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Not a 335.

Sunday, July 23rd, 2023

The sleeper of all sleeper guitars. Epiphone Wilshires. The only Gibson made guitar with 2 P90’s, stop tail and ABR-1 from 1958 until 1968. The only other is the LP Standard from 55-early 57 and 68 and later. From the left: 62, 61, 60 and the Custom Shop reissue from 2004 on the floor.

Folks ask me about my personal guitar collection all the time and they are always disappointed with the description…”I don’t have one.” It’s not that I don’t own any guitars, I own lots of them but I’m a dealer and I sell them. I do have a few “keepers” (and even they get sold on occasion) and I’d like to talk about one of my favorites. And it isn’t a 335. It isn’t even a Gibson (except it is but I’ll get to that). It’s the Epiphone Wilshire. The what??

First, a short history lesson. Somewhere around 1958, Epiphone was sinking rapidly toward bankruptcy and Gibson wanted the Epiphone upright bass line. A deal was made and Gibson got the name and the line of instruments. The bass thing never worked out and the instruments didn’t last long but the name became a whole new line of slightly lower priced guitars and amps that were nearly the same as the Gibsons of the era. Epiphone never made the models you know-Sheraton, Casino, Riviera, Wilshire, Crestwood and others. Those were all new models based on existing Gibson designs. Epiphone actually never made solid body guitars at all. The first Epiphone solids showed up in 59 as the Crestwood, Wilshire and Coronet. End of history lesson.

I started playing in local bands when I was in the 7th grade which would have been 1964. I had a new Fender Duo Sonic and a Princeton amp. Between 64 and 68, I probably played in a half dozen different bands and none of them lasted very long but all of them played local gigs and I became a fairly well known lead player among the local musicians (and hacks). In late 67 one of the better known local bands (named after an historic house in my hometown of Scotia, NY called Sanders Mansion) broke up and the keyboard player got the name but not much else. He put together a new band with the same name and I was tapped to play lead. We were six pieces (which meant we didn’t make much money considering the average pay for a night was around $100 for the better bands in the area (and $75 for most). We had two lead singers (one male, one female), keys, drums, bass and guitar. I played a Gibson ES-330 by then and was heavily influenced by Eric Clapton. Cream was at its apex and that’s what I wanted to sound like.

I couldn’t get the sound I wanted out of the 330 because as soon as I got the volume and tone settings right for the “woman tone”, the 330 would feed back and drive everybody nuts. I couldn’t afford to go out and buy something else but the lead singer (the male one) had a friend with a guitar I could borrow. It was a 62 Epiphone Wilshire in a falling apart cardboard case. I would borrow that guitar for every gig and use it on the Cream covers and a few other songs and it nailed the tones I wanted (without the feedback) and I became quite attached to it.

He wouldn’t sell it so I bought an SG and life went on without much change. Fast forward to 1995 or so. I haven’t played a gig since the mid 70’s and I’m starting to get interested in vintage guitars (with the advent of Ebay). The first vintage guitar I looked for was an Epiphone Wilshire but I couldn’t find any of the P90 version which they only made from 59 until 63. The mini humbucker version was out there but they had a very narrow nut and I knew I wouldn’t like that. So I bought a white, refinished 63 Crestwood for $600. It was the same as a Wilshire except it had mini humbuckers and a “Trem-o-Tone” vibrato. I sold that for a decent profit and suddenly, I was a vintage dealer. My personal Wilshire would have to wait.

Between ’95 and now, I’ve probably owned 15 60-63 Wilshires (I’ve never found a 59) and every one of them has been a great player. What’s so great about this guitar? Well, the P90 pickups, while somewhat limited in their tonal possibilities, are great for rock and roll and blues. The guitar weighs almost nothing (5 to 6 pounds usually), has great access to the upper frets and costs very little compared to most guitars from that era. It also has an unusual configuration. Two P90’s, ABR-1 bridge and stop tail. What’s so unusual about that? LP Special and SG Special both had wrap tails. ES-330 had a trapeze tailpiece. At the time, only the ’55 and 56 (and early 57) goldtop Les Paul had this configuration. If I’m given the choice between close to 9 lbs of mahogany over my shoulder and under 6 lbs, I’ll take the lighter one please. I’m not 16 any more (much to my chagrin).

I currently own four of them. A 60, two 61’s and a very good 2004 reissue made in the Gibson Custom Shop. The 61’s are for sale but the 60 is my go to guitar when I don’t want humbuckers. There is little difference between the 60, 61, 62 and 63 other than the neck profile, the logo and the position of the three way switch. The 60 is chunky. The rest are pretty slim and wide. There are mostly red ones although I know of a few white ones and one black one. Tuners were three on a side Klusons-usually oval button single lines although my 60 came from the factory with strip type Klusons (like an LP Special). All had unbound Brazilian boards and celluloid guards (which will off gas and make a mess if you don’t open the case once in a while). They are wonderful players and perhaps the easiest guitar to set up of any I’ve had. You can set it up and leave it for a month and it will still be in tune.

You can still find these in the $6000-$12000 range. Many (and probably most) have had the short seam tailpiece scavenged (it’s a $2500 part these days). Any Wilshire over $10K should be all original. Mods are common especially tuner changes. At $6000 for a slightly unoriginal or lightly modded Wilshire, you’re getting a huge bargain. A comparable early 60’s SG Special or LP Special will run you two to three times as much (and have a wrap tail).

This is the guitar I pick up when I want to play a solid body or I want a screaming rock and roll steamroller of a guitar. I love my 59 ES-345 but sometimes you gotta have P90’s. This is a very early 60. Note the “bikini” logo and oddly placed 3 way switch. That’s not the original case. I have it-it’s cardboard and pretty useless.

Price v. Value

Friday, June 30th, 2023

What’s the ever popular red stop tail ES-335 worth these days? Less than most sellers are asking or so it seems because a lot of them are sitting unsold after months including one of mine.

Every few years, the market gets ahead of itself and folks start asking prices that seem way too high. It usually happens after a sustained run up in prices that has reached its peak. The market for vintage guitars went a little nuts during the pandemic. The breathtaking rise in prices mirrored, in many ways, the guitar market in 2006-2007. It also mimicked the stock market during the internet bubble in the late 90’s. Everybody was happy that they had made lots of money on their portfolios and kept buying hoping the market would continue to rise. And it did. Until it didn’t. The differences between stocks and vintage guitars are huge but the difference that makes all the difference is the size of the market. When folks start selling their stocks, there is nothing an individual can do about it. The market is too big for that to happen. When vintage guitar owners see their “portfolios” rise by double digits in a year, a couple of things happen. One of those things is they think about selling. They assume the market will continue its rise and put their guitar on Reverb or esewhere for an unprecedented price. And folks will pay it. Until they don’t.

That where we are right now. The big rise that occurred from 2019 until 2021 looks to be over for now. Your guitars are worth more than ever but the market isn’t rising. The good news is that is isn’t dropping either. Higher interest rates have cooled the housing market. The stock market is a little wobbly with all the talk of recession. But the guitar market doesn’t seem to respond to interest rates and it seems somewhat immune to the current economic woes. In fact, fear of a recession has been feeding this guitar market. The question comes up in serious conversations about this economy. Where do you put your money? Not cash-inflation makes that kind of dumb. Not real estate with interest rates as high as they are. T-Bills? Well, at 5%, it’s not a bad idea if you’re happy making 5% on your capital. Guitars ran up more than 10% a year for almost three years. That’s a great rate of return but I think it’s over.

When I talk to players and collectors about the current market, they all complain about the high prices unless they are selling. Then they talk about how this guitar sold for this and that guitar is listed at that. New inventory is down but old inventory is sitting unsold because the asking prices simply aren’t realistic. You want examples? I listed a very clean red stop tail 64 ES-335 at a price that reflects the average asking price for a 64-$30,000. That’s nearly 30% higher than it would have been in 2019. It hasn’t sold after 4 months. I listed a rather beat up 58 ES-355 with some issues a few days ago for $29,900. It sold in a half hour with two backup buyers. I’m supposed to be the expert but buyers were writing to me telling me it was massively underpriced. It wasn’t. It was priced right. I’ll explain.

In a busy market, a properly priced guitar should sell quickly. Especially a guitar that is a popular model. There are few guitars more popular than a red 64 ES-335 but that one is sitting. There are few guitars more desirable than a 59 blonde ES-335 but the one I have has been on the market for a year. But that makes some sense because that’s a tiny market-most folks don’t want to spend $100K+ for a guitar. So, how do I explain a 58 mono 355 selling in a half hour? The market for that guitar is pretty small too. Simple, it was well priced. I try to price my guitars sensibly and I’m never in a big hurry to sell so I will let a guitar sit on the market for a long time if the market for it is a small one. But a red 64 335 that hasn’t sold in four months must be overpriced. And I guess it is.

Everybody says the value of any guitar is what someone will pay for it. I agree with that assessment. So, if your guitar is sitting on the market for months (and it isn’t an unpopular model or a model with a tiny market), then it’s likely overpriced. I know this because my guitars are mostly still selling well. I guess $30K for a 64 with some minor issues is too much (and I just lowered it). I could have let it sit and hope the market rises some more or wait for someone who has to have one right away but that’s a fool’s errand. That guy is out there but that segment of the market (guitar buyers with more money than they know what to do with) is even smaller.

I’d rather be a smart buyer than a smart seller. If you buy smart, you will be able to sell smart. If you don’t buy smart, it will be harder to sell smart.

This rare 58 ES-355 (also with some issues) sold recently for under $30K. What happens when a smart buyer meets a smart seller? A sale, that’s what happens.

Act Two

Thursday, June 15th, 2023

It certainly makes sense to write about the Gibson made semi hollows like the Sheraton and Riviera but also the solid body Epi/Gibsons like the Crestwood, Wilshire and Coronet. Not only because I really like them but they are great, under appreciated guitars as well.

First, I’m moved by the comments from all of you. It’s very gratifying to know that you aren’t just reading my posts but you’re also paying attention. The premise of the last post was to get an idea of what you think might make sense for me to write about now that I seem to have exhausted most of the topics related to 58 to 64 ES guitars. There were a number of folks who thought I should cover Strats and Telecasters. Others thought Les Pauls should be next. Still others like the idea of SG’s. Amps got a few nods as well. The obvious follow up is, of course, later ES guitars. Each “act two” has its merits but I think I need to narrow down the choices.

The reason I know so much about ES guitars is because that’s what I sell. Therefore that’s what I see. I don’t sell that many Strats and Teles and I don’t consider myself an expert. I also don’t play Strats and Teles very often so my opinions about tone might be a little skewed. So, I think we’ll eliminate writing about Fenders and besides, there are plenty of folks writing about them already. Newer ES guitars make a lot of sense but that topic has its problems too. Certainly 65-68’s are worth writing about but Norlins? I’d have a lot of bad things to say and where’s the joy in that? We could skip the 70’s and jump to the early 80’s ES guitars. I’ve written a fair amount about 81 to 85-the last gasp of a dying Norlin that turned out some really good guitars but I don’t think I’ll get anywhere near the thirteen years I got out of 1958 through 1964. The Henry Juskiewicz era at Gibson (1986-2018) is interesting but for me to write about them, I have to have them in hand and I can’t see starting to sell 90’s and later Gibsons just so I can write intelligently about them.

That leaves me some really good options though. I will continue to write about 58 to 64 ES guitars especially when an unusual one turns up. I think posts about Gibson era Epiphones are definitely worth doing. These guitars are vastly underrated, undervalued and underappreciated. They deserve some attention so, I’ll do some posts about them. I also think that writing about vintage Les Pauls-especially as they relate to 3×5’s makes some sense. For example, I might buy a 59 burst and write about how it’s authenticated and how provenance is such a big part of that market. I can certainly make comparisons between the Les Pauls I get and certain ES guitars (is a first rack 345 really a “burst killer”?). I’ve been doing a fair amount of business in 57-60 Les Pauls lately and I’m getting comfortable with the idea of writing about them but probably not Jr’s and Special’s-at least not yet.

Finally, I had a suggestion about writing about the best amps to use with ES guitars. Great idea but I’d have to try out an awful lot of amps to come up with a credible opinion about it. I do think I have the knowledge and experience to write about Fender tweed amps. I buy and sell plenty of them. I play them every day and I am nearly as passionate about them as I am about ES guitars. The problem is that so much of amp knowledge is technical and I barely know a resistor from a transistor from a big sister. I can address tone but I can’t tell you why it’s buzzing or “motorboating” whatever that is.

So, expect posts about 335’s to continue when I have something to write about. There will be posts about Les Pauls if I get an interesting one. I’ll discuss Sheratons, Rivieras, Casinos, Crestwoods, Wilshires and Coronets built from 59 until 68. If I get an interesting SG, I’ll write about that and a series on narrow panel Fender tweeds will be fun to write. That ought to keep me busy for at least a year at two to three posts a month.

Everybody seems to write about Les Pauls but I think that you might get a different perspective from me. I am buying and selling bursts but most of the transactions are private and you never get to see them. I let you in on some of the interesting inside stuff that you don’t generally read about. This 58 sold recently and was owned by a few rock stars.

What Makes the Great Ones Great?

Sunday, May 21st, 2023

This is 1959 ES-335 SN A30248. It is the best sounding ES-335 I’ve ever played. It has a 58 FON, thin top, double white PAFs. Neck depth is around .88″ at the first fret and 1″ at the 12th.

I have a post ready to talk about what to do now that I’ve pretty much exhausted the ES guitars but a reader suggested that I write about the best of the ES guitars that I’ve had. I’ve covered the topic in dribs and drabs but never really drew a solid conclusion about what makes the best ones any better than the not quite the best ones (or the worst for that matter).

Let’s look at the top ten. It’s a fluid list…if you follow it through the years (if you can find the posts where mention it) you’ll see that it changes every time I talk about it. That’s simply because I get “new” guitars all the time and one of those new ones might step up and take the place of one of the others. It’s a pretty loose compilation because it’s hard to remember how good a guitar sounded that I owned twelve years ago compared to one I just got yesterday. I suppose I could have recorded them all but I don’t have good recording equipment and everything sounds like crap on an iphone. That said, there is a very clear common denominator among the top ten (and most of the top twenty). Let’s look at number one, two and three. All are 59 335’s. All have thin tops. Two of the three have double white PAFs (I’ll get into that later) and two of three have 58 FON’s. All have big necks (at least .87″ at the first fret and .98″ at the 12th. Two of the three come from the same rack T5792 and all three have serial numbers in the A30xxx range. They are A30248, A30173 and A30957…so they aren’t particularly close together by serial number.

Now, all of those things could be factors or none of those things could be factors. If we look at the rest of the top ten, all but one are thin tops so I think I can safely say that the thin 58 three ply top is a big factor. The top ten as I currently have it is as follows:

1.59 ES-335 58 FON. 2. 59 ES-335 59 FON. 3. 59 ES-335 58 FON. 4. 59 ES-355 mono 59 FON 5. 59 ES-345 59 FON. 6. 58 ES-335 58 FON. 7. 59 ES-345 59 FON. 8. 60 ES-335 58 FON. 9. 58 ES-335 58 FON. 10. 62 ES-335 (dot neck) no FON.

Five have double whites or zebras which means five have double blacks. We all know that the color of the bobbin doesn’t affect tone but the windings certainly do. Because there was no automatic stop on the old winders, the folks who did the winding (mostly women, by the way) stopped when the bobbin looked to be full. Because the color of the wire and the black bobbin are both quite dark, the winders probably were al little more cautious about overwinding. If the windings came off the bobbin, it would slow down the assembly and cost the bean counters time and money. With a white bobbin it was easier to see how close to the edge of the bobbin the windings were and because of that, double whites and zebras got a lot more turns and higher DCRs. Do higher DCR’s sound better? Some say yes. Some say no. It’s pretty subjective. Everyone has an opinion. I like a neck pickup to be in the mid 8’s and the bridge in the low 8’s. Most like a “hotter” bridge. I might add that DCR doesn’t equal output. It’s a common myth and everybody has to stop thinking that a higher DCR is better.

All are stop tails (including the 355). If we go to the top twenty, there is only one Bigsby in the group. So, I THINK I can safely say that a stop tail is a factor. All but one has a big neck (as do most of the top twenty) so that’s a likely factor as well. Neck angles are all over the place among the top ten. At least three have very shallow angles. Maybe a factor, maybe not. There are probably characteristics that are unmeasurable or impossible to know. I don’t know the composition of the plywood for any of these (and it varied). Body thickness also varied a good bit but I don’t usually measure that. For all I know, The amount of glue used to attach the neck could be a factor-I don’t look at that either.

One thing worth noting…the difference between an “average” 58 to 64 ES guitar and a top twenty ES guitar isn’t much. I don’t know that I can say that there is a measurable percentage difference. I could guess 5% maybe? Out of around 600 ES guitars that have passed through my hands, only one was a total irredeemable dog and perhaps a dozen were playable but not terribly good. So 2% of them aren’t worth playing (or paying big bucks for). Those are pretty good odds. Consider that by the 70’s, the odds of getting a bad guitar were more like 75% or 1 good one out of four (my opinion only. YMMV). Keep in mind, the best 335/345/355 for you is the one that sounds best to your ears, not mine.

This is number four. Look closely. It’s not a 335. It’s a sunburst mono ES-355. This sat in the number two position for a year or so and still resides in the top five. It is certainly the best 355 ever and is so close to the number one 335 that on a given day, I might like it better than number one. At that point it depends on the amp and my ears.

What to Do Next

Sunday, May 14th, 2023

I have recently moved into the Les Paul market and have learned a lot about them. The marketplace itself is very different than what I’m used to but I guess the buyer of a $400,000 guitar is a bit different than the buyer of a 335. I sold the 58 in the photo recently as well as a museum grade 59.

Well, I knew it would happen eventually. After 12 plus years, I’ve just about run out of things to say about ES-335’s, 345’s and 355’s. I could repeat some things and maybe correct some errors (yes, there are a few errors, mostly in the early years) but unless someone wants to tell me otherwise, I’ve covered pretty much all the aspects of these guitars. I suppose I could get into real esoterica like taking apart the pots and pickups going through the components but I don’t think there would be that much interest. I’ve thought about covering later 335’s from the mid 80’s onward and maybe even the 70’s but there is a problem with that as well. I simply never see any of them. You all know what I think about 70’s Gibsons and for me to write intelligently about them, I’d have to buy and sell them. All my knowledge comes from observation. I don’t generally read guitar books (although I’ve helped to write a couple). There are some great later 335’s but, again, I don’t see enough of them to write with the kind of detail that you’ve come to expect from me. I think most of you understand that I’m a vintage dealer who writes and not a writer who sells vintage guitars.

There are a couple of interesting options though. I’ve started dealing in vintage Les Pauls and I’m learning a lot. I’ve sold my fair share of 50’s gold tops and lately a few bursts. I’ve always felt that the burst market was a little too scary but now that I’ve gained a lot more knowledge about them, a $400,000 guitar no longer scares the crap out of me. Well, actually it still does but that’s probably healthy. So, maybe I write about Les Pauls. The problem is that everyone writes about Les Pauls and unless you love the way I write, you might not learn anything new or be entertained. I actually find the Les Paul marketplace to be more interesting than the guitars themselves. I have to admit a great Les Paul sounds like a choir of angels but, like 335’s there are good ones, better ones and great ones. Provenance is a big deal with LPs and I find that very interesting as it hardly ever figures into the value of 335’s. How pretty the guitar is (read how much figure in the wood) is another factor that is largely absent from the 335 market. 335’s are all about tone and condition. LP’s seem to be about flame and provenance (and, yes, tone).

I could write about SG’s. I’ve always liked SG’s and I’ve owned at least 100 of them over the years. There’s a lot of overlap between SG’s and 335’s (and Les Pauls) but there are quite a few issues that are unique to them-like the terrible neck join that they kept changing because it wasn’t stable. The other guitars that I have a good base of knowledge about (and really need somebody to champion them) are Gibson made Epiphones. They are, by far, the most underappreciated guitars in the vintage realm. I’ve owned lots of Sheratons, Crestwoods, Coronets, Casinos and Wilshires. I keep a 60 Wilshire in my very small personal collection. I play it as often as I play my main guitar which is a blonde 59 ES-345 with two patched holes in the top.

It’s a tough call for me. I could probably come up with more ES topics but I don’t know if I want to start writing about pickup slugs and height springs. But I could. Let me know what you think. I’d love to get your input.

Gibson made Epiphones are worth writing about. A blonde Sheraton is maybe a $25000-$30000 guitar while a Gibson in blonde is three times that or more. That’s a pretty good deal. Also, the best P90 guitar I’ve ever played (and I own four of them) is the 60-63 Wilshire.

Pole Dance

Monday, April 17th, 2023
These babies are the beating heart of your guitar. Treat them right and they will treat you right.

“My neck pickup is muddy.”

“My bridge pickup is too bright.”

“My pickups are poorly balanced.”

All are legitimate complaints about the tone of your 335, 345 or 355. All have fairly easy solutions so before you start swapping out your pickups, there are some really simple things you can do to improve the tone of your guitar. I’ve written in some detail about saddles and the nut and how they are two of the most important elements in getting the best tone out of your guitar. After all, the vibration of the strings are the source of your tone. The pickups main job is to get that tone from the strings to the amp. Sustain is important and that’s a function of good strings, a well cut nut and properly notched saddles. The strings need to vibrate freely without interference. Too deep saddle notches will choke your sustain as will a poorly cut (to tight or too loose) nut. Uneven frets will also affect the string vibration. You’ll need a good luthier to get these aspects of your guitar optimally set up. Once this is done, your guitar should play beautifully unplugged up and down the fingerboard and on the open strings. Then it’s time to address the issues that led off this post.

It makes perfect sense that raising or lowering the pole screws is a great way to adjust the volume/output of each individual string. Except it doesn’t work very well. Seth Lover’s original design didn’t even have pole screws but the brass at Gibson thought that players would feel that they had lost some control over their tone, so pole screws were added. Unlike the poles in a lot of pickups, the poles in a Gibson humbucker aren’t magnets. They pick up a very small magnetic charge from being next to the magnet but they sure don’t do much when you raise them or lower them. That’s because the magnet is still in the same place no matter where the pole screws are and the amount of magnetic charge on the screws isn’t enough to affect the magnetic field very much. I’m no engineer but I have ears. Do you hear a difference? Good for you if you do…adjust away-I don’t hear it. That said, when you raise or lower the pickup itself, the difference can be massive. The best method for adjusting your pickup height is good old trial and error. I start off with the pickups as close to the strings as possible (without the strings hitting the pickup).

My next step is to listen to the neck pickup. If it’s muddy, I lower only the bass side until I’m happy with the low end frequency response. Then I switch between the pickups to get a sense of the balance. If the neck pickup is louder, I first lower the treble side. If it’s still louder than the bridge pickup I lower both sides until the balance is good. I generally leave the bridge pickup as high as I can get it because I want it to overdrive the amp-that’s a personal preference. If you want the bridge pickup to be a bit more “musical”, lower it equally on both sides. Once you like the tone, you can raise or lower either side to get the strings balanced with each other. Check the balance between the pickups again. If your adjustments of the bridge pickup have made the two pickups out of balance again, your next step should be to lower the neck pickup until they are balanced to your ears.

There is one other adjustment that can make a difference. Often, the neck pickup sits at an angle to the strings usually with the lower edge closer to the strings than the upper (closest to the neck) edge. In that situation, I reverse the pickup ring so the tall side is toward the neck rather than the lower side. That will usually flatten out the pickup. Once the pickup is sitting flat, it will often be a bit louder than it was before. Lower accordingly until the pickups are balanced.

And keep this in mind when choosing pickups…DCR is not a measure of output. It is related to output but the relationship between DCR and volume is not a direct one. a 6.9K pickup can be as loud as an 8.8K. There are too many factors other than DCR that affect loudness (including pickup height). So, don’t assume something is wrong when your 7.6K neck pickup is louder than your 8.8K bridge pickup. Start adjusting the heights and don’t quit until you are happy.

You can clearly see that the neck pickup is sitting at an angle to the strings. That may or may not affect the output or the tone of your pickup. The fix is to reverse the pickup ring so the tall side is toward the neck

1959

Saturday, March 11th, 2023

It’s 1959 and my Dad (The Doc) and five of the seven Gelber brothers are at the beach in Cape May. That’s me on the left at the age of seven. Nice haircut (thanks, Dad).

I remember a lot about 1959. I was six, then seven in May. My Mom and Dad and the seven Gelber brothers piled into our ’58 DeSoto wagon and drove the (interminable) five hours from upstate NY to Cape May, NJ on vacation for two weeks. In ’59, Castro took over Cuba and the USA added a couple of new stars to the flag. We went to the movies and saw North by Northwest, Ben Hur (the lepers scared the crap out of me) and Journey to the Center of the Earth. The Yankees lost the pennant for the first time in my short memory and Gibson built the best guitars ever made on planet Earth.

We could talk about which ones were the best but you have your own opinion about that. I’ll just write about the 335. It was only the second year of its very long run but they had already made a few improvements and maybe took a small step backward as well. The first ’58’s were less than perfect. The unbound board was a little déclassé, the neck angle was too shallow, the frets were too small (for modern players anyway) and the bridge was prone to collapsing. But they sounded magnificent. The thin top had nearly all the resonance of an archtop but the center block kept it all under control. There has never been a more brilliant design; so what did Gibson do in 59? Apparently there were a number of customer complaints about that thin top. Most players used a straight plug and the leverage of that plug, when pulled hard would nearly rip the jack right out of the top. A 90 degree plug would have kept that from happening. Moving the jack to the rim would have kept that from happening. But Gibson chose to make the top thicker and while it didn’t ruin the design by any means, didn’t help the tone.

There were so many changes to the 59 ES-335 that it’s almost like there were five or six different models. A very early 59 will still have the little frets and very often the thin top and the shallow neck angle. The unbound neck was gone after a few months in 58. In 59 the little frets were the first thing to go, followed by the shallow neck angle. By making the neck angle steeper, Gibson was able to utilize a full height ABR-1 which took care of the collapsing bridge problem. They distributed shaved full height bridges to customers who complained about sagging bridges.

Gibson still had a lot of 58 thin top bodies in stock and the complaints really hadn’t had an effect on the top brass in early 59. In fact, the thicker four ply tops really didn’t arrive until around May. After that, they still show up with some frequency probably when the orders outpaced the ability to build the thicker topped bodies. they must have figured that most folks wouldn’t notice. After all, how many players were actual performers who would have the opportunity to strut to the end of their lead and yank the jack out of the guitar? The thin tops show up as late as July 1960 (SN A33765 has a 58 FON and a thin top). I’ve owned three thin top 60’s.

So, you can have a 59 with a shallow neck angle, shaved ABR-1, small frets and a thin top. You can find them with a good neck angle, full ABR-1, small frets and a thin top. Good angle, big frets and a thin top. Good angle, big frets and a thicker top. Then there’s the 59 neck profile. Early 59’s had the same profile as a 58. The depth at the first fret was usually around .88″ but could be as large as .95″ (the necks were carved by hand and could vary a lot). The 12th fret depth was typically a full inch or slightly more. That’s a big honkin’ neck. By sometime around September, the neck starts to get a slimmer profile. Still has the wide nut but the depth at the first fret now seems to fall between .83″ and .86″ while the twelfth fret is usually around .96″ to .98″. It’s a very comfortable neck and while the big neck aficionados still brag about theirs, the “transitional” neck has become very popular.

Oh, and the pickups. All were PAFs but there were four varieties of those too. Most of the early 59’s had double black PAFs. The zebra PAF showed up sometime in February but wasn’t common in 335’s until April. Double whites and zebras are fairly common in 335’s from April until perhaps late July. They continued intermittently in 345’s and 355’s through 1960 and occasionally into 61 on 355’s. The fourth iteration, the reverse zebra rarely shows up in 335’s. They are less rare in 345’s but I’ve only seen two 335’s with them. You want are rare 59? Find a thin top with a pair of reverse zebra PAFs. There is at least one…it’s A30183 and I currently own it.

So, when you tell me you have a 59 for sale, which one is it? Fortunately, they are consistently good guitars. I’ve never had a bad 59. I’ve had some average ones but seven out of ten of the best ES guitars I’ve owned (over 600) are 59’s. Four are 335’s, two are first rack 345’s, one is a stop tail 355. All are thin tops. The others in my top ten are two late 58’s and a refinished 62 dot neck. In case you were wondering. The price of a 59 ES-335 has risen sharply in the past few years but still pales when compared to the same year Les Paul. That tells me that even at $85,000 (The current record for a sunburst 59, I believe), a 1959 ES-335 is still worth every last nickel.

1959 ES-335 SN A30183 with a pair of reverse zebras, thin top, big neck and probably the rarest iteration of the many, many different varieties of 59 ES 335’s. The pickup covers are back on but those backwards zebras are still in there.

It’s Old. It’s Tired. It’s Vintage.

Thursday, March 2nd, 2023
A 335 harness consists of four pots, a three way switch, two caps and a jack. And, of course, some wire. None of these parts (except maybe the wire) can be expected to last forever. The pots in a cheapo Sears Roebuck guitar and the pots in a vintage 335 are exactly the same. They wear out.

First off, I apologize for not posting anything in February. I don’t much like the Winter and February is generally the worst of it. That, along with a new (first) grandchild kept me away from the computer and it’s probably time to make up for that. I’ll start with something of a rant, if that’s ok.

With prices where they are (now higher than 2007), it isn’t at all surprising that folks have become more particular about the guitars they are paying good, hard earned money for. Maybe a $35000 dot neck 59 was a bargain but now with big neck early 59’s almost impossible to find, that $35,000 guitar is now $75,000 or more. Five years ago, when I sold a 59 (or a 58 or a 60) and something was wrong, I would do my best to make it right and buyers would understand that some things simply aren’t fixable without compromising the vintage “integrity”. I think it’s time to think about what is an “expendable” and what isn’t. Nobody cares if the strings are changed. Nobody expects that mint guitar to have its original strings and if it did, it would probably sound like crap anyway after 65 years or so. I understand wanting original frets and when I’m lucky enough to get a guitar that still has them, I can charge a premium. But a good fret job is every bit as good (and sometimes better) than the one done at the factory. But I’m not talking about frets either.

I’m talking about pots. Pots don’t last forever and they are prone to a host of problems-some fixable, some not. Corrosion is going to cause flat spots and noise and you can spray a ton of De-ox-it in there and it may improve but it may not be possible to make the problem go away without replacing it. Pots are date coded, so if I’m going to replace a worn out pot, I will always disclose it (and include the removed pot). I always try to get a vintage correct one that matches the others but it’s not always possible. I can’t tell you how many times I get a phone call or an email weeks or months after a sale and the owner is upset that a pot has developed a flat spot or some noise. Often those owners will say to me something along the lines of “hey, a $50,000 guitar shouldn’t have noisy pots”. My answer is “but a 65 year old guitar certainly could”. I believe that replacing the harness should be a common thing but it isn’t (except in 345’s and stereo 355’s). I’ve never, ever had a guitar sound worse after a vintage harness is replaced with a high end modern harness. Put the original in the case (intact if possible) and enjoy your guitar for another 30 or 40 or 50 years. Pots don’t last forever if the guitar gets played. They don’t last forever if it doesn’t either. An unplayed, mint 65 year old guitar is probably more likely to have problems with the pots. I have a near mint 59 that is extraordinary right now and the pots are totally quiet. When I sell it and 6 months later, they start getting noisy, it’s a lot like have to do a re-fret after you’ve played them down to nothing. Or replacing the tires on your vintage Jaguar. It doesn’t work properly if you leave it alone.

It’s funny how vintage Martin owners seem to understand that a Martin may require a neck reset to play properly. While we would all prefer one that hasn’t been touched, a pre-war Martin with a reset will still command serious money and most serious collectors are happy to pay it because, above all else, you are buying a musical instrument and if it can’t make serious music, as it should, then you are obligated, as a musician, to make sure it does.

Most 345 buyers don’t seem to have a problem when I remove the stereo harness and Varitone and replace it with a modern 335 harness with the same specs. But swap out a pot in a 335 with another vintage one and you hear about how the solder is no longer original or, worse, how the vintage “integrity” of the guitar has been compromised. Just so you know, I try to price everything in.

Year Ender 2022, Part 2

Saturday, January 28th, 2023

It had to happen eventually. Folks have caught on. The 345 is a bargain. Still a lot less expensive than a same year 335 and still every bit as good. Prices are up three years in a row. Sellers still ask more than they are worth and will continue to do so forever.

Typically, part 2 of my year ender posts deals with a look back at ES-345’s and ES-355’s. Well, this is year is no different. 345’s and 355’s don’t simply follow the 335 from behind, they have their own economy and market. The markets are related for sure but they are not in lock step (and haven’t been for decades). After the extraordinary gains of 2021, we all thought that maybe 2022 was going to be the year of the correction. But no. It didn’t happen.

ES-345’s in past years tended to sit at about 50% of the same year ES-335. Again, not in lock step but you could make a general rule considering 1959 to 1964 ES-345’s. As the 59 ES-335’s moved up in value in a head spinning manner, the 59 ES-345 lost some ground but only when compared to the 335. The runup in 59 345’s that began in earnest in 2020 continued unabated in 2022. An good 59 sunburst 335 sits at around $70,000. A good sunburst 345 (stoptail) sits at around $30K. But, looking at the very desirable “first rack” 59 ES-345 market, it’s a different story. I recently sold a first rack in 9/10 condition for $37,000. That’s a big jump from the average of $32K they brought in 2021 (I sold three in that year). Here’s what is a little odd…60-64 ES-345’s haven’t really moved much at all. The asking prices are climbing almost daily but I’m not seeing big jumps in the actual selling prices. I’ve seen a 60 listed for well over $40K. 61’s in the 30K range (which is nearly equal to the current 61 335 price). 62 to 64’s in the pre pandemic days were in the mid to upper teens. I see them daily in the mid $20’s. Consider that an average PAF 62 ES-335 is now perhaps a $30K-$32K, a same year 345 at 75% of the price of the same year 335 is unprecedented in modern times. I’ve always believed that 345’s have been wildly undervalued. It’s a good thing that they are having a good year and getting the respect they deserve. They are wonderful guitars whether still in theoir stereo configuration or converted to 335 spec.

The ES-355 market is different. because there are both stereo and mono versions, there are two distinct markets. The fact that nearly all 355’s have a Bigsby or other vibrato tailpiece keeps the prices down a bit. The other factor that drives the 355 market is the fact that there simply aren’t that many of them. They are the lowest volume of the three ES semi hollows (by a lot). I sold perhaps six 355’s over the past year and the prices were about where they were in 2021 for stereo models but up considerably for monos. And that doesn’t surprise me. Mono 355’s are wonderful guitars. Like the rest of the line, the asking prices have gotten a little “ambitious” but the selling prices are relatively stable. All years other than 58 and 59 are (or should be) still in the $20K to $25K range. You might snag one in the teens if you’re patient. Stereo 62-64’s for under $20K are still out there. Look for Bigsby rather than sideways or Maestro-Bigsby’s simply work better. Here’s a little known fact…there are 65’s and even 66’s with a 1 11/16″ nut. I’ve had a couple 65’s and at least one 66. That’s due simply to the low sales volume. They had leftover wide necks and they used them until they were gone.

2022 was a good year for vintage ES guitars. It wasn’t the feeding frenzy of 2020 and 2021 but the fact that the gains from those years held up after life got back to (almost) normal is comforting. I expect the market to flatten out over the next year but I don’t think it’s going to drop appreciably. Sellers, if they want to sell, need to keep their expectations in check. If you price your vintage ES guitar properly, it should sell…not as quickly as it did back in 2021, but the demand is there.

My highest dollar sale this year was actually a 355. A one of a kind sunburst 59 stop tail, thin top, big neck mono 355. The only 355 to break into to my ten best list and an extraordinary example. I doubt I’ll see another

Year Ender 2022, Part 1

Thursday, January 5th, 2023

60 and 61 dot necks had a great year mostly because 58’s and 59’s have become so hard to find and have soared in value. An early 60 is the sleeper value right now.

With Covid 19 almost in the rear view mirror (for now anyway), the guitar market is slowly returning from the insanity that marked the Covid Era. It was almost a foregone conclusion that the huge runup we saw in 2021 couldn’t possibly sustain through another year. And it didn’t. But 2022 was far from a bust. Inflation reared its ugly head for the first time in decades and that showed up in the new guitar market more than the vintage market. The vintage market had run up so steeply from 2019 until early 2022 that nobody would have even noticed inflation. 9% inflation in the midst of a 20% market rise doesn’t raise many eyebrows. But now it has calmed down a bit but the big price increases have withstood nearly a full year of economic uncertainty. That tells me that vintage guitars are a smart investment (but I already knew that and so did you).

What struck me in the period from Spring of 2020 until early 2022 was the huge increase in the number of first time vintage buyers. We can easily chalk that up to the “stay at home” advice that almost everyone took to heart during the worst of the pandemic. Guitars that have sat in my inventory for years were suddenly out the door. These weren’t bad guitars, they were generally really good guitars that had a limited market. Guitars like Guild Thunderbirds and Aristocrats, Gretsch Duo Jets and Country Clubs, Gibson ES-175’s and even Fender Duo Sonics. The runup in price for a late 50’s or early 60’s ES-175 was truly remarkable. The reason for this? PAFs. The increase in value for a PAF in 2022 was nothing short of mind blowing. I could buy a pair of double whites in 2020 for $9000. Today, if you can even find a pair, you’re going to spend $16,000 to $18,000. While all of the ES models had a good year (although much of that price increase occurred in 2021), it was the PAF equipped ones that led the charge.

The ES-335 market was fairly level in 2022 and that was no surprise after the stunning runup in 2021. Asking prices can (and often are) still crazy high but the overpriced ones are sitting unsold. That didn’t happen last year. You can ask $65,995 for your 60 dot neck with the Bigsby holes but I don’t think you’ll get it. That said, 60 and 61 ES-335’s picked up the slack in the dot neck market caused by the lack of inventory of 58 and 59’s. Decent block necks, especially those with PAFs had a strong year and have held on to the 2021 increases. I think mid 30K’s for a Bigsby or Vibrola version is wishful thinking but they are out there. But so are the ones for $25K. Do your homework. That’s a big disparity. As always, ask about the parts. 95% of the guitars I buy (including those from dealers) have an undisclosed parts issue. It can be as small as a wrong screw or as big as a changed tailpiece (the most common changed part). Wide nut 65’s have been a bargain for years but they took off and held their price through 2022. Still excellent guitars but no longer the sleeper bargain they once were. ES-335’s from 66 to 69 have climbed steadily but have fallen back a little recently. It’s not surprising either when you consider that the number of 335’s made in 67 is something like 10 times the number made in 59.

What should you buy in 2023? Depends on how much you want to spend and whether you want an investment, a player or both. I think 58’s and 59’s are still worth the money. The burst market tells me that there is still plenty of room for 58’s and 59’s to move even higher, especially blondes. If you can find an early 60 (transitional neck), that may be the one to buy right now as it is exactly the same as a late 59. Failing that, a later 60 is still a great choice as a player or an investment. 61’s are tricky with that very slim neck so be careful. 62-64 block necks are high right now but find one with PAFs if you are looking for an investment. I know, the late PAF is the same as the early patent number but the perception in the marketplace will favor a PAF equipped block neck every time. They have been underpriced for a long time and have finally gotten their due after having been left in the dust by the dots. 65 through 68 335’s have gotten kind of pricey as well but there are so many of them that competition often allows you to find a real bargain. After 68, you need to do your homework. Quality and specs are all over the place from 69 onward.

Later (65 to 68) 335’s can still be found at very reasonable prices. Lots of them are overpriced but there are so many out there that a bargain shouldn’t be too hard to find. Do your homework. This rare black 68 wasn’t cheap but it was still affordable for a black 335. A black 59 will cost you $150K or more if you can find one. This 68 was well under $25K.