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In the Beginning…

This is a page from the 1960 Gibson full line catalog. Thanks to VintAxe.com. It's interesting that neither guitar shows up in the 1959 catalog even though both were available.

When Gibson debuted the semi hollow ES-335 in 1958, the folks at Gibson decided it was going to be the beginning of a whole new era in guitar design. The semi hollow line was meant to be just that-a full line of guitars with a low end, a middle and a high end model. There would be 3 models, each with it’s own level of ornamentation and options, all sharing the same basic design. Gibson typically used the dot marker for the bottom of each of its guitar lines because it was cheap and because it was cheap.  And did I mention it was cheap? They must have figured that they had to get the folks into the tent so the bottom of the line was as stripped down as they could make it and at a list price of $265 (although the 58 catalog has it at $267.50), they seem to have succeeded. The binding was the simplest single ply and the pickups (at least it had 2 of them) would be controlled by the cheapest, simplest device-the 3 way switch.  To give you some perspective, $267.50 in 1958 is the equivalent of around $2300 today. That’s not “entry level” kind of money by any  means and the buyers were largely pro players. The middle of the line was the ES-345 which got the very attractive and much more elaborate split parallelogram (let’s see you spell that with a spell checker) inlays, a 3 ply binding, gold plated hardware, a stereo circuit and the vaunted Varitone switch.  An ES-345, at it’s introduction in 1959 was priced from $345 to $395 depending on the finish. The top of the line, the ES-355 got the big, elegant block inlay, 7 ply binding, an ebony fingerboard, Grover or upgraded Kluson tuners, a fancy split diamond headstock inlay and a standard Bigsby. The tremolo was an option on the other models according to the 1960 catalog which appears to be the first time these guitars were all included. The ES-355 was priced at $550 to $600. That’s nearly $4,000-$4,500 in 2010 dollars. So, the 335 for half the price of a 355 seemed like a good choice and it was, by a considerable margin, the most popular.  All seemed right as the line took off in popularity. But as more and more players opted for the simpler 335, they also started to complain that here was a relatively expensive guitar that was being made out to be some cheap bottom of the line student model and, clearly, at  just under $300, it wasn’t.  Consider that you could buy a bottom of the line ES-125 for about half the price of a 335. So, the 335 players started to squawk about paying big bucks for an overly simple guitar and, finally, by early 1962, Gibson got the message and began shipping the ES-335 with the small block markers we know and love. Ironically, the collectors have fallen hard for the original dot necks and even in this diminished market, the price differential between a dot and a block neck is $10,000 at a minimum and as much as $40,000. You can pick up an excellent stoptail 62 for around $14,000 or less if it has patent number pickups. A ’61 or early 62 dot neck is going to cost you at least $25,000 and probably more. A blonde dot neck still commands $40,000 or more but there was a time not long ago when they approached and possibly surpassed $100,000. By comparison, the most expensive ES-355 I’ve seen recently that has sold is in the $18,000 range. Asking prices are still all over the lot, however.

Above is the elusive 1958 Catalog which was sent to me by Joe Campagna. Thanks!

This is the 1960 catalog-already showing a price increase of around $15. Look at the price of the case as a percentage of the cost of the guitar. That's about 20% of the price. Imagine paying $800 for a case for $4000 guitar.

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