In just the past 2 weeks, I’ve found a beautiful red ’60 in North Carolina, a sunburst 59 in California and a sunburst 63 in California. The ’60 and the ’63 will come in well under $10,000 and under $9000 respectively and they are wonderful old instruments. Both are Bigsby/stud versions and are nearly all original.  I don’t usually tout my own inventory in my posts but I think this represents a good opportunity. And don’t necessarily buy mine-get out there and find the ones under the bed. Just do your homework before you hand over the cash. Forgot the neck sizes? OK here we go: Early 59-Really big. Late 59 Big. Early 60 big. Late 60 through mid ’63 wide and relatively flat. Mid 63 and 64 Big. There are exceptions everywhere but, in general, this is a good guideline. These can be found for $7,000 if you can handle a few issues.

Serious Mojo

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

Here's a $28,000 64. It looks mint to me or darn close to it. Mint commands a serious premium and I don't think something around $28K is out of the question if mint is what you want. And, because it's at a reputable dealer, he will stand behind its originality and provenance. No issues and great condition means a big premium. Look at that case.

I sell guitars to three types of buyers. Collectors, players and a third variety that’s a combination of the two previous types. This third type tends to be the hardest to please.  The collectors want no issue mint or near mint pieces most of the time and it’s easy to make them happy as long as you can deliver the goods. They are most concerned with originality and condition and will reject guitars for the very slightest of reasons-like a broken solder joint or a replaced saddle. They usually pay top dollar and they deserve the kind of quality they demand.  The pro and serious players are at the other end of the spectrum on things like condition and originality. They are often buying a tool of their trade and they often have limited budgets. The pro player has no problem with what the Ebay sellers, in their pimply faced hyperbole call “serious mojo” which loosely translated means tons of dirt, grime and wear.  They will accept issues that don’t affect playability or tone like a replaced bridge or changed tuners.  Even a repair or two won’t stop a pro player from buying a guitar that sounds great to his ear.  I love dealing with these two types because it’s always clear what they want. Then there’s the third type who is pretty much like me. They want the best guitar they can afford in terms of originality and condition but, insofar as they are players, they also want the great tone that the 335 is famous for. Fortunately most of them sound really excellent and I find myself groping for ways to describe the tone of the typical 335 or 345. Is it “woody” or “airy” or “scooped” or maybe “dry” or “wet”.  I have a very good ear for things like frequencies and harmonics and I tune my guitars totally by ear by

Here's another for the same price-$28K. But this one has all kinds of checking and some finish issues-like chipping lacquer and moderate checking. The dealer doesn't try to hide that fact, he's just priced it for 2007. How much does condition reduce an otherwise "no issue" (unless you count that switch tip) guitar?

listening to harmonics and beats. That doesn’t help me when there is the question of describing the tone of a 335. Seriously, folks-it sounds like a 335. Some are more bassy or trebley than others. Some sustain a little better some have very strong harmonics and “double tones” but “woody”? I don’t know. I’m digressing a bit, so let me reel it back in.  The third type of buyer has a problem that is kind of like what your Mom used to say when you took a huge portion of meatloaf. “Your eyes are bigger than you stomach”.  Mom’s meatloaf notwithstanding, what I mean is you really want a collector guitar that sounds like a great player guitar for a price somewhere in the middle. Serious mojo is not for you but neither is dead mint. Those we understand. Let me point out that a few of my potential buyers are going to be certain I’m referring directly to them but, rest assured, I’m not. There are tons of us-and I include me in the mix because I was you for many years before I became a dealer last year. These guitars have a very wide price range. An original stop tail ’64 that is mostly original but has, say, changed tuners and a lot of wear can sell for anywhere between $10,000 and $15,000 depending on the seriousness of the issues. But when you get to the top of the pile and the guitar has NO issues and NO significant wear, you are going to go into the stratosphere when it comes to price. For any of these

Here's the other end of the 64 stop tail spectrum. It has a lot of "serious mojo"-arm wear, checking, refret and changed tuners. I sold this guitar for well under half the price of the others but its still an original stop tail 64.

guitars to survive nearly 50 years without being altered or broken or even worn to any extent is rare. Really rare. And it commands a very large premium. That’s why you’ll see 64 original stop tails with prices more than double the lower grade ones I described.  My point is that when you see one for $15,000 in great shape with a finish issue or some minor originality issue, you need to understand that the price reflects those issues and you can continue looking for the perfect 335 for the price of a player grade one but it may take you a very long time to find it. Worse, when you do find it, how do you know it’s original? That’s where the dealer comes in. That’s also why dealers charge more than you’ll get it for on Ebay. If you are going to spend $15,000 or more on a guitar, you might want to have a return policy and you might want to have an expert’s eyes playing for your team. The hardest thing to do (after describing tone) is to put a discount on particular issues. I’ll look at this in my next post.

This '64 seems to be a problem. It is in 9.0 condition with only minor checking. It's 100% original. But, it has a partially scratched out (but mostly readable) serial number. How does this affect its value? Stay tuned.

What’s the Attraction?

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

Looking like Gene Wilder has retired to the farm, Elvin Bishop knows what guitar looks good up on stage (even if he's not entirely sure what outfit looks good up there). That's Red Dog in his hands, a 1960 345.

OK, so I like the 335/345 and 355. I like SGs and Les Pauls and Strats too but what is it about the ES series that keeps me coming back and writing about them week in and week out? After  all, it’s a guitar-not a lifestyle. I didn’t expect to be able to sustain writing about these guitars for this long. I think I’ve done something like 170 posts with some, but not much, repetition. I keep thinking about adding one of my other favorites to the mix but I keep coming up with more to write about. On top of that, I have compelling reasons, at least for now, to stick to 335s, 345s and 355s. Mostly, it’s the design. It’s brilliant. It’s attractive to the point of being iconic. The Strat has that too and maybe even the LP. But there’s more to it than that. ES’s are innovative, versatile and consistently good (well from 58-68 anyway). There is something hugely appealing to me about symmetry. That’s probably why I also like the early symmetrical solid Epiphones made until around 63. SG’s are somewhat symmetrical as well but the design has too many flaws-the most obvious being the fact that the necks fall off after 40 years or so. You could blame the glue but I think it’s the design that’s the problem.  I think Ted McCarty owes a huge debt to Les Paul for the design of the 335-after all, the 335 is really just a more sophisticated “log”.  But it works-from the high fret access to the light weight to the broad tonal palette to the ergonomics. This is a marvel of modern design. I can find a design flaw in almost every guitar ever made. If there is one aspect of the 335 I find exasperating, it would have to be the narrow range of the ABR-1. These are very difficult guitars to intonate. They have to be spot on or they sound awful. I don’t know why it is there are certain guitars that will sound fine even when they are way out of adjustment. Fenders are like that-especially Jazzmasters and Jaguars. A 60’s Gretsch Gent has only a bar bridge with no adjustment at all and yet I can get one intonated with my eyes closed. When I walk into Sam Ash or GC to fool around with the new stuff, I’m always more likely to stick with a guitar that sounds like its in tune when I pick it up or one that I can tune easily and not have to fool around with. Some just won’t tune. I’ll point out one other flaw that seems to permeate the whole Gibson line from the 60’s and that is nuts that are too tightly cut.  But, back to the subject at hand, the 335 is just so appealing that I don’t ever tire of them. Every time another one shows up at my door, it’s like Christmas morning. I can’t wait to play it and see how it compares to the others. Is it twangy or smooth? Does it have that killer neck pickup that will sing if you get your settings just so? Does it sustain forever above the 12th fret like so many of them do? That makes it sound like they are inconsistent but I look at it differently. Each one seems to have a great strength. That would imply that each one also has a weakness but that just isn’t true. It’s like there is this high standard of excellence that nearly every one of them meets and then, above that, there is some aspect of the guitar that is just extraordinary and puts a big smile on your face. I don’t think there is a guitar in the world that looks better on stage than a big ol’ red 335, 345 or 355. Even from the nosebleed seats, you know what the man is playing. If you have never played one from the 50’s or 60’s, see if you can borrow one or go to your local vintage guy and just play it. You’ll be hooked faster than a largemouth bass to a wooly bugger.

Headscratcher ES-345

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

When the Gibson Sparkling Burgundy finish is unfaded, it's a very cool color-more like Candy Apple Red than "Burgundy". This one has a 65 serial number but has too many 66/67 features to actually be a 65.

Every once in a while I get a guitar or someone sends me a photo that breaks the rules-even the ones that seem pretty hard and fast. I bought this ES-345 at auction-sight unseen- and I knew it was a piece for the detective in me. There were a few things to consider. The guitar was sold as a 1965 which made sense. The serial number is 300xxx which is not an ambiguous or re-used number. Now, granted, the published lists are not 100% accurate but this has no other year  on either side of it either. The series before and the series after are all 65’s. The reused numbers don’t come in until 306xxx. But lets look more closely. I got it with top hat knobs which may or may not be original but it had no sign that there had been other knobs on it -there is sometimes a shadow from witch hats but this guitar has no fade so it’s tough to tell. The other thing is that the guitar is a custom color-the one everybody ignores-sparkling burgundy. It really isn’t burgundy at all-it’s really closer to a darkish candy apple red. I wondered about the finish being original but the guitar passes all my “refin” tests so I’m pretty certain it’s factory. SB guitars supposedly started in ’65, so that isn’t an issue. The pickguard is a narrow bevel. That says 67 or at least late 66 to me. But again, a pickguard can be changed. Tuners don’t help because it has Schallers. It’s been converted to a stop and has its trapeze holes which makes sense. Let’s look a little deeper. The pickups appear original as does the harness (it still has its shielding cans). One pickup has slotted screws so its probably a T-top. I’ve seen T-tops on a 66 but I don’t recall ever seeing them on a 65. There were some changes to the actual Varitone switch itself but I think it was pretty consistent from 65-67 which I’ve narrowed it down to. That leads me to the headstock inlay. I find this to be one of the better indicators. It’s in the low position which indicates late 66 or later. So, then I thought, could it have been renecked at the factory and repainted SB at that time.  Had it been renecked and not painted, it would be tough to do that without crapping up the seam at the neck join and it looks pretty good. But, if they renecked and repainted it in 67, then it would have a clean neck join but it wouldn’t have a narrow bevel guard. Also, when Gibson renecks a guitar, they usually restamp the headstock with a larger font. This one doesn’t appear to have been restamped. The SB paint is very thick-and it’s a 2 color process-a gold undercoat and a red transparent top coat, so had it been restamped, it would be obvious. I haven’t necessarily ruled out that it was refinished but unless it was originally SB, there are almost always remnants of red or sunburst in the cavities. There isn’t. And the bindings aren’t sanded smooth like they usually are on a refin. It is most certainly the Gibson color-not an outside imitation judging by the way it’s wearing on the back of the neck (orangey gold). My conclusion is that the serial number list is wrong. It’s a late 66/early 67. The inlay and the pickguard are the tells. It’s also a great playing great sounding 345. And pretty cool looking if you ask me. Your opinions are welcomed. Shortly after I published this post, I got an email from a reader who recently acquired an ES-355 that was also SB in color. His was also “supposed” to be a 65 based on the serial number but, on inspection, turned out to have mostly ’67 specs. I wonder if perhaps they painted a number of guitar bodies that were left over from 65 with their “new” color but didn’t get around to assembling them until late 66 or 67. SB guitars were never that popular.  That would explain the guard and T-top but not the headstock inlay.

This color always checks heavily. This is no different. Look how "red" it is. It looks like this in person.

Trapeze vs Stoptail in the Real World

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

Which 2 screws are going to transmit sound to the body better? The little teeny ones that connect the trap tail to the end of the center block or the big, fat, one inch steel studs that go smack into the middle of the center block? I'm going to guess the studs are the better sound medium

Those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to play stoptail equipped 1958-64 ES 335s and 345s generally believe that the stoptail or stop tail is the best way to anchor strings to a guitar. It makes sense too. The stop tail studs anchor almost a full inch into the center block and this would presumably get the thing vibrating pretty well which should, in theory make the guitar sound like a maple bodied solid body guitar. The block, being attached to the top of the guitar should get it vibrating as well, acting something like a laminate bodied acoustic.  Contrast this to the trapeze method of anchoring strings. the idea was to get the top of the guitar vibrating by suspending the strings above it and not have anything attached to the top of the guitar that would impede its vibrations. I’m not sure how much sense that makes, given that some very fine sounding acoustic guitars anchor the strings to a bridge glued to the top of the guitar. Those things tend to vibrate pretty well. But, I guess the bridge on a trapeze tail would serve that same function. But for a guitar with a center block, it seems the stop tail would be the better method of generating sound. That’s simple logic and Physics 101-sound travels best through a solid. The trapeze tail is connected directly to the end of the center block by two little screws and the strap pin screw. That can’t be the same as a one inch long heavy steel stud, can it? Well, let’s throw out the theory and look at the practicality. I recently acquired a trapeze tail 1965 ES-335 with a big fat ’64 type neck. Since I had a 64 available with a stop tail, I thought I would do a little test to see if maybe one of them sounded better or sustained better or had better or at least different frequency response. I haven’t started posting audio clips but I probably should. For now, you will have to take my word for what I found.  First, let’s examine what is different about a trapeze tail beyond the way the sound is transferred to the body of the guitar. A trapeze has a much shallower string break angle and it tends to be rather flexible. The obvious physics here is that it shouldn’t really make much difference the string tension is the same no matter what the break angle because tension is what creates pitch and break angle doesn’t affect how tense the string is. But does it affect the downward pressure on the bridge? Logic says yes but does that necessarily change anything. I found this quote on one of the forums: “Steeper angle = snappier, more biting tone; shallower angle = less bite, more even tone.” That would indicate that the stop tail would be more biting and the trap, less. Makes sense, no? Then there’s the argument that the string will bend more easily if the downward force is less (shallower string break angle). That seems not to make logical sense since the tension is the same but I guess you could argue that the bend action is affected by the part of the string beyond the bridge and the amount of downward force on the bridge. I  dunno. What I do know is that I have 2 nearly identical guitars that are set up pretty much the same. They have similar pickups and similar bridges. One has a stop and a pretty extreme break angle and the other has a trap and a more shallow break angle. Here’s where I leave the computer and go play the two guitars. OK, I’m back and here are my findings. On the issue of sustain, no difference at all. They both sustain beautifully. One the issue of string bending ease, exactly the same. And I should mention that I perceived no movement of the trapeze when I bent the strings as far as I could. There are those who believe that the trapeze moves under heavy bending. As far as “snappier” tone from the stop, I found little evidence to support that even though it makes some logical sense to me. But they did sound different. I can’t say that one sounded better than the other but the overall tone was not the quite the same.  I have it on very good authority from a pro player who is very knowledgeable about 335’s (and others) that when you switch a trap tail to a stop (or vice versa, although that rarely happens) you can change the tone of the guitar. Tone is very subjective and hard to describe but it has to do with the interaction of all the components of a guitar-electronic and structural.  When you change the physical dynamics of that delicate interaction, you are going to change the way the guitar sounds. I don’t think you’ll change the feel very much but tone is a whole ‘nother thing. This same player tells the story of a ’67 ES-335 that sounded magical and had a trapeze. His thinking? Well, if it sounds this good with a trap, imagine how great it will sound with a stop. Then he made the very invasive modification. To his shock and dismay, the magic was gone and the guitar sounded merely ordinary. So, there is a difference in how a stop and trap work with the rest of the components.  The problem is that it isn’t terribly predictable or even all that quantifiable without some pretty sophisticated test equipment. The lesson is that if your 335 sounds good the way it is, don’t try to change it. Or put more simply: If it ain’t broke…you know the rest.


Sunday, May 15th, 2011

Are your nuts binding? Well, try wearing boxers. Seriously, look at all the crap in the nut slots on this '65. They will work a lot better if you keep them cleaned and lubed. And that goes for your guitar's nuts too.

In December, 1944, General Anthony Clement McAuliff was acting Commander of the 101st Airborne Division and other attached troops during the siege of Bastogne, Belgium. When they became surrounded and the Germans demanded their surrender, he sent back a one-word reply “NUTS.” This is probably the most famous quote of World War II.  This is also the topic of today’s post. No, not the celebrated General (I don’t think he was even a guitar player) but nuts. Guitar nuts, which are not some special kind of nuts that you eat while playing the guitar like “Beer Nuts” that you would eat while drinking beer. Nope. I’m talking about that plastic thingy that the strings go through on their way to the tuners. Most mass produced guitars have inherent design flaws and for all the time I’ve played 335’s and their brethren, the only real flaw seems to be the nut. The nut on a vintage 335 is made of nylon which in 1958 was probably something of a miracle substance. It was durable and versatile. It could be molded and cut and was relatively slippery which made it ideal for guitar nuts. I’m not changing the subject here, really, but why do so many ES-335s go out of tune so easily? Almost every one I’ve owned will slip tune after playing some big bends. I can’t imagine how many times this was blamed on the tuners. Well, given the vast number of  335’s with Grovers, I’m guessing a lot. But try this: The next time you are wailing away playing you’re big fat blues bends and your guitar goes out of tune, take a second and listen to how it’s out of tune. If it was a slipping tuner, it would be flat. A long time ago, I did exactly that and noticed, to my great surprise, that the string was sharp. How does this happen? It defies the laws of physics doesn’t it? How can a string get tighter on its own? Well, it doesn’t do anything on its own, it’s the force of you bending the string that supplies the energy to make the string sharp-thats what you do when you bend a string-you make it go sharper. But it’s the nut that causes it to stay that way. You see, the nut slots are cut the same on every 335 but the strings aren’t all the same that are being used on it. Add to that, the amount of crud that accumulates in the nut slots and you’ve got a “binding nut” which sounds like a painful condition but is really mostly painful to your ears. By bending the note sharp you pull the string tighter and on its way back to its normal position, it binds in the nut slot and stays very slightly sharp. So, it has nothing to do with your tuners (unless the string goes flat). So, what’s a note bender to do? There are a number of solutions, some less invasive than others. You could change the nut to a graphite or other material which is more slippery but that will hurt the value of your all original vintage piece. You could file the nut slots but you best know what you’re doing because a too big nut slot will cause other problems. there are also those who will squawk that a filed nut slot isn’t “original” on a vintage piece (which I think is a bit nutty, pardon the pun). How about this? Clean the crud out of the slots and lubricate them. I take a piece of dental floss-you know that stringy stuff that you never use on your teeth but you know you’re supposed to? Yeah, take that a run it through the slots to remove the dirt and god knows what else that gets in there. And don’t use the mint flavored stuff or your guitar will smell minty fresh which isn’t really what you want. Once you’ve cleared out the crap thats causing it to bind, lubricate it. You can use any of a number of stupidly priced preparations on the market or you can use graphite-either from a can of graphite lube or from a pencil. That’s what I’ve been doing for years-just “write” in the nut slot with a pencil and your string will slip slide their way through when you do those big bends and your 335 will stay in tune. If that doesn’t work, then you might want to consider taking the guitar to your luthier to have the slots widened. And you thought you needed new tuners.

Quick Reminder

Friday, May 13th, 2011

If you want to know what guitars are coming in before anyone else, follow me on Twitter. My name is OKguitars-or just click on the banner over there on the right. I hope that works. I’m doing 2 tweets for each acquisition-the first when I complete the deal for the guitar and the second when I have it in hand. I don’t usually price guitars until I go through them  but if you see something you want, let me know and I’ll give you first crack at it with no obligation. First come first served.

Making the 81-85 ES-335 Better

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Here's a stock red '82 with the "good" body type. The red isn't as "see-through" as the guitars it emulates but it's still somewhat transparent and a very nice looking finish. The blondes get all the attention but the redhead is a better deal. Look for these in the $2500 range. The blondes will cost you as much as $1000 more.

I’m very familiar with the 81-85 ES-335 dot reissues that were released toward the end of the Norlin (concrete, beer) Era and I’ve written fairly extensively about them. I generally consider them to be better than the 335’s from 70-80 and certainly as good as the modern Historics. The years in between-let’s say 1986-1998 or so seem not to have come into their own yet. From my point of view, it’s hard to believe that these are 30 year old instruments. That’s vintage to most folks even though they don’t really seem like it to those of us who were there as adults. It’s scary to think that an 81 dot reissue is as old as a 59/60 dot neck was in 1990 which is about when I started noticing vintage guitars. Will these 80’s reissues be as revered in twenty years as the 59-64 ES 335’s are now? I only need to look at the ’68 Les Paul reissue to know the answer. I recall when most folks thought the 68 Goldtop reissue was a piece of crap. It wasn’t accurate with its wide binding in the cutaway and the routs were different and any number of other complaints that kept it from hallowed status. Well, now they are pretty well accepted as a genuine collectible and I agree that they can be wonderful guitars. I’ve owned at least 3 of them and each has been quite good. So, I don’t think it’s going to happen tomorrow or the next day but I do think that the 80’s reissues are destined for a higher status than they currently enjoy. There are things that are wrong and things that are right about these guitars. The worst thing is that they are inconsistent. There are no less than 3 distinct body shapes and there are 3 piece necks and one piece necks. The harnesses are generally considered pretty awful with their 300K pots and most folks just don’t like the looks of a Nashville bridge. So here’s what you do: Go out and find yourself an 81-85 ES-335. Look for the ones that don’t have that awful stubby little cutaway that seems to show up without rhyme or  reason. I originally thought it had to do with Nashville or Kalamazoo builds but it doesn’t. They show up in both places. I believe the three piece necks are every bit as stable (some say more) than the one piece and isn’t something worthj obsessing over. Yes, the originals had a one piece neck. I see nothing wrong with replacing the original harness with a 500K aftermarket one and keeping the original in the case. Your guitar will sound better. The combination of the somewhat “dark” Shaw PAFs and the 300K pots seems to leave many of these guitars sounding anemic. The 500K harness will help that considerably. The Nashville bridge is a perfectly good design. It looks wrong-in much the same way chrome hardware seemed wrong on a 68 goldtop. You can get a Faber ABR-1 that will fit on the Nashville studs with no alteration or, if you can find them, get a set of offset studs that will allow you to use the original holes and use a normal spaced ABR-1. I look for blonde ones without much figuring. The flamey ones just look wrong to me.  The red ones look pretty good even though the red is more opaque than the original finishes from the 60’s. They can be harder to find. The sunbursts are often flamey and look nothing like the model they are meant to emulate. I’ve never owned a sunburst 80’s 335 for that reason. I don’t find them attractive in the least. But that’s just a matter of personal taste. The first ones to run up in price will be the blondes which means the bargains will be the reds and the sunbursts. So, get out there and find yourself one. You won’t be sorry.

One of these has the "stubby" horns and the other has a very authentic looking body if you ignore the heavy flame. One still has its Nashville bridge and the other has a Faber. I think the long guard looks cool as well on the one with the "right" body. Can you see the difference?

Don’t Read This

Monday, May 9th, 2011

For those of you who just want to know more about 335’s and their brethren, don’t read this. This is me being self-serving by letting you know that I’ve totally sold out and now have a Twitter account. That’s kind of a pain in the ass for me but it can be good for you if you happen to be looking for a particular guitar. I am tweeting my new acquisitions in order to give my readers a crack at them before they go up on this site and Gbase and possibly Ebay. That’s pretty much all I’m going to do with Twitter at this point. I won’t be tweeting when I decide what to make for dinner. I won’t be tweeting that I’m going out to walk the dog. I won’t be tweeting about my life and times. Just guitars that show up on my doorstep that might be of interest to you. I don’t like being overly commercial on this site, so I figured Twitter was a good way to let everyone know what I have to sell. So, if you want to, click on the “follow me” box on the upper right and all you’ll get is a tweet when something interesting shows up or I get a line on a guitar that you folks might be interested in. It’s still mostly 335’s and 345’s but the occasional SG and Firebird might make a guest appearance and maybe an Epiphone or two from the Gibson era. Tomorrow, I’ll write the post I was going to do for today which was a blind comparison of a trap tail with a stop tail since I rarely have trap tails in the house. Should be fun and illuminating. Tweet, tweet, tweet. Oh, how the mighty have fallen and besides, I’m way too old for all this unbridled hipness. Pretty soon there will be a guitar reality show where I go around to local dumps picking up discarded guitars. I can call it “Guitar Pickers”. That oughta get a laugh.