Is There a Bad Year?


That benign looking little line isn’t so benign. Sellers will call it a check, a grain separation or anything else they can think of except for what it is-a truss rod crack. It isn’t the end of the world and it’s fixable.

Well, I’ve had a few bad years but we’re talking about guitars here. I’ve often said there are no bad years during the “Golden Era” but there are some years that are more prone to problems than others. Most of the problems are age related but they are specific to certain years as well. We know that the tuner buttons deteriorate more frequently on 59 and 60 ES models and that 58’s tend to crack around the jack. The 1969 models tend to get crapped up around the inlays because they changed the process-the inlay is a block and the “Gibson” logo is stenciled out with paint which chips off. This is pretty small stuff and is mostly easily fixed. Nobody gets too concerned when a 59 has replaced tuner tips or when a 58 shows stress cracks around the jack. It comes with the territory. But there is one year that sometimes has a problem that isn’t an easy fix. Maybe it’s just bad luck on my part but I’ve had a run of bad 61’s. I like 61’s-flat neck profile and all and I’ve had some great ones so don’t simply assume that every 61 is trouble. And, if you’re after a red dot neck, it’s the most likely one you’ll find considering they made over 400 of them compared with 21 in 1960 and maybe 5 in 59. The problem is the neck. There is so little wood that they are prone to certain problems. It simply logic that a thin neck is going to be less stable than a fat one. What sometimes occurs is that over time the neck is pulled upward by the string tension and the truss rod is tightened to compensate. And tightened and tightened and tightened. Eventually the truss rod runs out of adjustment or, worse, pushes hard enough against the wood that it causes a hairline crack in the back of the neck. And it’s not just 335’s. 61 and some later SG’s are prone to this damage as well. It’s not really structural-there isn’t that much stress on the middle of the neck but it usually means the truss is maxed out and if there is more adjustment to be done, you are out of luck unless you want to spend some serious money with your local luthier. I’ve seen this problem twice in the past two years so it’s not common. But there’s another neck issue that I’ve seen three times this year-and, again, only on 61’s. The dreaded back bow. Again, this is probably the result of that very thin neck. One of them (which I drove 400 miles to pick up and had to drive back home empty handed) was sitting in its case with no strings with a fully loose truss rod. Again-nowhere to go. I’m not saying that 61’s are bad. I’m saying that if you’re buying one sight unseen, you have to ask some very specific questions about the neck. Interestingly, the neck on many 60 and many 62 and 63 ES-335s is pretty similar to the 61 and problems can arise in those years as well. I’m sure there are 62 and 63’s with back bows and stress cracks from an overtightened truss rod. I just haven’t seen any (yet). I will say this-a bigger neck-like a 58, 59, early 60, late 63 and 64 will have fewer problems and will be more stable. But if the wide flat profile is right for you and you have to buy sight unseen, just ask the right questions, get lots of photos and make sure there is a return policy. If the only problem is the stress crack, it’s an easy fix. If the guitar has a crack, a maxed out truss (which is likely) and a back bow or a twist, find another one.

 If the only problem is the stress crack, it's an easy fix. If the guitar has a crack, a maxed out truss (which is likely) and a back bow or a twist, find another one.

Don’t get me wrong. I love 61’s. I take a whole load of them with me to bed every night. Drives the wife batty.

3 Responses to “Is There a Bad Year?”

  1. RAB says:

    Interesting…I had a ’61 335 that was quite nice, S/N 1000X, no neck problems…also interesting as you note that 1960 models with notoriously thin necks wouldn’t exhibit the same truss rod and cracking issues…shows how wildly inconsistent these Kalamazoo products can be and that is one of the reasons we find their lore so fascinating, nein?

  2. OK Guitars says:

    I’m sure there are some from 1960 that have the same problems. I just haven’t seen any. It could be that I see a lot more 61’s than 60’s. It’s not so much a year related problem-it’s related to the size of the neck so that 62’s and early 63’s might show the same issue. It just seems to show up on 61 ES-335s. Maybe it’s just bad luck.

  3. RAB says:

    Yes, tempting to snug up just a fraction of a turn more on that trussrod adjustment but must be done with care!

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