GIBSON ES-335 ES-345 ES-355

The Smart Money

August 25th, 2012 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 3553 Comments »

I should have named this one "Jarlsberg" . I've never seen a guitar with more holes in it. Refinished but pretty much original, if I recall. This, my friends, is a player. And it sounded as good as any.

When you deal with such a tiny segment of the vintage market it allows you to see a snapshot of the whole market. We’ll take Les Paul Standards out of the conversation since they march to their own drummer. What I’m talking about is how to play the vintage market for maximum fun and for maximum value. The last post should have given you a pretty good idea of the market as of August 2012 but there are some general factors that will always be the same. A mint guitar will always command a premium and will always be the best investment you can make whether at the top of the market or the bottom. They fall the least during a pullback and they rise the most during an upswing. But they come with an additional price on top of the high price they already command. Call it the “mint tax”.  You can read about it here. Then there is the great middle ground where you’ll find the great bulk of vintage 335s/345s and 355s. Those are the well cared for examples that have an issue or two. Changed tuners is the most common. Player wear, refret, changed pot or removed pickup covers and missing stickers all fall into this category. These are guitars that can be very expensive when in great condition and, in most cases, can be played without fear of turning a mint guitar into an average one. After all, that’s how mint guitars become players. They were all mint once upon a time. They get played. Interestingly, these one or two issue guitars are the hardest to sell. The fussy collector doesn’t want it because it won’t lead the market nor will it give him (or her) the bragging rights that go with it. And don’t diminish bragging rights. Read any guitar forum and see who the “bull goose loony” is. He’s the guy with the best guitars. You know who you are and it’s a position of some status, to be sure. Only the well known pro players get more respect. Who doesn’t like a little respect from one’s peers?  That takes me to the pieces that sell in a minute or less. These are the players. The guitars from the Golden Era that don’t cost much more than the current crop of Historics, special “artist” models” and “anniversary” editions that Gibson throws out there for the aficionados (and suckers depending on the model). These are guitars with unfixable issues that just won’t go away no matter how much dough you sink into your guitar. These are guitars that are refinished, have headstock repairs, Bigsby, or worse, Maestro holes, holes from coil taps, multiple tuner replacements, changed hardware and a whole host of other atrocities that render them “players”. Pssst…I’ll let you in on a secret. They sound every bit as good, in most cases, as the mint ones or the “average” ones. They sometimes sound better. This assumes that the pickups are still in it and the electronics are still more or less stock. They may sound just as good with changed pickups too, but I wouldn’t make that a blanket statement. They can be gigged without too much fear of theft or damage and you can turn around and sell them for exactly what you paid in this market.  Half price or less. As a dealer, I buy up a lot of these, although I tend to stay away from headstock cracks (I hate surprises). Refins? Bring ‘em on-I’ll buy every one you find. The second (or maybe third) best 335 I ever had was a refin. Removed Bigsbys? OK, so there are 6 extra holes. Close your eyes when you play-you’ll look more intense and you won’t see all the holes. I had an ES-335 that had 29 extra holes. Twenty nine!! And a refin. How do you even get that many holes in a guitar? Easy. Two different trems (10 holes),  an armrest (5 holes), and backpad (8 holes) and a set of Grovers for an additional 6. That’s how. It was a 64 ES-335, I believe. It played absolutely great and sounded as good as my everyday player. I think I sold it for $5500. A lot of money for a guitar but not a lot for a 64 ES-335.

ES Market Update, Dog Days Edition

August 21st, 2012 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 3553 Comments »


Don't think the market has bottomed? This guitar sold for $10K-original stoptail with Grovers. So it had some wear. Still... around $10K for a stop 64? That was March 2011. I think you missed the bottom.

I get asked to give my opinion on the current state of the ES market all the time and since I haven’t done it for a while, the Dog Days of Summer might be a good time to take a fresh look. Nothing-and I mean nothing-will stop the big dealers (and the Ebay sellers who copy them) from asking the big prices. A lot of the guitars that are STILL on the market were bought at or near the top and these folks are trying to recoup their investment. Remember to negotiate-these guys don’t expect that you’re going to pony up $28000 for a 64 ES-335. The worst they can say is no. Same as me.  Don’t think for a second that you might be insulting someone with an offer that you believe is viable. They have no trouble insulting you with asking prices that are in the stratosphere (is the a Telesphere?). A lot of folks don’t like to negotiate and I understand that but the alternative is paying more than a guitar is worth or passing on a guitar you might have been able to get for a reasonable price. The reason I chose August to do this post is because this is a really slow time of year. The dealers aren’t moving as much merchandise and every business needs to generate cash. How do you do that if stuff isn’t selling for your asking price? You either lower the price or start negotiating.  I lowered a bunch of prices just yesterday. While most of you know I work on a slimmer margin than many dealers, I also have no overhead (and a real job) so I can keep my prices a bit lower than many other dealers.  And, since I specialize in a very narrow range of guitars, I don’t get stuck with a lot of dogs I can’t sell. We all know the bubble burst in 2008. The decline wasn’t breathtaking in its speed but was pretty substantial in the case of some guitars. SGs got killed but they had run up so far, so fast. Among the ES models, the 345s and 355s took it pretty hard dropping 30% or more between 2008 and 2011. Among 335s, the block necks got hit pretty hard and the later dots as well but the 58 and 59 dot necks held up very well. Also worth noting-the market for some ES models has come back a fair amount since last year. Not everything-Bigsby 345s and stereo 355s are still a very tough sell unless they are mint or are 59s. Bigsby/Custom Made block necks (other than 64s) have gotten whacked pretty good as well but they are back on the mend. While they were flirting with the high teens back in ’08, they dropped to $9K-$12K depending on condition. Mint stuff has held up pretty well throughout. Well played stoptail block necks bottomed out at around $10K but didn’t stay there for long. I sold at least one for $10K that was all original but pretty beat up. There are two bright spots for the seller. well, three if you count early dot necks. No issue stoptail block necks have come back nicely into the mid to high teens and up over $20K for really clean big neck 63s and 64s. The smaller neck ones lag slightly unless they have PAFs. Early dot necks are and have been strong throughout the recession. They don’t sell quickly but the prices have held on-or the sellers are holding out for better times. I’ve seen very few bargains in 58 and 59 dot necks. 61 and early 62s are a great deal right now in the low to mid teens for average examples with minor issues or wear.  Finally, mono 355s are becoming much more popular and have inched up from their lows of last year. I recall a 60 selling for around $8K on Ebay that we all should have jumped on. As I wrote recently, I think they are the big bargain right now when priced in the $9K-$13K range for 59-64s with Bigsby or sideways trems. Don’t get me started on Maestros-I don’t mind them on SGs but I stay away from them on ES ‘s.  Look for my post on “break angle” to find out why. If I were a buyer with a budget in the $12000 range, I’d be looking at 60-61 dot necks and 59-61 PAF equipped 355 monos. Get your negotiatin’ shoes on and go buy something before everybody gets back from vacation. We’ll look at later ones later.

A 61 Bigsby dot neck for $12K? OK, it had a couple of "mystery holes" in the top but was all there with its original PAFs. This was last Spring.

ES 345 to ES-335 Circuit

August 18th, 2012 • ES 345, ES 3555 Comments »

Modify this? Are you out of your fu...oh, hello. Below is a post about how to turn your 345 into a 335. Don't do it if you have a red 59 like this one.

I’ve avoided writing this post for nearly two years because I don’t like to modify guitars but just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean you aren’t going to do it anyway and you might as well do it right. In addition to your ES-345, this also applies for rewiring a stereo ES-355. Before you do anything, ask yourself what you don’t like about your 345. Can’t deal with the stereo? Don’t like the Varitone? Think the Varitone is sucking all the tone out of your guitar? Don’t like the added weight? If the stereo aspect bothers you but you still find the Varitone useful, just have the guitar rewired for mono, keeping the Varitone in the circuit. You can eliminate a bunch of weight by removing one of the two chokes (inductors) as well. Just save the parts because the next guy might want it put back to stereo. Changing the guitar to mono isn’t simply a matter of swapping out the jack. The pickups in a stereo guitar are wired to the three way instead of the volume pots, so you have to rewire them to make the controls work as expected. Also, the pickups in a stereo guitar are out of phase with each other. Reversing phase in most situations just means reversing a wire but in this case, we’re talking about magnetic phase. Reversing the wire to one pickup won’t fix it. So here’s the bad part…You’ll have to take the cover off one of the pickups-I would suggest the neck pickup since it is easier to remove from the guitar-and flip over the magnet. To do this, you would partially unscrew the four philips screws on the bottom and  also loosen the pole piece screws. That should loosen up the bobbins to the point where the magnet (and the wooden spacer) will probably drop right out. If it falls out then you have a problem because you won’t know how it was oriented to begin with and you literally won’t know which end is up. So, take your time and hold the pickup so that you can slip the magnet out. If it’s stuck, there’s usually enough sticking out that you can grab it with a pair of needlenose pliers and pull it out. Once out, flip it over-top to bottom like a pancake-not end to end. Tighten all the screws and put the cover back on and don’t forget the maple spacer-it probably fell out. If you decide you don’t like the stereo AND you don’t like the Varitone, then you may want to wire it like a 335. You could modify the harness but I would suggest not doing that because when it comes time to sell the guitar, the buyer might want a stock 345 and he won’t want yours unless the mod can be easily and cheaply reversed. The simple solution is to remove the entire harness and the chokes. They come out easily but they don’t go back in easily. Take my word for it. Get a pre built 335 harness from RS, Mojotone or Dr. Vintage. Mojotone is the cheapest but they are a little fragile. Dr. Vintage is the most robust but its also the most expensive. All sound good. Remove the stereo VT harness including the VT switch and choke. Put it somewhere safe, like the case pocket. Install the 335 type harness as per the instructions. I suggest putting a dummy switch in the Varitone hole or plugging it with something removable. The ring and chickenhead look pretty cool if you ask me and I would leave them attached to whatever dummy switch you put in there. It could also be a dummy pot or even something functional. Your guitar will still look like a 345, it just won’t sound like one.  If you want a stereo guitar but not a Varitone, then you have a very simple option-you can simply disconnect or remove the choke from the circuit and the VT will cease to function. Good mod or bad? You can decide that. I like my 345s to be 345s and my 335s to be 335s. If I could only have one guitar on a desert island (that had electricity and a Fender tweed of some sort-preferably a big loud 2 channel one), I’d go with a 59 or 60 ES-345 but that’s just me. Want to learn more about varitones? Go here. It was written by my friend and resident tech guru, Chris Wargo. If you want to go totally geek, then read this one too.



The Best 58-65 ES Value?

August 13th, 2012 • ES 3559 Comments »

62 ES-355 mono Sideways. Thousands less than a 335 and classy as white tie and tails. Sounds pretty much the same too.

I’ve written a few posts where I talk about great deals in 335s and their ilk. There was a time when Trini Lopez Standards were a tremendous deal but that seems to have gone away. Funny, at the peak of the market, Trinis were neglected and a nickel hardware 64-65 could be had for around $4000 and a later one for just under $3K. No more. The market caught up and now you can pay $7000 or more for a wide nut Trini. So, what’s the new mary jane? Well, what’s old is new and I think it’s the mono 355. And not because I have a couple to sell either-although in the interest of full disclosure, that is true. ES-345s and stereo 355s have always lagged well behind the 335 in price both with collectors and players.  Folks like to cite the “simplicity of the design” of the 335 and I can buy that, but I think “simplicity” is code for the fact that they don’t like the stereo wiring (too complicated-which it isn’t) and they don’t like the Varitone. We’ve covered the Varitone as nauseam and I’ll leave it alone. I don’t think “simplicity” means single top binding, less fancy headstock and rosewood vs ebony. I do think the trem only configuration is part of the problem, however. But tell me this….Why is a mono ES-355 worth so much less than a Bigsby equipped ES-335? Let’s look at real sales. I sold a 64 mono 355 for $9000. I’ve sold Bigsby 335s for $13,000. I sold a near mint sideways trem 62 mono ES-355 for $12,000. I sold a near mint sideways 62 ES-335 for close to $15K. I have a 59 ES-355 mono with a zebra and a double white PAF listed for $15K. The last Bigsby 59 ES-335 with whites or zeebs I had sold for over $25K. So what are you having to endure when you buy a mono 355 instead of a Bigsby 335? Well, you don’t get a “Custom Made” plaque and inserts. Good point. But unless you were going to set the 335 up as a stoptail, who cares. The plaque looks kind of dopey anyway. The ebony board is a substantive difference but I don’t see it as being that big a deal. I like the ebony board because its more durable. You aren’t going to find a lot of divots in the board of a 355. I like the big block markers, I like the 7 ply binding on top and I love red guitars, I don’t mind the bigger fancier headstock and I don’t mind gold hardware. I’d put any 355 mono up against any same year Bigsby or sideways equipped 335-have you close your eyes and tell me which is which.  You might feel the ebony and you might, if you have a great set of ears, hear the ebony. You’ll appreciate the Grovers if your 355 has them. You’ll also appreciate the somewhat better wood the 355s often got. One other thing-don’t dismiss the 65 ES-355 mono. There aren’t a whole lot of them but nearly every one I’ve seen has at least a 1 5/8″ nut which is a nice bonus. They also almost always have the really early patent number pickups which are the same as a later PAF. All things being equal, I’d have to say I’ll take a 335 over a 355 mostly because I prefer a stoptail. But if you presented me with a mono stoptail 355 and a same year stoptail  335, I’d be tempted to take the 355. But, given the rarity of a 355 stop, they’d probably be close in value anyway. But if you presented me with a Bigsby 355 along with a couple of grand and a Bigsby 335, I’d take the 355 and the money. Or door number three. No, two.

If this late '60 mono 355 was a 335, it would cost you close to $20K. It sure sounds like a 335 and it has the solid center block unlike a 345 or a stereo 355 (and some monos) That also means it has bumblebee or black beauty caps instead of those little ceramic disc things that fit inside the shielding cans on a stereo version.

Blacks, Whites and Zebras

August 11th, 2012 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 3555 Comments »

1959 ES-355 mono. Who knew there would be a zebra in the bridge and a double white in the neck? I love an extra added bonus, don't you? It's in the "sweet spot."

This is not a post about racial equality but it is a post about equality or its lack. As guitar aficionados, we are strange. That’s clear. Nuts? You bet. Obsessive? Uh huh. Eccentric? Erratic? Insane? Well, maybe. What is it about PAFs that gets everybody’s heart racing? I play a 64 most of the time and it doesn’t have PAFs and I’m fine with that. It sounds great and that’s mostly what I care about. But consider this…Between July 2011 and July 2012 I bought approximately 65 Gibson guitars (mostly but not all ES’s). Mostly but not all from the PAF era. Mostly and I mean almost completely, double black PAFs. Out of, say, 120 Gibson humbuckers during that period, I think there were six double whites and one zebra. It’s true that folks have been scavenging them for years now but 98% of these guitars had their original pickups. The larger reason is that I bought a lot of 60-64s and they don’t usually get the whites or the zebras. And why should I care? The black ones sound exactly the same as the white ones and with the covers on, they look the same too. So why (oh why) do I get so damned excited every time I get a 59 or early 60 ES. Whyizzit I can’t wait to see what color the bobbins are? Well, they are worth more. Period. It’s like a treasure hunt…something for nothing. I don’t generally ask a seller what color the bobbins are because I don’t want them messing with the pickups (and I don’t want them raising the price). But you can bet as soon

Early 60 with double whites. It don't get much better than this. Ok maybe a stoptail.

as I get the guitar, I check them out. I’ve also learned that there’s a “sweet spot” in the serial number sequence where the white PAFs seem to congregate. It certainly isn’t foolproof but, in general, I know when to expect a white or zebra and when to expect a black-at least with the nickel covered ones. With the gold ones, all bets are off. In the past 2 months, I’ve acquired around 12 ES guitars with PAFs from 1959-1961. An astonishing 6 of them have had at least one white or zebra PAF. Let’s look at the serial numbers of the whites and zeebs I’ve found in the past couple of years. The nickel ones had serial numbers in the A306xx-A309xx range. that’s a pair of zebras and 2 pairs of whites. The gold ones show a wider range -the earliest gold covered whites or zebras I found were a zebra and a white in A306xx and another zebra in 309xx and a pair of zebras also at 309xx (2 numbers away). Two late 59 ES-345s both at serial A321xx had whites and the blonde ES-345 I bought had whites and was serial number A323xx which is an early 60. Then, I found another pair of zebras in (gasp) a 61 ES 355. Serial was not even an “A” serial but a four digit numbers only type. So, perhaps the “gold sweet spot” is less a spot than a blob. But there is a pretty big contingent of them at A321xx-A323xx. As players and enthusiasts, we care about tone and playability, so why would anyone pay an additional few thousand dollars (EACH) for white bobbins as opposed to black ones? I look at it something like this: There’s a scene in the Broadway version of “Kiss of the Spider Woman” (and maybe the movie too, although I couldn’t sit through it) where the window dresser character insists that the mannequin in his window had to have a Balenciaga scarf in her handbag. You couldn’t see it but he would know it was there and it was vital to his design (and comfort) that it be there. Because “she would have one”. I think whites and zebras are a little like that. You can’t see them under the covers but isn’t it nice to know they’re under there? As an aside, none of this applies to Les Paul guys who wear their Balenciagas, I mean their white PAFs, without covers for all to see. Showoffs.

Two of these have double whites. One of them is, uh, the refinned one on the right. That looks cool but it also looks wrong. Leave the covers on. Isn't it enough that you know there's a white under there?

What to Look for in an ES-335/345/355

August 7th, 2012 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 3556 Comments »

The area in the black mark is a delamination-the plywood is coming apart. It looks like a bubble under the wood. Generally the problem is cosmetic and not worth losing sleep over unless it keeps getting worse.

OK, the title is a little misleading-you should look for a guitar you love the sound of and that is comfortable to play. I’m going to talk about things to look for that might (but perhaps shouldn’t) keep you from buying that guitar. I’m talking about the things that can be wrong (or go wrong) with these guitars. Every guitar has strong points and weak points. Les Pauls can be overly heavy, SGs have weak neck joins, Firebirds can be neck heavy and on and on. One of the reasons I like 335s and their brethren so much is that they don’t have a lot of weak points. There are things to look for however. The weakest point actually is more Gibson related than specific to ES’s and that is the ABR-1 bridge. Nothing will sink your tone faster than worn or over notched saddles or a collapsed bridge. The good news is that its a really easy fix. To check an ABR-1 to see if it has collapsed, remove the saddles and turn in upside down on a flat surface, If there’s any space between the top of the bridge and the flat surface, it’s collapsed. Get a new one or replacement. If the strings are more than halfway under the top of the saddles, get new saddles or file down the tops of the saddles until that is no longer the case.  The weakest point on just about any Gibson guitar is the headstock. Think it’s easy to spot a crack? Well, usually it’s pretty obvious but don’t take anybody’s word for it. Get out a magnifying glass and a blacklight if you have one. I know of a 63 that was sold at auction recently to a dealer who has more experience with 335’s than I do. He had it for weeks before finding the crack and may never have found it had he not been tipped off by another expert who noticed it at the auction and told me about it. Next, take a look down the fingerboard. There are a lot of dips and rises that can be adjusted out with the truss but there is one that is common that can’t be. ES’s seem to be prone to a slight rise at the area where the fingerboard meets the body. That’s an area in which most of us don’t  play much and it may make no difference at all for you but you should be aware of it. The fix for this is pretty easy as well-a fret level will usually take care of the problem-the rise will still be there but as long as the frets are level, it won’t adversely affect playability. Another weak point is the ground wire on a stoptail version. The ground wire is an uninsulated single heavy gauge strand of wire than goes from the stoptail bushing through the center block and attaches to the braid on the neck pickup lead. What often happens is that when the harness is pulled for any reason, the wire gets broken. It’s kind of brittle and doesn’t improve with age. If it breaks at the pickup end, its no big deal but if you break it off at the stud end, it is a somewhat involved process to replace it-often requiring the removal of the stud bushing-something best left to a repair shop. You could run a thin wire from the pickup lead to the bridge post under the pickguard and it will work fine but it won’t be correct and you’ll see it if you look closely. The last thing to look for are cracks and delamination in the top or back. It’s no secret that ES’s are made of plywood and plywood is held together with glue and glue can give up over time. A delamination will usually be raised and will look like a “bubble” in the wood. You can sometimes move the wood by pushing down on it as there is usually air beneath it where the glue gave way (or never existed).  There is also often a crack at the delamination point. Don’t confuse finish checks for cracks in the wood. It’s easy to do so. A check usually can’t be felt with a fingernail, although that isn’t always true. If the line appears to go beneath the finish to the wood (and follows the grain), it’s probably a crack. There is good news here as well. Because cracks and delaminations generally only affect the top ply, they are neither structural nor do they affect tone. They don’t look that great but they shouldn’t deter you from buying if you like the guitar. Just be aware that they will diminish the value somewhat-not unlike a major ding or scrape.

Note the last few frets (and the binding) are going slightly uphill. This is pretty common and not too hard to fix as long as it isn't to severe.. It requires a fret level.


Factory Seconds

July 31st, 2012 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 3556 Comments »

This early 65 has the "2" stamped above the serial number. Can you see a flaw? It's the bridge pickup. It's slightly rotated clockwise one or two degrees. It should be parallel to the neck pickup but it isn't. I'm sure it has zero effect on the tone and zero effect on the value.

No, that isn’t when you go back up to the Gibson lunch counter for another plate of hash, that’s when a little number “2” gets stamped above or below the serial number indicating some element caught the eye of the QC folks. The QC department was probably one or two workers who spent a minute or two with each finished guitar looking over the fit and finish and giving it a few strums to make sure it played OK. Gibson wasn’t cranking out vast numbers of guitars until the mid 60’s at

This 64 has the "2" above the serial number over to the right of center. The "2" is smaller than the serial number font. On others, I've seen the 2 under the serial in the same font as the serial.

which point the QC department would have had to have gotten much larger. There’s a big difference between knocking out a few dozen guitars a day and a few hundred. Even so, the percentage of factory seconds seems very low and the flaws are generally imperceptible. Most often, it’s a tiny finish flaw-but sometimes it was something more sinister. The first question I usually get when I have a factory second is “does it lower the value of the guitar?” Conventional wisdom says no. If you can’t see the flaw, then the appearance of a tiny number “2” isn’t going to make much, if any, difference. If you can find the flaw and its something benign, like a drip or run in the clearcoat or a dark spot in the red dye, then take off a buck-nobody cares. But there have been some other flaws that I’ve seen that might set off an alarm or two. There was the 65 with the splice in the wood in the cutaway. The dealer insisted it was from the factory that way (the guitar had the “2” stamp) but I thought it was a repair-a really good repair. Could it have come from the factory that way? I suppose it could have but if I was the QC guy, I would have labelled it “BGN”. BGN? WTF? “BGN” stands for “bargain” and is stamped on guitars that have more serious flaws. Unlike the factory seconds, I’ve heard that “BGN” guitars were sold only to employees of Gibson and not the general public..  BGN guitars have more obvious flaws like veneer separations or poorly aligned center blocks or neck joins. I don’t believe a simple finish flaw is a ticket to the “BGN” bin. Generally, on a factory second,  I can’t find the flaw or it’s something really, really minor. I had a 63 ES-345 with a couple of clear coat drips on the headstock. I recently sold a stunning 64 ES-335 that had a small spot on the back where the red dye was applied a little too heavily. But it isn’t always the finish. I have a 65 factory second that has a poorly placed bridge pickup. It’s cocked about 2 degrees off its proper axis. The rout is straight but the assembler who screwed the ring in had a few extra martinis at lunch that day. There are plenty of flaws that don’t qualify as factory seconds but we’ll cover that another day. One final note-Gibson no longer sells factory seconds. According to the Gibson CEO (in a forum post), they are sawed in half and thrown away. The rationale is that Gibson no longer “condones” mistakes which is sort of noble, I suppose, but it seems a waste of resources. Worse than that are all the stories I hear about new guitars being returned to Gibson for serious flaws. Granted, you don’t hear about the good ones but if errors aren’t condoned, then we shouldn’t be hearing about returns, should we?

Note the BGN stamp between the tuners. This guitar would have had a flaw more serious than a paint issue but not necessarily one that would affect its playability or vintage value. Thanks to my friends at Southside Guitars for the photo.

Bonnets, Top Hats and Witch Hats.

July 24th, 2012 • ES 335, ES 345, ES 35511 Comments »

Here's a nice example of a set of bonnet (or "bell") knobs from the nice folks at Vintage Correct parts. There's a link for their store over in the links. Nice guys, too.

It’s not a millinery convention, it’s a post about knobs. I’ve covered them sort of peripherally in the posts about plastics but there are some finer points and dates that merit a little more detail. The first ES models had the “bonnet” or “bell” type knob. You know, the Les Paul type that are gold colored and are numbered 1-10. These are also called tophats by some but I usually refer to the later reflector type as a tophat.  All 58 and 59 ES-335s and 345s had them (except the 10 or so red ones that have surfaced).  The earliest  ES-355s had them too but most 355s of the era have the same knob in black. Of the ten

These are reflectors-"short shaft" on the right and "long shaft" on the left.

made in 1958, the three or four that have surfaced all have the gold bonnets. Once red guitars became standard issue, the black knobs became common but not for long. Most, if not all 1959 ES-355s have black bonnets and  a few early 60 335s and 345s (in red) have them as well. By early 1960, the first reflector knobs showed up. I suppose it was important to someone that the knobs were designated as tone and volume on the knob itself. After all, it can be pretty confusing to have four knobs with no labels-at least for the first 20 minutes you own the guitar. Reflector knobs (which I call tophats) come in a few sizes and shapes. The earliest ones are what I called “short shaft” where the opening for the pot shaft is positioned very low in the knob. It seems this type lasted into early 62-more or less. After that, the shaft was set farther into the knob-probably to make them fit more flush to the top of the guitar. The reflector knob was in use at Gibson well into the 70’s but not on the 335. They came in black and in gold. They also came with silver reflectors and gold reflectors. As they age, it can be hard to tell the silver from the gold. As you might expect, the gold insert gold knobs were for sunburst ES-345s and the gold insert black knobs were for ES-355s and red ES-345s. If you’re lucky enough to own a sunburst 355, it would have a gold knob with a gold reflector insert. I know of exactly two of them. By late 66, the ES-335 and its brethren got the witch hat knob which looks suspiciously like a Fender amp knob. To my eye, witch hats never really looked right on a guitar-maybe because we were all so used to seeing blackface and silverface fender amps by the time Gibson decided to change the knobs on the ES series. They are called witch hats because they look a lot like a witch hat. Duh. The transition occurred right near the end of 66. Most 66’s have reflectors and virtually all 67s have witch hats. There are enough other ways to date your “on-the-cusp” 66-67 that the knobs-which are easy to change anyway, aren’t a critical dating feature. The 335 kept the witch hats until the 81 reissue dot neck was released which went back to a somewhat modified bonnet knob-now more amber than gold and with a slightly shallower slope to the sides. Wait, what about “speed” knobs. You know, the barrel shaped knobs that were on early goldtop Les Pauls? Didn’t they show up on 335s too? Well, actually, they show up a lot but not from the factory. Given that nothing Gibson ever does is totally consistent, I wouldn’t be surprised if a few slipped through that way. I can just see the assembly guy on a Friday afternoon in July. He just finished a batch of ES-335 “Pro” models (which did have speed knobs as did the ES-347) and he has one more standard 335 to knock out before quittin’ time. He’s got a pile of speed knobs on his table and no witch hats. Whaddya think he’s gonna do? Go all the way across the room to grab 4 witch hats from the bin or stick on the speed knobs that he already has? It’s Friday. It’s July. It’s hot. Duh.

Here's a set of witch hats in their native habitat. Note the inserts are gold. If they're silver, they should be on a red 335. 345s and 355s got the gold inserts no matter what color they were. Walnut finishes normally got the gold.

It’s 1965. I’m 13. Gibson is Making Changes.

July 20th, 2012 • ES 3353 Comments »

One of my favorites ever "The Mexican". Here's a 65 with an original stoptail and all of the 64 features EXCEPT the narrow bevel truss. These can be a bargain if you can find one

I didn’t own a Gibson in 1965. I was playing guitar in a garage band but a Gibson would be out of my reach until a year or two later. I did own a Fender Duo Sonic and later that year a Fender Jaguar. 65 is an interesting year in so many ways-some of which I’ve already covered. Interestingly, it represents the beginning of a slow downhill trajectory for both Gibson and Fender-not that 65 Gibson and Fenders are bad guitars-far from it. They can be great. We all know that Fender was bought by CBS in 65 and the suits took over Leo’s job. Over at Gibson, there were no internal upheavals of note until 1969 but the decline began anyway. It’s worth noting that the great Ted McCarty left in 66 and I’m sure that didn’t help matters any. But 1965 is the year that some poor choices (in hindsight, of course) were made that impacted the ES line. Most were economically motivated but that also involves efficiency and productivity. As anyone over the age of 52 knows, 65 was the first full year of the guitar boom which began the moment The Beatles turned up on Ed Sullivan. Gibson had to crank out more guitars than it was prepared to crank out. ES-335 production went from 1250 to 1750. So, big deal, another 500 guitars, right? Well, consider this: Melody Makers jumped by more than 5000 units. So, on a company wide scale, the shit was probably hitting the fan. I like 65 ES-335s and I don’t like 65 ES-335s. There are so many different varieties, it’s no wonder every time a seller has an ambiguous serial number, he chooses 65 as the year his guitar was made. It’s almost like a one year timeline of the entire history of the 335. That’s the fun part. The very first 65’s had the big 64 neck, a stoptail and all nickel parts. They were nearly identical to 64s. The 2 stops I’ve had both had narrow bevel truss rod covers and double line Klusons but I’ve had 64s with double lines as well. I’ve also had them with 3 single lines and three double lines. See? I told you 65s were fun. The change from stoptail to trapeze was clearly economics. to put in a stop, you had to drill 2 holes, insert two bushings, screw in two studs and install the tailpiece which wouldn’t stay in place until you strung the guitar. To install a trapeze, all you did was drill three holes and screw in three screws. Time is money.  The switch from nickel to chrome was gradual and totally inconsistent. It probably wasn’t economics but customer complaints that drove that change-customers didn’t, apparently, like tarnish. I’ve seen 65s with one nickel and one chrome pickup cover. I’ve seen chrome covers, a nickel bridge and a chrome trapeze. I’ve seen just about every possible combination of chrome and nickel hardware with no pattern emerging. It’s not like they ran out of nickel trapezes and then pickup covers and then bridges. It seems totally random and the probable reason is that new chrome and new nickel don’t look all that different to an untrained eye-especially under harsh factory lighting which was probably fluorescent which makes everything look green. So the assembly folks grabbed what they needed without any regard for the plating on the hardware. It was pretty early on that the headstock angle changed and the neck got thinner. By late Spring, the necks were 1 9/16″. The headstock angle seems to have changed even earlier as I’ve only seen a few with the 17 degree angle-and don’t go by serial numbers. They are pretty misleading. For example, I recently acquired 334265. I don’t have the ledger page but I don’t think it’s that early in the year. Chrome covers, chrome pickguard bracket (most unusual) nickel ABR-1. But the guitar has a full 64 size neck with the steeper headstock angle. If anybody has the ledger page, I would love to see a shipping date because that seems like a fairly late serial number. I will also point out that the latest non cut out center block I’ve ever seen was an early 65 stop tail. I’ve seen enamel wound pickups and poly wound. I’ve never seen a T-top on a 65 even though folks keep on insisting they started in 65. I think not. I’ve had a 345 and a 355 with a PAF in 65 as well. Like I said, 65 has it all. Just make sure that when you buy one, you ask all the right questions.

This is kind of unusual-no, not the "Custom Made" plaque, that was added later. What's unusual about this 65 is the fact that it has a 17 degree headstock and a big fat 64 like neck. It also has a mid 65 serial number and mostly chrome hardware. You can't predict anything at Gibson, especially in 65.


ES-335-12 String

July 17th, 2012 • ES 33517 Comments »

This 335-12 sold on Ebay for around $2K. The range for these is from around $1800-$3500. This was advertised as a 67 but it looks like a 66 to me.

I love twelve strings. I play mine all the time and truly enjoy it. It isn’t, however, an ES-335-12. So, why wouldn’t the guy who lives and breathes all things 335 play a different 12 string, especially when 60’s 335-12’s are so cheap? Because they are just about impossible to play, that’s why. It’s funny, all that great 335  tone translates well to 12 strings but the model had the misfortune of being developed

That's a big honkin' headstock. Rickenbacker had a clever solution.

right when the industry trend toward little skinny necks was in full bloom. It’s tough enough to play a 6 string that has a 1 9/16″ nut (for me anyway) but try playing twice as many strings in the same limited space. It is not fun and, for me, it just isn’t possible. I just get in my own way. There’s nothing wrong with the design. The double notched saddles work fine, the trap tail is functional, the headstock is a bit on the huge side and a bit top heavy but it’s manageable.  Gibson made the ES-335-12 from late 1965 until 1970.  Twelve string guitars were huge in the mid 60’s due to the tremendous popularity of the Beatles, Byrds and a few others who depended on the twelve for much of their distinctive sound. Tom Petty would pick up the mantle later on. What all of these players had in common was that none of them used a Gibson. They just about all used Rickenbackers, which aren’t much easier to play because they mostly have a small nut as well. At least Rickenbacker solved the giant headstock issue with a clever mix of slotted and standard tuners. Not everybody used a Ricky-I recall seeing the Hollies using a Vox Phantom 12 and plenty of acoustic 12’s on stage but the 335? Not a one. This seems odd because the 335 was still a very popular 6 string and Gibson sold over 2000 of the 12 string version between 65 and 70.  In fact, in 66, the 12 string version actually outsold the ES-345. This is another instance of players wanting to play what the big boys were playing and the big boys weren’t using Fenders or Gibsons at all. The Fender XII never really caught on that well with the pro players and Gibson twelves didn’t either.  There were also 12 string Firebirds, Melody Makers and even a few SGs and LPs but it seems nobody played them. The Ricky got all the glory probably because it had the sound everyone wanted. Due to the way it is strung (with the lower octave first rather than the higher one), the Ricky has that very distinctive “jangle”. What better way to emulate our guitar heroes than to use the same guitar (some things never change). Rickenbacker must have sold a zillion twelve strings while both Fender and Gibson flew below the radar. Even today, if you’re in the market for an electric 12, Rickenbacker owns the market even with their teeny little 1.63″ nut (except the 660-12). A fair number of 335-12 strings have been converted to 6 strings and that is actually a kind of intriguing option, especially if it’s done well. I’ve seen some conversions that are stunnungly good wherein the middle of the headstock is cut out and a new overlay in installed. But it doesn’t even take that much work. Change out the saddles and the nut and you’ve turned an nearly unplayable anachronism into a 335. It’ll look funny with that giant headstock but it will sound just like a 335 (same body and pickups) and you can get them for under $2000. It will still have a 1 9/16″ nut but you’ll only have 6 strings taking up space.  For the record, I play a Taylor acoustic/electric 12 with a 1 3/4″ nut.

This was once a 12. Nice conversion from this angle anyway. Sparkling Burgundy, too. A fair number 12s seemed to get this finish.