The 70’s Called…

The Seventies got really ugly in a very short period of time. You should have seen this guy in the 50's and 60's.

The Seventies got really ugly in a very short period of time. You should have seen this guy in the 50’s and 60’s.

…and they want their guitars back. Fat Elvis. Annie Hall. Ziggy Stardust. The Fonz. Farrah. Rocky, Tricky Dick. Fewer decades have shown so much range and not in a good way. I contend that the 60’s didn’t start until ’63 and didn’t end until 73 or so. The real 70’s as I recall them, seem to be disco, mood rings, pet rocks and platform shoes for men. There was some great music but it was overshadowed by so much ugly stuff. It was like a 60’s hangover. I mean, we had Steely Dan, Led Zeppelin, Springsteen and Fleetwood Mac. We also had the BeeGees (the disco ones not the early ones), The Carpenters, all those horrible disco acts and Glam Rock. For Gibson, the 70’s began in 1969. Norlin (beer, concrete) bought Gibson that year and started thinking about ways they could make more money than they were already making. Their best effort? Make the guitars cheaper and sell them for more money. Geniuses. Capitalism at its best. Gibson used to be run by people of vision who simply wanted to make a great product  (and a profit) and, in so doing, were creative, inventive and dedicated. With the suits from Norlin at the switch and guitars sales still booming, their approach was to make a great, great product into a mediocre one (at best) that could be produced quickly and cheaply. No wonder they sent Epiphone to Japan. I almost never get 70’s ES-335’s into my hands. I don’t take them in trade and I don’t seek them out. They are simply too inconsistent. I have one here now and I will take you through it. First of all, there are good ones. Really. I freely admit it. There is nothing wrong with the design even with some of the dumb changes they made to cut costs. The 73-74 I have here has only half a center block (up to the bridge). But it doesn’t seem to make that much difference. The resonance is pretty close to an earlier one. The pickups are still pretty good. The neck tenon has all but disappeared and the neck is not as stable. I don’t need a Bigsby-I can do vibrato (not tremolo) by pulling on the neck. I don’t like necks that do that. The volute (the reinforcement bump behind the headstock) is ugly but it doesn’t really make much difference nor does the three piece neck versus the one piece. The fiber headstock overlay is just cheap but it doesn’t change the tone or playability. They could have made all these changes and still made a pretty good guitar. What suffered was the build quality. The fit and finish is just not the same. The glue is sloppy, the neck join is sloppy-things just don’t fit together as well as they did “back in the day.” Not every 335 is poorly constructed but even if 25% of them are, that’s 25% more than there were in the 58-64 era. Out of the 350 or so that I’ve had, not one was poorly built. There is a bit of a range for sure but never poor quality-even the factory seconds. One result of bad build quality is poor sustain-the parts just don’t fit together so well and they don’t seem to vibrate as a unit like the early ones do. Another is less durability. A 70’s ES-335 is more likely to fall apart after 50 years than a 58-68. There’s less glue where glue belongs, more glue where it doesn’t belong and less precisely measured and cut components. If a 59 is like a piece of fine furniture, a 75 is sort of like the bookcase you made in 8th grade shop class (you know what it looked like). There are other elements-like a decline the quality of the woods used, for example. It all adds up to a good design that has been compromised. Vintage prices reflect the difference and I can’t say that a 70’s ES can’t be a relatively good value. Early 70’s seem to be generally better than late 70’s (and they changed the body shape to something that looks weird in 76). Just play it first or buy with a return policy to make sure it isn’t a dog. Actually, I may be insulting dogs.

Early 70's ES-335. Doesn't look that different than a 68 but it is different. Play it before you buy it.

Early 70’s ES-335. Doesn’t look that different than a 68 but it is different. Play it before you buy it.

By the late 70's the waist got thinner, the horns got thinner and Elvis got fatter.

By the late 70’s the waist got thinner, the horns got thinner and Elvis got fatter.


5 Responses to “The 70’s Called…”

  1. chuckNC says:

    Tell it brother! Ted McCarty and others of his ilk were an asset to Gibson/CMI. Norlin would seem to have valued a whole different set of attributes. The difference in thinking absoluteley affected the product produced. And helped to start the appreciation of “golden era” guitars. The old business model was discarded by many of the big players in many other industries as well. But not all. To quote 1980’s Tom Peters (“In search Of Excellence”) here: “How has Maytag segmented the market? By going after that segment of the market that likes products that WORK!”

    I also agree with your take on ’60’s / ’70’s. ’54-’63 = the Fifties and ’64-’73 = the Sixties in my thinking. (From a musical point of view anyway…) A hunk-a-hunk-a-burnin love for your site from this youngster from the class of ’75.

  2. RAB says:

    I agree with the article and above comments. Additionally the 70’s Gibsons don’t have the mojo of the Golden Era examples! And let’s face it, that is a big part of why we love vintage guitars!

  3. Ashley Major says:

    Maybe Elvis had been sniffing some of that sloppy glue judging by those pupils……

  4. Kpurcell says:

    Well, for what it’s worth … I play a ’76 ES-355, and while it may have the ‘weird’ shape (thinner horns/waist), and there’s no doubting that certain things aren’t finished as nicely as earlier examples I’ve seen (sloppy glue where there shouldn’t be sloppy glue being the main one), it plays and feels great. To the extent that when I recently had an opportunity to trade it against a very nice 1967 335, I decided to hold on to the 355 instead – it actually played and sounded better to my ear.

    Mine has a full centre block (with a cut out to get the controls/varitone in) and as good a neck tenon as you’d get in the 70s (still short though). However I recently found an early 70s 335 and it too had the half block (stopped at the bridge – nothing but air under the pickups). It still sounded pretty good – and actually was better in terms of construction than my later 70s 355.

    But you’re right in terms of the ‘try before you buy’ advice Charlie – I played more than a few rubbish 70s ES models before I found that 355. I will never get rid of it … but finding a really good one took a little time.

  5. Arch Stanton says:

    My first ES-335 was approximately from 1977. Look at to see the exact duplicate in wine. I owned the guitar in the early 1990’s, and did like it, but I sold it, because I was both impetuous, and looking for the thicker sounding “real deal”. In addition to all of the oddities in the shape, the headstock was elongated as compared to other 335’s. Many years, and guitars later, I find myself having a renewed interest in such a 335 because while not like the classics, they do have their charm. A lot of great music was created on those. Take a listen to this ’79 on It sounds like the 70’s. To my ear, it has that Philly sound. I recall that mine had low DCR on the pickups, something like 6k. Clean, but and not bad sounding. My friend from high school still has one that he bought new in 1976. The neck did come out of his, due to a fall, and the sloppy joint, but after a good luthier repaired it, it’s great. (btw Another friend who has a ’68 with a huge neck, also had the neck come out of the tenon joint.) The 70’s 335’s are not the best 335’s, but interesting guitars for sure.

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