Refins. Rethink.

This could be the prettiest blonde I've ever seen (not counting my wife, of course). And it's a refin. But I want it. For me.

One of the great mysteries of vintage collecting is the conventional wisdom that a refinished guitar is worth half the value of one with its original finish-no matter how worn or deteriorated it might be.  As a former car guy, I can tell you that a refinished car is worth more than a car with a totally destroyed original finish but perhaps that’s apples and oranges. It seems collectible furniture follows a similar code to that followed by vintage guitar enthusiasts so we’re not the only crazies out there. There has been a small shift in the refin paradigm recently and I think its a good thing. Because the nuttiest of all collectors are Les Paul enthusiasts, it’s interesting that they are the ones leading the charge here. In the past few years, the Les Paul aficionados have taken to getting extremely high end refinishes and other modifications done to their reissue Les Pauls. The leader in this cottage industry is Historic Makeovers. They are very busy guys and they do very, very  good work. Now, there are folks selling their refinished LPs, noting which Makeover package was done, and charging a premium. That’s a game change if I’ve ever seen one. It kind of started with aging/relic’ing but it took a while for actual refinishes to command a premium. But now they do. There are a handful of finishers whose work is so respected that to have your guitar refinished by them is no longer an instant 50% drop in the value.  I think the biggest difference here is that these elite refinishers are doing a much better (and authentic) job than the folks at Gibson are doing and , frankly, given the cost of these refins, they should be. I can’t tell you how the vintage market will feel about these in 40 years when your R9 really is vintage. There is nothing comparable that occurred during the 50s and 60s unless you count minor custom work done outside the Gibson factory. Things like custom inlays, engraved pickguards and the like are fun and kind of cool (at least I think so) but they don’t command a premium unless the name on the fingerboard is Elvis Somebody. So, when my son is my age and he’s looking for a nice vintage 40 year old Gibson from, say, 1998 will the one with the Historic Makeover command more than the Murphy relic? Or will the factory stock one be the one that appreciates?  I don’t have my crystal ball handy. At the moment, this is mostly a Les Paul phenomenon but they have done some work on recent ES models as well. The reason I bring all of this up is because of a refinished 1959 ES-345 that has been offered to me at a price somewhat higher than you would think it was worth using the usual criteria. But then you look at it and you realize that this isn’t just a refin, it’s a restoration at something approaching museum quality. The finish looks stunning, the wood is stunning, the guitar is stunning. I am, in fact, stunned. My good judgment says don’t overpay for this but my usually hard heart (at least when it comes to guitars) says otherwise. Let me remind you, I’m the guy who found two of the rarest ES’s on earth (the very first red 345 and a red 59 335) and sold ’em both without batting an eye. The reason I don’t overpay for guitars is to keep you from having to. But this one is different-it tugs at my heart and says “buy me”.  It may have to take up permanent residence here at the OK corral.

This looks to be a 63 Historic refinished by HM. Very authentic looking dark red 63-64 cherry. The lacquer they used during this period tends to yellow more than earlier years browning out the red a bit and really making the bindings go yellow. Too bad they can't fix the ears.


7 Responses to “Refins. Rethink.”

  1. Chris W. says:

    It always strikes me when I watch Antiques Roadshow how much refins and cleanings kill the value of Antique furniture and weapons. I seem to recall instances where the value is reduced by 80-90% because of a refin. I guess this is because these items have no significant utility value. They aren’t really going to be used for anything but display (unless you think a flintlock is a good pistol for home protection and you regularly watch TV in a $200,000 wooden chair). If they don’t look 100% authentic historic, then they might as well be a reproduction.

  2. RAB says:

    I used to be very “anti-refin” on vintage guitars but am changing that opinion over-time especially given the increasing number of luthiers who can do superb finish work. Case in point, the ’56 LP Standard conversion I have (Goldtop refinished to all cherry red and routed for PAFs). The finish work was superb (as it appears to be on the blonde 345 Charlie has pictured here) and the look and feel of the guitar is improving as the finish ages (now about 2 years old). So I would now consider a superb refin given the price-point reflected that fact!

  3. OK Guitars says:

    I’m with you, Roger. And I think the aged or relic guitars made now will the dogs of the future.

  4. Murray says:

    Hey Charlie,
    I’m with you…That’s one beautiful blonde! I’m on the fence. Owning an untouched 335 gives me much pleasure. But while mine is “mint”, I can see where some need to be refinished, as they look really bad. However, as you say, the value declines, unlike LP’s. I guess every market is different.

    Hope you are doing better after that bitch Sandy. We live in Rockland, and did very well, thank God, others did not. My best to you and your family.


  5. OK Guitars says:

    It’s funny, the fastest sellers are the refins because the players know they are a deal. As long as somebody didn’t slop on poly with a paintbrush, the guitar will sound the same. A pro job will often look better than the original. A proper thin nitrocellulose lacquer finish will age naturally and eventually look pretty authentic. This one was refinished many, many years ago and looks pretty authentic to me at least from what I can see in the photos. I’ll have it very soon and I’ll post an in hand assessment.

  6. Josh A Frankel says:


    I’m looking for someone who can re-finish (or repair the needed area) for my ES-390. I tried to buff it out and went too far into the wood on the right bout. Do you know a descent refinisher who does good work? I live on Long Island, but could ship it.? not too expensive? I can send pics if you have an email. Thanks. My name is Josh Frankel 631-834-7380

  7. okguitars says:

    Barry Lipman (CT Guitar and Strings). He does all my finish work and structural repairs. Send him an email rather than call.
    You can find his email on his web site.

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