Pride of the 80’s: Part 2

Here's a pretty and authentic looking 81. These are the good ears.

When I last posted, I talked about the Norlin Corporation’s last ditch attempt to keep the good name of Gibson from going irrevocably down the crapper. the result of this effort was the 335 Dot reissue and the Les Paul Heritage series-later the reissue series. Up until Norlin sold the company to the present owners, they systematically cut costs and quality in order to maximize profits.  Even though it was too little too late, these late Norlin guitars can be really excellent guitars. As I discussed yesterday, the Shaw PAF was a big part of this. But there was more to it than that both to the good and to the bad.  When the ES-335 Dot Reissue was first introduced in 1981, it was the first 335 not to have a neck volute (that reinforcement bump where the headstock meets the neck) since 1969. That was an improvement because everyone hates it. The nut width went back to the original 1 11/16″ measurement that the original had and the neck profile, while somewhat inconsistent, was certainly very playable.  Add to that the reintroduction of the stop tail and you’ve got something that almost resembles a 58-61 dot neck. Almost.  There are elements that diminished the quality as well. A holdover from the earlier Norlins is the 3 piece neck-cheaper to make and, arguably more resistant to twisting. I don’t like three piece necks because I believe that by turning the grain and gluing the pieces together for strength, you diminish resonance. The physics behind that will take me way too long to explain. There are examples with a one piece neck

here's the back of a sunburst. I don't mind them even though they are very different from the ones made in the old days. More subtle with less yellow.

but they are harder to find. Look for them if you’re considering one of these. The stoptail on these weighs about a half a pound or at least it feels like a half a pound. Take it off and get a lightweight one. The bridge is the Nashville type. Good because of the increased range of travel for intonation. Not so good because it just looks wrong. You can swap it out for a Faber (made in Germany-just Google Faber bridge). It fits right on the Nashville studs with no redrilling. It’s a very good bridge and looks just like an ABR-1. You can also just leave it-it works perfectly well. I find the biggest issue with these guitars is the wiring harness. For some reason probably to save money, they used 300K pots rather than the 500K pots used on the original 335s. For some reason that’s steeped in elementary electronics, it gives the pickups a markedly darker tone-muddy, and not the Muddy with a capital M either. My advice? Well. it’s still a vintage guitar and I think it’s important that you make no changes that can’t be unmade. So, rather than changing out the pots-which is a lot of work-just pull the entire harness, put it away somewhere safe and put it a new pre-wired harness from any of a few makers-Dr. Vintage, RS and Mojotone. I won’t comment on one being better than another but I will say that the Mojotone costs less. The replacement harnesses all use the same spec pots and caps as the original ES 335s. Other changes from the original run include Grover tuners instead of Klusons (I’d leave them alone but you could drill some new holes and put Klusons on but then you have extra holes that you will regret down the road a few years when these started getting valuable as vintage pieces). Grovers generally work better than old Klusons anyway. I’ve swapped out the short guard for a long guard but that’s just because I like the way it looks. I leave the knobs alone even though the color is more amber than gold on the blondies mostly because they look just fine to me and I’m not fooling anyone into thinking that my 85 is a 58 and with good reason. All you have to do is look at the logo. It’s completely different and unless you have a great deal of time on your hands and a good bit of woodworking skill, you wouldn’t even think of doing anything about it. The “flowerpot” inlay is also in the wrong position if you want to get all micro here. Too low. But, even if you leave the thing bone stock, you’ll still have a very well made guitar that, when properly set up will sound and play beautifully. Maybe it won’t be on a par with a 58-64 and maybe not even a 65-69 but it will beat the crap out of any ES-335 from 70-80 and, in my opinion anything from the 90’s and up to when they started getting the Historics right. I’m not sure just how good the early ones are since I haven’t played many of them but the 2006 and 2009 Historics I’ve owned have been stellar. If you’re a stickler for accuracy in a reissue pay particular attention to the body shape. There are two very distinctive types and perhaps a third. Watch out for the one that has stubby little ears. It just looks wrong. The last issue is one of personal taste. Many of the 80’s ES -335s have flame tops. I don’t like a lot of figuring on 335s. Especially blondes. Your mileage may vary.

Here's my comparison of good ears and bad ears. 83 on the left is bone stock. 85 on the right has al the upgrades that I spoke of. The one on the right has the good ears and the one on the left has the stubby little funny looking ears. Anybody know a good plastic surgeon?

6 Responses to “Pride of the 80’s: Part 2”

  1. Ruben Dominguez says:

    Hi, I just bought a 1985 dot reissue, that feels great, can you tell me if it has 500k’s in it, and what pickups are used, thanks Ruben

  2. OK Guitars says:

    Pickups should be Shaw PAFs. Pots are almost certainly 300K

  3. Kevin Burns says:

    Hi, I own a 1996 ES 335 that is yellow sunburst with “flamey” top and back. I had the neck adjusted and the frets needed to be “dressed” and now it sounds good. It is my understanding that it is not a Dot Reissue but just a 335. Is that correct and how are the electronics on this as it seems totally stock. Thanks, Kevin

  4. OK Guitars says:

    Mid 90’s electronics are generally considered to be very good. If you think it sounds good, what I (and anyone else) thinks is irrelevant.

  5. Joe S. says:

    just wondering why folks here like the 335 so much?

    I’ve owned one in the late 80s and sold it soon after. most overpriced
    guitar I’ve ever owned, and I’ve owned everything.
    beautiful workmanship though.

    it sounds like the 335s from the 60s are a completely different beast.
    never played one, so maybe they are better.

    just bought a new SG standard, and that thing gets better “blues” and rockabilly out of it than and 335 I’ve ever played.
    and for the money it is the only Gibson product that is worth the money, sadly.

    will say one thing, you can’t beat the looks of a 335. very beautiful rig.

  6. OK Guitars says:

    Interestingly, a 58-65 ES-335 can sound a lot like a 61-65 SG. I really like SGs and the best of them will be the equal of any 335. The worst of them will, however, be a lot worse than the worst 335 from the era. They are less consistent and are terribly fragile due to the poorly designed heel. The new Gibsons are not much like the old ones. maybe in 50 years, they will be.

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