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Are You a Mod or a Rocker?

They don’t get much more modded than Alvin Lee’s 335. Added single coil in the middle and it’s additional volume pot are the irreversible value killing mods. Stickers don’t count as mods but will do bad things to the value as they almost always leave residue. The TP6 tailpiece uses the original stop tail studs so it’s totally reversible.

Ringo said, famously, “I’m a Mocker.”

We’re going to talk about mods. I get emails every day from folks looking to buy a 335 (often not from me) who ask how much a particular modification will affect the value of the guitar of their dreams. The simple answer is that there is no simple answer. A tuner change might affect a 1981 335 by a few hundred dollars. A tuner change to a blonde dot neck will knock off thousands. So, do we use percentages? That’s probably better than simple dollar deductions but even that is an inexact science. There are simply too many other factors involved. A mod to a beater will deduct a lot less than a mod to a museum piece. A guitar with a lot of mods might reach a saturation point where the parts will be worth more than the guitar as a whole. Like I said, no simple answer.

Let’s also separate a mod from a repair. A mod is an intentional change made to a guitar. A repair is made to fix something that is broken. A mod is made to fix something that isn’t broken. It may be reversible or it may be permanent. It may adversely affect the price or it may not. Presumably, the initial intent is to improve some aspect of your guitar, so you should understand that many (and probably most) mods are done with the best intentions. In the 70’s, Eric Clapton took the covers off his pickups. So, many of us (including me) did the same thing. I think we thought we were going for more output but really, we wanted to be like Eric. Unsoldered pickup covers are not a very costly mod unless you lost the covers. Some, like adding a stop tail to a 65 ES-335 will actually enhance the desirability of a guitar (as long as it’s put in the right location). It won’t increase the value, however.

The most common mod on ES guitars is changed tuners. Schallers were a big deal in the 70’s and 80’s and they required an enlarged shaft hole and 6 small new holes in the back of the headstock. Grovers were also popular (another Clapton mod) and didn’t require any new holes. They did require enlarging the shaft holes and also cause the “owl eyes” on the front of the headstock…the result of overtightening the lock nuts. You can fill and redrill the shaft holes but those indentations in the front of the headstock are there to stay. Tuner changes don’t affect tone or playability in a big way, so it’s a good way to save some money if a collector grade example os out of reach.

There are mods that will enhance the value of your guitar even if they aren’t always a particularly economical choice. Like adding real PAFs to your reissue 335. At $6000 a pair, you might be better off selling them separately when it’s time to sell the reissue. Same goes for vintage stop tailpieces. At $2000, a vintage stop tail for a newer guitar is more than a little silly. Replacing the replacement on your vintage guitar is a good idea but it isn’t a mod. It is worth noting that most repros are as good and possibly better than the original. I challenge anyone to actually hear a difference between a repro stop tail and a vintage one.

To summarize, mods that are irreversible are bad for the value of your vintage guitar so think before you take the drill or the chisel to the top of your guitar. Mods that don’t require new holes or routs won’t hurt the value as long as you save the original parts. Put them somewhere where they won’t get lost. I once modded my 65 Mosrite Ventures back in 1975, changing the single coil neck pickup to a humbucker (no rout necessary). I sold the guitar in ’76 and found it again on Ebay in 2015. I bought it back and I knew just where to find the original pickup 40 years later.

I recently bought this Epiphone Casino expecting there to be a lot of work to do to get it back to stock with that roller bridge with a mute. It turns out that there were no holes-the bridge simply sat on top of the guitar like an archtop bridge.

7 Responses to “Are You a Mod or a Rocker?”

  1. RAB says:

    “Hey! Player! Leave them vintage gits alone!”

  2. RAB says:

    P.S. so many of the mods many thought were cool back in the day (removing pickup covers, installing Shallers or Grovers, “audio-quality” potentiometers (like Bournes) were unnecessary. Like Frank Z. opined “Shuddup and play yer git-tar!”

  3. RAB says:

    I guess the added volume control on the Alvin Lee 335 is to control the Strat pickup? Hmm, a vintage 335 with “just” the two stock ‘buckers was good enough for most players including a certain EC! Ever notice that virtually every time Alvin Lee went to take a solo the band had to shift to an up tempo “boogie” beat? I guess you’d have to call him the opposite of Slowhand, eh?

  4. Rod says:

    Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Don’t forget that when (most of) these mods were done, these were merely ‘used’ guitars, not as expensive or percieved to be as good as new ones. There was, we thought, an inexhaustible supply of replacement ‘used’ guitars. I clearly remember turning down a sunburst dot mark 335 in 1971 for £125 in favour of a lousy quality Les Paul copy for half the price.

  5. RAB says:

    Yeah! And I foolishly chose a ‘64 Epiphone Casino (my guitar teacher had a thin line Guild Starfire III) over a clean double cutaway 1959 Les Paul TV Special for the same price, $275…

  6. Nelson Checkoway says:

    Great post as always, Charlie. A couple of interesting notes about Alvin Lee’s guitar. The guitar shown in this blog was reissued, by Gibson, stickers, extra pickup and all. In fact, I’m unsure whether the photo is the original or a reissue (it looks original!) And you could buy all those irreversible mods from the Gibson Custom Shop for about $7K (they tend to trade used in the $5-6K range).

    But this is not the first Alvin Lee mod. The guitar that started it all: the flaming hot rendition of “I’m Going Home” at Woodstock, featured prominently in the film, was played on an early ’60s cherry dot neck. Gibson also has a reissue of this guitar, which they call the Alvin Lee “’69 Festival” model.

    And I think it’s notable that Alvin Lee might be the first celebrated rock guitarist to prominently play a dot-neck ES-335 and launch the vintage desirability for these earliest PAF models. Just as the Firebird lust can be traced back to Johnny Winter and the popularity of Bursts, 50s Strats and block-neck ES-335s can be attributed to Clapton among others, Alvin Lee might have been rock’s “guitarist zero” for the dot neck. And on the jazz fusion side, I think Lee Ritenour gave equal props to the glorious dot neck.

    Can anyone cite an earlier influential rock guitarist who prominently played a dot neck?

  7. Rod says:

    Alvin bought his first 335 (dot-mark) for £45 used in the early 60s and used it for several years. In the late 60s he broke the neck on it and it was re-necked by Gibson using their then-standard 335 neck. So the dot-mark changed to a block-mark.

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