GIBSON ES-335 ES-345 ES-355
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Parts Timeline #1: Pickups

May 25th, 2020 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 355, Gibson General3 Comments »

Nice clean set of unmolested PAFs. Note how clean the solder is and how perfectly straight the edges of the cover are. Unmolested pickups will usually have no flux around the solder and the solder will be duller than new solder would be

It can be hard to tell the orange poly windings from the purple enamel coated ones in a flash photo but these are the purple ones-more brown really. The red ones are very coppery looking. This would be a PAF or an early patent number. A short magnet PAF and an early patent are identical except for the sticker.

I’m constantly searching for parts on the internet and I’m generally appalled at the descriptions some sellers write. It’s not that they describe the parts incorrectly, it’s that so many folks use the “wishful thinking” approach to dating them. My knowledge of ES guitars and their parts comes from only one source and that source is simple observation. I read everything I could find but most of what I found was full of errors. In fact the thing that started me on my ES-335 web site was a glaring error on what was (and to an extent still is) the best place to go to learn about vintage guitars. That site states: 1968 Gibson ES-335 guitar specs: Neck size increases back to 1 11/16″ with a decently size back shape. It didn’t. If the premiere vintage guitar site has that wrong, what other misinformation is out there? Plenty.

Printed information is very useful but if your observations don’t back it up, it usefulness becomes suspect. OK, enough explanation. What do folks get wrong? Let’s start with pickups. I’ve owned somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 1964 ES-335’s and probably at least 25 ’65’s. I don’t open pickups if they are factory sealed but I do open them if they have been opened in the past-if only to clean up the solder. I have never seen a T-top in a 65, let alone a 63. I’ve also never seen a poly wound pre T pickup earlier than 65. And yet, I read in ads for poly wound pre T-tops that they were in use from 63 until 65. They were not. I have a 69 in stock right now that has pre T-tops. I’ve never seen a poly winding patent number with a nickel cover unless it’s been messed with.

My experience tells me that nickel PAFs ended in 64 and they are rare in 64. Most 64’s have early enamel wound patents and none (that I’ve found) have poly windings or the black and white leads. I hear of gold PAFs showing up as late as 67. I suppose that’s possible-my experience with 67’s is limited. I’ve never seen one after 65. The earliest T-top I’ve ever found was in a 66. The latest pre t-top was in a 69 although they could have even shown up in 70. So, there is clearly quite a lot of overlap. The non gold pickup timeline as I see it is: Long magnet PAF 58-early 61. Short magnet PAF 60 (overlap with long magnet)-64 (rare). Enamel patent: 62 (overlap with PAF)-65 (overlap with poly). Poly patent: 65 (overlap with enamel)-70 (overlap with T). T-top: 66-79. The gold timeline is the nearly the same but has longer overlap. PAFs after 63 are rare. Where gold differs most is the enamel wound patents. They extend well into 65 and I’ve seen a few in 66.

Part of the problem with dating parts is the fact that they can be changed without much evidence. Pickups require re-soldering when changed, so it isn’t hard to tell if a pickup has been out of a guitar. The problem is that nobody wants to pull the harness of a 335 to check. It can be a lot of work. I almost always pull the harness when I get a “new” guitar. I check the solder at the pots, I check the solder on the covers. It isn’t hard to re-solder a pickup cover and make it look original, so look at the sides of the covers…if they are bent or dented at all, they’ve been opened. Changed pickups are really common. Les Paul guys have been scavenging double whites for decades, largely out of 335’s and 175 but also out of 345’s and 355’s. They pull the covers anyway and it’s really easy to swap out a set of gold pole screws for a set of nickel ones.

  • ES 335 Pickup Timeline
  • 1958-1961 Long magnet PAF. Rare in 61
  • 1961(overlap)-1964 Short magnet PAF. Rare in 64
  • 1962-1965 (rare)-Patent number enamel (purple windings) black leads always nickel covers. Identical to short magnet PAF except for sticker
  • 1965-1969 Pre T-top poly (orange windings) black and white leads always chrome covers.
  • 1966 (overlap)-1976 T-top with sticker. Later has embossed pat no.
  • ES-345/355 Pickup Timeline
  • 1958 (355 only)-1961 Long magnet PAF.
  • 1961 (overlap)-1965 or later (rare, overlap) Short magnet PAF
  • 1962-1965 Patent number enamel (purple) windings. Identical to short magnet PAF except for sticker
  • 1965-1969 (overlap) Pre T-top poly windings
  • 1966-1976 T-top with sticker. Later has embossed pat no.

It’s called T-top because of the “T” embossed into the bobbin (duh). Supposedly, it was there to tell the winders which end was up. You can also see that the little window (square in the circle) isn’t there on a T-top.

Fun Guitars that aren’t 335’s

May 6th, 2020 • Uncategorized8 Comments »

One of the (few) upsides to Covid-19 is that I have more time to play the guitars that I have in my possession. As a dealer, I have a pretty broad selection and during the old days (pre Covid), I didn’t play them all that much because I was too busy. I played my ’59 345 and one of the 12 strings (Ricky 660 or Breedlove Classic 12). But here at OK Guitars, there are a fair number of cool guitars that, until now, I haven’t played much. Here’s a sampling:

One of my favorites is the Epiphone Wilshire with P90’s. They only made a few hundred of them from late 60-63, so they are rare. This one is sold but I have another.

What I like so much about the Wilshire is the configuration of two P90’s and a stoptail/ABR-1. Gibson made these guitars in Kalamazoo on the same assembly line as the SG’s of the day. But an SG Special has a wrap tail. In fact, the only P90 Gibson with an ABR-1 other than the Wilshire is a Les Paul (55-57 and 68 and later). So, in the early 60’s this was it. Light weight, loud and nasty (and rare). These are a true sleeper in the vintage market. You can still find them in the $4K-$8K range but look out for changed bridge and tailpiece. Those two items are worth $2000 or more alone. Folks have started scavenging these guitars for parts.

Another rare one. This is a Rickenbacker Susanna Hoffs model. This guitar has monster pickups. The two single coils are as hot as a Mosrite at 12K ohms. The humbucker at the bridge is pretty nice too.

I think the Ricky 325/350 series are pretty cool little guitars. The Lennon connection has always been a factor, being a huge Beatles fan/aficionado. But the 325/350 is a little dull to play. It’s a decent rhythm guitar but it falls short when you want to step out front and wail. Enter the Susanna Hoffs model. Even cooler looking than the Lennon with the checkerboard bindings, the SH comes alive when you plug it in. It’s aggressive in any position and will send your amp into overdrive with a twist of the volume knob. And why is that? How about single coils at 12K? The humbucker at the bridge is pretty hot as well. Yeah, the middle pickup gets in the way for some but there’s enough room to work around it. My only complaint about the Hoffs is the nut width. It’s pretty thin at around 1 9/16″. I have short stubby fingers and I kind of fall all over myself playing narrow fingerboards at the first few frets. It weighs almost nothing and, while it’s a little pricey due to the fact they only made 250 of them, the SH is a fun diversion that couldn’t be more different than what I’m used to playing.

Bet you didn’t expect this. When I was 17, I fell in love with the looks of the Ventures Mosrite and bought one. The nut was so narrow and the frets were so small that I had to change my playing style to accommodate it. But I sure looked cool playing it.

From around 1969 until 1974, I played a Mosrite Ventures Model. It was a 65 and I put a patent number humbucker in the neck and it sounded pretty great. It was not the easiest guitar to play but it sure looked good on stage (I was still gigging until 1973). The pickups in a Mosrite are way overwound (10K-12K) and these bad boys will overdrive your amp to distraction. The frets are tiny (not so great for string bends), the nut is really narrow, they don’t stay in tune very well if you hit the whammy too hard and the single tone knob can be a problem for some players, although the single volume can be a good thing, I think. With the German carve on top, it’s still one of the most distinctive and recognizable guitars of its era even though it’s essentially an upside down Strat. Not expensive unless you are after one of the early “sidejack” ones from 63.

What’s this? Some low volume Gibson solid body with humbuckers. Yes. It’s a burst. This 1960 has been in the house for a while and, even though I’m not a Les Paul guy, this guitar could turn me into one. It’s heavier than my 345 by a pound or so and the neck is a little thinner but it’s a wonderful guitar to play. It looks pretty good too even though the red seems to have disappeared from the finish.

The first time I ever saw a Les Paul was while watching one of the mid 60’s after school programs-it was either “Shindig” or “Hullabaloo” or maybe “Where the Action is”. These programs ran from around 65 until 67 on network TV. The show that day featured the Lovin’ Spoonful and there was Zally with his Guild Thunderbird (also a fun guitar but I just sold mine) but Sebastian was playing a little solid body that I had never seen before. It looked really little and kind of funny (and it was black and white TV so the color and top weren’t much of a factor). Most folks first experience with a burst was Bloomfield, Clapton or Page but this was 1965 and those guys hadn’t really emerged to the mainstream yet with their LPs. I don’t think I have to describe what these sound like or play like. There is hardly a guitar on earth that has had more written about it. I have little to add other than they seem kind of pricey compared to a good vintage 335. Or maybe the vintage 335’s are undervalued. Hmm.

To Tank or not to Tank

April 24th, 2020 • Uncategorized3 Comments »

This photo is not totally relevant to the content but it’s such a cool picture, I thought I would show it again. I don’t think the guitars in this photo will go down in value.

Every year, in January, I write a year end post giving you my take on the market over the past year. Telling you where the market has been is easy. telling you where it’s going is something I’ve avoided and with good reason. Nobody can predict the future. If I had a crystal ball, I’d probably be living on a beach on my private island somewhere warm. I do not. So, in these difficult times, why would I go out on a limb and predict where the vintage guitar market is going? Because you asked. I’ve had a lot of emails and phone calls over the past month or so and that seems to be the compelling question. The economy is on hold. Is the market going to tank? I never took an economics course. I never took a business course. I don’t know Keynes from Fibonacci. I’m going to hypothesize based on what I do for a living.

I don’t know. That’s the simple answer, so take everything that follows as simple logic from the inside. I’m selling a lot of guitars. I dropped some prices-not so much because I think the market is in trouble but because I have no room for the gear. I moved out of my shop last month because my lease wasn’t renewed and I have to put my inventory somewhere. I will say that the current social distancing and the resultant diminished economy is going to be with us for a while yet. I don’t expect to open a new retail space for months going forward. But most of my business has always been online and that appears pretty healthy.

There are at least two important factors driving the current guitar market. One, folks are stuck at home with nothing to do and, for the guitar obsessed (like me), searching the internet for a “new” guitar is a fun, time consuming activity. (So are jigsaw puzzles but c’mon, what would you rather get delivered to your house?) Two, a lot of folks are out of work but even with that, the unemployment rate is “only” at 10%. Not a good recipe for a robust market but not lethal blow either. There will be folks who have to sell one or more of their guitars in order to meet their financial obligations (and to eat). But, I think that, in general, these aren’t the folks who were buying vintage and collector grade stuff in the first place. I believe the collector grade guitars will remain strong but will likely level off somewhat during the next few months. There will likely be some guitars hitting the market put there by sellers who really need to generate some cash. But they won’t list them at bargain basement prices. That’s human nature. This market is not one to tank over night. Look at 2008.

2008 is not the same as now; in many ways, it was worse. Yes, unemployment is worse now but long term prospects are better. But even as the economy tanked, the stock market sank and the housing market sagged, the guitar market held on for quite a few months before it started a relatively slow decline. That decline lasted a very long time and eventually took as much as 40% off the market but in 2008, that market was a bubble. The market today is the result of a slow, steady rise that, in many cases, still hasn’t reached 2008 levels.

I could go on for pages but I think I’ll just lay out my thoughts. The player market will, I think, drop. Possibly significantly. The high end market will level off. Because so many guitars are currently priced way ahead of the market (read as “overpriced”), the folks who need to sell will eventually cut prices probably down to where they should be. The one great truth in this business is that everybody (yes, everybody) thinks their guitar is worth more than it is. Does sitting on the market for months or even years deter those sellers? Nope. Not until they need to sell (for any reason-not just starvation).

So, if my opinion means anything, don’t worry about your guitars. Play them. If you’re in the market to buy, make offers that are fair and reasonable. If I’m wrong and the market tanks, you can tell me I’m an idiot but go back to paragraph two. Sentence one. That tells you everything you need to know.

This is our dog, Zoubi. She doesn’t know there’s a pandemic out there. She just knows I’m home all the time and that means more treats for doggies.

Things to Do (During a Pandemic)

April 6th, 2020 • Uncategorized3 Comments »

Watch some old episodes of “Shindig” or “Hullabaloo” from the mid 60’s. Why aren’t the Hermits’ guitars plugged in? Because there aren’t any amps…it was all lip synched).

Well, this is week number 4 that I’ve been conscientiously social distancing. A few trips to my shop to finish clearing out before my lease expires at the end of the month and one big trip to the local Stop and Shop for groceries and that’s about the extent of my travels. Binge watched “Ozark” and “Unorthodox” and am working on the Aussie quasi soap opera “A Place Called Home”. Oh, and there are guitars here. What to do.

Play. Just sit down and don’t just noodle the stuff you always play. Go to You Tube and learn a new song. Download some blues jams and try to break out of your old habits (I really need to do this). Or just practice your scales and picking. Learn to finger pick if you don’t already do it. Learn alternate tunings (which I’ve never really done other than drop D). For me, I’ve never been able to master any Steely Dan, so I’m going to try to learn a few of my old favorites. My up/down picking can always use a little more practice (I’ve got 55 years of bad habits-I only took lessons for 6 months when I was 11). You a blues player? Play some Bluegrass. A rocker? Learn some country licks. Put aside some time every day to play. I’m lucky to have a space where I can play and not wake anybody up. Play loud-just for fun. If you play sitting down, stand up. If you play standing, sit down. Mix it up. Play along with a favorite song and imagine you’re a rock star. You know you want to-even old guys like me never lose the dream.

Social Media. Post some of your favorite guitars on social media. Sharing your gear with others is a good way to make some new friends. OK, there’s a few douchebags out there who will tell you that your 66 is really a 69 or that the neck pickup looks like a t-top but mostly, everybody is nice. Go to You Tube and look for old footage of your favorite band from your favorite decade. I spent a couple hours watching old “Shindig”, “Hullabaloo” and “Where the Action Is” episodes. For anybody under 60, those were after school American Bandstand type programming with go-go dancers and big pop stars mostly lip synching their hits in black and white (man, I feel old). They aired from around mid 64 until late 66 or early 67. Watch some music documentaries. Ron Howard’s “Eight Days a Week” is wonderful. “The Wrecking Crew” is worth watching as well and there are lots of others.

Maintenance. Change your strings for crying out loud. What’s it been, six months? A year? And oil the fingerboard while you’re at it. Your guitar will thank you. Lube the tuners-nobody ever does this and spray the pots with some De-ox-it. How about you go and clean some of the gunk off your guitars as well. If you’re a gigging musician, you aren’t gigging at the moment and you’ve sweated all over your guitar for long enough. Virtuoso Cleaner is a good product. I’m sure you can order it online. Just let the box sit in the garage for a day or two or open it with your gloves on. This virus knows where you live and will wait you out.

Finally, go and buy yourself a “new” guitar or amp. You know it and I know that nothing makes you feel better than a new piece of gear. I’ve sold an astonishing number of vintage guitars and amps in the last few weeks and while everyone seems to be crying gloom and doom for the vintage market, some folks are taking advantage of that by making offers and getting some deals. A new amp will make you happy and not cost you an arm and probably both legs. I just bought a 70 Marshall JMP 50 because my 55 Twin wasn’t loud enough. Can’t afford vintage? I also bought a 3 Monkeys “Virgil” (best boutique amp out there). Or get an old Supro. A few hundred bucks for a whole new experience.

There’s lots to do at home. Just stay there until this is over. Somebody’s life depends on it. Maybe even yours.

Bored after a few weeks of social distancing? Buy yourself some “new” gear. Here’s a 69 335 in factory black. It will make you feel much better about being cooped up in your tiny apartment or your manor house.

(Anti) Social Distancing

March 22nd, 2020 • Uncategorized16 Comments »

The fun part was that you never knew who (or what) was going to walk in the door next. We had some very interesting folks, some real cool guitars and lots of very cute doggies. Unfortunately, all of that is gone for now and the old train car is no longer mine, so when I come back, it will be in a new location (in the same town)

When you run a small brick and mortar business, it is kind of important to be sociable. Buying a guitar, especially an expensive vintage guitar, is a very often a process that requires a lot of interaction. It’s easy if you know exactly what model, year, finish and configuration you want. You walk in, you play it and you buy it, assuming you like it. But if there are 6 or 8 or a dozen 335’s in the shop, it becomes a process that requires a lot of discussion and a lot of handing guitars back and forth and in the current era of social distancing, that is a problem.

Corona virus is able to live on hard surfaces for a very long time. Nobody is quite sure now long but from what I’ve heard and read, it can live for days on a metal surface. That means the guitar strings are a Corona virus’s paradise. Good for the virus, not so good for you and me. For OK Guitars (meaning me-I’m a one man band), the timing of this crisis is notable. If you have checked my Facebook page lately, you will know that I lost my lease on my store at about the same time the virus hit. I was there for five and a half years and OK Guitars had become a destination shop for tourists. Kent CT’s economy is nearly 100% tourism driven. It’s a big hiking destination with the Appalachian Trail running along the ridge just west of town. And, being only an hour and a half (if you’re lucky with traffic) from New York City, making a day of hiking and a visit to OK Guitars to play a bunch of 335’s was a common Saturday or Sunday endeavor. Sadly, that’s over. At least for now.

I spent this weekend taking down the guitars from the hangers and taking down the hangers for the guitars. Fortunately, I mark all the cases but somehow I still ended up with 12 extra cases. I boxed up all the tools and the strings and the capos and the picks. I unplugged all the amps and covered the ones that have covers. I took down the little Beatles display that was on your right as you walked in (’66 Hofner, 64 Country Gent, Ricky 325, Ringo drum head and photos). Frankly, it was kind of depressing-I worked hard to make my little train car into a place that was equally friendly to well heeled collectors and to AT through hikers who just wanted to play a guitar-any guitar- after three months on the trail (and occasionally three months away from a shower). It was my pleasure to swap stories about the one that got away even though I have heard that story 1000 times. And the best part was that you never knew who was going to walk in and what guitar was going to walk in with them.

Neil Young and Daryl Hannah stopped by out of the blue on a Wednesday afternoon last October. Steve Katz from Blood Sweat and Tears was the very first customer I had-even before I had officially opened. Former Yankee Bernie Williams came in and bought a 59 Bassman. Old friends I haven’t seen in 50 years from my home town of Scotia, NY came by and Michael J. Fox and his entire family were here last Thanksgiving. He wasn’t up to playing that day but seemed happy to just talk about guitars. And it wasn’t just the people that made it so interesting and so much fun, it was the guitars. Litchfield County, CT is a place full of old hippie types a lot of acoustics walked in the door. A couple of Brazilian D-28’s from the 60’s, lots of Ovations and Guilds and probably the best J45 I ever played. A 1917 Martin 00 and a near mint 1939 Gibson L-0. The former president of RCA Records came in one day carrying two guitars and a mandolin and told me he was moving to Arizona and he didn’t want to take these instruments with him. A mint late 60’s Strat, a mint ’64 Gibson J50 and an absolutely stunning 1913 one owner (his wife’s grandfather) Gibson F4 mandolin changed hands that day. This is what I will miss.

So, even without the current pandemic, it would have been the end of an era at OK Guitars but I simply would have found other space and continued as before although in a somewhat less charming and distinctive space. Now, I don’t know. If everything gets back to normal or close to it, then I’ll open another shop. Buying online is fine if it works for you but for those of you who want to come in and hang out and play and talk guitars, I’ll be back eventually and we’ll tell all the same old stories and play all those great old guitars. We’ll crank it up to eleven and drive the neighbors nuts just like old times. See you then.

Jazz great Bucky Pizzarelli came in a few Summers ago and went right for the ’52 Super 400. At age 90, he was playing chords I couldn’t even name (let alone play). He was a little disappointed that he only had 6 strings to play on (he’s usually a 7 string player). That’s me in the background trying to figure out how he does that.

Best Defense…

March 12th, 2020 • Uncategorized2 Comments »

This is what the virus looks like. It’s too small to see so just assume it’s there lurking on the guitar box that just arrived or maybe on the neck, strings and fingerboard. Either leave it for a few days or disinfect it before you play it.

Corona virus is causing all kinds of trouble and it is really important for us to take it seriously. I have closed OK Guitars, my little guitar shop in Kent, CT for the month of March as a precaution. I may close it for the month of April as well if this doesn’t get demonstrably better. The likelihood is that it will get worse. The virus can, as has been reported, live for a very long time on hard surfaces and therein lies the biggest problem in a guitar shop. And what hard surface gets touched in guitar shop, you ask? Guitars. Fortunately, I closed my shop almost two weeks ago, before any cases were active in the state of Connecticut so I’m fairly certain that the guitars are virus free. The good news is that the virus doesn’t live forever on a hard surface and even if a guitar has been played by someone with the virus, it won’t live there forever. The CDC says three days is the likely lifespan (of the virus, not the host).

There are a couple of points to be made here. First of all, if you buy a guitar from me during this time, you can rest assured that it hasn’t been played by anyone for way more than three days. I re-string and set all my guitars up before they hit the showroom floor, so they are ready to be shipped without having to be touched again. The simple precaution of wearing rubber gloves when I pack the guitar will assure you further that the guitar is virus free. I could wipe them down with disinfectant wipes but I don’t think alcohol is particularly good for the finish. I will do so if the buyer requests it. I don’t have any control over how many folks touch the box during shipping but you can take precautions on your own when the guitar arrives. Wear rubber gloves (or any gloves if you don’t have any) or let it sit boxed for a few days or simply wash your hands after you open it (and wipe down the case since you touched it when you unpacked it). Sound like I’m being an alarmist? Go read about the flu epidemic of 1918-19. This virus is up to ten times more deadly, especially to folks my age. I had a guitar delivered yesterday. I unpacked it and looked it over and played a few chords and then washed my hands. Now it will have a three day quarantine before it goes up for sale. Necessary? With cases doubling every few days and test kits still not being distributed widely, I would say yes. Necessary.

Wait, didn’t you say there were a couple of points to be made? What’s the other one? The other one applies if you have been exposed or test positive and you aren’t feeling very sick. Stay home. Quarantine yourself. Play your guitar. Think about how much better you will play after two solid weeks of “woodshedding”. There isn’t much to do if you have to hang around the house for 14 days. The “honey-do” list is out the window since you’re confined to quarters (probably the spare bedroom). It’s you and your guitar and a big box of tissues. What better way is there to run out the clock on this thing?

Gone Viral

March 6th, 2020 • Uncategorized1 Comment »

If the economy tanks because of the economic impact of a viral pandemic, I believe that the best of the investment grade guitars will be just fine. This 58 is guaranteed not to harbor any viruses. As a precaution OK Guitars will be open by appointment only for the month of March. Call for an appointment.

If you are an investor, the past week has been discouraging. The stock market is down 15% or so and the threat of a pandemic is the engine driving this. An economy that is chugging ahead nicely, along with a stock market that seemed unsustainably high (and going unsustainably higher) is bound to react to global bad news-especially bad news that has long term consequences. Me? I’m just a guitar guy. I don’t know much about economics (making the previous statements totally suspect) nor do I know much about investing in stocks other than a personal history of investing in a totally safe stock that promptly tanks the moment I buy it. I learned long ago that the stock market doesn’t like me and I don’t particularly like it. But I know about “investment grade” guitars and that’s what we’re going to talk about here.

What does “investment grade” even mean? Isn’t any guitar that has a value that can go up “investment grade”? After all, that’s the point of investing. Buy low, sell high, right? That’s true but history shows us that some guitars are simply better investments than others. I’m not going to be your investment advisor. You’d be nuts to listen to me about any guitar that isn’t a 335, 345 or 355. So, that’s what we’ll talk about. In my year ender posts, I looked at the past year from an investment perspective. But it was a pretty general discussion…block necks, dot necks, blondes, mono 355’s and so on. But now, with your stock portfolio, which did so well over the last…what, ten or twelve years?, heading into losing territory, what does that do to the guitar market? I don’t know-if I did, I’d be rich and retired-but I have a pretty good idea.

Here’s my opinion from a guy who believes in the vintage guitar market and a guy who knows that you can’t play the blues on a stock certificate (although you can sing the blues over a stock certificate-especially recently). The stock market downturn has to do with worldwide economic concerns. The supply chain for new products largely flows through China. A pandemic will keep people from going to work and things won’t get made. The travel and tourism business drops to near zero in a pandemic. The entertainment business, including professional sports, suffers because folks won’t congregate in large numbers. You can trade your stock portfolio in your pajamas from your home office but that doesn’t help the companies whose stock you are buying and selling from tanking in the wake of a worldwide economic standstill. But vintage guitars don’t follow these economic realities. They simply are.

There is no supply chain to speak of except, perhaps, reproduction parts. There are no crowded public spaces required. You can, indeed, buy a vintage guitar in your pajamas. With an approval period, your risk is minimal. Your risk of getting an illness from a guitar is pretty slim. Does a significant economic downturn hurt the guitar market? It could, by diminishing the wealth of prospective buyers. But it doesn’t hurt the demand for the product. Truthfully, if I’m stuck at home because it’s too dangerous to go out in public or I’m self quarantining , I’m going to really happy having my guitars to keep me company and the thrill of getting a “new” one-if I can trust the Fedex man not to have a communicable virus-will likely be enhanced. If I have to wear gloves and a mask to unpack my purchase, I’m OK with that.

My general advice, from an investment standpoint, is to buy no issue guitars. Mint guitars are great investment pieces because the serious collectors will always want the best example available. Player grade guitars are not the place to go in an uncertain market. Buy them and enjoy them but they will not keep pace with what is still a vibrant and rising market. The values will likely hold up in the short term, but the liquidity (ease of selling) may not and that will drive the values down. If the global repercussions of a pandemic affect all aspects of the economy, including collectibles, then the best of the collectibles will likely become more desirable while the lower grade stuff will likely stagnate or back down. The reality is that the folks who can afford the best of the best will still be able to afford them after the potential pandemic has either fizzled (like SARS) or blown up (like Spanish Flu). It could take a few months or it could change our lives for years.

You can’t go wrong with a Fender narrow panel tweed. These will never die. I’ve heard they are loud enough to drive any virus out of your house.

Scavengers II

February 18th, 2020 • ES 335, ES 3456 Comments »

The stop tail on the right is correct for 1958 to 1964. The one on the left is from the late 60’s. Look at the seam. The one on the right has a seam that is thicker in the middle and thinner everywhere else. The one on the left has a thick seam from end to end. Some repros have gotten this seam correct so you have to look for other features. The stud on the left is correct for the same years. Note the length.

In 2015, I wrote a post called “Scavengers” which is why this post is called “Scavengers II”. In 2015, the market was rising, as it is now and the cost of vintage parts came along for the ride. Changed parts have always been an issue on vintage items. Cars, furniture, virtually anything collectible that is made of components, is subject to changed parts both by unscrupulous sellers and by folks who simply can’t tell the difference between authentic parts and reproductions. What is different now, five short years later, is that the quality of the reproduction parts has gotten so good that it has become hard, even for experts, to tell the real from the fake.

Consider this: A vintage stop tailpiece for a 1958 to 1964 ES-335 will cost you around $1800. A really good reproduction will cost you about $100. You might spend $40,000 on your collector grade ’59 and never know that someone along the way has swapped out the vintage tailpiece for a good repro (or a bad repro for that matter). The likelihood is that you either won’t check to see if it’s real or you won’t know even if you do check. You’ll likely find out at the worst possible time-when you bring it to me or another knowledgable dealer to sell or trade. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve had to be the bearer of bad news of this kind. If the owner isn’t right there when I go through the guitar, it calls my honesty into question, especially if the guitar was bought from another reputable dealer. Fortunately, I make a point of checking the parts before the owner leaves the shop. If you’re buying or trading online, then it can be a real dilemma.

It’s not just the tailpiece either. Amber switch tips don’t cost $1800 but they get swapped out a lot. But even a $250 part can be a deal breaker. Certain parts have gotten really good. Stop tails, ABR-1 bridges, catalin switch tips, knobs, truss rod covers, pick guards, pickup surrounds even PAF stickers. I have mentioned in many previous posts that early 95% of the guitars I buy from individual sellers have an undisclosed issue. Fortunately, it’s usually something minor that I can address from my parts stash but sometimes I have to return a guitar due to something expensive like a repro stop tail and that’s going to be trouble in almost every case because somebody got cheated. “It was right when I sent it” is a pretty common response and I look like the bad guy. The hard part is figuring out who the criminal is if there is one. Usually, I’ll simply return the guitar to the seller if I can. The seller will obviously know if he is the culprit but if he isn’t, he has to consider the person he bought it from or he has to consider me. This is why reputation in this business is everything.

How do we, as dealers, minimize the problem? The best way is to ask for extensive photos. That means pulling the pickups, removing the tailpiece and bridge to show the underside and finding out where the seller acquired the guitar. I know which dealers are meticulous when they check out the guitars they sell and which ones don’t dig too deeply. Those who buy and sell without going through every part aren’t necessarily dishonest, they are simply lazy and that can have the consequences that are being discussed here. “I was too busy…” is a poor excuse. As a dealer, you should be busy authenticating the guitars you’re going to sell. But extensive photos won’t do you any good unless you know what to look for. I can tell a repro part from a real one from a clear photo with very few exceptions. Truss rod covers are tough as are switch tips. Knobs and pick guards can be tricky in a photo but are easy to tell in person.

My advice to sellers is to document every part with the same good photos you are supplying to your buyer. That way if a guitar comes back because of wrong parts you can compare what came back with what you sent out. Easy with metal parts, not so easy with plastic but the photos give you a fighting chance. Wear patterns are like fingerprints. Better yet, when you buy a “new” vintage guitar (and you aren’t an expert) use the approval period to take it to someone who knows what they are looking at to get a second opinion. At current market prices, you deserve to get exactly what you are paying for. Don’t immediately assume someone is trying to cheat you if a part is wrong. Everybody, even the experts, can get it wrong. But a dealer should go out of his way to make it right if that occurs. An individual seller should do that as well but if you aren’t buying from a dealer, go back and read the line about what percentage of guitars I get from individual sellers have an undisclosed issue.

Note the size of the “ears” on these two tailpieces. Both are correct but you’ll only see the shallow one on the left in very early 335’s. I’ve never seen one after 58. I see them on 50’s Les Pauls. But they are real-none of the repros are doing the shallow ears. Another feature that gives away a repro is hard to photograph but easy to feel. The top of the tailpiece should have a very slight hump or ridge. You can’t see it but you can feel it. It’s the first thing I check for when I get a guitar. No hump, no deal.

Vintage 335 on a Budget

February 12th, 2020 • ES 3355 Comments »

335’s from 1981 (not the block necks) to 1985 are generally really good players. Yes, it’s the dreaded Norlin Era but they mostly got these right. The blondes have gotten a bit pricey ($4,000 or so) but non blondes, including, if you’re lucky enough to find one, black ones, are hovering in the $2500-$3000 range. This is a 1984.

A typical email to me contains the following: “I have around $3000-$4000 to spend and I want a 335 but I’d rather have a vintage one than a new one. What should I buy?” It always puts me on the spot a bit to answer that inquiry because there are a lot of good choices vintage and not vintage. Now I guess I have to define vintage. Not new. Not recent. Not crap. I was resistant to calling 70’s 335’s vintage for a long time because so many of them were not any good. But, in recognition of the good ones, 70’s counts as vintage. 80’s as well. Don’t think so? C’mon, 1985 was 35 years ago. If you had bought a 59 dot neck in 1994, you would have considered it vintage back then, so don’t give me a hard time about that. I would go so far as to say we’re getting to where the 90’s are worth consideration as vintage but I’m not quite there yet. So, what are you gonna do with that $3000 you can’t wait to spend?

Unless you’re OK with some big issues, you can skip the 60’s. If you’re OK with a decently repaired headstock crack, you can get yourself into an otherwise original late 65 to 68 in the $3K-$4K range. They are wonderful guitars as long as you can comfortably play a guitar with a very narrow fingerboard (1 9/16″). You might grab an early 65 with a big neck for around $4K but expect issues beyond that busted headstock. The pre T-top pickups are around for a lot longer than most of you think. I see them as late as 68 pretty frequently. T-tops are not a bad pickup either, so don’t fret over the pickups. And if you don’t like them, buy a set of Throbaks. Brazilian rosewood is gone by late 66 or 67 but Indian sounds the same no matter what folks say. A stop tail conversion is a good mod if the luthier or tech puts it in the right position. Too low and it will work fine, it will just look wrong. There are some small differences between 65 and 68 but none of them are all that significant when it comes to tone and playability.

Most of you who read my posts know that I draw a line at 1969. The necks lost the long tenon, the necks became maple or three piece, the quality of the wood and the build started to decline and, while you could still get a good one, you’ll have to play more than a few to find it. Don’t agree? Then go ahead and buy one from the 70’s. Just don’t ask to trade it to me when you’re ready to upgrade. The pickups are still pretty good (T-tops) and the design hasn’t changed much until around 72 when they start shortening the center block and in 75 when they do the seemingly impossible…they make the prettiest body in the guitar world ugly by nipping in the waist and narrowing the cutaways. You can get 70’s 335’s in that price range although they have risen significantly in the past year or so. Most are still under $3K but they have been creeping up along with almost everything else. Don’t confuse the asking price with the selling price. I would look for a 69-71.

That brings us to what I think is the best vintage choice in the range…a 335 “dot reissue” from 1981 to 1985. The earlier ones have a three piece neck so if that bothers you, look for an 83-85. I don’t really mind it. You can still find sunbursts and reds in the $2500 range or even lower if you’re patient and quick on the trigger. Blacks are rare but are very cool and don’t seem to command much of a premium. Blondes, however, do. You can still find them in the low threes or even less but you also see them in the $4K range. They haven’t run up much in price so I think they are still a pretty good deal. The neck tenon is a little wimpy but they seem to be perfectly stable and the nut is as wide as a 59. Profile can be fat or slim. The pickups are Tim Shaws which can be a little dark but tend to come alive if you get rid of the 300K pots and put in 500K pots like 335’s always had before that. I’d just buy a new harness and toss the old one in the case. Creamtone makes a really good one. The tailpiece is usually the heavy zinc one. Buy an aluminum repro for 75 bucks and save a couple of ounces in weight. A repro long guard looks great on them too. Then there’s the Nashville bridge. Perfectly functional design but it looks wrong on a 335. Faber makes an ABR-1 copy that fits the Nashville post spread. Do all that and you’ll have a pretty nice guitar that looks a lot like a real dot neck from 58-62. I can tell but from 20 feet away on a dimly lit stage, it will look pretty authentic and will sound pretty good too.

Next, I’ll take a look at the more recent (1986-2010) 335’s that fall into this same price range and see what you can get for your hard earned buck.

The late 70’s ES-335’s had an extra switch (coiltap), a narrower waist, giant f-holes, Nashville bridge (or harmonica bridge in the mid 70’s) and pointy horns. I think it looks misshapen and out of proportion next to a Mickey Mouse ear 58-63. Not too crazy about some of the colors either. Wine red and walnut finishes will be harder to sell down the road. 335 folks are pretty traditional. Look for a sunburst or a red one. Blondes and Blacks are cool too but not common.

Year Ender 2019, Part 2

January 19th, 2020 • ES 345, ES 35514 Comments »

The 59 ES-355 mono was the big winner in 2019. They were under $20K in 2018 and have jumped to the mid $20’s or even higher if equipped with double white PAFs (and lots of them are). Want a bargain? Buy a 60. It’s the same guitar. Most 59’s have a transitional neck, not the big one. If you find one with a stop tail, sell it to me, please.

So, 2019 was, in general, another pretty good year for some 335’s and a great year for others but what about the rest of the line? 2018 wasn’t so great for 345’s unless it had the number 1959 in front of it. 2019 was pretty much the same. If you are looking for a 59 ES-345 sunburst (reds are rare in 59) or a 59 ES-355 mono, you paid more in 2019 than you did in 2018. I expect that trend to continue into 2020. We can dig a little deeper into the 59 cachet in another post. Truth be told, I don’t know why a collector grade 59 335 sells for around $45,000 and a collector grade 59 345 sells for around half that. 355’s follow the same rules, although the mono version commands a bit more and that’s where we’ll begin.

The mono 355 market was really strong in 2019 and I believe will continue to be that way. One factor that keeps 355’s mono well below the same year 335 is the Bigsby, so keeping apples to apples, we’ll look at the mono 355 compared to a Bigsby 335. A collector grade Bigsby 59 335 will cost you around $32,000. The same year 355 mono will be in the mid $20’s. If you’re OK with a Bigsby, that’s a bargain. A year ago, mono 59’s were still under $20K, so that’s a pretty good uptick. Stop tail 355’s are so rare, they live in a world of their own (all were special order). But anything from 59 seems to live in that rarefied place. Mono 355’s from 60 to 64 also were strong in 2019 although I sold very few of them. I think folks who use a Bigsby are getting the message that a mono 355 is a great alternative to the much higher priced 335’s.

The market for 60-64 345’s and stereo 355’s was not strong in 2019 and it surprised me. It was so weak in 2018 that I thought it had to come up in 2019. It didn’t. Asking prices have outpaced sale prices by 20% or more and folks just aren’t buying. It isn’t the dealers leading the charge here, it’s the individual sellers. I know, dealers ask stupid prices too but when you make your living moving guitars, you have to move guitars. 59’s are strong. First rack 345’s are incredibly strong-I can’t keep them for even a week and with good reason. They are great guitars. But once you get to 1960, it all goes a bit south. Of course, the thin necks are a factor although most players I speak to don’t mind the smaller profiles. I sold a 61 PAF equipped stop tail 345 last year (after months on the market) for $11500. Out of the ten or so 345’s I sold last year that weren’t 59’s, all went below $15K except for a double white PAF 60 ES-355 and a double white equipped 60 345. Again, these were mostly collector grade or, at the very least, no issue or very minor issue guitars. I used to be a purist about converting stereo guitars to mono but not any more. It’s reversible and it’s your guitar. Do what you want to make it a guitar you will play. A new harness will cost you $150-$200 and the labor should be under $200. Don’t forget to flip one of the magnets-stereo Gibsons have out of phase pickups.

I think, going forward, the sellers asking stupid prices for post 59 345’s and stereo 355’s will keep the market flat and even cause it to drop. Simply asking too high a price will affect the market negatively as the inventory soars and the demand stays the same or even falls. With 62-64 block neck 335’s so high, buyers might turn to same year 345’s which could strengthen that market. As I mentioned in Part 1, block necks are pushing through the mid $20K range and 345’s are just sitting there waiting for the smart buyer to jump in at $12K-$15K. Once you’ve converted your 345 or stereo 355 to mono, you are playing the same guitar that your friend with the 335 plays. The difference is that you have an extra $10,000 in your pocket that you can spend on that big tweed Bassman you have your eye on. Or, you can buy something nice for your wife who lets you indulge your childhood fantasy of being a rock star.

A 64 ES-345 is everything a 64 335 is. Don’t like the stereo circuit or the Varitone? Take it out (and flip one of the magnets). With 64 335’s pushing $25K, a 64 345 at $10K less looks like a bargain to me. All years from 60-64, if priced correctly for the market, are a great deal if original and well cared for.