The Unfortunate Case of The Soggy Custom

The guitar wasn’t the only thing that got hosed in the end.

I can’t say that it is every day that I am able to help out a friend with some financial backing to get a “dream guitar” into their hands, but this was recently my situation – yet that dream quickly became a nightmare.

Out of respect for all parties involved, I am not including names of anyone else involved.

A few months ago I was on and found my very own “holy-grail” guitar. After consolidating a large collection of lesser instruments I was able to fund the purchased of a 1981 Gibson Les Paul Custom in a wonderfully aged Silver Burst finish. The photos in the listing were pretty accurate, and the description by the seller was spot on. It wasn’t being billed as an “all-original” guitar since the pickups had been replaced, as were the pots (and later I found the saddles were also after-market, but I had my suspicions based on the photos provided).

My experience with this coveted acquisition was enough to get a friend revved up enough that he began his own search for a similar instrument.

Back to we went, searching high and low for another Norlin-Era Gibson Les Paul Custom. His focus was pretty clear: originality was key and appearance mattered less, but structural integrity was paramount (as it should be with any guitar). It only took about a month and we started to watch a listing for a 1983 Les Paul Custom in Heritage Cherry Burst finish.

All of the boxes started to get checked-off: the seller mentioned that it was “100% original" with the exception of one speed knob, yet the finish was pretty mangled on the lower edge due to some unidentified past water damage. It had an unscathed “chainsaw case” as well! The confidence that no structural damages were present made this guitar a sleeping success story for us.

So we sat and we waited. Money was saved, gear was sold, and we hoped for a price change.

During a few late night searches for more deals (yes, I do that a lot), I found the very guitar we were watching cross-listed on a forum (, and after looking into both the forum member and the Reverb name we concluded that it was the same guitar. Actually the post linked the Reverb listing directly, and the message on the forum post was equally as transparent: “I’ll sell it directly to a forum member for less.”

So in an effort to save a little bit of money for my friend, I joined the forum and became a member for the sole purpose of purchasing this guitar. Listed at $3300 on Reverb, there would be sales tax attached and the guitar would quickly leave the affordability realm negating the deal we were hoping to get. So we sent a private message and inquired as to the bottom line the seller wanted for the guitar. “$2995 plus shipping”; not bad! We figured that we’d skip the sales tax on Reverb and purchase it direct – everyone would be happy in the end, right?

The deal is sealed in the matter of a few messages back and forth, and the seller accepts the payment through PayPal’s “Friends and Family” service (if you are unaware of this feature and the difference from other business transactions it simply means that the recipient of the funds gets 100% of what is sent, while the sender is not covered by any sales protection that usually exists with a retail transaction). We had little reason to doubt this was going to go smoothly, so we went ahead and sent the funds. Tracking numbers posted the next day, and the guitar was enroute to my shop.

Everyone was happy at that point. The seller moved his gear and received his money, my friend was able to purchase a coveted guitar a satiate his lust for an 80s Custom, and I was thrilled with being able to facilitate the entire thing. Of course since I am his luthier I had first-crack at the guitar when it was to arrive as to make sure it was completely legit, not broken by FedEx, and set-up with his desired strings and specs.

The day came and the guitar arrived. Box opens to reveal a well-packed chainsaw case, and inside I expected to see the wonderful “all original but one knob” Custom that just cost a friend $3k in gear and funds combined.

Everything started to fall apart at this point…

The guitar was indeed what was listed, a 1983 Gibson Les Paul Custom. The color of the finish was actually nicer in-person than the photos, and the damage to the finish was a little ghastly, but the pictures showed that pretty accurately.

I think to better illustrate how wrong everything else was we should quote the original listing and note what we found instead to be the true condition of this guitar:

“All original except one tone knob…”

This was far from the truth. Once I removed the strings from the guitar to perform an in-depth look at the overall condition, the bridge proved to be a complete replacement (the bottom of the bridge was stamped “Gotoh”, and we all know that Gibson never used a Gotoh bridge from the factory). The posts that were to hold the bridge in place were also incorrect and did not properly function. It was clear that someone replaced these parts at some point, and while the seller might not have known this right away, the fact is that there was no due-diligence executed in verifying the originality of these components. In addition, the nut was clearly replaced with a newer bone nut (let’s face it, nuts will have to be replaced, so that was most likely for the better – yet still not mentioned in the “all original” listing!). Strike one.

“The frets are in good condition, and the ebony fretboard plays like butter!”

Ok, frets that are nearly 40 years old will most likely have some wear. No photos were provided of the frets, and this was partially our mistake for not inquiring to see more close-up images of any pitting. But when a listing fails to mention any severe wear (which there indeed was in the middle of the fingerboard, and enough to require a fret dress) one can’t help but feel a little let down. Strike two.

“This guitar is one of the first years that Gibson reintroduced the mahogany neck.”

This line pissed me off a little more than the others. When I removed the truss rod cover, a quick glance into the cavity below it revealed the unpainted surface that is the neck wood. Maple. The neck was certainly made of maple and not mahogany. Then I read the line by the seller again: he never said that this guitar had a mahogany neck, nor did he say it was maple. The statement was simply just a statement, almost like stating “This t-shirt was made in the first year that the company made shirts with cotton” while the shirt in question was made of wool instead. It was more of a comment on what Gibson as a company was doing, yet the seller assumed that the neck was mahogany since that is what they knew of guitars in that era. The truth is that well into 1983 some Les Paul Customs still had maple necks, just like this one has! Now the wear marks on the neck where finish had come off exposed the wood for quite some time, and while maple will dirty and darken with contact to oils and other elements it is not to be confused with mahogany. Peaking under the truss-rod cover gives an accurate look “under the hood”. Big strike three here.

The game should have been over at this point, but the worst is yet to come.

“Some age checking in the lacquer as can be expected in an almost 40 year old guitar. The finish has peeled along the bottom edge of the guitar as can be seen in the pix, but the binding and wood are intact.”

Nope. Not true on either account. Firstly there was a section of the 3 piece maple top near the aforementioned water damage that was split about 1inch along the seam. It was not pictured clearly in any photo and was concealed. Secondly (and in my opinion one of the worst offenses) was the missing binding regions on the headstock. I was completely taken back by this on immediate inspection, and I couldn’t understand how this was missed by both myself and my friend who was now going to be more upset than I could even imagine. Then it dawned on me – the seller never showed the very top front-side of the “open book” of the headstock! In the 2 publicly posted photos in the listing that showed the entire face-side of the guitar (one on a stand and the other while the guitar was laying face-up in the case) the photo was cropped to avoid picturing the headstock condition (refer to the pictures above which we lifted directly from the listing). This was an undeniable act of deception and is deplorable to say the least. I can understand missing a few little dings or areas of wear, but this was clearly not the case of a mistake in representation but an element of willful misrepresentation. Strike four.

But there was one more thing to mention that neither the description alluded to nor would I have caught had I not been concerned with the material used for the neck construction: the fingerboard was actually separating from the neck shaft from the nut to the 2nd fret! There was a 1mm gap that the fingerboard would actually wiggle in and out of while playing on the 1st and 2nd frets! This was really upsetting and was more than cosmetic. Strike five.

The pickups were original, and that is a saving factor of sorts, the wiring also looks to be original (dog house and input casing were all there, though a mounting screw for the doghouse was missing). But really that isn’t enough to make this guitar worth the total amount paid for it. The reality started to really sink in regarding the entire situation: we were taken advantage of and were sold a semi-false bill of goods. But the fact of the matter is that since we bought the guitar off-platform (private transfer of money that is much like paying in cash without a receipt) that we were not protected by any measures that usually exist in a normal PayPal retail transaction. If this were paid on Reverb for the full asking price, Reverb would have gladly stepped in and intervened on our behalf. If this were eBay, the same could be said.

I personally reached out to the seller regarding all of the findings here, and this was his response:

“I’m glad to hear it arrived safely. Sorry for your disappointment in the guitar. I thought I sent you detailed pix showing its’ condition. You must admit, that is a great playing and sounding guitar. I hope you grow to enjoy it.”

That was like waving a middle finger to me while smiling with a pocket full of cash.

A few days later, the guitar is being rehabbed in my shop. The binding on the headstock (about 4 inches total) has been replaced. The fingerboard has been glued back to the shaft where it was once separating. A new bridge is on it’s way (a TonePros was the way to go for him since it’s going to end up being played a lot), and the electronics are being gutted to make room for something else he has in mind (we're going to sell the Tim Shaws and make up some of the money we feel we lost). His words summed it up for me: “The allure of the guitar being at all what we bought has died, but I want to make it something even more special. Let’s turn it into an absolute ripper!” I like his attitude and his positivity.

I’m not asking for any amount from my friend for any of the work or the parts needed to make this guitar into what he and I thought he was buying. No one deserves to be deceived like this, nor is it right or justified in any way. For every crooked sale there is a buyer that is hurt in the process, and if you don’t care than you are as soulless as your guitar was “all original except...”

To the seller, I would guess if you where selling yourself online to a stranger I would maybe include this in your description:

“All original except for any sense of moral decency.”

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