Archive for March, 2021

Gone, Baby. Gone

Sunday, March 14th, 2021

Where have all the 59 ES-335’s gone? There’s at least one in every major collection in the world. It is considered one of the five most collectible guitars ever made. Too bad there were only 592 built. Take away the broken ones and the ones with extra holes for coil taps and phase switches and god knows what other atrocities and there are probably a lot less than you think.

The major guitar makers of the “Golden Era” made a whole lot of guitars. Let’s take a broad view of that era and call it from 1950 until 1964 for electrics. There were plenty of really good guitars made before that and after that but the really desirable collector electrics fall into this Era starting with the Broadcaster in 1950 and ending with CBS’s purchase of Fender in January of 1965. We all love the guitars that fall into this era, especially those from Fender and Gibson. In fact every collector-serious or armchair-wants a Fender or Gibson from this era. They can’t all afford one but most will give up a lot to get one. It makes sense then that eventually most of them will end up in collections and not trade on the open market in significant numbers. That eventuality is here right now for some of them.

Fender made tens of thousands of Stratocasters from 54 until 64. Add in another few thousand Telecasters and Esquires and Jazzmasters and it looks like it will take a while for them to be bought up by collectors. Many of them aren’t “collector” grade anyway and those players tend to make up a good part of the vintage market turnover. Players (who aren’t collectors) buy and sell a lot more often than collectors (and players who are collectors). During that same era, Gibson also made thousands of guitars but they didn’t make anywhere near as many as Fender. I like to make the comparison between Stratocasters and 335’s since they are “must have” models for most collectors. Fender doesn’t release their shipping numbers but I believe that for every 335 shipped, there must have been at least 10 Strats hitting the market. You can argue that. But it is simple logic that there will be fewer 335’s on the market than Strats. Nobody will argue that. Let’s look closer.

My point about diminishing inventory for collectors is made crystal clear by the stunning lack of 1959 ES-335’s available for purchase today. There is one currently listed and it’s priced way over market value. It’s an interesting test of the market though. A 59 is, by miles, the most desirable 335 there is. How many were made, you ask? They made 592 (including blondes). If I choose a desirable year for Strats (say, 57), I would speculate that they must have shipped a few thousand of them. Therein lies the current dilemma.

Where are all the 59 335’s? They are in collections and they won’t be for sale until their owners decide to cash their babies out or they die and their families figure out what to do with all those guitars. I’ll go out on a limb and say that most collectors who are slimming down their collection will keep a 335, a Strat, a Les Paul, a Telecaster and a good acoustic. If I’m keeping a 335, it’ll be a 59. So even with diminishing collections, the 59’s are very likely to stay in the herd. I’m sure there will be a few hitting the market with the current price rise but the days when there were ten or more to choose from at any time might be over. If supply and demand means anything at all in the vintage market, you can expect 59’s to get even more pricey. The last three 59’s I’ve sold never even made it to market and I still have a waiting list that you can’t count on two hands for 59’s.

So, I will do two things. One, I will ask any of my readers who have a 59 335 that are considering selling (or simply don’t play much) to get in touch with me and I’ll find you top dollar for it. Two, I’ll buy it outright for more than you paid for it. I’m not going to speculate where the 59 335 market will end up. $50K has been out of reach since 2008 but, for a clean 59, it isn’t any more, IMO. I hate to give in to a bubble that may or may not be sustainable but without inventory, there are no sales.

What happens next, assuming the 59 supply is temporarily dried up? 58’s and early 60’s start to move up. Late 58’s are already up and early 60’s are as well. A 58 isn’t a 59 and a 60 isn’t a 59 either but they are wonderful guitars and simply may have to take the place of a 59 on your wish list. It’s not a bad thing. The good news is there are more than 500 60’s and 300 58’s. And while all three years together barely equal a couple of months worth of Strats in terms of production, you can take some comfort in the knowledge that there are even more 61-64’s to consider when the 58’s and 60’s are gone.

Blonde 59’s are already well into 6 figures but if you want one today, you are out of luck. I haven’t seen a stop tail 59 blonde on the market in over a year. the last two I’ve seen were mine.

What’s Wrong with this Picture?

Thursday, March 4th, 2021

This guitar was offered to me as part of a fairly large collection. I made an offer to the seller but was outbid by another dealer. This “59” was part of the deal and I had serious reservations about it from the get go.

So, what’s the difference between a fake and a reproduction 59 dot neck? Mostly, it’s a matter of how you approach it as a seller. When a talented luthier like Ken McKay makes a 335, he puts his own name on the headstock even if it is more like a real vintage 335 than anything Gibson has come up with at this point. Don’t get me wrong, Gibson makes some really good 335’s but they still haven’t nailed the 59. I could go into detail but that’s another post. There are plenty of Asian made “copies” but they are generally laughably easy to spot. This one is a different animal altogether. When a 335 that isn’t made by Gibson is marketed as a real one, then it’s a fake. If a legitimate repro Gibson 335 is marketed as a vintage 335, it’s also a fake. I’m not completely certain what the guitar pictured is but I was sure it wasn’t a real 59. There’s a lot that looks right but there’s also a lot wrong.

Well, these don’t look right, do they. The stickers aren’t too bad but they don’t black light and that’s a pretty much foolproof test. Oh, where are the “L” tooling marks on the feet? The bowed out edges of the covers don’t look so hot either.

The construction is pretty accurate but the ears are a bit narrow. That’s what Gibson’s early attempts at reissue Mickey Mouse ears looked like as well, so the body could actually be made by Gibson. But they went to some length to try to fool the buyer. The orange label looked pretty good but the font was wrong. The neck tenon and routs looked real good. They even stamped a FON number into the body. Nice touch. Wrong font again. And, you wouldn’t know this, but the FON was non existent-there were many numbers that were never used. The placement of the stoptail is a little high but mostly, the controls are where they should be. There is some variation in the real ones so that’s not always a great tell. One of the biggest errors that the builder made was the in the neck. The heel on a real 59 (and also 60-68) is very small and rather flat across the top. This one was just wrong. The headstock inlays were also wrong. The mahogany itself didn’t look quite right either-the grain was too open and it didn’t look to be sawn the same way. Oh, and another huge clue? A 59 ES-335 is always between 1.5″ and 1.65″ deep. Later, the bodies got deeper reaching 1.75″ by 1964. Most of the modern reissues are around that number as well, at least the ones I’ve seen. This was 1.76″ so even if they had absolutely nailed everything else, it would have been clear to me that this wasn’t a real 59. A tenth of an inch isn’t easy to eyeball from a photo but your digital calipers won’t lie.

The heel was too tall and too rounded across the top. The work is competent.

Where it really went off the rails was the parts. Fake PAFs. The labels looked pretty good but they didn’t black light. No tooling marks on the feet either. And the nickel covers were those “raw” nickel ones that really don’t look like the real thing. But, they went to some length to make it look real. The tuners were repro Klusons but they actually aged a second set of repro Klusons and shrunk and broke the buttons and put them in the case along with a set of used flatwounds and a vintage Gibson string box and some old song chord charts. Nice touch and a big effort but, really, how dumb do we look? The scammer added a few relatively valuable vintage parts on it though. I guess a modicum of legitimacy fools some of the people some of the time. It was housed in a super clean brown Gibson case-a real one from the 50’s. The amber switch tip and knobs were the real thing too. As were the pickup surrounds. Wait, it gets better…These criminals actually went to the trouble to source an old harness (wrong year but it was a 62 and fairly valuable) and drop it in. But it had fake bumblebees (and bumblebees were gone by 62 anyway). The bridge and tailpiece were Gibson repro’s aged poorly. So, someone spent a couple thousand on parts and the case but probably made a huge profit selling this as a real 59.

The “crown” inlay is too thin and spindly but the logo isn’t too bad at all. Those are the shrunken Klusons that ended up in the case as “the originals”

The dealer that bought the collection saw the problems and asked the seller to take this guitar back. The seller asked if I would go through it and catalog what was wrong and what was right which I agreed to do. I don’t know what he paid but he did mention that it was a great player and had excellent tone. I played it and it was certainly as good as many modern 335’s. I made an offer for the value of the real parts and ended up buying the whole thing. I took the real parts and the good repros and put them away for when I get a guitar that needs them or another project That leaves me with some questionable pickups and the husk. I can’t sell it as anything but an unknown fake but, overall, it’s a pretty decent (and unscrupulous) attempt designed to fool anyone who simply has never laid eyes on the real thing.