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ES-335: Transitions that Mattered

Most 335 aficionados will agree that this is the top of the heap-a 59 ES-335 TDN. I would have to agree from a price point, for sure. Myself, I prefer the unbound 58's but that's just me.

Most 335 aficionados will agree that this is the top of the heap-a 59 ES-335 TDN. I would have to agree from a price point, for sure. Myself, I prefer the unbound 58’s but that’s just me.

The history of the 335 is full of transitions. That shouldn’t surprise anybody as any good product goes through refinements, improvements and alterations during it’s lifetime. Some make the product better, some make the product cheaper to manufacture and some make the product more “modern”. At some point, Gibson (and Fender and the rest of the big players of the era), ┬áplaced a higher priority on making money than in making the best possible quality instrument in the world. Finding that point is pretty easy. This explains why some years are “better” than others. If you’re a 335 geek. like I am, the history is pretty interesting. The early 58 is a great guitar but it’s rather different from those that followed. The top is thinner and it tended to split, so in 59 they made it thicker. The neck was unbound and it seemed sort of low rent to some buyers, so they bound it. So, making it cheaper wasn’t the issue at that point. Making it nicer and more durable and more sellable seems to have been the motivation. Most 335 aficionados feel that the 59 is the pinnacle and it may be but it’s pretty subjective. It’s got a lot going for it–PAFs, big neck, great finishes and so on. So why did they change it again in 1960? They made the neck thinner and they changed the tuners. The tuner change from single ring to double ring is pretty much inconsequential. But the change in neck profile is, for now anyway, huge. The trend in recent years (and a lot of recent years at that) is for larger neck profiles but in 1960 and for many years that followed, it wasn’t the case. Thinner neck profiles were all the rage for quite a while and Gibson was simply keeping their product current (and competing with Fender). The advertising pitch was that a thin neck was a “faster” neck and, back then, “fast” was good. By 61 it was pretty thin but still wide at the nut. These guitars can be excellent and can sound wonderful but not for you if you want a big fat neck. The big change in 62 was to the block inlay and, again, Gibson was responding to the comments from customers. Many felt the dot markers were, like the unbound neck of 58, kind of down scale. So, Gibson switched to blocks (and probably raised the price). They also switched from PAFs to patent numbers but the pickup was the same (more or less). The guitar remained essentially the same through mid 63 when they changed the body shape and the neck profile. Body shape is subjective and the change was mostly a matter of practicality, not economics-the story is that the forms wore out and had to be replaced. There was also some talk about the arches on the cutaways being too extreme and causing some failures during manufacturing. The change to a more substantial neck profile was, I believe, in part, a response from customers and maybe, just maybe, they made the change because too many necks were warping or breaking. For us modern players, this makes the late 63 and the 64 very desirable because of the bigger necks. So, up to 64, Gibson wasn’t really trying make the guitars cheaper to build, they were trying to make them better. Then, in 1964, the guitar boom hit–read about it here. Suddenly, Gibson had more orders than it ever had before-thousands more- and they had to make some changes in order to keep up with the huge increase in demand. This required changes to the manufacturing process that would speed up the process and, in so doing, made the guitars cheaper to produce. It also marks the end of the so-called Golden Era and the end of the high priced “collectible” 335. More on this to come.

Is this 64 the end of the "Golden Era"? Actually, not quite. The early 65's were identical to the latest 64's but things at Gibson were about to get a bit frantic and big changes were looming.

Is this 64 the end of the “Golden Era”? Actually, not quite. The early 65’s were identical to the latest 64’s but things at Gibson were about to get a bit frantic and big changes were looming.

4 Responses to “ES-335: Transitions that Mattered”

  1. Rod says:

    58 for me as well (in an ideal world!)

  2. RAB says:

    Interesting discussion, and, over and above changes due to mass transitions there is quite a bit of variation between ES models of the same year due to hand shaping of necks, etc…all part of that good ole Kalamazoo fun and lore we love!

  3. rob Heininkb says:

    why did Gibson leave so much space between the back pickup and the pick guard?

  4. cgelber says:

    Good question. I’m guessing there was a certain amount of variation expected in the pickup placement and they wanted to make sure that all 335 pickguards fit all 335 guitars. The flaw in that logic is that all of them seem to have the same gap.

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