I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know everything about these guitars. I am frequently surprised by the evolution (and long downhill slide) of these guitars. The guitar pictured above is a somewhat modified ES-335 from 1968. I’ve never seen one quite like this. There are ES-340’s that were brought to market in 1969 that had birch plywood bodies and maple necks. They can be very attractive and are decent guitars even if the circuit is a little wacky. What I didn’t know is that there were ES-335’s released in 1968 that had the same birch bodies and the same multi piece maple necks. Birch is pretty similar looking to maple. The grain is a bit more assertive and there is generally no figuring beyond the grain. It makes for a pretty attractive blonde guitar.
When I saw this guitar (which I now own), I just assumed it was a 69 ES-340 that had been erroneously given a 335 sticker (and that it was a 69). I had seen a 340 with a 335 label before and figured this was just another. Except that the owner had the original sales receipt and it was dated July 1968. That’s proof enough that 68 birch 335’s with maple necks exist. This one also has the dot in the “i” in the Gibson logo which most, if not all ES-340’s are missing unless they have the later “pantograph” logo. It also has the factory hang tag that states that it is a 335TDN with the word “birch” following the model name. If I’m recalling correctly, the first mention of a birch guitar is in the 1969 catalog and it’s only the ES-340 that gets the birch mention. It’s also interesting that my usual sources for Gibson serial numbers don’t show 980xxx anywhere. We know by the sales receipt that it can’t be later than mid 68. So what is this? Prototype?
I don’t think this is a special order but it may be a prototype or the very first run of guitars in this birch body/maple neck configuration. I had a ES-330 like this but it was a 69 but at least that shows that guitars other than 340’s got this neck and body. It’s not that unusual that there is no mention in the 68 catalog since Gibson made mid year changes pretty frequently and they would simply show up in the following year’s catalog. But the 69 and 70 catalogs show that the 335 was offered in sunburst, cherry and walnut. No blonde. The ES-340 is shown in blonde and offered in walnut. Gibson certainly could have been experimenting with the new materials and later selling them. The fact that they came out with the 340 in the next year hints at that. It’s also relevant that ES-340’s in blonde, while not plentiful, are far from rare. You can usually find two or three at any time on Ebay. I checked all the 69 340’s out there (maybe 5 or 6 right now) and none have the dotted “i” in the Gibson logo. I have looked at a few and none had the long tenon that this one has (although I haven’t looked at many that closely).
It’s unfortunate that so many mods were made to this guitar. The only one that is irreversible is that some nitwit added a stop tail (which is fine) but put it way too low. He must have had the same luthier as Larry Carlton.