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Neck Sizes and Profiles

The difference between a huge 58/59 neck at the first fret and a "wide flat" neck from 1961 is about 1/10". It doesn't seem like much but you really can feel the difference of even 2/100". This is a photo of a 64 which is, on average only 3/100" thinner front to back than a 59. You can't tell by looking very well but you can sure feel the difference.

ES aficionados follow a general set of rules that seem to govern the relative neck sizes of the various years. 58 and 59 are big, 60 through mid 63 are wide and flat and late 64 through early 65 are medium chunky and sometimes a little narrower. Generally, you will find these “rules” to apply but not always. There were no CNC machines back then and the necks were shaped largely by hand and there was considerable variation even within the same run of guitars. Variation within a calendar year is actually a lot greater than you might imagine. While, granted, there aren’t a lot of thin 58 and 59 necks but when you get to November of 59, they definitely start getting a good bit thinner. Let’s use the depth at the first fret as a comparison. The 58 through late 59 seems to run around .90″ and even somewhat larger. But, some of the late 59s I’ve had were closer to .87″. The early 60 345 I recently sold was around .87″ as well. But, the 60 Argentine Grey 345 I had-which was pretty late-probably December had a first fret depth of around .82″ or maybe even slightly less. I had 3 61 dot necks this past year and all three were different. While the generally accepted depth of a 61 at the first fret is .80-.82, one of the three was .83 and the other .84. Of course the measurement from the fingerboard to the middle of the back of the neck doesn’t take the profile of the neck into consideration. A neck with a bigger should but a small depth will feel much larger than one with a small shoulder. One of my favorite necks of any guitar I’ve ever played was a 63 SG that was only .82 at the first fret but it had these big shoulders that gave it a very hefty feel. I also had a 61 Epiphone Wilshire that actually had an asymmetrical carve that had a larger shoulder on the bass side but a first fret depth that was moderate at .84″ or so.  By the time 62 rolls around, the necks got pretty consistently thin, right? Well, that’s what I thought until a 62 passed through my hands recently that must have been at least .84″. Every other 62 I’ve owned has been from .79″-.82″ at the first fret. Early 63’s follow the same rule except when they don’t.  In general, an early Mickey Mouse ear 63 will have a wide flat profile and a first fret depth of .80 to .82. But, I currently have an early 63 that measures more like .85″. Not quite as chunky as the very consistent 64s which seem to range from .86-.88″ although they can be as thin as .84″.   I don’t measure the neck size on every 335/345 and 355 I get although I probably should-it’s good research and interesting but I’ve gotten to the point where I can estimate pretty well by feel, at least on 335s and 345s. ES-355s will throw you all kinds of curves. I know of an early 59 that must be .92″ or more-it’s huge like a 58 Les Paul but the 59 I have at he moment is much thinner-probably more like .84″. Once you get into 1960 and later, they get pretty slim, although the nut width remains the same 1 11/16″ or slightly under. There’s a weird optical illusion that occurs that tends to make the nut width of a 355 look smaller than it is. It’s the fact that there is an inlay at the first fret and that inlay is longer than it is wide. That tends to make the nut look narrower. It isn’t. But the depth at the first fret sure is. Even .78″ is possible from 60 right through to 65. I had a 64 recently that was only .79 at the first fret but by the time you reached the 12th it was 1.03″ which is as big as some 59 335’s. So, don’t apply the rules to ES-355s because, in general, the necks are thinner from front to back than their siblings. If I can figure out how to make a chart and insert it, I will do that just so there is a quick reference which will serve only to confuse you because, as I mentioned, there were no CNC machines back then and the necks were largely shaped by hand. If it’s Friday at 4:57 in 1958 and Joe Woodworker has a hot date at the local bar after work, he’s probably going to leave an little extra wood on the neck rather than risk being late for his rendezvous. Joe is single, I’m sure,  and not cheating on his wife. Gibson would never hire philanderers-they make terrible guitars.

This is the back of 59 and it doesn't look much different than a 61 would look from this angle but there is quite a difference between even an early 59 and a late 59

14 Responses to “Neck Sizes and Profiles”

  1. Steve Newman says:

    Great post about the neck sizes/shapes, Charlie. Your comments about the general neck profiles and how they relate to the different years of 335 production is spot on. I agree with you that these are only general guidelines, though, because I have seen great variables in neck shapes within 335’s of the same year and only a few serial numbers apart. As you said, the necks were pretty much shaped by hand, with hand tools; not CNC machines. As production ramped up, and more new employees were hired, you had more workers, with varying levels of experience carving out the necks, which would lead to inconsistent neck shapes. This same thing also would apply to the general decline in quality of all Gibson instruments as the ’60’s wore on into the ’70’s.

  2. OK Guitars says:

    All true. Those of us who were the engines of the guitar boom know how many of us had to have a guitar back in 65-69. Gibson couldn’t possibly have kept up with the demand without compromising on some level. It becomes most obvious by 67 when they cranked out close to 7000 Es-335/345/355s. Four years earlier they made around 1600. what I see is a decline in “neatness”-Bindings don’t fit as well, and there is a ton of glue oozing everywhere and the finishes seem thinner-perhaps fewer coats of lacquer or thinner coats to save money.

  3. Murray says:

    Hey Charlie,

    Nice blog on the shitty cherry 335…what a horrid photo. What a SCAM. Anyway, it looks like either you or someone else tipped ’em off. I clicked your link to see the page it was removed. Anyway…that’s how is goes with less than than honorable folks.

    Regards,

    Murray (’68 335)

  4. Pete Aguanno says:

    Question: Do body dimensions vary very much? I have an 2003 es 335 and it measures 15 5/8″ at the lower bout. It a flamed maple in a natural finish.The serial number is 00633718. I was looking at my Guild F50R which measures 17″ at the lower bout and my 335 seemed a lot smaller so I measured it. Any input?

  5. OK Guitars says:

    There is variation especially in the 50’s and 60’s. The depth of the guitars was all over the place as were the neck profiles. I’ve never looked deeply into the lower bout width but I’m guessing there’s a range there as we.. Now that CNC machinery is in use, I would think the guitars would be much more consistent.

  6. Pete Aguanno says:

    Thanks for your reply. I am enjoying this guitar so very much it’s fun learning about them. Some day, l would love to get a true vintage instrument….until then, this 2003 seems to suit me fine.

  7. peter jarn says:

    hi there! thanks so much for your site (don´t know what to do without it)
    i have a 1965 es 335 with 1 11/16 nut, hardware nickel except for PU covers.
    i measured the thickness at first fret and got 0.807. and at 12th fret i got 0.945.
    my question is (since i´m not familiar with inches) is 0.807 what you would describe here as almost .81?
    thanks peter

  8. OK Guitars says:

    Yes. That’s on the smaller side for an early 65 but within the usual range. I would call it .81″ – the difference between .807 and .81 is 3/1000″ That’s approximately the diameter of an average human hair.

  9. peter jarn says:

    thank you for your answer!

  10. Graham Dodd says:

    I’ve recently acquired a 2010 ESTD335, not sure what the TD means, however I find the approx 1/2″ shorter than my 1989 ES335. Is this normal? Thank G

  11. Graham Dodd says:

    The neck length 1/2″ shorter, sorry I’m typing too fast for my brain to keep up! G

  12. cgelber says:

    Is the neck length short or the over all length of the guitar. The scale length has to be the same (nut to bridge). The neck sets and bridge positions can vary a bit but 1/2 inch is a lot. TD stands for Thinline Double (pickup).

  13. jerry conroy says:

    well going to order a new 2015 1963 es-335 block reissue. looking to the poor QC at the time most of the guitars were made at least the neck. should I expect the same sad deal on a new one, even paying a good amount for it. Or hope they got better over time, and with time on the job. makes you wounder. thanks jerry

  14. cgelber says:

    Hard to say. I don’t get to see very many nw ones-I’m not a Gibson dealer. From what I read on the forums, there are some problems with QC even now. At those prices there shouldn’t be any issues at all.

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