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Fingerboard Oddities

This is a 60 ES-335 with what is purported to be a factory installed ES-345 board. Very cool. I wish I owned it.

This is a 60 ES-335 with what is purported to be a factory installed ES-345 board. Very cool. I wish I owned it.

We all know that a dot neck has a dot marker fingerboard, a block neck has little blocks, a 345 has parallelograms (yes, I can spell) and a 355 has big blocks. But supposing someone wanted a 335 with parallelograms or a 345 with dots? Is that something Gibson would do? Or even farther out of the box, say Super 400 markers on a 335? Maybe an ebony fingerboard on a 335? I’ve always said that anything was possible at Gibson during the “Golden Era” and that leaves some wiggle room for anomalies like this. It is fairly well known that some owners were upset when Gibson changed from dots to blocks in 1962. No one knows how many dots were returned to Gibson to be “upgraded” to blocks but I’ve seen a few. The serial numbers were pretty reliable during the dot neck era so if you see a block neck with a 58-61 serial number, you can be pretty certain that it was redone at the factory.

Here's a 68 ES-335 with a 355 board. I've never seen it in person so I don't know if its an ebony board or just big 355 inlays. Probably a factory one off.

Here’s a 68 ES-335 with a 355 board. I’ve never seen it in person so I don’t know if its an ebony board or just big 355 inlays. Probably a factory one off.

But what about other fingerboard anomalies? When I’m confronted with one of these oddities, I always assume at the outset that it didn’t come from the factory that way. After all, it isn’t that hard to change a fingerboard. It isn’t easy, either but plenty of luthiers can do it properly. But some are definitely factory one offs. The trick is knowing how to tell a factory custom board from one that was changed later. We are fortunate that some pages of the Gibson logs still exist (although Gibson isn’t real good about making them public). They were pretty good about noting special orders in 59 and 60 but by 61 there seems to be less documentation, so the best method is to look closely for anything that might suggest that the original fingerboard was removed and get in there with a magnifying glass or a camera with a macro lens. The camera will always see stuff that you can’t see with the naked eye. You are looking for breaks in the lacquer between the binding and the neck itself. You are looking for excess glue where it doesn’t belong. If the fit isn’t perfect, it was probably added later. Factory boards tend to fit pretty much dead on.

So, what’s out there? I’ve seen a few 335’s with a 345 board. How do I know it isn’t a 345 with no Varitone? The body bindings are multi-ply rather than single and the hardware is gold. How about a 345 with a dot board? I was recently told by a fellow dealer that he had one and that it looked legit. I’ve never seen one but I couldn’t deny its possible existence. He’s promised me a photo. I have seen a 355 with a Super 400 board but I can’t find the photo. Gruhn Guitars had a ’62 335 with bowtie inlays (like a Kessel Custom) not too long ago but I’m pretty sure it was done somewhere other than the Gibson factory. It’s all part of the fun of Gibsons from the 50’s and 60’s. The truth is that you can find almost anything because if Gibson didn’t offer an ES–335 with a Varitone and an ebony dot fingerboard with factory Grover Imperials, somebody probably wanted one at some point and had Gibson make one up just for them. And if Gibson wouldn’t do it, there is always somebody who will.

One further point. I’ve been asked what these rarities are worth and it is a very good question (and up for debate). We all should know that rarity and price are not directly proportional. That’s why a 62 Byrdland in blond (10 made) isn’t worth more than a ‘burst. Or a sunburst 62 ES-335 for that matter. There just isn’t much demand. I think one offs are great but they tend to ask more questions than they answer. No one wants to explain why their collectible guitar doesn’t follow the “rules” because, unless they have factory documentation, it will always be questioned by collectors. Even with factory docs, most collectors want a bone stock classic-not a one off. My opinion? Much as I like the 345 and 355 inlays, I’d rather have a stock 335. I don’t think I’d be willing to pay a premium for a custom board on any 335, 345 or 355. Still, that blonde with the 345 board is awfully cool.

This one has bowties like a Kessel Custom. I can't tell if it's factory or not.

This 62 has bowties like a Kessel Custom. I can’t tell if it’s factory or not. I’m guessing not. It also has a bound headstock.

11 Responses to “Fingerboard Oddities”

  1. Rod says:

    Firstly, looking at the bow-tie one I would say that this most likely a dot that has been modified. Otherwise, why the large block inlay at the 12th fret if not to cover up the two dots?

    Secondly I have a 64 345 which I bought a year or so ago. I was told when I bought it the fingerboard had been replaced with a dot ebony board. I cannot tell whether the board is ebony or not, I tend to think of it as a very close grained dark rosewood board and if it has been replaced it must have been done a VERY long time ago. The binding looks old and original although it has been refretted at some time. I was going to have the board replaced with an ‘accurate’ one but to be honest it plays so well I don’t want to run the risk of messing it up. And, who knows, it MIGHT be original!

  2. cgelber says:

    Good point about the 12th fret. I’m told that when Gibson redid dot necks, they would replace the entire board rather than deal with trying to rerout the existing board for blocks. The 12th fret would have been the same problem.

  3. Remy says:

    Thanks for another great blog. And that blond is simply amazing. Classy, but probably still knows how to party.

  4. RAB says:

    At least several examples of Classic era 335 models with a 345 fingerboard have surfaced over the years. Skip’s Music in Sacramento, CA had one years ago, IIRC a sunburst 1960 model…

  5. cgelber says:

    There’s a 60 with a 345 board on Ebay right now.

  6. RAB says:

    Yes, Gibson’s Custom Shop was active during the Classic Years. They produced many one-off (or several-off!) variants including such things as ES-175 models with Byrdland-type ebony fingerboards with the big retangular pearl inlays such as found on LP Customs…fun stuff!

  7. sookwinder says:

    G’day there, although not Gibson, still the same factory … I have a 65 Epi Casino with a factory Varitone. And I love it. The varitone does not suck tone and gives the Casino a wide and varied tonal pallet.

    Why someone would specially order a Casino with varitone back in the day … I have no idea, but I am glad they did.

    If any one want to see it, here is a link:
    http://www.offsetguitars.com/personal/sookwinder/ir01/ir1135.jpg

  8. Steve Newman says:

    Know of a local player who has a large neck transition model ’65 ES 335 sunburst with 345 fingerboard. It is quite a mix of wide neck width, shallower neck depth than most ’64 models (more like a flatter ’62-’63 era 345 shape) with both nickel and chrome hardware, 17 degree peghead and a trapeze tailpiece. The kicker is that he bought it new and has owned it his entire life….it was NOT a custom order and he bought it off the rack at a local music store. We have had many discussions about the mystery and think it was factory built with a complete leftover neck from an earlier “60’s 345. It is a great souding and playing ES.

  9. RAB says:

    Steve, love that story! Those loveable and wacky Kalamazoo folk!

  10. Steve Newman says:

    RAB you are right about weird non standard things you come across. Have also seen a narrow neck, very late ’60’s ES 335 in sparkling burgundy finish with Epiphone Riviera fingerboard markers. My theory is that they were trying to use up the last of the Kalamazoo Epi parts just before they transfered Epiphone manufacturing offshore. Same thing with using the Epi mini humbucker pickups on Les Paul Deluxe models of that same era.

  11. Jonathan Krogh says:

    Even the most famous ES345 of all time (from Back To The Future, of course) has an odd one piece inlay at the 12th fret.
    Do you guys have any remarks on ES345’s with first fret inlays? I have noticed these a few times.

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