Why So Cheap?

A very rare "watermelon" ES-330. This is the only one I've ever seen. They started making red 330's in 1960 at about the same time they changed the red dye so there can't be very many out there.

A very rare “watermelon” ES-330. This is the only one I’ve ever seen. They started making red 330’s in 1960 at about the same time they changed the red dye so there can’t be very many out there.

ES-330’s are a great deal and have been for some time. I don’t know if it’s because it was  considered a “student” model or whether the comparison to a 335 kept it out of the spotlight. It can’t be the P90’s-who doesn’t like P90’s? You can pay some very serious money for a gold top with the exact same pickups, so I don’t think it’s that. Maybe the fully hollow body causes some to turn away. But there are folks who spend big money on Byrdlands and ES-350’s and other thin hollow body electrics. I don’t think it’s the spartan appointments that make it worth less than half of what a comparable year 335 is worth. After all, 335’s are worth more than 345’s and 355’s and they have more appointments than a shrink in September.  They don’t sound like a 335 (not worse-just different) but they still sound good. Plus, there’s no better “couch guitar” to be had. It can’t be beat for casual noodling without an amp while watching a ball game. Loud enough but not too loud. It won’t even annoy your wife. They are not so great when played very loud in a gig situation unless you are very careful about where you are in relation to your amp. My very first Gibson was a 62 ES-330 that I bought used in ’67 for $175 (I probably overpaid). I played that guitar for at least a year, gigging every weekend and gigging loud-Fender Showman loud. It could be a problem on the  neck pickup but the bridge pickup mostly behaved as I recall. I really wanted a 335 but couldn’t afford one. It had a Bigsby which I didn’t like very much because it made the guitar go out of tune but it never occurred to me to swap it for a trapeze. I can’t tell you where the market is going to go for 330’s. I’m not much of a prognosticator about these things but I can tell you that the market has been strong and getting stronger for dot neck 330’s. The blondes are well up over $10K-they were around $8K a year ago. That’s a 25% bump. The 59’s with the big necks will always command a bit of a premium over the others but can still be found for under $6K. I’m a sucker for the red dot necks, especially the early ones. They only made 98 red ones in ’60 and they are pretty tough to come by. The “watermelon” you see in the photo is the first one I’ve ever seen with the old red. Old Red? Ask any Les Paul guy about the red in their burst. They’ll regale you with how wonderful their “lemon burst” or “faded cherry burst” or “unburst” is due to the natural fading of the red dye used in the finish. They’ll also sometimes disparage the ’60 “clown burst” with it’s vivid red element. Well, the ES models used the same dye and the change from the one that fades to the one that doesn’t occurred in mid 1960 or so. That means there aren’t very many 330’s, 335’s or 345’s that have that unstable red. There are a lot of 355’s since they made the reds with the old red throughout 59 and well into 60. Is the “watermelon” red worth more? It is to the Les Paul guys. I like it better than the later red but that’s a personal preference. What I do know is that Gibson hasn’t been able to duplicate it on a 335 or hasn’t tried. The most common ES-330 is, of course, sunburst but the ES-330 sunburst is different from a 335 sunburst. Not the sunburst itself-that’s pretty much the same but the back is different. It isn’t sunburst, it’s brown. Another money saving gambit by the nice folks at Gibson. I’ve really written very little about these guitars and will expand on this soon. The ES-330 went through a lot of changes from 59 to the end of its run in the mid 70’s. It was also more popular than the 335 from 1959 through 1966.


Here’s the back of an early ES-330 sunburst. Talk about an “unburst”, Gibson did this to save money. The lack of an upper strap button probably saved them another 7 cents per unit.




4 Responses to “Why So Cheap?”

  1. Leedsy says:

    Absolutely gorgeous guitar, Charlie. I like it almost as much as the watermelon 345 you had some years ago. I may not have played enough of them, but if my experience is typical, I would guess that the lack of sustain may be another factor (in addition to the ones you mention) for their lower price/lack of popularity relative to center-block ES models. For pure looks and great couch guitar status that 330 is as good as it gets.

  2. RAB says:

    Absolutely gorgeous shade of red…love me some watermelon like the ’59 ES-345T I owned, S/N A3141X!

  3. Mick Peel says:

    I’ve just imported a ’64 sunburst Es 330 here to the Uk from a dealer on your side of the water. I had a ’68 with the narrow nut for years and sold it and then of course they became popular and prices went up! It’s a 9 out of 10 condition guitar and I paid $4K. Fair price do you think? It’s been lightly played and then always put away in the case, no bangs or marks on the headstock. All hang tags and original receipt in the case pocket from a dealer in Portage WI where it was purchased on the 20th July 1964. Price on the receipt….. $195! Very pleased with it. Charlie’s right they’re great TV, back yard noodling guitars unplugged. I also love the light weight.

  4. OK Guitars says:

    I like it too. I may have to keep it. I keep selling all the great watermelons.

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