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Wonderful One-Off ES-355

One of the coolest 355's ever. And one of the rarest. Can you spot anything strange about this guitar?

Before the advent of the “Custom Shop”, Gibson was turning out custom instruments for artists, players and just plain folks. While Fender was cranking out its cookie cutter line, Gibson offered one off instruments to just about anyone who wanted one and was willing to pay a premium for it. You could order a 345 with a 355 fingerboard and inlays or a 355 with nickel hardware. If you wanted a stereo ES-335 with a Varitone, they would do that as well. They would also paint your guitar in a color that wasn’t standard, although it had to be a color they offered. With very few exceptions, you won’t find a Gibson painted in a non-Gibson color. One of the great rarities in the ES line is the sunburst ES-355. The only standard color offered is red. They exist in blonde, black, white and sunburst as well. I think we can safely assume that non red 355’s are all special orders. So, to find a sunburst ES-355 is a needle in a haystack. To find one with bound f-holes is a needle in two haystacks. Gibson didn’t bind f-holes on ES-355’s until the 70’s so to find a 62 with this feature is unusual, to say the least. My first thought was that perhaps they were done after the guitar left the factory but on closer inspection, I believe they were done at Gibson. The way I see it, the f-holes themselves have to be oversized in order to make room for the binding and I just don’t think many luthiers would want to start routing the top out just to get bound f-holes. The likely scenario is that someone called the folks at Gibson (or wrote a letter-remember those?) and asked them to make a sunburst ES-355 with bound f-holes.

Note the unusual Varitone knob. Also, the old style bonnet knobs and the bound f-holes.

Interestingly, the sunburst is not typical, as you can see from the photos. There is much more red and the darkest tones that are typical of a Gibson sunburst are absent. It is closer to the cherryburst that would appear a few years later. This sunburst a bit more subtle than the later cherryburst with a darker center-more orange than yellow. The guitar also has bonnet type knobs rather than the reflector type that were stock in 1962. You might also notice a few more oddities…the Varitone knob isn’t a chickenhead. This is actually pretty standard on ES-355s with the sideways trem. The reason is simple-the chickenhead knobs bumps into the trem arm making certain positions of the six way switch inaccessible. I had a 345 with a sideways and a chickenhead and you couldn’t get it into position 5 or 6 without moving the trem arm. There is a mystery, however.  Why (oh, why) is the truss rod cover upside down? I don’t think that’s a custom option.  Thanks to Rob, a regular reader and the owner of this old gal. The guitar was bought new by his father from a local Mom and Pop music store and Rob inherited it when his father passed away.  I wish my father had collected guitars. The only thing he seems to have collected was sons (he had 9 of them). This guitar certainly ranks way up there on the cool scale for 355s. I’d put the pickup covers back on if it were mine but that’s just me. If you have a one off or custom Gibson, send me an email with some photos and as much history as you know and I’ll be happy to feature it here.

Here's the original owner playing with his swing band circa 1978. Check out that collar. Truss cover is still upside down.

4 Responses to “Wonderful One-Off ES-355”

  1. Gordon Walker says:

    Charlie,
    It’s a joy to read you again, and I hope it means that the worst of the Sandy
    crisis is over for you and your family.

  2. RAB says:

    +1000 on the returning to normal comment! I dig this 355! The Custom Shop turned out some quirky gits in the ’50s and ’60s!

  3. wayne laurie says:

    Is this guitar for sale ? I am looking for an ES 345 /347/ 355 or
    ES Artist guitar.

  4. OK Guitars says:

    This belongs to a reader. It is not currently for sale.

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