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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.

The Myth of Fingerprints

Friday, October 16th, 2020

I’ve got this crazy clean 59 ES-335 and it plays and sounds as good as at least 95% of the 335’s I’ve had. Just because it was well cared for OR simply not played much doesn’t mean it’s a dog. That’s a myth. Well played beat up guitars are often excellent players but very clean guitars aren’t always unplayed. Sometimes they are simply well cared for. Sometimes they are unplayed for reasons other than they suck.

With apologies to Paul Simon because I’m sure this isn’t what he meant when he wrote about the “myth of fingerprints”, there are certain myths and legends that seem to creep into the vintage guitar consciousness. Like early 60’s Les Pauls were made from leftover bodies (they weren’t) or Brazilian rosewood fingerboards sound better than Indian rosewood. Both persist and you can argue the latter all you want but until somebody can prove the point, I’m sticking to my guns. But the myth I’m going to try to blow a hole in today is the idea that if an old guitar is mint or close to it, it must be a dog because nobody wanted to play it. I’m writing from experience here as I get to play a lot more guitars than you do and probably a lot more mint ones.

First off, the reverse has some truth to it. A guitar that HAS been played a lot is probably a good one because bad ones actually don’t get played as much. But just because a guitar didn’t get played doesn’t mean it sucks. It CAN mean that but I think the more likely scenarios follow. Little Johnny gets a spectacular red 335 for his 12th birthday in 1964 from his Aunt Mildred who played ukulele in a USO band in 1944. Johnny has no talent and even less patience, so after a half dozen lessons from Mr. Orsini (who will only teach jazz and Johnny wants to be a rock star so the girls will like him), he gives it up and it sits under the bed at his Mom’s house in Schenectady. Johnny goes on to greatness as a prosecutor and has a wonderful life until he gets caught taking bribes from the mayor. Johnny goes to jail for white collar crimes and has to put his mint 64 335 on Reverb in order to make bail.

OR Billy saves up the money from his paper route that gets him out of bed a 4 AM every morning for a lousy $4.49 a week (plus tips from Mrs. Van Dyck up the street who thinks Billy is cute). He scrimps and saves and finally after 2 years is able to buy that Stratocaster that’s in the window of Hermies Music Store in Schenectady. Billy plays in a band and he wipes down his Strat after every song and puts it in the case between sets rather than leaning it up against the Super Reverb that took him another year to get (Dad helped out but Mom doesn’t know about it). 55 years later, Billy still has his prized Strat (and plays it every day and still wipes it down) until he passes away in 2020 of Covid 19 and his no talent son puts it on Reverb to get money to buy weed.

OR little Jimmy’s father was a semi-pro player and he “inherits” Dad’s nearly new ’73 Les Paul Custom when Dad suddenly disappears with his administrative assistant and is never heard from again. Little Jimmy has a ton of talent but the guitar weighs 13 pounds and sounds like crap. Jimmy has his beat up Telecaster and leaves Dad’s guitar at Mom’s house when he finally moves out at the age of 25. Now Jimmy isn’t little Jimmy any more but Dad’s old LP is still under the bed at his Mom’s. Jimmy bought himself 20 or 30 guitars over the years but that old LP is just a dog of a player. Then 2020 happens and the economy tanks and Jimmy has to sell some things to make rent and he remembers the old LP at Mom’s house in Schenectady and puts it on Reverb.

Both Johnny’s and Billy’s guitars are tone monsters but neither got beat up-one because the owner had no talent and the other because the owner was careful. Both scenarios are made up but they illustrate the disconnect between the idea that a mint guitar is a bad player and a beater is a great one. Only the third scenario gives any credence to the myth. The guitar that has no fingerprints (and dings and dents and scrapes) CAN be a dog but it isn’t necessarily a dog. A beater is less likely to be a dog-I will grant that but I’ve played enough great mint guitars to know that the myth is false. There is something known as “The Curse of the Mint Guitar” which I’ve written about if you can find it. Or I’ll just write another post about it later. Now, I think I’ll go play the mint 59 335 I’ve got in my shop.

The stories are made up but based in truth. I am, in fact, from Schenectady, NY but this is not biographical (mostly). Hermie’s Music is a real place in Schenectady and Mr. Orsini was my guitar teacher in 1964 who hated rock and roll. I am neither Johnny, Billy or Jimmy. They all exist but the names are changed.

Greed is Not Good

Saturday, September 26th, 2020

When is a PAF not a PAF? When it doesn’t have a sticker. Stickers rarely fall off. In fact I’ve hardly ever seen it over my 20 years in this business. So why am I seeing so many in recent weeks? Yes, the one on the left has slotted screws and it shouldn’t.

I’m seeing something that I really don’t like. I’ve been selling PAF equipped guitars for decades now and I’m seeing a trend that is, at best, annoying and at worst, criminal. I’ve owned about 700 Gibson guitars over the years and at least half of them have had PAFs. That’s somewhere around 700 PAFs, give or take a few since some guitars have only one of them (and some have three). I check every guitar I get very carefully and that includes taking out the pickups and looking at the backs. I look for the sticker, of course, and the tooling marks on the feet and I make sure the bobbin screws are correct and I inspect the solder to make sure the pickups haven’t been opened and if they have, I’ll open them again to make sure they haven’t been rewound or repaired. Out of those 700 or so PAFs I’ve seen, less than 10 of them were missing their sticker. I will note that early patent numbers have often been missing their sticker especially in 64 335’s possibly because they were transitioning from the PAF sticker to the patent number or maybe they just fell off. I suspect the former. In which case, the unstickered pickup in that 62 or 63 that’s being called a PAF by the seller probably isn’t one. PAFs in 64 335’s are not common at all so if someone tells you the pickup without the sticker in a 64 is a PAF, you can be pretty certain that it isn’t.

So, why am I suddenly seeing so many guitars with one PAF and one pickup that is missing its sticker? Did they recently start falling off the pickups in the last year or so? I see 10 PAFs with no sticker in 20 years and, oddly, I can find at least ten of them for sale in the past month or two. Of course, the missing sticker must be a PAF because the other pickup with a sticker is a PAF. The boldface italic denotes sarcasm in case you missed it. This should be considered in light of the fact that plenty of 62 and 63 Gibsons had one of each. I have written more than one post about the “$1000 sticker”. It says, essentially, that a PAF without a sticker is a patent number because they are the same pickup but for the sticker and if the only difference is the sticker and it isn’t there, then it must not be a PAF. You still with me? Good. PAFs have gotten really expensive. So have patent numbers but the differential is still around $1000. So, the unscrupulous seller has, say, a 63 ES-335 with one of each-a PAF and a patent number. Same pickups-different sticker. So, if I scrape off the patent sticker, then I can say that both of them are PAFs, right? After all, if the one with the sticker is a PAF, why wouldn’t the one without the sticker be a PAF as well? That’s the screwy logic behind this annoying trend. It gets worse. A really unscrupulous seller might take the stickered PAF out of a 58-61 and drop in a patent number with no sticker. Then it’s “oh, it must be a PAF because there weren’t any patent number pickups in 61”. I’m seeing this more and more as well.

I’m seeing this phenomenon among individual sellers and “hobby” dealers on Ebay and Reverb. I’m not seeing it among the big dealers so much. And, I will add, that there are PAFs with missing stickers out there but, as I said up top, it is really uncommon. Buyers, in general, aren’t stupid. The guitar buying public knows a lot about vintage guitars and they know what questions to ask. So, if you have removed a patent sticker in the hopes of making a couple of extra bucks on your sale, you are hurting someone down the line and you aren’t helping a business that already fights a bit of a shady reputation. So, if someone tells you the guitar is equipped with PAFs and, oh yeah, the sticker fell off one of them, you can expect the price to reflect that missing sticker to the tune of about $1000. If you’re going to sell me a PAF for $2500 or an early patent for $1500, then the sticker is worth $1000 and if it isn’t there, you don’t get the $1000. And, by the way, I know, it’s a decal and not a sticker.

No sign of a sticker on this pickup. The only time to accept a no sticker pickup as a PAF is if you can show that it has never been out of the guitar and the guitar is a 61 or earlier. And it still should get you a lower price than you would pay if the sticker was there.

There are no Rules

Monday, July 13th, 2020

This ES-355 has a 66 serial number but it has a wide-nearly 1 11/16″ nut. It could be that it was a leftover from 65 as 355’s were pretty low volume sellers. No rules.

I try very hard to find consistency when discussing Gibsons from the so-called “Golden Era”. Certain rules and features seem to apply most of the time…PAFs until 62, then mixed PAFs and patents from 62-64, wide nut until mid 65, stop tails until early 65 and a whole lot of other features that follow a fairly predictable timeline. Except when they don’t.

One of the most desirable features of 58- early 65 ES models is the wide nut. We call it 1 11/16″ but it varies from just over 1 5/8″ to just over 1 11/16″ but all of them are wider than the 1 9/16″ nut that was introduced in mid 65 and has rendered mid 65’s to 1981 models less desirable to many players and that’s a really big deal. Imagine if 68’s had the wide nut (it’s a common misconception that they do). They would be the most desirable year post 64 for sure. Yes, 68’s had the trapeze and often had t-tops but those things can be changed. But you can’t make a narrow neck into a wide one without some very expensive (and invasive) surgery. Then a rule breaker shows up.

It is pretty commonly known that models like Byrdlands, L-5’s, Kessels and 355’s sold in fairly low numbers. Even with the low volume, they would generally make a “rack” of the same model (usually 35 guitars) all at once and then sit on the unfinished guitars until they had an order to fill. That’s why you sometimes see patent number pickups in a 61 guitar or some other earlier feature in a guitar with a later serial number. The guitars were simply built in one year and sold in the next year (or later). That’s how we end up with 1960 guitars with 1958 factory order numbers for example. But there are no FON’s after 61, so we have only the features to go by when we are trying to figure out what year the guitar was built (or at least started).

I recently purchased a 1966 ES-355 with a wide nut-just under 1 11/16″. It is the second 66 ES-355 I’ve encountered with that feature. That probably means that the guitar was built in early 65 (or at least the neck was carved then) and sat somewhere until an order came in some time in 66. I’m sure that a bunch of narrow nut 355’s went out in 65 and early 66 because I’ve seen plenty of them. So why did this one sit? Maybe it had a small flaw or maybe it was at the back of the pile and more newly made ones were headed out the door first. Without a time machine, it’s hard to know. The larger point is that all the rules I write about get broken time and time again and it isn’t always possible to come up with a reason. You could easily ask “was it re-necked later with a custom ordered neck?” Or maybe it was simply a custom order that specified a particular nut width. I know it wasn’t re-necked (it’s pretty easy to tell) but I suppose it could have been a custom order. Again, where did I leave the keys to the time machine.

I’ve had a similar experience with another 66. This was a 345 with honest to god Mickey Mouse ears. Left over early 60’s body? Maybe. Probably. The rule is that MM ears were gone by late 63 when they redid the jigs for making ES 335, 345 and 355 bodies. But this 345 and at least two others I’ve seen made their way out the door in 1966. So, no rule is a hard and fast rule and no feature is 100% consistent over the era of 1958 to 1969. After 1969, you’re on your own-I just don’t see enough of them to know much. Let me know if you have an oddball like these. It gives me something to write about.

A 66 should not have Mickey Mouse ear cutaways. And yet, this one does and at least two others I’ve seen do as well. There is a fair amount of inconsistency in the shape of the cutaways from 66 to 67 (pointy ear, “fox ear”, etc) but Mickeys? No. Great player too, by the way, although I’m sure it had nothing to do with the ears. If I recall, this one had early patent numbers which might have had something to do with it.

Pandemic Buying

Wednesday, June 24th, 2020

Pandemic shmandemic. High end is selling. The low end is selling and in between is selling. This 60 burst went to Texas not too long ago. I’ve got another if you’re looking.

I thought that the pandemic was going to affect he vintage guitar market and I was right. But I thought the market would slow down and I was wrong. It hasn’t. I thought it might tank but I was afraid to say that (not that I have the clout to tank the guitar market-I don’t). What I didn’t think would happen was that folks would be buying guitars like there was no tomorrow (and maybe there is no tomorrow which would explain it). I am selling nearly twice as many guitars now as I was selling before the pandemic and social distancing began. I can’t say with any certainty why this is happening but I can certainly tell you what I see and what I think might be going on.

First, it’s everywhere, not just the USA. In the past two months I’ve sold guitars to folks in Taiwan, Ireland, England, Israel, Japan and Canada. So, what is selling? Well, everything. High end stuff is selling. Player grade stuff is selling, stuff I’ve had in my shop for two years or more is selling. Guitars that aren’t terribly popular are selling. I sold a Guild Thunderbird, an Epiphone Wilshire, an ES-175, a J-160E, a Gretsch 6120 along with the usual assortment of 335’s and 345’s ad 355’s. I even sold my personal Partscaster which I hardly ever played. But the usual high end stuff is selling too-a couple of 59 ES-345’s, a refinished 60 burst, a 58 335 and a 59 335. Tweed amps are going. Two Bassmans, a Super and a Deluxe since this thing began. I lowered some prices in anticipation of a weakened market but it hasn’t happened. Anybody know why?

I have theories. The most obvious is sheer boredom. Staying home, especially if you live in an apartment (which I don’t) must be suffocating. Nothing brightens up a dull existence like a “new” guitar. I get at least a hundred a year and it still feels like Christmas morning every time one arrives. Of course, you’re going to drive your family up the wall if you’re using all that spare time to practice your scales and learn some new licks and aren’t you all ready to kill each other as it is? No? OK. But there’s a limit to how much boredom can drive the market. You need money to feed the vintage habit and with so many folks out of work, you might think this is a bad time to be buying and selling guitars. Apparently not. That leads me to another theory. It’s the “I might die tomorrow, so I should get the things that will really make me happy now” theory. I like this theory because it transcends money and boredom. It also has no end. Just because a 59 335 makes you happy today doesn’t mean a 54 Telecaster won’t make you even happier tomorrow. And then there’s always the day after tomorrow to think about. Or maybe you just want to park your money somewhere other than the stock market. Let’s consider that.

The stock market has taken a hit and it is coming back strongly but with the long term economic effects of the pandemic still in the theoretical realm, who knows how long any perceived recovery is going to last. How long before the airline, entertainment, hospitality and restaurant industries will get back to something approaching normal? Opening states too early is showing some bad, bad results. See you in September? I think not. This thing is here until they can vaccinate about a zillion people. So, where do you put your money once you’ve lost faith in the stock market? Gold is way up so you’ve probably missed the boat on that one. Vintage automobiles? There’s no place to go (there’s a pandemic going on or haven’t you noticed?) and looking at your 54 MG in the garage has a limited appeal. Vintage guitars? At least you can sit and play your vintage guitar while it appreciates (or not) even if the wife and kids are ready to kill you for spending hours on end trying to be Jimmy Page in that little shoe box of an apartment you’re stuck in. How about real estate? Get a house with an outbuilding so you can play your guitar without raising the homicide rate in your town. Yeah. That’s the ticket.

Amps are flying out the door as well. I started this pandemic with 7 tweed Bassmans. I’m down to 5 (woe is me).