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The First “Artist” ES-335

Black. Cool. This is an early 67 Trini Lopez in factory black. I thought it looked great in Pelham blue but this has that "tuxedo" elegant thing going on.

Gibson has always been the leader in “artist” models. Even in the 50’s and 60’s, the list is pretty huge: Les Paul, Barney Kessel, Hank Garland and Billy Byrd, George Gobel, Tal Farlow, Johnny Smith and Trini Lopez. That list would explode in the 90’s and the artist models would come fast and furious for the decades which followed. But of all the early artist models, only one was a semi hollow. That one is, of course, the Trini Lopez standard or, more correctly, “regular” (that’s what it says on the label). It was just before Christmas in 1964 that the first Trinis were ready to ship. They were among the first 335 type guitars to get the trapeze tailpiece. The 335 still sported the stoptail for the early weeks of 1965 but the Trini was trap tail right from the start. The Trini was as different from the 335 of the era as it was similar. It shared the same construction-maple laminate body with a maple center block, rosewood fingerboard (the early ones are Brazilian), 24 3/4″ scale, two patent number pickups and the same electronics. It was largely ornamentation that set the Trini apart except for that headstock. Trini Lopez himself had a big hand in the design and wanted all six tuners on the same side. The Firebird was already in production, so the TL model used a 335 style neck carved with a Firebird headstock. The result is a little disconcerting looking but kind of cool too. No banjo tuners here, however. The ornamentation is most un 335-like. F-holes aren’t f-holes at all but diamond shaped slashes. 335’s have unbound f-holes, the Trinis are bound. While the 335 of the era had block markers, the Trini had split diamonds. The trapeze is a standard issue example with a rosewood insert with a plastic engraved plaque announcing the name of the guitar’s namesake. The earliest Trinis have nickel hardware but the transition to chrome was quick and nickel models are fairly rare and command a premium. The very early ones have a 1 1/16″  nut and are also rare and relatively pricey. Standard issue 335’s are rarely found in unusual colors; the factory stock colors were red and sunburst. The Trini, on the other hand, was, by 1967, available in four colors. While the overwhelming majority of Trinis are red, the “regular” was also available in Pelham blue, Sparkling burgundy and black. As far as I know, no factory records exist to tell us how many of each were shipped. Urban legend says that 16 Pelham blue Trinis were made. That seems low to me but that’s only because I’ve seen a fair number of them over the years. I had a wonderful near mint Pelham a couple of years ago. It was one of the first guitars featured in this blog. They are desirable, rare and expensive. The fact that Dave Grohl famously played a blue Trini probably has a lot to do with that. He, of course, has his own artist model now which is, in fact, a Trini Lopez reissue (even though there was a Trini Lopez reissue as well). I’ve seen five or six sparkling burgundy examples in the past few years but that color is notably unpopular and no one seems to pay much attention to them. This week, I saw my first black one and, of course, I bought it. Out of 1,966 Trini Lopez regulars shipped, the overwhelming majority are red. I think the overwhelming minority are black.

I think I've seen the bass player someplace before but Rusty Anderson, the guitar player is playing a black Trini here. That's the only other one I know of. Thanks to Simon in the UK for tipping me off to this one.

One of my all time favorites was this 67 Pelham blue Trini Lopez I had back in 2010.

8 Responses to “The First “Artist” ES-335”

  1. Nelson Checkoway says:

    Hey Charlie – you must be a mind reader. I was going to ask you about black Trinis because I saw one online about 6 years ago and had been wondering if they were for real, how common, etc. It had the word “CUSTOM” stamped on the label. A lot of crazing in the black finish. It’s one issue was a Melita bridge replacing the tune-o-matic (though I never found out whether the Melita simply dropped onto the TM studs or had required redrilling). I think it was asking just under $7K – seemed like a lot when the book value on Trinis was around $3K. But I feel I missed out on a rare bird. That’s a beautiful one you got — looks brand new. Nice catch!

  2. OK Guitars says:

    Shoulda woulda coulda. Story of my life. That’s why I have an itchy trigger finger these days. You learn from your mistakes.

  3. Tom says:

    Ya know, I never understood the whole Pelham Blue thing, but man, that is one sweet black beauty! LOVE it. Those bound diamond holes are the icing on the cake. Wow. You’re a lucky man, Charlie!

  4. rob says:

    That guitar looks great in black. I wonder how hard it is to get the electronics out through one of those holes. Of all the Gibson artist models, the one I’d like to have is their Howard Roberts Fusion one with the fancy fingers tailpiece.

  5. OK Guitars says:

    The electronics don’t go in through the f-holes. There is a cut in the centerblock under the bridge pickup to facilitate harness installation. Only the early 335s and a few mono 355s had the uncut centerblock. You start seeing it in late 61 but it wasn’t until 65 that all centerblocks were cut. I had an early 65 with the solid block.

  6. OK Guitars says:

    Perseverance and nothing less. Luck is a big part of it but you have to know where to look (and how often to look). And yes, I’m lucky when it comes to guitars. In the past year I’ve found a red 59 dot neck, a stoptail 355, a blonde 355 and a black Trini. Those are all incredibly rare. The Pelham Blue thing requires having it in person. They look kind of dopey in the photos but once it’s in your hands, it’s a thing of beauty. Always wanted a PB SG Standard.

  7. Justin says:

    Hi, Just to let you know I have a 1966 Black Trini Lopez!!!
    I have never ever seen one anywhere in the world until I saw the same Paul McCartney gig, I wasn’t sure if his guitar was an original or a reissue.
    I was told told many years ago when I got the guitar that there were only ever 60 made in Black in 1966 and it is incredibly rare…..I just don’t know how much to insure it for or what its true value is.

  8. cgelber says:

    I’ve had two of them in the last 18 months and they are rare for sure. I think 60 is a high number. I’d guess more like half that but that’s just a guess. I would value it at around $8000-$10000 depending on condition and originality. I’ve seen them listed for much higher but I’ve sold two and that’s the range for retail. Blue ones are worth more.

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