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Stinger Things

Who doesn't love a stinger on their 355? It looks cool and, uh, it looks cool.

Who doesn’t love a stinger on their 355? It looks cool and, uh, it looks cool.

One of the cooler looking Gibson features is the headstock stinger. You know, that black pointy painted thing on the back of the headstock on many high end arch tops, the occasional 335, 345 and lots of early 355’s. In most cases, it’s a decorative thing. But not always. Now, why would you go looking under there to begin with? In general, there’s no rational reason for anything sinister to be going on, is there? I mean, c’mon it’s the Gibson factory in the Golden Age. What could they be hiding?

Gibson, like Fender, didn’t like to let things go to waste. It’s bad for your profit margins. So, maybe a little repurposing of damaged parts was normal. A bad sunburst paint job was often sprayed over with a custom color over at Fender. A piece of flawed maple plywood got a deeper sunburst at Gibson and a “2” stamp. I had a 65 335 with a graft in the wood of the rim that the seller insisted came from the factory that way. So, there’s no doubt that the company policy for both Fender and Gibson was “waste not”.

So, back to the original question-what’s under that stinger? Well most of the time, nothing at all. I think. I don’t go removing stingers to see what’s under them but I had occasion to do so a while back. I had a 60 ES-355 with a cracked headstock-or so I thought. I took it to my luthier to assess and he noted that there was a piece of veneer on the back of the headstock and it was cracked-not the neck. My first thought was that somebody veneered the back of the headstock to cover extra tuner holes but the guitar still had its original tuners. So, maybe they had been taken off, different ones put on, then taken off and the originals put back on and the holes covered by the veneer. OK, makes sense. I’ve seen it plenty on 335’s but most people don’t take the Grovers off a 355. In any case, the veneer was cracked and it had to come off. Better a cracked piece of veneer than a cracked neck. So, we decided to remove the offending veneer and see why it was there in the first place. The result was a surprise.

What's all this then? What they did here was to take a 335 neck-already drilled and ready to go and cut the smaller wings off the sides and put big 355 wings on it. Then the doweled the holes and re-rilled them located for a 355. Then they put a piece of mahogany veneer over it and painted on the stinger. The only tuner holes you see are the original Grover holes. Definitely factory.

What’s all this then? What they did here was to take a 335 neck-already drilled and ready to go and cut the smaller wings off the sides and put big 355 wings on it. Then the doweled the holes and re-drilled them located for a 355. Then they put a piece of mahogany veneer over it and painted on the stinger. The only tuner holes you see are the original Grover holes. You don’t see the dowels on the front because the headstock overlay was re-done as a 355 which would cover the dowel marks. Definitely factory.

Under the veneer there were filled holes but not the holes we expected. These were tuner shaft holes that were in a completely different location on the headstock. A quick measurement showed me that they were in the exact location of the tuner shaft holes of a 335 or 345. How do we explain that? Pretty obvious, actually. The headstock of a 335 or 345 is smaller than the headstock on a 355. So, if you have extra 335 or 345 necks that you aren’t using and you have a batch of 355’s that need to be built, what do you do? Well, the headstock of a 335 is made up of three parts. The middle is the same piece of wood as the neck blank. The edges of the headstock are two smaller pieces of mahogany usually called wings. The face of the headstock is covered by a veneer of holly wood so you can’t see the seam of the wings from the front but if you look carefully, you can see them on the back. The only difference between a 335 headstock and a 355 headstock as far as structure is concerned is the size of the wings. So, a 335 headstock can be converted to a 355 headstock by putting on bigger wings. The inlays in the front of the headstock are different but they are inlaid into the holly overlay and not the mahogany, so turning a 335 neck into a 355 neck should be pretty easy. New wings and new holly overlay and correct inlays. But what if its already been drilled for tuners? Therein lies the reason for that piece of veneer on the back that wasn’t supposed to be there under the stinger. Because the 355 headstock is wider, the tuners are in a different location. Using an already drilled 335 neck would require those holes to be doweled and the tuner shaft holes re-drilled closer to the edges of the headstock. No problem on the front-there’s the holly overlay. But on the back, you would be able to see them. The solution? You guessed it, a thin piece of mahogany veneer and a stinger to cover the whole thing up.

My initial thought was that it wasn’t a common thing until months later, I had another stinger 355 with a headstock break. We scraped a little of the finish away from the edge of the stinger and saw that this one had veneer over the back of the headstock as well. Since we were repairing the headstock anyway, we took a peek under the veneer. Same thing. I don’t know if every 355 with a stinger has a veneer covering doweled tuner holes but we found two of them.

Just in case you want to see the other one-here it is same deal but there are additional tuner holes in this one.

The filled holes line up EXACTLY with a 335 or 345 neck-remember the headstock is smaller. This one had changed tuners as well which accounts for the additional holes above the shaft holes

The filled holes line up EXACTLY with a 335 or 345 neck-remember the headstock is smaller. This one had changed tuners as well which accounts for the additional holes above the shaft holes

12 Responses to “Stinger Things”

  1. RAB says:

    Fascinating! And stingers used on neck heels are cool as well. I briefly had a ’59 355 with a veneer overlay on the back of the headstock, then painted in the overall cherry red. The veneer was sort of oval contour where it tapered into the neck. Looked like way too modern of a repair technique, likely for a cracked headstock! Arg! No way could that be factory I thought! Up until then I’d only seen the black painted stingers! Well, as you continue to educate, those Kalamazoo folk can be quirky! I, much later, realized the veneer was “100% jake” (as Gil would say!) when I saw another ’59 355 with the identical veneer treatment!

  2. Rob says:

    Thanks for your sleuthing. I will now view my bestingered 62 sunburst 355 in a new light.

  3. Joe S says:

    Paging Dr. Gelber… Did you see this? ’59 335 factory black. What do you make of it? –> http://www.lespaulforum.com/forum/showthread.php?204989-Ebony-amp-Ivory

  4. cgelber says:

    I was consulted on the purchase of this one and was next in line for it if the current owner passed. I would have bought it in a heartbeat. Only issue was Schaller holes, if I’m recalling the conversation. The fact that it was supposed to be a first rack 345 is pretty interesting. Also, the fact that it has an October serial number is noteworthy since it was built in April.

  5. RAB says:

    Interesting, maple plugs used to fill the 335 dimension tuner holes?

  6. Rod says:

    I would guess that maple is coincidental. Probably made from any convenient sized dowelling?

  7. RAB says:

    Rod, yes, makes sense!

  8. cgelber says:

    Everybody knows that maple plugs are brighter with more “snap” than mahogany plugs. And Eastern maple is even “snappier” than Western. Don’t you guys retain anything?

  9. RAB says:

    Charlie, ha, ha, that’s a good one! Let’s sand the finish off the peghead of a mint, ’59 stop tail 355 to see if it has those magical maple plugs, eh wot? RAB

  10. Gus says:

    Great detective work on the stingers! Interesting that this slightly cheapskate move happened from time to time on the top of the line model. Are we to assume that this is the sole reason why stingers exist on some Gibsons? Or are some stingers just black paint, as opposed to veneer and paint? (I’ve never seen one up close).
    Not wanting to be distracted too much from the subject of the thread, but that black 59 335 is off the hook!

  11. RAB says:

    I’ve seen stingers that are just black paint, no veneer. For example when the stinger is applied to the heel of the guitar. Saw a gorgeous, Birdseye maple grain ’59 ES-335TN years ago that had peghead and heel stingers…

  12. chuckNC says:

    My ’68 has a heel stinger. I don’t know what prompted that, and don’t care. It’s just one more cool Gibson thang to enjoy.

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