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OK, Something from the 70’s

Here's a late '70's model with the pinched body shape, TP6 and the other "amenities" that graced this long lived variant. Are these the "next big thing"? I don't think so but, as my wife tells me "you're not always right, ya know".

Having lived through the 50’s as a child, the 60’s as a teenager and the 70’s as an almost adult, I can tell you from experience that the 70’s were the nadir of American design. From fashion to automobiles to guitars, the 70’s sucked. The music, which was so great in the 60’s didn’t suck from day one but by 1974, it sucked pretty badly. The curse of disco got it’s ugly claws into no less than The Rolling Stones (see what Keef says about that in his book) and Led Zeppelin. I  understand ya gotta sell records but c’mon, what happened to your self confidence? Anyway, the design nerds at Gibson/Norlin weren’t much better. By making the guitars cheaper, they also ruined the design. The body shape of the 335 got pinched to a truly ugly look. But there are devotees out there of the 70’s Gibsons and I should at least give them their due. So, we’ll look at a guitar that I have had almost no experience with. The ES-347. I played one at the Guitar Center in Orange, CT not long ago. It was a blonde ’79 that weighed about 12 lbs and sounded like someone had thrown a quilt over it. I guess they all aren’t like that. Built from 1978 until 1992 or so, somebody must have bought them because that, for Gibson, is a pretty long run. In fact, according to “The Gibson 335” which is so often wrong, they shipped 1642 of them in 1979. It doesn’t say how many actually sold, however. Some say it was introduced to replace the aging 345 but that doesn’t seem right since the 345 survived until 1982. Same with the 355. So what is this beast? Well, I guess you would characterize it as an ebony fingerboard, big block markered, coil tapped, gold hardware 335. The one somewhat innovative addition was the TP6-the stoptail with the fine tuning keys that works very well. As a complete nut about tuning, I appreciate the fact that Gibson finally acknowledged how hard it is to keep these in tune. If the TP6 was a good idea, the tuners with the built in “crank” was one of the dumber ones. I’m not even going to describe them they were such a dumb idea. Talk about inventing something nobody needs (uh, like a self tuning “robot” guitar). Just because I haven’t played a good one doesn’t mean there aren’t any. I gotten a few emails from a guy in New York starting a 347 collection. Now on his third, he believes the 347 will be a seriously collectible and valuable instrument. He could be right.  I, for one, wouldn’t give you $1,000 for a ’70’s 3 bolt Strat but they’re out there for $5,000 or more so why not the 347?  The 347, I’m told, started off with regular patent number pickups but evolved into the overwound “Dirty Fingers” pickup and maybe even the Bill Lawrence circuit backs by the time they were gone. It still generally has a 3 piece neck with a big fat volute but I’m guessing that disappeared by the end of the run as well. Like I said, I don’t see many of these. The prices in today’s market are in the $2500-$3000 range which seems to be in line with what you get for your money. You may have to consider that someday the 70’s will be revered as some kind of renaissance when conventional design was stood on it’s head and all the change fell out of its pockets.

Here's a later 80's version with an interesting "Brockburst" kind of finish. It looks better on a Les Paul but doesn't look bad here. The TP6 seems to have disappeared.

This one appears to be a later one. Note that the body shape has unpinched itself and it's starting to look like the real thing again. But the TP6 is back and the coil tap has moved down to near the three way. And the hardware isn't gold any more and it's red.

7 Responses to “OK, Something from the 70’s”

  1. Mike says:

    …and, is it just me, or does it look like they moved the tailpieces further away from the bridge?

  2. OK Guitars says:

    Nope. You’re absolutely right. The earlier stop tails line up almost perfectly with the 3 way. The top edge of the stop (toward the cutaways) should line up with the top edge of the 3 way switch knurled ring. These look to be about an inch-maybe a lttle less-lower on the guitar. Good eye.

  3. Hoya says:

    What do you think about the brass nut? I’ve heard some say that it muddys the tone. The Dirty Fingers PUPS are screamers and the harmonics and sustain from my “81 are amazing. It is a “dark” sounding guitar with the wrong amp settings. Love your site!

  4. OK Guitars says:

    As I’ve said I’m not a fan of 70’s guitars. However, I recently sold a 63 that had a dirty fingers in the bridge and you got that right-it screams. Not for everyone but for some, it can be a pretty interesting choice. I don’t think a brass nut muddies the tone at all-I found (back in the day when everybody was doing it) that brass actually brightened up the tone. The point was more sustain but I don’t think it really accomplished that. The good news is that if your going to play a 70’s 335 and you’re going to mod it, you won’t destroy the value since they don’t cost as much as a new one. Someday, the collectors might find them desirable but right now-not so much.

  5. Hoya says:

    I’ve always beeen proud that the 347 was considered a “pimped-out” 335. I originally meant to buy a 335 but saw this georgous Gibson magazine ad for the ES 347. I decided to special order the 347. I waited 3 months and finally received the call that it arrived. When I picked it up, it was still unopened in the box from Nashville. Love at first sight. The weird thing is I share her with everybody. I even force beginner guitar palyers to try it (always after hand-washing). It blows peoples minds. The ES 347 changed my life. They also have these huge brass “sustain Sisters” mounts for the bridge and tailpiece. Adds a lot of weight. My 1981 weight about 10 lbs.

  6. rlan52 says:

    I just bought a 1990 ES-347 from a reliable eBay seller. I paid $2499 plus $45 for Fedex home delivery (which took 8 business days but the guitar arrived in great condition).

    I own Les Pauls from the 80’s and 90’s, an SG from the 70’s, an ES-333 from 2004 (made on my birthday) and a 2007 ES-339 with a 30/60 neck.

    When I opened the case of the 347 I was immediately hit with a most memorable smell. My dad was a musician, a Sax player. Whenever he opened his Tenor Sax case I would smell this musty old instrument smell. Well, it’s been a good 30 years since I had the opportunity to open my dad’s Tenor Sax case but like magic, my ES-347 had the exact same smell. It transported me back to my childhood and gives me a warm feeling every time I open the case.

    The guitar plays like a dream. The neck has a bit more girth than my ES-333 but not as much as my 30/60 ES-339. I love the ebony neck. It reminds me of a Les Paul Custom I bought in the late 60’s and stupidly sold along with a 1974 Les Paul Standard (one of only a handful ever made) to a store here in Manhattan called “We Buy And Sell” which is no longer here. I sold the 2 Les Pauls at a time when no one seemed to want a Gibson (mid 80’s) and with the money I bought matching Ibanez ST-100’s and a Fernandez Candy Apple Red Strat. But I regress.

    The ES-347 is perfect in so many ways but mainly when I play it it feels like home. Oddly enough, while I was totally expecting those lousy “Dirty Fingers”, I pulled the neck pickup to find a Bill Lawrence HBR circuit back pickup. There is the HBL in the bridge position. This HBR/HBL combo isn’t bad. Very highly defined mids and highs but lacking in the low end. The coil tap, mounted next to the toggle allows for a wide variety of sounds and the output of the Bill Lawrence pickups is much greater than any of the PAF style pickups I am used to. While the variety of sounds is great for some, I mainly look to dial in that PAF style so these pickups will not do for me in the long run. I will change them to a pair of Gibson Classic 57’s. That said, the guitar is a keeper and will now stay with me until I no longer breath. Then, perhaps one of my two sons will enjoy it.

    I know I am late to the party here but this was a nice little exercise. Love your site and info Charlie…Ricky

  7. OK Guitars says:

    Thanks Ricky. I know that smell, too. It’s a very strong memory trigger (smells often are). Bill’s pickups are generally under rated. They can be very good sounding. Thanks for reading.

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