Just when you think you know everything, you go and learn something new. Yesterday I picked up a 59 ES-330 from a regular client who asked me to sell it for him. It’s a beautiful example and I was happy to take it. ES-330’s are pretty hot right now-I guess the fact that Gibson reissued them at a relatively high price is making the vintage ones look like the better deal-and they are. Of course, the seller wanted me to come up with a valuation for it and I looked it over. Bone stock but wait a second…there’s red paint in the f-holes!! What the… ?? I’ve never seen that before and I thought I’d seen everything. The paint is inside the guitar
but only where the f-holes are open. The odd thing is that the factory stamps-model number and FON-are on top of the paint. That can only mean they were done at the factory. The FON goes on before the guitar is glued together. So why would the nice folks at Gibson paint the inside of a guitar red? The owner had bought the guitar from a reputable dealer and I asked if he had any insight into the red paint. The dealer’s explanation made pretty good sense. Most of you are old enough to remember black and white photography using this stuff they used to call film (“fillum” where I come from). Well, black and white film is a somewhat finicky medium. Certain colors come out too light and certain colors too dark. This is important in product photography. The inside of the f-holes on a thin body guitar would reflect the light back and look white in a photo. They needed a somewhat darker tone. Remember, there was no Photoshop back then-this the “Mad Men” era. Apparently this tomato soup red color was, as you might expect, pretty handy and apparently gave them a pleasing darker tone that looked right in the brochure and in promotional photos.
I went and found a scan of the 59 catalog and there was no 330 in it at all. The ’60 catalog only shows a single pickup (although it mentions the two pickup model). So, this guitar is apparently not the brochure guitar but the explanation kind of makes sense, so I thought perhaps a little experiment was in order. I don’t have any black and white film (although I still have a film camera) but I do have a couple of ES-330’s that I can shoot digital photos of and turn them to black and white. I know, not quite the same thing but I’m limited by the tools here. The photos below kind of make the point. The one with the red looks better than the one without it to my eye. The raw wood inside the guitar reflects the light and looks a little unfinished while the red one makes the f-holes less obvious so you concentrate on the guitar rather than the f-hole. Whether anyone actually buys into the idea that it makes a particle of difference to the potential guitar buyer is up for debate. They do focus groups on this kind of stuff and it’s a great way for the focus group people to make money. Also a great way for art directors to keep their jobs. Also a way for Gibson to justify a higher price for a guitar to cover their “R&D”.