GIBSON ES-335 ES-345 ES-355
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Gibson Custom Shop ca. 1959

August 1st, 2019 • Uncategorized3 Comments »

Custom Shop logo on an 84 ES-335. Nothing “custom” about it.

Custom Shop. Sounds great, right? The idea of the factory custom shop is not new. Gibson first started using the term in 1984. Fender in 1987. But the idea was more of a marketing ploy than an actual shop that made custom instruments. How custom can it be if they make 100 or more of each model and none are made to actual customers specifications?  I think guitar players are particularly susceptible to marketing gambits that use the word “custom”. A Les Paul Custom is no more “custom” than a Les Paul Standard. Let’s take a quick look at Webster’s dictionary.

cus·​tom | \ ˈkə-stəm adjective. 1: made or performed according to personal order. Well, that’s pretty clear. And it also isn’t really what the Custom Shop actually does. The “Custom Made” plate used to cover the stud bushings on an early 60’s ES-335 (and others) is a good example. There are probably more than 1000 of them out there. They certainly could have continued to use the more attractive pearl dots that they used in 59 or the black plastic dots or the cut down studs. Or even a blank plate. They all would have served their purpose. But putting the words “Custom Made” on the plate somehow made your guitar (and you) special. It was so successful that folks were sending their guitars back to Gibson for the plate even if there were no stud holes to cover. In early 65, the Bigsby models still had the plate even though there were no stop tail studs under it. Eventually, they stopped doing that probably because it cost more to put a plate over nothing than it did to put nothing over nothing. I’m sure it saved them less than a quarter per guitar.

Long before there was something called the Custom Shop, you could order a true custom made guitar from Gibson. For a price, they were happy to do just about anything you wanted. Inlays that spelled your name were popular with artists big name and not so big name. Custom fingerboards, added switches, custom colors, custom neck profiles, non standard hardware and a host of other personal preferences were all available if you had the money and the time. Some custom orders might be as simple as putting nickel hardware on a guitar that usually has gold. Or, at the other end of the spectrum, you could order a double neck with any two necks you wanted and your name on one fingerboard and your wife’s (or your dog’s) name on the other.

If you were a big name artist, you might ask Gibson to make a special guitar for you and if they liked your idea enough, they might make a limited run of them. The Everly Brothers model comes to mind. It was a black J-185 acoustic with two big tortoise guards and star inlays. Of course, the Les Paul model is perhaps the best example although Les himself was an incurable tinker and modded his own guitars pretty regularly making the Les Paul model more of an artist endorsed model than a true custom.

As a player and collector, I love the custom orders. My idea of a great find isn’t a mint 335 from under the bed but a one off that makes you scratch your head and say “what were they thinking?” It would never occur to me to order an ES-355 with a Super 400 fingerboard and a Byrdland tailpiece. I’m not sure a green burst 335 would be on my radar either. On the other hand, something as basic as a blonde 335 in 1963 was a custom order. As a dealer, the one of a kind custom orders pose all kinds of challenges. Pricing a unique guitar is difficult-it can be worth many times what a non custom is worth or it can be worth considerably less. For example, a guitar with someone else’s name inlaid in the fingerboard doesn’t compel many buyers to come running with their credit cards waving unless the name is something like “Elvis Presley” in which case, the guitar’s price goes from 5 figures to 7. But a black 59 ES-335 would sell in a minute or less

Some customs are pretty simple-an engraved guard and truss cover and an extra guard. Hey, Del…You’re not using that old double guard 64 anymore, are you? So, it’s got a coupla extra holes-I’ll still take it off your hands. Hey, I’m a walkin’ in the rain…just to get your 335.
How’s this for rare? The 1964 Greenburst from Rumble Seat Music’s collection. I’m guessing there isn’t another like it.
Rare as they come. Certainly a custom order. The fact that it has the “custom” trc acctually helps authenticate it and the fact that its a lefty helps too. Who would fake a lefty? It’s a stunning and important find. Too bad I’m not the one who found it.

Verities and Rarities

July 27th, 2019 • Uncategorized11 Comments »
This guitar is crazy rare but not crazy expensive. It’s a 60 Epiphone Sheraton and you could probably buy one (if you could find one) for under $30K.
Two rare stop tail 355’s. They only made around a dozen. These are expensive because you want one.

One of the great truths about vintage guitars is the fact that rarity usually doesn’t count for much. We all know how valuable a 58-60 Les Paul is but there were more than 1600 of them made so it’s not exactly rare. A blonde 58-60 ES-335 can be had for less than half the price (still a lot of money) even though they made about 1/8 as many. Wait. It gets worse. Look at a less popular guitar like a blonde Epiphone Sheraton. A great, great guitar made right alongside the very pricey blonde 335’s, 345’s and 355’s. Some of those Gibson badged blondies have reached the $125,000 mark but a Sheraton? Not even close.

Let’s look at some raw numbers. There are only perhaps ten 59-64 blonde 355’s. They will sell in the $75K-$125K range depending on year. There are only 12 Sheratons from 59-60 (NY pickups) and 29 from 61-63. A 59 or 60 will cost you perhaps $28K if you can find one which I assure you, you probably can’t. A 61-62 blonde Sheraton will cost you maybe $22K. Need a

Anyway, you get the idea. Rare doesn’t count much especially in models that aren’t very popular. But there’s a whole ‘nother kind of rarity that needs a little sunlight. Take a very, very popular model like a 335. Within every year, there are rarities that you simply don’t see. The factory customs and one offs that you may not even be aware of. The blonde block neck is one of those. I know of two of them. A 63 and a lefty 64. There are probably a couple more out there but, believe me, you won’t see many of them. A red 59 dot neck (or a red 58) is another. I know of 6 red 59’s- most of which have Bigsby’s and, famously, one 58. There are around 10 red 59 345’s. There are 5 black 59 345’s and, as far as I know, 3 black 59 355’s, one of which belongs to Keith Richards. Here’s the reality. There is no logic to the values.

But a blonde block neck is rarer and impossible to set a fair value on. I’d rather have the more common blonde dot neck just because I like the earlier 335’s and they are so much easier to find. 211 blonde dot necks . 2 blocks. Do the math. A blonde block neck should be outrageously expensive. Block necks from 62-64 are wildly popular and not cheap-$20K plus for a good stop tail. So, where does that put a blonde 62-64 ES-335? Conventional wisdom used to be double the price of a common color. OK, the a blonde 63 should be $42K or so. Then why is a collector grade sunburst 59 dot neck $40K but a similar blonde is three times that (and 100 times more common than a blonde block)? Like I said, there is no logic.

There is an easily understood explanation to the seemingly random and illogical valuation of rare vintage guitars (this is the “verities” part of the post). It’s simple. Do you want one really badly? Yes? Then expect to pay some very serious money for it. That’s how it works.

How about a 60 355 with a Super 400 board and a Byrdland tailpiece? Probably one of a kind but not particularly valuable. Probably because it never occurred to you to want one.
They didn’t make any block neck 335’s in blonde. Except this 63 and a lefty 64. As rare as they come but not six figure expensive. I want one. Do you?

I Learn Something New

July 2nd, 2019 • Uncategorized9 Comments »

A guy walks into my shop with a guitar and would like an appraisal. It belonged to his late brother and, while it has sentimental value, he wonders whether it has vintage value. I open the case and it’s a thin body, single cutaway, double humbucker Gibson. The neck volute tells me 70’s but there is no label and no serial number-only the letters BGN on the headstock. Well, for those who don’t know, BGN stands for “bargain”. BGN guitars were, essentially, factory rejects-too substandard to be called a “second” and too good to toss in the trash bin. But that’s another post all by itself (which I think I already did). It looked like an ES-125 with hum buckers and parallelogram inlays. Or an ES-175 with a thin body.

I’m not an expert in 70’s Gibsons but, in general, the model names didn’t change all that much during the much maligned “Norlin” period (1969-1985). I don’t think I can remember a Gibson guitar coming in my shop that required my having to research the model. I thought ES-135? No, that came later and had stacked hum buckers that look like a P90. ES-137? No, that was later and had different inlays. It also had a very strange finish. Almost blonde but maybe more like a cherry sunburst that had been left in a shop window for year or two. It was, essentially, dark reddish blonde around the edges and blond everywhere else. I recall that Ibanez made a lawsuit thin body that looked like a 175 in the 70’s that had a finish that looked like that but this guitar had a Gibson neck and logo. Nobody is dumb enough to counterfeit a Gibson and put the BGN designation on the headstock. So, I conclude (yes, Dr. Watson, its definitely a Gibson, says so right here on the headstock) that it’s a Gibson.

To the Googler…I search ES-135 and 137 and they are, as I thought, later and a bit different. But wait, there’s a photo that looks right in with the 135’s and 137’s. If I was Homer Simpson, I’d smack my head and go d’oh. It’s an ES-175T. Never heard of it? Neither had I. The ES-175T is exactly how I described the guitar in the first paragraph…a thin body ES-175. How did I miss this? It was introduced in 1976 and sold poorly. According to the information available online, it was gone by 1980. Except it wasn’t. This one has pot codes from 1981 and pickups from November of 80. So, it’s likely an 81.

It is my opinion that the very bottom of Gibson/Norlin’s quality troubles occurred during this very period. Sales were down and the company had squandered 80 years of customer good will by making some pretty awful guitars and ruining some really good ones. In 1980 (I think), somebody decided it was time for Gibson to make decent guitars again and by 1981, they actually started doing so. Tim Shaw (yes, that Tim Shaw) was an engineer at Gibson at the time and was instrumental (no pun intended) in getting Gibson back on track. Again, that’s another post for later.

But back to the mystery guitar. It hadn’t been played in decades but seemed to have weathered its years in the case without major damage. The label was gone and I dunno about that finish. The truss rod needed some adjustment and the strings were 30 years old but those are easy fixes. The pickups are dated embossed t-tops which makes sense for the era and the bridge is a Nashville type-also makes sense. It isn’t pretty but it does play reasonably well and there’s nothing wrong with t-tops. So, I took the guitar as a consignment. Let’s see where it goes.

The Strange Story of FON T5972

June 15th, 2019 • ES 3356 Comments »

Rack T5972 has an unusual history. This 1960 was built in 58 but shipped in May of 1960.

OK, it’s not an oogly-boogly strange story with intrigue and supernatural stuff, it’s just kind of unusual and marginally interesting to 335 geeks. The FON is a number that is stamped into a 335 when construction begins. It is an ink stamp and it’s usually visible through the treble side f-hole. They are date keyed to a letter prefix that goes in reverse. So, for a 335, the letter T is 1958, S is 59, R is 60 and Q is 61. Then they stopped using the FON. The letter is followed by a 3 or usually 4 digit number, a space and a one or two digit number. So, a typical FON for a particular guitar built in 58 might be T-5972 12. T is the year, 5972 is the rack number and 12 is the rank. A rack is 35 (more or less) guitars, usually all the same model. The numbers are supposedly sequential although there is some evidence that it isn’t always the case. The rank is the number within the rack-usually 1 to 35. So, picture a rolling rack with space for 35 guitars that gets rolled around the factory to the various work stations. It starts as a pile of body parts and ends up a rack of 35 finished guitars. Or does it? Here’s where it gets weird (cue the oogly-boogly music).

The first 335’s appeared in April of 1958, although construction likely began earlier. The earliest FON in my data base of 200 ES guitars is T3804 23 although it doesn’t correspond to the earliest serial. T3804 23 is serial number A27992. Oddly, serial number A27696 has a slightly later FON of T3806 3. So. like I said, maybe they aren’t totally sequential. But these very early 335’s seem to follow a logical and orderly path, so we won’t dwell on them. But some racks didn’t. Our example T5972, did not.

Now, it isn’t unusual for a rack of 335’s to be started in one year and finished in the next. It takes a bit of time to build 35 guitars, so a late 58 rack is very likely to have a 59 serial number. T5972 is one of those “on the cusp” racks. In fact, I have no guitars from T5972 in my database that were shipped in 1958 based on the serial numbers. The first one I have documented is FON T5972 20 with SN A29063 which would be late January. So, they probably had a pretty good backlog. The next one from the rack that I have in my database is T5972 30, A30248 shipped in early June. There could have been many from the rack shipped between those two but it’s odd to have guitars from a given rack 6 months apart. But then, T5972 5 (A 31254) ships in September. What’s going on? There are plenty, hundreds in fact, shipped from “S” racks during this time. Why is this (and a few other) T racks trickling out? Or is it simply random?

That’s weird enough but there are at least two others from T5972 that show up in 1960. An ES-335 with the SN A33765 ships in May of 1960. It shows the FON of T5972 19 and the big fat neck of a 58 and the thin top. By May of 60, most 335’s have gone to the “blade” neck or close to it. T5972 is not the only 58 rack that shows up well into 1959 but I believe its the only one to show up well into 1960. And, with the price of a 60 so much less than a 59 or even a 58, these guitars are worth seeking out. While most of us use the serial number for dating, it is clear that the FON means so much more than the simple ship date biased serial.

What I don’t know is why a 58 build would sit around the factory for over a year. Was there a problem with this and a couple of other “T” racks that show up in mid 59? I know Gibson was having consumer complaints about the tops cracking around the jack which they addressed by making the top thicker. They also had neck angle problems with the earlier 58’s (which T5972 doesn’t have). Maybe they used the leftovers when they got behind in their orders. In any case, A T rack ES-335 is going to be a great guitar. I’ve often commented on how much I like the thin top 335’s and, like so many others I love a big fat neck. It also makes the larger point that maybe the serial number isn’t the best way to date a 335 (at least until the FON was discontinued in 1961). I often mention the FON in a listing for a guitar when it’s on the cusp of a year. Instead of writing up a guitar as a 1960, I’ll mention if it’s a 59 build (“S” FON). When you buy one, you should ask the seller to check the FON. It could get you that 59 you really want for the price of the 60 that you can afford. Knowledge is power, folks.

A30248. Shipped in June 59. Construction began in late 58. Monster guitar.




Existential Dilemma

June 5th, 2019 • ES 330, ES 335, ES 345, ES 3559 Comments »

This is my main player. It’s an original finish blonde 1959 ES-345. It has had the neck replaced and a couple of holes filled. I don’t know what it’s worth but I know for sure it’s worth a lot less than it would be if it was all there.

I don’t usually comment on guitars for sale elsewhere but I came across a listing recently that brings up some interesting (and important) questions. I think we all agree that a refinished guitar is worth around half of what an original finish guitar is worth. Maybe as high as 60% in some cases and maybe lower but always in the neighborhood. But I recently came across a blonde 1960 ES-335 that was listed for $41,000. A blonde 60 with the original finish would sell for between $80,000 to $95,000 depending on condition and a few other factors (pickup bobbins, neck profile). So, $41,000 is a reasonable price. Or is it? The listing points out that the guitar was a factory blonde and I suppose that should count for something. But, a properly stripped sunburst 60 that has been refinished blonde would be, in theory, a $15,000 guitar. So, is the fact that the guitar left the factory as a blonde really worth an additional $26,000? Therein lies the dilemma.

Let’s look at it from a different perspective for a moment. Let’s say I have a refinished Stratocaster. It’s a sunburst 64 but it was originally surf green. Is the fact it was once surf green-a rare and valuable color-have any bearing on the value of it in its refinished state? If not, then if I refinish it again in surf green, is it worth more than it was as a sunburst? Or, conversely, if it was originally sunburst and has been refinished in a rare color is it worth more? Most of you (and me) would say no. Otherwise, we’d be refinishing refinished guitars and making a good living doing it.

So, what is refinished blonde ES-335 worth? Good question. To answer it I think you have to ask “what is it that I’m paying a premium for?” Let’s say the guitar as an instrument is worth whatever a refinished sunburst is worth-a refinished sunburst and a refinished blonde will be, ultimately, the same guitar from a players standpoint. As a collector’s piece, it’s value as an original (beyond the value as an instrument) is gone. I justify that by saying that a sunburst that has been competently refinished blonde looks exactly the same as a blonde refinished blonde. I’ll ask another question that might shed light…is a factory stop tail that has had a Bigsby added worth more than a factory Bigsby that has had a stop tail added? I would say they are worth the same. By that logic, the sunburst refinished blonde and the refinished blonde are worth the same.

I can confuse the issue even more. A blonde has only  clear lacquer. A sunburst has color and clear. A sunburst that has its original color but has been over-sprayed with clear is worth more than a total refinish. So, do we treat a refinished blonde that has always been blonde as an overspray?  Just a thought.

A few years ago. I had a client looking for a blonde 345. Blonde 345’s don’t come up for sale very often. They made 211 335’s in blonde but they only made 50 345’s. I was offered a refinished 60 ES-345 that was originally sunburst. The finish, while not perfect, was decent. There was some dark paint left in the routs and it would never be passed off as anything but a refinished sunburst. It sold for $20,000 which was way less than half the value of a blonde 345 at the time. But, and it’s a pretty big but, that $20,000 was a whole lot more than a sunburst 60 refinished in sunburst would have brought. I find that hard to justify but I don’t make the rules. I guess if you want a vintage blonde and you don’t want to pay a huge premium for it, then perhaps this makes sense.

So, I guess that a blonde that’s refinished blonde is worth more than a sunburst refinished blonde. But that begs the next question. Is a blonde refinished sunburst worth more than a sunburst refinished sunburst? I sure don’t think so but I’ve really just made a pretty good argument that it actually is. I think the key is the desirability of the end product. People want a blonde and will pay extra for it, regardless of its former configuration. If you had a truckload of refinished sunburst 59 ES-335s and you refinished them all in blonde, you would probably make money not that I suggest you do that.

This is making my head hurt. I’m going to go play a guitar for a while. There’s a blonde one around here somewhere.

Blondes will always command a premium. A blonde refinished blonde (with documentation) should be worth more than a sunburst refinished blonde…right?




Changes 1962

May 22nd, 2019 • ES 3354 Comments »

It’s a dot neck AND it’s a 62. Last of the dots were shipped in early 62. Then the blocks took over.

OK, back to the “changes” series just in time for Gibson to make a couple of big ones. It’s 1962. Men have flown into space, the young president is scaring the crap out of us with the Russians and their missiles and rock and roll is here to stay. But the dot neck 335 isn’t. Most folks equate 62 as the year of the block neck but it didn’t start that way. The first 62’s were, in fact, dot necks. You don’t see a lot of them and, while I don’t know exactly when the change was made, it seems like it had to have been very early in the year-my guess is early February. Out of the hundreds of 335’s that have passed through my shop, only two 62 dot necks have been among them. Why change from dots to blocks? As I understand it, a lot of buyers were put off by the dot markers because they were associated with the cheapest guitars in the Gibson lineup and the 335, while nowhere near the top of the line, was not a cheap guitar. So, to bring in those buyers who didn’t want to appear to be playing a cheap guitar, Gibson changed the markers to small blocks. Probably cost them about 75 cents extra per guitar. They were still cheap plastic. Only the 355 got real MOP.

The ABR-1 bridge was still the no wire type in 1962 but by the end of the year, the nylon saddles start to appear. I’ve always thought the nylon saddles showed up in 63 with the wire type bridges but I recently bought a 62 from the original owner who said he never changed the saddles and they were nylon. There is also some question about when the wire type bridge appeared. I’ve seen them on 62’s but I’ve seen no wire bridges on 63’s. Two things going on here. One, the change probably transitioned over a period of time and second, some folks are probably scavenging the no wire from a 62 and replacing it with a wire bridge and selling the no wire for big bucks.

The other big change to occur in 62 is only big in the collective mind of the collector. The venerable “Patent Applied For” pickup finally got its patent number assigned. Oddly, the number that Gibson put on the sticker wasn’t the correct patent number for the pickup. It’s the patent number for the Les Paul trapeze tailpiece. Why that is has been the subject of debate for as long as I can remember. As most of you already know, the only thing that actually changed when they went from PAF to patent number pickups was the sticker (The $1000 sticker). There are 62’s with two PAFs, two patent numbers and one of each. You also start seeing pickups with no sign of any label at all. There could be a number of reasons for that. Some pickups got neglected or somebody had a 62 with one PAF and one patent and wanted to make it look like both were PAFs and if one had a PAF sticker and the other had no sticker, well, doesn’t logic dictate that they are both PAFs? No, it doesn’t and don’t be fooled by some genius who tells you that.

So, 1962 is the year of some big changes but not a year for a lot of changes. If it ain’t broke… 62’s are wonderful guitars-to me it is a real sleeper year. The neck profile is still slim but it is usually slightly larger than a 61 “blade” neck. The center block is still solid (with a few exceptions) and the ears are still Mickey Mouse. And the 335 is still great

One of each. 62 is the first year of the patent number pickup, replacing (slowly) the PAF. PAFs will still show up for years but not as frequently. The pickup didn’t change, only the sticker.

A block neck 62 with the short lived (and horrible) sideways trem. I know, it’s not connected but it’s the only photo I have. It looks pretty cool but unless it’s perfectly set up, it just goes out of tune. You could still get a Bigsby and many trem equipped 335’s had the stud bushings for a stop tail covered with the “Custom Made” plaque (which they weren’t).

 


His Royal Harness

May 12th, 2019 • ES 330, ES 335, ES 345, ES 355, Gibson General4 Comments »

This is 1959 harness. The bumblebees are the Mylar type. The black tubing was added except by the jack. Some harnesses have no insulation some do. It’s a crapshoot. These are Centralab pots-the date code is on the side on three of them. The fourth is also a Centralab but the code is on the top. Go figure.

OK, bad pun. Best I could do with the word harness. Electricity doesn’t know how old the parts are that it’s flowing through. If the values are the same, then the signal is the same. If the old parts have drifted, then the signal will change. I don’t usually measure the components in the harness when I get a guitar. If it sounds good and the pots work properly, I leave it alone. I have dropped new harnesses into a lot of guitars and I can’t say that a good new harness sounds any different than a good old one. Oddly (or, given the mindset of most of us vintage idiots, not so oddly) we will pay $1000 or more for a 58 or 59 date coded harness. I know, I’ve paid it. If you’re going to spend all that money to make your guitar right (or make your reissue closer to the real thing) you should know what’s in there.

There are four pots (you  knew that), two capacitors, a three way switch, a jack and a bunch of wire in a 335 or mono 355 harness. The pots in a 335/345/355 are 500K. There is a shielding can around three of them in a 345 and a stereo 355. The bridge pickup tone pot doesn’t get a can because it won’t fit (the pot is too close to the rim). So, don’t get your BVD’s in a bunch if your expensive 59 ES345 has only three cans. The capacitors have a value of .022uF. A 345 has the Varitone circuit-a two sided inductor (choke) and a 6 way switch with a load of resistors and capacitors (or two big multivalue chips). I’ve covered the Varitone in earlier posts so we’ll leave it alone.

Gibson used pots made by a few vendors and all the pots I’ve ever seen have a date code which is pretty useful if you don’t know what year your guitar was made. But keep in mind, a date code only shows you the oldest your guitar can be. You might find a 58 date code in a 60 guitar. You won’t find a 60 date code in a 58, however. Pot codes have 6 or 7 digits. Gibson generally used pots made by Centralab from 58 to 62. The three digit manufacturer code on a Centralab is 134. The next 3 or 4 digits are the week and the year. So a pot with the code 134832 would be the 32nd week of 1958. From 63 until 69 Gibson usually used pots made by CTS which have a 137 code. Same deal a pot with 137409 would be 9th week of 1964. Note that they added a second digit to the year in the 70’s to differentiate 60’s pots from 70’s and later. There were a few other manufacturers pots-mostly early on-that made their way into Gibsons. That’s another post.

The capacitors exert control over the tone pots. A higher number will be darker, a lower number will be brighter. The .022uF cap found in all ES non Varitone models is made by Sprague. The well known bumblebee (it has stripes, thus the name) cap was used from 1958 until around mid 1960. The Sprague “black beauty” (it’s, uh, black) was used from 1960 onward. I don’t know what they used in the 70’s. The very early ones (58 and early 59) are paper in oil type and the later ones are mylar. I don’t think it matters much except the paper in oil caps are supposedly more prone to drift. Any ES model with a shielding can used the same value cap but it was the disc type so it would fit inside the can. I’ve experimented with caps but since I usually have the tone control dimed, it doesn’t make any difference-the cap only affects the tone if the pot is backed off.

The three way switch was made by Switchcraft and is the long body type with a steel frame in a 335 and a brass frame in a 345 or 355. Brass is closer in color to gold, so that’s why they used the brass on guitars with gold hardware. The 1/4″ jack is also made by Switchcraft and is essentially the same today as it was in 1958. The wire is coaxial with a two strand braid on the outside and a cloth covered stranded wire on the inside. That about covers the “what”. The “why” is a longer story. Why 500K pots? I dunno. Why .022uF caps? Ask an electrical engineer.

Paper in oil bumblebees on the left. You can tell PIO from Mylar by the little filler at the top. The Sprague Black Beauties on the right are Mylar and don’t have the fillers.




The Weight (Take a Load Off, Fanny)

April 29th, 2019 • ES 3355 Comments »

You can’t tell until you pick it up. This 335 (it’s a 60) could weigh 8 and a half pounds or it could weigh 7 lbs or so. The components are consistent but the weight of the wood is not. Old wood generally weighs less than new wood. Weight and tone are not tied together in a predictable way.

A reader wrote to me and said I have never done a post about the weight of 335’s. I’m not sure how I missed that considering how many people seem to ask what guitars weigh when they are considering a purchase. It was never much of an issue to me until I got older and my back started acting up. Then again, I don’t play standing up that often so even now, it isn’t that much of an issue. But the weight of a guitar is sometimes more than just a question of comfort.

ES-335’s are relatively consistent weight wise. The range is a good bit less than, say, a Les Paul. I’ve had 7.5 lb Les Pauls and I owned a 1972 Les Paul Custom that weighed nearly 13 lbs. The lightest 335 I’ve had weighed just a hair over 7 lbs and was a 62. The high end for a 60’s 335 is around 9 lbs but there are things to consider. A stop tail will weigh less than a Bigsby given that the Bigsby B7 unit itself weighs 12.5 ounces whereas a stop tail and studs weighs around 3 ounces. Another consideration is the somewhat inconsistent depth of the bodies-anywhere from around 1.6″ to 1.8″ and when the body is deeper, the center block is larger (and heavier). I’m going to assume all the maple blocks were the same size and the extra space was taken up by the spruce “filler” element that sits on top of the block. Spruce is pretty light but we’re talking ounces here. The variation in the neck sizes will also affect the weight-there’s a lot more wood in a big neck 59 than there is in a blade neck 61. Again, ounces. The 58’s and some 59 335’s had a three ply thin top and later 335’s all have four plies. That will make a small difference as well.

I’m not a wood expert but I find a great deal of the variation comes from the composition of the wood itself. Much of that weight has to do with the density of the wood and the moisture content. One of the things I don’t like about 70’s Gibsons (besides the subpar build quality) is the weight. 70’s 335’s are generally heavier than their 60’s and 50’s counterparts. I’m going to blame the quality of the wood for that or perhaps the treatment of the wood. The 70’s were about profits and I would bet that Gibson was buying the cheapest grade they could get away with. Folks talk lovingly about “old wood” and I tend to agree that the age of the wood is a factor in the tone (and the weight) of a 335. Wood dries out over time. Moisture has weight. Dry wood weighs less than wet wood. I’m not sure whether the wood used back in the 50’s and 60’s was better dried than wood today but it seems to weigh less.

So, what’s an “average” 335 weigh? Just under 8 lbs. If I had to pinpoint it, I would say 7 lbs 12 ounces. That’s a pretty comfortable weight for most players. I get asked whether weight has any bearing on tone. I would say that it can but it would be impossible to quantify. I’ve played great 335’s that weighed 7 lbs 2 ounces and great ones that weighed 8 lbs 10 ounces. I find the light ones to generally sound sweeter and, for the lack of a better term, “airier”. Or maybe that’s all in my head (or my back). Like I said, I’ve played some killer 335’s that are close to 9 lbs.

What about 345’s and 355’s? That’s a different story. They can weigh up to 10 lbs due to the weight of the stereo components. A Bigsby 345 has an extra 1.5 lbs hanging off it when compared to a 335 stop tail. The choke, Varitone switch and the shielding cans (no cans on a 335 or mono 355) weigh around 12 ounces. Add in the Bigsby and you’re right at 24 ounces (1.5 lbs). Stop tail and studs only weigh a few ounces. That is lessened a little by the cutout in the center block (which 335’s eventually got as well) but you can depend on a stereo ES being noticeably heavier than a 335. Add in the extra weight of the factory Grovers on a 355 and you’ve got a heavy guitar. Even with all that extra weight, it still weighs a lot less than a Les Paul Custom.

A 345 has a little less wood than an early 335 because the center block has a big piece cut out to accommodate the harness and choke. But it has about 3/4 of  pound of extra electronics that a 335 doesn’t have. Add in 12 ounces of Bigsby and you can easily hit 9 lbs. .

 


Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes 1961

April 15th, 2019 • ES 33512 Comments »

An early 61 looks a lot like a late 60 because an early 61 is the same as a late 60.Most of the changes straddled late 60 and early 61.

In the dot neck universe, the 1961 ES-335 is kind of the red headed stepchild. The reputation is not deserved. There really isn’t all that much difference between a 1959 and a 1961 ES-335 but the 59 will cost nearly twice what the 61 will cost you. What is it that makes the 61 so very inexpensive compared to the other years? Well, mostly, it’s a change that actually occurred in 1960.

As noted in the last post, there were some significant changes that were put in place in late 1960 and these changes are more associated with 1961 than 1960. Because most 60 335’s have the long guard, the general perception is that the short guard is a 61 thing. Same goes for the very thin neck profile and the white switch tip. In fact, there weren’t a whole lot of changes that actually were implemented in 1961. Like the transition from 59 to 60, the transition from 60 to 61 was marked by…nothing. A late 60 is the same as an early 61.

There are long guard 61’s (not many) and there are 61’s with the amber catalin switch tip. As with most changes, they are phased in over time and the timeline in this case happens to straddle the end of the year and the beginning of the next. So, what changed during the year? The most significant change, I think, was in the pickups. They are still PAFs but 1961 marked the change from the long magnet version (A2 or A4) to the short (A5) magnet. You can probably find a 60 with a short magnet and I don’t make a habit of opening sealed PAFs but it is my best guess that the change occurred in early 61. There really isn’t that big a difference between long and short magnet PAFs-the shorter magnet is to keep the strength the same-an A5 is stronger than an A2 or A4. I find short magnet PAFs to be more consistent than long magnet but that may be due more to changes in the winding machine technology.

I think the biggest reason for the 1961 335’s relatively low price is the neck profile. In 1961, the guitar playing public was showing a preference for thinner “faster” necks and Fender, as far as sales were concerned, was eating Gibson’s lunch. Player preference has been for larger necks for a number of years now but some of that is simply “mines bigger than yours” macho BS from online forum posters who probably have never owned a 61 (or a 59) ES-335. When folks come into my shop to play multiple 335’s, the response to the big neck 59’s is “you got anything a little smaller?” It seems that when the money is on the table, the slimmer neck seems to suddenly become more palatable (and it saves you some serious money).  The 61 neck is really slim front to back-the fingerboard is still 1 11/16″ wide. There is so little wood between the truss rod and the back of the neck that even a slight over tightening of the truss rod can cause a hairline crack-usually right down the middle of the back of the neck extending from the third fret to the seventh fret. It’s an easy repair and it doesn’t cause long term problems but it’s something you should look for and be aware of. For the record, the 61 neck is pretty easy to play on. For anyone switching from a 60’s Fender, the 61 should feel pretty good. It’s not that far off from a mid 60’s Strat profile.

The 335 was intended to be a relatively low line instrument and it was considerably less expensive than the big Gibson arch tops and just over half the price of the ES-355 which is really a 335 with fancy appointments and an ebony board. That explains the cheap dot markers (which their lowest priced guitars all had) and the plastic strap buttons. In 1961, I guess they decided they could spend an extra 5 cents per guitar and upgrade the strap buttons to metal. Not a big change and, like most, it seems to have been phased in over time. It’s hard to know exactly when this occurred because a lot of the plastic ones broke and were replaced by metal over the years. It seems to have been implemented in early 61 or very late 60.

Another 1961 change doesn’t affect the guitars at all-it’s the case. Early 61’s still have the brown with pink lined case. The black with yellow case was phased in at some point probably during the first quarter. Most 61’s I’ve had have the black case. Most have the leather covered metal handle and have the Gibson badge. There are Liftons (label inside) with a heavy leather handle and the heavier textured covering but they are also black with yellow.

The only other change to occur in 1961 is not terribly significant. In 1961, the serial numbers beginning with the letter “A” were abandoned and after serial number A36147. Supposedly, the next serial number was 100 but I don’t think that’s right. I think they started at 1000. I’ve owned a lot of 61’s and I’ve never seen a three digit serial number. Correct me if I’m wrong, please. Also, at this time, Gibson started stamping the serial number into the back of the headstock as they do now. There were some odd transitional serials where an “A” serial is shown on the label but a different all digit serial shows up on the headstock. Go figure. Lastly, 61 marked the end of the factory order number. At some point in early 61 they simply stopped. The letter “Q” is the prefix for 61 but I’ve seen very few of them.

If you want a red dot neck, a 61 is very nearly your only option. There are fewer than 30 from 58-60 but over 400 in 1961. It’s not the old red that fades so beautifully. In fact, the later red often fades toward brown which is not so attractive. On the other hand an unfaded 61 in red can be stunning.




Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes 1960

April 1st, 2019 • ES 3356 Comments »

This beauty is identical to a late 59 and will cost you 30% less. This one is probably from March of 60. It has all the 59 features-bonnet knobs, long guard, amber switch tip, single ring tuners and a pretty big neck. I’d buy this guitar in a heartbeat if it was for sale again. I sold it a couple of years ago and it was a great one.

It’s January 4th 1960. It’s Monday. Gibson gave the workers New Years Day off last Friday and you’re back in the factory in Kalamazoo. Your hangover has, mercifully, gone away and you are ready to start a new year at the Gibson factory. You roll over a rack of 335’s to your work area and start doing whatever it is you do. This rack of 335’s (there are usually 35 to a rack) were all built last week and stamped with a factory order number beginning with the letter “S” which stands for 1959. These guitars will get their serial number once they are completed and ready to ship and that serial number will tell us that these guitars are from 1960. OK, why should I care about that, especially nearly 60 years later. Well, I’ll tell you why.

A 1959 ES-335 is worth, in todays market, 30-40% more than a 1960. You could argue that the factory order number is more significant since it signifies the year the guitar was built which is more important than when it was shipped but your buyer is going to look up the serial number and argue that it’s a 60 and your buyer would be right. But they are the same, aren’t they? Yes. They are the same at least for a few months. There were no changes at all made in early 1960. The significant changes occurred in the Fall of 1959-the slimmer neck, the steeper neck angle. An early 60 is the same as a later 59. The 1960 changes really don’t get under way until the late Spring or early Summer and, as usual, the changes occur over a period of time

The most significant change is in the neck profile. By around May or June, the profile of the neck (front to back-the width stayed the same) started to slim down from an average of .83″ at the first fret down to a very slim .79″ or so. The 12th fret measurement goes from the .94″ range down to .87″ and even less. That’s pretty slim. I won’t get into the discussion about neck girth and tone. It’s a slippery slope. But other changes were soon to follow.

I’m not totally clear on the timeline for the tuners-they get changed by their owners so frequently that it’s hard to pin down the period of change. They were still Klusons but the tips went from single ring to double ring and the oil hole went from big to small. They still shrink and fall apart. The knobs go from bonnet (burst type) to reflectors around the same time-again mid year or so. The capacitors, up to the Spring of 1960 were bumblebee Spragues but changed to Black Beauty which are pretty much the same as a later bumblebee.

Very late in the year-probably in December, another round of changes occurred. The very desirable long guards ran out and the economics probably dictated that a shorter pick guard would save a few cents on every guitar. That change is perhaps more significant than most-not because it made much functional difference but because the long guard 335’s are revered nearly as much as the big neck ones. You can’t tell a big neck 335 from a foot away but you can tell a long guard from across the room. At around the same time, the switch tip went from catalin material which turned amber to white plastic which stayed white (and usually cracked). Finally and sadly, it was the end of the line for the blonde finish. They made 88 of them making 1960 the most common of the blondes. But it also marked the beginning of the long tradition of red 335’s. There are a few 59’s (perhaps a half dozen) but red was not offered as a catalog option until 1960. What surprises most folks is how a rare a red 60 is. They made only 21 of them. A long guard red 335, to me, is the most desirable 335 ever made. It’s also worth noting that the red finish itself changed in 1960-probably in the 3rd quarter. It seems the early red dye was very reactive to sunlight and faded to that watermelon color that everybody wants. Yes, it’s the same red that disappears from a Les Paul burst.

In many ways, an early 60 ES-335 is one of the great deals in vintage. It is the same as a late 59 but minus the nearly irrational desirability of that year. 59’s are wonderful guitars-I play one myself (OK, it’s a 345 but its still a 59) but a 60 will cost you a whole lot less do everything that 59 does.

Long guard red 60. Rare and then some. There are plenty of red 61’s but the red is different and the guard is the short version. This, I guess, explains why a red 61 will cost you $20K and a red 60 will cost you more than twice that.