ES-335 Transitions Part 2

Nothing wrong with a trap tail ES-335, if you ask me. They sound a bit different but I can't really say they sound worse. A little less like a solid and a little more like a hollow body perhaps. This was one of two big, big changes in early 65.

Nothing wrong with a trap tail ES-335, if you ask me. They sound a bit different but I can’t really say they sound worse. A little less like a solid and a little more like a hollow body perhaps. This was one of two big, big changes in early 65. This one has a chrome tailpiece and pickup covers but still has a nickel bridge.

The transitions that occurred during the life of the ES-335 (and 345’s and 355’s) were, more often than not, fairly benign. Changing from single ring tuners to double rings is pretty inconsequential but other changes were huge. They probably didn’t seem huge to anyone at the time they were made (except for perhaps Gibson’s bottom line) but today they loom very large. It’s January 1965 and there have been no major changes in the new model year guitars. Not yet, anyway. What followed in the late winter/early spring of 65 are perhaps the two biggest changes in the history of the model. They account for the huge drop in value from a vintage perspective but they were probably seen as no big deal or even improvements over the 64. With the appearance of The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show in February of ’64, the guitar boom officially began. Sales at Gibson would more than quadruple in the years from ’64 to ’67 and they would  be hard pressed to keep up with the demand. While 335’s were never a totally handmade guitar, the techniques of mass production, some of which were in place at Fender, were less established at Gibson. It takes a lot less time to bolt on a neck than it takes to glue one in place. The steps required to install a stop tailpiece are many-drill the holes, install the bushings, install the studs, install the tailpiece. The change to a trapeze tailpiece required drilling three holes and screwing in three screws. And yet, that change alone is one that collectors see as a turning point and the price of a trap tail 65 vs a stop tail 64 bears that out. The other major change was the nut width. In the mid 60’s, rock, in all it’s 60’s incarnations was generally played relatively fast. The guitar companies jumped on the concept of the “fast” neck. Thin meant fast and Fender led the way. Gibson, presumably to compete with Fender, changed the nut width from the usual 1 11/16″ to 1 5/8″ and quickly to 1 9/16″. The depth would slim down as well and by late ’65 the normal nut width was 1 9/16″ and the depth at the first fret was around .78″. The depth would vary from guitar to guitar and from year to year probably because the necks were still hand shaped but, in general, they were pretty small (they got bigger but not wider in 67). No one though much of it at the time. Those of us who were playing in the mid 60’s pretty much bought into the faster is better and thinner is faster concept. I remember my guitar teacher telling me (in ’64) not to get a Fender because the necks were too hard to play because the necks were so narrow. He was a Magnatone dealer and wanted to sell me one of their Strat like solid bodies which had wider nuts. I, of course, got a Fender. The point is that this change looms very large in the collectors mindset but really wasn’t much of a big deal at the time. The current trend toward big fat necks was largely a by product of the popularity of early Les Pauls touted by the early vintage community in the 80’s and 90’s. The “my neck is bigger than your neck” rivalry is still alive and well and I’m certain that plenty of players buy big fat neck guitars even though they’d probably play better on a thinner one.  While these were the transitions that mattered, there were others that occurred in 65. The change from nickel hardware to chrome was a gradual change that started with the pickup covers and eventually (as stocks ran out) included bridges, tailpieces and lastly, the pickguard bracket. The change in the truss cover bevel happened at the beginning of 65 as well. So, lots of changes but really, only the end of the stop tail and the end of the 1 11/16″ nut were significant enough to be seen as the endpoint of the Golden Era.

The most significant change to the line is the shrinking nut width which went from 1 11/16" to 1 5/8" to 1 9/16". This 65 ES-355 (factory white) has the skinny nut. I'm only showing this one as an example because you deserve to see something cool and unusual.

The most significant change to the line is the shrinking nut width which went from 1 11/16″ to 1 5/8″ to 1 9/16″. This 65 ES-355 (factory white) has the skinny nut. I’m only showing this one as an example because you deserve to see something cool and unusual.

Also note the narrow bevel truss cover which showed up on all ES models in early in ’65.

12 Responses to “ES-335 Transitions Part 2”

  1. RAB says:

    Yes, don’t neglect a 1965 or 1966 335 with a trapeze tailpiece! My nephew’s mid-65 is a wonderful playing (the neck is wide at the nut) and sounding instrument with its chrome covered, patent # pickups! As Charlie notes, that guitar also has a mix of chrome and nickel plated parts!

  2. RAB says:

    P.S. The only downside to the trapeze is you can’t adjust the tailpiece height and hence the string tension like you can with a stop tailpiece. So just adjust your string gauge/type!

  3. cgelber says:

    Break angle is important and it is considerably less on a trap tail but still adequate. I’m among those who believe that break angle has little to do with string tension, however. Plenty of folks disagree so I’ll leave it at that.

  4. Ollie says:

    I’m glad that the nut width got smaller. I have little fingers and couldn’t get on with a ’64 355 I was thinking of buying. A ’66 was perfect for me and I got to save quite a chunk of money. Every cloud has a silver lining.

  5. RAB says:

    Yes, the break angle on my’62 Epi Riviera with the Frequensator tailpiece is shallow but adequate running .11-.48 Pyramid Classic Nickel strings…a bit of a workout but worth it from a tonal perspective!

  6. Rod says:

    Did the head angle change at the same time as the nut got narrower or are there 1 9/16″ inch necks out there with a 17 degree head angle?


  7. Rod says:

    Can’t help wondering if the ‘adjustable string tension’ with the stop tailpiece was another bit of Gibson’s bullshit like the adjustable polepieces which Walt Fuller maintained did nothing but were added at the request of the Marketing Department to give them a selling point.

  8. cgelber says:

    The head angle did change but I’ve seen a 1 11/16″ nut with the 14 degree angle. I have not, however, seen a 1 9/16″ nut with a 17 degree angle but I’ll bet they exist.

  9. RAB says:

    In my experience (been playing guitar 45 years, most of them on Gibson electrics) I don’t find the ability to adjust string tension by raising and lowering the Gibson stop tailpiece to be bullshit at all…it actually works quite nicely!

  10. Markus says:

    Nice article again Charlie! Although I do happen to agree with RAB, break angle over the bridge makes a huge difference in tension to me. Try setting the break angle to almost zero and then to maximum, retuning the guitar each time (for the purposes of experimentation forget about intonation)

  11. Nelson Checkoway says:

    Great insights as usual, Charlie. And kudos to you for acknowledging that older isn’t always better when it comes to design: some of the post-64 changes were meant to be improvement, but they got conflated with the “holding company takeovers” and mass demand for guitars that translated to a drop in quality. Some changes fit this image – others don’t.

    You also noted that Fender was in a more mass production mode — and at the time, the prevailing view was that Gibson workers were artisans and Fender’s more like factory workers bolting together instruments. But from a design perspective, I’ve always felt Fender was more like the small forward-thinking custom shop while Gibson was less imaginative about design and more dedicated to its guitar technology R&D.

    Consider that under Leo Fender, each early model – Tele, Strat, P Bass, J Bass, Jazzmaster, etc – was uniquely designed from the ground up: each model had it’s own body design, pickups, headstock design, knobs, etc.

    The ES-3×5 line was really Gibson’s crowning achievement in original design. But the Flying V, Explorer, Firebird, SGs were influenced by what Fender was doing – and everything else, style-wise, including the Les Paul, were variants on an archtop jazz guitar look that dates back to the 1930s.
    And nearly all the hollow bodies shared the same pickup configurations, knobs, pickguard designs, headstocks, etc.

    Gibson’s R&D seemed to focus on more components and how they affected performance, which they used to continually upgrade their lines: P-90, humbucker, wraparound tailpiece, stop tail, tune-o-matic, etc. Where Leo Fender designed what he thought were the ideal components for each instrument, Gibson worked hard to upgrade components and then introduced them up and down the catalogue.

    So despite the carved tops set necks, Gibson was more like General Motors to Fender’s southern California custom car shop. (Even the cloning of Gibson design cues onto the 60s Epiphone line was akin to building Chevys and Buicks with the same frames and bodies).

    That said, I love vintage pre-65 Gibsons and Fenders equally – I just think that Fender sometimes gets a bad rap when craftsmanship is compared to the set neck builders.

  12. Rod says:

    A few years ago there was a passing fad for stringing stop tailpieces OVER the bar. I acquired a Les Paul strung this way, which does the same thing as raising the tailpiece, and could find no difference in sound or playability. I therefore restrung it ‘normally’

    Apart from this, in engineering terms there is something horrible about putting a lateral stress on a screw thread, something it is not designed or intended to do. Another perfect example of this is a Stratocaster tremolo arm. There is absolutely no reason why it should screw in to the inertia block, apart from the fact that it always has done. Yet every time you use it you are putting lateral stress on that thread. No wonder so many threads wear in the blocks. Better similar designs like PRS and Musicman use push in arms in a plastic (?) bush which transmit the strains and stresses far better. In a similar manner, screwing the bolts holding a stop tail down hard to their bushings has much greater mechanical integrity. However, this does, of course, take no account of the use of wrapover bridges, which I also love dearly for THEIR sound.

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