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Another Rare One

February 7th, 2016 • Gibson General5 Comments »
At first glance it's just an ES-140 with a PAF instead of a P90. But look closer and you'll see about a dozen upgrades.

At first glance it’s just an ES-140 with a PAF instead of a P90. But look closer and you’ll see about a dozen upgrades.

In an earlier post, I wrote about the diminutive ES-140. You can find that here. They are fun little guitars, great for travel and far from being some toy. They were, however, fairly low priced “student” grade guitars. They were also popular with women who didn’t want to wrestle a huge ES-175 or other big guitar. None of the manufacturers were making a high end short scale or “3/4″ guitar. Gibson made the ES-140 and 3/4 size Les Paul Jrs, ES-125’s and the occasional Les Paul Special (I’ve seen one). Fender had the Duo Sonic and Musicmaster (and later, the short scale Mustang). The other big makers had similar choices but nobody made anything that approached a pro players guitar. Enter this little unit.

Clearly, a custom order, this 1961 ES-140 looks like somebody shrunk  a blonde single pickup ES-350 or 175. While the stock ES-140 had a P90, this one has a PAF. The neck on a stock 140 was unbound mahogany. This one has a three piece flame maple neck with fancy multi ply binding like a Byrdland. The body on a stock 140 has single ply binding. This one has multi ply binding on the body like a 345 (front and back unlike a 345) and the same fancy parallelogram fret markers except that these are real mother of pearl as opposed to celluloid. But wait. There’s more. Check out the star inlays on the bridge base. Pretty cool and definitely custom. Factory Grovers, upgrade headstock overlay and a multi-ply guard as opposed to the single layer tortoise guard on the stock version. Did I mention the bound f-holes? Somebody really wanted a very special little guitar.

pope

Is that the Pope? Sure looks like his hat.

Back in the 60’s, the Gibson folks were very accommodating to professional musicians and well heeled players. They would make you just about anything you could think of. There are, as you’ve probably seen, ES-355’s with the players name inlaid on the fingerboard, snazzy headstock inlays including one that looks suspiciously like the Pope. While Gibson maintains a “custom shop”, they don’t really do true customs there as far as I know. I looked at the Gibson web site and saw no mention of the kind of custom work they did back in the day. They do the “artist” models and a lot of the reissues but it really seems like an excuse to charge more for what is simply a slightly upmarket guitar. Maybe it’s more a factor of the artists not wanting to be quite so ostentatious these days, although I rather doubt it. I’m a huge fan of custom guitars-it speaks to the history of the instrument and of the artist. There are a pretty fair number of custom inlaid guitars out there with the names of some pretty obscure (mostly country) artists. You just don’t see that very much these days.

And more’s the pity. I like personalized guitars. They carry their provenance with them forever and, in a small way, immortalize the original owner. Elvis had one but he didn’t need an inlaid fingerboard to become immortal. I don’t know who JS Peterson was but he thought enough of himself to have his guitar do the job of immortalizing him (on an admittedly small scale). That’s the Pope headstock inlay. Sorry it;’s a fuzzy picture.

JS Peterson-a name that will live on for as long as somebody is playing this guitar. The Custom Shop really was a custom shop back then. That looks like a 64 ES-355.

JS Peterson-a name that will live on for as long as somebody is playing this guitar. The Custom Shop really was a custom shop back then. That looks like a 64 ES-355.

No Rules

January 30th, 2016 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 3554 Comments »
Very unusual 66 ES-345. Look at those ears...M-I-C-K-E-Y you know the rest. Stranger things have come along but not many.

Very unusual 66 ES-345. Look at those ears…M-I-C-K-E-Y you know the rest. Stranger things have come along but not many.

I write frequently about how to identify the various years and models of ES guitars and, mostly, they follow a pretty predictable set of rules. Except when they don’t. Just when you think you’ve got it nailed down, something comes along and you say to yourself…”see, anything is possible at Gibson in the 60’s…” And, by and large, it is. I’ve written about a number of oddballs over the years.

Recently, I bought a 66 ES-345. It’s the third one I’ve seen with Mickey Mouse ear cutaways. Those were gone by mid 63, so the idea that they were left over bodies is remote. But there they are. I’ve seen some kind of rounded, almost MM ear 66’s and with the hand work that went on, I suppose some variation is likely but this one is dead on. OK, big deal, I wrote up the first one a couple of years ago. Everything else about that one was typical 66. The neck was 1 9/16″ at the nut and the depth was a pretty typical .80″ or so at the first fret. Not this one. First off, the nut is 1 5/8″. Not unusual on a 65 but not usual at all on a 66. Being a fairly low volume model, the neck could have been left over from 65. But then there are the other measurements. This one is .87″ at the first fret and a whopping 1.02″ at the 12th. That’s 58-59 territory. Not even the 64’s reach .87″. Custom order? Maybe but there was no “Custom” truss rod cover which is pretty consistent on custom orders. Employee guitar? I have been told by a Gibson employee from the 60’s that the employee guitars had to have “2” stamps (even if they weren’t “seconds”). Somehow, that neck is outside the “normal variation” bell curve that 60’s ES’s seem to exhibit. An outlier, if you will.

That’s one of the things that is so much fun about 60’s Gibsons (I still say “so much fun” rather than “so fun”-that still sounds wrong to me) is that there are these rule breaker guitars. When I buy a guitar sight unseen from an individual, it’s still an adventure (or a crapshoot depending on your attitude)-even after many hundreds of them. It still feels a little like Christmas morning when I open a guitar box-especially one bought from Ebay or Craigslist. Mostly, the surprises are not so good-changed harnesses, wrong bridges, changed pickups and on and on. When the widow or the family is selling the guitar, it really isn’t fair to ask them to start taking the guitar apart. You look at the two or three photos they provide and hope for the best. Sometimes you get a bad surprise, sometimes you get a good surprise. It would be nice to say that the good surprises outnumber the bad ones but they don’t. That’s simply part of being in this business. But, to be truthful, the good surprises usually outweigh the bad ones. Getting a set of double white PAFs in a 61 when you didn’t even ask if the guitar had PAFs is a good surprise. Getting a 76 harness in a 59 dot neck is not. And, really, you can’t point a finger at the widow of the original owner and say “you didn’t disclose this…” There are no returns in these cases. You simply make the best of it and hope you get it back to being correct and playable.

The point here is not so much that Gibson was full of surprises back in the day. They weren’t. Most of the guitars I get follow the timeline pretty well. But then there are some that don’t and sometimes they don’t in a wonderful way. It’s often a big gamble when you’re spending thousands of dollars on a guitar that you’ve seen perhaps 6 photos of and have no hope of recourse from the 86 year old seller. But, in this case,the Mickey Mouse ears were right there for everyone to see. So how come I was the only one interested? Well, it’s that crapshoot thing again. And besides, that’s why I’m here.

Speaking of unusual, my friend Richie just bought this very rare and very cool 64 Bigsby only. These are are rare to begin with but this one has ears that don't match. How cool is that?

Speaking of unusual, my friend Richie just bought this very rare and very cool 64 Bigsby only. These are are rare to begin with but this one has ears that don’t match. How many martinis did you have for lunch?

 

Market Wrap 2015 Part 2

January 13th, 2016 • Gibson General5 Comments »
Biggest surprise had to be the blonde block neck I found in March. One of only two known. That's rare.

Biggest surprise had to be the blonde block neck I found in March. One of only two known. That’s rare.

Call it the Year of the Blonde. This past year, the value of blonde 335’s started approaching the 2007-2008 level and I’m not surprised at all. A very few stellar examples turned up in 2015 including two stunning birdseye topped late 58’s, a killer flame top Bigsby 59, a 63 blonde block neck and a 59 blonde 355. In a time when great examples are getting really tough to find, it was both astonishing and gratifying to see these stunning guitars see the light of day. I didn’t have all of them (OK, I had two of the ones I mentioned). I wouldn’t be surprised to see top quality blondes passing the $100K mark in 2016.

In general, dot necks were very, very strong in 2015. Part of this is due to the fact that really clean ones are getting scarce. They really didn’t make all that many to begin with and so many are already in the hands of collectors that the few still with their original owners or owner’s families just don’t come up that often. That said, even the player grade 59’s are selling at very strong prices. You aren’t likely to find a 59 under $30K any more. Unbound 58’s continue to be fairly strong but bound 58’s are a standout. Early 60 dot necks are right on the tail of the 59’s. Neck size still counts and that’s what keeps the later 60 and 61 dot necks well below $30K unless they approach mint condition.

That same desire for a big neck has kept most of the block necks from moving very far upward in value in the past year. A red 64 used to be the easiest 335 to sell, especially right after the market corrected but now they seem to have slowed to a crawl. 62 and 63 blocks with PAFs sell better than those without although the asking prices are pretty close if not the same. The bigger neck 64’s still lead the pack in terms of sales but not by all that much. Maybe the era of the big neck is winding down.

Based on the folks who come into my shop and actually play multiple 3×5’s, the consensus is that the huge neck is a great talking point (mine’s bigger than yours) but when it comes down to actually playing the thing, the medium and smaller necks are getting the nod from the buyers. For many, they are simply easier to play. The narrow nut versions are still considered less desirable but “wide flat” and “wide slim” are not the dirty words they once were. This may signal a coming trend that will see late 60 and 61 dot necks bump up to closer to the levels of the 58-59’s. We’ll just have to wait and see. I think many players can adapt to almost anything but there is an odd paradox that still baffles me.

Strat and Tele player typically love the necks on their guitars and there aren’t many that measure any wider than 1 5/8″ at the nut and, with a few notable exceptions, much deeper than .83″ at the first fret. That’s barely 64 territory on a 335 and yet, Strats and Teles keep on selling. The baseball bat and boat necks of the early 50’s are the notable exceptions. Nobody seems to bat an eye at a Strat with a first fret depth of .79″ but put that on a 335 and let the negotiations begin. “Gee, that neck is awfully slim…”

2015 was great fun for me. I found (or lucked into) some very cool guitars. The aforementioned blondes, a black 345, a blonde mono 355, a 59 red dot neck with a Varitone, a killer red 60 and quite a few others. And they came from some surprising places. The blonde 63 block came from somewhere in the north of Scotland (beyond the wall to you Game of Thrones fans). Lots of 335’s made the trip back across the pond from Europe this past year probably because the Euro was so weak and the dollar was so strong. But some still go the other way. Thanks to all the readers who keep me doing this and to all the buyers and sellers who make this business so much fun.

Happy New Year.

66345

First guitar to arrive in 2016 was this absolutely baffling MM ear 66 ES-345 with a ginormous neck. The only rule at Gibson is “No Rules”

Market Wrap 2015, Part 1

January 4th, 2016 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 3555 Comments »
Bigsby 345's had a tough year. That makes them the great bargain going forward. PAF guitars for under $10K WooHoo.

Bigsby 345’s had a tough year. That makes them the great bargain going forward. PAF guitars for under $10K WooHoo.

Well, the doom sayers have it wrong again. There are folks who predict the vintage market will fall apart any minute because the only people buying vintage guitars are really old (like 50 or, gasp, even 60). 2015 was a very strong year for sales over all and, for some models and years, approaching 2007-2008 in values. While the doom sayers are largely correct about who buys the guitars, the market for younger buyers is expanding all the time. I get twenty somethings in my shop all the time and they love the old stuff. Even if they can’t afford it today, my feeling is that they’ll be back as soon as they can afford it. The older Gen Xer’s have already started buying the high end stuff and that bodes well for the market going forward. So what sold in 2015 and what didn’t?

Blondes were hot. It’s gotten so hard to find them that when a good one comes up in the market, everyone takes notice. I’ve heard predictions of the $100,000 ES-335 being imminent (in fact there is a 59 on the market for that price but it hasn’t sold). I know of a 59 that sold for $95000 this year as well. The blonde 59 ES-355 that emerged earlier in the year changed hands for some serious money as well, although I don’t know the exact amount. Rumor has it that it was in the $90K range but that’s rumor. As far as I know, no blonde 345’s emerged this year at all-there are only 50 of them.

In a recent post on the Les Paul Forum about a certain black 59 ES-345 (that happens to be mine), Joe Bonamassa made the prophetic statement that “black is the new blonde”. And perhaps he is right. Three black 345’s have emerged recently. One is a late 59 or early 60 Bigsby, the other two are “first rack” ’59 stop tails. One has an added Bigsby, the other is stop tail only. There are so few of these its really hard to put a price on them. Big price aside, everybody seems to love a black ES probably thanks to the black 59 ES-355 played by a certain Mr. Richards. It is a market phenomenon that when the prices get high enough, the rare stuff comes out from under the bed.

Speaking of 345’s, this was not their year. 59’s, especially early ones (black VT ring, big neck) have been strong and other 59’s have been stable but later ones have really languished. Bigsby 345’s from 1960 and later are, at least for now, dead. I’m sure they will come back but these guitars were well into the $12K range not long ago and now I’m seeing them for $8000 and even less. The big dealers are Ebay sellers are still holding out hope that they can get $15K for a Bigsby and $20K for a stop tail but that’s wishful thinking unless the guitar is dead mint. I sold a 9.0 stop tail no issue (converted to mono) 1961 for $10,500 and it took me a year to sell.  That makes them the bargain going forward. These are great guitars and are a deal and then some under $10K considering what the new stuff is going for.

355 Monos had a great year. I can’t keep them around-especially 59’s. They are wonderful guitars and have crept up in value all year. A really clean mono 355 has certainly hit the $20K mark (and lots of the 59-61’s have double white PAFs). 355 stereos are stronger than 345’s but they haven’t got the “easy sell” liquidity of a mono. They also don’t have the big price. These, like the Bigsby 345’s are a great deal in ES’s right now. Liquidity is important. A valuable guitar isn’t all that valuable if it’s time to sell and there’s no market for it. Tried to sell a big archtop lately? Big numbers, no buyers.

This is getting long so we’ll split it into two parts. Next, we’ll look back at 2015 for 335’s. Dots were hot. Blocks, not so much.

Joe Bonamassa says "black is the new blonde" and I think he might be on to something. Watch black guitars in 2016. They will be smoking' hot.

Joe Bonamassa says “black is the new blonde” and I think he might be on to something. Watch black guitars in 2016. They will be smokin’ hot.

Falling in Love Again

December 29th, 2015 • ES 3558 Comments »

 

What's this? It's a 355-you can tell by the inlays but it's blonde and, gasp, it's mono. And it's rare-maybe even unique. And it's a 69, so it isn't worth $100K (which it would be if it was a 59)

What’s this? It’s a 355-you can tell by the inlays but it’s blonde and, gasp, it’s mono. And it’s rare-maybe even unique. And it’s a 69, so it isn’t worth $100K (which it would be if it was a 59)

Well, I think I feel a song coming on. Of course how many of you are going to remember the film “The Blue Angel” with Marlene Dietrich singing it? It was 1930 and not even I’m that old. It goes like this:

Falling in love again
Never wanted to
What am I to do?
I can’t help it

Well, that’s kind of the story of the guitar at the top.  And it’s a 1969-way out there at the edge of the “Golden Era” universe. Those who read me regularly know that I don’t collect  guitars. I love to find them, I love to play them and I ultimately sell them. No falling in love allowed. That gorgeous birdseye 58 335? Gone. The red 59 345? Gone twice. The watermelon 60 dot neck that I’ve had for all of two weeks? Gone. But fall in love I do because I love the blondes, I love mono 355’s and I love the rare stuff. This one is particularly interesting to me because I so rarely see any 3×5’s later than 68.

69 was the beginning of the end for the classic 335. The one piece neck went to three piece. The headstock grew a volute (that reinforcement bump at the base of the headstock that everybody hates although I’m not totally sure why). The long neck tenon went away and, horror of horrors, the dot in the “i” in Gibson disappeared. Have they no shame? Seriously, though, 1969 has so many variations that you need a score sheet to know what you’re getting. Let’s see… three piece neck but not volute but long tenon. short tenon one piece neck no volute. There must be 20 different configurations. And what about the “Made in USA” designation? That happened in 69 as well. But I digress. This was about a particular 69.

In my years as an ES fan, player, hobbyist buyer and now dealer, I’ve seen perhaps five, maybe six blonde ES-355’s. One, a lefty, was almost certainly a refinish, so lets say five. There’s a beautiful 59, a stunning 64, my guitar bud Gil had a 60, I had a 64 that was re-necked and my friend Mike has one with an ebony block tailpiece from 63, I believe. Then there’s this 69. All of the others, if memory serves (and it often doesn’t) were stereo. I know the 59, the 60, the 64 and the re-neck were. I’m pretty sure the other one is as well. That makes this 69 the only mono blonde 355 that I know of. There’s probably another one but I don’t know where it is. There were a few interesting features that made me buy this one.

Of course, a blonde mono 355 is a rare and wonderful thing but it’s still a 69. By 69, the blondes were birch plywood (like the 68 335 blonde I wrote about recently). This one is maple (and nicely figured, thank you). A lot of 69’s have three piece necks. This has a one piece (no volute, no made in USA). A lot (and I mean most) 69 355’s have a Maestro tailpiece, which most of you know I don’t particularly like on an ES. This one has a Bigsby. I’d be willing to bet the ranch that those are pre T-tops in there but they’re sealed and I’m not about to crack them open. Every gold hardware 68 I’ve ever opened had pre T’s. This is the first gold hardware 69 I’ve ever owned. It’s got a nice fat neck- a lot like a 64 but with a narrow nut. Bound f-holes are pretty cool too. It makes the oversize late 60’s big f-holes (which look wrong to me), look a little less oversized. So there’s a lot to like here.

I can play a narrow nut-I can’t play it all night long but I can adapt pretty quickly. This guitar has some wonderful tone and it’s enough to make me re-think my emphasis and start writing more about the 66-69’s. I’m not a snob. I specialize in the early ones but I really appreciate a lot of the 66-68’s (and this 69). And there are a lot of them and they are not priced that much higher than the reissues.  So, here’s to falling in love with a younger girl. Not much younger but to a lot of us those 5 years between 64 and 69 were perhaps the best years to be a musician in the history of musicians.

Here are the 59 and the 64 blonde 355's. Both stunning. Both stereo-not that that's a bad thing. Thanks to Hank from Hank's Vintage for the photo.

Here are the 59 and the 64 blonde 355’s. Both stunning. Both stereo-not that that’s a bad thing. Thanks to Hank from Hank’s Vintage for the photo.

 

 

‘Twas The Night Before Christmas at OK Guitars

December 23rd, 2015 • Uncategorized7 Comments »

 

cabcrop

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the pad

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

I remembered a blues lick and played it with flair

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

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

As I waited for Santa inside my caboose.

I had them all tuned and I played every one.

The truss rods were perfect, the strings tightly strung.

All of a sudden on the roof of my shop,

I spied an old fat dude just reeking of pot.

He fell off the roof and into the snow.

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

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

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

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

His fingers flew faster than old Alvin Lee.

It was wailing and screaming all over the town.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You remember that Christmas back in ’63?

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

You started to doubt that I was the truth,

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

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

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

He picked up some cases by Lifton and Stone,

Some old Kluson tuners and a worn out Fuzztone.

“Now, Charlie Gelber you must hear my pitch,

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

The 335 please, the red 59.

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

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

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

He jumped in his sled and sparked up a j,

Flew into the sky and was off on his way.

So if feeling sixteen is what sets you right,

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

 

By Charlie and Victoria Gelber

With apologies to Clement Clark Moore

No visions of sugarplums dancing in this head. Just waiting for Old St. Nick

No visions of sugarplums dancing in this head. Just waiting for Old St. Nick

 

 

 

 

Well Red

December 17th, 2015 • ES 3355 Comments »
I found this early 60 ES-335 in red earlier this year but couldn't convince the owner to sell it. So I kept up the search

I found this early 60 ES-335 in red earlier this year but couldn’t convince the owner to sell it. So I kept up the search

Many of the rare ES model guitars that I write about are one offs or customs but there are production models that can be extremely rare as well. Blonde 345’s are a good example. The total number for 1959 and 1960 is just 50 units and they have sold for some really big bucks (over $80,000 or so I’m led to believe). I’ve had three of them and haven’t quite hit that number.  I’ve said more than once that rarity doesn’t  translate to value in many, many cases. Look at Byrdlands and other really low volume models. They just don’t command the big bucks that you would expect that kind of rarity to generate.

I just acquired a 1960 ES-335 in red. It doesn’t occur to many ES players and aficionados that a red 60 would be particularly rare. Red dot necks aren’t particularly rare-there are hundreds of them, right? Yes. But almost all of them are 61’s or early 62’s. Red wasn’t officially a 335 color until 1960, although one 1958 red 335 exists and perhaps 6 59’s have surfaced (I’ve had two). But what about a 1960 in red? Rare. Rarer than any other production 335. Rarer than a 58, 59 or 60 blonde 335.  Not as rare as a black one but black was a special order color, not a regular production color.

Why would you want a 60 in red over the much more common 61? After all, they made 420 of those and an average 61 can be acquired for around $20,000.  A near mint example will cost a few thousand more but the average price for a 61 is the same for red and sunburst and a lot less than a 60. They made about the same number of each. So, what’s the deal on a 60? Why would it command a premium over the much more common 61? What is different about it?

1960 was a pretty transitional year. The necks started out pretty big but became really slim (still wide) by the year end. The amber catalan switch tip disappeared at the end of the year as did the very desirable long pick guard. While red 335’s are über rare in 60, there were plenty of red 345’s and 355’s and most of them had that wonderful red that fades away over the years to a watermelon reddish pink or even orange. That also went away by the end of the year although a few 355’s with that finish lingered into 61. Single ring Klusons gave way to double rings and bonnet knobs were replaced by reflectors. In fact, an early 60 ES-335 is pretty much the same as a late 59. And a very late 60 is a whole lot like an early 61. So, here’s the point. If you want a watermelon red dot neck with a long guard and amber switch tip, you have a tough search. If you add together all of the red dot necks that ever existed with this color and configuration you would come up with around 28. If you want a big neck with that, you might find perhaps a dozen if you look long and hard enough.

I spent nearly ten years searching for a red 59 dot neck stop tail. I finally found a Bigsby version that had once had Schallers. Then I found a stop tail in Paris but it had a Varitone. I bought and sold both of them. Now, I’ve found a stop tail red 60 and managed to buy this one. It is almost the holy grail. If the neck was 4/100ths of an inch bigger, I’d be keeping it.

Later 60 but still a long guard, watermelon red and still stupid rare. Serial number is actually the FON on this one. Gibson did this for a short period in 1960.

Later 60 but still a long guard, watermelon red and still stupid rare. Serial number is actually the FON on this one. Gibson did this for a short period in 1960.

 

 

 

From Point A to Point B

December 9th, 2015 • Uncategorized5 Comments »
This may be the most important part of your tone generation. I don't care how old your wood is (insert joke here) or how hot your PAFs are (insert other joke here), if the saddles are notched wrong, your guitar will sound like crap.

This may be the most important part of your tone generation. I don’t care how old your wood is (insert joke here) or how hot your PAFs are (insert other joke here), if the saddles are notched wrong, your guitar will sound like crap.

Good news and bad news. I set up a lot of 335’s (and 345’s and 355’s). The good news is that they are very consistent and setup is usually pretty easy. When you work with the same guitar over and over again you learn what causes the various problems that can plague these guitars. The other good news is that almost all of the problems are pretty easy to fix. There is no bad news.

Typically, ES-335’s and their brethren rarely have neck problems. Most need a minor truss rod adjustment-usually they have been adjusted too tight and the neck is dead flat or slightly back bowed. A quarter turn counter clockwise is usually all it needs. The exception is late 60 and 61’s. There is so little wood between the truss and the back of the neck that they can crack, often a hairline crack in the middle of the neck between the 5th and the 9th fret. It isn’t a structural issue but it’s something you should look for. I usually dial in a bit of relief-not a lot, just enough to keep the string buzz away. A dead flat neck doesn’t work so well on 335’s.

Another issue is inconsistent output between the neck and bridge pickup. Sometimes the bridge is louder than the neck and sometimes its the other way around. I don’t find that adjusting the individual pole screws does much of anything but raising or lowering the pickup does quite a lot. there is no reason not to raise up the bass side a bit if those strings aren’t punching through as much as the higher strings. I like to start by raising the pickups are close to the strings as I can and then adjusting downward as needed. I sometimes flip the pickup ring on the neck pickup if it isn’t sitting parallel to the strings. That usually flattens it out.

The biggest and most common problem in setting up a 335 is dead strings-usually the B or the G. In my opinion, the most important element contributing to the great tone of a 335 isn’t the pickups. It isn’t the construction either. It’s the nut and the saddles. I don’t care how great the pickups are and how wonderful the old wood is…if the saddles and nut aren’t just right, it’s going to sound like crap. Call the saddles point A and the nut point B. It seems like a really small thing but if the strings don’t vibrate freely, you get lousy tone and lousy sustain. These are the things everybody chases. Getting your strings to ring out and keep ringing out is the key. It all happens between point A and point B. So, if your guitar isn’t sounding the way you want it to, the first thing to do is figure out if the problem is the nut or the saddles.

If the strings are sounding dull and lifeless (and you’ve changed them recently) you probably have a problem with the saddles or the nut or both. First, if they sound dull open but not when fretting, then you know it is the nut. That usually means the slots are binding and not allowing the strings to vibrate freely. Widen the slots slightly and see if that helps. Gibson nuts were often to tight from the factory. If it sounds dull even when fretting, then its probably the saddles. More often than not they have notched and renotched and widened a few times and changed a few times. Too deep a notch will cause the string to vibrate less freely. Too narrow will do the same. Too wide a notch will often rattle but it won’t usually cause a dead string. I make the saddle notches as shallow as possible and still hold the string in place. If the string isn’t sticking out above the notch, it’s too deep. I try to have at least half of the wound string above the notch. The plain strings are also slightly above the notch. The B and G strings are usually the worst. If the saddle is not too deep and it still sounds terrible, try widening the slot slightly. If that doesn’t work, get a new saddle and start over. You can sometimes file the saddle down to make the slot less deep but there’s a limit to that because it will affect the string height.

If this is scary for you, have your luthier or tech do it. There is no reason for a 335 from the era to sound dull. I’ve gotten every single one I’ve owned to ring out and sustain (as long as the neck is straight and the frets are good).

If the saddles are notched correctly and your guitar sounds dull on the open strings, it could be your nut (enough with the jokes). Get the nut and the saddles right and then you can worry about the rest of the package.

If the saddles are notched correctly and your guitar sounds dull on the open strings, it could be your nut (enough with the jokes). Get the nut and the saddles right and then you can worry about the rest of the package.

Learn Something New

November 21st, 2015 • ES 3358 Comments »
I've never seen a  blonde 68  335 with a maple neck. I've seen 69 ES-340's like this but this is new to me. Plenty of 68 features that don't exist on the later ones. The custom made plate isn't factory.

I’ve never seen a blonde 68 335 with a maple neck. I’ve seen 69 ES-340’s like this but this is new to me. Plenty of 68 features that don’t exist on the later ones. The custom made plate isn’t factory and I took off the witch hat knobs (because they’re ugly).

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know everything about these guitars. I am frequently surprised by the evolution (and long downhill slide) of these guitars. The guitar pictured above is a somewhat modified ES-335 from 1968. I’ve never seen one quite like this. There are ES-340’s that were brought to market in 1969 that had birch plywood bodies and maple necks. They can be very attractive and are decent guitars even if the circuit is a little wacky. What I didn’t know is that there were ES-335’s released in 1968 that had the same birch bodies and the same multi piece maple necks. Birch is pretty similar looking to maple. The grain is a bit more assertive and there is generally no figuring beyond the grain. It makes for a pretty attractive blonde guitar.

When I saw this guitar (which I now own), I just assumed it was a 69 ES-340 that had been erroneously given a 335 sticker (and that it was a 69). I had seen a 340 with a 335 label before and figured this was just another. Except that the owner had the original sales receipt and it was dated July 1968. That’s proof enough that 68 birch 335’s with maple necks exist. This one also has the dot in the “i” in the Gibson logo which most, if not all ES-340’s are missing unless they have the later “pantograph” logo. It also has the factory hang tag that states that it is a 335TDN with the word “birch” following the model name. If I’m recalling correctly, the first mention of a birch guitar is in the 1969 catalog and it’s only the ES-340 that gets the birch mention. It’s also interesting that my usual sources for Gibson serial numbers don’t show 980xxx anywhere. We know by the sales receipt that it can’t be later than mid 68. So what is this? Prototype?

I don’t think this is a special order but it may be a prototype or the very first run of guitars in this birch body/maple neck configuration. I had a  ES-330 like this but it was a 69 but at least that shows that guitars other than 340’s got this neck and body. It’s not that unusual that there is no mention in the 68 catalog since Gibson made mid year changes pretty frequently and they would simply show up in the following year’s catalog. But the 69 and 70 catalogs show that the 335 was offered in sunburst, cherry and walnut. No blonde. The ES-340 is shown in blonde and offered in walnut. Gibson certainly could have been experimenting with the new materials and later selling them. The fact that they came out with the 340 in the next year hints at that. It’s also relevant that ES-340’s in blonde, while not plentiful, are far from rare. You can usually find two or three at any time on Ebay. I checked all the 69 340’s out there (maybe 5 or 6 right now) and none have the dotted “i” in the Gibson logo.  I have looked at a few and none had the long tenon that this one has (although I haven’t looked at many that closely).

It’s unfortunate that so many mods were made to this guitar. The only one that is irreversible is that some nitwit added a stop tail (which is fine) but put it way too low. He must have had the same luthier as Larry Carlton.

There it is in stunning black and white. 68 ES-335TDN. And not even late 68. I don't know how long it took for guitars to get from Kalamazoo to Brooklyn but I'm guessing this guitar was made weeks or even months earlier. Sold it pretty cheap too. I remember (I'm really old) 335's being closer to $400 by then. I know, I couldn't afford one.

There it is in stunning black and white. 68 ES-335TDN. And not even late 68. I don’t know how long it took for guitars to get from Kalamazoo to Brooklyn but I’m guessing this guitar was made weeks or even months earlier. Sold it pretty cheap too. I remember (I’m really old) 335’s being closer to $400 by then. I know, I couldn’t afford one.

Liberte´, Egalite´, Fraternite´

November 15th, 2015 • Uncategorized6 Comments »

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