I have a couple of Holy Grail guitars and the one that generally tops the list is a red dot neck from 1959. Of course, they are as rare as hen’s teeth (do hen’s even have teeth?) and Gibson says they didn’t make any. Although I know of at least 5 ’59’s and one 58, I don’t believe any are indicated in the shipping logs. But they exist for sure. I’ve got one right here with me. The well known 58 in the photo at the bottom of the post is considered to be the very first red 335 with a serial number of A28800 and a ship date of December 15th.
The one at the top of this post just arrived at my shop from France. It has a later serial by quite a bit-A29553 with a ship date of April 1, 1959. The FON is T6473 which means it was built in 58. That means it could actually be the very first one built but until I find out the FON of the one shipped in 58, I won’t know for sure-not that it really matters in terms of value. It’s just bragging rights. The 58 is a Bigsby with a stereo circuit but no Varitone. This one is a factory stop that has both the stereo circuit and a Varitone. It appears to be factory-everything is just as it should be-shielding cans on three pots, disc caps, cut center block to accommodate the choke. Aftermarket Varitones tend to have sloppy routs and almost always skip the shielding cans. I have a copy of the shipping log page for this guitar and it neither indicates stereo, Varitone or red. But the finish is absolutely a no doubt factory original finish and the logs are notoriously sketchy at times. And, while the ship date usually has little to do with the build date, the guitars logged (and supposedly shipped) the same day as this one were almost all red ES-355’s. Only two 335’s were logged that day but at least 20 ES-355’s were and a couple of 350’s and 175’s. A single EB-2 and a J-185 also went. I wonder if they were red? You can click on the log page to blow it up so you can read it.
All of this is speculation, of course. Someone who was in charge of the shipping records back then is probably laughing hysterically at the geeks (like me) who see these things as some kind of sacred text. But, you have to take this with a healthy dose of skepticism. They just weren’t that meticulous over at 225 Parsons Street in Kalamazoo. But let’s take a look at the guitar itself; it is interesting in a few ways. The 58 that is considered the first red 335 has gold knobs. This one has the solid black ones. The very first 355’s had gold ones but they also switched to the solid black ones fairly early on. The finish on the 59 is barely faded. It isn’t displaying the watermelon fade that almost all 58-early 60 red ES’s show. That could mean they were still fooling around with the dye formulation-the red 58 isn’t a watermelon either or it could mean the guitar didn’t see a lot of sunlight. Another interesting feature is the frets-they appear to be original but are the larger 59 style. That makes sense-it’s a 59 but most 335’s with a 58 FON and a thin top have the smaller frets. I own A30248-also a 59 with a 58 FON but it has the small frets. Go figure.
I wonder if this is a prototype for the soon to be released ES-345 SVT? I’ve seen one 58 ES-335 with a Varitone but I don’t know if it was factory as I never inspected it. The first 345’s were shipped around three weeks later. What I don’t know is when the first stereo VT ES-355’s were released. We know that all the 58’s were mono and the early 59’s were as well. The earliest 59 SVT ES-355 I’ve had is later than the “first rack” 345’s but, frankly, I haven’t had that many.