Case by Case Basis

The case on the left is a Gibson badged 61 that is 5" deep. The one next to it is a Lifton badged 61 that is 4.25" deep. Both are cases that came with "original" 355s. Both brown cases are 4.5" deep and are both from 59 335s. The one on the right is a Stone and the one next to it is a Gibson badged. What guitar is supposed to go in the 5" (outside measurement) case? An ES-350? A 175?

I’ve written about cases a few times and covered the various manufacturers and changes. Recently, I’ve begun to notice some discrepancies in the presumably original cases that have been arriving at the OK corral. Here’s what keeps happening. I’ve been getting a lot of 1959 through 1963 335s and 345s in brown and black cases-nothing unusual about that-but here’s the weird thing-more than half of them are the wrong size. The correct Gibson badged ES-335 case is just under 4.5 inches deep. Lifton badged cases tend to be around 4.25″. Stone cases come in around 4.5. I don’t have an Ess and Ess on hand but they showed up later, anyway. Strangely, I’ve gotten a number of 5″ deep cases and I wondered what was going on? What guitar was this case supposed to fit? Even in the correct vintage case, a 335 tends to move around a good bit in its case but when the case has an extra half inch or so in there, it’s even worse. I have a 2″ piece of foam that I set on the strings that keeps the guitar from moving when the case lid compresses it.  The easiest part to change on a guitar is the case and lots of guitars end up with cases that are from a different era. But why would a vintage piece, from its original owner have the wrong case? The answer is deceptively simple. The new guitars would show up at your local music store-usually in a case-and would be unpacked and taken out of the case for display. No music store is going to sell many guitars if they don’t take them out of the case and put them up on the wall. The cases would be stacked up or leaned against a wall in the “back room”. I remember going into Manny’s on 48th Street when I was a kid to buy my first serious guitar. I wanted an Epiphone Crestwood and they brought one out for me to play (it was Inverness Green and horrible looking). I didn’t like it and asked to play a Fender instead. They pulled one off the wall and I ended up with a brand new 64 Jaguar and they put it in a brown case. All my friends played Fenders and they all had black cases which looked so much cooler. I was only 12 but I spoke up. The sales guy yells to a guy in the back room “hey Lou, bring me a black Fender case.” The guitar fit and I was off. The point is that they didn’t care whether they gave you the right case. They cared about whether the guitar actually fit into the case. They didn’t care much about how well it fit-just that you could get it in there and shut the lid. They didn’t carefully label each case as the guitar was removed in order to keep the guitar with the case it showed up in. It just wasn’t that important. At least until you tried to fit an ES-350 into an ES-335 case which was all you had left because you kept putting 335s into 350 cases.  So, my theory is that even if the case is wrong for the really expensive vintage guitar you just bought, it doesn’t mean that the seller is lying. In fact, the chances seem pretty good that the case you have for your guitar isn’t the case it showed up in. If there are a dozen semi hollow and hollow Gibsons in stock at the time yours was bought, the sales guy had an 8% chance of getting the right one. It may have been the correct one (a 335 in a 335 case) but it may not have been the one that it showed up in. Here’s another wrinkle. Most dealers offered a cheap cardboard case and a hard case (and you paid extra for the case-it wasn’t included). So, if a bunch of buyers cheaped out, there could be a glut of hard cases in the back room. I’m not certain if Gibson always shipped in a case-I’m assuming they generally did but the dealers also probably bought cases in separately so they could offer a range of them. In 1968, when I was 16, I was back at Manny’s buying an SG Standard. I had called to ask them how much it would be and brought the exact amount of cash. The case wasn’t included. Somewhere, there is a 68 SG in a vintage correct case (I bought one later) but the “original” case is a cardboard box.

Here's another photo. Why do Gibson badged brown cases handles turn blue? Another nice thing about early cases is that the handles are metal and they don't break like the plastic ones that show up in 63.

4 Responses to “Case by Case Basis”

  1. Mick Peel says:

    I have seen in old ’60’s Gibson catalogues that at the bottom of the page they would offer give an option of three cases for the featured guitar. The really cheap one would be a cardboard special which was probably good enough (just) to get your instrument home with, a medium grade which was wooden ply and then a ‘deluxe’ case which had a zippered overcover. These were obviously for guitars ordered through a dealer. As you say, if you bought off the wall at the dealer you took whatever he had.
    Regards. mick.

  2. OK Guitars says:

    Those case covers are super rare. I’ve had two of them and they sold for more than the case.

  3. Gary Gay says:

    Looks like those handles that “turned blue” actually started out as blue dyed handles intended for blue suitcases, but pressed into service as guitar case handles (with an appropriate coat of brown paint over the blue leather). Over time the brown wore off, exposing the blue leather underneath.

  4. okguitars says:

    My theory as well.

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