GIBSON ES-335 ES-345 ES-355
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You Set ‘em Up Part 1

July 8th, 2017 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 35516 Comments »
This is how I usually configure the saddles but there is no "right" way. Turning the G saddles is often necessary to get it far enough back to intonate properly.

This is how I usually configure the saddles but there is no “right” way. Turning the G saddles is often necessary to get it far enough back to intonate properly.

 

I always appreciate readers suggestions for posts. There’s only so much to be written about any given subject and when your subject is as narrow as mine and you’ve been writing about it for seven years, you will run out of subject matter. You will note that I’m posting less frequently than I used to. It’s not simply laziness or being too busy with other things, it’s just that I’ve covered almost everything. Going forward, going into greater detail on subjects already covered is a logical next step, so instead of writing about a PAF, I could do a post about magnets. Or tuner bushings. But this week a writer made a suggestion for a post that somehow slipped through the cracks. It should have been done years ago. How do you set up a 335? Or, more to the point, how do I set up a 335?

I set up a lot of 335’s (345’s/355’s) and the good news is that they are pretty easy to get right and relatively consistent. I’m going to assume that you don’t need to recut or replace the nut or level the frets. These are really important elements for a good setup and it may be necessary to do one, the other, or both. But we will save that for later.

First, play the guitar and decide what you don’t like or what is wrong with the setup. Consider the action, the intonation and the sustain. The action pretty easy. Raise or lower the bridge until you like the action. Then the real work can begin. If any of the open strings are buzzing, then you have a problem which we will address later. It can be the nut, it can be a fret or frets or it can be the relief (truss adjustment). Or maybe you simply have the action too low. Factory spec. is 5/64″ for the low E at the 15th fret and 3/64″ at the high E. I like mine slightly higher at the high E.

After getting the action where I like it, I look at the relief (the amount of bow in the neck). Sight down the neck. If it’s dead flat and there is no buzz, you can leave it alone. I like a little bit off relief-a small amount of bowing away from the strings- so I would loosen the truss rod a quarter turn to a half turn until I see a slight bow. You may have to leave it for a while. Truss adjustments aren’t instantaneous. If there is buzzing and you see the neck is bowed toward the strings, do the same-loosen the truss a quarter to  a half turn. Leave it for a bit and go back and look. If the neck has flattened out or bowed slightly away from the strings and the buzz is gone, then you’re done with the truss rod. If it is still back bowed or buzzing, loosen the truss some more. If you run out of adjustment-the truss nut is all the way loose-then you will have to see your luthier. Back bows are rare in 335’s with big necks but not uncommon in thin 60-63 necks.

Once I have the truss adjusted, I adjust the stop tail. This is more art than science. Raising or lowering the stop (skip this step if you have a Bigsby or trapeze) can make a small difference in sustain or no difference at all. Some 335’s have a sweet spot usually a few turns up from being screwed all the way down. It’s trial and error and the likelihood is that it won’t much, if any, difference. You’re changing the string break angle which affects the downward pressure on the bridge. Some argue that the break angle changes the ease of bending notes. I’ve never perceived it. The theory is that  less break angle means easier bending. You decide.

Once I have the truss adjusted, I set the intonation. Using a good clip on tuner is the easiest way to do it, although I use harmonics  as well. I assume you know how to intonate a guitar with an ABR-1. Be aware that 335’s were made to be played with a wrapped G string, so intonating a plain G can be tricky. Usually, you have to turn the saddle around so the flat side faces back rather than forward. That allows more adjustment back toward the tailpiece. Most vintage 335s with 10’s require the G saddle to be as far back as it will go. Otherwise it will be sharp at the upper frets. 9’s generally won’t intonate well. I usually turn the top three strings flat side back but it’s usually only necessary to do the G that way. Once you’ve done the intonation and there is no buzzing and you are happy with the action, it’s time to plug it in.

Next post will cover pickup height adjustments and what to do if you have buzzing or bad sustain.

 

Adjusting the stop tail height changes the break angle of the strings. It may make a difference, it may not. There is not correct break angle, so try a few settings until you like it. If you don't perceive a difference, a couple turns up from all the way down looks good to me.

Adjusting the stop tail height changes the break angle of the strings. It may make a difference, it may not. There is no correct break angle, so try a few settings until you like it. If you don’t perceive a difference, a couple turns up from all the way down looks good to me.

 

It Hurts When I do This

June 25th, 2017 • ES 330, ES 335, ES 345, ES 3558 Comments »
Lemme just pull these knobs off so I can re-solder the loose wire...huh? Some idiot glued the knobs onto the shafts. Now what do I do?

Lemme just pull these knobs off so I can re-solder the loose wire…huh? Some idiot glued the knobs onto the shafts. Now what do I do?

And the doctor says…”Don’t do that.”

There are a lot of things that guitar players do to their guitars that guitar players shouldn’t do to their guitars. Many of these things (on vintage guitars) date back to when they were simply old guitars and not worth very much. They were practical solutions to everyday problems. If a pot became scratchy, you replaced it. Who cares about the date code anyway? The tuners aren’t working so well, so lets get a set of those fancy new Schallers. The bridge PAF is little weak and a new DiMarzio will sound great. None of these things really mattered when the guitar was simply an old guitar. Few of us (me included) could have guessed that a ’59 335 that cost $600 in 1982 would be worth 60 times as much 35 years later.

None of these things destroy the value, they simply lower it and most of these things are reversible with little damage to the guitar’s vintage value. And some are not. Refinishing always seemed like a good idea if your guitar got so beat up that it was an embarrassment on stage. Adding a Bigsby made sense if the music you played called for one. You know all this stuff and you know to look for these mods when you buy a vintage guitar. You can generally see them in the photos and many, if not most, sellers will disclose them. Then there are the insidious changes that you can’t see that simply cannot be reversed without destroying some expensive vintage parts.

The volume knob is slipping on the pot shaft because the plastic has worn out. You can put a little tape around the shaft and that sometimes works. You can bend the posts of the shaft outward if you’re careful not to break them and that usually works. Or you can super glue the knob to the shaft and that always works. Until you need to get the knob off. And while you’re at it, lets do all four of the knobs since they could all use a little help. And the switch tip cracks and tends to get itself unscrewed after a few gigs. You could take it off and glue it back together, let it dry and screw it back on. Or you could put dab of super glue inside and screw it back down and that will keep that tip on there forever. I can’t tell you how many guitars have arrived at my shop with glued on plastic parts. Dozens for sure. Glued on knobs make it impossible to repair a harness without destroying $400 worth of knobs. Glued on switch tips cause fewer problems unless you need to replace a three way, in which case you will be replacing a $200 catalin switch tip if the guitar is a 60 or earlier.

But wait, doesn’t acetone dissolve super glue?. It does but it can also dissolve the plastic but that isn’t the big problem (and I’ve tried this). The problem is that you can’t get at the acetone to where the glue is. What are you going to do turn the guitar upside down and carefully flow some acetone into the underside of the knob and hope it somehow penetrates only to where the glue is. Oh, and don’t get it on that nice finish. It will dissolve it. So, if someone has glued on the knobs or the switch tip, here’s what you can do: Leave it and hope the pots don’t go south on you. You cannot get them off and you shouldn’t try. You’ll only make it worse. And don’t ever use super glue to solve a problem like that. Get a new set of knobs and put the originals in the case. Or try the tape trick. And if the knobs have already been glued down and you’re selling the guitar, disclose it. And if you’ve never checked, please do before you sell it to me. I don’t think anything annoys me more.

That should be the end of the discussion but I would like to reach out to everyone who reads my blog and ask for solutions to the problem. If you’ve got a way to get a glued on knob or switch tip off, I want to know it. And I want everybody else to know it as well. I thank you in advance. Just don’t experiment on a $35000 guitar with $600 worth of plastic. And if the knobs are slipping on your 335, take the doctor’s advice. Don’t do that.

 

Black is the New Black

June 14th, 2017 • Gibson General12 Comments »
This page from mid 59 shows a black 345 which, to my knowledge, hasn't surfaced, and a black EB-2.

This page from mid 59 shows a black 345 which, to my knowledge, hasn’t surfaced, and a black EB-2.

Joe Bonamassa noted not too long ago on the Les Paul Forum that black is the new blonde and, for a minute, I thought he was right. But now I don’t. Black Gibsons are in a class by themselves. While blonde 335’s and 345’s (and the über rare 355) command a huge premium-generally double the price of a sunburst or more if collector grade, black ones are so rare that there aren’t any rules. Let me add a quick disclaimer-Les Paul Customs don’t count because they are a standard color and are plentiful. We’re talking about black 335’s, 345’s 355’s from before 1969 and maybe a few others if I have the space.

Black is a tricky color. It generally doesn’t age well and it is prone to excessive wear-especially the back of the neck. Being opaque, its an obvious choice for refinishers looking to hide plugged holes, broken headstocks and any number of other indignities. So, if you are lucky enough to find a black ES 335, 345 or 355, make sure it hasn’t been refinished because the likelihood is, it has. Gibson didn’t keep a record of how many black guitars were shipped, although they sometimes show up in the shipping ledgers as special orders. Unfortunately, they weren’t terribly consistent about noting special orders in the ledgers and if you happen to have a copy of the page, it may or may not mention the color. And, there is always that possibility that a factory black guitar was refinished in black either for cosmetic reasons or to hide a repair.

Considering that you’re going to be spending some really serious bucks on a factory black guitar, it is in your best interests to do what you can to authenticate it. A black light is a good place to start but be aware that a black light won’t do you any good on a guitar that has been totally refinished. It will show you touchup and show newer lacquer vs. older but a 30 year old refinish is going to look like original lacquer under a black light.

Try to get the ledger page. Call or email Gibson customer service. They can be pretty close to the vest with these pages but it’s worth asking. Also, do a search on the internet for ledger pages-there are perhaps 20 of them out there from various years. If the page shows your guitar as black, then it’s a factory black example-that doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been refinished at some point but at least you know it started as a black guitar. Here’s the tricky part-if the ledger doesn’t show it as black, it doesn’t mean it’s a refinish. It may simply mean they didn’t note the special finish. Out of the five black 335’s and 345’s I’ve had, three are noted in the log-all 59’s.

There is a technique that I use to determine a refinish that is quite nearly foolproof. When doing a total refinish, the guitar is generally sanded to remove the old finish. Even if it’s done with great care, there will usually be a tell tale sign left behind. If you run your fingernail between the body binding and the rim of the guitar-not the top-there will be a ridge that you can catch your fingernail on. If the transition from rim to binding is smooth and even, it’s been sanded. Period. Every original finish ES model that I’ve owned has that ridge. Every refinish hasn’t. I say nearly foolproof because if the body was chemically stripped or the new finish was added over the original, the ridge will still be there. Chemical strippers usually damage (melt) the bindings so pay attention to that as well. Look inside the f-holes for any sign of black overspray. Unless the guitar was touched up-like one of the 59’s I had, there shouldn’t be any.

So, how many black guitars are we talking about here? The 59 ledger pages that I have show five 345’s, one 335 and no 355’s. I know of three of the five 345’s, the 335 and at least two 355’s (Keith Richards has one of them). There is a black early 60 345 that surfaced last year that has a 59 FON. I had a black 66 335 a while back (and a black 66 330). I know of a black 65 or 66 345 as well. I’ve owned three black 59 345’s. There are at least two black 59 EB-2’s. Let me know if you find one, I have a client looking for one. There are photos of a few artists playing black ES’s-Bill Haley’s guitar player (345)  and Dave Edmunds (335). There is no way to know if they are factory, although the Haley guitar is likely original since the photo is from the late 50’s or early 60’s. Roy Orbison played one but it was much later-from the 80’s. Black was a catalog color in the early 80’s and there are a lot of them out there.

Black ES guitars are valuable enough that they are worth the effort to fake by unscrupulous scam artists. If you have any doubts, you should probably pass. It’s too much money to take chances with.

Two of the three black 59 ES-345's that have passed through my hands. Both were great. Both were "first rack".

Two of the three black 59 ES-345’s that have passed through my hands. Both were great. Both were “first rack”.

Stinger Things

May 27th, 2017 • ES 35512 Comments »
Who doesn't love a stinger on their 355? It looks cool and, uh, it looks cool.

Who doesn’t love a stinger on their 355? It looks cool and, uh, it looks cool.

One of the cooler looking Gibson features is the headstock stinger. You know, that black pointy painted thing on the back of the headstock on many high end arch tops, the occasional 335, 345 and lots of early 355’s. In most cases, it’s a decorative thing. But not always. Now, why would you go looking under there to begin with? In general, there’s no rational reason for anything sinister to be going on, is there? I mean, c’mon it’s the Gibson factory in the Golden Age. What could they be hiding?

Gibson, like Fender, didn’t like to let things go to waste. It’s bad for your profit margins. So, maybe a little repurposing of damaged parts was normal. A bad sunburst paint job was often sprayed over with a custom color over at Fender. A piece of flawed maple plywood got a deeper sunburst at Gibson and a “2” stamp. I had a 65 335 with a graft in the wood of the rim that the seller insisted came from the factory that way. So, there’s no doubt that the company policy for both Fender and Gibson was “waste not”.

So, back to the original question-what’s under that stinger? Well most of the time, nothing at all. I think. I don’t go removing stingers to see what’s under them but I had occasion to do so a while back. I had a 60 ES-355 with a cracked headstock-or so I thought. I took it to my luthier to assess and he noted that there was a piece of veneer on the back of the headstock and it was cracked-not the neck. My first thought was that somebody veneered the back of the headstock to cover extra tuner holes but the guitar still had its original tuners. So, maybe they had been taken off, different ones put on, then taken off and the originals put back on and the holes covered by the veneer. OK, makes sense. I’ve seen it plenty on 335’s but most people don’t take the Grovers off a 355. In any case, the veneer was cracked and it had to come off. Better a cracked piece of veneer than a cracked neck. So, we decided to remove the offending veneer and see why it was there in the first place. The result was a surprise.

What's all this then? What they did here was to take a 335 neck-already drilled and ready to go and cut the smaller wings off the sides and put big 355 wings on it. Then the doweled the holes and re-rilled them located for a 355. Then they put a piece of mahogany veneer over it and painted on the stinger. The only tuner holes you see are the original Grover holes. Definitely factory.

What’s all this then? What they did here was to take a 335 neck-already drilled and ready to go and cut the smaller wings off the sides and put big 355 wings on it. Then the doweled the holes and re-drilled them located for a 355. Then they put a piece of mahogany veneer over it and painted on the stinger. The only tuner holes you see are the original Grover holes. You don’t see the dowels on the front because the headstock overlay was re-done as a 355 which would cover the dowel marks. Definitely factory.

Under the veneer there were filled holes but not the holes we expected. These were tuner shaft holes that were in a completely different location on the headstock. A quick measurement showed me that they were in the exact location of the tuner shaft holes of a 335 or 345. How do we explain that? Pretty obvious, actually. The headstock of a 335 or 345 is smaller than the headstock on a 355. So, if you have extra 335 or 345 necks that you aren’t using and you have a batch of 355’s that need to be built, what do you do? Well, the headstock of a 335 is made up of three parts. The middle is the same piece of wood as the neck blank. The edges of the headstock are two smaller pieces of mahogany usually called wings. The face of the headstock is covered by a veneer of holly wood so you can’t see the seam of the wings from the front but if you look carefully, you can see them on the back. The only difference between a 335 headstock and a 355 headstock as far as structure is concerned is the size of the wings. So, a 335 headstock can be converted to a 355 headstock by putting on bigger wings. The inlays in the front of the headstock are different but they are inlaid into the holly overlay and not the mahogany, so turning a 335 neck into a 355 neck should be pretty easy. New wings and new holly overlay and correct inlays. But what if its already been drilled for tuners? Therein lies the reason for that piece of veneer on the back that wasn’t supposed to be there under the stinger. Because the 355 headstock is wider, the tuners are in a different location. Using an already drilled 335 neck would require those holes to be doweled and the tuner shaft holes re-drilled closer to the edges of the headstock. No problem on the front-there’s the holly overlay. But on the back, you would be able to see them. The solution? You guessed it, a thin piece of mahogany veneer and a stinger to cover the whole thing up.

My initial thought was that it wasn’t a common thing until months later, I had another stinger 355 with a headstock break. We scraped a little of the finish away from the edge of the stinger and saw that this one had veneer over the back of the headstock as well. Since we were repairing the headstock anyway, we took a peek under the veneer. Same thing. I don’t know if every 355 with a stinger has a veneer covering doweled tuner holes but we found two of them.

Just in case you want to see the other one-here it is same deal but there are additional tuner holes in this one.

The filled holes line up EXACTLY with a 335 or 345 neck-remember the headstock is smaller. This one had changed tuners as well which accounts for the additional holes above the shaft holes

The filled holes line up EXACTLY with a 335 or 345 neck-remember the headstock is smaller. This one had changed tuners as well which accounts for the additional holes above the shaft holes

Once a Tree…

May 19th, 2017 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 35515 Comments »
This shows the spruce that is glued to the maple center block between the block and the top and back. It also shows the mahogany end piece.

This shows the spruce that is glued to the maple center block between the block and the top and back. It also shows the mahogany end piece.

There is plenty of debate about new wood versus old wood and I come down on the side of old wood sounding better than new wood. Even plywood. I would argue that the trees were better fifty years ago. They grew slower, they grew longer, they were dried the old school way and they’ve had an extra 40 or 50 years to “season”. I’m not going to talk about why old wood is better-I think I did that a few years ago. I am going to talk about the wood that went into 335’s and hope to clarify a few questions that have been asked of me recently.

The body is plywood. Yep. Plywood. It’s nice plywood but there it is. The early ones had three ply tops but by early 59, Gibson had switched to four ply presumably because they were getting complaints about cracking. Look at almost any 58 and you’ll usually find cracks around the output jack. The four ply tops were 25% thicker and the cracking problem went away. The composition was, generally, maple/poplar/poplar/maple. That’s information from the internet though. I know what maple looks like but the two hidden plies could be anything. I’ve never delaminated a top to look. And besides, I wouldn’t know poplar from ash from basswood. All were supposedly used. Plywood isn’t exactly a tonewood but it’s strong and cheap and you can form it into an arch without having to carve it. Does it matter if it’s new plywood or old plywood? Hard to know. Somehow I don’t think it’s a major element in the tone of a great 335. I would argue that the thinner top is more resonant and I’ve found some of the best 335’s to be 58’s and early 59’s.

Here's a nice flame maple center block showing the spruce insert between it and the top.

Here’s a nice flame maple center block showing the spruce insert between it and the top.

The center block is maple with mahogany at the butt end. I think there is tone in there-it acts a lot like the body of a solid body guitar.  I believe the quality of the tone has to do with how dry the wood is. New wood has more moisture in it than old wood. Wood with more moisture is less resonant than wood that has been dried. You can hear the difference. When I split firewood for the winter I can tell by the sound when I bang two logs together whether it’s dry on not. The dry ones are louder. You have probably heard of “roasted” or “torrefied” wood. Drying wood in a kiln or oven has been around for a long time and, essentially, it’s a way to lower the moisture and raise the resonance without waiting 50 years. And it works to a degree. I contend, however, that there are differences beyond moisture that give a wood its tonal qualities. I think looking at new growth vs. old is a worthwhile endeavor. I just don’t have the skills or knowledge to interpret the differences. I do know that there isn’t much old growth wood left. There is also spruce between the center block and the top and the block and the back of the guitar. Spruce is a tone wood and I’m guessing it makes a tonal difference. It’s a fairly complex design, that center block, and Gibson would have eliminated the spruce if it didn’t make a difference. In fact, I could do an entire post on center block construction.

The neck is mahogany, usually quarter sawn. Stability is the main factor here. I don’t think there is much tonal difference between a 335 with a mahogany neck and a 335 with a maple neck. Mahogany is considered a tone wood (my favorite acoustics are all mahogany) but so is maple. Maple is considered brighter, mahogany better balanced. I’ve had a few vintage 335’s re-necked and I don’t hear any difference at all. The wood was supposed to be old wood but I couldn’t tell you if it was old old growth or old new growth. There’s a difference. Big neck vs. small necks from a tone standpoint? That’s a whole ‘nother topic.

People get all a twitter about Brazilian rosewood. I have folks tell me they can tell the difference tonally between a Brazilian and an Indian fingerboard. Brazilian rosewood is not magical. Don’t get me wrong, I love Brazilian rosewood boards-they are just as pretty as a piece of wood can be but the idea that the fingerboard is a driver of great tone is just wrong. Old Telecasters and Stratocasters don’t even have a proper fingerboard. They sound pretty good. Ebony (on a 355) is also a nice piece of wood and the conventional wisdom says it adds “snap” to the tone. I’ve played hundreds. Some are snappy. Some not so snappy. I do like ebony but mostly because its harder and slicker. When Gibson switched to Indian rosewood boards in late 65 or 66 (there is overlap), the tone didn’t suffer. The change from a stop tail to a trapeze-which really didn’t affect tone all that much-did more to the tone than the switch to Indian.

There’s one more piece of wood in a 335. It’s holly (hooray for holly wood). It’s the thin veneer that covers the face of the headstock. It’s dense and takes the black lacquer nicely. But Gibson (or Norlin) decided that some crappy fiber board would be cheaper and nobody would know the difference. That happened around 1970 or so. I’m not sure when they went back to holly but they use it now and, yes, it does take the lacquer very nicely.

So, in conclusion, where does the tone come from? I think its the sum of its parts. A 335 doesn’t sound exactly like a Les Paul but they aren’t that far apart. An SG is pretty close too which leads me to believe the pickups are the biggest factor. Just take out a PAF and replace it with an 80’s Shaw or tar back. You’ll hear plenty of difference. Now, change the fingerboard in your 66 from Brazilian to Indian. Hear that? No? I didn’t think so.

This is a mid to late 59 and has the four ply top and back. Not sure what the inside wood is-probably something cheap like poplar. This is an EB-2 but the 335/345 and 355 had the same construction.

This is a mid to late 59 and has the four ply top and back. Not sure what the inside wood is-probably something cheap like poplar. This is an EB-2 but the 335/345 and 355 had the same construction.

Humbucker Timeline

April 30th, 2017 • ES 3356 Comments »

 

Mid 65 ES-335 with chrome hardware. What pickups should be in this guitar. If you polled 100 players, I would bet that 60 would say T-tops. Not even close. Don't believe everything you read on the internet. How many 65's have you taken apart?

Mid 65 ES-335 with chrome hardware. What pickups should be in this guitar?  If you polled 100 players, I would bet that 60 would say T-tops. Not even close. Don’t believe everything you read on the internet. How many 65’s have you taken apart?

Just when you think you know it all, it turns out that you don’t. I thought I had seen enough 335’s (345’s and 355’s) to have a good handle on when and how  the various parts evolved and when various changes were made. And, while the only real consistency at Gibson is inconsistency, sometimes I get a surprise. Sometimes, it’s a pleasant surprise.

We’re talking about pickups and the disconnect between the conventional wisdom and actual observation. I’ve been on about this before with regard to T-tops-the conventional wisdom says they started in 65 but that is wrong (and that’s another post).  Most of us know the PAF timeline. Started in late 56 with steels and into guitars in 57. Covers changed by 58 from stainless to nickel plated. Long magnets until some time in 61. Whites and zebras from mid 59 to around mid 60 in nickel PAFs but into 61 in gold versions. Short magnets from late 61 or so (there was overlap) up to 63 and rarely 64 in nickel PAFs. I’ve never seen a gold PAF later than 64 but others have. I’ve heard of PAFs as late as 67 in gold models but I’ve never seen it myself and I’m skeptical. But, mostly, everybody agrees about PAFs. Patent numbers are another story.

Patent numbers appeared in 62 and were often mixed with PAFs. Many 62’s and 63’s have one PAF and one patent number. Everybody knows the only difference is the sticker. Here’s where the conventional wisdom goes off the rails. Early patents have 2 black leads and enamel coated windings (and a short A5 magnet). The next version had one white and one black lead and poly coated windings. It is widely believed that the poly windings showed up in 64. They didn’t. Now, I don’t pull the covers on pickups that have never been opened but I usually do if the solder is not original. Taking the covers off was really common in the late 60’s, so I’ve pulled a lot of covers. I’ve never, ever-not once-seen a poly wound patent number under a nickel cover. If I’m correct, then poly windings began some time in 65. But wait–the conventional wisdom says T-tops started in 65. If poly windings just came in in 65, it doesn’t make sense that T-tops showed up at the same time. That’s because they didn’t.

The first 65’s had nickel covered pickups and they were enamel wound. I found, through looking at a lot of 65’s that if the cover was nickel, the windings were enamel coated and, if chrome, the windings were poly. Not so fast…I recently bought a beater 65 and I decided to part it out. It was a mid 65, SN 332xxx. Wide nut but all chrome parts. I pulled the harness and noted early 65 pot codes and completely undisturbed solder, so I knew the pickups had never been out of the guitar. One pickup had been opened but the other was sealed. I fully expected to see one white lead and one black lead and poly coated (orange) windings. Nope. Enamel (purple) windings and two black leads. That is, essentially,  a short magnet PAF with a different sticker in a 1965 chrome hardware 335. No wonder some 65’s sound so good. I’ve seen enough 65’s (probably 40 of them) to know that most of them have the later patent numbers but, as I now know, not all of them. The value of early patent numbers has crept up in recent days and many parts dealers are asking as much as $2000 for one. I think that’s optimistic (OK, it’s nuts) but I think everybody overprices their parts.

The problem is that it’s impossible to know what’s in there without pulling the covers. A 65 ES-335 can cost anywhere from $4500 (for a late narrow nut 65 with issues) to as high as $15000 for an early 65 with a stop tail. I don’t recommend you go out and buy the next 65 that comes up for sale thinking it’s going to have the equivalent of a PAF because it probably won’t. But it could.

For the record, there are plenty of 65’s with poly coated windings – most of them, in fact. This guitar with the early patents may be a bit of a fluke. Moving forward, I recently picked up a 69 ES-340, which is a 335 with a badly conceived circuit. I opened that one up and found not T-tops as you might expect but later patent numbers (poly). I’ve found them in many 68’s, many 67’s and most 66’s. The best I can estimate is that T-tops arrived some time in 66 but weren’t common until 67. I don’t see all that many post 65’s but I see enough to get a sense of what’s in there. If you buy a 67 or a 68, you still have a really good chance of getting pre T-top patent numbers. If you can’t (or won’t) pull the cover, then there is another not terribly reliable rule. The bobbin screws can tell you something. If they are Phillips, then the pickup is more likely a pre T but it could be a T-top. If they are slotted, it is almost certain that it is a T-top. You can also measure the DC resistance. Most t-tops are the same 7.47-7.52K. If you have slotted screws and both pickups are in that range, you likely have T-tops. Or just use your ears. If you like the sound, don’t worry about which version it is. If you don’t, then change them.

Enamel coated wire is purplish to brown and poly coated wire is orange to red. You would expect poly in 65 and that's what most 65's have. But, if you get lucky, you might find the enamel windings on your 65. That, but for the decal, is a PAF. There is no way to know for sure without pulling the cover.

Enamel coated wire is purplish to brown and poly coated wire is orange to red. You would expect poly in 65 and that’s what most 65’s have. But, if you get lucky, you might find the enamel windings on your 65. That, but for the decal, is a PAF. There is no way to know for sure without pulling the cover.

CITES in the Real World

April 26th, 2017 • Gibson General3 Comments »
If any of these guitars are going out of the USA, they need to be certified by US Fish and Wildlife as "pre-convention" rosewood. That means built before 1992 for Brazilian and pre 2017 for Indian or other rosewood.

If any of these guitars is going out of the USA, it needs to be certified by US Fish and Wildlife as “pre-convention” rosewood. That means built before 1992 for Brazilian and pre 2017 for Indian or other rosewood. It’s time consuming, costs $75  and I’m complying.

CITES or The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora has changed the rules. As a vintage dealer, I’ve had to jump through hoops for the US Government for quite some time. Up until January 1 of this year, only guitars with Brazilian rosewood needed to be certified by the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife and the Dept. of Agriculture. If your guitar was built before 1992, it was legal to ship (with certification). Nobody seemed to pay that much attention to the regulations mostly because everybody knew that the Customs agents had better things to do and they couldn’t tell Brazilian from East Indian from Honduran anyway. So, some dealers and most individuals ignored the regulations and guitars flowed across borders pretty much unscathed. In fact the only time I encountered any trouble was with a guitar coming into the US from Italy. They questioned me about the wood and the year and I explained that it was Indian rosewood and that was the end of it. I did have a guitar come from Mexico a number of years ago that was stopped for having mahogany and I had to explain to the agent that mahogany was legal-he had misunderstood the regulations that applied to raw wood but not finished products. It’s a sad state of affairs when the general public has to explain the rules to the government.

But all that has changed, at least for now. For all the Trump White House talk of deregulation and improved conditions for international trade, it has become a lot more of a pain to ship guitars out of the country and many governments are actively looking for proper documentation. They solved the problem of agents not knowing Indian from Brazilian by making all rosewood fall under CITES regulations. Lucky us. I’m all for conserving the world’s supply of rosewood but it isn’t the musical instrument companies that are responsible for the demise of the trees. The amount of rosewood used in guitar making is only a small fraction of the rosewood being used for furniture. Furniture? Who buys rosewood furniture? The Chinese, that’s who. There is a traditional furniture called “hongmu” after the wood itself.  Here is what I gathered from the independent environmental website, Mongabay:

China is the largest global consumer of rosewood and skyrocketing demand over the past decade and a half is having serious repercussions for some of the world’s most endangered old-growth forests and local forest communities. Rosewood imports into China increased some 1,250 percent since 2000 and were worth an estimated $2.6 billion between 2013 and 2014 alone, according to a new report from Washington, D.C.-based non-profit Forest Trends. Several species of rosewood, collectively known as hongmu, are prized by Chinese furniture manufacturers who use them to make products that are highly coveted status symbols. The majority of rosewood imports into China traditionally come from Southeast Asian countries like Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. But in 2014, when imports were at an all-time high, nearly half came from Nigeria, Ghana and other African countries, whereas those countries supplied just 10 percent of Chinese rosewood imports a decade ago, per the report.

So, the problem isn’t us, the guitar playing universe, it’s the Chinese consumers who are making it harder for the rest of us. To make matters worse, much of the rosewood is cut illegally and imported illegally. So, we are bound by laws that cover 183 countries (including China) to prove that our guitars were made from legally harvested wood. And I, for one, am happy to comply but we are a drop in the bucket in the fight to preserve the rosewood trees. Considering the sheer number of guitars shipped all over the world that contain small amounts of rosewood, the time spent certifying and inspecting guitars could be better utilized by going after the criminals who are causing the problem. Confiscating a ’59 335 does nothing at all to solve or even ameliorate the problem. I don’t know what they do with confiscated guitars or even if they have actually confiscated any but they are allowed to do so if the guitar isn’t properly certified. I don’t want to find out first hand so I’m crossing all the T’s and dotting the i’s and doing it by the book. So, if you are in Europe or Asia or even Canada and I ask you for an extra week or two to get  your guitar to you, please understand that if I don’t, your guitar could be tied up for a lot longer by Customs and may never get to you.

This is the real problem. It's Chinese "hongmu" rosewood furniture. The Chinese people love this stuff. I suppose it's like Americans and stainless steel appliances.

This is the real problem. It’s Chinese “hongmu” rosewood furniture. The Chinese people love this stuff. I suppose it’s like Americans and stainless steel appliances.

 

Misinformation

April 17th, 2017 • ES 3358 Comments »
And nobody knows if you know anything about guitars but it doesn't stop some folks from acting like they do.

And nobody knows if you know anything about guitars but it doesn’t stop some folks from acting like they do.

The internet is a funny place. Sometime ha-ha funny, sometimes peculiar funny. I don’t, as a rule, spend too much time in places like forums or social media but I will occasionally nose around to see what folks are talking about. Mostly, it’s current events or politics but sometimes, it’s guitar related stuff. I shouldn’t be surprised and I shouldn’t be annoyed or upset but sometimes it’s surprising, annoying and upsetting. There was once a cartoon of two dogs at a computer and one says to the other “on the internet nobody knows you’re a dog”.  True enough. But it is also true that on the internet, nobody knows you’re a complete idiot. Except when they do.

There is an incredible amount of simply wrong information about guitars in general and ES-335’s are well represented here. Here’s what I found in 15 minutes of surfing:

They switched to block markers in 1961. Wire ABR-1’s came in in 1963. The nut width went back to 1 11/16″ in 1968. All 60’s 335’s have “Union Made” on the orange label. T-tops were standard starting in 1965. All 335’s before 1964 have a solid center block.

All of the above “facts” are wrong and were stated by someone as true. The problem is that you don’t generally know who posts this stuff  and you it’s hard to ascertain what’s true and what isn’t. The lesson here is that you shouldn’t use internet forums as a learning center. Fortunately, folks who know the facts often call out the poster of “alternative facts” as not knowing what they’re talking about. But, too often, nobody says anything, so Joe Neophyte, who’s trying to learn about 335’s takes it as fact. I have had dozens of emails disputing my claim that the nut width didn’t go back to 1 11/16″ in 1968. This is kind of a special case since this “information” was posted on a very accurate and very useful website about vintage guitars. It is where I got a lot of my non 335 knowledge from. But it’s wrong. My 335 (and 345 and 355) knowledge comes from looking at real guitars over a period of many years. And I’m not always right because, on occasion, I’ll see something in a real 335 in my possession that breaks a rule and I have to amend my “facts”.

To make matters worse, the misinformation gets repeated by folks who read it somewhere and didn’t question it. So, eventually, it pops up in enough places that you figure it must be true because you’ve seen it ten different times in ten different places. Unfortunately, the wrong “facts” get repeated just as often as the true ones. So, why don’t I call out the purveyors of alternative facts? The truth is that I used to but eventually I got a little tired of being the internet 335 police. I remember, early on, seeing Ebay listings that had the year wrong and a completely inaccurate description and I would diligently write to the seller and set them straight. The response was, occasionally, “oh, thank you so much. I had no idea that the 12 holes in the back weren’t factory.” More often, it was, …”who the hell are you and what makes you think you know more than I do?” That gets pretty old. So, I stopped correcting those who are in need of correction. Much as I’d like to be, it’s simply too much work to be the 335 police, so be careful where you get your information and, more importantly, be careful who you buy from. There are literally 100 things that can be wrong with an electric guitar. I don’t expect anyone to know everything but if you want to know the important stuff, I’ve probably covered it in a post. Use the search function and if that doesn’t find you what you’re looking for, send me an email and I’ll tell you the truth, assuming I know it.

Oh, and the switch to block markers was early 62, wire ABR-1’s were also 62, the nut width didn’t go back to 1 11/16″ in 68, 335’s from 64 until some time in 68 had “Union Made” on them and cut center blocks first appeared in 61 but weren’t the rule until 65.  T-tops seem to have shown up in 66. I’ve never had a 65 with them but I haven’t owned every 65 either (and I don’t open sealed covers).  I’m sure one of the experts out there has seen them in a 65. The trouble is that half the 65’s out there are actually 68’s. There’s a lot of serial number overlap between those two years and, for some reason, nearly everybody simply picks the earlier year, presumably so they can ask more money.  But that’s a different post.

You do get to the point where you can tell the nut width by eye. No calipers required. This is a 68. Does that look like 1 11/16" to you. I didn't think so.

You do get to the point where you can tell the nut width by eye. No calipers required. This is a 68. Does that look like 1 11/16″ to you. I didn’t think so.

 

Another Holy Grail in the House

March 31st, 2017 • ES 3558 Comments »
Note the designation "no Bigsby" on a couple of 355's in the left column. We know you're out there. We just have to find you.

Note the designation “no Bigsby” on a couple of 355’s in the left column. We know you’re out there. We just have to find you.

Not long ago I acquired and later sold what I considered to be a true holy grail guitar. It was a 59 mono ES-355 with a factory stop tail. At the time, it was the only one that anyone had ever seen. Gil Southworth had it for awhile and not long after he sold it, I was offered it. Although it looked pretty good, it was purported to have a shaved neck. It blacklighted well but I took Gil’s word for it but I wonder if it was simply the fact that 355 necks even in 59 can be quite slim. There are a few out there with huge necks mostly with 58 serials or FONs. I have one in my shop right now with a neck as big as any 335 I’ve ever had but that one has, as usual, a Bigsby. The 59 stop tail 355 is gone and my eyes were open for another. I had seen the above page of the 59 shipping log that showed two other 355’s with “Spec. no Bigsby” noted. Neither of these was the one I had, so I knew there were two more stop tail 59’s out there somewhere unless, in a horrific case of irony, someone later added a Bigsby (stranger things have happened). I didn’t know if they were mono or stereo from the log but it didn’t really matter since neither had surfaced. I used to think the chances of a particular special guitar coming up for sale that I had seen in the shipping log was pretty slim but after snagging three black 59 345’s last year, I’ve reconsidered.  I think, eventually, most all of them come up for sale.

Well, a few weeks ago, a Craigslist ad appeared for a “58 ES-355″ and I saw it within an hour of its posting. An astute reader of this blog tipped me off to it but I was already on the phone with the owner. It turns out that serial number A29538 was a little bit south of Saskatoon,  in Assiniboia, Saskatchewan and it belonged to the seller’s aunt (who was a singer and player) and she had passed away and the guitar was coming to him as an inheritance. It also turns out to be not a 58 but a mono 59 355, so I was pretty excited. There is often a problem with individual sellers and that is that they look at dealer prices and assume they are what the dealers get and the sellers initial asking price was “six figures”. Yikes. It’s pretty easy to understand, though.  A 355 looks pretty much like a 335 to anyone who isn’t really tuned into the models and the asking 335 prices for a 59 are up there, although “six figures” is reserved for mint blondes. I explained to him that a stop tail 355 is super rare and that his guitar commands a considerable premium over the Bigsby version and we came to a agreement on price about as far North of a Bigsby mono 59 as Saskatchewan is from Connecticut. Yes, it’s really, really rare but the market is much smaller for 355’s. Folks who can afford it, want a 335.  But a mono stop tail? Well, now that’s a fancypants 59 335 with an ebony board. And some serious cachet.

I don’t have it in my hands yet but my friend Mike in British Columbia went through it for me and gave it the thumbs up, so it’s on its way. Remember the old rule I have about falling in love with a guitar. Well, I’d better embroider a pillow with it because it’s about to get tested again. I thought it was tough to sell the black 345’s but this? Even rarer and even cooler if you ask me. Now where is A29540? And that cherry Byrdland in the next column would be pretty cool too.

Yes, it has a correct case but it was shipped in this one. It had to get from Assiniboia Saskatchewan to Nanaimo, British Columbia in the dead of Winter in a snowstorm. It took awhile nut it arrived safely. How cool is this?

Yes, it has a correct case but it was shipped in this one. It had to get from Assiniboia Saskatchewan to Nanaimo, British Columbia in the dead of Winter in a snowstorm. It took awhile but it arrived safely. How cool is this?

 

 

Shootout

March 27th, 2017 • ES 3356 Comments »
Here's the lineup. That's the 2014 in front with the 69 behind it. Then the 64, 65 trap. 58, 65 stop, the 62 and the 60.  A 345 and a couple of 355's are lurking in the back.

Here’s the lineup. That’s the 2014 in front with the 69 behind it. Then the 64, 65 trap. 58, 65 stop, the 62 and the 60. A 345 and a couple of 355’s are lurking in the back.

Things get a little slow at OK Guitars during the month of March in Kent, CT. Kent is a tourist town and it appeals mostly to outdoorsy types who hike the Appalachian Trail which passes along the ridge a mile or so from my shop. It also appeals to families who visit Kent Falls to the North of me. So, given how terrible the weather usually is around here in March and the snow that still covers most everything and the mud and the depressing lack of sunshine, it’s no wonder things have been a little slow at OK Guitars. What to do on a rainy, windy Saturday? Play some guitars.

Tone is subjective. What I like isn’t necessarily going to be what you like. So, if I play every 335 in my shop and rank them according to tone, I’m really just giving you my opinion. But certain aspects of an electric guitar are pretty universal. Most everyone wants a guitar that is balanced, that sustains well, that has a decent tonal range and is comfortable to play. Well, if they’re all 335’s, how much variation is there going to be? I kind of expected quite a lot.  I was surprised.

Here’s what’s on the wall in 335’s. We’ve got a 58, a 60, a 62, a 64, two 65’s, a 69 and a 2014. All stop tails except the 64 (Bigsby), one of the 65’s (trap) and the 69 (trap). All of them are set up to my preferred specs. Pickups close to the strings, action medium, 11’s and, for the stop tail, the tailpiece screwed 80-85% of the way down so the break angle is fairly steep. Obviously, I can’t do that with the Bigsby and the traps. But we’ll let the chips fall where they may.

First up was the 58. Big fat neck, shallow neck angle, thin top and a killer set of PAFs. It’s no wonder this bad boy performed at the top of the pack. Singing sustain, searing highs, tons of harmonics, no fretting out and big range. This is as good as a 335 gets. But then, because I expected something wildly different, I picked up the 65 trap tail. Big neck but later patents (chrome covers usually indicate poly windings), fairly steep neck angle and the thicker top of a post 58 335. If I rate the 58 a 99, this guitar, trap tail and all gets a 96. It was a little heavy for a 335 at around 8.5 lbs (the 58 was a pound lighter) but this guitar performed brilliantly. Lots of tonal range, great sustain, easy playability and great tonal and volume balance between the pickups. As I’ve said before, the stop tail makes a difference but not a huge difference. Right there with the trap 65 was the stop 65, the 60 and the 62. 62’s are vastly underrated mostly because of the thinner neck profile but most of the 62’s I’ve had are wonderful players. The major difference between the 60 and the 62 and the stop tail 65 was neck profile. The pickups (nickel covers in this 65) are the same, although the 60 and the 62 had PAFs and the 65 patents and the configuration is the same except the 65 had nylon saddles and the 60 and 62 had metal. Almost no difference in sustain between the three. I think the 62, on the subjective side, had a sweeter sounding neck pickup but the 65 had that chainsaw of a bridge pickup that I like so much.  The 60 was the best balanced but the 65 and the 62 were really close. Still, these five guitars were just killer. I’d play any one of them for the rest of my life and be happy.

Next up was the 64 Bigsby which was tonally awesome but didn’t have the crispness and touch articulation of the stops or the 65 trap. I think the Bigsby could be the culprit. The good news is that it has stop tail bushings and had I more time, I would have strung it up with a stop to see how much of  difference it makes. So, that’ll be another post. Still, excellent balance, great sounding pickups with lots of harmonics and great range. You gotta love the neck on a 64/early 65. Fairly slim at the first fret, these necks get real big real fast. No wonder 64’s are the most popular 335 out there.

So that leaves two more to play…the 69 (which is rewired 340) and the 2014 Memphis VOS 59 reissue.  The 69 has a maple neck with a huge profile but a narrow nut. The narrow nut is a generally playability problem for me but after 10 minutes, I found it fairly comfortable and I wasn’t falling all over myself trying to play it.  The maple neck and Indian rosewood board make no discernible difference. The pickups are late patent numbers but are likely pre T-tops. Unusual for a 69 but not unheard of. The sustain was quite good as was the tonal range. The balance was lacking but I could probably  dial it in-the neck pickup was too loud and a little muddy. A pretty nice guitar especially for the price. And a good looker too in blonde. Yes, it’s birch rather than maple and looks a little like your kitchen cabinets but they’re nice kitchen cabinets.

Last up was the 2014. It looks great and feels really good to play. The shoulders on the 59 sized neck are big and it makes me feel a little clumsy (actually I am a little clumsy but this was worse than usual).  You might like that. I don’t. Sustain wasn’t quite there and I really don’t know why. I can only blame the wood. Too wet? Too new? The frets were good-it’s essentially a new guitar. This has been my complaint about new Gibsons. They’ve got the look pretty close to vintage (except the guard and the pickup covers), they’ve got the feel pretty close to vintage but they simply don’t sound vintage. My thought is that the 58 probably sounded a lot like the 2014 when it was new. I will re-do the test in around 60 years and see how the 2014 does. I’ll be 124 but by then I should be a pretty decent player by then if I keep practicing.