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Through Thick and Thin

Here's a nice cross section of what was available in 1961.

Some of what I know about ES-335’s comes from reading the same books that everyone else reads. AR Duchossoir’s “The Classic Years” and Adrian Ingram’s more recent “The Gibson 335” are two of them and a number of excellent websites devoted to these guitars. However, most of what I know comes from years of owning them and having had nearly 100 of them pass through my hands over the past 20 years.  There are a number of errors in all of the books and some on the websites as well. There are errors here too-I’m certainly not infallible. But what makes it even harder to be “right” is the massive inconsistencies on the part of Gibson. But it also makes it harder to be wrong. We look for a consensus. When we say ’65 335s have chrome hardware, we mean they usually have chrome hardware because we know of some with nickel. When we say a 64 335 doesn’t have PAFs, it doesn’t mean it can’t have one or even both. One of the hardest things to nail down is the size of the neck on a given year. Since the necks were largely hand shaped back then, there is necessarily a bit of variation. What I’m finding is that there is a LOT of variation. Right now, I have, by coincidence, three 335s and a 345 from 1961 in my possession. Most 335 devotees know that 58 and 59 had big fat necks and 60-63 had wide flat profiles and  64 had medium fat necks. We also know that early 63’s were like 62’s and that late 59s were sometimes more like 60’s (and vice versa).  As I said, I currently have 4 61’s and there is a good bit of variation here. If you’ve ever played a 59 and a 61 you can feel what seems to be a tremendous difference between the necks and yet, the nut is of identical width and the difference in the depth is incredibly small. The average 59 neck is around .89″ measured from the fingerboard to the middle of the back of the neck. The average 61 neck has a depth of .82″. One feels big and fat and the other feels almost flat and the difference is all of 7/100 of an inch. There are other measurements that come into play when we talk about the profile of a neck like the shoulder or the “profile”. People talk about “C”, “D” and “V” necks which is a discussion for another post. Don’t confuse that with Fenders “A”, “B”, “C” and, although I’ve never seen one, “D” necks. Whole different thing. Anyway, I’ve got 4 61’s here and a pair of calipers. The earliest one is the sunburst 335 with the Bigsby. It measures a very average 1.67 across the nut and .82 at the first fret. That’s a flat neck. A lot of people like that. I remember my guitar teacher  telling me that “wide and flat” is the ideal neck. He was a jazzer so I’m not sure if he meant for his type of playing or all types. I was 12 at the time and didn’t ask a lot of probing questions. The next up is the sunburst 345 which measures 1.69 at the nut and .83 at the first fret. I can definitely feel the difference in the depth even though its only 1/100″! The difference in nut width is imperceptible to me even though its twice as much. Next up is one of the 335s-a very, very late 61. Probably December as its in the 40,000 range. This one has a 1.69″ nut and an even larger .84″ depth.  Finally, my favorite of the batch is a midyear red 335 that measures 1.70 and .85″. That’s not a wide flat neck. That’s within 1/100″ of most 64’s which are generally considered fat. I’ve mentioned how much I love the 64 neck and they average slightly narrower at the nut (1.66 or even less) and .86 at the first fret. I’ve pretty much covered the 64 in an earlier post. So, when you’re looking for your dream guitar, don’t dismiss any year because you think the neck is going to be wrong for you. My keeper has been a 64 for a long time but I may let that go and keep the 61. It’s just about perfect.

2 Responses to “Through Thick and Thin”

  1. Kenn says:

    Hi, intersting aboat the necks!
    I am looking for a dot neck es 330, like the 59:a profile but found a 62 cherry dot. The seller tells me its a rounded profile not so flat.. great it can be variation. Hard to buy a guitar over internet.
    Regards
    Kenn from Sweden

  2. OK Guitars says:

    Just ask the seller to measure the depth of the neck behind the first fret. A set of calipers is the best way to do this. A 59 will be around .90″ from the board to the middle of the back of the neck. An average 62 will be .80″ or even a little less. . Big, big difference. I had a 61 335 with a .85″ neck at the first fret which was very comfortable for me and larger than the average ’61 by .05″. It is indeed hard to buy a guitar over the internet but the good news is that with vintage, if you pay a reasonable price and you don’t like it, you should be able to get your money back pretty easily. Try that with a new guitar.

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