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On the Cusp of an Era

This is my 64. The serial number may have been re-used in 65. Look at the charcteristics for an accurate date. Serial numbers are rough guidelines at best when it comes to Gibsons. Pot codes can be useful but I've seen 66's with 64 codes. If it quacks like a duck...

There are, in the world of ES-335’s in particular, certain years that have a level of desirability and cachet that others don’t. Specifically 1959 and 1964. What makes those years set the aficionado’s juices a flowin’?  I covered both of these years in some detail in earlier posts but a situation has come up that brings this issue to mind again. A gentleman who is very interested in buying my ’64 has called the year the guitar was made into question because it has one of the many ambiguous or re-used serial numbers. He thinks it might be an early 65 and that, to him, seems to be a dealbreaker, I’ll get to him in a minute. There are really a few reasons why the 64 ES-335 is so coveted. It might seem strange since it doesn’t have PAFs but, say, a 62 usually does. One reason is the Clapton connection. If Mr. Clapton had played a ’63, there would be a clamor for 63’s but  there is a bit more to it than that. After all, why pay a premium just because your favorite guitar player played one. He played a lot of guitars. I think the biggest reason the 64 has so many followers is the neck profile. It’s as wide as a 59 but not quite so chunky. The 60-61-62 and early 63 had wide thin necks which a lot of players find less than ideal. But the later 63’s had the same neck as a 64. So did the very early 65’s. There were pickup changes as well and a change in body shape during this period so there is no one set of attributes that define those years. The 63 is a good case in point. A 63 can have PAFs or early Pat# pickups (like a 64). It can have “Mickey Mouse” cutaways or pointy ones (like a 64). It can have a thin, wide neck or a wide medium fat neck (like a 64). It can, in fact, be identical a 64. So, if the guitar in question was “on the cusp” of ’63 should you care? Let’s look at the early 65. I have one and it’s one of my favorites. It has the exact same neck as the 64. We’ll assume it has a stop tail since we’re talking about the earliest 65’s. It has the exact same body as a 64 and, most likely, the same pickups. Anyway without getting too deep into esoterica, an early 65 is identical to a late 64. I could ask the question is an early 64 identical to a late 64 and the answer would  be a resounding maybe. The pickup wire changed during 64 from the PAF type purple wire to a more reddish wire. Both pickups sound excellent so I don’t really think it matters. Some of the hardware started its changeover to chrome in 64, yet some 65’s (like mine) are all nickel. Some 64’s have the block cutout under the bridge pickup and some don’t. I’ve only seen one 65 that doesn’t have the cutout (which probably makes it a late 64-only the serial number dates it as a 65). The larger point is that you should be looking at the features of the guitar and not a designated year. The serial numbers are difficult if not impossible to navigate. There are various charts and they all have discrepancies. I had a 66 with a serial number that, according to Gibson’s chart, didn’t exist.  If you want a 64 because Clapton played one wouldn’t you want a guitar with the same specs? You can’t have his actual guitar but do you want one from the same year that may be completely different or do you want one that is virtually identical? I owned a 335 that was 23 numbers away from Clapton’s-made on the same day. But EC’s had Grovers added and a later bridge. Are you going to diminish the value of your guitar by changing out the tuners just to be like your hero? Go ahead if that floats your boat but make sure they’re gold and make sure you read my post about the $10,000 hole. While it’s true that we value some years more than others, it’s really the characteristics of those years that we value. That’s why you see ’60 Les Paul’s advertised with ’59  features. Gibson even did 3 separate types of ’60 Les Paul reissues because the changes occurred over the course of the year. So, if you decide you want a 64, make sure it has the things you want and don’t worry too much about the serial number. It’s pretty clear that the nice folks at Gibson didn’t.

Here's a 64 from Tom H's site that appears to be a late 64. The serial number is higher than my "ambiguous" 64. This one has a lot of chrome hardware which is not unusual on a later 64. It looks like the bridge and stoptail are chrome and I think the pickup covers are as well. It's also a one owner guitar, so we know it's original.

Finally, here's another 64 from Tom's site that appears to have chrome pickup covers. It's got a 5 digit serial number which logic dictates would be earlier than the 6 digit one my 64 and the above 64 have. But it isn't necessarily an earlier build date. I know that 67473 is the Clapton 335 and that had a ship date of May 20th 1964. That series of serial numbers is the lowest of the year but probably not the first.

2 Responses to “On the Cusp of an Era”

  1. Chris says:

    Great site! Talk about in depth on a subject! But if you own one it’s great fun to drill down deep into this stuff. I own the sunburst 335 you have pictured on the Sept 9 post. The guitar originally did have nickel plated hardware. Sometime in the mid 70s after my sweat, the east coast humidity and general neglect had made a mess of the nickel I replaced the pickup covers, bridge and tail piece and very recently replaced the bridge a second time. The original bridge had nylon saddles. I’ve never looked inside the pickups so I couldn’t comment on the wire color. I bought the guitar new from a music store in Sept of 65 so who knows how long it had been hanging on their wall. It would be interesting to know when it shipped from the factory. Who is the keeper of those logs? Again, I enjoy reading your posts.

  2. OK Guitars says:

    This is what’s so great about one owner guitars. Because any guitar is just the sum of it’s parts, it takes a lot of detective work to figure out just what you have. My 64 is fairly close to yours serial number wise and it is all nickel. The fact that yours was also originally nickel makes sense-the problem is that Gibson did a lot of things that didn’t make sense. I picture a bin full of bridges during a transition and the builder who is handling that function goes over at the beginning of the day and grabs a handful. He doesn’t care if they are nickel or chrome. In fact chrome looks a lot like brand new nickel under fluorescent lighting which is what most factories had back then. So not only didn’t he care, it’s possible he couldn’t tell either. I’ll change the caption on the photo in case folks don’t read the comments. And thanks for reading. Great guitar too.

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