Archive for February, 2022

Does Mint Count?

Monday, February 28th, 2022
This mint 59 sold recently. It was listed for less than a day. There is currently a waiting list for mint 59’s here at OK Guitars and the term wait is the operative one. I don’t see that many. Maybe one a year.

In my last post, I tackled the slippery subject of rarity. The next subject is a little less slippery and applies to every guitar (and amp) model ever made. Condition is always a factor in the value and pricing of anything. Even a used Ford Pinto in mint condition is worth a lot more than a driver. Always has been, always will be. The guys who collect action figures are fanatics about this with original packaging required for mint status. Fortunately, with guitars, mint doesn’t require the original box but it’s still a pretty rigid classification. And it counts.

I’ve written about the “curse of the mint guitar” and it applies. If you buy a mint guitar, you are going to want to keep it that way, so no gigs unless you have complete control over the situation. Wear out those frets and your mint status goes away. Bend a tuner? Same. Smack the headstock into a cymbal, yep. No more mint. Because it’s so difficult to keep anything decades old that gets handled, even with careful use, in mint condition, these guitars command a serious premium. I’d like to be able to say it’s 20% or 30% or some fixed percentage but it doesn’t work that way. It depends, as you might expect, on desirability and, to a lesser extent, rarity. Finding a mint 59 Silvertone is probably just as hard as finding a mint 59 335 but the premium is going to be very different. Even the premium for a mint 335 compared to a mint 355 is going to be different. So, let’s stick to 335’s.

I’ve owned over 400 ES-335’s built between 1958 and 1964. And another few hundred 345’s and 355’s. Out of that number there have been perhaps 6 mint 335’s. My definition of mint is this: No wear of any kind. No checking. The finish sinking into the grain of the wood is acceptable but dings and scratches through the finish are not. A small mark here or there that is not through the finish is, to me, generally acceptable as is minor tarnish (but not wear) to the nickel. Even new, unplayed guitars can have a mark here or there. I will mention the term “dead mint”. Dead mint is not a single mark anywhere. I’ve never seen a dead mint 335 from 58 to 64. Close but no. So, if I describe a guitar as mint, it might have a tiny dent somewhere. That’s controversial, I’m sure, but that’s why the term dead mint exists. And nobody who has ever bought a guitar from me that I have described as mint has ever complained.

So, how do we value a mint 335? Well, it varies with the overall market to some extent but I generally add 10-15% over the value of a no issue 9.5 condition (I usually call these 9+). That’s more like 30% over an “average” 59 with a minor issue or two. I hesitate to quote sales figures because it changes so rapidly. A mint 335 is an investment that will always lead the market upwards and generally lag the market going downward. There will always be collectors who want the best possible example of their favorite guitar and will pay that premium no matter which direction the market is headed.

This mint dot neck is currently in stock but it’s not a 59. It is a 61 and it boggles my mind how anything can last 60 years and have barely a mark on it.

Does Rare Count?

Saturday, February 12th, 2022

This 1961 Byrdland is super rare. Only about a dozen made but you could probably score one for under $20K. Why so little? Because most collectors don’t really want to spend a lot of money on a Byrdland. Rare doesn’t always translate to dollars.

The great paradox in vintage guitars is about rarity. Bursts aren’t rare (1600 or so built). They cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Blonde 335’s are somewhat rare (211 built) but not crazy rare. They cost in excess of $100,000 in this roaring fire of a market. Stratocasters are as common as Lincoln pennies (well, not quite) but certain rare custom colors can cost close to $100,000. But even a Burgundy Mist Strat isn’t as rare as, say, a blonde 1961 Byrdland (12 made) or a 59 blonde Epiphone Sheraton (3 made). And those two guitars won’t even get you $25,000. That’s still a lot of money but the price and the rarity are not forming a neat and orderly line that follow conventional logic. Clearly rare doesn’t really count. Or does it?

Let’s look at two factors instead of just one. Rarity and desirability. How many are there and how many people want one. Ah, the old supply and demand thing. You know all that. Supply and demand applies to vintage guitars for sure. But there’s another factor. It applies to serious collectors and definitely not to players. That factor which goes beyond desirability and rarity is not easily defined. It’s the great desire to have something that will make your friend’s jaw drop. It’s a “where did you find that??” guitar. You could also call it a “I’ve never seen one of those!” guitar. It seems that every big collector with the means has at least one burst, black guard Tele, 54-57 Stratocaster, blonde ES-335, Gold top Les Paul and a lot of other guitars that take a somewhat less exalted place in the man cave. But which one does this collector take out of the case and show you when you walk in to see his wonderful collection? More often than not, it’s the one you’ve never seen. The one you didn’t know existed. The one you can’t find that you’ve always wanted.

These unicorns are often special order guitars and are rare beyond rare. Some are one of a kind. Some, maybe one of a dozen. Great examples? Black ES-345’s (there are five from 59), blonde ES-355’s (I know of 4), black Les Paul Standards (I know of 2). Fender didn’t do special orders like Gibson did. There are some really rare Fender colors but there are more of them than you might expect. A Seafoam Green Strat will impress your friends even if it’s a color they wouldn’t actually want. Sparkle finish Strats and Teles command some serious outlay and will always dazzle when you open the case. No one knows how many there are because nobody kept track.

When’s the last time you saw a sunburst ’59 355 (rare) in mono (rarer) with a stop tail (rarest). I know of only one. Gibson stopped making blonde 335’s in 1960. So, how about a blonde 63 (one of two blonde block neck 335’s known). Or a greenburst 335? There are two green ones I know of but only one greenburst. Then there are guitars that seem common but are crazy rare. A 1958 335 in red? There’s one. 59 335 in red? There are 6. All crazy valuable because they are not only rare but they are rare often one off versions of really desirable guitars. So, what are these guitars worth? That’s a post for another day.

They don’t get any rarer than “one of a kind”. This is the only known sunburst stop tail ES-355. It’s a 1959. There are a few other sunburst 355’s from the early 60’s but not more than a half dozen.
Super rare cherry red 1967 Flying V. They made a few dozen in cherry. They made 175 total between 67 and 69 (cherry, sunburst and walnut). This is a great example of how rarity, combined with desirability translates into big bucks. 67 Gibsons are not valuable, as a rule but these bad boys can sell for as much as $75,000.