OK, now that I have your attention, it isn’t actually that ugly but it is pretty rare. The reference is to the headstock of the fairly rare and not too terribly popular ES-369. I’ve never owned one but based on the fact that they only made it for about a year (late 81 into ’82) it’s seems almost redundant with the more popular ES-347. I’ve never owned a 369 but I can tell you a little about it. The ES-369 is an odd one. The headstock is not shaped like any other ES-it has the “snakehead” shape that has the useful function of pulling the strings very straight. A Mr. Paul Reed Smith apparently thought it was a good idea as well along with a number of other builders. It still had the 3 piece maple neck of the 70’s, the neck volute and the generally mediocre build quality (and wood) we associate with the 70’s. The Norlin Corp. (beer, concrete) wanted profits and making more guitars for less money was the name of the game. So, why the ES-369?George Gruhn has a theory. It seems that Gibson was trying to use up some spare parts (a page from the Fender playbook-see Fender Maverick). Maybe they had an overstock of trapezoid markers (This is the only ES to use them to my knowledge) or TP-6 tailpieces. But, to be honest, the guitar looks pretty good to me, particularly in black. It has “dirty fingers” pickups which are overwound ceramic magnet pickups which I’ve played and I kind of like even if they’re a bit limited in range. I would prefer that they were covered but they aren’t-it was that era where everybody uncovered their pickups and Gibson probably figured they could save a few bucks by leaving them off. I like the red binding on the headstock and the retro logo. They saved a couple bucks on the pickguard too-one ply white plastic has to be cheaper than the laminated ones we’ve all come to expect on a 335 type guitar. There’s a coil tap but it’s a little more ergonomic and little less intrusive than the earlier ones which were on the treble horn. This one is a mini toggle above the 3 way. It’s still got that pinched looking odd variant that would finally go away with the ES-335 dot reissue. This was probably the last of them-again, use up the old parts. Even the earlier ES-347s had a more traditional body shape by this time. I’ve only held one in my hands and it played well and sounded pretty darn good. It was a bit on the heavy side. OK, really heavy, like 11 lbs heavy. They made them in sunburst and black. They may have made a red one or two but I’ve never seen one. If I saw one in the $1500 range, I would consider it but given that you can snare an early 80’s ES-335 dot for $1800 (if you don’t want a blondie), I would think twice about spending any more for one. I’ve seen black 80’s dot necks for around $2000, so if the black paint job floats your boat, I’d go for the 335. But, if ya gotta gotta have a snakehead headstock, this is your fiddle.
Archive for November, 2011
I get a lot of emails asking me to identify the year of a particular ES-335, 345 or 355. I’m more than happy to date your guitar and tell you some interesting ways to date them yourself. We all know there are fakes out there and some of them are very convincing, so I can’t blame someone when they send me a photo of what they think is an ES-335 that turns out to be someones very clever imitation. The nice folks in the Far East have gotten very good at imitation and, as they say, it’s the sincerest form of flattery. The photo I got yesterday wasn’t flattering anybody. In fact, it was more of a cold slap in the kisser than flattery. Wow. This guitar couldn’t look less like a 335. Now, to be fair, I wrote the owner and told him that I thought it was a joke but that I’d give him the benefit of the doubt. I still think I was being punk’d but I played it straight with the gentleman who sent me the photo. I dunno, maybe the obvious to me isn’t so obvious to others. I did send him a side by side just in case I wasn’t being clear about my firm belief that this guitar wasn’t made by Gibson, although I have to say some of the Norlins got pretty close (remember the Sonex?). So, for my holiday giggle, can you tell which is the real Gibson and which is the fake. First prize is a week in Schenectady. Second prize is two weeks. Just a quick update-I heard back from the unfortunate owner and he says it was no joke. I guess what’s obvious to me may not be clear to folks who have less familiarity with guitars than I do. This is, by the way, exactly why the Chinese and others can get away with selling fakes. Do your homework before you buy. A 335 is a pretty big chunk of change for most of us.
Dan Erlewine wrote a column not too long ago in Vintage Guitar Magazine about what he calls the “rule of two” where an unusual guitar shows up at his shop and, after not seeing one for awhile, another shows up at the same time. I remember this partly because the ES-350 that showed up first was my ’58. I had a similar experience this week with a slightly different twist. I received an email
asking me about an “Argentine Grey” ES-330. No one really gives this unusual color much thought. Then, two days later, I get an email from a dealer asking if I would be interested in an Argentine Grey ES-345. I had seen 2 of them over the years and never really took to the color all that much. I don’t know that much about Argentine Grey but it was apparently around for a long time-going back as far as the 1930’s when it was used on acoustics. As you can see in the photo, Argentine Grey is simply a different kind of sunburst. Where the usual “tobacco” sunburst that Gibson uses has a red element-in fact the black part is really a very dense dark red, Argentine Grey goes from black to yellow with the transition appearing to be brown rather than red. Some extremely faded sunbursts take on a similar but not identical tonal palette. But then look at the sides. The sides of the usual sunburst are brown. No bursting-just brown. But the AG sides go from black to yellow and back again as you go around the rim of the body. When I first saw the color, I called it a “lazy man’s” sunburst since it looked very simple to do but upon closer scrutiny, it appears that it takes a bit more time and effort to execute than your garden variety sunburst, largely due to the extra work required to do the sides. While perhaps not as rare as Pelham Blue or black or even white, AG is pretty rare. It also doesn’t seem to command much of a premium over the cost of a red or sunburst example. I’m sure if Eric Clapton played an AG, the prices would be astronomical. But, as it stands, it’s a relatively inexpensive way to get an ES that your friends won’t have. While perhaps not as cheap as the ugly stepchild they call “Sparkling Burgundy” it is distinctive enough and cheap enough to merit a second look. So, I bought it. I think it’s interesting that the vintage price guides (which, I think, are often waaay off-usually too high) agree that a blonde ES 335 or 345 commands double the price of a sunburst or red but an AG 345 is just another 345. There were 50 blonde 345’s shipped. I don’t know how many AGs were shipped but I’m guessing it is less than 50-most of them in 1960. I will call the nice folks at Gibson Customer Service once I have the serial number and see if it was part of a larger run. As you can see in the ledger page below there were a few of them made on March 23 1960. I’d be interested to hear from readers who have one of these rarities-particularly a 335. I think these might look pretty cool with nickel hardware. The 330 sure looks good with the black covers.
Usually, I really enjoy working on the guitars I get but sometimes it gets away from me. Everybody knows what a pain it is to pull a 335 harness but if you’ve ever pulled a 345 harness, done a repair (broken cap in this case) and tried to stuff all that stuff back in, then you know frustration. Maybe the reason they originally put the caps in the shielding cans is so you could put the harness back in without breaking the legs off a bumblebee type or black beauty cap like you find in 335s. Then, today, I was putting together an SG that I built from a husk using the bottomless parts bin. There isn’t very much thats original other than the plastic on it but everything is vintage correct. Let’s see how many things I can do wrong. I got everything back together without incident-the pickups had been uncovered but I had an almost matching pair of nickel covers, so I carefully soldered them on and hooked everything up. I plugged it into my “office” amp (55 Deluxe) and it sounded great on the bridge, great on the neck and…oops…out of phase. So, I had to unsolder one of the covers to flip one of the magnets. I chose the neck because its a patent number and if I was going to fry one of the pickups I didn’t want it to be the PAF. Of course I tried to do this without unsoldering the pickup from the harness. Bad idea. And my initial soldering job on the cover was a thing of beauty. So, after making a pretty good mess of the solder (and the edges of the cover, I got them back off and unscrewed the slug coil and loosened the polepiece coil and slid out the magnet and flipped it over. Now I knew they had to be in phase so I cleaned up the solder mess and resoldered the cover. Beautiful again (lucky). Then I put the pickup back in (putting the ring on backwards the first time) and tuned ‘er back up. Heaven. Then I saw the maple spacer on the floor. It must have slid out with the magnet and I didn’t see it. Well, I thought I could probably leave it but I hate to do anything that isn’t complete and correct, sooo out came the soldering iron again. So, another round of trying to unsolder a well attached cover without frying the pickup and it wasn’t easy (again). I used my little squeeze thing to suck up the excess solder but the excess solder kept falling down between the pickup and the cover. Whyizzit you can never get the damn solder to stick to the pickup and cover when you want it to but when you don’t, it sticks like white on rice. So, after a lot of jamming stuff between the pickup and the cover while heating the area with the hot soldering iron (you need four hands to do this), I finally got the thing off. Once again, I opened it up and, YIKES, the spacer is in there. It must have been the other pickup. If I had a gun, I would have shot the guitar. So, I go to take off the other pickup when I just stop. I hadn’t opened the other one (the PAF) up. I need a break or my brain is going to explode. It happens that I had been resoldering the lead wire on an old T-top that I had in my old Robin Ranger (actually my sons guitar) yesterday and hadn’t put it back together yet. So, I went back to it. And I’m putting the bobbins back in place and the magnet and I can’t find the spacer. Boi-oi-oing. The lightbulb over my head goes on and I realize that the spacer on the floor was from the T-top and not the PAF. My wife gave me the moral of the fable. When you’re working on anything that has a bunch of little parts, have them all together in a little dish or container of some sort. There’s a cooking term called mise en place which roughly translates to everything in its place. It means have all the components and utensils at hand when you start cooking. Well, it applies to guitar tinkering as well. Have everything organized before you start your project-all the parts in their place and all the tools you’ll need to complete the job right in front of you. A word of caution-mise en place will do you absolutely no good if you’re trying to get a 345 harness back into a 345. A shot of Jack (or other similarly strong beverage) will help you a lot more. It won’t help you get the harness in but you’ll feel better about your failure. Oh, and the other moral of the story? Don’t solder the pickup covers on until you know everything is done right.
OK, time to beg you folks to comply with some really simple rules. I work pretty hard on this blog and I’m thrilled that I have nearly 30,000 unique readers. Here’s the issue and I’m sure that most of you aren’t the problem. I spend more time deleting spam comments than I do writing. I have a program that gets rid of a lot of it and I can usually spot a registered user who is making up a name and an email. The problem is that some legitimate readers do the same thing because they don’t want their mailbox filled with spam and don’t like putting their names out there. I’ve started eliminating all obvious nonsense names from the user list-nonsense emails too. I’m being pretty loose about this for now but I would ask that if you are a legitimate reader and you enjoy the blog, then please sign up using a non random user name and a fake email address. I know, I’m a commercial site, in part, but I don’t ever use the email addresses from the blog for anything. The only folks who will ever get an email from me are people who have emailed me in the past. So, if you signed up with the user name hiuqsdfviaeryqo and the email address of email@example.com, then reregister unless you don’t care if I eliminate you from the user list. BTW, I’ve also figured out that most of the spam comes from folks in Eastern Europe and Russia so if you have an email address that ends in .ru or another Eastern European country, then shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know you’re legit and I won’t delete you. So, gimme a little break here and try to be who you really are. After all, you all know who I am. OK, next real post will be more interesting. I promise.
One thing that just about everybody agrees on is the superiority of a stoptail over any other tailpiece on an ES-335. That’s why they command a premium over Bigsby and trapezes and also why so many get converted. I’ve written about the “poor man’s” 64 which is an early 65 with a stoptail conversion. I’ve also found that the difference in tone between a stoptail and a trapeze is less than you would expect-much to my surprise. But there are other advantages to the stop. They allow any number of string angle breaks since they are adjustable up and down and you can even top wrap them. Plus, they are easier to string than a Bigs or a trap. I’m not going to suggest that those of you with 65 and later ES-335’s convert them to a stop but I will point out that many, many, many stoptails are installed in the wrong position. Actually, I probably shouldn’t call it “wrong” for two reasons. First, Gibson wasn’t all that consistent in how they positioned them, although the range is probably less than a quarter in each way. Second, a stoptail will function just fine even if its set a few inches toward the butt end of the guitar. Just ask Larry Carlton about his 68 with the stop conversion. This all goes hand in hand with the “break angle” concept that I wrote about last week. There is a large range of break angles that work just fine so, similarly, thereis a large range of stoptail positions that work just fine. It seems a lot of not terribly well informed do it yourselfers AND experienced repair shops didn’t bother doing any research. they simply looked at where the strings were anchored on the trapeze (or Bigsby) and put the stop right there. It works OK but it looks sooo wrong. So, what’s right? Typically (and again, there is a range) if you draw a straight line through the center of the stud holes and extend it, it will pass in the range of just above the three way to right through the middle of it. Anything outside this range was probably a conversion. Here are a bunch of examples:
Pretty much everyone who reads this column knows that I hold the 64 ES-335 in very high regard but what happened on January 1, 1965 that cut the value in half? Well, actually, nothing happened, at least not on January 1. The changes that took place in 1965 were huge. I believe they also reflected Gibson’s desire to make more guitars (demand was way up) , make them for less money and compete more effectively with their arch-rival, Fender. Fender had been bought by CBS and the word was to make more guitars for less money. Gibson needed to do the same. So, what happened in 65? First,
Gibson stopped installing lightweight aluminum stoptails and began installing nickel plated trapeze tails. This didn’t make much sense on a semi hollow because the idea of a trapeze is to allow the top to vibrate freely but the top on a semi doesn’t vibrate the same way as an archtop so it had to be economics at work. Fewer processes were involved. For a stop, you had to drill the holes, insert the bushings and screw in the studs and stop. For at trap, it was three little screws and done. The next thing they did was to change the nut width from 1 11/16″ to 1 9/16″. There are transitional examples at 1 5/8″ but by mid ’65 they were all 1 9/16″. Why did they do that? The difference in cost couldn’t have been that much-there isn’t that much less wood on the thinner neck. Nope. They did that to compete with Fender. Word was out that thin meant “fast” and better velocity was important to a lot of players-especially rockers. Most Fender B necks, the most common were 1 5/8″, so Gibson had to one up them with 1 9/16″ which, as we look back, is too small for many players, including me. So, here it is mid 1965 and Gibson has made two ill advised changes (in hindsight, of course). But they weren’t done. For years Gibson had been getting complaints about the nickel plating getting dull and tarnished so they decided to change the hardware to chrome which seems like a good idea if their intent was to keep things shiny. But, once again, in hindsight, folks nowadays like the patina of nickel, so chrome hardware guitars are worth less to the vintage player. Gibson also made changes to the pickups in 1965. We start seeing the second generation of patent number pickups-the ones with the red poly coated wire in the windings and the black and white lead wires. Money again was the impetus-poly coated wire was cheaper than enamel coated wire. Those with better ears can hear a difference and like the older ones better. Contrary to what every person selling a T-top says, T-tops didn’t show up in 1965. I’ve never seen one on a 65 and rarely on a 66. What did all these changes do the vintage value of your 65? Lets look at three types: The first 65’s were stop tails with the big neck-virtually identical to a 64. I’ve seen these go for $12,000 or more-in line with a 64 stop. Next, the big neck trapeze model-usually with nickel hardware. These seem to run in the $7000-$9000 range which is huge step downward just because they changed the tailpiece buy I don’t make the rules . These, I believe, are one of the great vintage bargains because you get a big neck, great pickups (usually early pat#) and a whole lotta tone for a lot less money. Then there’s the bulk of the 65’s with their skinny necks and chrome hardware. These are no different than a 66 and should be priced about the same as a 66 but they often aren’t. Just as an early 65 should be the equal of a 64, the late 65 is the same as a 66, so don’t overpay just because the serial number says its a 65. And make sure the serial number wasn’t reused. You can check that here. A mid to late 65 with all the “66” features should be in the $3500-$5000 range depending on condition and originality. If you’re a regular reader you know how to tell a 65 from a 67. telling a later 65 from a 66 is nearly impossible but the serial numbers will help. Also, Gibson phased in the nickel parts, so you may find a 65 with a nickel tailpiece and chrome pickup covers. Or even one chrome and one nickel pickup cover. Or a chrome bridge and a nickel tailpiece. I don’t think anyone cared probably because new chrome and new nickel don’t look all that different to most people.
I think I’ve covered just about every component of these guitars at least in a general way and most in minute detail. There is one I’ve missed and it may seem insignificant but when it comes to proper tuning, this little guy is pretty important. The ferrule. Huh? OK, the tuner bushings. You know, those little metal rings that the tuner shafts go through. This is a part you don’t really think about because its totally passive. It doesn’t really do anything but keep the tuner in place. They don’t break and they don’t wear out. They occasionally
get a little loose but they generally keep a low profile and that’s why I haven’t even mentioned them until now. The tuner bushing or ferrule is a press fit sleeve-nickel on a 335 and gold plated nickel on a 345 and 355. They are knurled so that they stay in place without having to be screwed in or glued in. In order for the tuners to hold tune, they can’t move around and the ferrule, which fits snugly against the tuner shaft keeps movement to a minimum. So, they are completely necessary. Where folks run into trouble is when they take off a set of Grovers or Schallers and want to go back to the original or repro Klusons. The hole is too big and the shaft will move around in the ferrule causing tuning problems and even damage to the tuner itself. You can always dowel the holes and redrill them but thats a pretty delicate and time consuming process. Or you can get adaptor bushings that have a larger outside diameter to fit into the larger holes but the correct inside diameter for the Klusons. Whatever you do, if your ferrules get loose, don’t glue them in. It’ll solve the problem but if anyone ever need to get them out, you are making their lives very difficult-especially if you used Super glue. Pretty much everybody swapped out their Kluson in the 70’s for Grovers (or Schallers). These are held in place by a completely different set of parts, so along with a set of repro or vintage Klusons, you will need a set of ferrules which adapt the 13/32″ (10mm) holes in your headstock to the smaller 11/32″ holes that were drilled originally. Same deal with Schallers. These adaptors look pretty convincing and can go a long way in making your formerly Grover or Schaller equipped 335 look like it did when it left the factory.
The Varitone controversy will probably never go away but at least I have something relatively new to add to it. In the last post I did about it, I talked about the “old” hand soldered Varitone and the “multivalue” switches. Well, I’ve had a whole passel of 345s and 355s in my hands since then and I’ve come upon something. Every single early (pre 62) 345 and 355 sounded big and fat and full in the bypass position. Every one of them and we’re talking 5 or 6 of them in the past few months. Lately, I’ve also played 6 post 62 Varitone equipped guitars. Interestingly, 5 out of the 6 sounded a little nasal (honky, pinched) in the bypass position. It’s not a huge difference but it’s audible. What I don’t know-and would like to know-is whether these big multivalue “circuit caps” that came into regular use around 1962, I think, are prone to drift. Our resident electronics genius/wizard, Chris W. believes that drifting components could theoretically change the bypass tone. I believe he is right but I also believe that for some reason, the later version is more prone to that phenomenon. While I’ve been an advocate of leaving Varitones alone, most of my experience has been with the older type (I’m a sucker for 59s and 60s). Now that I’ve gotten a few more 63, 64 and 65s in and out of the door, I’m rethinking my formerly rigid stance. In fact, I may yank the VT circuit this weekend on the white ’65 ES-355 I have now and see if it opens up. As always, if you’re going to do this, pull the entire harness out and get a replacement 335 type harness. I like to leave the switch in place but it will make your task harder when you want to reinstall it (because you’ll have to reattach the leads and the ground to the switch). Getting the VT harness back in is not for the faint hearted (or the non ambidextrous). You think it was hard to learn the lead break to Bodhisattva ?(that’s Steely Dan, kids), wait ’til you try to get 3 yards of Varitone circuit back into a 2 yard space. And, just for the record, I can’t play the lead break to “Bodhisattva”.
I’ve read a lot about how the angle that the strings take when they cross the bridge or the nut can affect how the guitar plays. I’m not sure I understand completely the mechanism for the phenomena described but, as a college Physics major (for a year, anyway), I have some insight. I’ve read that the strings are easier to bend if the angle is less and I’ve read that they stay in tune better if the angle is shallower. I’ve read the opposite as well. Here’s my take. I recently acquired a wide neck ’65 ES-355 with a Maestro. The break angle behind the ABR-1 is almost zero degrees meaning the strings go straight back to the tailpiece. Compare that to a trapeze which has a steeper break angle but still relatively shallow, maybe 3-5 degrees? I’m guessing here since I don’t have the tools to measure exactly. Compare that to a stoptail screwed all the way down. That looks like at least 20 degrees. What is clear is that the downward pressure on the saddles is totally different in each case. That’s simple physics and it holds up on inspection. The E string on the Maestro with the almost nonexistent break angle kept jumping out of its saddle slot when I bend it (so I made the slot a little deeper and its fine). The Bigsby and stoptail do not. I’ve had the problem on occasion with the trapeze and light strings. But does the increase in break angle change the tension on the part of the strings between the saddle and the nut? A lot of folks say that it does. My findings are different. Let’s look at the common sense part of the equation. A string is brought to pitch by tightening it to a particular tension point. I don’t think the string tension really cares what angle the string takes when it leaves the saddle and heads to the tailpiece. The bridge can tell-no doubt about that but once the string hits the “open road” where you play it, it seems to be exactly the same no matter what the break angle. Then there is something they call “compliance” which throws a bit of a monkey wrench into the theory. Compliance is the is the resistance to bending. Increasing the break angle increases the downward force at the saddle and nut and in so doing, it
distributes the load over a smaller distance. That, presumably, would make it harder to bend, even though the tension on the “open road” of the string is the same. That begs the question of whether that changes the distance you have to push the string to get, say, a half step change in the note. I’ve done more than a few side by side comparisons of stoptails, trapezes and Bigsby ES-335s and find that the differences in how hard it is to bend a note are pretty minimal. On the first subject, I’ve also found no perceptible change in string tension (assuming the string gauge is the same). I have to admit I like playing stoptails over the others but not because of any perceived tension difference. I do find some small variations in sustain but that’s another post. I really prefer the stop because it makes for a lighter guitar that’s a lot easier to string and I don’t use a trem anyway. That said, my favorite guitar has a Bigsby, so go figure. On the string tension issue, I do find a change in tone when you go from 9’s to 10’s to 11’s because, in that case, the string tension does change. There is also the issue of the path of the sound waves produced by the instrument with the various tailpieces. Are they transmitted effectively to the wooden mass of the center block (like a stoptail) or do they allow the top to vibrate (or try to) freely like a trapeze would? The Bigsby (or Maestro or sideways) would probably be closer to the stoptail as it’s mounted into the center block. I always thought this would make a big difference in tone and that the break angle would have something to do with it. But now I’m not so sure. How does downward force on a saddle translate into tone or does it? I need a physicist or an engineer to tell me how it works because I’m pretty much just a player like you who has a lot of question and enough knowledge to be dangerous.