Archive for October, 2021

Scary Good

Sunday, October 31st, 2021

Who doesn’t love a red dot neck? Well, this red 335 is a little different than the usual Gibson red see through finish. This 62 dot neck was refinished in a Fender like Candy Apple Red.

It’s Halloween and there’s not much overlap between scary stuff and guitars (except maybe buying vintage gear over the internet with no return policy). But that’s not what my Halloween post is about this year. You know how in the horror movie, usually early on, the psychopathic killer is in the closet or in the garage or in the back seat of the car and you know one of the expendable characters is heading right there and you yell (usually to yourself but not always) “DON’T GO IN THERE…!!!” Well, that’s kind of like what Ebay was like in the 90’s and early 2000’s if you were trying to buy a vintage guitar. This is in the era before Reverb existed and Gbase was pretty much just dealers. Ebay was like the wild west back then and it was pretty easy to get burned or scammed or just maybe, score a huge bargain.

It was 2010, I think. I was pretty much a hobby dealer back then. I would buy one or two guitars, play them and then sell them, usually for a small profit and I stayed mostly at the low end of the vintage market. I was buying mostly 335’s and 345’s and, at the low end, most of them had some issues. I couldn’t afford the collector grade stuff but I knew enough about them to stay away from the bad stuff. There was no blog (like this one) to tell you what to look for or how to identify what year a 335 was built. But I knew enough to make some pretty good deals. Some better than others.

When you’re at the lower end, refinished guitars are the best way to get a really nice guitar for a fair price. A proper refinish doesn’t hurt the playability nor does it hurt the tone. It only hurts the value. And besides, I really wanted a dot neck and I couldn’t afford the $20,000 or so that was the going rate at that time. So I bought a refinished 62. Yes, they made dot necks in 62. Not many but the block neck wasn’t introduced until the late Winter/early Spring of 62. It was Candy Apple Red (not Gibson’s Sparkling Burgundy) and the work was professional all the way. Cost me, uh, never mind. It was cheap. It had a pair of PAFs and all the original parts and it sounded incredible.

I had played enough high end 335’s at that time to know what a great one sounded like-I had just never owned one. My main player then was a fairly beat up red 64 that sounded really good but this 62 dot was head and shoulders above the old 64. Most of you who read my blog know that I keep a mental list of the top 20 335’s that I’ve owned and in that list there is an outlier from the 58’s and 59’s that populate most of the list and it’s a refinished 62. Yeah, that one. I sold the guitar maybe six months after I bought it and kind of regretted it but I always went back to my old rule for being a dealer…don’t fall in love.

Fast forward ten years or so and I’ve established myself as a vintage dealer, retiring from my real job, writing a blog, opening a retail shop and working full time at it . The blog and the business is still going, the store is not (at least until the pandemic ends). A few months ago, I see a Candy Apple Red 62 dot neck 335 on Reverb for $28,000. My first reaction was “are these guys nuts? ” $28K for a refinished 62 is dreamland and I ignored it. Then I realized it was the same guitar I had sold ten years ago and I wanted it back. I wasn’t going to pay $28K for it so I waited out the seller and it eventually came down to a price I could justify paying. Only I (and the previous owner) knew how good it was. It arrived last week and there were a few small changes (somebody scavenged the original stop tail) but when I plugged it in there was no question. It’s still in the top twenty.

It probably isn’t the best investment. But the guitar you buy should depend on more than just the value going forward. A $350,000 Les Paul that sounds and plays like an average R9 is still probably a good investment but it isn’t much more than an expensive wall hanging. A great player with issues that sounds like a choir of angels may not make you a nickel richer in the long run but you’ll get a ton of pleasure out of it and probably not lose any money if that’s important to you. I would argue that I’d rather have a great player and make nothing than have an average player that will appreciate. Nobody says you can’t have both (you can) but if you have to choose one or the other, I’m going with the player.

I should keep it this time but I know I won’t.

Beating the Dead Horse

Tuesday, October 26th, 2021

Short seam stop tail on the right. See the difference? That short part should be jagged and rough. If it’s smooth, it’s a reproduction. The one on the left is from the late 60’s.

I was going to start this by saying “I don’t want to sound like a broken record…” but nobody under the age of 50 seems to know what that means . So, at the risk of being repetitive, I am pretty miffed about the shameless scavenging of parts from vintage 335’s and their brethren. Yes, it’s your guitar and you can take any parts you want for your R9 to make it closer to a real burst but when you go to sell that scavenged guitar and you don’t disclose all those repro parts you installed, well, that’s not right. Put aside the fact that you are ruining a piece of history (try to find an ES-175 with its PAF’s intact) and understand that the parts you are taking off have become so valuable that it isn’t simply a minor annoyance to get a guitar with a few repro parts, it’s become a very big deal. Or maybe somebody else did it before you got the guitar.

I’ve mentioned that 95% of the vintage guitars I buy from individuals have at least one changed part. Sometimes it’s disclosed but mostly it isn’t. Not because all these folks are dishonest. Most folks simply can’t tell the difference between repro parts and originals. They have gotten very accurate. Beyond that, these individuals simply believe what the previous owner (or dealer) has told them. “Oh, I bought it from Joe Schmo’s Guitars in Secaucus, New Jersey and Joe said it was 100% original”. But Joe Schmoe sold it as a consignment and took the owners word for it. Big mistake.

A short seam 1958-1964 stop tail is a $2000 part if you can find one. I always ask if the parts on the guitar are original and when I ask about the tailpiece, I am very specific and ask for a photo of the underside. Then the guys making the repros figured out that the short seam is the tell for a real one so they started faking the short seam. here’s a tip…if the fat part of the short seam isn’t jagged (it’s where they used to break the tailpiece away from the mold), it isn’t real. Now they just mold that seam in and it’s smooth. Out of the last 20 or so stop tail ES guitars I’ve inspected before agreeing to buy them, 25-30% have had the tailpiece scavenged. So caveat emptor, folks. Don’t take anyone’s word for anything.

Dealers get consignments all the time. I get plenty of them. Some dealers simply put them out there with the owners description and never check them to make sure they are as described. Dealers usually don’t make a lot of money on consignments so there is little incentive to go in there and spend an hour pulling the harness and checking the tailpiece, etc. In fact, if you do that, you might be accused of stealing parts yourself…”Joe Schmoe, who’s a bigger dealer than you are told me it was 100% original when I bought it from him…” It’s only happened to me once and my policy after that was to go through the guitar with the owner there with me. Now that I no longer have a brick and mortar shop, I can’t do that, so I ask for tons of photos.

Don’t shoot the messenger. This is not a new problem but it’s worth pointing out again in this very active (and somewhat overheated) market. A missing $2000 tailpiece or a $3000 PAF makes a big difference to folks like me who make their living from this. Selling vintage anything always carries some degree of risk (I can’t ask Grandma to start pulling the pickups on Grandpa’s old 335) but most of you aren’t Grandma, so go through your instrument or have an expert do it so you know. You’ll be happier knowing and so will I.

A PAF is the most valuable part on a 335. Missing stickers are pretty common. Lots of 62 and 63’s had one patent and one PAF so it’s a hard to know what the pickup on the left is if the guitar is from those years. It could be that someone scavenged the PAF and installed a patent number (or worse) without a sticker.