Archive for July, 2011

Case Candy and the “Boob” Logo

Saturday, July 30th, 2011

Here's the older warranty card/hangtag. Note the address-Chicago, 46, Illinois. No zipcodes back then-not until '63.

This is the manual that I believe they used starting in late 64. It has a zip code in the address and the "boob" logo

I recently acquired (fancy word for bought) a 64 ES-345 that is mint. It was owned by that guy in your band who won’t let anyone touch his guitar-EVER-and wipes it down and puts it in the case between sets. The guy who spends more time polishing it than practicing and the guy who nearly is brought to tears when he gets a ding…IN THE CASE.  Well, I bought it and he sure kept it nice and clean. He also kept all of the so-called “case candy”. Well, just what was in there when the guitar came home from the music store back in 64? I can’t say this one has every little thing but it’s got a lot of stuff. And it’s messed up my dating system a little because that odd logo that looks like a breast or a finger bending strings is on the owners manual. I thought it came into being later than 64 and possibly as late as 68 when they started putting it on the pickguard but I’m wrong. A little amateur sleuthing has brought me to a different conclusion. I came across a warranty card with the boob logo that has Gibson’s address on it (so you could send in the card). But (and you have to be old to remember this) it had a zone number instead of a zip code. That’s right, kids, we didn’t always have zip codes. When I was a kid, I lived in Scotia, 2, New York. Then, in 1963, when the zip code was announced, I lived in Scotia, New York 12302. If we assume that Gibson instituted the zip code more or less on time, that logo could have been introduced as early as 63 or 64. I have no reason to believe the case candy for this 64 is anything but original and there’s that logo. So, what was in there when it was new. naturally, there was a polishing cloth.  There was an instruction sheet for the humbucking pickups, an instruction sheet for the ABR-1 bridge, an instruction sheet for the Varitone all in a little manila envelope. The were simply printed black text on plain white paper with rudimentary diagrams. There was a little yellow screwdriver for adjusting your intonation screws and pole pieces. There was a general instruction manual and there was a warranty card/hangtag. I don’t recall there ever having been a truss rod wrench, although they include one now. There was a strap-usually brown or black leather and kind of useless but we all used one. Next post will show you the rest of the stuff that they put in the case including the humbucker instructions, the Varitone instructions and the ABR-1 instructions. I also found some cool pictures of some Gibson “accessories” like polish, straps and strings and other goodies from back in the day. I’ll do individual posts in detail with a timeline of the hangtags once I complete my research. There’s a lot of inconsistency but what else is new.

This is the older style hang tag. I'm not sure when they started this design but I've seen it as early as 1961. This one has no zip in the address and is from a 62 ES-345

This is the hangtag from the 64 ES-345 I talk about. It doesn't have a zipcode in the address but the manual does that was in the same case. My guess? They had new manuals and cards printed up and used up the old ones first. That, after all, is the Gibson way.. The logo is about as early as I've seen it.

Thank You

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

Thank you to all my readers who reached out to me during this very difficult time for me. Most of you don’t know me and yet you acted like true friends and if that doesn’t speak to the goodness of the human spirit, I don’t know what does.  I’m not a religious person and yet all the folks who prayed for me and my Mom really touched me. Whether there is a God or not, it is clear that there are many on this Earth doing His work and that is a good thing whether it’s for God, Jesus, Mohammed or just because you feel like you can help someone in need.  Goodness is goodness. Human concern and empathy are as good as good works can be.  I’ve already begun my process of moving on and I thank all of you who helped me do so. Life goes on. Tomorrow we’ll look into case candy. Owners manuals, warranty cards, that little teeny screwdriver …all those little things that are in the case when you get the guitar. I recently got a 64 ES 345 that had the whole kit and kaboodle. Even a catalog with prices.

My Hero

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

Liz Gelber circa 1946. Bye, Mom. And thank you. I miss you already.

My Mom died today. She suffered a severe stroke recently and this, in addition to injuries sustained 18 months ago in a home invasion/robbery, has robbed her of any quality of life. Before her injuries, she was the most extraordinary human being I have ever known (and I’ve known some pretty famous and powerful people). In 2009, she struggled to regain what she lost from a massive brain injury at the hands of an intruder. She regained some of her speech but never walked again. Now, she has been totally disabled by a stroke and is no longer able to communicate or swallow or even understand language. She was wise enough to leave instructions that made her wishes clear: No heroic effort to keep her alive once she is beyond hope. She continued to hang on for a full three weeks but now she is gone.  She was made of tougher stuff than most. My Mom was born in the wrong century. She would have made an ideal frontierswoman. Had she been born in 1825 instead of 1925 you would have heard of her as a pioneer crossing the country in a covered wagon, enduring without complaint the hardships of the journey. She would have been killing her own food and any hostiles that might have impeded her progress. She would have built her own home with her bare hands and planted crops to sustain her family. But she didn’t. Instead, she raised 9 sons. Three doctors, four in financial services/investment, a geologist and me.  That, in itself, would be extraordinary. She also went back to school after her children were gone and got her Masters in Communications and directed and edited a cable TV program (following in my footsteps, I guess) called “Women Together” which anticipated many women’s issues by a decade. But that isn’t the pioneer part. My Mom never learned the meaning of the word “can’t”. If a room needed wallpapering, she was a paper hanger. She was also a seamstress-she made most of her own clothes because she thought she could do it as well as anyone. She was a landscaper, a party planner, a fine artist (like her father), an accomplished cook touting all the things that the food programs talk about now that food is hip. She taught herself to windsurf when she was in her 60’s and cross country skied into her 80’s. She was the “mama grizzly” that Sarah Palin wishes she was. She nearly died protecting her home and her husband. Liz Gelber had no help and needed none in anything she did. She never left a job unfinished and never listened to criticism. She just did. Scraped knees, broken bones and perhaps the occasional broken heart didn’t phase her at all. Two parts caregiver, one part wife, a dash of Psychiatrist and a healthy handful of arcane knowledge made her the “go to” expert in every situation. There was no stain she couldn’t remove, no hurt she couldn’t make better, no casserole she couldn’t burn and no better person on this Earth. There’s a word for women like this and it’s a real little one. Seems a little puny for such a huge presence: Mom.

I’ll get back to the guitar stuff later in the week.

Issues without the Shrink

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

This 61 dot neck had a broken (repaired) headstock, a replaced headstock overlay, Grovers, a replaced ABR1, a Bigsby and it sounded as good as the ones that sold for $28,000. It was priced at $7500 (and it still had its PAFs).

Spending $20,000 on a guitar is excessive for most players. Granted, there are plenty of folks out there with the expendable income to do just that but there are far more who can only look on with envy.  But think about why you would want a vintage 335 or 345. Is it for the investment? Or the tone? Or the sense of history? Build quality? All or none of the above? I’m betting you want one of these because you want to play it. You know what a new one sounds like and they can be pretty darn good but you also know that folks are spending the equivalent price of a small BMW to buy vintage pieces. Do rich people feel the expenditure of $20 grand the way you react to spending 10 grand? Five? Two?  No, they still know that $20,000 is a lot of money for an old guitar and while they may have come by that $20,000 more quickly than you can, I assure you, most are aware of how much they are spending. Spend some time around rich people and you’ll see that they are just as likely to hold tight to that dollar as you are. But if you’re buying a vintage piece to play and not as an investment, then you have a whole bunch of options that can keep the price down. I called some of them “dealbreakers” in an earlier post but I’ve since softened my stance. The easiest issues to deal with are changed parts but they won’t save you that much money. If you buy a vintage 335 with the wrong bridge, it’ll cost you $300-$600 for the right one. Tuners? $350-$600. Tailpiece? $200-$500. Pickups? $1500-$4000. You can spend more but you shouldn’t. these parts are readily available all over Ebay, Gbase and Craigslist. Where the savings start to really add up is when you buy guitars that are irrevocably altered. By that I mean repaired, refinished or full of extra holes. In general, a properly repaired or refinished vintage 335 will sound the same as a straight one. That assumes the refinisher has used nitrocellulose lacquer and the repairer has done a proper pro repair (and no, I don’t think the glue makes a particle of difference). The rule of thumb is that a full refinish will knock 50% (or more) off the value as will a headstock break. A neck reset or a partial refinish (top only or neck only) will knock 20%-40% off. That brings us to extra holes. I’ve talked about this a lot. the fact is that a single hole drilled in the top for a coil tap or some other such 70’s foolishness can knock $5000-$10,000 off the value. Bigsby holes in the top and by the endpin knock 25% off the price just like a Bigsby. Extra tuner holes can knock $5000 or more off of a $20,000 guitar. But these issues generally don’t usually affect the tone (other than the pickups). Then there’s excessive wear which can knock off a few thou and cracks and delaminations which will take a big bite and replaced or damaged inlays which can devalue a 335 as well. But it’s still a vintage 335 and it will probably sound just like what you always hoped it would sound like. The collectors have set the bar very high and , as players, we don’t have to play that game. When it comes time to sell the guitar, expect it to be discounted against the market just as it is now but also be aware that there will always be players who want a 64 block neck or a 59 345 no matter what’s been done to it.  I know a guy who only buys distressed vintage guitars and he loves them all. He’s got a pretty big collection because instead of paying $25,000 for a 61 dot neck, he pays $7000 for the one with the neck repair, Grovers and the messed up headstock inlay. Smart, if you ask me.

OK, I'm being a bit self serving here but where else are you going to find a PAF equipped original stoptail 62 for under ten grand. The refinished top makes it possible along with a few changed parts but no extra holes..

Refinned top a dealbreaker? Another original stoptail 62 with sealed PAFs for under $12K. This one is kept in your wheelhouse by changed tuners and player wear.

How to Tell a Red 335 Refinish

Sunday, July 10th, 2011

Is the top on this nice looking 62 original? Oversprayed with clear lacquer? Refinished? How can you tell the difference? Look at the bottom photos. And read the stuff in between-don't just look at the pictures. What are you, five?

The good news is that 335’s don’t tend to get refinished that often. Not like Stratocasters and Telecasters which seem to get refinished all the time. Or at least they used to. Part of this has to do with the durability of the finish. Fender finishes were very soft and would flake and crack and generally fall off the guitar if you looked at it cross-eyed.  Les Pauls and SGs also seem to get refinished a bit more than 335’s even though the finishes on them seem more durable. Maybe it’s that players who get sick of the finish on their 335’s feel that refinishing a bound guitar is a pain or keeping the paint out of the f-holes is too much work or that a laminate guitar is too tricky to sand (which is true).  In any case, it all means that I don’t expect to see a lot of refinished 335’s. And I don’t. But they are out there and I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable trying to discern the originality of the finish. If done properly it’s extremely difficult to tell whether a 335 has been refinished. I recently drove up to Maine from my home in CT to pick up a red 64 ES-335. It looked very dark and very brown and I was concerned that it had been refinished. I checked the obvious things. I checked to see if the bindings had a “ridge”. When a 335 is sanded down, the person sanding doesn’t usually pay attention to that and the ridge gets sanded off. This guitar had the ridge. But it had red paint in the cavities and most red 335s don’t have any paint in there-sometimes a few overspray flecks but not much else. This one looked like the finish was applied with a rag-like a stain and there were blotches in the neck pickup cavity. So, I figured it was refinished. The owner-who was the second owner had owned the guitar for 40 years and swore up and down that the paint was original. True, the pickup cavities still had a little sawdust in them like they usually do if they haven’t been opened and they were as clean as can be beyond that. It looked like I was the first one in there. I spoke to a former Gibson employee about finish techniques back then and was told that everyone on the paint crew had their own method. No one cared as long as they passed QC. There were various ways to prep and mask the guitar that resulted in the same result-as far as you could see once the guitar was assembled. Who knew we’d be looking in such detail?  I’ve seen red 335s with no paint at all in the cavities, I’ve seen them with a light spray in there and I’ve seen them with quite a lot of paint in there. So that won’t really help you much. Here’s a few other things to check on a red one-if there are scratches through the finish or chips, the wood should NOT be natural in color-like a chipped sunburst would be. The wood should look red because the dye used soaks into the wood and is there before the lacquer is applied. Another thing to look for are areas where the veneer is sanded through. It is almost impossible to sand the face of a 335 without going through the top layer of veneer in the bulges on the face of the cutaways. It is so thin there that even the very lightest sanding will go through. To quote Monty Python, it’s “waffer thin”. .. Look in the f-holes. There should be no paint or lacquer overspray in there. It should be totally free of paint. Look at the edges of the f-holes. On a red 335 the finish will be rough and not shiny. The shiny lacquer tends not to set on the vertical edges of the f-holes and they are left with the red dye but little or no lacquer.  It might be a little chewed up on the treble side of a 335 because the harness is installed through the f-holes on early ones. Those with the cutout in the center block are generally not chewed up. In fact, the workers who installed the harnesses in 335s kept a small paintbrush and paint to touch up the scrapes in the f-holes on 335s. 345s and later 335s didn’t have this issue because the harness goes in differently. I’d like to quote the old adage of “when in doubt, do without” but I won’t because, once again, inconsistency is the only consistency at Gibson back in the “Golden Era”. Use your best judgement and understand that the guitars were painted by people and not machines.  And people do things their own way.

See this chip? It should show red dyed wood, not natural, raw wood. That tells me the color coat was done as well.

Here's what a chip should look like on a red ES. It should show red wood. That's because the wood is dyed before it's lacquered. Even heavy buckle rash will show as red.


Monday, July 4th, 2011

What's more American than a '64 ES-335? A 58 Strat? OK, see below.

We used to make the best stuff in the world in this country. Everybody wanted American cars. American bicycles (remember Columbia and Schwinn?), American appliances (Miele? what’s a Miele?) and, of course, American guitars. All of that has changed except for the last one.  The American guitar is still the most innovative, most desired and most copied guitar in the world. Whether vintage or brand new out of the box, the American guitar has been copied, ripped off and  cloned in a hundred different ways.  You don’t see the Japanese making quick buck making fake Cadillacs or the Koreans making fake Hotpoints or the Chinese cloning the old Columbia tank model bicycle. They make their own quality stuff and sell it to us now. They don’t need to look to the good ol’ USA for inspiration any more except when it comes to guitars. These countries are entirely capable of making guitars that are the absolute equal of the best guitars ever made by Fender or Gibson but the ones that sell are the ones that copy the great American icons: The Les Paul, the Stratocaster, the Telecaster and the ES-335. Beyond that, Fender (who has, of course, swallowed up Guild and Gretsch) and Gibson still make the most desired guitars in the world and they are the same ones they made 50 years ago when the Japanese guitar manufacturers were turning out cheap junk with bad designs and even worse playability. I remember a guitar, probably built by Teisco, called a St. George that a lot of kids in my home town had because they couldn’t afford the Fenders and Gibsons that the better off kids had. They were at a triple disadvantage because the guitars didn’t make playing any easier nor did they sound particularly good-that on top of the fact that their parents probably couldn’t afford lessons. American guitars were the best and that was that. We Americans just don’t make very much any more. OK, we still make the best movies (my industry) and we make cars (largely from Japanese components) and we make computers (“assembled in Mexico from Japanese and Chinese parts”) and we make guitars. And not from Japanese parts either. Just about every component of a USA Gibson comes from the USA. The rosewood for the fingerboard still comes from South America and no doubt some of the minor electrical parts are from the far East but the guitars are designed and built right here and we should take a certain amount of pride in that fact. Gibson and Fender have, to be sure, less expensive lines like Squier and Epiphone from the Far East but the ones everybody in the world wants-whether vintage or new-are American. For those who think Gibson and Fender (and Rickenbacker, for that matter) don’t make ’em like they used to, play a Masterbuilt Strat or a Nashville Historic 335 or an R9. These are the best guitars being made in the world today and nearly as good as the best ever made by anyone anywhere at any time. Now, I’m not including the very talented boutique builders out there who hand craft guitars one at a time and charge  commensurate prices. There’s a lot of luthier talent around but that’s a subject for another day. As a dealer, I find it interesting that more than half of my sales are to folks in other countries who will pay serious money for America’s best cultural ambassador, the guitar. So, three cheers for the red, white and blue on this July 4th and three cheers for the four major remaining American guitar makers who maintain their quality and independence. Gibson, Fender, Rickenbacker and Martin. And two cheers for the “new” guys at PRS, Taylor and a few others who haven’t reached the age of 50 yet. Keep it up and you will.

Where else could this have happened. Geeky looking guy with coke bottle glasses and a Stratocaster becomes teen musical legend. Only in America.