Yes, today I’m going to tell you what it was like to date in the 1950’s…Actually not even I’m that old but I can tell you about a dating problem I had recently with a dot neck ES-335.
A well known and respected dealer has a ’59 dot neck ES-335 to sell. It’s beat up but, hey, it’s a 59, right? Well maybe not right. I emailed the dealer and asked a bunch of questions-like “what is the serial number, how big is the neck profile and are the tuners original?” I also asked that they try to locate the factory order number (FON) and even sent a photo in case they didn’t know where to look. I was assured that they had no doubt it was a 59 and that it couldn’t possibly be anything else. The neck profile is kind of small, the knobs are bonnets and the tuners are single ring, all of which say 59. Oh, and the label was missing. OK, it’s pretty well priced for a 59, so just get me the FON and we’ll talk. “Sorry, I can’t find the FON but the tech department assures me it’s a 59.” It has 37th week of 59 date codes on the pots.
So, to review, the only features that tell us it’s a 59 are the knobs, the tuners and the pot codes. An early 60 will have those knobs and those tuners. Gibson didn’t have “model years” like a car. They made their changes when it suited them and always used up the old parts and transitioned in the new ones. So, how do we tell a late 59 from an early 60 and why do we care that much. Well, we shouldn’t really care that much-an early 60 and a late 59 are the exact same guitar. Same build quality, same builders, same pickups and so on. But the vintage market has decreed that a 59 is better than any other year and therefore requires that you pay a premium for the privilege of owning one. I don’t make the rules but I can’t dispute that a 59 is easier to sell, commands a higher price and comes with a set of bragging rights only surpassed by owning an original Les Paul burst. Everybody wants a 59. I could argue that 58’s have some real advantages but that’s a whole ‘other post.
So, back to the guitar in question. It could be a 59. It could be a 60. Using the knobs and the tuners as an absolute dating feature is unreliable. They can be changed and that doesn’t even matter here since those knobs and tuners are correct for both years anyway (until some time in the Spring of 60). So, there are a lot of 60 ES-335’s that fit the description. But what about those pot codes. The 37th week is sometime in mid September. I’ve seen earlier pots on a 60. The pot codes really only tell us that a guitar can’t be earlier than the pot code date. Because the pots were ordered in large numbers, the idea that a pot sat around for as few as 16 weeks is not even remotely out of the question. I’ve seen ’66 pot codes in 68. I’ve seen 1954 pot codes in 1958. 16 weeks is nothing. My conclusion is that in the absence of a serial number of FON, you can’t (and I can’t) tell a late 59 from an early 60. There is one other possibility and this guitar doesn’t have it. An original sales receipt. Without these things, it should be priced like an early 60. Simply put, pot codes are no good for dating a guitar with any accuracy-they only tell you the earliest build date and not the latest.
One other point-if it had a 59 FON, it could still be a 60. I go by serial number when dating a 3×5 but I always mention the FON if it differs-as in “it’s a 1960 but construction began in 1959 as indicated by the 59 FON. Or, it’s a 1959 serial with a 58 FON. You get the idea. Fortunately, most FON’s are visible and I wouldn’t be surprised if this guitar has one somewhere. The position of the FON can be almost anywhere-it was put there before the guitar was built. Sometimes you have to look a little harder.