No Dogs in This Show

This 61 caught my eye and played great even though I found the neck a bit flat which is typical of a 61.

At the Philly Guitar Show, I had the opportunity to play a number of 335s, 345s and 355s in a very short span of time. This allowed me to make a new and interesting assessment. I’ve always believed this but I think I have better proof now. I figure I’ve played somewhere in the neighborhood of 125 335s, 345s and 355s but always one or two at a time. At the Philly show, I played about a dozen in a space of a few hours. Some were near mint but another had been nearly smashed to bits by an irate girlfriend. So there was a pretty big range available for me to make my hypothesis. Here’s what I played: A 59 ES 355 Mono, 61 ES 345, 58 ES 335, 61 ES 335 (smashed but playable), another 61 ES 345, 59 ES 345, 63 ES 335 and a 60 ES 335. I didn’t get to play all of them through an amp but I find you can judge the playability of a guitar pretty well without one. You can’t necessarily get a sense of the tone but let’s concentrate on how well the guitar plays. Does it tune properly? Intonate? Hold tune? It’s not always easy when the dealers don’t even bother tuning their guitars but for the most part, the guitars were well set up and well tuned. I checked the intonation on all of them, I checked the neck for proper relief, I looked to make sure that there was enough travel left in the saddles to get the intonation right if it wasn’t spot on. I looked at the build quality-the fit and finish, the neck angle and even the paint job. My conclusion? Interestingly, there was a lot of consistency in the craftsmanship-something you don’t see so much any more. Perhaps because they were only making a few hundred of each model a year up until the mid 60’s when the “guitar boom” happened. Even the early guitars that had the shallow neck angle played well and had no problem other than a rather low sitting bridge. The 58 and 59 that I played both had that shallow angle and both played beautifully. I also noticed that the 345s and the 355 had more interesting wood-something I had heard of but never really had the opportunity to check out that closely. What really struck me was that these guitars were carefully crafted-no glue drips all over the inside, no sander marks, none of the things that are common on newer Gibsons. These guitars were made with a great deal of pride. I am happy to report that there wasn’t a dog in the bunch-every single guitar played well and looked like it was built by folks who truly believed in what  they were doing.  I’ve always felt that Fenders were assembly line guitars-often great assembly line guitars which speaks to the genius of Leo Fender-but that Gibsons were something beyond that. Gibsons were guitars made by luthiers-at least at that time. That may no longer be true and probably ceased to be true by the early 60’s. But the guitars of the “Golden Era” show a level of consistency and quality that are unmatched today by any volume builder. It also speaks to the great design of the semi hollow guitar and the genius of Ted McCarty. If you get the chance, take a flashlight and look around the inside of your 1958-1964 ES. Then do the same for any modern ES. Until Gibson makes it so I can’t tell the difference, I’ll stick with the old ones.

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