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I’ve Got One Word…Plastics

Short Guard 1960-1965

Long Guard 1958-1960

PICKGUARDS

Ok, you probably don’t get this reference either. It’s from the film “The Graduate” when Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) is cornered at a party by  Mr. McGuire (Walter Brooke) who suggests that this is the future. It turns out that computers were the future and not plastics but who knew back in 1967.  The plastic parts of your ES can tell you a lot. Let’s see, what do we have? Pickguard, knobs, truss rod cover, tuner tips and the switch tip. All have relevance when dating your vintage 335/345/355. The pickguard went through 3 different iterations from 1958 to 1969 which are the dates we’re most interested in here (in case you haven’t noticed).  In 1958 the guitar had what is known as the “long guard” it went well below the bridge pickup, down to the lower edge of the bridge. I like the look but Gibson saw fit to cut it down to the second style which looked similar but stopped at the bottom of the bridge pickup. They probably were trying to save money as usual. It was still a four ply plastic guard with a wide bevel-it was just shorter. This occurred relatively late in 1960. I would guess it transitioned in sometime in the Fall of 1960. The short guard continued unchanged until sometime in late 66. At that time they changed only the bevel from a wide bevel to a narrower one. So, if you have a narrow bevel on your pickguard, you can assume it is late 66 or later. The 355 had a tortoise guard and also followed the large guard small guard timetable. Of course a pickguard can be changed and I never rely on it for a definitive date-I use it as secondary “evidence”. We’ll talk about the primary and secondary characteristics to be used when dating these in greater detail as I run out of generalities. We covered tuners in an earlier post, so we’ll let that go and look at the truss rod cover.

TRUSS ROD COVERS

There were 2 types and , again, it was the bevel that changed at about the same time the pickguard bevel changed. However the ES 345 has it’s own little quirk.

Short Guard, Narrow Bevel 1965 on

Most 345s had the word stereo engraved on the truss rod cover but I have seen quite a number of 59s that don’t have it. There were no non stereo 345s made unless it was a custom job. So, wide bevel cover from 58 to 64 and narrow bevel from 65 on. As with pickguards, don’t use the truss cover bevel to definitively date your ES because they too can be changed easily. I’m going to do an entire post dealing with the knobs since each era, each color and each model sometimes had distinctive knobs.

SWITCH TIPS

Finally, the switch tip. There are actually 3 different types that I’ve seen although most will only acknowledge 2. From 58 to as late as early 61, you see the catalin switch tip. Catalin is a synthetic material much like Bakelite that has a distinctive amber color. Up until recently, these were very valuable since no one had made a convincing reproduction. They could fetch up to $300. Now, a number of companies have reproduced these pretty convincingly and the demand for the originals has dropped. They have no seams and a distinctive slender shape. If yours has one of these, it is likely a 58, 59 or 60. Or it’s been changed. Again, a secondary “tell” since its so easy to change. In 61, the switch tip became white and stayed white through the 60’s and beyond. Wait a second, didn’t I mention a third type?  Well, I’ve owned more 62-63 and 64 ES’s than any other years and I’ve come across more than a few white switch tips that don’t have a seam. Most have a seam that is circular and wraps around the tip just below the top. I’ve never seen a non seamed white tip after 64.

4 Responses to “I’ve Got One Word…Plastics”

  1. Nelson Checkoway says:

    Charlie – Fantastic blog! I discovered it this past month and I’ve spent hours reading the backlog (or should I say “back-blog”). The details are great and it’s great how you have cut through so much of the “mythology” out there. I’m writing because I’d like to share a theory about the early ES-335 long pickguard, suggesting that it was a temporary, “cookie cutter” fit that wasn’t fully thought out, and that the short guard was actually a deliberate aesthetic solution. I stumbled on this some years ago when I was trying to restore a ’59 ES-345 sans pickguard, in the days before long-guard replacements were available. I had to buy a L4-C replacement guard from Gibson and cut it to fit the humbuckers. Then it dawned on me: it appeared that every regular (24.75″) scale length Gibson cutaway archtop (and even some of the 25.5″ scale guitars) used the EXACT same guard template — roughly 8″ long by 4″ at its widest. At the top of the cutaway, the tips of these guards all meet the fingerboard around the 18th fret (plus/minus) and this puts the bottom of the guard in a desirable spot just above the bridge (or at/near the bottom of the treble pickup on electrics). I believe that even the short neck ES-330 guard matches up to a ’59 long guard, but with different pickup cutouts. But the ES-335/345/355 was the first-ever “long neck” hollow body Gibson series, and the guard met the fingerboard much lower — around fret 21 — pushing the bottom of an 8 inch guard well below the bridge. So my guess is that they went along with the “same old same old” template for about 2 years and then decided to create a new, shorter unit that is anchored by the treble pickup. I agree that the long guard is visually cool, but I want to think that, in this case, Gibson wasn’t trying to save money and that their heart (or at least their design intent) was in the right place. Whaddayathink? (And keep the great material coming!!!) – Nelson

  2. OK Guitars says:

    Your theory is as good as I’ve heard, although I wouldn’t dismiss the idea that Gibson was simply trying to cut a corner to save a nickel. If it was cheaper to make all the guards the same size, they would have continued doing so, I believe. If making them smaller saved a few pennies per unit, then that’s what I think they would do. Every change made to the ES line from 58 into the 70’s was to make the guitar less expensive to produce-either by cutting corners in terms of materials or eliminating manufacturing steps.

  3. Nelson Checkoway says:

    So if it was the use of less material AND an “improved” look, it sounds like a win-win for the suits at Gibson. Or, as the old light beer slogan went, “less filling … tastes great!

  4. OK Guitars says:

    I like the long guard myself.

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