An Unusual Detail on a 1960 ES-345

Check out the gold Varitone knob. It's factory and pretty unusual. This is a very late 60 ES-345

I love  the really little stuff. The details that other 335 aficionados either ignore or don’t know about. Over the past few years, I’ve seen a couple of ES-345s that had an unusual Varitone switch. The chickenhead knob, which is usually black, is painted gold. When I saw the first one, I figured it wasn’t factory-it was just someones aesthetic choice. Then I saw two or three  more and realized that this is, in fact, a factory feature.

When's the last time you saw the pull ribbon on the case pocket of a 52 year old guitar look like this?

The guitar in the photo is one of the last 345s to leave the factory in 1960. It’s only about 100 numbers from the end of the year, so I figure its from the last week or second to last week in December. It has a number of features that are more common in 61-most notably the sideways trem which really only shows up on 345s for 2 years-61 and 62. It also has a white switch tip which is more commonly associated with 61. The long guard says 60 though, loud and clear.  But what about the gold chicken head? Gibson was always trying to eliminate steps in the manufacturing process. The thinking was, fewer steps means less production time which means lower costs and higher profits. There were dozens of cost cutting measures put into effect during the era, not all to the good of the instrument. That’s another post. But why add the step of spray painting the knob? Seems kind of dumb, doesn’t it? Granted, it was probably less than an hours work to do a years worth of them but still, the corporate culture was dictating otherwise. One other thing to note. You can see in the photo that the trem arm is in the way of the Varitone switch. Bad design? Well, partially. The ES-355’s that got the sideways often got a round knob rather than the chickenhead but there’s more to it than that. Back in 1960, nobody even made the ultralight gauge strings we’re all used to today. The average set of strings were .12’s and were probably flats. That causes a lot more tension on the trem and would cause the arm to sit closer to the housing, perhaps making enough room for the chicken head to actually turn. Or not. There isn’t much more to say about the switch but there’s plenty to say about the guitar. I’m pretty careful with my guitars but, even so, I still manage to whack the closet door with the guitar every now and then if I leave it open. Or, I smack the headstock into the wall in the laundry room where I do my repairs and setups. It just happens a couple of times a year. So how in the world does a guitar exist for 52 years and stay mint. It boggles my mind. This particular 60 defies logic, it’s so clean. It has one ding on the entire guitar at the very top of the headstock. That’s all. No wear, no checking. A little pitting on the gold on the trem and the shrunken tuner buttons are the only things that tell you this isn’t a reissue. I got it from the second owner who never played it (drummers, go figure). The original owner had it for more than 40 years, so I assume he played it once in a while. The thing that just blows me away is thecondition of the inside of the case. The ribbon on the case pocket always gets trashed first. This one looks brand new-like no one ever opened the pocket. There’s a reason these time capsule examples command a premium. How many are you going to come across? In the past two years since I’ve gotten serious about the vintage thing, I’ve seen 2. Both, coincidentally, red 60 ES-345s. Maybe they’re just too pretty to play or else it has something to do with the gold chicken head.


Here it is on my repair guy's bench. What's wrong with this picture? What's wrong is the guitar needs nothing, so why is it even on the bench?


9 Responses to “An Unusual Detail on a 1960 ES-345”

  1. Bearfish says:

    I have a 62 ES-345 that also has the “painted gold” varitone knob. Great article!

  2. OK Guitars says:

    It’s pretty unusual. They seem to show up in 61 and 62 with some regularity. Does yours have a sideways trem?

  3. Bearfish says:

    No sideways trem, it’s a stop tail/bigsby.
    But I have a 63 355 with the sideways trem that has the black knob(fwiw).

  4. Murray says:

    Hey Charlie,

    Love your blog… I’m partial to ’68’s (you saw pix of mine) I love mine. But I think the gold varitone knob looks cheesy, factory or not. I’m still not sure if I like the walnut, though. I felt the same back in 1969, when I bought my sunburst.

    Keep it commin’
    Best regards,


  5. OK Guitars says:

    Cheesy or not, I’d don’t usually change out a factory component on a mint vintage piece. I make component changes all the time to improve tone but never anything irreversible. I may drop in a Tone Pros bridge on the players that I keep for a while just because it preserves the original bridge and sounds marginally better. I usually remove the tuners and put repros on if the tips are seriously compromised-again, preservation is the goal. I could swap out the gold chickenhead but I don’t think its particularly cheesy. OK, maybe a little.

  6. Steve Newman says:

    Great post, as usual, Charlie. I know of a red ’61 345 stoptail (original owner) with the gold number plate, but a black, round, selector knob (not the chicken head type) like you described, usually seen on the sideways trem models. It’s factory stock and unmolested. The parts bin for chicken head knobs must have run out that day. Thanks for the continued flow of information on all the details of the ES family of guitars.

  7. Roger Bergen says:

    I had a sunburst stop tail 345 with a gold painted Varitone knob too! The git was near mint and unmolested…

  8. Jonne says:

    I have a ´63 red ES-345 with Bigsby and gold varitone knob. It also has single ring Klusons.

  9. OK Guitars says:

    All 60’s 345s have single ring Klusons but a gold knob on a 63 is pretty unusual. A gold knob on any 345 is pretty unusual but its mostly on 61’s.

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