Existential Dilemma

This is my main player. It’s an original finish blonde 1959 ES-345. It has had the neck replaced and a couple of holes filled. I don’t know what it’s worth but I know for sure it’s worth a lot less than it would be if it was all there.

I don’t usually comment on guitars for sale elsewhere but I came across a listing recently that brings up some interesting (and important) questions. I think we all agree that a refinished guitar is worth around half of what an original finish guitar is worth. Maybe as high as 60% in some cases and maybe lower but always in the neighborhood. But I recently came across a blonde 1960 ES-335 that was listed for $41,000. A blonde 60 with the original finish would sell for between $80,000 to $95,000 depending on condition and a few other factors (pickup bobbins, neck profile). So, $41,000 is a reasonable price. Or is it? The listing points out that the guitar was a factory blonde and I suppose that should count for something. But, a properly stripped sunburst 60 that has been refinished blonde would be, in theory, a $15,000 guitar. So, is the fact that the guitar left the factory as a blonde really worth an additional $26,000? Therein lies the dilemma.

Let’s look at it from a different perspective for a moment. Let’s say I have a refinished Stratocaster. It’s a sunburst 64 but it was originally surf green. Is the fact it was once surf green-a rare and valuable color-have any bearing on the value of it in its refinished state? If not, then if I refinish it again in surf green, is it worth more than it was as a sunburst? Or, conversely, if it was originally sunburst and has been refinished in a rare color is it worth more? Most of you (and me) would say no. Otherwise, we’d be refinishing refinished guitars and making a good living doing it.

So, what is refinished blonde ES-335 worth? Good question. To answer it I think you have to ask “what is it that I’m paying a premium for?” Let’s say the guitar as an instrument is worth whatever a refinished sunburst is worth-a refinished sunburst and a refinished blonde will be, ultimately, the same guitar from a players standpoint. As a collector’s piece, it’s value as an original (beyond the value as an instrument) is gone. I justify that by saying that a sunburst that has been competently refinished blonde looks exactly the same as a blonde refinished blonde. I’ll ask another question that might shed light…is a factory stop tail that has had a Bigsby added worth more than a factory Bigsby that has had a stop tail added? I would say they are worth the same. By that logic, the sunburst refinished blonde and the refinished blonde are worth the same.

I can confuse the issue even more. A blonde has only  clear lacquer. A sunburst has color and clear. A sunburst that has its original color but has been over-sprayed with clear is worth more than a total refinish. So, do we treat a refinished blonde that has always been blonde as an overspray?  Just a thought.

A few years ago. I had a client looking for a blonde 345. Blonde 345’s don’t come up for sale very often. They made 211 335’s in blonde but they only made 50 345’s. I was offered a refinished 60 ES-345 that was originally sunburst. The finish, while not perfect, was decent. There was some dark paint left in the routs and it would never be passed off as anything but a refinished sunburst. It sold for $20,000 which was way less than half the value of a blonde 345 at the time. But, and it’s a pretty big but, that $20,000 was a whole lot more than a sunburst 60 refinished in sunburst would have brought. I find that hard to justify but I don’t make the rules. I guess if you want a vintage blonde and you don’t want to pay a huge premium for it, then perhaps this makes sense.

So, I guess that a blonde that’s refinished blonde is worth more than a sunburst refinished blonde. But that begs the next question. Is a blonde refinished sunburst worth more than a sunburst refinished sunburst? I sure don’t think so but I’ve really just made a pretty good argument that it actually is. I think the key is the desirability of the end product. People want a blonde and will pay extra for it, regardless of its former configuration. If you had a truckload of refinished sunburst 59 ES-335s and you refinished them all in blonde, you would probably make money not that I suggest you do that.

This is making my head hurt. I’m going to go play a guitar for a while. There’s a blonde one around here somewhere.

Blondes will always command a premium. A blonde refinished blonde (with documentation) should be worth more than a sunburst refinished blonde…right?

9 Responses to “Existential Dilemma”

  1. RAB says:

    Ack! After trying to digest this I have a head ache too! I am not a fan of refinished Gibsons…a refinished Fender bothers me less…But to each his/her own. If a refin results in a price point that enables the guitarist to procure and play a Golden Era thinline more power to them!

  2. Mike McLester says:

    No comment really other than I just can’t stop staring at all those blondes!

  3. Tom G says:

    A tricky one… I don’t know whether I agree that a refin is worth half an original, actually. Personally, I reckon a refin makes the guitar unoriginal and therefore of no interest to a collector. So the original finish is irrelevant and the value is whatever a player is willing to pay. I suppose the 50% rule kind of works up to a certain level but I can’t see a player dropping 40k on a refin because the stock ones go for 80. Just my tuppenceworth:)

  4. Nelson Checkoway says:

    Wow-what a great question to consider on an almost-done-with-work Friday afternoon! “What am I paying a premium for?”

    Rarity-“I just have to own a ’59 blonde and it (and only a few others) left the factory that way”

    Bragging Rights: “My ’59 ES-335 is a blonde. Well, it’s a refin, but it has original clear coat in the pickup routs. And there’s an “N” on the label. And I have copy of the Gibson records that says “Natural” next to my number”

    Star Power: “I want to sound like Dave Edmunds sounding like Chuck Berry. Now I can look like him too (just need the haircut and a facelift back to 1970)”

    Metaphysics: “I don’t care that it looks just like a ’59 blonde. It IS a ’59 blonde, dammit!”

    Risk Aversiverness: “I can play it out every night and not worry about the next ding I put in the finish”

    Seriously, though, any of these are decent reasons to buy a “player grade” guitar. But for $40K when that kinda moolah can buy a great investment to boot?

    One final note re the original stop vs. original Bigsby: I’d vote for the original stop tail having more value. Say the original Bigsby model is worth 25% less than the stop tail – say mid teens vs. around $20K. If you take the non original parts off both guitars, isn’t a factory stop with a few residual Bigsby holes still worth considerably more than a factory Bigsby with a couple of big stud holes. Or does a great stop tail modification to a Bigsby or trap guitar retain or improve value in your sales experience?

  5. RAB says:

    Nelson, I agree with you. An added stop tail (that required drilling into the top) would, in my opinion reduce the value. For example on a Bigsby-only 1963 335. Value might remain the same or even be enhanced on a 335 that originally had a trapeze E.G. like a 1968 model…RAB

  6. okguitars says:

    I agree with Tom G. I think that percentages are very often a faulty methodology for determining value. But dollar values don’t always work either. I can’t see dropping $40K for a refinished blonde when I can get a 59 refinished blonde that used to be a sunburst for under $20K. The guitar doesn’t know that it was once sunburst and neither will your friends unless you tell them (or they go looking in the routs).

  7. Frank says:

    I personally would not pay anything more for something that WAS special. Remember, back in the days most of us were handsome, long-haired cats…

  8. IrishBrian says:

    I guess we all come to guitar buying with different perspectives and wishes. To me the having/owning/living with a piece of guitar history is what drives me. I want to experience the feel and the sound of the original instrument.
    That’s great because then I don’t mind a headstock repair or a refinish if it lets me have a 9000 USD guitar for 3700 USD (bought an anodized guard 58/59 Jazzmaster which was refinished) or the 1962 Jaguar I got for 50% off due to a probable refinish and headstock repair (yes it happens to Fenders too! don’t ask me how)
    The drop in price for 50s and early 60s Strats seems to be far more – I think because they’re priced so damn high for prefect mint examples. So a mint 63 strat could be … 25000 USD? But a refinish with a rewound pickup drops it to under 10K…. crazy….but I’m not complaining

  9. RAB says:

    Wow, you really have to “try” to bust a Fender peghead!

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