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I’m Fixing a Hole

The "Custom Made" plaque is the most common method used by Gibson to cover stoptail holes from 61 until they stopped using the stop in early 65. Not my favorite look but there are other ways to accomplish this. Gibson had a few of their own which were much more elegant. Then some genius came up with this.

At some point or other, when Bigsbys began to gain popularity, Gibson decided to offer them as an extra cost option. A Bigsby was available on ES-335s as early as 58 and was standard on the ES-355 which began production that same year.  I’ve covered Bigsbys pretty thoroughly, I think but I haven’t covered Gibson’s sometimes less-than-clever ways of covering up the stoptail holes. Because there are plenty of 335s and 345s that are “Bigsby only” meaning there were never any stud holes for a stoptail, it is unclear what Gibson was thinking when they decided to make some of them with the stoptail studs and some without. One possibility is that if you ordered a Bigsby as a custom order, you would get no stud holes. Obviously, if you sent your guitar back to Gibson to have a Bigsby installed, the holes would be there. So, whose idea was it to cover them up and how did it evolve the way it did? It was probably cheaper to just drill all the bodies for stoptails and add Bigsbys as needed, using some material to fill the holes. It seems counterintuitive but Gibson, being Gibson, always had its eye on the bottom line. I think the idea of being able to convert from stop to Bigsby and back at will wasn’t the motivating factor here. I think it was economics. There were a number of ways that Gibson went about “fixing the holes.” The best known (and the last of the iterations) is the “Custom Made” plaque which not only looks kind of dumb but caused Gibson some problems as well. Gibson started using this method of covering the stud holes around 1961. You’ll see them on earlier guitars but they were often retrofitted when the guitar was sent back for a Bigsby. It’s also possible that Gibson supplied the plate to dealers for use when the Bigsby installation was done by the dealer. That might explain the three or four different ways that the plaque was attached–two brads, four brads, contact cement, two brads and contact cement and in at least one case I’ve seen, velcro. The problem that these caused was that the idea of a “custom made” guitar was just too cool for many players to pass up and Gibson was (apparently) swamped with requests to fit the plaque on guitars. It didn’t matter if there was a Bigsby or not-people seemed to like the status symbol of a “custom made” guitar even if it wasn’t custom made at all. The 50’s and early 60’s had a fairly status oriented mindset. I remember my father buying a color TV because our next door neighbors got one in 1962 or so. The next door neighbor (like my father, a doctor) drove  a Thunderbird, so my father had to drive a Lincoln. You get the idea. Gibson earlier solutions to fixing the holes were much more elegant, however. The most common is a pair of pearl dots which were simply glued over the holes. Sometimes they are under the finish (which makes it difficult to remove them cleanly) and sometimes they are on top. It’s a great look and a zillion times more elegant than that plaque. I’ve seen the dots most often in 58/59 although there are exceptions. There is a clever solution that you don’t see very often but I had one recently. They are threaded metal studs just like the stoptail studs but which have been milled flat so that they sit more or less flush with the top of the guitar. No glue, no fuss and they stay put forever. My guess is that this solution was too expensive-after all, a threaded steel stud probably cost ten cents back then whereas a couple of pearloid dots probably cost ten cents for a hundred.  So, you don’t see the metal stud option for very long. Most of the ones I’ve seen are from 59 and maybe early 60. That last “solution” before some genius came up with the “Custom Made” plaque are the black plastic dots. These, like the pearl dots, were cheap and easy to install with a dab of contact cement. The black dots are slightly raised so they are always on top of the finish and therefore easy to remove. They look just fine and are common during 1960 and 1961. By late 61, they too are history and Gibson standardizes the plaque as the norm. Too often, Gibson’s solution to a problem has more to do with economics than anything else. If by chance Gibson made their guitars more attractive to the buyers of the day by calling something “custom made” that pretty clearly was not, then the larger fault lies with the gullible buyer and not the marketing guys who saw this as a cheap and simple solution to what was quite possibly an economic issue. Maybe they really were geniuses.

Pearl dots seem to be the earliest solution. although it may have been predated by the metal stud solution. They seem to overlap. This is my 59 red dot neck that I had for a while. The dots were under the finish on this one. Looks very "organic".

 

This is a great solution but you don't see it that often. Probably because it cost Gibson more than a couple of cheap pieces of plastic. I recently had a 59 with this configuration

Then there's the black plastic dot which is always over the finish since they are raised (and easy to remove. These are most common in 60 and 61. This is a mint 60 ES-345.

 

 

6 Responses to “I’m Fixing a Hole”

  1. RAB says:

    Fascinating as always! Definitely the pearl dots are the most elegant solution but I think the black dots also look sharp!

  2. Butch says:

    I have a mono 67 355 that was stoptailed by the original owner. It had the maestro on it when I got it and I used it that way for a while. I just put the gold stoptail studs in, screwed all the way down. They weren’t in the way at all and really didn’t look bad. What I need is a solution for all those original maestro holes lol.

  3. Nelson Checkoway says:

    Hey Charlie – I had a ’59 ES-345 with the milled-down studs. Yes, I thought that was a sensible solution. On another forum (you get around!) I saw you commented on the need to confirm whether the Custom Made plaque actually covers stud holes. I had to check on an early ’65 I owned and discovered a simple, non-invasive solution. On a hunch, I assumed they were steel, so I passed a magnet over the plaque and could feel the pull of the stud sleeves under what would be their proper position. I’m not sure whether most or all are steel – it would be good to hear whether this theory holds up with most stoptail stud sleeves. If it can be confirmed, it’s an easy way to get a seller who’s reluctant to take things apart to confirm that they are present.

  4. cgelber says:

    They are always steel. Good solution.

  5. Christian says:

    Where can these be purchased? I can’t find them anywhere!

  6. cgelber says:

    The plaques are around on Ebay -usually reproductions. Pearl dots can be sourced at StewMac. The metal screw down milled studs are not available anywhere although any good metal worker could make you a set from a set of studs.

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