What’s it Worth If…?

Lucky you. This guitar will cost as much as 25% less than an equal stoptail and all you have to do is take off the Bigs and put on a stop. Same tone and playability for way less money. On the other hand, if the market ever goes back up, then the stoptail will outperform this one everywhere but on the stage. But, hey, are you a player or an investor?

The question I get most from readers is: “What’s it worth if…” You can finish the sentence yourself. The one that seems to vex a lot of people-especially the folks selling Grampa’s old Gibson is why an original Bigsby devalues an all original guitar by that much. Why would an extra cost option do that? And then they might ask, “then why is a hardtail Strat worth less?” I’ve asked that one myself. It all comes down to what folks want. There was a time, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, when a Bigsby was a desirable option. You couldn’t do a lot of the really self indulgent, feedback laden, psychedelic stuff without a whammy-although they weren’t called whammys back then. But that was then. Now, the Bigsby isn’t so desirable. Whoever it is who decides what options players and collectors really want has decided that a Bigsby or other unit on your ES-335 is a big downer and knocks up to 25% off the value. That seems high but I don’t make the rules. But there is a silver lining. Most early ES-335’s that came with a Bigsby or Maestro were already drilled for the stoptail studs and they were covered by something. You’ve all seen the “Custom Made” plaque. There are also pearl inlays (my favorite), black plastic covers and even nickel covers. The conventional wisdom is that a Bigsby equipped ES is worth 25% less than an original stoptail. That made some sense when these were under $10,000 but is my  1960 ES-345 in blonde worth 25% less than an original stop? On that guitar, that’s a $10,000 reduction which is nuts.  On a ’64 ES-345, that’s a difference of maybe $2500. I don’t think an arbitrary percentage makes sense here. There’s no “official” guide to these kind of things although the Blue Book would like you to stick with the 25% (which is probably where it came from). I propose a separate price scale. I’ve found that on most ES-335 and ES-345 models, the Bigsby/studs option seems to devalue the guitar by around 10-15%. There aren’t very many Bigsby only block necks but there are quite a number of 345s and some 58-61 335s. With no factory stoptail stud holes, the option to convert to the more desirable stoptail is gone unless you want to start drilling holes in your guitar. In this case, the difference seems to be the 25% that is generally accepted. That begs the question: “Which is worth less-a factory Bigsby with studs or an original stoptail with Bigsby holes? I honestly don’t know. It can be tough to tell which came first. You can tell on the red ones by looking at the bushings to see if there’s any red finish on them. If there is, then they are original. You could look for lacquer on a sunburst. But, really, how big a deal is this? It goes back to the value of a hole which I’ve covered a few times. A Bigsby/stud 335 has 4 holes in the top. But a Bigsby only has just two. A stoptail also has two. A 335 with the Bigsby removed has 6 extra holes in it. None of this affects the sound or playability by very much. What about tuner holes or reamed out tuner shaft holes? 10%? 5%? I guess it also depends on what other issues there are. A mint 335 with Grovers would be affected differently than a beater. The question is how? Percentage-wise, the Grovers on the mint one would be less but dollar wise they would affect the value more. There are no rules. For example, we all accept refins and headstock repairs at around half price but why is it when I price a refin that way, it disappears in a day or two? Supply and demand? Maybe, but I think the real truth is that, while the convention is for 50%, the reality is that buying a refin is a great way to get a vintage piece that you otherwise couldn’t afford. If done well and with the proper materials, it will look as good and sound as good as one that is all original. And while I don’t usually go for headstock breaks, the same can apply-if it’s done right, a headstock repair can be almost irrelevant on every front except value. Frankly, it gives me a headache. It’s enough to make you ask the question: “What’s it worth if…?”


6 Responses to “What’s it Worth If…?”

  1. Chris W. says:

    For me it’s all about the extra holes in the top. I’m pretty much not interested in any guitar that used to have a factory B7 bigsby that has been removed. I can’t stand to see those two little wounds left where the bigsby was scewed down. I also really dislike the golden-age guitars that still have the factory Bigsby with the plugs or the plaque. That reeks of cutting corners to me. That is one area where I like the later ES versions better. Those plugs seem like something that Teisco would have done to improve efficiency, and was uncharacteristic of Gibson in those days IMHO. That all being said, I do own two ES’s that had aftermarket B3’s put on them (the kind that don’t screw down to the top). The extra holes by the strap button don’t bother me. I know they are there, but I never see them. On my ’61, they are still visible, but on my ’66 the trapeze completely covers them. Only if you look hard can you see the slight finish blush where the Bigsby’s felt pad rested. But hat doesn’t bother me either, since it is almost invisible. Bigbsby holes or plugs are the first thing that my eyes go to though, and it’s a pet peeve of mine.

  2. Edd Budzynski says:

    In with you on the holes, it’s a shame but part of the deal. Once that drill goes in its there forever!
    I’ve been lucky enough to play a 79 345 and reissue 355 both with factory bigsbys and they are great players. Would never remove the bigsbys though, I love them to bits! I also love this blog. Check it everyday!

  3. OK Guitars says:

    That’s what makes it interesting. Much as I would rather have a guitar without any extra holes, it’s still about the instrument-not the investment. How do i make a value judgement about whether a couple of small holes drilled in the top is worth than a couple of big dings in the binding or the finish worn off the back of the neck? It isn’t that guitars with issues like extra holes are overly cheap-it’s that the ones that are perfect are overly costly. A huge premium has been put on originality and condition because of investment value not because they are better instruments. In fact, the mint ones, especially those that have sat in a case for 40 or 50 years are often less playable than one that’s been played every day since it left the factory.

  4. OK Guitars says:

    having both the stop holes and the Bigsby was clearly cutting corners but it couldn’t have been strictly economics because there are plenty of Bigsby only guitars. I’m sure it’s cheaper not to drill holes and put in bushings than it is to put them in and slap on a plate or dots. Clearly, if the holes are already there, it’s cheaper to throw on a Bigsby but someone had to put them there and that cost time and money. It’s also possible (I wasn’t there)that the intention was to allow the player to be able to set it up either way. I kind of doubt that but, again, I wasn’t there. I think the plaque looks really dumb but I don’t mind the pearl dots at all. The black dots are OK too. I don’t use a Bigsby myself, I hate stringing Bigsby guitars and they weigh too much, so given the choice between a stop with holes in it or a Bigsby only 335/345, I’ll take the one with the holes. In this market, you can’t be an investor unless you have a lot of patience. You can still buy low and sell high if you’re a dealer but, in truth, probably not as high as most dealers (and a lot of sellers) are listing their guitars for these days. Finally, you’re statement that it was “uncharacteristic” of Gibson to cut corners is dubious. In my mind, they were cutting corners nearly everywhere they could. If ebony was cheaper than Brazilian, they would have used it on the 335 instead of the 355. Pressed plywood tops? That had to be cheaper than a carved spruce top. But cheap isn’t really the point. These guitars were clearly more than a lucky accident and I think we have Ted McCarty to thank for that even though the bean counters probably made it harder for him. The ultimate irony here is that Mr McCarty owned the Bigsby company from 1966 until his death.

  5. EDDBUD says:

    I guess the value of something is always in the eye of the buyer. A guitar may look great to one buyer but a terrible buy to another.
    You wont see me rocking a PRS or Fender. Why? I just love ES guitars.
    The huge price difference between the 335 and 345 does amaze me though. Similar ages, conditions and appointments still net very differing values.

  6. OK Guitars says:

    Amazes me too

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