A Tale of Two Reds

Reds are notoriously hard to photograph but I think you can see some difference. These 355s are both relatively unfaded but you can see how they differ. The 59 on the left has more yellow and the 65 on the right is slightly more bluish (funny, you don't look bluish)

This isn’t the story of the Brothers Karamazov-that would be a tale of three (or four if you believe the rumors about Pavel Fyodorovich Smerdyakov) Reds. Nope. This is the story of two rather different incarnations of the red finish used by Gibson on ES 335s, 345s and 355s. Everyone is aware of how the red portion of a Les Paul ‘burst fades to nothing on the 58 and 59 models and how folks sometimes turn up their noses at the “tomato soup” red of the later 60 Les Pauls. The red used on the ES series had a similar problem. The red isn’t paint-it’s an aniline dye that permeates the wood but allows the grain to show through much like a stain. In the 58, 59 and early 60 ES-335s/345s and 355s, the dye had a tendency to fade to an orange tone or, in some case, a watermelon color. What seems to happen is that the dye turns yellow or perhaps the dye fades and the yellowing nitro makes it appear yellow. In any case, a lot of yellow begins to permeate the reds and they change color. About a third of the way through 1960, Gibson made a change to a different aniline dye that would, they hoped, alleviate the fading issue. At least

Check this out-it's owned by a friend of the site named Brad who has some very cool stuff (wait til you see his 58 335) Looks kind of Gretschy, doesn't it?

that’s what I think happened, although I’m surprised that any of them had actually faded enough by 1960 to elicit much complaint. So, maybe, they just changed suppliers and the new dye held up better. I tried to ask the folks now at Gibson but they didn’t have an answer-they weren’t there. It os clear that the 2 varieties of dye age very differently. I’ve owned a number of red 64’s that seem to get very dark-more maroon than red and some even head toward brown. Others stay that very vibrant, almost blood red. It seems that sunlight is the culprit on the later ones. The earlier ones do all sorts of odd things. The earliest ES-355s, which were the first Gibson to get the red paintjob tend to turn almost Gretsch orange. I know the owner of the first ES 355 ever to leave the factory and it is quite orange. the second one is too but not quite as orange. My beloved former favorite guitar in the world-the über-rare red 59 ES 345 was played its whole life by a pro player and spent very little time in its case but it didn’t turn orange. It was called “The Watermelon” with good reason. It was kind of dark pink with yellow streaks in the grain. I had a very cool ’60 that did the same thing-also pro owned and played its whole life. There are five known 59 red ES-345s. You won’t find too many 335’s with the early red since they only made four or so in 59 (none officially) and there aren’t many 60 red ones either. Of the  only 21 red 1960 ES 335s made, I have no idea how many were made before the changeover but I’m guessing 5 to 10. I’ve seen only one 60 335 with the old red. There is one red 58 ES-335 that was a special order (in stereo!).

The prettiest damn guitar I've ever seen. Wish I still owned it. This photo almost captures the stunning color. Sort of a faded watermelon reddish sunset orange-pink. It is the first red ES-345 known to exist.

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