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ES-335-12 String

This 335-12 sold on Ebay for around $2K. The range for these is from around $1800-$3500. This was advertised as a 67 but it looks like a 66 to me.

I love twelve strings. I play mine all the time and truly enjoy it. It isn’t, however, an ES-335-12. So, why wouldn’t the guy who lives and breathes all things 335 play a different 12 string, especially when 60’s 335-12’s are so cheap? Because they are just about impossible to play, that’s why. It’s funny, all that great 335  tone translates well to 12 strings but the model had the misfortune of being developed

That's a big honkin' headstock. Rickenbacker had a clever solution.

right when the industry trend toward little skinny necks was in full bloom. It’s tough enough to play a 6 string that has a 1 9/16″ nut (for me anyway) but try playing twice as many strings in the same limited space. It is not fun and, for me, it just isn’t possible. I just get in my own way. There’s nothing wrong with the design. The double notched saddles work fine, the trap tail is functional, the headstock is a bit on the huge side and a bit top heavy but it’s manageable.  Gibson made the ES-335-12 from late 1965 until 1970.  Twelve string guitars were huge in the mid 60’s due to the tremendous popularity of the Beatles, Byrds and a few others who depended on the twelve for much of their distinctive sound. Tom Petty would pick up the mantle later on. What all of these players had in common was that none of them used a Gibson. They just about all used Rickenbackers, which aren’t much easier to play because they mostly have a small nut as well. At least Rickenbacker solved the giant headstock issue with a clever mix of slotted and standard tuners. Not everybody used a Ricky-I recall seeing the Hollies using a Vox Phantom 12 and plenty of acoustic 12’s on stage but the 335? Not a one. This seems odd because the 335 was still a very popular 6 string and Gibson sold over 2000 of the 12 string version between 65 and 70.  In fact, in 66, the 12 string version actually outsold the ES-345. This is another instance of players wanting to play what the big boys were playing and the big boys weren’t using Fenders or Gibsons at all. The Fender XII never really caught on that well with the pro players and Gibson twelves didn’t either.  There were also 12 string Firebirds, Melody Makers and even a few SGs and LPs but it seems nobody played them. The Ricky got all the glory probably because it had the sound everyone wanted. Due to the way it is strung (with the lower octave first rather than the higher one), the Ricky has that very distinctive “jangle”. What better way to emulate our guitar heroes than to use the same guitar (some things never change). Rickenbacker must have sold a zillion twelve strings while both Fender and Gibson flew below the radar. Even today, if you’re in the market for an electric 12, Rickenbacker owns the market even with their teeny little 1.63″ nut (except the 660-12). A fair number of 335-12 strings have been converted to 6 strings and that is actually a kind of intriguing option, especially if it’s done well. I’ve seen some conversions that are stunnungly good wherein the middle of the headstock is cut out and a new overlay in installed. But it doesn’t even take that much work. Change out the saddles and the nut and you’ve turned an nearly unplayable anachronism into a 335. It’ll look funny with that giant headstock but it will sound just like a 335 (same body and pickups) and you can get them for under $2000. It will still have a 1 9/16″ nut but you’ll only have 6 strings taking up space.  For the record, I play a Taylor acoustic/electric 12 with a 1 3/4″ nut.

This was once a 12. Nice conversion from this angle anyway. Sparkling Burgundy, too. A fair number 12s seemed to get this finish.

17 Responses to “ES-335-12 String”

  1. RAB says:

    Interesting post re the 335 12 string models. Yes, they were routinely converted to 6 string models especially it seems in the late 1960’s-early 1970s. A shop in Berkeley, CA called Guitar Resurrection (Larry Jameson) used to do the conversions including from Epiphone Riviera 12 string models!

  2. OK Guitars says:

    I wonder if he’s the guy who does those nearly invisible conversions where they replace the headstock overlay and veneer the back. Pretty nice work.

  3. Julos says:

    I have a ’67 ES-335/12 and I can’t have enough of its incredible sound both jangly and a jazzier than the Ric 12s and more enjoyable yo my ears. So there’s no way on Earth I will turn this beauty into a 6-strings one, its spirit deserves to be respected and I’ll keep it alive going with 12. I agree with its neck being too narrow though, and mine needs some luthier works since the neck is a bit soft and has trouble to hold the small strings tension. I found the perfect strings gauge : 9-9, 11-11, 9-16, 24-11, 16-32, 24-42 and I’ll keep it that way. I think Gibson should reissue this model, they have with the SGs and Les Paul so why not with the lovely 335.

  4. OK Guitars says:

    If only they would reissue it with a wider neck that you can actually play-not that most Rickys are any better.

  5. Brian says:

    I have an ES-335-12 that was used by Richie Furay of Buffalo Springfield. He usually played a black one onstage, but mine is cherry red. I’m not sure if he played one in his Poco years or not, I never saw them. There was also a band called Black Oak Arkansas who toured in the early 70’s and had a couple of minor hits on the radio. The guitarist has a cherry red 335-12 like mine. But you are right, they are a bit hard to play if you have fat fingers. I just re-strung mine and I still love it! It was my only guitar for more than a decade, so you get used to it after awhile! My next challenge is to make a new bone nut for it. I’ll tell you something though, Gibson does not make them as nice as they used to. I’ve checked out the newer custom shop ones, and close, but no cigar!

  6. Christian F. Owens says:

    I can’t believe I’m just now seeing this. The Sparkling Burgundy 12 string conversion is mine! It’s a 67 that suffered a hack conversion under the hands of it’s original owner in 67 or 68 was sold to it’s second owner in 69 where it was played, and played…and played until he retired it in the 90’s. I bought it in 2010 and then had Master Luthier Brian Monty reneck the guitar with a fatter neck profile, earlier spec wider nut width and headstock angle then finish the neck to the original body colour which has faded but not nearly as much as most of them have. Brian was able to use the original fingerboard and block inlays too then I had him add the Bigsby. It was a lot of work but it was worth it all, it’s an amazing guitar!

  7. cgelber says:

    Brian is a very talented luthier. I had one of his Flying Vees recently.

  8. Bernard says:

    I have a 2014 model Gibson ES-335 12 string (vintage cherry). It is a magnificent instrument, looks and sounds amazing. At the nut, the neck is 1 3/4″. I have a Rickenbacker 360 six string (and lots of other guitars – mostly Gibsons) and have played a couple of 12 string Rickys in my time and they are very tricky to play cleanly compared to my 335/12 due to their narrower necks. By pulling out the volume knobs for the pickups on the 335 you get tapped single coils and thus a more open sound (although a lower output). I haven’t yet figured out which is my favourite pickup selection because they all sound wonderful.

  9. cgelber says:

    They were smart to make a wide nut. The original 335 12 string was like a Ricky. It sounded great but was impossible to play with a 1 9/16″ nut.

  10. robert spivey says:

    I started with a Klira acoustic twelve, had a pickup clamped in the hole and a jack port installed. I play rhythn guitar. Mama let me go to Rhythm City to buy a pro guitar. I demo played the rickenbacker and the ES 335 TD twelve strings. The Byrds were a new group. I modled after Roger McGuinn, but I bought the Gibson. The Vox was too kinky and I think a Gretcsh (too heavy) was in there and didn’t make the cut. The Gibson elevated my ability, because I chose it not because it was easy but because anything worthwhile must be a challenge. The sound of that semi hollow came through with the most beautiful sustain and harmonics. Thats what must have made the sixer so popular with bands. So, I chose my guitar not because any one else I admired played one, I chose it because I wondered why my idols didn’t choose it for themselves anyway. I am a rhythm guitarist, more self thought of as an accompanist, I don’t make the guitar talk I make it sing the song, with the amp on about volume two. When I choose a chord and hammer on notes and open select strings , and working the chord up and down on my narrow neck, then with the I can make any lead guitarist sound better, and elevete his own performance. This is what you can do with an ES335-TD 12. To every thing there is a time and a purpose, under heaven. Bob Dylan is who I folowed after Santa Claus had brought me my first guitar. You can pick alll the shortcommings about the ES335 12 styles, but if the greats had realized what those guitars could have done for them too, the narratives, and all those discussions, about Gibson twelves would have offered praise. Kieth Richards says that a good accompanying guitar is what really gets him going, like weaving a song. I go to Guitar center and most everyone is playing riffs, I’ll just agree that the ES335 twelves are not good for that, but when I pick up a currently available ES335 12 at Guitar Center and rock out with “My MTV” or the Stones the leads around the store follow ME.

  11. robert spivey says:

    Correction; When I pick up a in stock ES335 12 at Guitar Center….. And Keith, if you’re listening I’m sorry I mispelled your name.

  12. brian middleton says:

    Just wanted to point out that there was at least one famous musician who played a 335-12 back in the day, John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas. If you Google John Phillips Monterey Pop, you’ll see photos of him onstage at the Monterey festival with his cherry red 335-12.

    I have one of the 60s 335-12s myself, and you’re right about the narrow nut being a bit of a nuisance, though it’s still a beautiful instrument (although not in as good cosmetic shape as the one in your photo!). I’ve thought about converting it to a 6-string. It would lose a lot of market value, obviously, but it would gain some playability.

  13. Conrad Forster says:

    Hi Charlie, I bought my sunburst ES335-12 at Heid Music in Appleton, WI in 1967. I was 16 at the time and I was looking at the Gibson or a Harmony 12 String. The Harmony had a thicker body and was a full hollow body. I just liked the Gibson better. I have owned it since and around 1975, it fell and broke the headstock completely off. Instead of using a local luthier, I opted to return it to Gibson. They replaced the complete neck and sealed the lacquer checked top to keep the checking from increasing. The most interesting thing is that the repair did not use the same tuning machines of the original. Gibson used their own individual tulip chrome machines. This change on the original size and shape headstock resulted in the machines having a wider spacing between machines. I would have included a picture but I could see how to accomplish that.

  14. Phil Hurd says:

    John Phillips of The Mamas And The Papas used his ES-335 12 regularly; including at Monterey in June 1967. I own a 1275, which suits my 12 string needs really well.

  15. Robert Burleson says:

    This covers the issue of the narrow neck 335s of the 60s but the rare non reverse Firebird 12, and Melody Maker/SG 12 were the same 1 9/16th scene, just like the Ricks were. I tried a Rick 660 12 but the stock frets are super low, which also is hard to play. I am looking for a 2013 ES -335 12 that has the 1 3/4″ neck width… just none around @ the moment.

    Over to regular 335s for a moment… I sure didn’t see many in 60s bands, as cool as they are. I guess on really prominent 335 in the late 60s was the Clapton Cream/Blind Faith one. Still, the 335 is the most versatile traditional model electric guitar ever.

  16. Bernard says:

    An up-date on my 2014 Gibson ES335/12…

    Since my previous post (above) I found and purchased a Rickenbacker 370/12 in Maple Glo to add to my collection. It was second hand but in almost new condition. The Ricky 12 is fitted with three of their toaster style pickups (whereas my Ricky 360 six string has their “Hi-Gain” pickups).

    My Ricky 370/12 has the same narrow neck as my Ricky 360 six string which makes playing accurately (particularly chords without touching and muting adjacent strings) substantially more difficult on the Ricky 12 than it is on my Gibson 335/12 with its wider 1 3/4″ neck.

    The Gibson came with odd gauged strings from the factory and when I changed the strings the first time to an Ernie Ball 12 string electric set (the only 12 string electric set I could get at the time) the intonation was no longer as close to perfect as it had been. The issue was the 6 saddle bridge. The lower octave strings were well intonated but some of the octave strings were out by a fair margin. So I did some internet searching and found a German company that made a 12 saddle bridge that was designed to fit over the poles of a standard Tune-o-matic and I had a local luthier install it for me. Having made such a great job with the Gibson, I then purchased a genuine Rickenbacker 12 saddle bridge for my 370/12 and had that fitted by the same luthier. When I picked up the Ricky from having the new bridge installed the luthier made an interesting comment. He said, “Your Gibson 335/12 string is the most in-tune 12 string I’ve ever heard.” He is quite possibly correct, although the Ricky 370/12 gives it a good run for its money now that it also has a 12 saddle bridge.

    Now, as to the comparison…

    I love playing both instruments. They both sound absolutely amazing, although slightly different. Both are absolutely gorgeous to look at and built to an exceptional standard.

    Being able to play 2 full octaves on every string is one advantage the Ricky has over the Gibson (with its two fewer frets).

    Playing lots of barre chords on the Gibson is a bit more tiring on the left hand due to the wider neck – more likely to end in cramp sooner.

    The headstocks are, of course, different. The Rickenbacker being much more compact with its unique layout of machine heads in an alternating right angled arrangement. While this looks neat, it does have the effect (on my guitar at least) that some of the strings that are held on the second gang of machine heads touch the truss rod cover on their way from the nut to the machine head’s pole. This makes those strings slightly more difficult to tune up (getting stuck) and possibly more prone to breaking.

    The Gibson headstock doesn’t look outrageously long as they have used mini-Grover machineheads and spaced them closer than normally would be the case on a six string model.

    The ability to tap the coils of the pickups on the Gibson 335/12 does give more variability in the tone that would otherwise be the case and when the pickups are tapped to single coil the tone is certainly more open and jangly but the different layout of the strings with the octave strings struck first, (rather than the other way around on the Ricky) and, no doubt, the different construction materials and methods, wider neck and different pickups, it doesn’t sound quite the same as the Ricky 370/12.

    The Gibson’s body is three ply construction, top back and sides with a solid block under the pickups and a Mahogany neck and Rosewood fingerboard with block pearloid inlays. The Rickenbacker on the other hand is exclusively made from maple apart from the Rosewood fingerboard. It is carved maple construction rather than ply wood but also has a solid block under the pickups.

    I think the Rickenbacker does sound slightly nicer acoustically than the Gibson (which does also sound very nice, mind you) and, incidentally, much nicer acoustically than my Ricky 360 six string (perhaps the Ricky’s overall design and construction works better for the 12 string than a six)

    Which do I prefer?

    Good question.

    Sometimes I will just play a few clean chords on the Ricky 12 through my small valve amp and the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. All I can utter is, “Wow! What an awesome guitar!” but then I’ll plug in the Gibson and play some screaming, over-driven lead (the easiest and most in tune octaves you’ll ever play) or a few chosen clean chords and… well… They’re both brilliant.

    I have some awesome guitars in my collection but I think, for pure tone, these two semi-hollow 12 string electrics take the prize. I’m so glad Gibson re-issued their 335/12 and that I was able to get one for myself but the Ricky 370/12 is awesome too. They’re both my favourites.

  17. Curt Steele says:

    I own two Rickenbacker 12 strings (381/12V69 which has a 1-5/8″ nut) (660/12 which has a 1-3/4″ nut)) but had always been curious about the 335 Gibson 12 string. When I saw that Gibson reissued this guitar with the 1-3/4″ nut I, bit the bullet and bought it. I have no regrets. I like my Rickenbackers but the Gibson 335/12 is a much more playable guitar. It sounds much more full with the dual coil pickups but you still have the option of single coil with the push/pull pots. It plays easier, stays in tune better, and is much easier to restring. Rickenbacker is a good guitar and has all the nostalgia that comes with it, but in my opinion the Gibson 335/12 is a better sounding and more user friendly guitar. If you get an opportunity to buy one of these 335 12 string reissues, don’t hesitate.

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