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Archive for the ‘ES 335’ Category

Sticker Shock

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

 

Is this sticker real or fake? You decide. It's getting pretty hard to tell sometimes.

Is this sticker real or fake? You decide. It’s getting pretty hard to tell sometimes.

Or this one?

Or this one?

How about this one?

How about this one?

It’s a fact that plenty of Gibson humbuckers from the late 50’s and particularly the early to mid 60’s didn’t get a sticker. Whether they ran out of them or just weren’t that concerned when they reached into the pickup bin and pulled one out with no sticker, I don’t know. But there are plenty of them. In some cases, the stickers simply fall off and you can, at least, see the outline and know it was once there (although not necessarily a PAF sticker). In others, it simply never had one. I love the “philosophical” tree falls in the woods argument about whether a pickup with no sticker can be a PAF. Considering an early patent and a late PAF are the exact same pickup with a different sticker…yep. Tree falls int he woods. But I want to talk about fake stickers-especially fake stickers on real PAFs. I recently bought a PAF from a dealer I really trust and when I got it, I could tell immediately that the sticker was wrong. The cover looked right, the feet had the correct tooling marks and the solder looked good too. I returned it because a fake sticker calls the entire pickup into question-even if it didn’t have one from the factory and someone decided it couldn’t hurt to put on a good repro.

To my knowledge, no one has gotten the stickers right. The problem is that if they did get it right, I wouldn’t know it because it would be right. But I also figure I would see them for sale somewhere and that would tip me off. There are some really good fakes but they all seem to get something wrong. Usually it’s the font or the spacing but there are some that have that pretty much nailed. The next thing is the profile of the letters-they should be raised so you can see the dimensionality when viewed at an angle. There are fakes that got that right too. The letters should be metallic and at least some of the loops (open areas) in the “A”, “P”, “D” and “R” of “Patent Applied For” should be filled or partially filled and look kind of blobby. A few get that right as well but none seems to get it dead on. Part of the problem is that most players don’t get to see a wide range of PAFs. The stickers can age differently and they can shrink. I’ve seen stickers that look brand new and others that are virtually unreadable but they all have those same characteristics-raised metallic letter, tight spacing and blobby looking loops. There’s a pretty big range of surrounds from none at all to quite wide but not as wide as the surround on many patent number pickups.

Here’s another trick that unscrupulous seller might use…If you have a PAF with a complete sticker you could cut it in half and use the other half on another pickup. They don’t come off very easily but I’m sure someone has figured out how to do that. So, be careful of partial stickers. I assume the unscrupulous seller wouldn’t be dumb enough to put both halves into the same set of pickups. Well, maybe I shouldn’t assume that. Just look very closely when part of the sticker is missing and look at both pickups together.

But if it’s the real deal, it’s still the same pickup, sticker on not. The sticker doesn’t affect the tone and tone is the point. And, in general, if I get a guitar with one stickered PAF and another that isn’t and I can tell the pickups have never been out of the guitar, then I don’t worry too much about it. In a case like that, I pretty much know what it is and the sticker is a little less of an issue. And if the pickup is opened, I can at least tell if it’s either a late PAF or an early patent and, being the exact same pickup, I suppose it doesn’t matter which it is. There are characteristics of the bobbins, the wire, the tape, the lead wires, the base plate and the screws that are distinctive. I’m sure they can all be faked and I’m sure I’ve been fooled at least once but to get everything right-including the sticker-is a tall order and I truly hope nobody ever gets it 100% right. Answers: 1) Fake 2) Real 3) Fake,no, real. no? yes? You tell me.

Here's a really good closeup of a real one. It shows pretty clearly most of what I talked about in the post.

Here’s a really good closeup of a real one. It shows pretty clearly most of what I talked about in the post.

It’s not the Earth that we Inherit…

Sunday, August 31st, 2014

 

The blondes tend to show the dirt and this one had plenty. Cleaned up nicely, it did.

The blondes tend to show the dirt and this one had plenty. Cleaned up nicely, it did. Cleaner or polish will get into those checks and raw wood, so don’t slop it on the guitar. Put it on a cloth first.

…it’s the dirt. Talk about obscure references, anybody know that one? Pause… OK, it’s a line from the Broadway show Camelot (“The Seven Deadly Virtues”). And speaking of dirt, doesn’t anybody ever clean the crud off their guitars? You can call it “mojo” or “character” or “honest player sweat” but it’s still dirt and it isn’t particularly good for your guitar. I’ve had a slew of ‘em lately that must have 50 years worth of grime, tobacco residue and plain old BO. I’m not real big on cleaning or polishing my guitars either but a bit of maintenance now and then won’t hurt. A damp old tee shirt is a good start but if it’s really gross, then you’ll need a bit of chemistry. I use a product called Virtuoso Cleaner which, generally, does a good job getting rid of the dirt and leaving the finish alone. You can also use naphtha which, by the way, is essentially lighter fluid so don’t accidentally set your 335 (or yourself) on fire because you were smoking a cigarette while cleaning your guitar. Naptha will not react with the finish but will dissolve a lot of things (sweat, grime, grease, etc).

But, before you just slop any chemical on, don’t. Try it somewhere like on the back because it can cause some problems. Like making your guitar look dull and horrible (or duller and more horrible). There are two reasons that I’ve found that render most cleaners pretty well useless. One is easily fixed and that is when there is so much dirt and crap on the guitar that the cleaner takes off just one layer of it and leaves the guitar looking worse than when you started. If you keep at it, you will eventually take off the dirt but it may take a lot of Cleaner and a lot of elbow grease. Or you may have a bigger issue and that’s oxidation. When the elements act on the lacquer, the results are not very pretty. The finish will get dull and look a lot like Gibson’s VOS treatment (which I really don’t like). Cleaning won’t do much for oxidation but if you want to remove what looks like a dull film from your guitar, you’re going to be removing some finish. That’s what polish generally does. It won’t be a significant amount of finish but it will take some. Your guitar will still black light correctly-the finish under the oxidation is still old lacquer and you really won’t be diminishing the guitars value although some might argue that point. I think vintage dirt is like old strings. Worthless. Finally, there is some controversy about using anything with silicone in it. Ask any luthier about that. Avoid it.

There are some other things to note as well if you’re going to try to clean your old guitar up. If the guitar is checked, be really careful not to use anything that’s going to get into the wood. Checks are cracks in the finish and sometimes they go through to the wood and any liquid can get in there and stain the wood. It probably won’t affect how the guitar plays but it can look really horrible. So, don’t squirt the cleaner directly on the guitar-instead put it on that old tee shirt and then apply it. That should keep it from seeping through the checking and into the wood. You should also be aware that if you don’t clean it,  all that dirt is going to make the finish wear faster if you play that vintage beauty. You’re going to rub it deeper into the finish and it’s going to act like sandpaper and take off even more finish. Dirt is abrasive stuff and abrasive stuff and vintage guitars should avoid each other like the plague.

In general, I have no problem cleaning a guitar but I usually won’t polish it and I never buff a guitar with any kind of machine or tool. I’ll go at it pretty vigorously by hand but that’s about it. A nitro finish is pretty thin and the last thing I want to do is screw that up.

When I have to clean, I use this stuff. I don't sell it, so don't go all "paid commercial plug" on me.

When I have to clean, I use this stuff-usually the Cleaner. I almost never use the Polish. I don’t sell it, so don’t go all “paid commercial plug” on me.

The Lomax (with apologies to Dr. Suess)

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

 

This well played 59 ES-335 was owned by Peter Green, Victor Brox and Jackie Lomax. Jackie Lomax played it for more than 40 years.

This well played 59 ES-335 was owned by Peter Green, Victor Brox and Jackie Lomax. Jackie Lomax played it for more than 40 years.

…”and deep in the Grickle-grass, some people say, if you look deep enough you can still see today, where the Lomax once stood just as long as it could before somebody lifted the Lomax away.” Jackie Lomax died in September of 2013. His obit appeared in Rolling Stone and went like this:

Lomax was part of the thriving Liverpool music scene that launched the Beatles in the 1960s, playing with the Merseybeat band the Undertakers in the U.K. and the U.S., and later signing to the Beatles’ Apple Records for the release of his 1969 album, Is This What You Want? Tony Bramwell, a former publicist for Apple, said  John Lennon persuaded Lomax to sign with the label, and three Beatles (and Eric Clapton) backed Lomax on his 1968 single “Sour Milk Sea,” which George Harrison wrote. “He was a great rocker, a solid out-and-out rock and roller…”

Jackie Lomax with his 59 ES-335. Not sure when the photo is from.

Jackie Lomax with his 59 ES-335. Not sure when the photo is from.

Jackie Lomax was on the scene for a very long time and he pretty much played the same guitar for decades. This is something the great players do when they find a great guitar. Larry Carlton is another example-he’s played that late 60’s 335 forever. McCartney and his Hofner, Stevie Ray’s “Number One”, James Burton and his 53 Telecaster and lots of others. Like they say–“the great ones get played.” Jackie wasn’t a guitar god or anything, but he surely is part of the history of British rock.

I’ve been asked by the Lomax family to evaluate and possibly sell the guitar for them. So how do I quantify the value of a guitar that was played by Jackie for decades and before that was owned by British bluesman Victor Brox who bought it from Peter Green?  Simple. I don’t. You do. If you don’t care who owned a guitar before you-and many, many players and collectors don’t, then it’s just a very cool, well played 59 335 blondie with some changed parts. If history and provenance are important to you and, judging by the prices some famous guitars bring, there are some of you out there as well, then perhaps the guitar is worth a bit more. I wrote in my last post that history, provenance and context are important factors in determining whether a guitar is simply a vintage piece or a piece of history. While this guitar was never an icon, like the Dylan Strat, nor was it used on any mega hit records by a guitar god like Blackie, Brownie and that red 335, it is still an interesting and well documented example of what is probably the most desirable guitar this side of a Les Paul burst. I’ve found You Tube footage of the guitar being played in 1970 and as late as 2004. Unfortunately, I can’t find ’68 footage of “Sour Milk Sea” which is a great song and a showcase for his great voice (as well as George Harrison’s writing chops and Eric Clapton’s guitar). Jackie Lomax didn’t play guitar on it but I’m he used this old 59 to perform the song many, many times during his career.

Clearly, not that good at housekeeping. Rockers never are, it seems.

Clearly, not that good at housekeeping. Rockers never are, it seems.

 

Why Would Anyone Do That?

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014
Yikes. Why would anyone do this? Because it was 1972 and this was just a ten year old guitar back then and the owner wanted a cutout and a phase switch. Knock off two or three thousand bucks for each hole.

Yikes. Why would anyone do this? Because it was 1972 and this was just a ten year old guitar back then and the owner wanted a cutout and a phase switch. Knock off two or three thousand bucks for each hole.

How many times have you asked that very question when examining a vintage guitar (or amp)? Somebody puts in mini-switches or spray paints the back of the headstock black or cuts a big hole in the back? The issue is, of course, issues (do I sound like an existentialist?). After decades of ownership (and many owners), most vintage guitars are going to have an issue. Tuner changes are probably the most common on ES’s but there are plenty of others. But issues like that are quantifiable. You know why they were done and they really aren’t hiding anything. You put Grovers on because the Klusons kind of sucked, although your tuning problem was probably not the tuners at all but the nut. Same with ill advised mods like adding a coil tap or putting in DiMarzios. Someone thought they were improving the guitar. That’s all 20/20 hindsight. Who knew back in the day that these old guitars would actually be worth this much money decades later? But what about the issues that don’t make much sense? You know, the ones that seem to be hiding something. I had a refinished 62 335 that had a piece of veneer over the back of the headstock. The guy who did it said it was to cover tuner holes from Grovers. The guy who bought it from me insisted it must be covering a headstock break-which, by the way, it wasn’t. I recently sold a 59 with a nickel sized spot of overspray at the top of the back of the headstock. Why would anyone do that? Maybe he smacked the headstock into a cymbal stand back in 1976 and took a chip out of it. Maybe he set the guitar down and the headstock was in the ashtray and got burned by a cigarette (which is what I think). Sometimes it’s just impossible to know why a repair or mod was done. These are the ones that worry most buyers and rightly so. They worry me a lot less because every issue gets priced in if I’m a buyer or a seller. The point here is that if the issue raises questions, then it’s really hard to quantify when pricing a guitar. If the issue is straightforward and clear, then it’s easier.

What about the ones with the ones with the little “2” on the headstock? They don’t come with a factory explanation as to why they got the “2”. They often have some factory overspray to cover a finish flaw but it could be something else. There is a theory that the “2” meant it went through some part of the manufacturing process twice (like finishing) to correct a flaw and that these aren’t “factory seconds” at all- just guitars that needed a second pass to be made right. Does that count as a repair and therefore a diminished value if it left the factory that way? I would say yes but it really depends on what was done. I’m sure more than one 335 left the factory with a twisted neck but it’s still a dealbreaker issue to me. Another (like that cool 59 I had with the deep, dark sunburst) may have left the factory with a partial factory respray done before the guitar was ever sold. Not a dealbreaker at all but I did discount the guitar pretty substantially even though it blacklighted perfectly. The 330 I have with the factory red paint in the f-holes (likely used for a black and white photo shoot) is actually kind of cool and doesn’t diminish the value at all, IMO.

Clearly, a case by case approach is the best way to deal with the issue of issues. I get asked to assign a value to various issues all the time but I prefer to take the guitar as a whole and evaluate it. Certain issues bother people more than others even though they may make no difference at all to the playability, tone or appearance. It’s pretty subjective, so you, as a buyer, should take the same “whole guitar” approach. If Bigsby holes in the top drive you nuts, stay away from those but if you can handle a big cut out in the back of the body (which is my number one dealbreaker mod), then you can save a lot of money and get a vintage ES that will play and sound as good as one that has no issues at all.

This 59 most likely left the factory like this because somebody messed up the sunburst and had to respray it. It blacklighted perfectly and had the little "2" above the serial number. It was one of the best 335's I've ever owned and went for perhaps 20-25% less than it would have had it been perfect when it left the factory. If I could have proved beyond any doubt that it was factory original, it would have sold for more. Unfortunately, they don't come with an explanation.

This 59 most likely left the factory like this because somebody messed up the sunburst and had to respray it. It blacklighted perfectly and had the little “2” above the serial number. It was one of the best 335’s I’ve ever owned and went for perhaps 20-25% less than it would have had it been perfect when it left the factory. If I could have proved beyond any doubt that it was factory original, it would have sold for more. Unfortunately, they don’t come with an explanation.

ES-335, 2013 Style

Monday, May 26th, 2014
A very recent (2013) '63 Anniversary ES-335 reissue. Close. Real close. But those ears. C'mon, really, that's the best you can do?

A very recent (2013) ’63 Anniversary ES-335 reissue.
Close. Real close. But those ears. C’mon, really, that’s the best you can do?

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.

This is a real one. Do those ears look the same to you? They sure don't to me. These are longer and they stand up straighter. And the knobs. How tough can it be to copy the real ones??

This is a real one. Do those ears look the same to you? They sure don’t to me. These are longer and they stand up straighter. And the knobs. How tough can it be to copy the real ones??

ES-335 Neck Woes

Thursday, May 15th, 2014
This was kind of a beater to begin with but you can see what happens when the board is planed and the binding is planed with it. The dots wind up at the top of the binding.

This ’64 was kind of a beater to begin with but you can see what happens when the board is planed and the binding is planed with it. The dots wind up at the top of the binding.

Don’t freak out.  The neck on your vintage Gibson may change shape on its own. I think the thing vintage buyers worry about most is the neck-especially on set neck guitars like 335s. Wood is not a particularly stable material. It expands and contracts with the weather, it is certainly subject to the forces of gravity and it breaks when stressed. The lack of stability can also be a good thing, I suppose.  But, as I’ve mentioned about a zillion times in the past, 50 or 60 years is a very long time and bad stuff can happen. The heat goes out while you’re off skiing in Kitzbühel and your guitars are at home. Or maybe somebody forgets to take the guitar out of the back of the car after an overly arduous gig in July and remembers the next afternoon when he’s finally over that hangover. And it’s 200 degrees in there because it’s Phoenix in July. Fifty years is 19,150 days. It only takes one day of bad luck to mess up the neck on a vintage guitar.  That good thing about wood being unstable? You can fix almost anything that happens to a guitar neck. Sometimes it’s just a truss rod adjustment. Sometimes a fret level will do it. More severe issues require more severe (and invasive) procedures but there is almost always a way to fix it. As a dealer, I try to avoid guitars with neck issues. I’ve written about some of the troubles I’ve had with 61’s and truss rod cracks and back bows. The less wood there is in the neck, the less stable it’s going to be. But what happens to the value of the guitar when neck work is required? Well, an unplayable guitar isn’t going to make anyone happy, so from the get go, any improvement will be, uh, an improvement. A wise man once told me that you play the frets and not the fretboard so that if the frets are level, a bit of unevenness in the fingerboard won’t be a problem. The “off ramp” problem where the fingerboard rises a bit where it meets the body is usually taken care of with a simple fret level. A rise in the middle of the fingerboard can sometimes be adjusted out using the truss but it depends largely on where the hump is. The truss seems to do the most toward the middle of the neck-simple physics tells me that. A hump in the lower frets can be tricky. Sometimes a fret level will fix that too. Some luthiers (and I stress, I’m not a luthier) have had success with steaming the neck and, essentially, bending it back into straightness. Seems kind of scary to me but I know of folks who swear by the process. Another approach that is used frequently and is very effective is reshaping the neck by sanding or planing. The problem with this procedure is that most luthiers sand or plane the fingerboard and the bindings until the hump or dip is gone. It works but it can be very obvious-worst case, I suppose, is when the bindings get so thin that the side markers end up at the top of the binding instead of in the middle where they belong. I suppose, from a non luthier’s point of view, it would make more sense to remove both the binding and the fingerboard and plane the neck itself. I’m guessing that doing that would have its own set of consequences. The piece of mahogany that is the neck doesn’t know that its warped or bent or twisted. Its simply taking on a shape that is dictated by the conditions to which it is subjected. Once returned to its straight and true shape, it should be fine for another fifty years. What I really need to stress is that most vintage Gibsons don’t have perfect necks. In fact, based on my experience, about 20% of them have perfect necks. Perhaps another 75% have necks that function perfectly but have some small issue that won’t affect playability for most players. A buzz at the 21st fret won’t bother someone who never plays up there. These issues simply come with the territory. While I try to disclose each and every quirk or hump or dip or high fret or low fret in every guitar I sell, sometimes I simply don’t notice it. I rely more on my ears than my eyes. If the guitar plays well and doesn’t buzz or fret out, then I don’t worry too much about whether its dead straight because the likelihood is that it isn’t. I might mention that it will play better with a bit of relief-so it shouldn’t be dead straight to begin with. I also might reiterate that it’s fixable.

This 61 dot neck had terrible neck issues including a break so drastic action was taken and the result was brilliant. The luthier made a new neck using the original board, dot markers and truss rod. Only the neck itself was changed. It was a $4000 repair but a big 59 sized neck was installed and the guitar was pretty amazing. There are no lost causes.

This 61 dot neck had terrible neck issues including a break so drastic action was taken and the result was brilliant. The luthier made a new neck using the original board, dot markers and truss rod. Only the neck itself was changed. It was a $4000 repair but a big 59 sized neck was installed and the guitar was pretty amazing. There are no lost causes.

Sloppy Paint

Thursday, May 8th, 2014
Nice TDN but not the neatest paint around the f-holes. It's really common on early 335's.

Nice TDN but not the neatest paint around the f-holes. It’s really common on early 335’s.

Didja ever notice how crappy the paint around the f-holes is on a 335? Particularly on the early ones? There’s a reason for this and it isn’t because everybody’s hung over on certain days, although I’m sure there was some bad paint that could be attributed to that particularly common malady. If you look at an early 335 with the bridge pickup out of it, you will see that there is no cut in the center block to facilitate the installation of the harness. Stereo guitars and most mono 355’s have a big chunk cut out of the center block which makes the harness go in relatively easily. Note, I said relatively. It still isn’t easy to get that Varitone  switch into place nor is it easy with those big shielding cans over the pots. Don’t try this at home if you can possibly help it. The reason that so many early 335s have crappy paint around the f-holes is because the folks who installed the harnesses had to stuff them in through the f-holes. I’ve done it dozens of times and while there is a trick to doing it cleanly, it is still a somewhat fiddly procedure. So, what happens is the paint gets scraped off the edges of the f-holes by the harness installation people. On a sunburst, you’ll see that the paint around the f-holes is a medium brown. The red 335’s get a fairly well matched red and the blondes get white. I’m told that the harness ladies (it was mostly women-I don’t know why although I could wager a sexist guess) kept a pot of paint (to two or three) at their station for the express purpose of touching up the scrapes and abrasions caused by this process. But that’s not the whole story because there are 345’s with terribly sloppy paint too and no harnesses went through the f-holes. I don’t have a logical reason for this and would appreciate any insight anyone might have. The photo at the bottom of the post is one of the worst I’ve seen. Note that the paint on that one is black. That’s because it isn’t your usual sunburst. It’s called Argentine Grey.

The 335’s eventually got the cutout in the center block and the problem largely went away but the f-hole edges continued to have the same slightly off color paint around the f-holes. Strangely, the cutout was an unusually long transitional element for Gibson. The earliest 335 I’ve seen with the cutout was a 61 but for those of you who remember the stop tail ’65 I called “The Mexican” (because I bought it from a guy in Guadalajara), it had an uncut block. That’s a four year transition which seems kind of long. By early 65, all of the 335’s had the cut block. I’ve had folks question the originality of the finish on a guitar because the paint around the f-holes looked so amateurish. Don’t. The harness ladies were paid to stuff harnesses into guitars, not paint them. They were probably paid somewhere around the minimum wage to do a job that none of us guys would want. Go ahead, try stuffing a harness in through the f-holes. And don’t do it on a 68 or later-the f-holes are bigger. And make sure you have a pot of paint available.

Not the neatest paint job. Oddly, it is a 345 and it's sloppy on both f-holes. This proves my theory half wrong.

Not the cleanest paint job. Oddly, it is a 345 and it’s sloppy on both f-holes. This proves my theory half wrong. That’s an Argentine Grey 345.

Back to Basics

Thursday, April 24th, 2014
One of my favorites-a 59 ES-335 blonde (natural) played to death and still rockin'. That's the bottom of the line but, ironically, the top of the price heap. Go figure.

One of my favorites-a 59 ES-335 blonde (natural) played to death and still rockin’. That’s the bottom of the line but, ironically, the top of the price heap. Go figure.

OK, all the regular readers are going to groan but don’t. You didn’t always know everything there was to know about these guitars either (nor did I). I get asked this a lot and while it’s as basic as can be, I can understand all the confusion when you first begin to learn about these guitars. The question is, simply, what’s the difference between a 335, a 345 and a 355? The answer, while it seems second nature to many of us, isn’t really so simple. Lets start with the 335. It was the bottom of the ES semi hollow line. What about the 330, you ask. The 330, while also an ES, was fully hollow. So was the 350. A 335 has a rosewood fingerboard (until sometime in 65), dot markers until early 62 and then small blocks, single ply white bindings front and back, nickel plated hardware (until Spring of 65), Kluson tuners and a mono circuit with a three way pickup selector switch.

The ES-345 is the middle of the lineup. All ES-345’s have a stereo circuit with a three way switch like the 335 but also a 6 way Varitone switch which is, essentially, a notch filter. The fingerboard is also rosewood but the markers are “split parallelograms”. Both 335 and 345 have the same “crown” headstock inlay, although some say it’s a leaf or a flowerpot. I don’t know what it is. The 345 has gold plated hardware and the pickups are out of phase which, although I don’t entirely understand why, works better with the stereo circuit which sends one pickup to the right and the other to the left into two channels or two amps. A cool setup but not terribly popular these days. Many 345 owners remove the stereo circuit and the Varitone and wire the guitar the same as a 335. The binding on a 345 is three ply (white-black -white) on the front and single ply white on the back.

That brings us to the top of the line. The ES-355. The 355 was available in mono like a 335 or stereo with the Varitone switch like a 345. It was different in more than a few aspects. The headstock is larger and the inlay is different. It is called a split diamond and the headstock is also bound around the edges. The fretboard inlays are different too. Not just in shape but in the material. Whereas the 335 and 345 are celluloid plastic, the 355 has real mother of pearl inlays in the shape of large blocks (and has a first fret marker which 335’s and almost all 345’s don’t have). The fingerboard itself is ebony rather than rosewood and the hardware, like the 345, is gold plated. The tuners are not Klusons but Grovers until late 1963 when they switched to Kluson “waffle backs”. The top binding is seven plies (w-b-w-b-w-b-w) and the back binding is 3 plies. Until early 1965, you could get a 335 or 345 with a stop tail or a tremolo tailpiece (Bigsby, then sideways, then Maestro in 63). In 65, they switched to a trapeze to replace the stop tail. A Bigsby was always available even after they switched to the other tremolo tailpieces. However, an ES-355 only came with a tremolo tailpiece unless specially ordered with a stop tail. Stop 355s are über rare and worth loads of dough. As I said, you could always get a Bigsby but the factory stock unit was Bigsby for 58-60, sideways in 61-62 and Maestro from 63 on. 335s and 345s were available in sunburst, red (rare until 61 on 335s), an odd sunburst called Argentine Grey which was neither Argentine nor grey and natural (through 1960). ES-355’s were, unless special ordered, always red. I’ve seen a few black ones, a few naturals, two sunbursts and a white one now and then but 99+% are red. There were custom colors for 335s and 345s as well but they are very rare and quite desirable except for a sort of deep candy apple red that came into being in 65 or 66 called Sparkling Burgundy. I don’t mind it if it isn’t faded but most everyone else doesn’t like it much. There were a lot of changes to all three models over the years and I can’t cover them here-go back and read some old posts and you’ll find all of them .

Of course, the three models shared many aspects as well. The construction is the same for all three and the electronics:  The pickups, pots and control layout are the same, although the stereo guitars have the extra 6 way switch and a stereo jack and circuit. In terms of the tonal aspects, there really isn’t much difference. A mono ES-355 sounds pretty much like a mono ES-335. Some would argue that the ebony board adds a bit of “snap” to the tone but my ears aren’t good enough to hear it and I have pretty good ears. A stereo 345 sounds like a stereo 355. I won’t get into the differences in tone between mono and stereo because it’s a can of worms. Don’t ask. Look up Varitone controversy either on this site or Google. So pick your fave and buy one. Buy it from me or buy it from somebody else. But I’m telling you, you won’t find a better designed and conceived electric guitar anywhere on Earth.

Here's a bunch of 345's. The middle one isn't the usual sunburst, it's called Argentine Grey although I have no idea why. That switch with the chicken head knob is the 6 way Varitone which causes controversy everywhere it goes.

Here’s a bunch of 345’s. The middle one isn’t the usual sunburst, it’s called Argentine Grey although I have no idea why. That switch with the chicken head knob is the 6 way Varitone which causes controversy everywhere it goes.

Here's the top dog (back then). This is a 59 ES-355 mono-note-no Varitone switch. Also note that it has a Bigsby. 99+% of them have some sort of trem tailpiece. If you find one with a stop tail, sell it to me please. Note the different headstock.

Here’s the top dog (back then). This is a 59 ES-355 mono-note-no Varitone switch. Also note that it has a Bigsby. 99+% of them have some sort of trem tailpiece. If you find one with a stop tail, sell it to me please. Note the different headstock.

 

Grovers

Sunday, April 20th, 2014
I did a Google search for Grover CEO and got this pair. Mr. Mt Grover is on the left and his slightly weirder brother, Cookie Monster, is on the right. He was the CFO if I'm not mistaken.

I did a Google search for Grover CEO and got this pair. Mr. Grover is on the left and his slightly weirder brother, Cookie Monster, is on the right. He was the CFO if I’m not mistaken.

 

If you ask me which 335 mod is the most frequently seen, I’d have to say tuner changes. In the  mid to late 60’s, it was almost mandatory to put a set of Grovers on your Kluson equipped Gibson guitar . We all knew that Gibsons went out of tune too easily and most of us thought that it must be the somewhat pedestrian Kluson tuners. After all, even Gibson used Grover tuners on the top of the line 355 until 1964 so perhaps they knew something. Most of us know by now that it wasn’t the tuners knocking these guitars out of tune but a poorly cut nut. Usually, the upper strings stick in the slots and go sharp when you bend them. If the tuners were slipping, the strings would go flat. It took me years to figure this out. I changed the tuners on my 68 SG (back in 68) to Grovers for that very reason. A certain Mr. Clapton had a set of gold patent pending Grovers on his 335 and, considering the number of 335’s that have had these tuners, I would say it was all the rage back then. Then the 70’s brought Schallers which on the plus side are perfectly good tuners but on the minus side, are heavy and ugly and required more holes. At least with a set of Grovers, you could use the existing bottom hole from the Klusons and only have to enlarge the shaft hole. But the damage was done, as they say and now we have to deal with it. My initial thought, with a set of Grovers, is to leave them be. They are good tuners and they look OK. A Grovered Gibson will be a perfectly serviceable guitar but the purist collectors will always discount them (or turn up their collective noses at them). Put a set of Klusons back on with a good set of adaptor bushings-the ones that are “invisible” because the size of the part of the bushing that shows is the same as the real ones and you’re back to collector grade. Sort of. The shaft holes will always be bigger and you can’t hide that (and you shouldn’t). You can repair them but the guitar will always have an issue.

So, how do you price an otherwise collector grade guitar that’s been Groverized. Or Schallerized. Or perhaps Sperzelized. well, it depends on the guitar. You might knock $4000 or more off a $40,000 ’59 but on a 66 ES-335, it might only be $1000. It also depends on how clean the front of the headstock is. Most folks seemed to think you had to tighten down the bushings until the headstock dented. Those marks won’t go away and they diminish the original look. Knock off a few more bucks. Schallers leave an extra hole that will peek out the sides of a set of Klusons. Knock off another few bucks. There really aren’t any rules and that’s what can make buying any vintage guitar a tricky business. My approach is to look at the whole guitar. If, for example, it’s a player grade guitar with changed parts, Bigsby holes and perhaps some player wear, then don’t worry about the Grovers. It’ll be priced in. But if the guitar approaches mint condition with the only issue being the Grovers, then you may be paying a serious premium (for a mint 335) but ending up with a guitar that will always be a cut below an all original one-even one in way worse condition. As I’m fond of saying. Fifty years is a long time for anything to remain unmolested. If the only issue is a set of Grovers and the price is right, then I say go for it. You could find a lot of worse mods than a cheap tuner swapped for a better one.

The dreaded "Grover Shadow" that surrounds the Kluson shaft on a 335 returned to its original tuners. Even with adaptor bushings, you can't run from the shadow.

The dreaded “Grover Shadow” that surrounds the Kluson shaft on a 335 returned to its original tuners. Even with adaptor bushings, you can’t run from the shadow.

 

See those little filled holes on the edges of the tuner housings on the right? Schallers. They have an offset mounting hole so you didn't have to use the existing holes. You just drilled new ones. It's just an old Gibson. Who cares!

See those little filled holes on the edges of the tuner housings on the right? Schallers. They have an offset mounting hole so you didn’t have to use the existing holes. You just drilled new ones. It’s just an old Gibson. Who cares!

Neck Angle

Sunday, April 6th, 2014
This 64 ES-335 shows about an equal amount of neck under the fingerboard as there is fingerboard. Maybe a little more. This is a pretty typical neck angle for a post 1960 ES-335.

This 64 ES-335 shows a bit more than an equal amount of neck under the fingerboard as there is fingerboard. This is a pretty typical neck angle for a post 1960 ES-335.

Here's an early 59 ES-345 that shows a lot less wood under the binding meaning the neck angle is shallower. Some 58's show no neck at all under the fingerboard. This angle affects how low the bridge needs to be for the guitar to set up properly and comfortably.

Here’s an early 59 ES-345 that shows a lot less wood under the binding meaning the neck angle is shallower. Some 58’s show no neck at all under the fingerboard. This angle affects how low the bridge needs to be for the guitar to set up properly and comfortably.

This is a difficult subject because the effects of various neck angles are impossible to quantify. By neck angle, we’re talking about the angle at which the neck meets the body of the guitar. The easiest way to see this is to look at how much neck is showing under the fingerboard at the area where the neck overlaps the guitars top. A shallow neck angle would mean there is very little neck showing and the most visible result of a shallow angle is that the bridge sits very low on the guitar. A steeper neck angle (raked toward the back of the guitar) will result in the bridge that sits higher off the guitar body. But there’s more to it than that. A shallow neck has a larger area of contact with the body than a deeper angle. Not by much but there are plenty of folks who believe the guitars with the shallow angle sound better. But, again, that’s not the whole story. Let’s look at the most notoriously shallow angle on a 335-the 1958. The neck angle on many (and most) 58’s was so shallow that they needed a thinner bridge to allow a decent string height (action). Those bridges quickly collapsed and Gibson started shaving full size bridges to accommodate that angle. But a bridge that is set as low as it can go actually sits on the guitar top so there is more area of contact than there would be if it was sitting only on the bridge posts. Does that make a difference in tone? Beats me, but it certainly will translate more vibration to the top of the guitar because there is more metal in contact with the top. It’s like when you are sitting in a chair playing (without the amp) and the guitar makes contact with the arm of the chair and all of a sudden, your guitar gets louder because the chair starts vibrating along with the guitar. The question is whether this actually translates into a better sounding guitar. I really like most 58’s. But I really like most 64’s too. They don’t sound the same but I can’t say the shallow neck angle on a 58 makes the difference. It could be the bigger neck on a 58 or the PAFs or the thinner top. There are just too many variables to make some kind of general statement. You can certainly make the argument that more wood equals more vibration equals more tone. That would suggest that big necks might sound better than small ones. Experience doesn’t bear this out with any degree of certainty. I’ve had thin neck 62’s that sound as good as any 59. Similarly, I’ve had just OK sounding early 60’s with a steeper neck angle, a fat neck and PAFs. Throw in variables like poorly cut nut slots, over notched bridge saddles and poorly adjusted truss rods and any 335 can sound worse than it should. These guitars are, quite simply, the sum of their parts. If, at some point, I get two totally well set up, similarly equipped. same size neck 335’s -one with a steep angle and the other with a shallow angle, I can do some kind of side by side. But for now, I will go with my gut and say that the difference is real but it is probably overshadowed by all the other parameters.

This is the bridge on my 59 Epi Sheraton which follows the same rules as a 3x5. It has an extremely shallow angle and the bridge sits as low as I can get it, touching the top of the guitar. This could be a good thing.

This is the bridge on my 59 Epi Sheraton which follows the same rules as a 3×5. It has an extremely shallow angle and the bridge sits as low as I can get it, touching the top of the guitar. This could be a good thing.