Upside Down Market

Best value there is in 335 land. This is an early 65 with the big neck and wide nut. It's been converted to a stop tail (Yes, it's placed a little too low) but for $8000 or so, it's $10,000 less than a 64 which is almost the same guitar. Read on and be amazed.

Best value there is in 335 land. This is an early 65 with the big neck and wide nut. It’s been converted to a stop tail (Yes, it’s placed a little too low) but for $8000 or so, it’s $10,000 less than a 64 which is almost the same guitar. Read on and be amazed.

It’s not unusual for the vintage market to fall into familiar patterns. The most common is simple: Folks asking for more money than the guitar they are selling is worth. That’s just human nature doing what it does. Dealers do it, individual owners do it, widows and orphans selling Grandpa’s pride and joy do it. I will cover this phenomenon (which is particularly prevalent lately in dot necks) in a later post. This post is about the opposite phenomenon.

There have always been guitars that seem like they are undervalued. They are desirable but, strangely, do not sell easily or for a price that is in line with similar guitars. They are often rare but command little or no premium for their rarity. There are also über rare guitars out there that are not particularly desirable that also command little or no premium (blonde Byrdlands are a good example). Then there are relatively common guitars that are quite desirable but just don’t get the respect (and high prices) they deserve.

So what are these bargain basement guitars and where do you find one? The common one that comes to mind is the early 65 big neck 335’s and 345’s. The early ones with nickel hardware are virtually identical to a 64 except for the tuners and the tailpiece and yet they are priced at less than half the going rate for a 64. Even more surprising is the fact that they aren’t much more than the top of the line brand new Gibson 335’s. The tuner difference is negligible-double line Klusons instead of single lines. In fact, some late 64’s have double lines and that doesn’t diminish their value at all. So, it must be the trapeze tailpiece. So, having a trapeze tailpiece rather than a stop tail accounts for an approximately $10000 difference in price. Granted, only the earliest ones that have nickel parts definitely have the early patent number pickups but even some of those with chrome pickup covers have them (same as a PAF).  Conventional wisdom seems to think that 65’s have t-tops. They don’t. I’ve never, ever, seen a t-top in a 65. Hey, for a $10000 savings, you can afford to have the trapeze removed and have a stop tail installed. You can even put in a set of PAFs and still come out ahead. Big neck early ’65 345’s are even less than 335’s and are one of the great bargains in vintage guitars. I’ve seen plenty of them for $6000 or so. They almost always have the early patents and even, on rare occasions, PAFs.

The best example of a very rare guitar that is desirable but is vastly underpriced is a blonde 59 or 60 ES-330. Dot neck 330’s (two pickup) are great guitars that are well priced to begin with. Consider a brand new 330 Historic is pushing $6000. A vintage block neck from 64 or even earlier can be found for less. Even a dot neck 60 or 61 can be bought for $6000. A 59 might go a little higher but $7000 is a typical selling (not necessarily asking) price. But the blondes are the real head scratcher. Consider this, they only made 294 blonde 330’s-most of them in 1960. A blonde 335 has pushed past $75K and can ask over $100K. A blonde 345 has long since passed $40,000 and at least two have sold for over $60,000. That’s way more than double the more common sunburst. So, why is it you can get a blonde ES-330 for $10,000-$12000? Seems kind of low, doesn’t it? I do a lot of research and I look pretty hard (and in a lot of places) for the guitars I buy and yet I’ve only had 3 blonde 2 pickup 330’s in the last 10 years.

Well, I don’t make the rules nor do I set the prices, so keep an eye out for big neck 65’s and blonde 330’s. They are the best deals out there and they are great guitars. If I see them before you do, I’ll be buying them. And you don’t need to take out a second mortgage. And you’ll get your money back when it’s time to sell.

Great guitar and a great deal. I can't believe that these guitars aren't way more than the $10K-$12K they sell for. As rare as a blonde 335 and about one eighth the price. I'll buy yours if you have one.

Great guitar and a great deal. I can’t believe that these guitars aren’t way more than the $10K-$12K they sell for. As rare as a blonde 335 and about one eighth the price. I’ll buy yours if you have one.


16 Responses to “Upside Down Market”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, good advice as always. I played my nephew’s early ’65 335 (big neck, all nickel parts except pickup covers) side by side with my all stock PAF stop tail ’62 335 and it more than held its own! Rate a guitar with your ears, hands and heart! You could save thousands and give a worthy old fiddle a good home!

  2. Rod says:

    Problem here Rab is that few people understand this. Typified by the posts that say ‘Can anyone recommend a good TUBE amp?’ Surely the question should be ‘Can anyone recommend a GOOD amp?’ I realise people buy guitars, particularly vintage guitars, for different reasons but I think we should never lose sight of the fact that these are basically sophisticated TOOLS and should maybe be evaluated as such?

  3. RAB says:

    Yup, interestingly my favorite gigging guitar at the moment is my partscaster Strat. My mint ’63 335 has been languishing in its case along with my ’56 LP PAF conversion and mint ’62 Epi Riviera! Put together with quality components, the Strat plays, sounds and looks great. (I do still use vintage Fender amps but am sure I could find a new amp that’d sound as good.) And if the Strat gets wacked or even stolen at a gig who cares!

  4. James says:

    Interesting post Charlie. My favorite Gibson is an ES-350 with the Florentine cutaway. Blonde, of course. It has nearly everything I like in a guitar; a two-piece maple neck, thinline hollowbody, wide lower bout, and less bling than its sibling the Byrdland. If the vintage ones had a wider nut width and a normal scale, I would be overjoyed. They don’t seem to sell for much though. I wonder what it actually cost Gibson to make a les paul in 1959 and an ES-350 in 1959? What did they typically sell for new in the local music store? What was the profit (because Gibson had to make money as well as the store)? Perhaps there’s a guy out there that bought a Les Paul back in 1959 because he couldn’t afford an ES. Hopefully he kept it!

  5. cgelber says:

    I can’t know what they cost Gibson to build but the list prices for 59 are public record. It’s a good idea for a post. Folks will be surprised at what some of the guitars cost back in the day. Why was a 355 double the price of a 335? Fancy bindings, ebony and nicer inlays doesn’t add up to double the price. I will do a post about the relative prices of various Gibson’s back in the Golden Era. I have a 61 catalog with the selling prices written into the margins-real world prices-not list prices, although they often weren’t that different back then.

  6. James says:

    Found some pics of Gibson price list November 1st 1959. I can sent it to you if you like. It’s quite amazing even if you factor in what the amounts would be in present day accounting for inflation. Gibson should make a book all about the business of making musical instruments during their golden era.

  7. Rod says:

    I read somewhere that Les Paul got a royalty of 5% on the ‘standard’ price of the guitars. The ‘standard price’ was loosely defined as being one third of the retail price. A profit of 100% was made on this selling the guitar to the wholesalers and then a further 50% on the running total by the retailer. I have a feeling fairly similar economics operate today for Gibson and Fender, for US made product. although now, of course, their wholesalers are parts of the same company in each case.

  8. Nelson Checkoway says:

    Charlie – You’ve written about the relative bargain value of 1960s Epiphone semi-solids – Rivieras and Sheratons. Aside from the mini-humbuckers, isn’t the Riviera the same as a same-year Gibson ES-335? And are the pre-65 Rivieras the same as fat-neck ES-335s – albeit without the stop tailpiece?

  9. RAB says:

    The pre-65 Epi Riviera and Sheraton models are excellent guitars, built on the same assembly line as their Gibson counterparts. I’ve owned a number of early Rivieras and Sheratons including my current ’62 Riv. Neck contours are similar to their Gibson brethren on a year by year basis. The Epis have trapeze or tremolo tailpieces though I have heard of at least one early Riviera that was, supposedly, factory stop tailpiece. The mini humbuckers sound great, a very usable sound in your tonal arsenal! But, the early (1962-63) short headstock (are most collectible) model Rivieras are very rare. Only about 40/year came out of the Kalamazoo plant! Short headstock Sheratons span 1959-63 but are also pretty scarce though they do come on the market from time to time! I had mint blonde ’62…too nice to gig so I sold it…no closet queens here!

  10. RAB says:

    Must be some other early Epi thinline fans out there?

  11. James says:

    The incredibly small production numbers of some of these beauties always amazes me. Only 40 a year! And who knows how many are still in existence, still original? Vintage instruments have so many enemies, amateur know-it-all luthiers, damp basements, angry girlfriends, etc. I love those Rivieras, but can only afford to look at pictures online. My first electric guitar was an Epiphone as was the first acoustic I bought. Really diggin’ the blog Charlie. Keep up the great work!

  12. RAB says:

    Yes, and of the 40 how many have bern broken, destroyed or modified! My ’62 is in like-new condition! Stickered mini-PAFs!

  13. RAB says:


  14. Thinline says:

    Let’s not forget that some of these early ’65s not only have the wider nut width but also the factory stoptail and darker tobacco burst. Mine was shipped in April ’65. It has five double line Klusons and one single line. As far as I can tell, it’s same as a late ’64.

  15. okguitars says:

    The truss cover is usually-but not always different between a 64 and 65. I’ve had a few of these and they are the same as 64’s in every way except the truss cover and sometimes the tuners.Oh, and the price.

  16. Thinline says:

    Good info. My ’65 345 does have the wide bevel TRC. Thx for the great site!

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