To Scavenge or Not to Scavenge

I love getting a guitar with double whites especially when it wasn't disclosed. It's like an early Christmas. It also tells me that its unlikely anyone has messed with the guitar. I'lll never pull the covers but isn't it great to know they are in there.

I love getting a guitar, like this killer 59 with double whites especially when it’s a surprise (it wasn’t on this one). It’s like an early Christmas. It also tells me that its unlikely anyone has messed with the guitar. I’ll never pull the covers but isn’t it great to know they are in there.

I’m not sure what other dealers do unless they are in the parts business but I have a problem with scavenging parts from less popular models. The time will likely come when every 57-63 ES-175 that isn’t in the hands of a collector will have its PAFs removed and put into another guitar-probably an R9 Les Paul but that’s another story. This story is about when its OK to scavenge parts and when-in my opinion, of course-it isn’t. As a bushiness person, the temptation can be compelling. Somebody brings in an all original ES-175 with a pair of double whites and you know you won’t get as much for the guitar in its original state than you will if you drop in a pair of blacks and scavenge the whites to sell separately. After all, a set of nickel covered, sealed double whites can sell for $9000-maybe even more. That’s the most dramatic of the scenarios but there are plenty of others. No wire ABR-1’s seem to disappear at an alarming rate from the less expensive early models like 175’s and 330’s. The repros have gotten really convincing and the price of an original no wire is nothing to sneeze at ($700 or more). The repro will look and sound as good and probably won’t diminish the value that much. But swapping out the bridge and selling the original just doesn’t seem right sometimes.

When is it OK and when isn’t it OK? Good question-glad I asked. Again, my opinion…I’m neither moralizing nor claiming the moral high ground. I’m just telling you how it works for me. If the guitar is already compromised-busted headstock, refinish, other changed parts, then I have no problem swapping out a bridge or even pickups. All of this is disclosed to the next buyer and is reflected in the price. But to start scavenging an all original guitar-even if its one that isn’t all that popular, then I think you are doing the guitar culture a disservice. There was a time when ES-345’s and ES-355’s were treated like a 175 is treated today. I can’t tell you how many of these I’ve seen with pickups (and stop tails) swapped out. And it’s hard to tell on a 345 or 355 stereo because the pickups are soldered to the three way and not to the pots. It’s very easy to scavenge the double whites or zebras and drop in a set of blacks and make it nearly invisible. Couple that to the fact that so many are changing the stereo circuit to mono anyway so the original solder to the three way becomes irrelevant. It’s just too easy. A 50’s or early 60’s gold stop tail can sell for $1000 with a set of long studs. A 70’s stop with short studs can be found for $200. That’s a potential $800 profit for the scavenger and the next owner may not even notice. Learn the difference and ask a lot of questions and look over the guitar the day you get it. Every single part.

Scavenging parts is part of the culture and has been for quite some time but the larger lesson here is to make sure the supposedly “all original” guitar you just paid a lot of money for is just that- 100% original. A ’59 335 with a pair of black PAFs is vintage correct but if it had double whites when it came from the factory, then I don’t think 100% correct is quite the same as 100% original. I could get into the “original solder joint” debate which most agree can be a bit over the top but at the kind of prices some of these guitars are commanding, I have no problem with checking the solder for any buyer who needs to know. In fact, the only way to know with any certainty whether your PAFs have ever been rewound is to buy the guitar that has pickups that are still sealed with their original solder both on the cover and on the pot or three way. Why both? Well if you want to be 100% certain, the solder on the covers isn’t enough. A talented tech can resolder totally convincingly as long as the covers aren’t bent (that’s an easy give away). If I’m paying $20,000 or more for a vintage 335, I want to know everything I can and just because scavenging is common doesn’t mean I accept it as OK. As I’ve said before fully 90% of the guitars I buy from individuals have some undisclosed issue. Sometimes as simple as a changed knob but sometimes as drastic as a changed harness. That’s why I keep a big stash of parts. Vintage correct isn’t the same as “all original” but it’s a lot better than repro this and later year that.


5 Responses to “To Scavenge or Not to Scavenge”

  1. Rod Allcock says:

    The root of this problem, if indeed it is a problem, must surely be with the collectors who indiscriminately push up prices by their demand for items. I personally cannot understand why anyone should pay $9000 for a pair of white PAFs just because they are white PAFs. The PAFs I have had or played didn’t strike me as being anything special. Since we generally accept that there is no specific PAF sound, why should these pickups be valued any more than any other old pickups? I’m willing to bet most buyers don’t hear what the pickups sound like before buying them, indeed, I suspect most buyers don’t, perhaps even can’t, play them. This
    world has gone quite mad!

  2. RAB says:

    It is a shame about what is happening to all the PAF 175s but most jazzers probably don’t care anyway!

  3. RAB says:

    P.S. And yes, the color of the PAF bobbins doesn’t matter as far as sound goes…also, the open coil look doesn’t appeal to me. It looks very “1970s” when the trend to remove humbucker covers was popular. I prefer the look of a nice original ‘bucker cover. Further the cover reduces hum and protects the delicate coil windings! Seth Lover designed the pickup with a cover for a reason!

  4. Steve Newman says:

    A good analogy is the collector automobile market. A 100%, totally complete, as it came from the factory vintage “survivor” Ferrari (or any other top level exotic) is always worth more in the market than the same model that has had an extensive high quality restoration, even if in less than perfect condition. “It’s only original once” seems to be the catch phrase and is what commands the extra $. As a player, 100% factory “correctness” isn’t terribly important to me, as long as the replaced parts are period correct (or repros that look period correct) and don’t affect the sound or playability of the guitar (same for re-fin if factory level quality). This results in a lower purchase price that appeals to me. However, if I decide to purchase an all original collector grade instrument, with the “collector” grade price tag that comes with it, I have a right to get what I’m paying for….100% originality. Any variation from such should be noted and the price negotiated downward. As a buyer, I would have a certain responsibility to educate myself on the instrument and the market, and search out reputable people to purchase from. Generally, if the deal is too good to be true, it ISN’T!

  5. Dave K says:

    The PAFs in my beat up but original (I’m pretty sure) 61 ES175 ain’t goin anywhere – and I’ve no idea what colour the bobbins are!

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