GIBSON ES-335 ES-345 ES-355

Gone, Baby. Gone

March 14th, 2021 • ES 3358 Comments »

Where have all the 59 ES-335’s gone? There’s at least one in every major collection in the world. It is considered one of the five most collectible guitars ever made. Too bad there were only 592 built. Take away the broken ones and the ones with extra holes for coil taps and phase switches and god knows what other atrocities and there are probably a lot less than you think.

The major guitar makers of the “Golden Era” made a whole lot of guitars. Let’s take a broad view of that era and call it from 1950 until 1964 for electrics. There were plenty of really good guitars made before that and after that but the really desirable collector electrics fall into this Era starting with the Broadcaster in 1950 and ending with CBS’s purchase of Fender in January of 1965. We all love the guitars that fall into this era, especially those from Fender and Gibson. In fact every collector-serious or armchair-wants a Fender or Gibson from this era. They can’t all afford one but most will give up a lot to get one. It makes sense then that eventually most of them will end up in collections and not trade on the open market in significant numbers. That eventuality is here right now for some of them.

Fender made tens of thousands of Stratocasters from 54 until 64. Add in another few thousand Telecasters and Esquires and Jazzmasters and it looks like it will take a while for them to be bought up by collectors. Many of them aren’t “collector” grade anyway and those players tend to make up a good part of the vintage market turnover. Players (who aren’t collectors) buy and sell a lot more often than collectors (and players who are collectors). During that same era, Gibson also made thousands of guitars but they didn’t make anywhere near as many as Fender. I like to make the comparison between Stratocasters and 335’s since they are “must have” models for most collectors. Fender doesn’t release their shipping numbers but I believe that for every 335 shipped, there must have been at least 10 Strats hitting the market. You can argue that. But it is simple logic that there will be fewer 335’s on the market than Strats. Nobody will argue that. Let’s look closer.

My point about diminishing inventory for collectors is made crystal clear by the stunning lack of 1959 ES-335’s available for purchase today. There is one currently listed and it’s priced way over market value. It’s an interesting test of the market though. A 59 is, by miles, the most desirable 335 there is. How many were made, you ask? They made 592 (including blondes). If I choose a desirable year for Strats (say, 57), I would speculate that they must have shipped a few thousand of them. Therein lies the current dilemma.

Where are all the 59 335’s? They are in collections and they won’t be for sale until their owners decide to cash their babies out or they die and their families figure out what to do with all those guitars. I’ll go out on a limb and say that most collectors who are slimming down their collection will keep a 335, a Strat, a Les Paul, a Telecaster and a good acoustic. If I’m keeping a 335, it’ll be a 59. So even with diminishing collections, the 59’s are very likely to stay in the herd. I’m sure there will be a few hitting the market with the current price rise but the days when there were ten or more to choose from at any time might be over. If supply and demand means anything at all in the vintage market, you can expect 59’s to get even more pricey. The last three 59’s I’ve sold never even made it to market and I still have a waiting list that you can’t count on two hands for 59’s.

So, I will do two things. One, I will ask any of my readers who have a 59 335 that are considering selling (or simply don’t play much) to get in touch with me and I’ll find you top dollar for it. Two, I’ll buy it outright for more than you paid for it. I’m not going to speculate where the 59 335 market will end up. $50K has been out of reach since 2008 but, for a clean 59, it isn’t any more, IMO. I hate to give in to a bubble that may or may not be sustainable but without inventory, there are no sales.

What happens next, assuming the 59 supply is temporarily dried up? 58’s and early 60’s start to move up. Late 58’s are already up and early 60’s are as well. A 58 isn’t a 59 and a 60 isn’t a 59 either but they are wonderful guitars and simply may have to take the place of a 59 on your wish list. It’s not a bad thing. The good news is there are more than 500 60’s and 300 58’s. And while all three years together barely equal a couple of months worth of Strats in terms of production, you can take some comfort in the knowledge that there are even more 61-64’s to consider when the 58’s and 60’s are gone.

Blonde 59’s are already well into 6 figures but if you want one today, you are out of luck. I haven’t seen a stop tail 59 blonde on the market in over a year. the last two I’ve seen were mine.

What’s Wrong with this Picture?

March 4th, 2021 • ES 33512 Comments »

This guitar was offered to me as part of a fairly large collection. I made an offer to the seller but was outbid by another dealer. This “59” was part of the deal and I had serious reservations about it from the get go.

So, what’s the difference between a fake and a reproduction 59 dot neck? Mostly, it’s a matter of how you approach it as a seller. When a talented luthier like Ken McKay makes a 335, he puts his own name on the headstock even if it is more like a real vintage 335 than anything Gibson has come up with at this point. Don’t get me wrong, Gibson makes some really good 335’s but they still haven’t nailed the 59. I could go into detail but that’s another post. There are plenty of Asian made “copies” but they are generally laughably easy to spot. This one is a different animal altogether. When a 335 that isn’t made by Gibson is marketed as a real one, then it’s a fake. If a legitimate repro Gibson 335 is marketed as a vintage 335, it’s also a fake. I’m not completely certain what the guitar pictured is but I was sure it wasn’t a real 59. There’s a lot that looks right but there’s also a lot wrong.

Well, these don’t look right, do they. The stickers aren’t too bad but they don’t black light and that’s a pretty much foolproof test. Oh, where are the “L” tooling marks on the feet? The bowed out edges of the covers don’t look so hot either.

The construction is pretty accurate but the ears are a bit narrow. That’s what Gibson’s early attempts at reissue Mickey Mouse ears looked like as well, so the body could actually be made by Gibson. But they went to some length to try to fool the buyer. The orange label looked pretty good but the font was wrong. The neck tenon and routs looked real good. They even stamped a FON number into the body. Nice touch. Wrong font again. And, you wouldn’t know this, but the FON was non existent-there were many numbers that were never used. The placement of the stoptail is a little high but mostly, the controls are where they should be. There is some variation in the real ones so that’s not always a great tell. One of the biggest errors that the builder made was the in the neck. The heel on a real 59 (and also 60-68) is very small and rather flat across the top. This one was just wrong. The headstock inlays were also wrong. The mahogany itself didn’t look quite right either-the grain was too open and it didn’t look to be sawn the same way. Oh, and another huge clue? A 59 ES-335 is always between 1.5″ and 1.65″ deep. Later, the bodies got deeper reaching 1.75″ by 1964. Most of the modern reissues are around that number as well, at least the ones I’ve seen. This was 1.76″ so even if they had absolutely nailed everything else, it would have been clear to me that this wasn’t a real 59. A tenth of an inch isn’t easy to eyeball from a photo but your digital calipers won’t lie.

The heel was too tall and too rounded across the top. The work is competent.

Where it really went off the rails was the parts. Fake PAFs. The labels looked pretty good but they didn’t black light. No tooling marks on the feet either. And the nickel covers were those “raw” nickel ones that really don’t look like the real thing. But, they went to some length to make it look real. The tuners were repro Klusons but they actually aged a second set of repro Klusons and shrunk and broke the buttons and put them in the case along with a set of used flatwounds and a vintage Gibson string box and some old song chord charts. Nice touch and a big effort but, really, how dumb do we look? The scammer added a few relatively valuable vintage parts on it though. I guess a modicum of legitimacy fools some of the people some of the time. It was housed in a super clean brown Gibson case-a real one from the 50’s. The amber switch tip and knobs were the real thing too. As were the pickup surrounds. Wait, it gets better…These criminals actually went to the trouble to source an old harness (wrong year but it was a 62 and fairly valuable) and drop it in. But it had fake bumblebees (and bumblebees were gone by 62 anyway). The bridge and tailpiece were Gibson repro’s aged poorly. So, someone spent a couple thousand on parts and the case but probably made a huge profit selling this as a real 59.

The “crown” inlay is too thin and spindly but the logo isn’t too bad at all. Those are the shrunken Klusons that ended up in the case as “the originals”

The dealer that bought the collection saw the problems and asked the seller to take this guitar back. The seller asked if I would go through it and catalog what was wrong and what was right which I agreed to do. I don’t know what he paid but he did mention that it was a great player and had excellent tone. I played it and it was certainly as good as many modern 335’s. I made an offer for the value of the real parts and ended up buying the whole thing. I took the real parts and the good repros and put them away for when I get a guitar that needs them or another project That leaves me with some questionable pickups and the husk. I can’t sell it as anything but an unknown fake but, overall, it’s a pretty decent (and unscrupulous) attempt designed to fool anyone who simply has never laid eyes on the real thing.

Vintage Reissues

February 8th, 2021 • Uncategorized23 Comments »

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

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

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

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

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

Bubble, Puppies, Part 2

January 17th, 2021 • ES 345, ES 3552 Comments »

Bubble Puppy. 1969.

Nice outfits.

I can’t believe nobody gets the reference. I’ve had emails asking me what I mean by the title and the first line of the last post. Here’s the explanation, although I’m a little annoyed that I have to explain it…The guitar market is close to being in a bubble. That’s the bubble part. Most of you who read this blog are younger than I am, so I can certainly refer to most of you as “puppies”. OK, that was easy. But wait. There’s more. There was a band out of Texas-a one hit wonder, really, called Bubble Puppy in the late 60’s. Their one hit (and hence the opening line of my last post) was called “Hot Smoke and Sasafrass” (sp) a line they lifted from the 60’s sitcom, The Beverly Hillbillies where Granny said, “Hot smoke and sassafras, Jethro, can’t you do anything right?” You could have simply googled it, ya know. OK, more stuff to talk about.

Nothing like a red ES-345. The 59’s are crazy rare (9 known) but a 60 is pretty common. Find an early 60 and it will have the guaranteed to fade “watermelon” red finish. But look out, 345’s are up. Way up. Make offers and don’t overpay.

ES-345’s have been, for as long as I’ve been a vintage dealer, the best deal in vintage Gibsons. You could get a 345 for half the price of a similar year 335 and it is every bit as good. Don’t like the stereo and the Varitone? Easy fix for around $400. The ceiling on a stop tail 59 ES-345 had been hovering around $20,000 for years. When folks became more aware of the early “first rack” 345’s, the $20K barrier broke and only the hundred or so first racks broke into the low $20K range. Red 59’s are crazy rare and don’t count here. A stop tail 60 345 was in the mid to high teens and a 61-64 hovered around $14K. Bigsby’s were 15-20% less. As block necks started creeping up, the 345’s followed. I’m seeing Bigsby 345’s over $20K. I’m seeing 60’s and 61’s pushing $30K. That’s nearly double what they were just a couple of years ago. I’m looking at asking prices since I don’t know what everybody else is actually selling them for. I’ve considered 345’s underpriced for many years and I’m happy they are getting some respect but I think they’ve overshot the mark. If I have to pay inflated prices, then you will have to as well. It is my hope that there won’t be the standoff between stubborn sellers and savvy buyers that can really hurt the market. I believe that if you’re spending $20K on a 345, it had better not have a Bigsby (or the “snakebite). Seriously, if a 62 335 is trying to be a $25,000 guitar, then a 62 345 isn’t likely to be a $20,000 guitar. There is a Bigsby 62 listed for $20K. There is a red 60 (with a snakebite) listed for $27500. Makes that 59 stop tail listed at $26K look like a deal. Blonde 345’s are so rare, it’s impossible to track them. They only made 50 of them and you can expect them to be in the $50K-$90K range if you can find one.

Finally, let’s take a look at ES-355’s. Monos have entered the bubble for sure. Last year, I sold a few mono 59’s and 60’s in the mid to upper $20K range. Until recently, mono 355’s have been undervalued but not any more. Now, if you can find any, expect to pay $30K or more. I haven’t seen many collector grade monos for a while. A lot of 355’s have a sideways trem and that keeps the prices a bit lower than a same year Bigsby. Stereo 355’s can still be found at fairly reasonable prices. I sold a stereo 62 for under $15K in 2020 and I see them holding in the mid to upper teens. I don’t like a Maestro on an ES guitar very much but you can still find a 64 Maestro equipped 355 for under $15K. That’s starting to look like a deal. And don’t overlook 65’s. A lot of them have the big neck like a 64. I even had a 66 last year with a wide nut. Unusual but not unheard of. Find yourself a big neck 65 for under $10K (they’re out there) and you’ve bought a great guitar for half what a similarly configured 335 might cost you. If you can manage the slim neck, a later 60’s 355 can be a great deal-you aren’t likely to get t-tops until 69. The 66 I had last year had one purple winding patent and one orange wound patent. Forget about blonde 355’s. I know of less than 10.

Mono 355’s are still one of my favorite guitars but they have gotten rather pricey and it’s no surprise. They didn’t make all that many (no more than a few hundred a year). Stereo 355’s can still be a relative bargain, especially those with a sideways trem (good candidate to convert to stop tail-no holes in the top).

Bubble, Puppies.

January 12th, 2021 • ES 335, Uncategorized3 Comments »
2020 was the year of the block neck. After at least 4 or 5 flat years, folks decided that maybe a dot neck wasn’t the be-all, end-all 335. I would look for a 62 with PAFs but the big 64 neck is a crowd pleaser as well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Year Ender Part One

January 1st, 2021 • Gibson General, Uncategorized3 Comments »

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas at OK Guitars

December 23rd, 2020 • Uncategorized2 Comments »
The “old” OK Guitars caboose. The shop is currently closed.

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

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the pad

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

I remembered a blues lick and played it with flair

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

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

As I waited for Santa inside my caboose.

I had them all tuned and I played every one.

The truss rods were perfect, the strings tightly strung.

All of a sudden on the roof of my shop,

I spied an old fat dude just reeking of pot.

He fell off the roof and into the snow.

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

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

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

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

His fingers flew faster than old Alvin Lee.

It was wailing and screaming all over the town.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You remember that Christmas back in ’63?

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

You started to doubt that I was the truth,

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

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

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

He picked up some cases by Lifton and Stone,

Some old Kluson tuners and a worn out Fuzztone.

“Now, Charlie Gelber you must hear my pitch,

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

The 335 please, the red 59.

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

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

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

He jumped in his sled and sparked up a j,

Flew into the sky and was off on his way.

So if feeling sixteen is what sets you right,

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

By Charlie and Victoria Gelber

With apologies to Clement Clark Moore

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

Making the Grade

December 19th, 2020 • Uncategorized15 Comments »
This is the cleanest ES guitar I’ve come across. There was light wear to the gold on the tailpiece and a single small ding on the back of the headstock. I’ve seen brand new guitars hanging in Guitar Center in much worse condition. Collector Grade is a given but guitars in much worse condition can be collector grade as well

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Few of My Favorite Things

November 29th, 2020 • Uncategorized10 Comments »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is This Good News?

November 21st, 2020 • Uncategorized1 Comment »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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