For Players Only

This guitar had 29 filled holes in it. And a refinish. And it sounded and played great. You could buy a near mint stoptail 64 for $18000 or more or you could have had this for around a third as much for something that plays great and looks this good.

It’s really easy to be intimidated by the vintage market, especially if you start your search for  vintage 335 on Ebay. You’ll find 64’s for $50,000 and dot necks for $60,000 or more and you think you’ll never be able to afford one. Those aren’t real prices and, often enough, they aren’t for you, as a player. The biggest reason to own a vintage 335/345/355 is because they sound amazing and play beautifully. They are versatile and look great up on the stage. There are new ones that approach the vintage ones in tone and looks but they are new and you didn’t want a new one anyway. Here’s the main point: A compromised vintage guitar will usually sound the same as one that isn’t compromised. Refinished guitars sound the same as original ones. You could argue about poly finishes sounding different than nitrocellulose lacquer but, to date, I’ve never seen a vintage 335 with a poly finish. I don’t care how many extra holes have been drilled into the guitar, it won’t sound different than one with no extra holes. I promise. Really. I recently had a 64 that  had no fewer than 29 filled holes in it. This poor baby had seen three sets of tuners, two or three different trems, a backpad and an armrest. It had a repair under the bridge and two patched coil tap holes. And, it was refinished. I bought it dirt cheap and I sold it dirt cheap. From ten feet away, it still looked like a gorgeous vintage 64. It sounded like a choir of angels. OK, not the way I play but with a great player, I’m tellin’ ya…choir of angels. You can’t kill these guitars. You can play the crap out of them for 50 years and all you need to do to bring it back is maybe a refret and a new bridge and maybe a new nut. The idea that you have to spend $10,000 or more to get a great sounding “golden era” vintage piece is ludicrous. A Bigsby knocks off 25%. A 345 rather than a 335 knocks off as much as 50%. A 59 dot neck with no issues is going to cost you close to $30,000. A 59 ES-345 with a Bigsby might cost you a third of that. Take off the Bigsby, put on a stoptail and disconnect the Varitone and close your eyes. You’ll be playing the equivalent of a 59 dot neck. Same construction, same pickups (don’t forget to flip the magnet in one of the pickups if you convert to mono), same neck. You could argue that the cutout for the Varitone chokes changes the tone slightly but a lot of folks think the ones with the cutout sound better. I’m mostly neutral on the subject with a slight bias toward non cut centerblocks. There are plenty of collectors who are players and I see no reason not to buy the most perfect 335 you can find if you can afford it. Collector grade guitars have proven to be a terrific investment if you disregard the last few years of decline. But even with that, if you bought a fine vintage piece before the big runup of 2005-2008, you’re still way ahead. But if you’re on the outside looking in, take a look at the ones that are loaded with issues. Even if the original pickups are gone, most of the magic will be still be there if you get a decent set of modern PAFs (the usual suspects-I like Rolphs, Throbaks and Sheptones) and make sure you’ve had a pro set it up if you aren’t comfortable doing it yourself.  Another good approach is to buy the year you want , issues and all and slowly bring it back to its former glory. You can’t unbreak a headstock or bring back an original finish but there are finishers out there who can duplicate the finishes of the era and repair guys who can stabilize a broken headstock so it will never give yo a moments trouble. All the parts that might be wrong are out there and you can get find them at reasonable prices if you’re patient.  It won’t be worth double in ten years but it will appreciate with the rest of the market and you get to play it. Isn’t that why you buy any guitar?

This is another 64. It had all correct parts except it had PAFs instead of the correct patent numbers. Tough. This guitar sold for $7500. Refinish? Nope. Broken headstock? Nope. Factory reneck and it played and sounded awesome. No extra holes either. Don't look at the issues as issues. Look at them as bargains.

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