Don’t Matter if You’re Black or White

This white ’65 ES-355 is the only white ES I’ve had. The finish was factory but it’s really tough to tell if it was originally white or a factory refinish. It did have a “custom” truss cover but that, in itself, isn’t enough to convince me it is original.

You thought I was going to write about PAF bobbins didn’t you. Go on, admit it. And it doesn’t matter if they’re black or white (unless you’re buying or selling). But, no. I’m writing about black guitars and white guitars. They made both as custom orders during the 50’s and 60’s but they are rare and they are desirable. Out of 300 or so ES-330, 335,  345 and 355’s I’ve had here since I started this site, I’ve had only two legitimate factory black ones (and a couple of black Trinis but those were actually a stock color, although they are awfully rare).  I’ve had exactly one white one. You would think both those colors would have been more popular but they just aren’t. Gibson made an awful lot of Les Paul Customs in black so it wasn’t like they didn’t have the paint around. They also made a fair number of factory white SG’s-mostly Customs and Specials and a few Jrs. So how is it that these colors rarely found their way onto the other guitars in the Gibson line? Let’s see what’s out there. There’s the very famous Keith Richards ES’s-a black 59 ES-355 (the one in the Louis Vuitton ad) and a white ES-345 which I think is a 64. There’s Alex Lifeson’s white ES-355 but that’s from the 70’s-a 76 I think. There’s a photo of dave Edmunds playing a black dot neck 335 but it has the headstock inlay in the wrong position and I don’t know if it’s factory black. In any case, these custom colors don’t come up very often and I’m always happy to see one when they do. Recently I’ve had two of them – both from ’66 and both done up with fancy bindings (including the f-holes) and gold hardware. The serial numbers are very close as well (two apart) and it’s possible, in fact likely,  they were ordered by the same buyer. Interestingly, they both ended up in the hands of a gentleman in Southern California and then both ended up with me. There’s a black ES-355 that’s been on Ebay lately with the same look. How do you price one of these? Well, it’s not easy given that the supply is minuscule and the demand is, well, there is no demand because most folks think they are totally out of reach. You can figure on a custom color being at least double the price of a red or sunburst of the same year. That doesn’t include “Sparkling Burgundy” which nobody seems to like very much. That also doesn’t include black or white (well sort of white) 335’s from the 80’s. They are actually worth less than their blonde counterparts. If you’re lucky enough to come up with a black or white dot neck 335 from 58-61, then all bets are off because you can pretty much name your price. There are some but I don’t think you’ll find one in your lifetime. Black 59 and 60 ES-345’s and 355’s were made but I’ve never seen a white one from that early. I had a white ’65 ES-355 a few years back and I mentioned Keith’s white ’64 ES-345. Then there are the Trinis.

Who doesn't love a black Trini? This 67 was pretty cool. I hadn't seen one in ten years then had two of them last year.

Who doesn’t love a black Trini? This 67 was pretty cool. I hadn’t seen one in ten years then had two of them last year.

I’ve had a 66 and a 67 in the past year or so and I’ve seen at least two others including the one played by Rusty Anderson (Paul McCartney’s guitar player). But the Trinis were a standard factory color so there may be a lot more of them under beds and in closets. Pelham Blue was a standard color as well but rumor has it there are only 16 of them. I’ve had only one and seen four or five others. Still, a black Trini is going to cost you about double what a red one will cost, so standard issue or not, folks still will pay a big premium for them. The Pelham Blue Trini went for more like three times the cost of a red one but it was practically mint so you have to figure that in as well. There are some black ES-175’s, at least a few black Byrdlands and Kessels (Gene Cornish of the Rascals played one back in the day) and a few black early double necks (which are rare enough in any color). The tricky part is, of course, the “factory” part. There are a number of ways to tell if a guitar was refinished and, frankly, a lot of black ES’s are not factory. Black can be used to cover all sorts of nastiness-headstock cracks being the usual sin but also filled holes and routs. I had a 68 Les paul Custom come to me that looked legit until you got the light to hit it just right and you could see that there was a Kahler rout that had been skillfully filled. So, be extra careful with these beauties. The paint is thick and opaque and sometimes it’s a little scary to imagine what’s under there. But if you find a real one, hang on to it (or sell it to me). There just aren’t that many of them and if they are cool enough for Keith, they are probably too cool for the likes of you (or me).

This bound f-hole and 355 trimmed ES-335 (7 ply top binding and gold hardware) is a 66. I had a 66 ES-330 decked out the same way only 2 serial numbers away from this one.

This bound f-hole and 355 trimmed ES-335 (7 ply top binding and gold hardware) is a 66. I had a 66 ES-330 decked out the same way only 2 serial numbers away from this one.

7 Responses to “Don’t Matter if You’re Black or White”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, wow, that mid-60s white 355 looks downright elegant! And BB’s signature is a nice accent though I don’t usually approve of autographing vintage guitars. I had a white ’61 SG/LP Custom with a factory top-mount Bigsby that had a similar elegant look accented by all that gold plating. It looked prettier than it played and sounded so it had to go!

  2. David White says:


    Thanks for this month’s postings. I have a 345 of rather history. It’s a rather beautiful goldtop. I bought it, from the US, believing it it to have been resprayed. Having seen the quality, I suspect that it’s a factory respray. Would you mind casting an eye over it if I send you a few pics? Thanks,


  3. cgelber says:

    Send me some photos-include the pickup routs if you can. It can be very hard to tell if a finish is original with an opaque color. Send to me at

  4. Eric Parker says:

    I played that white ’64 ES 345 (I thought it was a ’63 ?) when it was at Buzzy’s (Lark St Music) for sale. Not only was it mega-cool, it was also a great playing and sounding guitar. Shoulda ..Woulda ..Coulda …

  5. cgelber says:

    That’ll teach ya. Go with your gut. The worst that can happen is you go bankrupt, your wife throws you out and you and your guitars are homeless living in a dumpster in Queens.

  6. RAB says:

    But, even then, not all is lost. That vintage tone wood and aged lacquer would make a nice toasty fire on a cold winter night! Ha, ha!

  7. Thinline says:

    I owned a ’68 335 in factory black for 15 years. It was ordered that way by a music teacher at my junior high in western Massachusetts. He was a Gibson dealer in the late 60s, and was a well known by many local players, since the guy was well known as local teacher and performer. Sounded fine, but was a real narrow and small pencil neck. I stop tailed it in late 70s. Came with a flat Lyre vibrato in the case which it may have shipped with, but was sporting a Epiphone Frequensator at the time. Sold it years ago and now own an April ’65 stop tail wide neck ES-345 in tobacco burst. So black ones are out there for sure, or at least a few from late 60s.

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