Fix it or Disclose it

On of the most common parts that gets swapped out for a repro is the switch tip. It’s a $200 part these days and the repros have gotten pretty good. If it’s an amber one, look for a seam. If there is one, it ain’t the real deal. If there isn’t a seam, it could still be a repro. If it’s a white one, it should have a seam and usually a crack.

I have a pet peeve about the vintage guitar business and, frankly, it drives me a little nuts. Let me set the stage and give my peeve some context. Guitars get modified over decades. Parts get changed, finishes get touched up and redone, stuff wears out and so on. I get that. And I don’t expect individual sellers to know everything about the guitar they are selling. As a dealer, it’s my job to know what to look for and to make a fair assessment of the guitar I’m buying. Part of the reason my inventory is fairly narrow is because I don’t generally buy what I don’t know about. I learned that by getting burned on a few guitars that turned out to be something other than they were touted to be by the seller. Many sellers will make good on an undisclosed issue but many can’t be expected to do so (widows and children of the original owner, for example). But undisclosed issues from individual sellers isn’t the pet peeve. It’s the undisclosed issues from the dealers.

I should clarify. There are dealers and there are dealers. Most full time dealers are pretty good at accurately describing the guitars they sell and they have fair policies about returns-to a point. Many smaller dealers are just as good as the big boys. But there’s the scenario that drives me batshit. Player A buys an expensive vintage guitar from well regarded Dealer B. Player A gets 48 hours to accept or reject the guitar. He accepts the guitar because it’s a great player and everything looks right to his untrained eye and he is happy.  Unbeknownst to player A,  the neck PAF  was rewound and the back was oversprayed.  A year later, Player A trades the guitar (sight unseen) to me for a more expensive vintage guitar. “I know it’s correct because I bought it from Dealer B who has a great reputation.” That may be true but Dealer B never checked the pickups closely and didn’t notice the overspray-it sure looked right. And the 48 hour approval has long since run out.

Then I get the guitar in hand and I have to deliver the bad news that the guitar isn’t what it was touted to be. This has happened dozens of times now (and I’ve only been doing this full time for 8 years) and it’s pretty distressing to the seller and to me, especially when the dealer has been in business for decades. Sometimes, it’s a $200 switch tip (really common), sometimes it’s undisclosed touchups. More often, its rewound pickups and changed parts. It’s often really hard to tell a repro tailpiece or bridge from a photo. Overspray is common and also very hard to see in a photo-even a blacklight photo if the overspray is old enough. The worst case (and it came from a well established dealer) was a 56 Stratocaster that had a repro body and an very well disguised All Parts neck. The dealer refuses to make good on it even though we (me and the previous owner) can prove the body and neck are the same ones that the dealer sold. I’m not mentioning names…yet. That’s thousands of dollars down the toilet.

I’m not calling out specific dealers, I’m calling out all dealers including myself. It is your responsibility to know what you are selling and to go through it completely. A couple of years ago, I sold a mint 62 ES-335 to a gentleman in California who really knew his stuff. I went through it pretty thoroughly but I never removed the thumbwheels under the bridge. It turned out that the bridge had been moved back slightly leaving two small holes, not visible unless you remove the thumbwheels. The guitar came back and I learned an important lesson. Look at everything on every guitar you get. Fix it or disclose it. Is it too much of a pain to check the pots on a 335? Then don’t sell 335’s or disclose that you never checked them. If the pickups have been opened and re-sealed, then disclose it. That should tell the buyer that they may have been rewound. Want a better solution? Open them back up and check the windings. It’s time consuming and a lot of work but it’s your responsibility to know exactly what you’re selling.

Look at the solder. You can usually tell if the pickups have been opened. If they have been, and have been re-soldered, open them up again and check for a rewound pickup. Sometimes it’s not so easy to tell. Mostly, it is. Look for bent edges, flux around the solder or sloppy work. I’m sure this one was opened.



8 Responses to “Fix it or Disclose it”

  1. RAB says:

    Good discussion on a tricky subject! Many of the repro parts are getting so good its really hard to tell them from an original! Even more reason to work with a credible and knowledgeable dealer like our friend Charlie here!

  2. RAB says:

    Fun to think about the minutea we vintage guitar buffs obsess about but it also makes our obsession more interesting. Like the 1959 ES models where straight slot vs Philips head screws were used to secure neck humbucking pickup rings!

  3. Leedsy says:

    It takes integrity as a dealer to call out dealers. Thank you Charlie. I’ve never had an undisclosed problem in buying a guitar from an individual, but the majority of the guitars I’ve purchased from dealers had undisclosed issues. I’ve had worse experiences, too. I had two ‘57 Les Pauls on consignment at a very well-known dealer I’d done business with. The shop sold both guitars, while stinging me along telling me that a sale was imminent. I eventually went to the shop (2000 miles from home) and discovered the shop was under new ownership/management, and I wasn’t the only victim. One guy had absconded and disappeared; his 2nd in command later opened his own shop in a different state. Charlie, OTOH, is a stand-up guy.

  4. DavidK says:

    I’ve found undisclosed issues with all 5 vintage dealers I’ve bought from in the UK. All reasonably dealt with afterwards but they sure as hell knew.

    Worse was a trip to Paris last month where a couple of the vintage dealers blatantly misrepresented the most obvious of issues until politely challenged!!

    Great post Charlie.

  5. RAB says:

    Leedsy- What a nightmare! More reason to deal with an upstanding guy like Charlie! RAB

  6. Nelson Checkoway says:

    Charlie – When a seller does disclose early, hard-to-detect changes — such as long ago refinishes that could blacklight correctly — how do you, as a dealer, and the collector market value post sale factory made changes — especially those close to the original sale — vs. aftermarket alterations? The most recent example that comes to mind is a 1960 factory black ES-345, the catch being that is was shipped as a red guitar that the owner sent back to Gibson in 1965 to give it a classy black finish and new chrome/nickel parts. I’ve seen this a lot with Fenders too – 60s nitro custom color refins of 50s sunburst strats, for example. Does this kind of factory work, when done in the golden era, count for something, or is a refin simply a refin? I’m not in the market for one – just interested in your take on the subject since you’ve undoubtedly come across these situations. Thanks -Nelson

  7. okguitars says:

    Everybody can miss something and I always assume complete innocence. The reaction once you point it out is the more important aspect. The ones who knew and didn’t disclose the issue fight the hardest. If a dealer or individual offers to make it right by replacing the part or offering a fair compensation, then it ends there. If it happens over and over again from the same dealer, then I might think twice before buying from that dealer. The larger problem is trying to put a dollar figure on an issue. If it’s a changed part, it’s pretty easy but if it’s overspray or a crack or repair, it’s really difficult. A small area of overspray can mean something pretty benign like a simple touchup or it can mean a hidden repair that impacts the value in a significant way. A crack in the rim is generally pretty benign and easy to fix but it can impact the value in a very big way.

  8. okguitars says:

    Refins that are done at the factory fall somewhere in between “aftermarket” and original. It’s funny that a Fender that’s, say, Fiesta red over sunburst was finished twice at the factory but, apparently, since it was shipped as Fiesta, it’s considered original. But, if a sunburst goes back to the factory a few years later and is done in Fiesta red, it’s value drops by 40%. Selmer Strats are another interesting incarnation. These left the factory as something other than red but were refinished before they were sold. Gibson refinishes done at the factory are less common and harder to verify. Fender usually marked the new color under the guard while Gibson supplied paperwork only. In the case of the red 60 that was refinished in black at the factory, I still call it a refinish. Just because Gibson did it doesn’t make it more valuable than any other well executed paint job. The Gibsons with the little “2” on the back of the headstock were often finished twice at the factory to cover a flaw. I consider the to be original. I think my guiding principle is “what paint was on it when it was first sold?” That allows for “2” Gibsons, color over sunburst Fenders and Selmer Strats.

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