Sweating the Small Stuff

I recently bought this totally excellent very early 65 ES-335 from a very nice guy. He bought it years ago and truly believed it to be all original, except the tuners and saddles. It turned out to have a repro bridge. So, I go into the parts bin and I get a correct bridge out and install it. I can't charge the buyer for my bad luck, however.

“Are you absolutely certain every single part on this guitar is exactly how it left the factory?” The answer is usually, “uh, I think so but I can’t be 100% certain.” No, you can’t. I do understand why so many vintage buyers get so fixated on the small stuff-after all you’re paying a crapload of money for these things. But, truth be told, most of the parts on a vintage guitar are removable and there is no way to know for absolutely certain whether a part is original. I don’t care if you bought it from the original owner-you still don’t know for 100% certain. People forget they changed the bridge in 1976. Perhaps one of the tuners got bent by the dealer and was changed before he got it. The cases got switched by the dealers all the time.  A lot of stuff happens in 50 years or so. So, my suggestion here is to look at the larger picture. What is it you are looking for in this particular guitar? If a museum piece is your goal, buy a mint guitar. Parts get changed because they wear out or a better part exists (like Grovers for Klusons). A mint guitar is much more likely to be original-just look for wear that doesn’t make sense-like one knob missing the lettering while all the rest a perfect. Stuff like that. You still can’t know for absolute certain but you’ll feel better if everything looks like it matches from a wear standpoint. If you’re looking for a guitar to play, stop worrying so much and listen to what you’re playing. In general, the price you pay will reflect certain changes-most of which will have nothing to do with how the guitar sounds. Pickups that have been unsoldered are a good example of this. Everybody took off their pickup covers in the 70’s. Everybody I knew anyway. It doesn’t mean they were rewound. They could have been but it isn’t that hard to tell if they were (that’s another post). With PAFs priced where they are, I get it. If I’m paying $2000 for a pickup, I want it to be sealed so there is little or no question about its originality. Patent numbers? Really, who cares. Besides, it’s the only way you’ll ever know whether its a T-top or not. Which would bother you more? A broken solder joint on the cover or thinking you may have the less desirable T-top. It goes beyond that-maybe you are curious as to whether its enamel wire (like a PAF) or the later and less desirable poly coated wire. The only way to know for certain is to look under the cover. So, lighten up people. Same goes for vintage correct parts that are identical to the original parts. If I have the choice between an original sagging ABR-1 or a straight one from a same period guitar, I’ll take the one that works correctly, thank you. Here’s the bottom line on all of this-the price of the guitar should be representative of the guitar itself. If you’re looking for museum piece, the guitar will likely be priced like one and you should expect it to be 100% original. But when you get a guitar that’s been described as a player and the solder joints aren’t all original or a couple saddles have been replaced or the tuner tips were changed or the switch tip looks too clean or the binding has a crack in it, make sure the price is what you want to pay for that guitar. Finally, consider this–95% (that’s right) of all the guitars I get are not 100% as described to me. Not because people are dishonest but because they just don’t know. How many people can tell a vintage correct saddle from an original one with the same wear? I promise to do my best to describe everything accurately but, c’mon, saddles are like frozen peas. They all look alike. Also, a skilled repair guy can make any solder joint look original. I can’t but there are those who can. Finally, the repro stuff has gotten really scary good and I’ll do my best to keep you all informed as to how to tell the real stuff from the fakes. That’s what I’m here for.

One of these saddles ins't original. I know because I changed it out myself. Can you tell which one it is? Would it matter to you if I didn't disclose it?


6 Responses to “Sweating the Small Stuff”

  1. bassame says:

    Charlie, I agree that it is important for people to lighten up about “100% original” but I think the anxiety buyers have comes from weird pricing practices you see all the time on ebay and on dealer’s websites – let’s charge the 100% original price, even though it is not, and see who bites. It means you have to ask a lot of very annoying (to the vendor) questions and endure a good bit of lying.

  2. OK Guitars says:

    It’s not surprising that over the course of 50 years or so, parts get changed. The likelihood of finding a 100% original guitar is getting pretty slim. Here’s an example of a recent private purchase. The seller called the guitar 100% original except for the tuners. Here’s what wasn’t disclosed: Repro tailpiece, 2 changed knobs, later bridge, rewound pickup, changed nut and changed output jack. Fortunately, I have all the parts to bring the guitar back to “correct” but it points out why I’m loathe to spend top dollar buying guitars from folks who don’t know anything. They don’t want to take the guitars apart nor do they want to take them back or give partial refunds. And it isn’t that the sellers are dishonest. They just don’t know-especially the widows and grandchildren. Caveat emptor certainly applies when you buy from a private seller. It shouldn’t apply when you buy from a dealer but I’ve bought guitars from dealers with just as many “wrong”parts. When I sell the guitar in question, it will be described as “correct” but not as original. The price will be less but not by much. Parts ain’t cheap. Always, always ask the annoying questions (in writing). It’s just about the only protection you have and insist that they check the things you ask them to check. If they don’t, consider moving on unless you’re a gambler like me.

  3. RAB says:

    Possibly the low-E saddle changed-out? In any case it looks great, matches the look/patina of the other saddles and I am sure works fine!

  4. OK Guitars says:

    Pretty good guess seeing that the wear on the top of the saddle is different on that one but it wasn’t the low E. The additional wear is probably from players who rest their right hand on the bridge touching the low E saddle. On the other hand, they all could have been swapped out at some point. These no wire bridges were the problem-every time you break a string, the saddle falls out and on a dark stage, I’m sure plenty were lost.

  5. RAB says:

    Yes, that is why I always take the non-wired bridges off, remove the saddles, carefully squirrel the bridge away should I sell the guitar and replace it with a wired bridge…I did have a saddle pop out on a gig and was very fortunate to be able to find it!

  6. OK Guitars says:

    Good policy. I would do the same if I still gigged.

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