Everybody knows the urban myth that ’68 Les Pauls were supposedly made from leftover bodies from the 50’s and most of us know that it isn’t actually true. But there are guitars that don’t seem to reflect the year in which they were shipped. It’s actually easy to identify these “leftovers” up until 1961 because the guitars were stamped with a factory order number when the guitar’s build was initiated. A good example of this is the 62 block neck I had not long ago with a 1960 FON. It had a number of earlier characteristics that would have indicated it was a leftover even if it didn’t have an FON to prove it. The body depth was thinner (like an early dot neck) and the neck angle was very shallow. It also had a finish flaw that added some credibility to the leftover concept. One could assume it was somewhat poorly painted (which it was) and was put aside and used either when needed like when someone ordered a solid color and it could be painted over or when they had more orders than they had bodies ready. Once Gibson discontinued FON’s, it gets a little trickier. That’s where knowing the features of the various years becomes valuable.
My example is a ’65 ES-355 mono. The serial number is relatively early in the year, perhaps February or maybe March but the guitar presents itself as a 64, judging by its features. But didn’t early 65’s have a lot of 64 features anyway? We all know about big neck 65’s-some even with stop tails and nickel parts. But this is a little different. By 1965, a 335 is a very high volume guitar for Gibson. Not as high as a Melody Maker but still, a lot higher than a 355. In ’64, approximately 1250 ES-335’s were shipped. Only 54 1964 ES-355 monos exist though. So, finding a 65 with 64 features doesn’t seem far fetched at all since Gibson’s bean counters must have anticipated a few more sales than that. In fact, in the entire ES semi hollow line, the only guitar to decline in sales from 64 to 65 was the ES-355 mono. So a ’65 ES-355 walks in the door. It’s pretty close to mint, the gold is near perfect and I groan when I see the Maestro but it’s a 355 mono and that’s a guitar I always sit up and pay attention to. And besides, they can still play well with a Maestro-they just look wrong to my eye and the string break angle can be a problem if you don’t set it up properly. As soon as I grab hold of the neck, I know this isn’t the typical 65. It’s pretty darn big. Full 1 11/16″ nut and a good .83″ at the first fret. That’s 64 335 territory. Like the other guitars in the line, the very thin necks of 60 -63 were beefed up in 64 and the 355 was no different. It’s just that 64’s are so rare, you never see them. In fact ES-355’s took on a slim profile as early as mid 59, so finding any big neck 355 is a rare thing. The typical early 60’s ES-355 is more like .79″ or even .78″ at the first fret.
A few other things changed in ’65 and they don’t show up on this one which leads me to believe it was built in 64 and wasn’t just a leftover body. It has the very boxy and shallow depth pickup covers-like a PAF cover where the edges are very squared off. It has a wide bevel truss rod cover which says “Custom” on it. The truss cover leads me another possible explanation. Was this a custom order? Gibson would do almost anything you asked them to do in this era. If I called up and asked for a mono ES-355 with a bigger than normal neck profile, they would build it for me. It is a possibility. But it all goes to the nature of Gibson in the 50’s and 60’s… unlike General Motors or Ford, product changes were not made on a calendar basis in most cases at Gibson. And changes in parts were not made on a given day. Everything was transitions over time. But given the odd history of the 355 mono, this one probably is, in fact, a 64 leftover. And a pretty nice one too and I don’t generally like leftovers-just ask my wife.