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Anatomy of a Beater

Here’s my beater example. Overspray on the neck and front of the body, finish damage by the guard, screw holes from a “custom” guard and lots of wear. It’s a 62 or early 63.

Ya know what you don’t see that often? Beater 335’s. You see tons of beater Strats and even beater LP Juniors and beater SG’s. Let’s back up a little. What makes a beater a beater? Changed parts? Refinish? Busted neck? Bad condition? All of the above? And what’s a beater really worth? The sum of its parts? Or do we put a premium on a guitar that’s been played to within an inch or two of its life?

Most of you know that I deal mostly in collector grade stuff. That makes me something less than an expert in the world of beaters. I simply don’t see very many but I’ve seen enough to know one when I see one. The old saw about the good ones getting played is half a myth. The good ones do get played but the one’s that don’t get played aren’t necessarily bad. They just didn’t get played much or, more importantly, they were taken care of. Consider this…When I was a kid in the mid 60’s, a brand new Stratocaster cost $200 at Manny’s in New York. A brand new 335 was close to twice that. On the used market at that time, a Strat was maybe $150. Still a lot of money for a 16 year old but you could come up with that with a paper route or doing odd jobs on the weekend for a few months. Maybe a little help from Mom. But $400 for a 335? Not likely and if you were lucky enough to be able to afford one, you took care of it.

That might explain why there are fewer 335 beaters than Strats but what does a 335 beater look like and is it worth the price of admission in this somewhat inflated market? Heavy player wear is a big part of what makes a beater. And changed parts for sure, especially parts that don’t belong on a 335 like an extra pickup (Alvin Lee) or a string tree. How about stickers (Elvin Bishop and Alvin Lee)? For sure. “Custom” touches like non factory guards and oddball knobs are part of the beater mystique as well. A neck repair is almost mandatory for a 335 beater and maybe some overspray and touchup. Mix in three or four re-frets and you’re there.

Valuation is the tough one. Conventional wisdom says take off 40% for a neck repair. But it also says take off 40% for a refinish. What happens if it has both? Do you knock off 80%? I think not. If you use percentages to figure values, you end up with the parts being worth way more than the complete guitar. A pair of intact PAFs on a beater is close to $6000 worth of parts. A short seam stop tail is $1800 or more. My opinion? If it plays well and it sounds good (and the repair is stable), then there is a kind of base value that is the sum of the parts value and a set value for the husk (depending on the year). A 59 husk is worth a lot more than a 68 husk. I’ve sold more than a few husks in various states of disrepair and $4000-$5000 for a 58-64 with a repair, extra holes and some finish issues seems to be the average. Less for later ones.

A beater is a great way to stick your toe into the vintage market. You can always add back the parts that are missing over time or get good repro parts. If you’re in the used guitar market because you play and you don’t care about investment value, then a beater can make sense for you. The most important element of all? Do you like the way it plays and is it stable? A stable neck repair is often as strong (or stronger) than the wood. Finish issues don’t generally affect playability or tone. Repro parts generally don’t affect them either. You need a straight neck, good frets, a good nut, good bridge, pickups/harness and tuners that hold tune. If any of those elements are missing, you can easily source them. That takes us to only the straight neck, good frets and a good nut. The nut is pretty easy. Frets are for your luthier (and not cheap). The condition of the neck is the one place you can’t compromise. Back bow? Walk away. Excessive front bow? Walk away. Any kind of twist? Walk away. A functional truss rod, minimal relief and good frets? There’s your new best friend that won’t bankrupt you.

Finally, what about the guitar in the photo? It has lots of player wear. The serial number is sanded off and the neck has been oversprayed as has the front of the guitar. I don’t see a break anywhere, although I thought at first there was one. The really strange mod is a wooden pickguard (I still have it) that added a four screw holes to the top and it reacted badly with the finish (probably from whatever the wood guard was finished with). Tailpiece is a wrap tail but that’s fairly common in 62 as they used up the parts. The bridge and tuners are repro. The case is later. It needs a nut and probably frets. The nut was all wrong (too low) and I changed it for a vintage nut off of a 59 355. With better frets, I think it will be a good player. It sounds good already given the original pickups that somehow escaped being replaced. With PAF 62’s pushing $30K, a beater might save you close to $20K and you won’t have to worry about it getting stolen at your next gig.

Lots of holes back here from other tuners. There is some kind of headstock work but no evidence of a crack. The serial number was removed probably when sanding off the finish for respraying. Serial is still on the label so I don’t think it was stolen.

3 Responses to “Anatomy of a Beater”

  1. Rod says:

    I would say that has got the makings of a great guitar. You say it plays well and sounds good. Plus it would not cost a fortune if bought at the right price. It’s a player. I would buy this in a second if I needed another 335. These things were made to be played, not kept hidden away in cit gets dented or scratched. We are getting into Nigel Tufnell territory with colectable guitars now.

  2. okguitars says:

    I’ll update the post once I replace the nut and the crappy tuners. It’s a little dull on the open strings which is always the nut or the saddles (or both)
    When fretted, it sounds really good.

  3. Collin says:

    Most of my vintage guitars are beaters, and they’re always difficult to price. The sweet spot always lives somewhere between the value of all the parts (including husk) and the current market price of the reissue of that model.

    It seems like setting hard rules, like a percentage off the price of a clean example, is not usually practical, especially at the higher end of the market. Seems like the higher the value, the lower that ratio is, unless the finish/color is what makes that particular guitar special (say, a blonde 335 or a custom color Fender). And you certainly can’t start adding percentages from a refin, repair and missing parts, it just becomes a total percentage against the value of a clean original.

    I think a beater with any two of the three “Rs” (repairs, refins, replaced parts) should be around half the price of a clean original and maybe only twice the price of a reissue), just as a starting point, but there are always exceptions.

    Personally I love beaters. I can’t be a buyer for the highest collector grade, but I’d much rather have a vintage guitar than a reissue, and they serve that purpose well.

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