ES-335 or ES-345?

I love 345s. I'm going to pick up another 59 this weekend if everything checks out.

There seems to be no shortage of folks looking for vintage ¬†ES-335s. I keep getting emails from frustrated would be buyers complaining about the ridiculous prices being asked on Ebay and other places. I’ve explained, more than once, that there is something of a standoff between sellers who have read all the hype about the value of vintage guitars and the buyers who are aware that the market has tanked in a big way. All I can say is that sometimes you have to be patient. When sellers need to sell, the prices will fall in lime with the demand. There is, as you might expect, an alternative. A lot of buyers neglect the ES-345 and it’s undeserved reputation as an inferior guitar. First of all, it is often a superior guitar. It is common knowledge that the 335 was the bottom of the line and that the 345s got the better wood and maybe a little more “builder pride” than the 335s. I remember when I was in college, I worked in a bicycle shop as a mechanic. Besides doing repairs and building wheels, I also assembled the new bikes that came into the shop. I would build the cheap 99 dollar imports one day and the $1000 plus Italian and French racers the next. Remember this was 1972 when a thousands bucks was some serious dosh for a bicycle. Invariably, I would be more careful and pay much more attention to detail on the expensive bikes. First, because I knew they would be ridden by someone who knows the difference between a toy and a real sophisticated machine. Second, because everything fit together so much better. You never had to force screw holes to line up with the screws because the higher end stuff was made with much closer tolerances. Also forged alloy versus stamped steel makes a difference as well. Anyway, I think the same theory would hold at Gibson back in the 50’s and 60’s. I just think the builders would take more pride in the higher end product. So, back to the 345 as an alternative. Even though it was the more expensive guitar, the 345 just doesn’t command the same price as an equivalent year 335. Some years-particularly the mid 60’s, the difference is pretty small-maybe a thousand dollars or even less. But go back to 59 or 60 or 61 and you’re talking a huge difference-$10,000 or even $20,000. A 59 dot neck in near mint condition can still command $30,000 or more. The equivalent 345 can be had for $12,000-$16,000. An average 64 with a Bigsby sold this week for just under $7,000 and I know of a 61 that went recently for around $8,000. So why the big difference in price? While there are those who insist the Varitone circuit ruins the tone, there are many -like me-who really like it. In the bypass position-while playing through a stereo amp (the 345 is a stereo guitar) I hear no difference. The only thing left in the circuit in bypass mode is a 100K resistor, I believe. That isn’t going to ruin anybody’s tone. What ruins the tone is that folks use a cable to mix the stereo down to mono and, since the pickups are out of phase on a 345 (and not a 335), they get what’s called phase cancellation which thins out the tone and makes it sound hollow and nasal. The simple solution, is use a 2 channel amp and a stereo cord or a stereo amp. The other solution is to pull the Varitone circuit out by buying a new harness. Put the original aside so you can return it to stock if you ever want to sell it. Put in the new 335 type harness and viola! (I know , it’s voila! but I thought I’d make a musical joke) it’s a 335. Oh, and you have to flip over one of the pickup magnets unless you like the “Peter Green” out of phase sound. So, for thousands less, you have a 335 with really cool inlays and gold hardware. Don’t like the gold hardware? So change it to nickel. All the parts are readily available-cheap too if you use repro parts. Remember repro tunes, tailpiece and bridge aren’t going to affect your tone, so don’t waste your money on the real thing. So, if you don’t want to spend $5000 for a 66 ES-335, you can probably get a 66 ES-345 for a thousand bucks less. Better still, instead of a 59 335 for $25,000 find yourself a 59 345 for $10,000-$15,000.

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