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Archive for the ‘ES 335’ Category

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.

Idle Frets

Monday, March 31st, 2014

 

"Little" frets on a 58 unbound 335. If the guitar is set up properly, you shouldn't have any trouble bending the crap out of the strings.

“Little” frets on a 58 unbound 335. If the guitar is set up properly, you shouldn’t have any trouble bending the crap out of the strings.

I’m not very adept with a pair of calipers. Today I tried to measure the frets on all the guitars I have in the house (snow day with nothing much to do). I know approximately how big the frets are supposed to be but for some reason my measurements aren’t that close. Of course, the size of the fret wire as it came out of the box 50 years ago (or tube or whatever) isn’t necessarily the size of the fret wire today. Some general knowledge of Gibson’s fret “repertoire” will help. In 1958, Gibson wasn’t using what we now call “jumbo” fret wire in the first 335′s off the line. The first thing I noticed when I picked up the first 58 I ever owned was that the frets looked like vintage Fender frets (I was a Fender guy before I was a Gibson guy). I measured them at .075″ which is pretty close to Fender which, if what I read on the internet is correct, are .078″. Often, when I get a request from a potential buyer for a dot neck, I ask whether they want a 58, 59, 60 or 61. Most want a 59 and when I ask why, they sometimes say “I can’t play on those little frets on the 58″. I’ve been playing a string of 58′s for the past few months and, while I’m not the world’s best player (OK, not even a good player), I find very little difference between the feel of a 58 and the feel of a 59. Big bends seem to work just fine on the “little” 58 frets. I think setup has more to do with bending than fret wire does but perhaps fat frets are more forgiving of a mediocre setup. I’ll have to look into that. I measured a few others as well. The frets on my 59 ES-345 were around .085″ and were extremely comfortable -a bit flatter than the 58′s but that could be from dressing and wear. The 66 I have had about the same size as the 59 only taller. I have an 82 here that measures .092″ so apparently bigger frets were introduced at some point after the 60′s ended. My 59 Epi Sheraton’s frets measured .080 but I’m such a klutz, they were probably the same as those on my 59 ES-345 and I just didn’t a good measurement. These are pretty small differences after all. But, when you compare these “vintage jumbo” frets to modern jumbo frets, they are quite a lot smaller. A .085 today is considered medium. So, what do I specify when I need to have one of my vintage beauties refretted? I’ve had great results with Dunlop 6105 wire (.090″). It’s so close to vintage spec that I can’t tell the difference. I played refrets done with 6100, 6120, Stew Mac 146 and 154 and they all seem pretty good. I will say that I’m completely obsessive about proper intonation and the big wide 6120′s make intonation more difficult and finicky-especially when they need a crown. In fact, all these frets, once they flatten out from wear (“railroad ties” in luthier vernacular) will cause you some intonation issues. It’s simple physics really. The more precise the pressure point on the string (i.e. the top of the fret) the more precise the note. With flat frets, if the string contacts the back edge of the fret, the note will be rather different from the note produced at the middle or front edge of the fret. On a properly crowned fret, there is only a single point at which the string touches the fret. That doesn’t mean you can get away with poor intonation but it allows you to better adjust and control it. So, I’m afraid I haven’t shed that much light on which 335s used which frets-it seems like 58′s used little ones and 59-66 (and later) used what would be called medium today. If anybody is real good with the calipers, I’d be happy to learn what you find. 99% of what I know about these guitars comes from owning them and looking at them.  You can’t get most of this stuff from a book.

These are original 59 frets. Not exactly huge by modern standards but plenty big for me. These measure around .082"

These are original 59 frets. Not exactly huge by modern standards but plenty big for me. These measure around .085″

Deep and Dark

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014
Back in the deep dark 40's, a Gibson sunburst could look like this. Pretty cool, if you ask me.

Back in the deep dark 40′s, a Gibson sunburst could look like this. Pretty cool, if you ask me. That’s a Kalamazoo but you know who made it.

Most of you are aware that the little two on the back of the headstock above (or below) the serial number means the guitar is a factory second…the mark of shame for a guitar that couldn’t pass QC. The problem was usually a little teeny flaw in the finish. But not always. The “2″ designation can mean almost anything. The good news is that, mostly, you can’t even find the flaw and the fact that it’s a factory second doesn’t affect the price or the desirability. Recently, I acquired a very early (probably first week in January) ’59 ES-335 with the “2″ on the back of the headstock.  I have only seen one other factory second this early in the run-a fairly early 58 335 and it wasn’t anything obvious, although the guitar was heavily played so its hard to tell what was going on. But the flaw on this one is sort of glaring-and kind of cool if you ask me. It looks a little like a 40′s J45 with that deep, deep sunburst. Under blacklight, the guitar glows exactly as it should but a flaw shows up under the black near where it transitions to red. So, it would appear that the painter was going deeper and deeper until the flaw disappeared. QC was not amused. The back is, however,  totally normal. I think that, in this case, the “2″ kind of saves the guitar from it’s appearance. I would have said a refinish was possible if not likely if not for the “2″. I’ve been through the guitar from end to end and there is no sign that this finish didn’t come from the factory this way. It is also not the only one like this I’ve seen. There is a late 58 (which I also think is very cool looking) owned or formerly owned by an acquaintance of mine which also has an unusually heavy dark element to the sunburst. No “2″ on that one, however. At least not that I can recall.

One of the great things about these old guitars is all the hand work that is done. Myself, I love to see the great variations that human hands (and human error) can produce on instruments like these. And not just in the finishes. In the neck carves as well. There are certainly guidelines that hold true for Gibson necks of a given year but there are always, and I mean always, exceptions. I recently had a 59 with a neck that would have been more likely found on a 62-barely .82″ at the first fret. Contrast that with this guitar at .93″ at the first fret. Both 59′s. The human touch at work for sure. There are great variations in body thickness, variations in nut width and neck sets and even knob placement and f-hole location. I’m sure they used templates for the latter two so there isn’t much variation but there is some. But these things don’t get you the dreaded scarlet letter-am I being overly dramatic?. OK, the stamped number “2″.

My larger point here is that the guitar with the weird sunburst is something to be enjoyed (and I’m enjoying it plenty). It is testament to hand crafting and to QC, I suppose. And, if you don’t want your dot neck to look like everyone else’s, you might want to seek out one these freaks with the “2″ on their head. It might save you a buck or two and make you stand out in the crowd.

What was there, a special sale on black paint that week? Or maybe the paint guy was still hung over from New years Eve. This guitar is one of the first off the line in 1959.

What was there, a special sale on black paint that week? Or maybe the paint guy was still hung over from New years Eve. This guitar is one of the first off the line in 1959.

58

This 58, while it doesn’t have a “2″ designation is still pretty unusual for a 335. This is one of my favorite sunbursts ever. This guitar has character. And, being a bound 58 is probably very close in serial number to the one above it.

 

 

 

The 70′s Called…

Saturday, March 8th, 2014
The Seventies got really ugly in a very short period of time. You should have seen this guy in the 50's and 60's.

The Seventies got really ugly in a very short period of time. You should have seen this guy in the 50′s and 60′s.

…and they want their guitars back. Fat Elvis. Annie Hall. Ziggy Stardust. The Fonz. Farrah. Rocky, Tricky Dick. Fewer decades have shown so much range and not in a good way. I contend that the 60′s didn’t start until ’63 and didn’t end until 73 or so. The real 70′s as I recall them, seem to be disco, mood rings, pet rocks and platform shoes for men. There was some great music but it was overshadowed by so much ugly stuff. It was like a 60′s hangover. I mean, we had Steely Dan, Led Zeppelin, Springsteen and Fleetwood Mac. We also had the BeeGees (the disco ones not the early ones), The Carpenters, all those horrible disco acts and Glam Rock. For Gibson, the 70′s began in 1969. Norlin (beer, concrete) bought Gibson that year and started thinking about ways they could make more money than they were already making. Their best effort? Make the guitars cheaper and sell them for more money. Geniuses. Capitalism at its best. Gibson used to be run by people of vision who simply wanted to make a great product  (and a profit) and, in so doing, were creative, inventive and dedicated. With the suits from Norlin at the switch and guitars sales still booming, their approach was to make a great, great product into a mediocre one (at best) that could be produced quickly and cheaply. No wonder they sent Epiphone to Japan. I almost never get 70′s ES-335′s into my hands. I don’t take them in trade and I don’t seek them out. They are simply too inconsistent. I have one here now and I will take you through it. First of all, there are good ones. Really. I freely admit it. There is nothing wrong with the design even with some of the dumb changes they made to cut costs. The 73-74 I have here has only half a center block (up to the bridge). But it doesn’t seem to make that much difference. The resonance is pretty close to an earlier one. The pickups are still pretty good. The neck tenon has all but disappeared and the neck is not as stable. I don’t need a Bigsby-I can do vibrato (not tremolo) by pulling on the neck. I don’t like necks that do that. The volute (the reinforcement bump behind the headstock) is ugly but it doesn’t really make much difference nor does the three piece neck versus the one piece. The fiber headstock overlay is just cheap but it doesn’t change the tone or playability. They could have made all these changes and still made a pretty good guitar. What suffered was the build quality. The fit and finish is just not the same. The glue is sloppy, the neck join is sloppy-things just don’t fit together as well as they did “back in the day.” Not every 335 is poorly constructed but even if 25% of them are, that’s 25% more than there were in the 58-64 era. Out of the 350 or so that I’ve had, not one was poorly built. There is a bit of a range for sure but never poor quality-even the factory seconds. One result of bad build quality is poor sustain-the parts just don’t fit together so well and they don’t seem to vibrate as a unit like the early ones do. Another is less durability. A 70′s ES-335 is more likely to fall apart after 50 years than a 58-68. There’s less glue where glue belongs, more glue where it doesn’t belong and less precisely measured and cut components. If a 59 is like a piece of fine furniture, a 75 is sort of like the bookcase you made in 8th grade shop class (you know what it looked like). There are other elements-like a decline the quality of the woods used, for example. It all adds up to a good design that has been compromised. Vintage prices reflect the difference and I can’t say that a 70′s ES can’t be a relatively good value. Early 70′s seem to be generally better than late 70′s (and they changed the body shape to something that looks weird in 76). Just play it first or buy with a return policy to make sure it isn’t a dog. Actually, I may be insulting dogs.

Early 70's ES-335. Doesn't look that different than a 68 but it is different. Play it before you buy it.

Early 70′s ES-335. Doesn’t look that different than a 68 but it is different. Play it before you buy it.

By the late 70's the waist got thinner, the horns got thinner and Elvis got fatter.

By the late 70′s the waist got thinner, the horns got thinner and Elvis got fatter.