Archive for July, 2022

Liars, Cheaters and Lowlifes

Thursday, July 14th, 2022

I’ve been buying and selling vintage guitars and amps for around thirty years now. That doesn’t make me one of the “old guard” of vintage dealers who realized during the 70’s that old guitars were better than new ones (especially in the 70’s). But it means I’ve been doing this long enough to have seen my fair share of (read the title) liars, cheaters and lowlifes. I was brought up to believe that most folks are honest and fair minded unless there is money involved. Then, not so much. And since there is always money involved with vintage guitars and amps, you need to pay attention. I have mentioned often that between 90 and 95% of the guitars I buy have an undisclosed issue (or two or three). I’ve always chalked that up to a lack of knowledge rather than rampant dishonesty. There are a lot of parts to a guitar and I don’t expect individual sellers to know every one of them for every year of every model of guitar. The problem is that, with the rise of sites like, everybody is a dealer, it seems. So, caveat emptor and let’s look at a few examples of how I’ve been the victim in the past.

The usually reliable “hostage” photo. This will show that the seller actually has the guitar in his possession rather than a stolen photo off the internet. It doesn’t always work.

One of my favorites is the purchase of a 1964 ES-335 back in the early 2000’s. I knew my stuff when it comes to 335’s, so I never worried too much about changed parts and other issues that can be seen in photos since I can usually tell from the photos unless it’s a harness. My big concern when buying from an individual seller was whether they actually owned the instrument in question. My brilliant solution? The hostage photo. That is simply a photo of the guitar with a piece of paper with my name written on it stuck under the strings. I suppose somebody with some mad Photoshop skills could fake that but I didn’t think most folks would go that far. I was looking at a 64 ES-335 for sale in California. I asked for and got the photo and everything looked good so I sent the seller his money and waited for the guitar to arrive. But it didn’t. I emailed the seller. No response. I called the seller-nobody by that name at that number. Then I did a search for 1964 ES-335’s and I found one in the same California town as the one I thought I had just bought. I went to the dealer website and there was the exact guitar I had just paid for. I called the dealer and they explained that no one had paid them for it and that it had been there for a number of weeks but that a local guy asked if he could take some photos for a friend of his. I had been played. Cost me thousands.

I really, really wanted this amp but when it showed up with a broken chassis, I had to send it back. Many months later, the refund still hasn’t shown up. Maybe this post will get him off his ass.

Another rather common problem, although not nearly as common as changed parts, is undisclosed damage. Most dealers and most sites like Reverb have built in recourse if an item isn’t as described. I recently bought an amp from a dealer with whom I had done business before. It was a very early Marshall JTM 45 with most unusual light blue tolex. I figured it was re-covered but the owner said he didn’t know. It was wildly expensive (over $20,000) but re-covered or not, it was the coolest amp I’d ever seen (and I really like JTM 45’s). When I got it, it was clear in 20 seconds that the blue Tolex was not original but the seller never said definitively that it was. So, I sent it off to an expert to assess the circuit to make sure everything inside was straight. It was mostly original with just a few caps changed but the aluminum chassis was so badly cracked that it would likely fall apart at some point. It could be fixed but it would be very expensive and I decided to return the amp to the seller. So, I did. He promised to mail me a check but I never got the refund. It’s now over a year later and despite numerous emails, still no check. Lots of excuses and apologies but no check. And this is a fairly well know online dealer who shall remain nameless (for now).

The most common changed part is the stop tailpiece. Look for the ‘short seam” (bottom example). The top one is a repro but the late 60’s stops look like the one on top as well.

My final example is the most common. It has happened to me dozens of times. Changed parts. Originality is king with vintage guitars so any part that isn’t original (or, at least, vintage correct) is trouble. A stop tailpiece for a 58 to 64 ES-335 is currently a $2000-$2400 part. A PAF can go for $5000 (a double white for nearly twice that). Even a lowly pick guard can be $1500 or more. As a reputable dealer, I can’t (and won’t) simply pass on the sellers error (or dishonesty) to the next buyer. Some repro stuff is so good that even the most savvy dealers can’t tell an original from a fake. And that has become a very big problem. When I get a guitar and a part is not what it should be, I usually have two choices-return the guitar for a full refund (which is what I usually do) or ask to be compensated for the value of the changed parts. Seller: “Well, how do I know you didn’t change it yourself?” That usually tells me that the seller might be less than reputable if he’s immediately accusing me of dishonesty. Stop tails are the most commonly changed part. Pickups are next, then knobs. Les Paul reissue owners have been scavenging 58-60 vintage correct parts for years for their R9’s and they certainly have the right to do that as long as they disclose the changed parts when they sell the compromised guitar. Learn the difference between vintage and reissue parts. I have posts about all of them. And, as always caveat emptor (that’s “buyer beware” for those of you who don’t understand Latin).