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Bonnets, Top Hats and Witch Hats.

Here's a nice example of a set of bonnet (or "bell") knobs from the nice folks at Vintage Correct parts. There's a link for their store over in the links. Nice guys, too.

It’s not a millinery convention, it’s a post about knobs. I’ve covered them sort of peripherally in the posts about plastics but there are some finer points and dates that merit a little more detail. The first ES models had the “bonnet” or “bell” type knob. You know, the Les Paul type that are gold colored and are numbered 1-10. These are also called tophats by some but I usually refer to the later reflector type as a tophat.  All 58 and 59 ES-335s and 345s had them (except the 10 or so red ones that have surfaced).  The earliest  ES-355s had them too but most 355s of the era have the same knob in black. Of the ten

These are reflectors-"short shaft" on the right and "long shaft" on the left.

made in 1958, the three or four that have surfaced all have the gold bonnets. Once red guitars became standard issue, the black knobs became common but not for long. Most, if not all 1959 ES-355s have black bonnets and  a few early 60 335s and 345s (in red) have them as well. By early 1960, the first reflector knobs showed up. I suppose it was important to someone that the knobs were designated as tone and volume on the knob itself. After all, it can be pretty confusing to have four knobs with no labels-at least for the first 20 minutes you own the guitar. Reflector knobs (which I call tophats) come in a few sizes and shapes. The earliest ones are what I called “short shaft” where the opening for the pot shaft is positioned very low in the knob. It seems this type lasted into early 62-more or less. After that, the shaft was set farther into the knob-probably to make them fit more flush to the top of the guitar. The reflector knob was in use at Gibson well into the 70’s but not on the 335. They came in black and in gold. They also came with silver reflectors and gold reflectors. As they age, it can be hard to tell the silver from the gold. As you might expect, the gold insert gold knobs were for sunburst ES-345s and the gold insert black knobs were for ES-355s and red ES-345s. If you’re lucky enough to own a sunburst 355, it would have a gold knob with a gold reflector insert. I know of exactly two of them. By late 66, the ES-335 and its brethren got the witch hat knob which looks suspiciously like a Fender amp knob. To my eye, witch hats never really looked right on a guitar-maybe because we were all so used to seeing blackface and silverface fender amps by the time Gibson decided to change the knobs on the ES series. They are called witch hats because they look a lot like a witch hat. Duh. The transition occurred right near the end of 66. Most 66’s have reflectors and virtually all 67s have witch hats. There are enough other ways to date your “on-the-cusp” 66-67 that the knobs-which are easy to change anyway, aren’t a critical dating feature. The 335 kept the witch hats until the 81 reissue dot neck was released which went back to a somewhat modified bonnet knob-now more amber than gold and with a slightly shallower slope to the sides. Wait, what about “speed” knobs. You know, the barrel shaped knobs that were on early goldtop Les Pauls? Didn’t they show up on 335s too? Well, actually, they show up a lot but not from the factory. Given that nothing Gibson ever does is totally consistent, I wouldn’t be surprised if a few slipped through that way. I can just see the assembly guy on a Friday afternoon in July. He just finished a batch of ES-335 “Pro” models (which did have speed knobs as did the ES-347) and he has one more standard 335 to knock out before quittin’ time. He’s got a pile of speed knobs on his table and no witch hats. Whaddya think he’s gonna do? Go all the way across the room to grab 4 witch hats from the bin or stick on the speed knobs that he already has? It’s Friday. It’s July. It’s hot. Duh.

Here's a set of witch hats in their native habitat. Note the inserts are gold. If they're silver, they should be on a red 335. 345s and 355s got the gold inserts no matter what color they were. Walnut finishes normally got the gold.

11 Responses to “Bonnets, Top Hats and Witch Hats.”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, great, detailed info as usual! I have to check the “tophat” knobs on my ’63 ES-335 and ’61 Epi Crestwood to see what kind of shafts they have…

  2. RAB says:

    Ooops…make that ES-355…

  3. mitas says:

    Would you know if the 1958 ES 345 from Back to the Future had gold or silver tophat knobs?

  4. cgelber says:

    It wasn’t a 58. They didn’t make 345’s until 59 and I believe the one in the film was a 63 (actually there were two different ones, apparently). The knobs should have been black with gold reflectors. I can’t tell if they were gold or silver.

  5. MDB says:

    Great info — oddly enough I have a late ’65 335 with witchhats but of course no way to tell if they’re original but it seems possible since the guitar has some other custom quirks and is likely an employee customized one-off. I’m missing one tone knob, so debating whether to replace just the one or swap em all out for reflectors…

  6. cgelber says:

    If its a late 65 it wouldn’t have had witch hats. So either it isn’t or somebody changed the knobs. Lots of 65 serial numbers got re-used later causing lots of confusion but there are many other ways to tel what year these are.

  7. Paul says:

    found your post very informative. Just acquired a box of old speed knobs and need some help figuring what they go to, how old, etc.Could I send you some pictures.

    Thanks

    Paul

  8. cgelber says:

    Sure send some photos. 335’s never had speed knobs but I’ll take a look. send to okguitars@gmail.com

  9. MattAlex says:

    Hi,

    I have a 1979 ES 335 TD but the original witch hat knobs have been replaced before I bought it. I wondered what type and colour witch hat would it of originally had? It is a sunburst but not red more black to yellow, tobacco maybe?

    Many thanks,

    Matthew

  10. cgelber says:

    It would have had gold inserts in the witch hat knobs.

  11. gmac says:

    Good article. I have a ’70 335 and it came with three sets of knobs from the original owner. The speeds, the top hats. and witch. Not knowing decades ago when I acquired the 335, (pre-net) I put the witch hats on with the gold inserts as I thought those looked best for some reason. Good to know that I made the right choice from a period true point.

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