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Weird Stuff from the Early Days

OMG, this 335 is built upside down!! How cool is this? Near mint 58. Too bad it isn't mine (and I'm right handed). I think this one is calling to Sir Paul. Hey, Beatle-are you out there?

I’ve had the good fortune to have 2 ’58 ES-335’s in my hands this week-one a near mint lefty. Interestingly, both guitars had an early (and rather different) version of the ABR-1 bridge and one had a most unusual stoptail. The early ABR-1 is not, as many websites would have you believe, a shaved “normal” ABR-1. It is actually a whole ‘nother version that is about half the depth of the “normal” one. Interestingly both 58s had completely collapsed bridges. It is clear that this was a design flaw and I’m not surprised that none

The bridge on top is the original and the bottom is the "normal" one. No wonder they all collapsed.

of the 58s I’ve had in years past had this little bridge. It just doesn’t hold up under pressure. The reason for the shallow ABR-1 is because of the very shallow neck angle the first ES-335s had. If you use a full size ABR-1, it often needs to sit right on the top of the guitar (which isn’t a problem but Gibson must have felt that there had to be some room for further adjustment). I think it would be very cool if someone like Callaham made a shallow ABR-1 just for these early 335’s. The cheap metal that Gibson used can’t cut it but if you carve it out of a block of steel (or titanium) I’m guessing it would work just fine. The other oddity is the stoptail on the lefty. The cut out part of the stop that “fits” into the studs usually is a little deeper than the stud itself. This 58 has a much shallower cut and, as a result, the stop doesn’t extend as far forward as it usually does-so it looks a bit like a wraptail looks when the set screws are screwed in all the way.  I checked the 58’s on the “other” ES-335 site and found one that had the same tailpiece. Look for A28598.  It is, of course, impossible for Gibson, or any other manufacturer for that matter, to know for certain how a new part will hold up over years of use without some kind of sophisticated long term testing. There was nothing like that available, so I’m assuming they modified the design so that it worked on Day One and didn’t worry too much about the long term consequences. They eventually changed the neck angle to allow for more bridge adjustment but there is a belief among aficionados that the ones with the shallow neck angle sound better. You can count me among them. 1958 is a favorite year of mine. They are unique among 335s in that the top has one less ply in the wood and so the tops are much thinner and the guitars tend to be more resonant. they are also very fragile. I’ve seen more than a few with some serious cracks in the top. The body shape is slightly different too-the ears are not as round as “Mickey Mouse” ears but not as pointy as a 64. Even the headstock inlay position is a little different than the other dot necks. Much as I love 58’s, I do have a bit of a problem with that huge neck with my little hands. It occurs to me that perhaps the most famous lefty player doesn’t have one of these as far as I know, even though he has been a fan of the Epiphone Casino for 47 years or so. So, Sir Paul, if you are reading, I can have this one put aside for you. You think that Les Paul sounds good? OK, actually it does, but you’ll like this one even better, I promise.

Here's a comparison of the "normal" tailpiece on the right and the tailpiece from the lefty on the left.

4 Responses to “Weird Stuff from the Early Days”

  1. RAB says:

    Speaking of weird, early 335s, I found and owned for a short time what may have been a prototype ’58. It had an unbound fingerboard and nearly flat neck angle. It wasn’t drilled for tuneomatic bridge studs or for a stop tailpiece. It had some kind of trapeze or vibrato tailpiece and perhaps an archtop
    type or Bigsby bridge. The guitar was missing the bridge and tailpiece when I purchased it in Tulsa in 1975.

  2. OK Guitars says:

    The first production 58’s had the unbound board and the shallow neck angle. I’m sure there were prototypes of all sorts since it was an entirely new concept. Had it been a Bigsby configuration it may have used the Bigsby bridge which sits on the top. In that case there would be no ABR-1 or stoptail stud holes. So, it could have been an early production guitar (or it could have been a prototype). You don’t recall the serial number do you?

  3. RAB says:

    Charlie, I will have a look at the photo album I used to keep to see if I recorded the serial number, RAB

  4. RAB says:

    Charlie, I found an old Polaroid photo of the above early 335. My note on the back of the photo said there was no serial number and in looking thru the F-hole in the picture I could see no orange label. The label might have “gone missing” or maybe there never was one…

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