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More 58 Stuff

This is A27703, a very early 58 ES-335. Note the cutaway shape-not Mickey Mouse ears. Actually closer in shape to a 64 than a 59. There's more.

It sure is loads of fun to get a new old guitar. I flew to Erie, PA this week (insert joke here)  to pick up another unbound 58. There are certain places in the USA that you just can’t get to easily. Too far to drive in a day (950 miles round trip) and too close to fly without making really terrible connections. So, I flew. I spent 3 hours in four airplanes and 10 hours waiting in airports. I do give a tip of the hat to the nice folks at USAir who let me carry the guitar onto the plane on both legs of the flight, although the guy at the gate in Philly said I couldn’t, the guy who takes your baggage said I couldn’t but the flight attendant said I could. I admit I’m being a bit self serving writing about guitars I have for sale but, as you might have guessed, nobody pays me to write. But there is some pretty interesting evolution going on once you get to see enough early unbound 58’s. The unbound neck I sold last month, A28100, had Mickey Mouse ear cutaways. This one, A27703, has sort of pointy ears but not quite like a 64. Only the earliest 58’s seem to have them. There are other unique aspects of the early 58’s that are a little less obvious. It appears that a lot of handwork was done on the first batch-you can see it in the routs for the pickups. They are unusually neat and tidy compared to later guitars. There’s little stuff like the inlay is lower than it is on the later ones but it isn’t a low as a 67. The truss rod cover is higher on a 58 than any other year. The Kluson tuners can be a little different too. The 59 and 60’s are notorious for the tips disintegrating while 58’s seem more able to survive. There was a change in the formulation of the plastic sometime in 58, I believe that caused the problem. The patent was granted to Kluson at around this time so you might get “patent number” or “patent applied for” -look on the back-or you might get three of each. They are identical. Here’s an interesting one-on all 50’s and 60’s ES-335’s, the maple center block has a strip of spruce on the top of it. On all of them except the very earliest 58’s, that spruce piece is kerfed-probably to make it easier for it to follow the arch of the top. The earliest 58s have the spruce piece but it isn’t kerfed. It appears that they were still developing the design while the guitar was being manufactured-and this isn’t that unusual. It takes a little trial and error to get any assembly  process running smoothly. Gibson was clearly trying to get the guitar out to the retailers but they were also trying to streamline the process to increase productivity. If a particular procedure was taking too long, the bean counters would ask that some other methodology be used in order to keep the line moving. Fewer procedures and less time on those procedures meant higher profits and that was, in large part, was companies like Gibson worried about. If you ever tried to stuff a harness into an f-hole, you’ll know what I’m talking about. The simple center block cut under the bridge pickup, used intermittently between 61 and 65 before it became the norm, probably saved minutes on each guitar. It’s hard to mentally backward engineer what I see on the early 58’s – especially elements like logo positions and cutaway shape. I have no clue why they changed the shape from what you see in the photo above to the classic “Mickey Mouse” ears. I’m going to guess that these early ones were done before the forms were complete, so there is some inconsistency in the shape due to increased hand work. Again, that’s a guess. Once the MM ears came in, they are very consistent. The tops, as I’ve mentioned are 25% thinner on most, if not all 58’s-not just the unbound ones. I’m not sure when Gibson decided to add the extra ply but I’m sure the bean counters weren’t happy about the increased expense. The tops were probably cracking at an alarming rate and Gibson had to do something to keep the customers happy. Many 58’s have a crack somewhere on the top-usually around the jack. But that thin top gets to vibrating better than the later ones and this gives these first 335’s a tone unlike any that followed. These may not be the most coveted 335 (that would be the 59) but they are the best sounding if you ask me. More on this to come.

That's the 58 on the left and a 63 on the right. Note the position of the logo and inlay. Also note the bottom of the truss rod cover-much higher on the 58 but it also looks like the tuners are a little higher on the 58 as well because the TRC's are the same size and the tops sit in the same position relative to the tuners.

Patent Applied Kluson on the left, patent number on the right. The earlier ones used a different plastic formulation that is less prone to off gassing and shrinking and crumbling to dust. The transition from Patent Applied and patent number occurred in 1958.

2 Responses to “More 58 Stuff”

  1. RAB says:

    Man, that sunburst ’58 335 is one gorgeous git-fiddle! I love the simplicity of the look of unbound fingerboard too! Interesting about the pointier cutaway shape. I suppose that goes against the theory that the later (late ’63 and beyond) ES cutaways were due to worn-out templates? Anyway, these early 335s are awesome!

  2. OK Guitars says:

    The sunburst on 59’s is a bit different than most 59’s too. More dark on the edges and the cutaways. Unbound 58 is my favorite of the dot necks. This one and A28100 which was the last one I had were great sounding guitars. In fact, I haven’t had a 58 that I didn’t like (bound or not).

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