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Liars, Cheaters and Lowlifes

Thursday, July 14th, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Color Wars

Saturday, June 11th, 2022

Doesn’t seem to matter much what color your old sports car is. It might be easier to sell one color over another but guitars are different. And besides, you never see a sunburst Porsche

A red vintage sports car will cost the same as a black vintage sports car. A blue one, the same. And it doesn’t seem to make much difference if it’s refinished. A red one might be easier to sell than a blue one but color is rarely a big factor in the price. Not so when it comes to vintage guitars, Guitar players and guitar collectors don’t seem to follow conventional logic (or conventional wisdom, for that matter). I’ll give you an easy example to start us off. A black PAF, in today’s market, will cost you around $4000-$4500. A white PAF will cost you twice that. Yes, there is a range and some variation but essentially folks are willing to pay double for a white one over a black one. There is no difference other than the color of the bobbins. You can argue that whites tend to be slightly overwound but it’s pretty easy to find black ones that are in the mid 8K range. It’s the color that makes them more valuable. The difference in price between a custom color Strat and a sunburst Strat is another example with Custom colors (even ugly ones) doubling and tripling the value.

A 58 Les Paul gold top is, on a good day, a $150,000 guitar. An average 58 sunburst is twice that. Again, the only difference is the color. Rarity is not a factor because 58 gold tops are rarer than 58 bursts. Again, it’s the color. 3×5’s often follow a predictable pattern but with some very strange twists. A sunburst 335 is the most common among dot necks. A blonde dot neck is double the price of a sunburst. That is based, I think, on desirability and rarity. There are only 211 blonde dot necks. There are about 1700 sunbursts from 58 to early 62 when the dot neck era ended. A blonde 345 is also desirable and rare. There are only 50 blonde 345’s vs about 1300 sunbursts from 59 to 64. Again, the price is around double. Looking at 355’s, the landscape changes dramatically because the vast majority are red. Using red as the baseline, there were around 1650 ES-355’s made from 58 to 64. We’ll forget about mono vs stereo here. I know of perhaps 5 blonde 355’s made during that period. There is no record because all of them were special orders. Predictably, the price for a blonde is more than double because they are so rare. The last one I sold went for around $150,000 (it was a 62). That is more than 5 times as much as a red one. So, we all get it…blondes are desirable and will cost you a lot of money. But what about those bursts? I can’t think of another guitar that commands a premium for sunburst.

That brings me to sunburst ES-355’s. Nobody goes out looking for one because they are incredibly rare and, to be honest, if you want a sunburst ES, why not just buy a 335 or a 345? They are pretty much the same guitar, aren’t they? Well, yes and no. The design is pretty much the same as is the tone. The ebony board may add some “snap” to the highs (for the record, I think this is urban myth) and make for a somewhat smoother playing surface. Factory Grovers are a nice addition as they are a better, more reliable tuner. There are plenty of players who prefer the 355 over the 335 (BB King, for one, Chuck Berry is another, Keith Richards too). If you want a sunburst 355, you will have to look long and hard. I know of around ten from 59 to 64. All but one have a Bigsby or sideways or Maestro trem tailpiece. That’s a dealbreaker for many. A sunburst 355 is so rare that most folks don’t think they exist. It can’t be particularly desirable if no one knows they are out there. Only a very savvy collector will even be aware of them. It seems strange that folks will fall all over themselves for the opportunity to simply hold a sunburst Les Paul. Rock stars and rich collectors (and dealers) will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for a sunburst Les Paul but nobody pays a premium for a sunburst finish on any other guitar.

I point this out because I own a sunburst ES-355 that has sat on the market for a while. It is priced like a blonde but ES folks don’t look at a sunburst the way Les Paul players do. My sunburst 355 is a 59 and is a stop tail. It is mono as well. It is also the only one known. If for no other reason, I just want my readers to know that they exist and to let you know that logic doesn’t work with vintage guitars. If it was black, it would be $200,000 easily (thanks, Keith). The last black 59 ES-345 I sold was in the $155K range-way more than a blonde 345 would sell for (double, in fact). So, while Les Paul bursts continue to rise with the strong market (and inflation), the sunburst ES-355 waits to be discovered.

A sunburst ’59 335 or 345 is a desirable and wonderful guitar. A sunburst 355 is almost unheard of. There are less than a dozen. This is the only sunburst stop tail 355 ever made (as far as I know). It is also mono with double white PAFs and a big fat neck.

Mothers Day, Again

Sunday, May 8th, 2022
Liz Gelber circa 1946. Thanks Mom. I miss you every day.

I don’t generally re-run a post (except for the Christmas poem) but when I tried to write a new Mothers Day post, I couldn’t do much better than the one I wrote 8 years ago. Here is a post about my Mom.

Did your Mom yell at you to turn that thing down? Did she tell you that there was no future in being a guitar player? That maybe you should be a doctor or a lawyer or maybe a nice accountant? Mine did not and that’s just the beginning.

My mother had nine children (all boys in case you think it was going to be easy). She’s been gone since 2011 but I think of her much more often than one day a year in May.  She always encouraged her sons to play a musical instrument. In fact, I’m pretty sure it was mandatory. We had a spinet piano in the living room which she played often and competently. She could sight read like you read the newspaper but she would never be mistaken for a musician. Still, there were show tunes coming from the living room. Each of my brothers played at least one instrument. None of us were good enough to make a living at it but most of us stuck with it. I took violin starting in the 4th grade. I wasn’t very good. My parents added an organ to the living room when I was around ten (not a chord organ either-a real dual manual, no fooling’ around full pedal board pro Allen) and I took lessons on that too. I wasn’t very good. My oldest brother, Ben-who also played violin, took to it and then there was Bach coming from the living room.

The Beatles showed up in 64 and I bugged my father endlessly to get me a guitar and he came home one day with a flattop Kay that cost $15. I started guitar lessons and quit the organ. I still had to play the violin in the school orchestra (I switched to upright bass that same year). Mom made sure I practiced like she did with every other brother and every other instrument. The big surprise was that I was pretty good at it. They agreed to get me an electric guitar (Fender DuoSonic and Princeton amp in 1964) and my younger brother, Brian, who already played the oboe, albeit not that well, took over the Kay. He would take over the DuoSonic when I got the Fender Jaguar in 65. I would often practice in the living room with the amp turned up to somewhere around 11. And then there were Beatles songs coming from the living room. My Dad would come home from work and yell at me to turn it down but Mom never did.

When she was in her 50’s, Mom decided it was time to learn another instrument. She asked me to help her find a cheap and playable guitar and we ended up with a German Framus flattop that had good action and she taught herself to play. I helped her with chord charts but she wouldn’t have it. She had to read music – not some chart. That was cheating. Just the notes please. She never got that far but she was never one to shrink from the task at hand. Mom had no fear. She learned to windsurf in her 60’s, built a path down to the lake behind our house, wallpapered the bathrooms, made a quilt out of my Dad’s old neckties and about a zillion other “projects”. She never excelled at any of them but showed a level of determination and ingenuity that has influenced me throughout my life. If someone says that something is so simple “…even your Mom could do it…”, they didn’t know my Mom.

So thanks Mom. Thanks for the encouragement, your example and your unwavering support. And thanks to my wife, too, for carrying on the tradition of superb mothering. Our son is a pretty good guitar player and can play the piano better than my Mom thanks to the support of his Mom. In our house, there was Chopin and Gershwin and Lennon and McCartney coming from the living room.

Liz Gelber circa 2005 Thanks again, Mom.

Fedex Follies Part 2

Saturday, May 7th, 2022
Nobody wants to lose a guitar or have it damaged in shipping. It happens and there isn’t much you can do about it unless you have an insurance policy that covers guitars in transit.

So, if you read the first installment of Fedex Follies, you know that Fedex somehow misplaced a 50″ box. Or maybe there was an airline strike that only affected large boxes or USA bound shipments or some other not too credible excuse. It was missing and unscanned for just about a month. It arrived a month and a day after it was shipped so all’s well that ends well, right? Not quite.

It is never easy to get a refund of any kind from Fedex. And, to be fair, it is hard to get a refund from any service company. Fedex does have a guarantee but they don’t make it easy to use it. If you call and say my package was late, they will immediately start making excuses-weather being the most common. Then, they will tell you that no refunds are processed until the invoice has been sent. Then, if it’s more than 14 days after the invoice has been sent, they will disallow the claim. Dem’s da rules according to Fedex’s “Terms and Conditions”. We’ll get to those terms later.

The guitar, a 60 ES-355 finally arrived on April 22nd which was a Friday. I went through the guitar over the weekend and put in for the refund online on Monday April 25th. My claim was denied because Fedex says the invoice was more than 14 days old. Wait a second. I just got the guitar on Friday, so how can the invoice be 14 days old. Well, as it happens, they processed the invoice on April 12th a full ten days before the guitar was delivered. I get and pay the invoices online so it wasn’t sitting in a pile of invoices on my desk. I was not happy. I called Fedex.

Them: “We’re sorry about the delay but we can’t issue a refund if the invoice is more than 14 days old”. Me: “But the package was just delivered a few days ago. How can the invoice predate the package by ten days?” Them: “We can’t issue a refund if the invoice is more than 14 days old”. Me: “Connect me with your supervisor”. Then they cut me off. I called back and asked for what they call the “customer advocate” who is supposed to be on your side. She started the same script and I stopped her. Me: “Would you look carefully at the dates?” Them: “Oh. I see the package was delivered on the 22nd”. End of conversation. They approved the refund. It took about a dozen phone calls to try to find the guitar and to get my refund. Time on hold was probably at least 90 minutes. I should send them a bill.

Terms and Conditions. Who reads the terms and conditions? Every time you buy something online a box pops up and you immediately scroll to the bottom and check the box that says “agree”. Nobody actually reads the text. But in the case of Fedex and vintage guitars, it’s going to cost you. When you enter the value of the guitar into the shipping form, you expect that you are buying insurance for that value. $25,000 guitar coming from EU? They’ll charge you $306 for “insurance”. But the terms and conditions state clearly that the limit for guitars more than 20 years old is $2000. If you pay the $306 and the guitar arrives safely, you think nothing of it. You paid for insurance and you didn’t need it. Always the best outcome. But what if they lose the guitar or break it? Fedex has a decent track record with guitars that I’ve shipped. They have lost one and broken four in twenty years. At the time of the first broken guitar, I hadn’t read the terms and conditions. When I put in the claim for half the value of a broken 64 SG, they told me they would cover up to $2000 but only the repair-not the diminished value. Them: Read the terms and conditions. So, they will take your money for so called insurance with no limit. But try to collect and the limit is $2000 no matter how much “insurance” you bought. I have asked Fedex to add a pop up box telling you about the limit if you enter more than $2000. They haven’t done so. Don’t give them your money for nothing.

This 64 SG didn’t look like this when it left the building. Thanks Fedex. They offered $340 for the repair.

Fedex Follies: Part One

Saturday, April 30th, 2022

The Fugitive. MIA 1960 ES-355 mono. These are not cheap and you really don’t want to lose one. It eventually arrived after a month on the road.

On March 20th or so, I bought a 1960 ES-355 from a seller in Europe. Nothing unusual about that. I paid for the shipping and Fedex was the shipper. The guitar was properly boxed, the paperwork completed (including the form that is supposed to notify customs that it is a USA made product returning to the USA so that no duty is collected) and off it went. The guitar was scanned in Sweden on March 22nd. next stop was Denmark, the same day. At 3 AM on the 23rd it was in Paris. Then it disappeared. Now, I’d love to spend a month in Paris but the idea of my guitar spending a month there (without me) isn’t what I had in mind. No scans as of March 27th. It should have at least left Paris by now, right? It was shipped International Priority. Online tracking said “operational delay” whatever that means. I hit the phones.

Them: “Fedex, please describe the reason for your call.” Me: Missing package.” Them: I’m sorry, I didn’t get that.” Me: Missing package. Them: “You want to ship a package.” Me: REPRESENTATIVE. Them: “Please say or enter the door tag number.” Finally I get to the international folks and the rep tells me that there is an airline strike and no planes are leaving Paris. I go online to check flight schedules out of Paris (you can see the Fedex flight schedule online). Plenty of flights. I call again. After the usual ordeal of talking to a recorded voice, I’m back at international. This time I ask for a supervisor. The guitar is now 12 days on the road. Them: “The guitar is in Paris” Me: Why hasn’t it been scanned in the last 10 days? Them: “It’s in a container.” Me: How do I know it didn’t walk out the door with one of your employees?” Them: No, it’s definitely there.” Me: “I expect a phone call every day until the package leaves Paris.” Them: We’ll be happy to do that. They don’t.

I get in touch with the shipper to get him up to speed and ask him to talk to Fedex as well. He gets a similar story. It’s now more than two weeks. No scans, no calls, no guitar. I’m back on the phone. Me: “Where’s my package?” Them: “We’re not sure. I think it might be lost. Maybe the label fell off.” Me: “oh crap”. I should mention that this happened once before. That time it was a 345 coming from Greece and the guitar was lost for about 3 weeks. It did finally arrive though. I wasn’t so sure about this one.

You should know that Fedex will take your money if you write in the actual value of the guitar supposedly “insuring” it for that amount. BUT, in their terms and conditions, they state that the limit on vintage (more than 20 years old) in $2000. So, they’ll take a huge pile of money from you if you don’t know that and then, when they lose (or break) your guitar, they will tell you to “read the terms and conditions”. I’ve been trying to get this changed for at least 8 years now. The declared value on this guitar was, if I recall, $2000, the limit for vintage. That’s all I could possibly get from them even though it was worth more than ten times that. I have an outside policy so it was fully insured but nobody likes to make a claim because the rates go up.

After another 3 or 4 phone conversations, the guitar turned up. The guitar was finally scanned again on April 20th, nearly a month after it was shipped. It appeared to be on the move, finally. Customs had it for a day in Indianapolis and it was delivered, intact, on April 22nd. It doesn’t end here though. You didn’t think I was going to pay the $500+ bill they sent, did you? Tune in for Part two soon.

Negotiation 101

Thursday, April 14th, 2022
It doesn’t matter if it’s high end or a beater, everything is negotiable. Sometimes it’s just free shipping but sometimes you can knock thousands off. You want to stop a negotiation in its tracks? Lowball. That’s a ticket to nowhere.

It always happens this way. The market heats up and everybody thinks their guitar is worth way more than it is. Asking prices have skyrocketed due to a number of factors. Demand is up since the pandemic began because pandemics are boring and vintage guitars are not. Supply suffered for nearly a year because everybody was buying and nobody was selling. Inflation creeps in and the prices surge again. The stock market sags and folks are moving their money into collectibles and other hard assets. With all these factors converging, it’s no wonder the market is so strong. Add to that, the conventional wisdom that vintage guitars have been undervalued since the crash of ’08 and you have a nearly perfect storm for prices to rise.

Up front, I will stick my neck out and say it isn’t a bubble. Or at least not only a bubble. The factor that makes it look like a bubble is sellers testing the market. I could put an average 59 ES-335 out there for $75,000 like a couple of dealers have and wait for someone who “has to have one today” or I can price that guitar at $65,000 and know that it will sell at a fair price. Individual sellers are doing the same thing. So, you put that 60 ES-345 out there at $44,000 and then wait for some billionaire with more money than brains to come along? Problem is that most billionaires (and millionaires) didn’t get to be billionaires by overpaying for stuff. But, it’s your guitar and you can ask anything you want. I test the market too but when something that should be popular doesn’t sell in a few weeks, I know that something is amiss and it’s usually the price. I’ve said this before…the only reason something doesn’t sell is because the price is too high.

So, as a buyer, you need to get comfortable with negotiating. It doesn’t make you a cheapskate. It isn’t insulting. And if you won’t negotiate, then you could be missing a great deal. Most folks are happy to adjust their price to make a sale. Just be smart about it. If there’s a guitar out there listed at $30,000 that you really like but you feel it’s overpriced what are you going to do? You can wait out the seller and hope he comes to his senses or you can make an offer. The worst the seller can say is no. Actually he can call you names and insult your mother but the sentiment is still “no”. It’s pretty easy to get a handle on the market. Look at similar guitars, look at selling prices and not asking prices (Ebay let’s you see that). Reverb is kind of useless for that because they give you a list of selling prices but not much more information than a general condition. When you have decided on what you think is a fair value, start your negotiating within striking distance of your intended price. Don’t start at 50% of the ask. Lowballing is the fastest way to rejection. Nobody likes that type of negotiation. The seller probably has a bottom in mind but if you ask “what’s your bottom price?” the likely response is that it’s the listed price. That isn’t negotiating.

Charlie’s Rules of Negotiation: 1. If the asking price seems fair, negotiating probably won’t get you anywhere. 2. If the price is high, start 10%-20% below your hoped for final price. 3. No lowballing. A lowball is 50% of the asking price or less. Nobody likes it and it will generally shut down negotiations before they begin. 4. Don’t list everything that’s wrong with the guitar in order to justify your offer. You don’t have to justify your offer. If the seller doesn’t include the issues in the listing, you might want to look elsewhere. If he does include them, then telling him what he already knows is simply annoying. 5. Be nice. 6. Be prepared to walk away. You can’t negotiate if you’ve already fallen in love. This is hard but there will almost always be another. 7. If these rules don’t work, then feel free to break them. Again, the worst that can happen is the seller says no.

I negotiate nearly every deal I complete as a buyer. I will pay the ask if it’s fair. I won’t overpay for a guitar no matter how much I want it. As a seller, I’m always willing to listen to an offer. I try to price my guitars fairly but that doesn’t stop me from listening to a fair offer. Lowball me and I won’t counter, I’ll simply reject the offer. I won’t say nasty things about your mother. If you know nothing about guitars and you’re selling a family heirloom, I’ll encourage you to do your research to come up with a fair asking price or, more often, I will simply make you an offer. Looking at Reverb and pricing it like the highest price guitar that looks something like Grandpa’s old Gibson is a recipe for failure. Buying and selling is fun. The best way to keep it that way is to treat folks fairly and make a deal where everyone is happy. There’s no negotiating that point.

This post doesn’t really lend itself to photos, so here’s my dog, Zoubi at her most recent gig. Rocker Spaniel?

The Weight

Thursday, March 24th, 2022

This 59 is, in my opinion, the best sounding ES-335 I’ve owned. It is a thin top mid 59 with a 58 FON and serial number A30248. It has a big neck and a pair of double white PAFs. The weight is in the high 7’s and I don’t know why it sounds as good as it does. I’m sure it’s a combination of factors.

“I pulled into Nazareth, I was feelin’ ’bout half past dead…”

How else could I possibly start a post called “The Weight”, right? Was I pulling into Nazareth, PA to pay a visit to the Martin guitar factory? Or was it the other Nazareth about 5700 miles away. I’ve been to one but not the other (and not the one you think). That said, we’re going to look into the weight of these guitars I write about and whether it has any bearing on tone or value.

The Les Paul folks are obsessed with the weight of their guitars. And I guess that makes some sense given the huge range of weights that Les Pauls come in. If it weighs 8 pounds fifteen and a half ounces, it’s OK. Over 9 pounds and a good percentage of the buyers look elsewhere. Folks that play 335’s are a little less weight obsessed but it is still often a factor in the purchase of a vintage ES guitar.

There are really just two factors that are affected by the weight of the guitar in question. The big one is comfort. The smaller one is, arguably, tone. The weight range of a 335 is from around 7 lbs to around 8 lbs 12 ounces. The range of a 345 or 355 can be as low as 7 and a half pounds to as high as 10 lbs. Much of that is the Varitone circuit. The choke alone weighs around 10 ounces and the entire stereo VT unit adds about a pound (including the choke). Add in a Bigsby at 12 ounces or so and getting up to 10 lbs is pretty easy. Most modern players remove the stereo VT circuit so even the heaviest 355 stereo can get down below 9 pounds. That seems to be most players comfort cut off (especially older players like me). Obviously all that extra weight from circuitry doesn’t have anything to do with tone beyond what the Varitone itself actually does. But what about the wood? That’s where most of the weight lives.

The typical early 335 weighs in at 7 lbs 10 ounces or so. The lightest I’ve ever had was 7 lbs 2 ounces. It was a 62. Interestingly, a 58 and some 59’s have thinner depth bodies than later ones-by as much as a quarter inch. I don’t know how much a quarter inch of maple guitar rim weighs but it can’t be more than a couple of ounces. A 58 or 59 has a substantially larger neck than a 60-63 so that’s probably something of an equalizer between early and late 335’s. The difference is only a few hundredths of an inch but that much mahogany can add a few ounces as well. The thin top of the 58’s and some 59s is also a factor-one less layer in the plywood. Another factor is the center block. All 345’s, nearly all 355’s (including most monos) have the center block cut out to accommodate the choke. 335’s have the same cutout starting in a few guitars as early as 61 but it wasn’t standard procedure until 1965. It was done on 335’s to make it easier to install and remove the harness. It had to go through the f-holes until they decided to add the cut. The cut in the maple block can knock off a couple of ounces as well but, more important to tone, it adds some air and often a noticeable bit of additional resonance. That’s another post though.

It is impossible to quantify the tonal differences between a light guitar and a heavy guitar. Differences in the weight of maple plywood, rosewood and mahogany are largely due to moisture content and density. After 60 years the moisture has to be pretty much gone but density is another matter. I’m no expert in wood and its acoustic properties but damned if I can find a consistent difference between a 7 pound 335 and an 8 and a half pound 335. If I look at my favorite 335’s, the weight of them varies considerably. Most are 58’s and 59’s so maybe the heavier big necks makes a real difference. Or maybe its the long magnet PAFs. Or maybe its the thinner top. I could, I suppose, take a heavy 335 and a light one and swap the pickups and all the parts and see how much of the tone is in the wood but that would only tell me the difference between those two guitars. I don’t think it’s that simple. If it was, then we could say that, in general a heavy guitar sounds better (and what’s “better”) than a light one or vice versa. But there are simply too many factors involved in tone to try to isolate just one of them and say it’s the game changer. And besides, it’s way too much work.

My conclusion? To me, weight is a factor. But not a tonal factor. It’s strictly comfort. While I don’t play gigs any more, I still would rather stand for two or three hours with 7 lbs on my shoulder than 8. Or 9. Or 10. But when I buy a 335, 345 or 355, I don’t even ask the seller the weight. I expect the 345’s and 355’s to be in the upper 8’s and into the 9’s (mostly 355’s with Bigsbys) and I expect the 335’s to be in the 7’s. I’ll buy a 335 with great tone over a light weight one every time. Tone simply carries more weight. But it doesn’t weigh more.

The heaviest of the heavyweight ES guitars would be a stereo ES-355. The stereo/VT circuit weighs close to a pound, the Bigsby adds another 10 ounces and the Grovers and big headstock add a few more ounces. They can get to ten pounds pretty easily but most are in the low 9’s.

Does Mint Count?

Monday, February 28th, 2022
This mint 59 sold recently. It was listed for less than a day. There is currently a waiting list for mint 59’s here at OK Guitars and the term wait is the operative one. I don’t see that many. Maybe one a year.

In my last post, I tackled the slippery subject of rarity. The next subject is a little less slippery and applies to every guitar (and amp) model ever made. Condition is always a factor in the value and pricing of anything. Even a used Ford Pinto in mint condition is worth a lot more than a driver. Always has been, always will be. The guys who collect action figures are fanatics about this with original packaging required for mint status. Fortunately, with guitars, mint doesn’t require the original box but it’s still a pretty rigid classification. And it counts.

I’ve written about the “curse of the mint guitar” and it applies. If you buy a mint guitar, you are going to want to keep it that way, so no gigs unless you have complete control over the situation. Wear out those frets and your mint status goes away. Bend a tuner? Same. Smack the headstock into a cymbal, yep. No more mint. Because it’s so difficult to keep anything decades old that gets handled, even with careful use, in mint condition, these guitars command a serious premium. I’d like to be able to say it’s 20% or 30% or some fixed percentage but it doesn’t work that way. It depends, as you might expect, on desirability and, to a lesser extent, rarity. Finding a mint 59 Silvertone is probably just as hard as finding a mint 59 335 but the premium is going to be very different. Even the premium for a mint 335 compared to a mint 355 is going to be different. So, let’s stick to 335’s.

I’ve owned over 400 ES-335’s built between 1958 and 1964. And another few hundred 345’s and 355’s. Out of that number there have been perhaps 6 mint 335’s. My definition of mint is this: No wear of any kind. No checking. The finish sinking into the grain of the wood is acceptable but dings and scratches through the finish are not. A small mark here or there that is not through the finish is, to me, generally acceptable as is minor tarnish (but not wear) to the nickel. Even new, unplayed guitars can have a mark here or there. I will mention the term “dead mint”. Dead mint is not a single mark anywhere. I’ve never seen a dead mint 335 from 58 to 64. Close but no. So, if I describe a guitar as mint, it might have a tiny dent somewhere. That’s controversial, I’m sure, but that’s why the term dead mint exists. And nobody who has ever bought a guitar from me that I have described as mint has ever complained.

So, how do we value a mint 335? Well, it varies with the overall market to some extent but I generally add 10-15% over the value of a no issue 9.5 condition (I usually call these 9+). That’s more like 30% over an “average” 59 with a minor issue or two. I hesitate to quote sales figures because it changes so rapidly. A mint 335 is an investment that will always lead the market upwards and generally lag the market going downward. There will always be collectors who want the best possible example of their favorite guitar and will pay that premium no matter which direction the market is headed.

This mint dot neck is currently in stock but it’s not a 59. It is a 61 and it boggles my mind how anything can last 60 years and have barely a mark on it.

Does Rare Count?

Saturday, February 12th, 2022

This 1961 Byrdland is super rare. Only about a dozen made but you could probably score one for under $20K. Why so little? Because most collectors don’t really want to spend a lot of money on a Byrdland. Rare doesn’t always translate to dollars.

The great paradox in vintage guitars is about rarity. Bursts aren’t rare (1600 or so built). They cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Blonde 335’s are somewhat rare (211 built) but not crazy rare. They cost in excess of $100,000 in this roaring fire of a market. Stratocasters are as common as Lincoln pennies (well, not quite) but certain rare custom colors can cost close to $100,000. But even a Burgundy Mist Strat isn’t as rare as, say, a blonde 1961 Byrdland (12 made) or a 59 blonde Epiphone Sheraton (3 made). And those two guitars won’t even get you $25,000. That’s still a lot of money but the price and the rarity are not forming a neat and orderly line that follow conventional logic. Clearly rare doesn’t really count. Or does it?

Let’s look at two factors instead of just one. Rarity and desirability. How many are there and how many people want one. Ah, the old supply and demand thing. You know all that. Supply and demand applies to vintage guitars for sure. But there’s another factor. It applies to serious collectors and definitely not to players. That factor which goes beyond desirability and rarity is not easily defined. It’s the great desire to have something that will make your friend’s jaw drop. It’s a “where did you find that??” guitar. You could also call it a “I’ve never seen one of those!” guitar. It seems that every big collector with the means has at least one burst, black guard Tele, 54-57 Stratocaster, blonde ES-335, Gold top Les Paul and a lot of other guitars that take a somewhat less exalted place in the man cave. But which one does this collector take out of the case and show you when you walk in to see his wonderful collection? More often than not, it’s the one you’ve never seen. The one you didn’t know existed. The one you can’t find that you’ve always wanted.

These unicorns are often special order guitars and are rare beyond rare. Some are one of a kind. Some, maybe one of a dozen. Great examples? Black ES-345’s (there are five from 59), blonde ES-355’s (I know of 4), black Les Paul Standards (I know of 2). Fender didn’t do special orders like Gibson did. There are some really rare Fender colors but there are more of them than you might expect. A Seafoam Green Strat will impress your friends even if it’s a color they wouldn’t actually want. Sparkle finish Strats and Teles command some serious outlay and will always dazzle when you open the case. No one knows how many there are because nobody kept track.

When’s the last time you saw a sunburst ’59 355 (rare) in mono (rarer) with a stop tail (rarest). I know of only one. Gibson stopped making blonde 335’s in 1960. So, how about a blonde 63 (one of two blonde block neck 335’s known). Or a greenburst 335? There are two green ones I know of but only one greenburst. Then there are guitars that seem common but are crazy rare. A 1958 335 in red? There’s one. 59 335 in red? There are 6. All crazy valuable because they are not only rare but they are rare often one off versions of really desirable guitars. So, what are these guitars worth? That’s a post for another day.

They don’t get any rarer than “one of a kind”. This is the only known sunburst stop tail ES-355. It’s a 1959. There are a few other sunburst 355’s from the early 60’s but not more than a half dozen.
Super rare cherry red 1967 Flying V. They made a few dozen in cherry. They made 175 total between 67 and 69 (cherry, sunburst and walnut). This is a great example of how rarity, combined with desirability translates into big bucks. 67 Gibsons are not valuable, as a rule but these bad boys can sell for as much as $75,000.

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.