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Year Ender: Part Two

Wednesday, January 12th, 2022

One offs and rarities have been incredibly strong lately. This blonde 68 “long neck” 330 is an affordable rarity that would enhance any collection. Yeah, those black 59 345’s I had would be a nice addition but the six figure price tag isn’t for everybody.

In part one, I laid out what was going on in the vintage market in 2021 and tried my best to interpret it. Hindsight is always 20/20, so it’s a pretty easy thing to do. Looking ahead is not an easy thing to do and I am making a very strong disclaimer that I don’t have a crystal ball and anything I write is sheer speculation. I come at it with logic and experience but, truthfully, I have no idea what will happen next. Being a little less than a hundred years old, I have limited experience with pandemics. Nor with insurrections, climate change and bizarre conspiracy theories. All these things affect the vintage market in some way. I just don’t know how but I will take a crack at it if for no other reason than to entertain.

At the start of the pandemic, I thought the market, which had been steady and strong, was going to tank. Folks were out of work (especially musicians and restaurant workers-often the same people) and the economy was headed for trouble even if the Federal Government was handing out money with reckless abandon to small businesses, large businesses who said they were small businesses and just about everybody else. It must have worked because the market took off like a rocket. So, we still have a pandemic and it seems to be getting worse. The worse it got, the stronger the guitar market got. So, it is logical to expect that the market will continue to rise and folks will buy a lot more guitars in 2022. I don’t know if it will surpass 2021 in sales but I don’t see why it wouldn’t as long as Covid continues to be a big factor in everyone’s lives. The government handouts have slackened for individuals and small businesses but the payout for infrastructure projects is likely to put a lot of money into a lot of local economies. Good for the guitar market.

But what about the other stuff? Bad political behavior is nothing new and doesn’t seem to have a big effect on the market. The midterms aren’t until November so, I don’t expect much impact from that front until late in the year and then only if the republicans take back the congress. Interest rates are bound to rise but they are rising from nearly zero so how much will it hurt? A lot of folks buy guitars on credit but they already pay ridiculously high rates so high interest seems to be baked in already. Don’t ask me how credit card companies can get away with interest rates in excess of 18% when they can borrow money for virtually zero per cent. Climate change is a slow moving freight train that will cause massive problems eventually but much of the American public doesn’t acknowledge that a problem exists until it directly affects them on a daily basis. So, it won’t cause much alarm in the guitar market this year unless a tornado flattens your house and your guitar collection with it (“save yourselves, I’m going back in for the dot neck…”) A weak economy could be trouble but it doesn’t look that weak right now. Unemployment is down. Jobs are fairly plentiful and if it wasn’t for that pesky pandemic, things would calm right down and the guitar market would chug along like it has for the past 13 years.

Supply chain issues and inflation (both due largely to the pandemic) are driving factors, I think. The well heeled collector has a lot of cash and wants it to work for him. That cash had been on the sidelines for a number of years but with inflation ramping up, it’s a losing proposition to leave it as cash. Tangible goods are, they say, the answer. Up goes the collector market as long as inflation continues. The player grade market tends to follow the collector market and, even though the folks buying the player grade instruments don’t have a lot of cash on the sidelines, they are still buying. We all feel pretty bad with the ongoing pandemic and getting a new guitar makes us feel good. For a while, anyway. That’s a huge factor. I don’t know about you but even though I buy close to 100 guitars a year, every one I open feels like Christmas morning or my birthday. Feeling down? Buy a guitar. Feeling bored? Buy a guitar. Feeling good? (although I can’t imagine why) go play your guitar and decide you need another one.

My prediction is that this strong market is going to be here for a long time. I believe the guitar market has been undervalued for decades and this pandemic fueled correction will endure. The rising values will probably slow down and even eventually even stop but the market is, in my opinion, not going to tank. It can’t burst if it isn’t a bubble. Now go back and read the first paragraph.

Amps were lagging badly in 2021 but they are poised to move. Tweeds big and small have already taken a big leap forward as have Marshalls and small blackface Fenders. There are still bargains galore but don’t snooze for too long. In a world where a Dumble can sell for $175,000, anything is possible.

Year Ender 2021 Part 1

Tuesday, January 4th, 2022

59 ES-335’s were the star over the past year. Tough to find and selling in a day. On January 1, you could buy a collector grade one for around $50,000. By midyear, they were impossible to find and pushing $60K. By the end of 2021, you would be paying $70,000 or more.

It was 2006 and I was a relative beginner in the vintage market as a hobby dealer. I would buy something on Ebay that seemed well priced (usually a 335) and then sell it a few weeks later, always at a profit. The market was rising so quickly that you could buy a 335 for $10,000 on Monday and sell it on Friday for $11,000. Certain guitars hit price points that will still make your head spin. Then 2008 and the Great Recession took all of that away and we all licked our wounds and went back to whatever it was we were doing before all that madness. It was a bubble and all bubbles eventually burst.

Fast forward 12 years. It’s 2020 and the guitar market has been rising slowly and steadily with some dips and some surges but generally, the market rose in a civilized, non frenzied manner. It hasn’t reached the rarefied air of 2007 into 2008 even after all those years. Some guitars reached new heights by 2020 but most were still sitting at levels below their peak. Then the pandemic hit. You can go back and read what I wrote back then. At first, I thought the market would tank. When it didn’t I tried to make sense of the beginnings of a buying surge into the face of Covid 19. Was it new buyers who, with lots of time on their hands, were returning to the guitar dreams of their youth? That was part of it. Was it players who just needed something new to break the monotony and stress and boredom of lockdowns and working from home? Yep, that too. The cheap stuff was selling, the collector stuff was selling and everything in between was selling. The prices didn’t take off right away though. And then they did. I thought, at the time, that it was a bubble and I said so. Wrong again.

It seems, in hindsight, that 2020 was the calm before the storm although you wouldn’t have thought so at the time. Guitars that I had in my inventory for four, five even six years were suddenly selling at their asking prices. Guitars I took in trade like ES 175’s and a Guild Thunderbird and a bunch of Rickenbackers. Good guitars but not good sellers. But they all sold. In fact everything sold except amps which are still lagging a bit. Then it was 2021 and the market just kept on going. Not going crazy but moving briskly up in a more bubble like way. The asking prices started outpacing the selling prices on sites like Reverb. The market was being pushed and tested every day mostly by individual sellers at first but then by the dealers who didn’t want to be left in the dust if this surge was for real. Turns out it was (and is). In February of 2019, a Bigsby 64 ES-335 in 9/10 condition was a $16,000 guitar. By February of 2021, it was a $24,000 guitar with some asking prices breaking $30,000. That’s a 50% rise over two years. Lots of guitars had similar gains.

Part of this was driven by seriously diminished inventory. For example, In early 2021, there simply weren’t any 1959 ES-335’s to be found. For the first time in a decade, I didn’t have one in stock. I had a waiting list of seven buyers. They sold the same day I got them. The price in 2019 was usually around $38,000 for a clean stop tail with minor issues and $45,000 for a collector grade stop. A year later, if you could find one in 2020, a 59 was $50K-$52K. By early 2021, they were at $60K and they were still impossible to find. Then, as vaccinations became available, and people got back out in public and things were looking like they might be getting back to normal, the market slowed. By the Summer, folks were back at the beach and seeing friends and finally feeling like the end was in sight. But it wasn’t. Delta hit and we took two steps back. The guitar market, by September, had heated back up and prices surged in a way that gave us all whiplash. But it wasn’t just the pandemic causing the run up this time. Inflation and supply chain issues had become major concerns. There is a lot of cash out there and, with rising inflation, your bankroll was losing buying power every day. The stock market was looking like the wrong place due to a shaky economy largely due to supply chain issues along with inflation (and of course the pandemic)

The result, in the Fall of 2021, was a steep rise in collector grade guitars. It seemed there was no stopping it. The high end stuff just kept on rising, almost daily it seemed. This trend was given even more steam when the Omicron variant hit. Suddenly, everybody is scared again and many are locking down until better times emerge. Interestingly, a lot of collectors saw the huge rise in prices and started testing the market with some of their high end instruments. This alleviated the shortage of collector grade guitars to an extent but the prices seem to keep going up. By year end, there was one 59 335 on the market at $75,000. A few 58’s at $50K-$60K and a few 60’s in the same ballpark. Good quality 345’s and 355’s have surged 30% in just 18 months with 59’s leading the way up. 18 months ago, a 59 345 would cost you $20K-24K. Today, a 59 345 ranges from a low of $26K to a high of $40K for sunbursts. Where is this market headed? We’ll look into that but don’t expect me to fire up the crystal ball. I’ve been wrong more than I’ve been right this year.

The really rare stuff shot up as well. Anything in black was especially hot. This one of a kind 63 probably set records for a 63 ES-345 and two black 59 345’s changed hands for well into 6 figures. Three red 59 dot necks (out of 7 made) sold in 2020 to serious collectors. If it was rare, it was gone (usually in a day).

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas at OK Guitars

Monday, December 20th, 2021

If the pandemic ever ends and I reopen, it won’t be in my old caboose. The train car was sold and is being turned into a residence if the town approves it. If they don’t approve then maybe I’ll reopen right where I was for 6 years.

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

This is the actual guitar I was referring to when the post was written. I didn’t own it then but I own it now (for the next few weeks anyway, then it goes to the next owner. It’s a near mint red 59 stop tail.

Gone, Baby, Gone Redux

Sunday, November 21st, 2021

59’s aren’t the rarest of the 335’s just the most sought after and valuable. 58’s are twice as rare but some folks are put off by the unbound early ones and others by the shallow neck angle that often requires a shaved bridge.

I published a similar post last March but it is so relevant that I felt compelled to update it and re-post.

I wonder if it occurs to most of us just how rare dot neck 335’s are. When you consider the thousands and thousands of early Stratocasters, it’s a wonder that 58-61 dot necks don’t cost two or three times what they sell for. This has been made crystal clear lately during the recent “pandemic surge” that has cleaned out dealer inventories over the past year. Consider this: Until today, I haven’t had a 59 sunburst 335 in stock for almost 3 months. I usually have two or three of them at all times. Today, there are none on the market. There weren’t any yesterday either. In fact, in the past 6 months, there have been perhaps 4 of them for sale.

My take is that they didn’t go anywhere. They simply ran out. Let’s look at the shipping totals for dot necks. The chart tells the story

These numbers are stunningly low. There are probably at least 5 times as many Stratocasters or probably even more in any given year. It’s hard to know as Fender doesn’t publish the figures.

There were only 521 sunburst 59’s shipped. I’m sure a fair number of those didn’t survive the 60 odd years since then. Refinishes, headstock breaks, major mods and any number of other misfortunes could have befallen a fair number of them. Even if only 10% are beyond redemption, that’s still a rare guitar. Rather have a 58? If you want a bound neck 58, I’m guessing there were only around 125 of them made. A 60 is even rarer than a 59 and a red 60 is crazy rare with only 21 shipped. It isn’t until 63 that the number of 335’s shipped surpasses 1000 and by then, dots were gone.

Here’s a little perspective. In 1794, the US government started making silver dollars. They released 1800 of them. That’s more than three times as many as there are 59 sunburst dot necks. Now, granted, these dollars have had an extra 165 years to get lost or destroyed but the most recent sale of a 1794 dollar is far beyond what any guitar has ever sold for. How much, you ask? $10,016,875 and that was ten years ago. You can buy half of the 59’s ever made for that price. It’s a little silly to compare apples and oranges but collectors are often a little silly. In the coin world rarity often rules while in the guitar world desirability rules. Epiphone Sheratons are a great example. There were 71 blonde 335’s made in 1959 and a collector grade example will cost you around $140,000. A Sheraton is, essentially, a fancy 335 (or slightly less fancy 355) made by the same workers in the same factory on the same assembly line. There were only nine shipped. A blonde 59 Sheraton, if you can find one, might cost you $30,000. I sold the only one I ever had for $20,000 a few years ago.

Want something closer to apples and apples? There are 7 known red 59 dot neck 335’s. Only 4 are stop tails (and one of those has a factory Varitone). So, what’s a collector grade stop tail red 59 worth? I don’t know because there hasn’t been one on the market in years. I’ll estimate $125,000. Is it worth more than one of the 1959 blondes? No. but it should be. I sold the one with the Varitone recently for a little more than half that. It’s one of a kind but not as desirable as it would be without the Varitone. Again, desirability trumps rarity.

What will prove interesting is what will happen to the prices of 59 (and other year) dot necks going forward. The record for a 59 sunburst (not a major celebrity guitar-those have their own set of rules) is somewhere around $65,000. But the longer we go with none of them coming to market, the higher the price is going to be. Count on it. And blonde 59’s? Of the 71 made, most of them are already in major collections. Don’t expect many to come up for sale until their owners die or decide to liquidate their collection. A sunburst 59 ES-335 is one of five guitars that I consider essential in any serious collection. The others are a 54-57 Strat, a black guard Telecaster, a 58-60 Les Paul and a pre war Martin D-28. The rarest of these holy grails is the 59 335. The D-28 is about even. You already know which one is the most expensive.

58-60 Bursts are, in general, the most expensive guitar out there. Recently, the 58 Explorer has challenged the LP as the leader. There are 643 59 bursts. There are 37 Explorers. There are 71 blonde 59 ES-335’s. A collector grade 59 blonde 335 will cost you around $140K. An Explorer will be $500000 or more. A 59 Les Paul can be $250K or $600K.

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.

Is that an Elephant in the Room?

Sunday, September 26th, 2021

In the pre-pandemic world, I usually had two or three 59 ES-335’s in stock at all times. Sometimes a blonde or two as well. Now, they’ve become as scarce as $6 a pound lobsters. The top price for a sunburst 335 in recent years was around $45,000 for a near mint stop tail. There are none on the market at all right now and I wouldn’t be surprised if they hit $100,000 in the next year.

I called it a bubble. Then I called it a bubble again. Then, in June, sales dropped when everybody thought the pandemic was in the rearview mirror. Folks were back outside hiking, biking, going to the beach and the guitars that had been their link to sanity sat unplayed. Then the delta variant happened and folks had to reconsider their actions. And the guitar market restarted with a vengeance. All in the space of around 6 weeks.

Sales of vintage guitars (well, the ones I was selling, anyway) were up by more than 50% during the worst of the pandemic-that’s volume, not prices. Then, in late May, sales stopped. I didn’t sell a single guitar for three weeks. That had never happened in the nearly 20 years I’ve been doing this. I thought the bubble had burst. Prices didn’t drop but they never drop all at once as sellers don’t want to accept the possibility that their guitars are worth less today than they were yesterday. But it looked a lot like the feeding frenzy was over. Except it wasn’t. Prices are up year over year by at least 20% on the most collectible guitars. Inventory is way down (possibly due to the spike in sales from the pandemic) and high quality collector grade examples have all but disappeared (the Neil Schon auction last July notwithstanding).

I didn’t think it could last and I dug my heels in and tried to keep my prices down and tried to buy at the prices I was buying at pre pandemic. But folks weren’t selling at those prices any more. Potential sellers go to Reverb.com and look at what similar guitars are listed for and assume that’s what they’re selling for and price their guitars accordingly. That’s the recipe for a bubble and that’s what it looked like. Now, a lot of the really crazy high stuff is sitting unsold-there is more inventory now than there has been recently-but some of the really high priced stuff is disappearing. Are the sellers negotiating or are the guitars selling at those unprecedented prices? Reverb doesn’t make it easy to know what guitar sells for what price. Their graphs of sales of a particular guitar don’t take condition into consideration so they are mostly worthless.

So, I started paying up to get some inventory and selling at my usual margins hoping I wasn’t being taken in by the folks selling at prices that were unimaginable just a year and a half ago. I’m sorry to report (am I?) that this market has legs which means it isn’t a bubble at all. Guitars are selling and folks are paying more for them. I think that if the pandemic were to magically end (“it’ll be like a miracle…”) then the market would stabilize but I don’t think it’s going down any time soon. I don’t the pandemic is going away any time soon either.

Let’s assume this thing is going to last another year. The economy will undergo a lot of changes but essential goods and services have already found new ways to exist and even thrive. The housing market is up. The stock market is up. The guitar market is up. Folks who can afford vintage guitars still have plenty of money but they have fewer places to spend it. That’s one of the drivers of this market. There are lots of things to spend your money on but few of them are as gratifying as a vintage guitar. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning and that’s what might keep you from staying in bed all day.

Finally, something I’ve been telling my customers for years…vintage guitars are undervalued. If a 58-60 Les Paul is a $200,000-$400,000 guitar and they sell with some level of consistency and frequency, then a 58-60 ES-335 should be a lot more expensive than it currently is. A flame top Les Paul is arguably prettier to many but is it a better guitar than a 335? You know what I think. So, are you actually paying an additional $200000 for some figured wood? I’ve had a few flame top 335’s and they don’t go for much of a premium over plain ones. Yes, many of your guitar heroes played Les Pauls but you aren’t 15 any more and you know you don’t play like Page and you never will. I can understand the investment side but that might be what makes a 335 something to consider next time you have some spare cash you don’t know what to do with. I can see 59 335’s crossing the $100K mark within a year. There were only 600 made (including blondes) . I can see blondes closing in on $200K. Eighteen months ago, a 59 ES-335 was $42,000 (for a nice sunburst stop tail. Now, good luck finding one at any price. I saw a 58 recently listed for $60K and it’s gone. I’ve had 8 ’59 335’s so far this year. All sold in less than a week after listing. Five of them never even made it to the listing stage. I had buyers waiting for them. Still do.

For the longest time a 61 ES-335 was considered a compromise…a guitar for folks who had to have a dot neck but couldn’t afford to get in the game at the 58 or 59 price level. A few years ago, this guitar sold for $20,000. Now, it’s going to cost closer to $35,000. And if you want a red dot neck, it’s just about the only way to get one. There is one 58, 6 ’59’s and 21 ’60’s.

Bye, Bye Phil and Don

Monday, August 30th, 2021
Back in the day.

In 1958, I was 6 years old. I didn’t have a record player but there was a radio that was almost always tuned to the top 40 station in the Schenectady, NY area where I grew up. It only got AM radio and there were only two stations that came in clearly enough although on a good day, you could get three. WPTR (1540 AM, Albany), WTRY (980 AM, Troy) and WSNY (1240 AM, Schenectady). I recall songs from as early as age three but the song that caught my ear was “(All I Have to Do is) Dream” by the Everly Brothers. Maybe because, at that time, I had 6 brothers myself (later 8) and I had an affinity for brothers in general. I didn’t know from “taste your lips of wine…” or any of that other lovesick stuff but hey, I was six and there was something that grabbed me about the song.

I took up the guitar at the age of 11 not because of Phil and Don but because of John, Paul, George and Ringo. I was an adequate lead guitar player and played with various bands from Jr. High (I guess it’s called middle school now) through college. Adequate guitar players were a dime a dozen (especially in the late 60’s) but I always seemed to find a place in a band. That’s where Phil and Don come in. I can sing harmony to just about anything. No learning required. If I know the melody, I can find the harmony in real time. I’m not sure how I do this but I don’t really care. It’s a gift. That will keep an adequate guitar player working. Interestingly, I can’t sing lead. I’m almost always flat but if I can reference to another voice, I’m generally dead on. If the lead singer is slightly sharp, then I’ll be slightly sharp-it’s all based on reference to another voice.

I don’t know a whole lot of music theory-enough to be dangerous, I guess. I know a third from a fourth from a fifth (and a fifth from a quart but that’s another post). I learned harmony listening to, of course, The Everly Brothers. Their voices (being brothers) blended so seamlessly that it sometimes was impossible to separate the notes in my head. There were a few other singers back in the day that blended like that but they were always singing along with themselves multi-tracked. John and Paul blend pretty well but you’re often hearing John and John or Paul and Paul. Gene Pitney is a great example of that great, perfect blend but he was multi-tracked as well. Neil Sedaka-same thing. Listen to Crosby Stills and Nash. You can pick out each part easily because they don’t blend. It still sounds great but it isn’t the same thing.

It’s no surprise that so many of the greats were influenced by Don and Phil Everly. Without their contribution, rock and roll (and country) wouldn’t be the same. They didn’t invent tight harmony, they merely perfected it. So sad to see them go. Bye bye Don.

Don Everly 1937-2021

Red Dots Before my Eyes

Tuesday, August 10th, 2021

This is the very first red ES-335. It shipped in December of 1958 and was wired in stereo. Gold knobs were probably factory (355’s had them too in 58). I don’t know the FON. The serial is A28800.

I formerly used the user name “red59dot” on guitar websites and forums (fora?) because I had been on the lookout for a red 59 335 for years. The rumor back in the early 00’s was that there weren’t any-only a stereo 58 that left the factory in December of that year. Then, out of nowhere (well, out of New Jersey, actually) a guy calls me and says he has a red 59 and I said “I want it”. He said to meet me at such and such a park in North Jersey and bring cash. It was $18000 which, at that time was in line with what a sunburst 59 would cost. I’m always hesitant to meet someone I don’t know with a paper bag full of Benjamins but I really wanted the guitar. It was a Bigsby with a big neck and a zebra in the bridge (I think). Anyway, all went well (whew) and my search was over. Until it wasn’t. I wanted a stop tail.

After a trip to North Jersey, meeting the owner on a park bench with a paper bag full of cash, this is the next red 59 dot neck I came across. SN A30906

It’s maybe ten years later and while I’ve had a few red 59 345’s, I hadn’t seen another red 59 335 except another Bigsby that had little black diamonds painted on the cutaways. That was a mint example and was for sale for $55,000 at a well known dealer. I saw it at the Philly show and passed mostly because it was a Bigsby. The diamonds, supposedly factory, weren’t that big a deal. I had actually seen a 330 with the same decoration. And they were under the clear coat so I assumed they actually were factory.

The “black diamond” ES-335. Mint. I should have bought it back when I first saw it at the Philly show. $55K seemed like a lot back then. Not so much now for any mint 59. SN A31962

The following year, I get an email from a dealer in Paris (France, not Texas) asking me if I’d be interested in a red 59 335 stop tail. Yes. I would be interested. It’s a fairly early 59 with a 58 FON. Oh, and it has a Varitone. The Varitone first appeared in February of 59 on a short run of 4 or 5 ES-345’s that pre-date the “first racks” of April 59. But this guitar, which had to be a special order, started its build in 1958. So, is this the very first Varitone equipped guitar ever built? The serial number of the earliest known ES-345 is A29132 shipped in February 59. The FON is T7303-xx. This 59 ES-335 is serial A29553 but the FON is much earlier. It is T6473-xx. FONs are sequential. Serial numbers are not. Also worth noting, I’ve never seean a stereo 355 with a 58 FON. So, the question remains. Is this the first Varitone? I don’t know but it certainly could be. Even if it isn’t it’s a piece of Gibson history being the first red 335 (of 6 known) shipped in 1959. And a great player.

I currently own this one (yes, it’s for sale like everything else I get). This is the second one shipped and has a 58 FON. It also is possiblt the very first ES built by Gibson with a Varitone. Or maybe not. Serial is A29553. The shipping log makes no note of it being red or being a Varitone.

I still haven’t had a stock red 59 stop tail 335 but I believe there are two of them. I know where one is but not the other. If you have one, call or email. I consider the red 59 dot neck to be the holy grail of 335’s. Yes, blondes are nice but they are relatively common (they made 71 of them in 59). And I’d really like to find a black one (I know of only one) but I don’t expect to. If you recall Dan Erlewine’s “rule of two”, I’ll probably end up with both of them the same week.

One other point worth making. Until mid to late 1960, the red dye used to color the wood red was particularly UV sensitive. While it starts off a rich vibrant blood red, it often fades, with UV exposure, to a pinkish light red we’ve all called “watermelon”. In more extreme cases it can fade to a pale orange. In guitars that spend most of their life in the case (and not a store window), the red can retain nearly all of its original color. The guitars pictured in this post are a pretty good representation of what these early reds can do. The 58, the Varitone 59 and the “diamond” 59 are still vibrant. They look similar to later reds that haven’t faded. The New Jersey Bigsby is clearly faded to that wonderful watermelon shade. The stop tail below is somewhere in between. When a later red ES guitar is exposed to sunlight it tends to darken rather than lighten, moving in the direction of brownish maroon. These watermelon 335’s are, I think, among the most attractive 335’s on the planet. Sadly, by the Fall of 1960, they were gone forever.

Here’s one of the known stock stop tail 59 ES-335’s in red. It is owned by the same collector who has the “black diamond”-you can tell by the photo background. It is also near mint. This one isn’t for sale but I’ll take the other one if you have it. This is also an early one with an A299xx serial number.

Are You a Mod or a Rocker?

Friday, July 30th, 2021

They don’t get much more modded than Alvin Lee’s 335. Added single coil in the middle and it’s additional volume pot are the irreversible value killing mods. Stickers don’t count as mods but will do bad things to the value as they almost always leave residue. The TP6 tailpiece uses the original stop tail studs so it’s totally reversible.

Ringo said, famously, “I’m a Mocker.”

We’re going to talk about mods. I get emails every day from folks looking to buy a 335 (often not from me) who ask how much a particular modification will affect the value of the guitar of their dreams. The simple answer is that there is no simple answer. A tuner change might affect a 1981 335 by a few hundred dollars. A tuner change to a blonde dot neck will knock off thousands. So, do we use percentages? That’s probably better than simple dollar deductions but even that is an inexact science. There are simply too many other factors involved. A mod to a beater will deduct a lot less than a mod to a museum piece. A guitar with a lot of mods might reach a saturation point where the parts will be worth more than the guitar as a whole. Like I said, no simple answer.

Let’s also separate a mod from a repair. A mod is an intentional change made to a guitar. A repair is made to fix something that is broken. A mod is made to fix something that isn’t broken. It may be reversible or it may be permanent. It may adversely affect the price or it may not. Presumably, the initial intent is to improve some aspect of your guitar, so you should understand that many (and probably most) mods are done with the best intentions. In the 70’s, Eric Clapton took the covers off his pickups. So, many of us (including me) did the same thing. I think we thought we were going for more output but really, we wanted to be like Eric. Unsoldered pickup covers are not a very costly mod unless you lost the covers. Some, like adding a stop tail to a 65 ES-335 will actually enhance the desirability of a guitar (as long as it’s put in the right location). It won’t increase the value, however.

The most common mod on ES guitars is changed tuners. Schallers were a big deal in the 70’s and 80’s and they required an enlarged shaft hole and 6 small new holes in the back of the headstock. Grovers were also popular (another Clapton mod) and didn’t require any new holes. They did require enlarging the shaft holes and also cause the “owl eyes” on the front of the headstock…the result of overtightening the lock nuts. You can fill and redrill the shaft holes but those indentations in the front of the headstock are there to stay. Tuner changes don’t affect tone or playability in a big way, so it’s a good way to save some money if a collector grade example os out of reach.

There are mods that will enhance the value of your guitar even if they aren’t always a particularly economical choice. Like adding real PAFs to your reissue 335. At $6000 a pair, you might be better off selling them separately when it’s time to sell the reissue. Same goes for vintage stop tailpieces. At $2000, a vintage stop tail for a newer guitar is more than a little silly. Replacing the replacement on your vintage guitar is a good idea but it isn’t a mod. It is worth noting that most repros are as good and possibly better than the original. I challenge anyone to actually hear a difference between a repro stop tail and a vintage one.

To summarize, mods that are irreversible are bad for the value of your vintage guitar so think before you take the drill or the chisel to the top of your guitar. Mods that don’t require new holes or routs won’t hurt the value as long as you save the original parts. Put them somewhere where they won’t get lost. I once modded my 65 Mosrite Ventures back in 1975, changing the single coil neck pickup to a humbucker (no rout necessary). I sold the guitar in ’76 and found it again on Ebay in 2015. I bought it back and I knew just where to find the original pickup 40 years later.

I recently bought this Epiphone Casino expecting there to be a lot of work to do to get it back to stock with that roller bridge with a mute. It turns out that there were no holes-the bridge simply sat on top of the guitar like an archtop bridge.