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First I Look at the Burst

The sunburst Les Pauls get all the glory. All over the internet, it’s ‘burst this and ‘burst that and this one is worth $400,000 and this one over here has ultra deep 3D flame and will walk your dog for you. Well, we have our own ‘burst with it’s own distinctive character and beauty. The sunburst finishes done by Gibson on the early 335’s are quite lovely and are often very distinctive from year to year. A sunburst finish is a very individual thing. Each one is a result of the personal taste of the man wielding the spray gun. I don’t know how many different workers shot the sunburst finishes but there are some wonderful variations both in color and design. Most of us have seen the sunburst on the very early Gibson acoustics with their broad black outer band and a very small inner burst of yellow. Well, some early 335s were reminiscent of this but the more recognizable yellow to red to (almost) black evolved in the early days. I don’t know too much about the process but I can at least make some observations about the results. The red used in the first sunburst 335’s is, almost certainly, the same red they used for the Les Pauls and therein lies much of the variation we see in the sunburst. Until mid 60, the red they used was subject to fading and 335’s fade as much as Les Pauls. So, more often than not, an early 335 will show rather minimal red in the transitions. I’ve owned a number of 58 and 59’s and most showed very little red. That’s not to say there aren’t early 335’s out there that show vibrant reds. It all depends on how much sunlight the guitars were subjected to. A few months in the window of your local guitar shop will kill the reds almost completely whereas a 335 that was bought before it hit the window and was kept in its case for 50 plus years will show a vibrant and rich red. Compare the front to the back and see if there isn’t more red in the back. This type of variation is environmental and has little to do with the individuals who created the finishes. But, the broad range of sunburst patterns has everything to do with them. This ’58 is one of my all time favorites and shows a lot more black than most.

A most unusual sunburst on a later, bound, 58. Still fairly vibrant in the reds, too.

A most unusual sunburst on an early 58. Still fairly vibrant in the reds, too.

Most early sunbursts show a much thinner band of black and less red as well-again probably due to fading. This pair of 59 345’s shows the range.

Some are dark, some aren't. This isn't so much fade but the personal touch of the guy with the spray gun. Perhaps they paid attention to the figuring, shooting less of the darkest tones when the wood showed a more interesting grain. Or not.

These are both December ’59 345’s. Some are dark, some aren’t. This isn’t so much fade but the personal touch of the guy with the spray gun. Perhaps they paid attention to the figuring, shooting less of the darkest tones when the wood showed a more interesting grain. Or not.

By the time the early 60’s rolled around, sunburst 335’s had gotten a lot less popular. They made 521 of them in 59 but only 266 in 1962. But red had taken off going from a mere handful (I know of 6) in 59 to over 600 in 1962. Then the guitar boom hit and the numbers went through the roof. Sunburst 335’s hit a peak in 1967 at 2596 shipped but the red ones still outsold the burst with 3122 units shipped. The split in 345’s was somewhat different with the sunburst maintaining its popularity vs the red through most of the 60’s. The sunburst of the early 60’s block necks wasn’t terribly different from the dot necks that preceded them. The only real notable difference was a more pronounced brown (as opposed to what appears as black) particularly in the ears. The pattern was largely the same and the reds in the finish tended to last a lot longer.

This 62 shows a lot more brown around the edges and in the ears. The spray pattern is almost the "pear" pattern found more frequently after '65

This 62 shows a lot more brown around the edges and in the ears. The spray pattern is almost the “pear” pattern found more frequently after ’65

Notably, a change to the typical sunburst occurred sometime in the mid 60’s. The burst pattern became sort of “pear shaped” especially on the back. Here’s a ’65 “pear burst” and a 64 for comparison. ¬†Of course, the “cherry burst” showed up in 65 as well but that’s another story.

This is a 65 "pear" burst. These were typical from 65 onward. There are, of course, variations as they were still sprayed by hand

This is a 65 “pear” burst. These were typical from 65 onward. There are, of course, variations as they were still sprayed by hand

 

The more typical sunburst-this is a 64.

The more typical sunburst-this is a 64.

 

 

 

6 Responses to “First I Look at the Burst”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, educational as always and some beautiful examples of the evolution of ES sunburst finishes! Maybe do a feature on some of the quirky sunburst finishes on Kalamazoo-made Golden Era Epiphones! Royal Tan and Royal Olive finishes are beautiful in their own right. The Royal Tan finish on the front of my ’62 Riviera is very light, almost looks natural and I am guessing is due to fading though there is tremendous variation in Royal Tan finishes. Let’s raise our glasses to the skill and artistry of the folks in the Parsons Street spray booth!

  2. cgelber says:

    I really need to do more Epiphone stuff. I just don’t see enough of them to be that much of an expert. I’ve had a couple of Sheratons but only one Riviera and I hate to write based on second hand knowledge (anybody can do that). I’ve had a load of early Crestwoods and Wilshires though. My favorite solids.

  3. Rod says:

    I have, amongst others, a 64 345. This has the normal tri-burst on the front, not pear shaped, and a duo burst back. It has been oversprayed clear but I think the finish is original.

    In my recollection, the Kalamazoo Epiphones burst tends to follow the body shape much more closely.

  4. mm says:

    The burst on that 58 (first pic) is where it’s at for me. I love that look!

  5. RAB says:

    I agree with Rod’s comment that it seems the Epi sunbursts generally followed the outside edges of the body more closely and tended to use a thinner “band” of colored finish than their Gibson counterparts. Not sure why since I assume the same people were finishing both Gibsons and Epiphones…however maybe they were making an effort to differentiate the two? All part of the quirkiness that we love about Kalamazoo products from the Golden Era!

  6. Harry says:

    Thanks for the great posting. The Sunburst finish has always been my favorite and both my ES-355 and Fender Precision Bass are both 3-color sunbursts. As always your articles are informative with a touch of humor. I really love the burst on the first picture.

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