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Does Mint Count?

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.

2 Responses to “Does Mint Count?”

  1. RAB says:

    Thought provoking as always! I’ve only owned one vintage guitar I’d describe as mint or, I suppose, dead mint. It was a ‘54 Goldtop Les Paul Standard. Goldtops are notorious for weather checking if, as Charlie is wont to say, you “even look at it!” I was terrified to open the case. So, while the guitar had considerable value it was worthless to me as a playable instrument. I sold it and used the funds to purchase a nice ‘60 hardtail Strat in 8/10 condition that got gigged!

  2. RAB says:

    What do y’all think of mint guitars? Good as an investment, not so good as a playable musical instrument?

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