One of the more frequent questions I get asked is why the value of ES 335s falls precipitously from 1964 to 1965. I’ve covered some of this but to some, the reasoning behind the drop seems less than clear. Contrary to popular belief, it had nothing to do with LBJ and his “Great Society”. The biggest reason, of course, is that we collectors are totally nuts and what we do makes sense only to another collector or aficionado. There are, essentially, 3 major differences between a 64 and a 65. And, true to form, Gibson “transitioned” the changes in. The biggest change, to me, and the biggest reason the guitars from 65 onward are worth so much less is the change from a 1 11/16″ nut to a 1 9/16″ nut. That’s a difference of 1/8″ which doesn’t seem like much until you actually try to play. Some folks have no trouble at all making the adjustment. Others just can’t do it. Most of us fall in the middle. But wait. What about the change from stop tail to trapeze? Doesn’t that make just as big a difference in value? You would think so but it doesn’t. You want proof? Look at the price of a 64 Bigsby (around $9000) and the price of a 65 Bigsby ($5000)-the figures are for average guitars. There’s still a big difference in price. There is no doubt that a stop tail commands a premium but it’s something you can change if you’re a player. Taking off a trapeze and having a stop properly installed will hurt the vintage value, no doubt about it, but it will also make your guitar sound better and sustain better, IMO. Conversely, you can’t make a narrow neck wider unless you want to put on a new neck. The differences between a trapeze and stoptail with regard to tone is for another time. But, back to the 64-65 transition. There’s more. By late 64, most 335s still had nickel hardware. I’ve seen a chrome pickup cover on a 64 but not a chrome bridge or pickguard mount or stop tail. The first 65’s were identical to 64’s and most everyone who has an
early 65 calls it a 64 but there are some smaller elements that give it away-beyond the serial numbers, which, by the way, were still pretty accurate at that time. In early 65, before the stop tail disappeared and before the hardware turned to chrome, something else occurred and it seems to have occurred very close to the first of the year. The truss rod cover bevel got narrow (but not the pickguard bevel). I have never seen a narrow bevel on a 64. There may be a few but I haven’t seen them. Likewise, I’ve only seen one big bevel TRC on a 65 335. As one of my readers points out, they are somewhat more common on 345s which had the word “stereo” on them. So, its a good “tell”. But wait…there’s still more. At some point Gibson began to transition from PAF type pickups with enamel wire to PAF type pickups with poly coated wire. Supposedly it took place in ’62 but I’ve seen too many Pat# pickups on 63s and 64s with enamel wire to believe that. But by 65, the change seems to be complete. The poly wire Pat# is still a great pickup but it isn’t “the same as a PAF” as most sellers are fond of telling you. Is that it? Let’s review: Stop tail changed to trap. Wide nut to narrow. Nickel hardware to chrome. Wide bevel TRC to narrow. Uh, oh. Still more. These, like the TRC make not a particle of difference to the tone but collectors want to see the earlier stuff on their transitional 64/65. Tuners went from single line to double line Klusons. The bridge went from type 2 (ABR-1 with wire) to type 3 (patent number with wire). Also makes almost no difference in tone, although the newer bridges are a little beefier and seem to wear better. Most of the changes don’t make a particle of difference and the transition year of 65 would be worth about the same as a 64 if only they had stuck with stop and the wider nut. There would have been so many more great guitars for us to run the values up on. But, you can still take advantage of the fact that early 65’s are virtually identical to 64’s. Keep an eye open for them. They can be a bargain. I found a stop tail 65 recently for $7500. It’s been a looong time since I found a stop tail 64 for that price.