Tips for the Collector

One of these 4 Catalin switchtips is fake and I paid 50 bucks for it. I thought I was getting a bargain but even I get burned. Which one is it?

You thought this post was going to be chock full of interesting tidbits of information for the ES 335 collector, didn’t you. But, alas, that isn’t the case at all. The case is that big black or brown thing you put your guitar in when you have to take it somewhere. I’m talking tips here. When I talk about guitar minutiae, the item that always raises the eyebrows of non collectors is the switch tip. These little guys can cost up to $250. Yes, we ARE crazy. There haven’t been a whole lot of changes over the years of switch tips but there have been a few. The most obvious occurred in 1960 when the catalin plastic was phased out and a new type of plastic which didn’t turn yellow was substituted. There have been other changes to the plastic switch tips over the years but they haven’t been of much interest since the appearance remained largely the same.  In addition to being one of the smallest components on the guitar, it’s also one of the most often faked ones as well. probably because a lot of money could be made with very little effort. After all, there are no markings to speak of which would have to be duplicated. No tooling marks or stickers or brand names. Just a plastic elongated button with some threads inside it.  The repros have gotten so good that most of us don’t pay much attention any more. The original catalin tip has some distinct characteristics that are due to the chemical makeup of the material. Catalin is a “thermoset” plastic made of formaldehyde and phenol. It comes in all sorts of colors but the Switchcraft switchtip used by Gibson from 1958 to 1960 was off white. They turn that butterscotch yellow color when exposed to UV rays. The best way to test the tip to see if its real is to run it under very hot water and smell it. If it smells like formaldehyde, it’s the real thing or else someone is making fakes using real catalin-which I doubt. You can also test it with 409 cleaner. If you spray a little 409 on a Q tip and rub the switchtip with it, the Q tip should turn yellow. The other good test and the easiest is if you see a seam or tooling mark of any kind, it isn’t real. The real tip has no marks of any kind. By 1961 Switchcraft had switched to a plastic called Plaskon which didn’t change color. The early white tips also had to seams or tooling marks. It seems that by around 1965 or so, tips with seams (around the top) appeared. I’ve never seen any information about this and there is little consistency on the guitars I’ve seen. Apparently people changed switchtips a lot because I’ve seen a lot of seamed white plastic tips on 61-64 ES 335s and very few non seamed. It appears to me that the early non seamed white ones chipped very easily and since it’s a 10 cent part, no one thought much about what they were replacing it with other than if it fit.  The catalin tips are very durable and are usually intact with the occasional crack. However some of the repros are so good that you can’t tell by looking-only by smelling. Fender also used Switchcraft switches on some models and the tip on a 58-60 Jazzmaster is the same as the one on a 335. By the way, the fake one is on the far left of the photo at the top of this post. It has thinner walls than it should and it flunked the smell test.

The one on the left is a cheap white plastic tip. One of the other 4 is a fake but I can't tell from this angle which one it is. The one with the dark line is cracked but real. All of the real ones are from 58-60 Gibsons.

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