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1961: The Year with (Almost) No Transitions

Check out the flame on the back of this 61 dot neck I found in Montana recently. Too bad the front doesn't have the same wood. This one's got a couple of issues but it's a great player in beautiful shape.

I’ve written about how much I love 59’s and 64’s because of the big fat necks and the wide fingerboards. Recently, I seem to be coming across an unusual number of 1961 ES guitars. In the last 2 weeks, I’ve picked up 2 ’61 dot necks in red, another in sunburst and a mint ’61 ES 345 that I mentioned in my last post. And, in the interest of full disclosure, I’m being a bit self serving here since I now have a bunch of 61’s to sell but, beyond that, there are elements particular to the 61’s that are worth noting. Most importantly, it’s the last year of the dot neck and, generally, it’s the most affordable. The collector market loves big necks and long magnet PAFs. The 61 has what I would describe as a wide flat neck. These guitars were made in the days before CNC machines and there can be quite a lot of difference from one neck to another, especially in terms of depth (front to back). The nut width can vary a bit too but all are all just about 1 11/16″. The depth can be anywhere from .75 to around .82. That’s a difference of seven one hundredths of an inch but you’d be surprised how different they feel. My wonderful red 59 345 (which I have now sold) has a depth at the first fret of around .86. That’s considered relatively fat. I had a 56 Les Paul goldtop that was .95″ at the first fret and felt like a baseball bat. I had trouble playing it. Besides the wide thin neck (that actually began in 1960), the pickups are the final iteration of the venerable and coveted PAF. By using a stronger magnet, the folks at Gibson were able to use a slightly shorter magnet (2.25″ as opposed to about 2.5″). That probably saved them .50 per guitar or something. There are those who like long magnet PAFs better and those who prefer short. At the same time, the windings became more consistent and the tone of a short magnet is more consistent. All of them sound good to me. With the more random long magnet, some are just OK, some are wonderful and a few are magic. That’s why folks like the long magnet. they will trade knowing they will get a great sounding pickup for the small chance that they will get one that defies the laws of nature. You pay a premium for that. Other than the pickups, the 61 is pretty much the same as a 60 but, they cost less. The pickups are different but that’s about it. On the 345, there is usually no difference at all between a 60 and 61.  The few 61’s I’ve had apart have had long magnet PAFs although I’m sure some have short magnets. But again, you will generally pay a bit  less for a 61 than a 60-all other things being identical. I could get into the hand soldered varitone switches with all separate components vs. the ones with 2 big multiple spec capacitors but I don’t think anyone cares about that. I think the change occurred in ’61. Now that I’ve been playing a 61 every day, I have to say I’ve gotten used to it. I had a 62 block neck a while back that had the same profile and I got used to that one too. I do find that my hand gets tired faster but I also seem to be able to solo a bit faster on the 61. A 61 can have a brown or a black case-that was the year of that transition and most will be Liftons. The knobs had already transitioned to reflectors in 1960.  The tuners are, of course Klusons with the 335s having single line double ring and the gold still being single ring (which remained for a few more years-I’ve seen them at least as late as 64. The bridges are still no wire and the 335 bridge pickup rout is not cut out yet. Perhaps the most significant change was in the way of displaying the serial number. In the first month or two of 1961, Gibson started to impress the serial number into the back of the headstock in addition to printing on the label inside the body.  The “A” prefix was also gone and Gibson started over again with the number 100.  So, all in all, not a year for transitions but, for some reason, a year for relative bargains.

There was one transition that took place in 1961. The serial numbers appear on the back of the headstock and on the label. Up until early 61, they only appear on the label with an "A" prefix.

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