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How to Tell a Red 335 Refinish

Is the top on this nice looking 62 original? Oversprayed with clear lacquer? Refinished? How can you tell the difference? Look at the bottom photos. And read the stuff in between-don't just look at the pictures. What are you, five?

The good news is that 335’s don’t tend to get refinished that often. Not like Stratocasters and Telecasters which seem to get refinished all the time. Or at least they used to. Part of this has to do with the durability of the finish. Fender finishes were very soft and would flake and crack and generally fall off the guitar if you looked at it cross-eyed.  Les Pauls and SGs also seem to get refinished a bit more than 335’s even though the finishes on them seem more durable. Maybe it’s that players who get sick of the finish on their 335’s feel that refinishing a bound guitar is a pain or keeping the paint out of the f-holes is too much work or that a laminate guitar is too tricky to sand (which is true).  In any case, it all means that I don’t expect to see a lot of refinished 335’s. And I don’t. But they are out there and I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable trying to discern the originality of the finish. If done properly it’s extremely difficult to tell whether a 335 has been refinished. I recently drove up to Maine from my home in CT to pick up a red 64 ES-335. It looked very dark and very brown and I was concerned that it had been refinished. I checked the obvious things. I checked to see if the bindings had a “ridge”. When a 335 is sanded down, the person sanding doesn’t usually pay attention to that and the ridge gets sanded off. This guitar had the ridge. But it had red paint in the cavities and most red 335s don’t have any paint in there-sometimes a few overspray flecks but not much else. This one looked like the finish was applied with a rag-like a stain and there were blotches in the neck pickup cavity. So, I figured it was refinished. The owner-who was the second owner had owned the guitar for 40 years and swore up and down that the paint was original. True, the pickup cavities still had a little sawdust in them like they usually do if they haven’t been opened and they were as clean as can be beyond that. It looked like I was the first one in there. I spoke to a former Gibson employee about finish techniques back then and was told that everyone on the paint crew had their own method. No one cared as long as they passed QC. There were various ways to prep and mask the guitar that resulted in the same result-as far as you could see once the guitar was assembled. Who knew we’d be looking in such detail?  I’ve seen red 335s with no paint at all in the cavities, I’ve seen them with a light spray in there and I’ve seen them with quite a lot of paint in there. So that won’t really help you much. Here’s a few other things to check on a red one-if there are scratches through the finish or chips, the wood should NOT be natural in color-like a chipped sunburst would be. The wood should look red because the dye used soaks into the wood and is there before the lacquer is applied. Another thing to look for are areas where the veneer is sanded through. It is almost impossible to sand the face of a 335 without going through the top layer of veneer in the bulges on the face of the cutaways. It is so thin there that even the very lightest sanding will go through. To quote Monty Python, it’s “waffer thin”. .. Look in the f-holes. There should be no paint or lacquer overspray in there. It should be totally free of paint. Look at the edges of the f-holes. On a red 335 the finish will be rough and not shiny. The shiny lacquer tends not to set on the vertical edges of the f-holes and they are left with the red dye but little or no lacquer.  It might be a little chewed up on the treble side of a 335 because the harness is installed through the f-holes on early ones. Those with the cutout in the center block are generally not chewed up. In fact, the workers who installed the harnesses in 335s kept a small paintbrush and paint to touch up the scrapes in the f-holes on 335s. 345s and later 335s didn’t have this issue because the harness goes in differently. I’d like to quote the old adage of “when in doubt, do without” but I won’t because, once again, inconsistency is the only consistency at Gibson back in the “Golden Era”. Use your best judgement and understand that the guitars were painted by people and not machines.  And people do things their own way.

See this chip? It should show red dyed wood, not natural, raw wood. That tells me the color coat was done as well.

Here's what a chip should look like on a red ES. It should show red wood. That's because the wood is dyed before it's lacquered. Even heavy buckle rash will show as red.

2 Responses to “How to Tell a Red 335 Refinish”

  1. I’m interested in ES-335/330/175 construction – as I’m working on the ultimate book on these guitars. For at least five years I’ve tried to find out what glue they used between the plies in the heat pressing process – but can’t get the EXACT right answer. So my question is: Was it phenol formaldehyde, melamin formaldehyde or just plain urea formaldehyde or … yes what? I would also like to know – if possible – what brand of glue used by Gibson used for heat pressing/lamination in the early years (1950’s and 1960’s). If I ever get my book finished and published – its about to reveal extremely interesting information for ES-nerds :o) like wood and veneer suppliers, finish brands… well everything somebody know and I can get to.
    Correct answers to these questions probably need a talk with former employees – but I don’t know how to get in touch with the right people…

    Thanks in advance
    T.S.

  2. OK Guitars says:

    Try the guys at Heritage in Kalamazoo. They may be able to help you since the company was formed by former Gibson employees. I doubt any of the current workers were at Gibson back in the day but I’d be surprised if they didn’t know a few who were.

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