The Big Transition

Some of you might recognize this early '65. I called it "The Mexican" because that's where I got it from. It had all the features of a 64 and was a great guitar. Sorry i let that one go.

Pretty much everyone who reads this column knows that I hold the 64 ES-335 in very high regard but what happened on January 1, 1965 that cut the value in half? Well, actually, nothing happened, at least not on January 1. The changes that took place in 1965 were huge. I believe they also reflected Gibson’s desire to make more guitars (demand was way up) , make them for less money and compete more effectively with their arch-rival, Fender. Fender had been bought by CBS and the word was to make more guitars for less money. Gibson needed to do the same. So, what happened in 65? First,

This is on its way to me-it's a mid 65 with all nickel parts and a big neck-call it version 2.

Gibson stopped installing lightweight aluminum stoptails and began installing nickel plated trapeze tails. This didn’t make much sense on a semi hollow because the idea of a trapeze is to allow the top to vibrate freely but the top on a semi doesn’t vibrate the same way as an archtop so it had to be economics at work. Fewer processes were involved. For a stop, you had to drill the holes, insert the bushings and screw in the studs and stop. For at trap, it was three little screws and done. The next thing they did was to change the nut width from 1 11/16″ to 1 9/16″. There are transitional examples at 1 5/8″ but by mid ’65 they were all 1 9/16″. Why did they do that? The difference in cost couldn’t have been that much-there isn’t that much less wood on the thinner neck. Nope. They did that to compete with Fender. Word was out that thin meant “fast” and better velocity was important to a lot of players-especially rockers. Most Fender B necks, the most common were 1 5/8″, so Gibson had to one up them with 1 9/16″ which, as we look back, is too small for many players, including me.  So, here it is mid 1965 and Gibson has made two ill advised changes (in hindsight,  of course). But they weren’t done. For years Gibson had been getting complaints about the nickel plating getting dull and tarnished so they decided to change the hardware to chrome which seems like a good idea if their intent was to keep things shiny. But, once again, in hindsight, folks nowadays like the patina of nickel, so chrome hardware guitars are worth less to the vintage player. Gibson also made changes to the pickups in 1965. We start seeing the second generation of patent number pickups-the ones with the red poly coated wire in the windings and the black and white lead wires. Money again was the impetus-poly coated wire was cheaper than enamel coated wire. Those with better ears can hear a difference and like the older ones better. Contrary to what every person selling a T-top says, T-tops didn’t show up in 1965. I’ve never seen one on a 65 and rarely on a 66. What did all these changes do the vintage value of your 65? Lets look at three types: The first 65’s were stop tails with the big neck-virtually identical to a 64. I’ve seen these go for $12,000 or more-in line with a 64 stop. Next, the big neck trapeze model-usually with nickel hardware. These seem to run in the $7000-$9000 range which is huge step downward just because they changed the tailpiece buy I don’t make the rules . These, I believe, are one of the great vintage bargains because you get a big neck, great pickups (usually early pat#) and a whole lotta tone for a lot less money. Then there’s the bulk of the 65’s with their skinny necks and chrome hardware. These are no different than a 66 and should be priced about the same as a 66 but they often aren’t. Just as an early 65 should be the equal of a 64, the late 65 is the same as a 66, so don’t overpay just because the serial number says its a 65. And make sure the serial number wasn’t reused. You can check that here. A mid to late 65 with all the “66” features should be in the $3500-$5000 range depending on condition and originality. If you’re a regular reader you know how to tell a 65 from a 67. telling a later 65 from a 66 is nearly impossible but the serial numbers will help. Also, Gibson phased in the nickel parts, so you may find a 65 with a nickel tailpiece and chrome pickup covers. Or even one chrome and one nickel pickup cover. Or a chrome bridge and a nickel tailpiece. I don’t think anyone cared probably because new chrome and new nickel don’t look all that different to most people.

And finally, an thin neck, all chrome 65-a nice one too-but it won't fetch anywhere near what the two earlier versions will. People just prefer bigger necks these days.

4 Responses to “The Big Transition”

  1. gordon says:

    Just a fan letter for your whole blog.
    Your depth of knowledge is very impressive, and your writing style is very
    Please accept my condolences on the recent loss of your Mother.
    Your tribute to her was moving.
    I always look forward to reading your blog.

  2. OK Guitars says:

    Thanks for the kind words. Keep on reading (and rocking)

  3. ken_sorensen2001 says:

    Charlie, clearly your work on this blog is a labor of love, and am grateful for your willingness to share your experiences here! I’ve recently been infected with the vintage bug – last year’s Guitar of the Day calendar revealed a 335 12 – a model I never knew existed – and I recently acquired a 66 in decent shape. Now I want a 6 string version, and some of the prices being asked are sobering. I’ve been educating myself on the nuances from 65 through 69 (what can I say, I *like* the trapeze), and you’ve mentioned the 66 is a good value. What changed after ’66 – why would a 67 or 68 not be as desirable? Forgive me if you’ve already covered this – I just discovered your blog and am working through it backwards. –Ken

  4. OK Guitars says:

    The one to get is an early 65 with the big neck. Basically, it’s a 64 with a trapeze and maybe some chrome hardware. They cost a few thousand more than a 66 but they also cost about $5000 less than a 64. Pickups are the same pre T-tops eary on and the second generation pre T-top later. I’ve never, ever seen a T-top on a 65. Most 66’s are excellent if you can handle the thin neck and narrow nut. Most have pre T-tops. 67’s are just about the same except the chances of getting T-tops are better but the necks got a little deeper but still narrow for the most part. They also lost the wide bevel pickguard that looks so cool. 68’s are the same except that the f-holes got larger and they look a little funny. Pickups can still be pre T-tops but less likely. Nothing wrong with T-tops in my view but some find them a bit lifeless by comparison and they are overly consistent so there is no range. 69 is where things go to hell in a handbasket. the first ones are fine but then they introduce 3 piece necks, volutes and the long neck tenon virtually disappears making for a crappy neck join. The inlays are made differently so they are just a block of fake pearl with a spray stencil of the name Gibson. they tend to flake off.

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