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Shootout

Here's the lineup. That's the 2014 in front with the 69 behind it. Then the 64, 65 trap. 58, 65 stop, the 62 and the 60.  A 345 and a couple of 355's are lurking in the back.

Here’s the lineup. That’s the 2014 in front with the 69 behind it. Then the 64, 65 trap. 58, 65 stop, the 62 and the 60. A 345 and a couple of 355’s are lurking in the back.

Things get a little slow at OK Guitars during the month of March in Kent, CT. Kent is a tourist town and it appeals mostly to outdoorsy types who hike the Appalachian Trail which passes along the ridge a mile or so from my shop. It also appeals to families who visit Kent Falls to the North of me. So, given how terrible the weather usually is around here in March and the snow that still covers most everything and the mud and the depressing lack of sunshine, it’s no wonder things have been a little slow at OK Guitars. What to do on a rainy, windy Saturday? Play some guitars.

Tone is subjective. What I like isn’t necessarily going to be what you like. So, if I play every 335 in my shop and rank them according to tone, I’m really just giving you my opinion. But certain aspects of an electric guitar are pretty universal. Most everyone wants a guitar that is balanced, that sustains well, that has a decent tonal range and is comfortable to play. Well, if they’re all 335’s, how much variation is there going to be? I kind of expected quite a lot.  I was surprised.

Here’s what’s on the wall in 335’s. We’ve got a 58, a 60, a 62, a 64, two 65’s, a 69 and a 2014. All stop tails except the 64 (Bigsby), one of the 65’s (trap) and the 69 (trap). All of them are set up to my preferred specs. Pickups close to the strings, action medium, 11’s and, for the stop tail, the tailpiece screwed 80-85% of the way down so the break angle is fairly steep. Obviously, I can’t do that with the Bigsby and the traps. But we’ll let the chips fall where they may.

First up was the 58. Big fat neck, shallow neck angle, thin top and a killer set of PAFs. It’s no wonder this bad boy performed at the top of the pack. Singing sustain, searing highs, tons of harmonics, no fretting out and big range. This is as good as a 335 gets. But then, because I expected something wildly different, I picked up the 65 trap tail. Big neck but later patents (chrome covers usually indicate poly windings), fairly steep neck angle and the thicker top of a post 58 335. If I rate the 58 a 99, this guitar, trap tail and all gets a 96. It was a little heavy for a 335 at around 8.5 lbs (the 58 was a pound lighter) but this guitar performed brilliantly. Lots of tonal range, great sustain, easy playability and great tonal and volume balance between the pickups. As I’ve said before, the stop tail makes a difference but not a huge difference. Right there with the trap 65 was the stop 65, the 60 and the 62. 62’s are vastly underrated mostly because of the thinner neck profile but most of the 62’s I’ve had are wonderful players. The major difference between the 60 and the 62 and the stop tail 65 was neck profile. The pickups (nickel covers in this 65) are the same, although the 60 and the 62 had PAFs and the 65 patents and the configuration is the same except the 65 had nylon saddles and the 60 and 62 had metal. Almost no difference in sustain between the three. I think the 62, on the subjective side, had a sweeter sounding neck pickup but the 65 had that chainsaw of a bridge pickup that I like so much.  The 60 was the best balanced but the 65 and the 62 were really close. Still, these five guitars were just killer. I’d play any one of them for the rest of my life and be happy.

Next up was the 64 Bigsby which was tonally awesome but didn’t have the crispness and touch articulation of the stops or the 65 trap. I think the Bigsby could be the culprit. The good news is that it has stop tail bushings and had I more time, I would have strung it up with a stop to see how much of  difference it makes. So, that’ll be another post. Still, excellent balance, great sounding pickups with lots of harmonics and great range. You gotta love the neck on a 64/early 65. Fairly slim at the first fret, these necks get real big real fast. No wonder 64’s are the most popular 335 out there.

So that leaves two more to play…the 69 (which is rewired 340) and the 2014 Memphis VOS 59 reissue.  The 69 has a maple neck with a huge profile but a narrow nut. The narrow nut is a generally playability problem for me but after 10 minutes, I found it fairly comfortable and I wasn’t falling all over myself trying to play it.  The maple neck and Indian rosewood board make no discernible difference. The pickups are late patent numbers but are likely pre T-tops. Unusual for a 69 but not unheard of. The sustain was quite good as was the tonal range. The balance was lacking but I could probably  dial it in-the neck pickup was too loud and a little muddy. A pretty nice guitar especially for the price. And a good looker too in blonde. Yes, it’s birch rather than maple and looks a little like your kitchen cabinets but they’re nice kitchen cabinets.

Last up was the 2014. It looks great and feels really good to play. The shoulders on the 59 sized neck are big and it makes me feel a little clumsy (actually I am a little clumsy but this was worse than usual).  You might like that. I don’t. Sustain wasn’t quite there and I really don’t know why. I can only blame the wood. Too wet? Too new? The frets were good-it’s essentially a new guitar. This has been my complaint about new Gibsons. They’ve got the look pretty close to vintage (except the guard and the pickup covers), they’ve got the feel pretty close to vintage but they simply don’t sound vintage. My thought is that the 58 probably sounded a lot like the 2014 when it was new. I will re-do the test in around 60 years and see how the 2014 does. I’ll be 124 but by then I should be a pretty decent player by then if I keep practicing.

6 Responses to “Shootout”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, very interesting. Yes, sign me up for the 2077 ES-335 shoot out…I’ll do my best to make it! ;>}

  2. Steve Newman says:

    Charlie, how does your Ken McKay black tribute 335 stack up to the others? Being it is a super high quality hand built custom guitar, I wonder if it exceeds all the factory guitars in tone/balance/sustain, or if the magic of time and old wood makes the Gibson factory examples trump higher build quality and craftsmanship? I know that “better” is highly subjective and open to debate, so I guess I’m asking how is the McKay “different” from the Gibsons?

  3. Steve Newman says:

    PS. GREAT post on comparing all the different era 335s. I have been fortunate/lucky enough to own a half dozen different era 3×5 family guitars through my lifetime and my favorite is still an early, early ’62 sunburst “Custom Made” Bigsby/studs model strung up as a stoptail. It is not that one aspect of that guitar was so much better than the others, it was the combination of all the characteristics you described in your post….the playability, actual acoustic dynamic range, neck shape and profile, strength/tone and interaction of the pickups, and overall touch sensitivity and feel were perfect for me. But you might think otherwise, so YMMV. Collectors VS. players probably have wildly different ideas about what is more desirable about a 3×5.

  4. cgelber says:

    I didn’t put the black McKay up against the others because I simply didn’t have enough space. The fact is I played that one too that day and while it didn’t smoke the old wood, it definitely smoked the 2014 and the 69. I had PAFs in that guitar for awhile and when I switched them out, it lost a little. Now, with Wizz Clones, it sounds really good but a set of PAFs will put it right into vintage territory, I think. Ken makes a great guitar. I have a blonde McKay coming tomorrow, in fact.

  5. Steve Newman says:

    SWEET on the blonde McKay 335…..please post some pictures. Also check the Freddie King signature model 345s that Memphis Gibson has built. I handled 3 different examples @ the downtown Memphis factory last week, and I was impressed at the consistent quality and feel/sound of all three. I think they are a notch up in quality and attention yo detail, similar to the Rusty Anderson builds. one tiny misstep is the neck profile which tends tu be more like the big ’59 style in stead of the slightly slimmer “60 which is supposedly what the FK model is supposed to emulate. Just splitting hairs, the neck shape still felt good to me and didn’t bother me one bit.

  6. Rod says:

    Is it me or has the 69 got mouse ears?

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