Different or Better?

This '65 might sound every bit as good as a 64 that costs twice as much. The Golden Era didn't end on Sunday and a "What a POS Era" didn't begin on Monday. The "What a POS Era" really didn't start for another 5 years or so. And that's just my opinion, 70's players.

Most Gibson guys refer to the period from 1958 to 1964 as The Golden Era and there is some validity to that.  Certainly, the most valuable Gibson electrics were made during the era (although not the most valuable acoustics (and mandolins and banjos). But what makes them that much better (and more expensive) than, say, a 65 or a 68.  A lot of it has to do with popularity. What do collectors and players want? The Golden Era has a few things going for it that make them more in demand but are these things necessarily better? Wide necks are a good place to start. In 1965, players didn’t want wide necks. The trend was toward more “Fenderlike” necks and that meant 1 5/8″ or less at the nut. Gibson responded in mid 65 and standardized the nut width at 1 9/16″ where it would remain (with some exceptions) through 1981. Today, people want a 1 11/16″ nut. Is it better? Well, it’s better for me but that’s just a matter of comfort and playability. If you can play a 1 9/16″ nut, then perhaps you should look more closely at 65-68 ES models. What about pickups? No one is going to argue about how good a PAF can sound. Can sound. Not sounds. Not all are stellar. I’ve played plenty of later guitars with wonderful sounding pickups-not as good as the best PAF but certainly better than the worst. The post PAF but pre T-top pickups are mostly excellent. You can be fairly certain that if the cover is nickel (on a 335, anyway), then the pickup is the same as a late PAF. If you have a pre ’65 gold hardware guitar, the chances are awfully good that you have the same pickup because Gibson went through their remaining stock of gold early patents (and PAFs) more slowly.  There is a prevailing myth that T-top pickups showed up in 1965 and that if you want a pickup that sounds like a PAF, anything after 64 is going to be a crapshoot. Myth. Not true. I’ve never had a 65 with T-tops. Granted, I don’t open every pickup I get but it’s a pretty good bet that up to 67, you won’t get one. I’ve had a 69 335 with pre T-tops as well, so they are around for awhile. They won’t have the enamel coated windings of a PAF, so the tone is somewhat different but they are still quite good and very consistent. So, if you want the tone of the Golden Era but not the price and you can handle the narrow neck, then a 65 or 66 or 67 might be just the ticket. Wait, there’s more. What about the demise of the stop tail in early 65? Don’t stoptails sound better than trapezes? Different?  Yes, a bit. Better? Well, stoptails look better, I think, but I can’t say they necessarily sound better. It seems like they should, given the physics of a guitar and its tailpiece but, to be truthful, they don’t. I’ve played a few 65’s with trapezes that will keep up with any 64 for tone and sustain. It seems that most of the sound is transmitted through the bridge posts and those are identical. What about 68 and later? There is another prevailing myth about 68’s that I’ve mentioned and it doesn’t seem to want to go away. I’ll say it again. 1968 ES-335s do not have a 1 11/16″ nut. I don’t care what a certain popular (and mostly accurate) website says. The necks can be pretty chunky but they are still narrow. 68’s can be a good choice if you can handle 1 9/16″ but there’s a pretty good chance that the guitar will have T-tops (still a decent sounding pickup). They have bigger f-holes and they look a little funny to me  but they are made pretty much the same as a 65. It’s the 69’s you have to watch out for. The neck tenon all but disappears early in 69. The one piece neck goes away. The dreaded volute shows up. And from there it’s all downhill until the early 80’s.

4 Responses to “Different or Better?”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, +1,000 as they like to say on the Les Paul Forum! I have some specific experience like your’s. We were going to put a stop tail piece on my nephew’s early ’65 ES-335 (all nickel parts except pickup covers, wide at the nut) and had procured the correct vintage parts. However the guitar played and sounded so good we decided it’d be a shame to modify the vintage, all original git-tar…in terms of sound I’d say the trapeze invoked more of a “jazz guitar” sound…less bite and treble response than a stop-tail set-up and, as you note, not better or worse, just different! The guitar seemed to sustain as well as any stop tail piece ES model I’ve played…so we left it alone!

  2. OK Guitars says:

    My exact experience with a big neck 65

  3. ty millsaps says:

    thanx for sharing…didn’t notice any difference in tone on my ’67 converted to stop!…my ’67 9/16 neck was chunky from ’bout 7th fret up!

  4. OK Guitars says:

    Usually, there is a difference-not usually better or worse-just a bit different. I’ve done conversions that sound pretty much the same as well but it isn’t the norm.

Leave a Reply

Optionally add an image (JPEG only)