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The Ears Have it.

This photo was posted on the LPF and shows the difference between a real vintage 335 and the modern "reissue". Note the ears and the position of the f-holes and stoptail. There are some pretty big variations among vintage but not quite this big.

There is a bit of a debate raging on one of the many guitar forums. OK, it’s the Les Paul Forum and the issue is the Gibson Historic ES-335 59 and 63 reissue guitars. I’ve stayed out of it  mostly because I don’t have strong feelings about whether a reissue is accurate or not. It would be nice if they got them to look right but I don’t buy them or play them so I don’t really have a dog in this fight. I’ve taken a few in trade and they are very nice guitars. They look OK, they just don’t (among other things) look like a vintage 335. I’m a vintage guy and there is so much more to vintage than looks. But someone pointed out a little bit of Gibson PR that I found appalling. Gibson says, and I quote, “This limited production model from Gibson Custom captures this desirable classic in greater detail than any “reissue”-style guitar previously produced. It is truly an instrument born in the image of its inspiration.”  Or this, from the Guitar Center site: “Perfect to the last detail, this world-class semi-hollowbody is indistinguishable in every way from the 335s that rolled off the line in ’59. It’s even made on the exact same forms used then”.  The latter quote is an out and out lie. So, let me get this straight-Gibson says this is the best they or anyone else can do, right? I know of at least 2 luthiers out there who have gotten closer than Gibson has. As far as the Guitar Center quote goes, consider the source. Feel free to hand me a real ’63 and a ’63 reissue and I’ll tell one from the other with my eyes closed and never playing a note. Same goes for the 59. These reissues can sound very, very good-good but not the same as vintage. But they don’t feel the same-even the lacquer feels different. Perhaps age is a big factor in that. The shape of the ears is, of course,  wrong.  That makes it a reissue, I guess, and not a replica. It is Gibson’s cost effective (I’m sure) imitation of a Mickey Mouse ear body. Somehow, they got the non MM ears right on the Clapton reissue. Perhaps a sticker price of $12,000 compels the bean counters to allow the product be somewhat accurate and to perhaps use the computer technology that comes with the modern era. With CNC technology, it seems there would be no excuse for things being shaped wrong. I’ve never worked in a guitar factory, so I’m shooting from the hip here a bit but it seems that getting the shape to be the same as it was in the days of non computer aided design would be pretty simple. I believe that Gibson is making some really excellent guitars, especially the Historics but they are new guitars. The feel new, they smell new and the play new. One more time, with feeling–vintage isn’t so much about looks and wear but about the effects the actual passage of time and actual playing has on a guitar. You can make a relic look vintage all right but it won’t be the same in so many ways. I just sold a mint 60 ES-345 that couldn’t have had 100 hours of play on it. It was an absolutely stunning guitar and a wonderful player. Even with only minimal play in the past 50 years, it only looked new. It didn’t feel new or sound new. I don’t know what exact effect the passage of time has on the pickups and the wood but it makes a difference. I daresay these Historics will be wonderful vintage pieces in 30 years or so. Time won’t change the shape of the ears or the configuration of the components but really, is anyone going to care that much in 30 years? Here’s a good example–the 68 Les Paul goldtop is a pretty special guitar and its different in a hundred ways from a real 50’s goldtop. Nobody cares that much because, on its own, its a great guitar. They may have cared a lot more in 1968, however. There is no real equivalent in 335s.  Clearly, if you want to get close to a “Golden Era” 335 for a more reasonable price, there are options that aren’t new. The 335s from 66-early 69 can be quite wonderful if you can handle the small necks. These can be had for less than the sticker price of a Historic. The 81-85 “reissue” is even less accurate than the Historic in terms of shape but they usually play great, feel great and, yes, a 30 year old guitar counts as vintage. I’ve seen these for less than $2000. I’d take almost any 81-85 over a Memphis 335 and probably over a Historic as well. But then, I’m a vintage guy. Thanks to “Vintage 58” (Chris) on the LPF for kicking this off. I love a good pissing match and I love the fact that people actually care that much about the accuracy of a “reissue”. And another thing…why does the 63 have an amber switchtip? That seems like a pretty easy detail to fix.

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