First off, sorry for the recent radio silence-I’ve been renovating and moving into my new (actually really, really old) house here in beautiful Litchfield County, Connecticut and haven’t had much time to write. My apologies. It’ll get back to the usual 5 or 6 posts a month pretty soon. Today, I thought I would write about something that I keep getting emails about–folks seem to want my opinion of the newest Gibsons. I usually respond that I haven’t played them and that I’m really a vintage guy. But I wrote about the “Nashville” Custom shop models a while back when I got a couple in trade. Now I have a ’63 50th Anniversary 335 from the Memphis facility that a lot of folks are saying good things about. It is a 2013 (50 years from 1963 but you knew that). There are things I like and things I don’t like. First and most important is how does it play and how does it sound? The good news is that it feels like the real thing. The neck profile is fairly close, the feel of the finish is right (this is more important than you think) and the frets feel decent as well-a little on the high side but the guitar isn’t 50 years old yet. The frets will have plenty of time to get low. My big gripe about new Gibsons is that they don’t ring out and sustain very well. That could be an age factor-new wood isn’t as dry as old wood and old wood seems to be more acoustically active. More resonant, if you prefer. On the other hand, the quality of the woods might have been better back in the day but, hey, it’s a plywood guitar. How much difference is it going to make. Well, actually, it could make a pretty big difference because so much of the tone comes from the center block and the neck. In the past, these guitars felt kind of heavy and that may also have been related to the wood. Most 50’s and early 60’s 335’s weigh in around or slightly below 7.5 lbs. Some hit 8 lbs but most don’t. Don’t count 345’s and 355’s-Bigsby’s and Varitone chokes are heavy. The ’63 Anniversary I have in my hands weighs 7 lbs 6 ounces which is what it should weigh and very comfortable for an old dude like me. This guitar sounds pretty darn good too. Lots of bite in the bridge pickup (a Burstbucker) and no mud in the neck (also a Burstbucker). Nicely balance and the middle three way position doesn’t sound almost exactly like the bridge pickup which I’ve found in a lot of modern 335s-it’s actually a pretty useful tone.
So what don’t I like? Well, it sure doesn’t look like a 63. They made the ears pointy but they are way wrong. There was a later iteration of the pointy ears that you saw in 67 and on a lot of Trini’s. Some folks call them “fox ears”. They are short and pointy and kind of stumpy looking. That’s more what these look like. It’s strange that Gibson got the Clapton reissue almost dead on and they couldn’t nail this one. The rumor is that the Clapton bodies were made in Japan where they know how to copy stuff. Next, the neck heel is way too big-how tough would it be to get this right? Really. The knobs are way off and the pickup covers are too. These are easy to change if you’re so inclined but, again, you’d think they could source accurate parts. I can source accurate parts, so I don’t see why Gibson can’t. Lots of great repro stuff out there. For some reason the three way switch tip is black and the owner of this guitar insists that’s how it came from the Gibson dealer. And how about correct vintage length stop tail studs? These are the short ones. I hear the Nashville ones that you pay a couple thousand more for have the long ones. I haven’t checked recently. They’ve finally gotten the bindings better but the headstock inlay (the crown/flowerpot) is a bit odd. These are kind of nitpicks I suppose but it would be so easy to fix them. Fit and finish, by the way, are excellent. I had a Memphis “fat neck” back in 2009, I think, that looked like it was routed with a chain saw. These new ones are smooth and clean inside. Nicely done. The important thing is that they are sounding and playing pretty well and if they can keep the price from going up every year, they just might make sense for a lot of buyers who were hoping to find vintage in that $3000 range. Myself, I’d still take an 81-85 over this guitar but not because they sound any better. Only ‘cuz they’re old and I like old.