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Rarest Production 355

Friday, May 7th, 2021
This is one of the ten ES-355’s built and shipped in 1958. The red is unusual (for a 355). The tuners are different from all the others and, like the other 58’s it has some distinctive “58 only” features. It’s also a killer player with a huge neck profile.

Gibson appeared to have a hit with the new ES-335 guitar introduced in April of 1958. They only sold a few hundred of them in 1958 but it was apparently enough for them to expand the line and take advantage of the positive PR they were getting from the 335. So, they developed the ES-355 to be introduced in 1959. But ten of them left Kalamazoo in late 1958 and instantly doubled the number of models in the line. The 345 was, I’m sure, already in the pipeline but the stereo/Varitone feature wasn’t ready yet. All of the 1958 ES-355’s are mono as are all of the early 59’s. But the 58 355 is an interesting story in itself.

Gibson changes features all the time and they don’t do it in a structured way. They make changes when they think they are necessary or desirable. There are no “model years” wherein all changes are made late in the year for introduction as the next year’s model. So, a late 58 ES-355 should be the same as an early 59. But the 58’s are different from nearly all of the 59’s I’ve seen. Now, I’ve only seen four of the ten 58 ES-355’s including the one touted as the first since it has the earliest serial number. The build order is more accurately reflected by the FON (factory order number). So, what features distinguish a 58 from a 59?

As I mentioned, I’ve only seen four of the ten and three of those are very similar. The fourth is a bit of an outlier and that’s the one in the photo above. I’ll get to that in a minute. 58 ES-355’s are all mono, all, I believe, red, all have gold bonnet knobs and all originally had a low profile ABR-1 (most of which collapsed). Like a 58 ES-335, the 355’s have a thin 3 ply top and a very shallow neck angle. All have Bigsby’s and none were factory drilled for stop tail bushings unlike many of the 58 ES-335’s. A 58 355 that I owned a few years ago was drilled for a stop tail but I believe it was done aftermarket. 58 ES-355’s tend to fade due to the use of a dye that is reactive to UV light. 58’s tend to go toward orange while 59’s go more pink (watermelon). I don’t know if they changed the formulation of the dye in 59. They did change it in late 60 to minimize the fading.

So, what’s the story on the one in the photo at the top? It’s different in a few ways. First off, it’s still red. It has faded a bit but it’s a different fade and a different red. I noticed that where the finish is chipped, there is bare wood. That’s not normal. Gibson’s see through red is generally done by dying the wood red and finishing in clear lacquer. So, when you look at a chip or buckle rash, the wood under the lacquer is red or pinkish. Not this one. This one was finished in a tinted lacquer. I thought, “ok, refinish…” but there is no sign anywhere that it was ever sanded or oversprayed. Red Gibsons are nearly impossible to strip because the dye sinks into the wood. Chemical strippers won’t get rid of it and sanding is always obvious on a 3×5 (that’s another topic altogether). I have seen this red finish on other Gibsons-I had a L5/Gobel with it and I’ve seen at least one Byrdland with it. It is almost wine red. But wait, there’s more.

All of the other early ES-355’s I’ve seen have Grover tuners. Later they switched to Kluson wafflebacks but that wasn’t until 63. This 58 has wafflebacks but they are not the metal button ones you see on later 355’s, they are the plastic tipped ones you see on early Les Paul Customs from the 50’s. There is no sign of any other tuner having been installed. So, why the unusual finish and the oddball tuners? I doubt it’s a custom order this early in a run of a new model. I don’t think Gibson even announced the existence of the 355 until 1959, although the employees would certainly know about it. It certainly wasn’t in the catalog in 58. One other oddity as long as we’re looking closely. The factory order number is hand written in red pencil. I’ve never seen that before and I don’t know why that was done. My guess? This is a prototype or employee guitar and it was singled out from it’s rack for special treatment. The Byrdland below (for sale by my friends at Southside Guitars in Brooklyn) looks like the same red.

This is a 60 Byrdland and probably a custom order. The red looks to be identical to the red in the 58 ES-355 at the top of this post. This guitar is at Southside Guitars in Brooklyn, NY

Bubble, Bubble…

Monday, April 26th, 2021

A no issue 62-64 stop tail block neck was a $20,000 guitar not long ago. They surpassed $25,000 late last year and kept going. The best ones are surpassing $30K. This mint PAF 62 is priced at $35K (by me). It is the cleanest one I’ve ever had but I have to admit, the market is in the stratosphere.

In general, I don’t call out folks who price their guitars way out of what might be called a “reasonable” range. I’d be doing that day in and day out if I did. For as long as I’ve been a vintage dealer, there have been sellers who ask outrageous, off the wall prices for their guitars. And not just high end vintage guitars. I’ll concentrate on vintage ES guitars because that’s the market I know best. Bubbles are dangerous. They burst eventually and people who have bought during said bubble and the market itself are impacted. Prices go up as demand goes up and there is plenty of demand right now, so incremental increases make sense. The market steadily rose out of the ashes of 2008 and prices, while higher in early 2020, were still following that slow, steady path upward. Then the pandemic happened and folks started buying a lot more guitars. Why that occurred is open to interpretation (I’m not a psychologist). But I sell guitars and I sold a lot more in 2020 than I usually do. After some moderate but still reasonable price rise, the market went nuts.

I have to make a very important distinction here. Asking prices and selling prices are often very far apart. I know what I can get for any vintage 335/345/355 built between 1958 and 1965. Beyond that, I’ll defer to others. When I see a 1964 ES-335 (a very nice red one) listed by a reputable dealer for $47,500, it sets off some alarms. I sold perhaps a half dozen 64’s in the past 12 months. High price was $29,000 for a near mint red stop tail. I think the lack of inventory has kicked them up a bit from there. You have to think that if collector grade 1962-1964 block necks are approaching $30,000, then where does that put a clean 1959 ES-335? The 59 is the benchmark 335. As 59’s go, so goes the 335 market. Interestingly 59’s have been relatively flat for 6 or 7 years. The good ones sell in the low $40’s, the players in the mid to high 30’s and the mint or near mint ones might touch $45K. So, where are they now? Well, I can’t answer that because there aren’t any on the market. But if a block is pushing $30K (up around 25% from 2019), then a 59 dot neck should be over $50K and they probably would be if there were any out there to buy.

So, if we consider the current situation a bubble, what happens next? The bubble bursts. The problem is nobody can predict when. Not me. Not you. Here’s the scenario that seems more likely than most to me. The market is currently very thin. There aren’t a lot of good ES guitars out there for sale and those that are are priced (including the ones I have) are priced higher than they’ve been since the crash in ’08. Unfortunately, I’m paying record prices and that means you’ll have to pay them as well. I think that older long time collectors may see this as a selling opportunity and start putting guitars that have been out of circulation for years if not decades on the market-at record prices of course. I hear “my kids aren’t interested in old guitars” from collectors all the time. And also, the famous joke “My biggest fear is that after I die, my wife will sell my guitars for the price I told her I paid for them…” Do you wait for the market to calm down or do you anticipate higher prices? Do you “thin the herd” now or hold out? If the big collectors (who are not youngsters, in many cases) start selling their gems, the supply increases while the demand doesn’t. Prices drop back. No crash just a flattening out and perhaps a modest drop. But, again, when does this happen? I have no idea. I’ve been wrong plenty of times before, so take what I say with the knowledge that I am not an economist nor am I clairevoyant. Use your judgement. Do your homework. Buy what you love. That way, if you spend a little too much and the market drops, you’ll still have a guitar you want to keep.

Early ES-345’s have perhaps benefitted most from the most recent run up. Prices were running way behind same year 335’s for years and years. They still aren’t anywhere near catching the more desirable 335’s but they have tacked on a good 20% since the start of the pandemic. Early 59’s have reached $30K, if you can find one. 60 and 61’s are up over $20K and some sellers are pushing the asks up over $30K. Again, asking prices and selling prices can be very different.

Vintage Reissues

Monday, February 8th, 2021

This very cool black ES-335 is 37 years old. It is what they called a “dot reissue” and the ones from 81-85 are a great deal and quite good. Black ones are pretty rare but not terrible expensive. I’d be likely to call it vintage.

Is that an oxymoron? Time rolls along and we keep getting older but something has kept the guitar community from acknowledging the aging process. Post a question on social media about what makes an old guitar a vintage guitar and you’ll get twenty different answers. Twenty years old? Thirty years old? Anything before the 80’s but not including the 70’s? Only high end makers? Is a Teisco from the 60’s vintage or just an old guitar? Or maybe a Hagstrom? Or a Harmony? A great vintage wine can be from last year. I believe the guitar community has conflated the word vintage with the word classic and maybe the term iconic. A 2007 ES-335 is not considered vintage. The 335 design is considered classic but a 2007 simply isn’t old enough to be considered vintage. A 335 is iconic as well. And 2007 was a very good year for 335’s out of Nashville but nobody is going to consider it vintage, at least not yet. That circles us back around to how old does a guitar have to be to be vintage?

On the 335 front, I can make a pretty good argument that an 81-85 “dot reissue” should be considered vintage at this point. The newest of those are now 35 years old and if we’re using age as a caveat, it seems like 35 years is old enough to be considered vintage. No one will argue that a reissue 68 gold top is vintage and I think a 76 Explorer would be considered vintage as well. Are we going in circles yet? I find most Gibsons from the 70’s to be average at best and I feel the same way about Fenders from that decade. They are old for sure but are they vintage. Depends on how you define vintage. Technically, vintage means the year something is made-a vintage 1960 bottle of wine simply means it was made from grapes harvested in 1960, right? It’s still called vintage even if 60 was a terrible year. Please don’t ask, I know nothing about wine. So, again technically, a 1960 Harmony is vintage (made in) 1960. But the guitar community has given vintage another meaning. It means something fine, the way you would refer to a particularly desirable year for wine. A vintage 59 bordeaux is considered a great year but 2018 is considered a better year (I looked it up).

So, where does that leave us? It leaves us confused is what it does. My opinion? Vintage has come to mean old and fine and desirable, at least to the guitar world. Is a 60’s Teisco vintage? I guess that depends on how you feel about Teiscos. They can be kind of fun but fine guitars? I think not. Harmony? Maybe. I don’t particularly like Gretsches but I have to consider a 60 6120 vintage. I like Mosrites and I would consider a 60’s Ventures model vintage but not a 70’s. Is a 76 ES-335 vintage? They aren’t particularly fine, nor desirable but they are old. A same year Explorer is much more desirable and I would consider that vintage. It’s a quagmire, I tell you. Maybe it’s just easier to pick an age and say, “OK, anything older than 35 years old is vintage.” If it’s a piece of crap, then it’s a vintage piece of crap.

I’m not sure why anyone actually needs four pickups but this 60’s Teisco is considered vintage (and collectible) by plenty of guitar aficionados. And, it’s Lake Placid Blue (or maybe Pelham Blue). I think it’s fun and interesting. It’s also cheap and it’s old but vintage? I dunno. Your call.

Bubble, Puppies.

Tuesday, January 12th, 2021
2020 was the year of the block neck. After at least 4 or 5 flat years, folks decided that maybe a dot neck wasn’t the be-all, end-all 335. I would look for a 62 with PAFs but the big 64 neck is a crowd pleaser as well.

Hot smoke and sassafras, it’s 2021 and not a moment too soon. What happens right out of the blocks? Never mind. Let’s do the 335 year ender. 2020 was strange all around. I expected the market to flatten out or even take a big hit but no. Everybody decided to buy a guitar and the asking prices went up. And then they went up some more. But those are asking prices and folks can ask anything they want for any guitar they want. Still, prices for many 335’s are up and some folks are calling it a bubble but I’m not so sure.

The big story is the block necks. Early in 2020, a clean collector grade 62-64 ES-335 was a $20,000-$23,000 guitar. A player stop tail was in the high teens. Now, I’m seeing asking prices creep into the mid $30K range. That’s a crazy big jump but I’m pretty sure nobody is getting that much. I sold a lot of block necks this year and none of them hit $25K. The way I see it, if I can’t get more than $25K for a 62 ES-335, then neither can you without some crazy luck. But make no mistake, block necks are most definitely up after a few years of being flat. That’s a good thing mostly. The problem is the standoff that occurs when individual sellers start seeing big asks from others and figure that must be what they’re worth and they start asking high prices as well. That makes it hard for dealers like me to source good examples at a reasonable wholesale price. If I have to pay big bucks, the you have to pay bigger bucks. Sorry, that’s just business.

What makes it even more difficult is he fact that folks seem to feel that any 335 from 62-64 has about the same value. 64’s are easier to sell because of the bigger neck but a 62 with PAFs is worth more. Reds are easier to sell but sunbursts are rarer. A sunburst 64 is a wonderful guitar but man, they are not quick sellers. Thanks, Eric. Bigsby versions have crept up well beyond the $15K-$16K we saw last year. The Bigsby asks are approaching, and in some cases, surpassing $20K. That’s also a big jump.

A bunch of overpriced block necks does not, however, a bubble make. I pay a lot of attention to the guitars that are listed and the overpriced examples are sitting and that, to me, is good. When they start selling at these currently inflated prices, then I’ll call it a bubble. Right now, it’s just optimism. Or greed. I’ll keep trying to sell them at fair prices but if I can’t get them at reasonable prices, I will eventually have to give in to the would be bubble and pay more. That means you pay more too. I’d rather you didn’t.

What about the dot necks? Beyond that, where are the dot necks? As of today, I know of two 58’s and two 59’s on the market. Mostly, the dots haven’t moved much but because they’ve gotten so hard to source, the prices are poised to rise. There are 61 dots out there and they have taken a similar jump in asking prices to the block necks. Last year, a collector grade stop tail 61 was a $25K guitar. Now, $30K is a typical ask and I’ve seen more than one break $35K (ask). In my mind, if a 61 stop is a $30K guitar, then a $50K ’59 isn’t far off. The two on the market now (one is mine) are just over $40K but neither is at the top of the range due to condition. Both are collector grade but neither is stunningly clean. Watch this space. Dots and blondes aren’t done running up.

Finally, let’s take a quick look at 65-69 335’s. Big neck 65’s are way up but they were undervalued in the past. I have no problem seeing them approach $15K but once the wide nut is gone, so is the value. Yes, a 65 will likely have better pickups than a 69 but I’ve seen plenty of 68’s with pre T tops. To me, a late 65, 66, 67 and 68 are pretty much the same. 69’s? Not so much. If you buy a 69, try to find one with the long neck tenon. Most don’t have it. Also, if there’s no dot in the “i” in the Gibson logo and the seller tells you it’s a 65, 66, 67 or 68, run away. 99.9% of the time, it isn’t. Like 62-64 blocks, asking prices on narrow nut 65’s through 69’s are way up. They are approaching $10K but that, I believe, is just wishful thinking. There are tons of them out there and plenty of well priced examples in the $6K-$7500 range. I still don’t see 65-69’s as investments but, then again, I don’t generally buy or sell 65-69 335’s. Especially not at the current asking prices.

We’ll look at 345’s and 355’s in my next post.

Where did all the dot necks go? Not long ago, I would have 8 to 10 of them in stock at all times. Now I’m lucky if I have 4 of them. Do the collectors have all of them by now? I sure hope not/.

Year Ender Part One

Friday, January 1st, 2021

2020 is the year I had to say goodbye to my little shop. I was sad to leave and actually it was, in a way, good luck. It had nothing to do with Covid 19, I simply lost my lease at the exact “right” time. I hope to open again, possibly in the same railcar or possibly in a new location.

If there was ever a year that needed to end, it’s 2020. Lots of terrible stuff happened. People died. Lots of them. People lost their jobs. Lots of them. People are hungry. Lots of them. I had to close my shop. I had to stay home. There were some good things though. They were massively overshadowed by the bad things but there were some good things. We learned how to live with less. Less shopping, less socializing, less eating out, less toilet paper. Early in the pandemic, I made some predictions. I said that folks would spend more time playing their guitars but I also said that the market was going to suffer. All the logic in the world said that. Less money for discretionary spending. Better things to do than buy guitars (and amps). And fear. Fear that it was the end of the world as we know it. People don’t buy guitars at the end of the world. Except they did. Lots of them.

Yes, folks bought a lot of guitars. It’s counterintuitive until you really think about it. What makes a guitar player feel good? Playing. But gigs went to zero and even just playing with your friends went to zero. Social distancing and masks don’t make for a very productive jam. The other thing that makes us all feel good is buying a “new” guitar or amp. And did I mention that folks bought a lot of guitars (and amps). So what did folks buy? Guitars from $3000 to $10000 flew off the shelf. Guitars I’ve had for years that were not real mainstream…guitars I bought because they were fun, not because they were great investments or popular sellers. Guild Thunderbird, Mosrite Ventures, Rickenbacker Hoffs, Kalamazoo Epiphones and a number of others. Fun guitars…decent guitars but not the ones you make your living off of as a dealer. Fun. That’s a big part of what was missing in the lives of many of us. While we all worried about our health and the health of our friends and families and how to get food without getting sick and how to work from home, we felt too harried to have fun. We were also bored. Worried, scared and bored. But the Fedex man was still working and there’s nothing like a new guitar or amp to elevate your depressed mood.

Did I hear the word amp? I closed my shop in April and, at that time I had 28 amps in stock (that I had to haul into storage). I gave away a couple of silverface Twin Reverbs to local players because they were simply too heavy for me to carry but I hauled two big Marshall cabinets down the steps and into my little hybrid car. I pulled the speakers to lighten the load but it was still a struggle. Today, on January 1, I have 6 amps left. Most of the amps I sold in 2019 were sold out of my shop and folks loaded them into their cars and drove off. No shipping involved. In 2020, I learned how much I hate to ship amps but I shipped around 20 of them. I think the amp market heated up for the same reason as the guitars but there is a difference. You can buy a great toy for yourself (and often a great investment) for under $1000 and rarely more than $10000 (I don’t buy Dumbles). I even bought myself an old Vox solid state (Buckingham) for $400 simply for the nostalgia of having an amp similar to the one I had when I was 14. All I have to do is plug in a ’62 330 or a ’61 Epiphone Wilshire (two guitars I had in my teens) and, suddenly, I have hair again (and zits). In my mind, anyway.

In my next year end/New Years post, we’ll take a look at what 335’s did in 2020. It’s not what I expected.

This was the year of the “fun” guitar and a year for amps (that’s a piggy back AC-30 in the background). Here’s the best little P90 guitar ever made (’61 Epiphone Wilshire) and a little piece of OK Guitars nostalgia. I had one of these when I was 14 and you can still find them for around $5K-$6K for the 60-63’s and half that for the mini humbucker version of 64-68.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas at OK Guitars

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020
The “old” OK Guitars caboose. The shop is currently closed.

Sadly, my shop is currently closed. Pandemics and guitar shops do not coexist well so until this is over, the doors are closed. I’ll reopen when it makes sense to do so-probably in a different location but maybe not. This is the only post I ever re-run. I could try to write another Christmas poem but I know my limitations. My wife and I wrote this one while on vacation (remember vacations?) in Mexico in 2015 and have run it every year since at Christmas. Read on.

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the pad

I was playing my Gibson- not great, but not bad.

I remembered a blues lick and played it with flair

Just like in the days when I had all my hair.

The block necks were hung not too tight or too loose,

As I waited for Santa inside my caboose.

I had them all tuned and I played every one.

The truss rods were perfect, the strings tightly strung.

All of a sudden on the roof of my shop,

I spied an old fat dude just reeking of pot.

He fell off the roof and into the snow.

I asked him right in. Why he came, I don’t know.

There was ice in his beard and mud on his boot,

And I thought only rock stars could wear such a suit.

He took down a red one, just like Eric C.

His fingers flew faster than old Alvin Lee.

It was wailing and screaming all over the town.

I could hear my Dad yelling, “Turn that damn thing down!”

Who knew this weird guy, such a flash with a pick

And a love of guitars, would be old Saint Nick?

I couldn’t believe all the sounds in my ear.

He said, “You get good working one day a year.”

Now Jimi, Now BB, Now John, George and Paul

Would bow to this master, the best of them all.

“You remember that Christmas back in ’63?

When you found a new six string left under your tree?

You started to doubt that I was the truth,

But my gift to you then was a link to your youth.

So for all of the years that would come in between,

Way deep down inside, you’d still feel like sixteen.”

He picked up some cases by Lifton and Stone,

Some old Kluson tuners and a worn out Fuzztone.

“Now, Charlie Gelber you must hear my pitch,

‘Cause this is my time and payback’s a bitch.

The 335 please, the red 59.

I gave you your first one, now this ax is mine”.

And quick as a flash it was stuffed in his sack,

And he waved a goodbye as he snuck out the back.

He jumped in his sled and sparked up a j,

Flew into the sky and was off on his way.

So if feeling sixteen is what sets you right,

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

By Charlie and Victoria Gelber

With apologies to Clement Clark Moore

Could this be the very guitar that Mr. Claus ran off with? It’s a red 59 and there are only 6 of them. This is one of two stop tails, so it must have been this one.

Making the Grade

Saturday, December 19th, 2020
This is the cleanest ES guitar I’ve come across. There was light wear to the gold on the tailpiece and a single small ding on the back of the headstock. I’ve seen brand new guitars hanging in Guitar Center in much worse condition. Collector Grade is a given but guitars in much worse condition can be collector grade as well

Anyone who is selling a guitar is tasked with describing the condition of that guitar and, while some conventions are in general use, the description of a guitars physical condition is still a bit of a crapshoot. Condition shouldn’t be subjective. We all are aware of the rampant misuse of the term “mint” and, the preposterous “mint for its age”. The 1-10 scale can be useful but nobody ever uses the lower end of the scale. A true beater is usually described as a 7. Also, the numerical scale doesn’t really take the parts into consideration-it generally refers to physical condition not originality. I’m partial to terms like “player grade” and “collector grade” as they encompass more aspects of the guitar beyond condition but they are limited. For example, a near mint guitar with a single large gouge out of the top isn’t player grade nor is it collector grade. We need more terms.

This Guild is a great example. This guitar was near mint but for a really nasty 1″ gash in the upper bass bout (the flames hide it pretty well). It goes deep into the finish but to call it player grade would be wrong. It’s closer to collector grade but that damage has to be pointed out.

There actually are more terms but they are jammed up at the top of the collector grade designation and overlap with it. We have “museum grade” which should refer to a mint example. We have investment grade which seems to mean collector grade guitar that will hold its value or appreciate. A dot neck in 9/10 condition would be considered investment grade whereas a dead mint Gretsch Rancher might not be considered an investment at all. I’m at a bit of a loss as to how the vintage community has neglected what might be classified as “not quite collector grade” and “not quite player grade”. I guess part of it depends on how you define these two grades that are in common use. To me, a player grade has one or more of the following issues: refinish, repair, changed parts, certain mods or major wear. Collector grade, to me is always 100% correct or original. I would argue that a re-fret doesn’t take it out of collector grade status but that is arguable. That leaves a lot of space in between.

What do you call a 59 ES-355 that’s in great condition but somebody swapped out the PAFs for patents? Or my earlier example of a near mint guitar with a huge gouge in the top. Or how about this? A 9/10 1964 with original frets but all of the hardware is repro? I’d call it “collector grade…but…” That seems dodgy. Acquire all of the correct parts and the grade changes. We need another category for those guitars that fall somewhere between the overly broad player grade and the overly narrow collector grade. Player grade plus? Collector grade minus? ‘Tween grade? I don’t have a good answer. Maybe you do.

The other good option is to dispense of the “grade” terminology all together. There is no better way to describe a guitar than by listing every part that is correct or original, every part that isn’t, mention all wear points and all damage worthy of mention. I find that when I do a highly detailed description, I eliminate most of the post sale complaints about how I didn’t mention that one of the saddles has an extra notch or the pickguard nut is replaced. Your buyer deserves to know exactly what he is getting. I do like the idea of adding a “grade” to a detailed description that would describe the over all state of the guitar. Two grades is simply not enough. Until we can come up with something that everybody accepts, there is nothing better than a good, complete, detailed description and good photos.

This 64 335 had something like 22 separate holes in the body. 10 in the back for a Gretsch style back pad, 6 in the headstock for other tuners, and 6 from a Bigsby. Condition was probably an 8. I would call it a player but it was 100% original. It was just full of holes. To call it a player grade is probably accurate enough but there is little to differentiate it from a 64 with a few changed parts and no extra holes. That’s where the detailed description comes into play.

A Few of My Favorite Things

Sunday, November 29th, 2020

Nope. No raindrops on roses. No whiskers on kittens. I could go on…

I get asked all the time what guitars are in my “collection” and I usually simply explain that I’m not a collector. If one is to be a successful dealer (and this is, after all, my full time job), you need to follow a couple of simple rules. Buy low and sell high is the first one. The second is “don’t fall in love”. I get a lot of wonderful guitars. I have had spectacularly good luck in finding the rarest and the most unusual ES guitars out there. A few come to mind-the blonde 59 355 mono, the red 59 335’s, the black 59 345’s, the blonde 63 block neck, the white 355 and one of the very first guitars I sold as an “official” dealer, the blue Trini. I would have kept every last one of them had I been a collector. I hate to see them go but I love to see them go because they always end up in the hands of someone who will be their caretaker until they are passed along to the next owner. But I do have my personal players that could be construed as a collection. There are five of them. Only one is a 335.

Anybody have a long guard they don’t need? The top of this guitar is the back of an EB-2 as are the sides. The back is new as is the neck. This is my current player but I’m not particularly attached to it.

I always keep a player 335 (or 345 or 355). It’s almost always a “three legged dog” of some sort…a guitar I can’t sell for one reason or another. My current 335 is a blonde 59. It started its life as an EB-2 bass. I bought it for $2000 and it was in four or five pieces. The glue had failed almost everywhere and the top was completely separated from the rim and the neck was off as well. I could have put it back together I suppose but instead I sent it to Ken McKay and he made a 335 out of it. How he did that is another post. It’s a great player with a nice set of PAFs and a custom shaped neck (a cross between a 59 and a 64). I’d probably sell it if I thought anyone would buy it and I’d simply replace it with another 335. Before that it was a blonde 59 345 that was just fabulous with a new neck and three filled holes in the top. I sold it after 5 years and I don’t regret having done so. The new owner seems very happy with it. And I will buy it back if he ever sells it.

I always keep a player 12 string for playing with friends and doing old Beatles tunes. This is 2005? Breedlove Classic XII. Great player and pretty cool looker too.

The “collection” is actually three other electrics and an acoustic 12 string. I play 12 string quite a lot with my sometime “band” doing only old Beatles tunes. I’m the 12 string player most of the time. It’s a 2000 something Breedlove Classic 12 made of ebony and it’s probably the best playing 12 string I’ve owned. I use a Rickenbacker 660 sometimes but I have no deep connection with it. It’s actually kind of a pain in the ass because it requires a truss rod adjustment every month or so. The electrics might surprise you. None are Gibsons but all are Gibsons. Here they are the “OK Guitars Collection”

Even these aren’t necessarily keepers. I look for better examples and periodically replace one with another. In fact both the Coronet and Crestwood are fairly recent acquisitions. These are, left to right, a 61 Wilshire, 62 Coronet and 62 Crestwood. I had an Embassy bass to go along with these but I sold it. These are killer players and the Wilshire is perhaps the best P90 guitar ever made. Total cost for all three was under $15000.

Is This Good News?

Saturday, November 21st, 2020

A 1958 Stratocaster is a wonderful guitar but it is by no means a rare guitar. There are a ton of them on the market right now and many seem to be priced in the Stratosphere (get it?). Supply and demand is like karma. Look out.

Prices are up. Sales are up. To a guitar dealer, you would expect this to be a good thing but I have my doubts. Here’s why. Asking prices are up. Way up. Usually, it’s the individual sellers who are out of touch with the market but even the dealers, big and small, have jacked up their prices with the kind of wishful thinking I usually reserve for widows and orphans (you know Grandad’s beloved, beat to hell ES-330 for $40K). Listen, I should be thrilled that asking prices are up as it allows me to get more for my guitars but I’m not because it makes it very hard for me to buy guitars at a price that will allow me to make a profit. I know boo-hoo, but it’s not just me. It’s you. I’d rather make a few thousand dollars selling you a fairly priced $30,000 guitar than make the same money selling you an overpriced $30,000 guitar.

OK, then what constitutes fairly priced? Hard question. If we use 2006-2008 as the theoretical top of the market, then we are in for trouble because we’ve gone past those numbers for certain 335’s. I acknowledge that collector grade guitars have gotten very hard to find and those prices will likely soar but most of the 335’s on the market right now are player grade to not quite collector grade. Bigsby’s, tuner changes, extra holes and incorrect parts don’t seem to make much difference lately. Everybody just asks what everybody else is asking with the attitude that “well, if dealer x is asking $35,000 for that piece of crap, I should be able to get at least that much for mine which is so much nicer.” Problem is that dealer x hasn’t necessarily sold that guitar for that inflated price but you don’t know that. You just know it’s gone and the selling sites don’t tell you final sale price in most cases. A fair price is what the guitar sells for (and yes, there are outliers).

I’ve written about this before. I call it a standoff. You’ve priced your guitar too high and I won’t buy it for that price. I will wait you out until you come back to earth (if you come back to earth) and ask a fair price. But, again, it’s not good for the market. These overpriced guitars will sit (and sit and sit) and more guitars will come on the market and they will sit and sit and then there will be a lot of guitars just sitting. While these overpriced guitars are sitting and sitting, somebody (like me) is selling guitars left and right by pricing them fairly. The problem is, of course, I can only price them fairly if I can buy them fairly and that has gotten to be difficult.

Now comes the hard part. How does this correct itself?-I say correct itself because there’s no way any individual can get the entire guitar selling public to do anything. In 2008, the entire vinatge market crashed to earth and, with very few exceptions, everybody got hurt. It did, however, fix the problem. We got close to this point in 2017-2018 and certain markets fell significantly due, mostly, to a glut of good vintage guitars for sale, especially 50’s and 60’s Stratocasters. This is probably how it will go this time, pandemic or not. So, who does this hurt? Market gluts are not democratic. Guitars with low production figures like 335’s and Les Paul standards and Customs tend to hold up pretty well. Higher volume guitars like Strats and Teles and Jr’s and Specials get hit pretty hard. Supply and demand is a cruel master. Even with the really high demand we’re all seeing during the current public health crisis, the supply is growing rapidly. Here’s a good example…there are 20 1958 Stratocasters on the market right now. They are priced from $20,000 to $35,000. I just sold one for $26,000 with no issues in 9/10 condition. That means a lot of them are overpriced-mine didn’t sell overnight-it took a few weeks. So who is paying $30K plus for them? Nobody. That’s who. Now let’s look at a lower volume but no less popular guitar-a 59 ES-335. There is one on the market. One. The demand is up but the guitars aren’t there. The law of supply and demand will straighten this out and he result will be good for some folks but not so good for others.

I’ve often made the point that rarity doesn’t count for that much in vintage guitars but even with that easily made point, the law of supply and demand still applies. A blonde 61 Byrdland is a really rare guitar but nobody is clamoring for one and the value remains stable. A 58 Stratocaster is not rare but lots of folks want them but with 20 to choose from, the smart buyer buys the one that is priced well. A 59 ES-335 is a lot rarer than a 58 Stratocaster and nearly as popular but with so few out there, you can guess which guitar will hold its value best when the market comes back to earth. Buy smart, people.

A 1959 Gibson ES-335 is one of the most collectible guitars there is. They aren’t rare but compared to that Strat up top, they are really rare. There is only one on the market as of today as opposed to 20 58 Strats. which one is going to sell and which one is going to sit (and sit and sit). Again, supply and demand is a cruel master. Just like karma.

Magical Thinking

Friday, October 30th, 2020

Les Paul aficionados will often pay a huge premium for a Brazilian rosewood fingerboard. They are beautiful but the fingerboard doesn’t have much effect on the tone of your guitar. This is a 2003 R9.

Vintage guitar aficionados love magic. Magical wood (like Brazilian rosewood), magical cloth (original Fender tweed), magical plastic (white pickup bobbins, bumblebee caps) and magical metal (A2 magnets and short seam aluminum tailpieces). Nobody really wants anyone to say that most of this magical stuff is nonsense because it’s bad for business. Those of us who are seriously involved in the selling of vintage guitar do well to perpetuate these myths because it’s great for business.

Even though this is a 335 blog, I’m going to use a Les Paul as my first example. An all original Les Paul burst will cost you $300,000 or more and has, over the years, been a good investment. A used R9 reissue will cost you from around $4000 to maybe $12000 for a Brazilian board model. The fact that you’re considering paying an $8000 premium for a $200 piece of wood is loony enough. The fact that a Brazilian board adds no tonal advantage isn’t really relevant but I thought I’d mention it for those who believe they can hear the difference between an Indian rosewood fingerboard and a Brazilian board. So, you can’t justify paying $300,000 for a guitar (or you can’t afford it) and you want to get as close as possible. Well, you’re already pretty close, the current Les Pauls are quite good but, for many of you, maybe you can get closer and that’s where the crazy starts.

I’m making an assumption here. I assume you are after the best possible tone from your guitar and that cosmetics are secondary. Repro parts have gotten so good that unless you are standing 6 inches from the guitar, you won’t be able to tell a repro from the real thing, so we can eliminate the cosmetic angle. That said, a really good upgrade would be a pair of really excellent pickups. You will hear a difference and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. A set of Throbaks (and some others) sounds a whole lot like a set of PAFs (although one PAF can sound very different from another) and will cost you $550 or so. Or you can buy a set of real double white PAFs for $10,000-$12,000. Crazy? You bet, but at least they will hold their value even if the value of your guitar drops like a stone and you will hear a difference. But what about the premium for double whites? Contrary to some opinions, they don’t sound better than blacks and will cost you twice as much. But whites look so much cooler, right? Right but are they $5000 cooler when I can get a set of double white Throbaks for 1/20th the price? Your call.

How about magic metal? An authentic short seam 50’s (or later up to 64) tailpiece is around $1800 and it will look and sound pretty much the same as the very decent repro that came on your Les Paul. Same goes for an authentic no wire ABR-1. It will look about the same and it will sound about the same but you’ll be out $800 or so. How crazy do Les Paul owners get? Well, there seems to be a limit. I don’t know of anyone who has spent $10,000 on a set of authentic 50’s pickup rings. But is that any crazier than spending $250 on a catalin switch tip? Answer: Yes, it is… by about $9750. I figure that if you want to make your $4000 R9 as close to a real 59 as possible, it will cost you about $30,000 and that changes everything but the wood and the truss rod. But you know what they say about old growth wood. It’s magical.

You can do the same upgrades to your 335 but they will cost you a bit less but still will top $20,000. Considering a player grade 59 335 can be had for less than 1/10th the price of a 59 Les Paul, we don’t see as many folks doing those types of upgrades. But I’ve had plenty of inquiries about putting PAFs into a new Memphis 335 or maybe changing out the tailpiece for a 50’s. My advice? Save your money. Buy a set of good boutique PAF type pickups and you will probably like what you hear. That tailpiece? Again, save your money. An old one won’t sound any better than a new one.

Finally, there is magical cloth as in Fender tweed. I love Fender tweed amps. I have three of them and I enjoy each one. You can buy a decent original Bassman for around $10,000. It’ll have some changed caps most likely but we’re after tone and the smart amp tech doesn’t replace the caps that affect the tone. Or, you can buy a re-tweeded Bassman for $5000 (or less) and get the exact same tone (and sometimes) even the same look for half the price. The idea that a retweed knocks off half the price of a Fender amp is one of the nuttier concepts in amp collecting. I get that originality is a big deal to collectors. But if you want a Bassman because it sounds great, why are you spending an extra $5000 for cheap, beat up old luggage cloth? Full disclosure-all three of my personal tweeds are original tweed and I spent a lot of money for them and I will eventually list them and sell them. So, why did I opt for the collector grade original spend an extra $5000 tweed? Because it will magically run up in price as the market for original tweeds runs up. A retweed will not. My personal rule for “investment” pieces is to buy the best, most original example you can find.

You can add $30,000 worth of parts to your R9 but it’s still an R9. Those expensive parts you bought will hold their value just fine in most cases, so they aren’t a bad investment. But a guitar isn’t like a house. Put in a $20,000 bathroom and the value of your house goes up by $25,000. Buy a $12,000 set of PAFs and the value of your guitar goes up by…wait for it…$12,000. Originality doesn’t count in a house. It counts in collectibles though. Unfortunately, no matter how good the re-tweed is, it’s still a re-tweed and no matter how good the refinish is, it’s still a refinish. Keep these things in mind when there’s magic in the air. Not all magic is created equal.

I could argue that double whites sound better than double blacks but I would be lying. They are often wound a bit hotter than blacks (I have a theory about this) but the white bobbins have no effect on tone. They sure look cool though. This is a 1960. Double white PAFs were mostly gone by then unless they are gold. The nickel ones largely disappeared during 59. Zebras hung in for a while though. My 60 335 has them.