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Switch Tip: Too Small to Care?

Here's 4 real early 60's switchtips and one from a later guitar. Note the dominance of the top seam on the newer one and how it tapers less. And notice the cracks.

Other than the screws, the smallest piece of a 335 is the switch tip. That shouldn’t make it any less significant to a collector or someone who wants a completely original guitar. People act differently toward this particular part than they do toward any other. If the guitar is a 58, 59 or 60, the tip is treated like all the other parts. It has to be the catalin (bakelite) amber tip and pass all sorts of tests to prove that it is indeed the formaldehyde based plastic. The fakes have gotten really good but I don’t think they’re making them out of catalin. But, once we get to 1961 and the switch is white, nobody seems to care any more. There are 2 different types of white switch tip that show up between 61 and 64 and none of them are the ones with the big seam on top. No one has written about this, as far as I know and it only occurred to me recently. I’ve had a lot of 61-64 ES 335s and 345s lately and a couple have been from the original owner, so I can find out if things have been changed. Switch tips get lost a lot. They also get stolen or unscrewed by folks who seem to have an OCD related penchant for unscrewing anything that can be unscrewed. These are same people who can’t drink a Bud without peeling off the

The one on the left is the newer one. The one in the middle is a 61-64 and the one on the right is the one you rarely see. It has a top seam but is shaped more like a catalin tip and has the smooth bottom that a catalin tip has. I've only seen these in late 60 and early 61.

label. Anyway, there seems to be more than one type of white switch tip used from 61-64. Making matters more difficult is the fact that catalin doesn’t start off amber, it starts as off white and turns amber when exposed to sunlight. By now, most catalin switch tips are amber, so we’ll ignore the fact that there could be yet another type of white switch tip. Most of you already know that a catalin switch tip has no top seam and the top is usually relatively flat. The first switch tips that follow the catalin ones are some sort of plastic that is molded with a barely visible top seam. But they look almost exactly like the catalin tips but with a rounded top -the bottom is cleanly finished and rounded off  and they taper like the catalin tips.  But the seam is very subtle-it is not a raised line like most of the white plastic tips you’ll see from the late 60’s until today. I’m not certain when they started using the fatter tips with the prominent seam but I suppose it doesn’t matter much after the 60’s. The typical 61-6? tip is also plastic with a very subtle seam but not nearly as tapered. the bottom is a bit more ragged.  There are a couple of things to look for in these early white switch tips to ascertain correctness.  These tips also taper a good bit from top to bottom but not as dramatically as the catalin tips. Later tips are fatter at the base. The “tell” that I use for a 61-64 tip is an odd one. I look for a crack. Since I’ve started paying close attention to these guitars, I’ve probably had 60 or 70 from 1961-1964. Of those, I think fewer than 5 have had an intact switch tip. They all seem to crack. The plastic was apparently a little more brittle than it should have been and when they are even slightly overtightened, they crack-and nearly all in the same place-from the bottom to the seam in a vertical line. So, if you have a 64 and the switch tip isn’t cracked, is it a replacement? Not necessarily but there’s a real good chance that it is. However, to complicate matters, modern ones crack although not as frequently, so we need something else to help us authenticate the tip. Run your finger across the seam. If it’s big enough to “catch” your fingernail, it’s probably a later one. It may be that they just finished them better back then and now they don’t. There is a pretty robust market for the catalin tips and they can cost as much a $250. There isn’t really much of a market for the early white tips because there’s so little to tell them apart from a 75 cent modern replacement. Someone has a “61” on Ebay for $85 and it looks like every other plastic switch tip I’ve seen from 1969 or so until yesterday. Look for the well finished seam and the more dramatic taper. And the crack.

Here's a couple of catalins from 58-60 with the "transitional" tip that has a lot of the same characteristics but it has a top seam.

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