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Gibson ES-295: To Refinish or Not to Refinish?

Gibson ES-295: To Refinish or Not to Refinish?

A flaking 1955 ES-295 -- Zach weighs the pros and cons of refinishing, and explains what it does to the value of an instrument

Hey Zach,
I recently bought this Gibson 1955 ES-295 for about $700 with what I was told is the original case. As you can see, it’s got a serious finish issue. My question is, would I ruin what little value a guitar in this condition has if I had it refinished? Is it worth the $700 I gave for it? Everything seems to be original and it plays great; however, the flaking finish makes it hard to take out of the house as they chip off here and there. Should I have the guitar refinished, or should I keep it as is?
Heath Wilcox
Jonesboro, AR

Determining whether to refinish a guitar is a big decision, especially when it comes to an instrument of this era. Since this is your guitar and not mine, you are the one who has to make the decision, but I can certainly lay out the pros and cons of refinishing. First, let’s take a look at the ES-295 history.

Gibson introduced the ES-295 in 1952 as a hollowbody version of their solidbody Les Paul Model. A closer look at the ES-295 will show that it is very similar in construction to Gibson’s popular ES-175D with an all-gold finish, floral pickguard, and gold hardware. Toward the end of 1957, Gibson replaced the P-90 pickups with their new humbucker pickups. The ES-295 was discontinued in 1958, around the same time the Gold Top Les Paul Model was discontinued. The ES-295 appeared again in the 1990s as a reissue in Gibson’s Historic Collection. You may have also seen this guitar being played by Elvis Presley’s lead guitarist, Scotty Moore.

As long as this guitar is structurally sound and in working order (no cracks in the wood, working pickups and electronics), I think it is well worth the $700 you paid for it. We show the ES-295 at $8500 in Mint condition in the 11th Edition Blue Book of Electric Guitars, and as a general rule, refinished guitars command between 40 and 50 percent of the unfinished value. That means if you refinished this guitar and it appeared in Mint condition, it would be worth between $3500 and $4250. Currently, this guitar would be rated at 60 percent (Good) or lower condition, which we show at $3750.

In the vintage guitar market, we’ve been taught to appreciate all-original guitars and components, and any modifications will negatively affect the value. Original finishes, pickups, hardware, and even original strings add favorably to the value. Even if a guitar is refinished to Mint condition, it is still worth about half of the same guitar with all original finish and components. I’ve had many discussions with vintage guitar dealers regarding this topic, and in the mid- 2000s, people were paying ridiculous amounts for clean all-original instruments.

The question you need to ask yourself is: what do you plan on doing with this guitar? If you plan on keeping it and playing it regularly, you may want to look into refinishing it. I’m sure you’d like to have a clean guitar and a finish that doesn’t flake. However, a professional refinish job will cost a lot of money, especially if you refurbish the hardware and electrical components. On the other hand, if you are looking at making a quick buck or selling it in the near future, you may want to leave it as is. Also keep in mind that the used (Relic, Road Worn, etc.) look on guitars is very much en vogue today. The gold finish that Gibson used on this and their Les Paul Model was very prone to cracking and flaking.

I think you found a great treasure in this guitar, and regardless of whether you refinish it or not, it will continue to be a treasure. Just make sure you are confident in what you decide, and find a professional to refinish it if you take that route.

Zachary R. Fjestad
Zachary is the author of the Blue Book of Acoustic Guitars, Blue Book of Electric Guitars, and the Blue Book of Guitar Amplifiers.
Questions can be submitted to:
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