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Early 58 to Early 59 Evolution

This photo kills a few birds. It's not that easy to see but the ears are different. MM on the bottom and pointier on the top. Also note the tailpieces. The one on the bottom is that odd one with the stubby ends where it wraps around the studs. Bottom is A28363 and the top is A27703

This photo of two unbound 58’s kills a few birds. It’s not that easy to see but the ears are different. MM on the bottom and pointier on the top. Also note the tailpieces. The one on the bottom is that odd one with the stubby ends where it wraps around the studs. Bottom is A28363 and the top is A27703

I don’t get a lot of 58 ES-335’s. That’s mostly because there aren’t that many out there. Being the first year, I guess it took a little while for the design to catch fire with the players of the day. There were 317 335’s shipped in 1958. There were also 10 ES-355’s shipped in 58. By the next year, there were nearly 600 335’s shipped, not to mention the 300 ES-355’s and the 478 ES-345’s. While we tend to focus on year end transitions, it’s noteworthy that some very big changes occurred during 1958 and into 59. It seems they were making changes as they went along.

The most obvious change was, of course, the neck binding. Somewhere around serial number A28365 they switch from unbound to bound. I’ve had A28763 in my hands and it was unbound. I’ve also had A28768 and it was bound. It was also a lefty which may throw things off but that’s as accurate as I can get. I’m really certain as to why the change was made but it probably had something to do with the unbound neck seeming a bit cheap looking at that $300+ price point. Gibson rarely made changes that made their guitars more expensive to produce and there are a number of additional procedures that are required to bind a fingerboard.

This is a very early 58. Unbound fingerboard, thin ABR-1, pointy ears and a few other features you might not be aware of.

This is a very early 58. Unbound fingerboard, thin ABR-1, pointy ears and a few other features you might not be aware of.

The next really obvious (to me anyway) is the cutaway shape. Most of us associate Mickey Mouse ear cutaways with early 335’s but the really early ones are different. More pointy. Not as pointy as a 64 but not those big fat ears we all know and love. The best I can figure is that they made the change around serial number A28000. It’s hard for me to nail down because I haven’t seen any in the A278xx to A279xx range. But A28000 has MM ears and A27788 doesn’t. I should probably be going by FON’s rather than serial numbers but my database isn’t far enough along to do that.

The next change didn’t actually occur until early 59. Most 335s have a 4 ply top that measures around .20″ but all 58’s and some early 59’s have a three ply top that measures only .15″. My 59 ES-355 which has a rather late serial A30877 has the thin top but 355’s were low volume sellers compared to 335’s, so the serial number becomes less dependable as a timeline. The FON on that 355 is S7625xx which is pretty early in 59. ES-335 serial A28950 is an early 59 that has the thin top but it has a 58 FON. So we know the thin top made it into 59. I’m just not sure exactly when the transition occurred. I do know why it occurred, however. Any one who has ever owned a 58 is aware of how easily the jack area cracks. Of the dozen or so 58’s I’ve had, all but three had top cracks, usually at the jack but often in other areas as well. The good news is that it is rarely through all three plies. Usually only the top ply seems affected. But it looked bad and Gibson must have been responding to customer complaints when they switched to the heavier top. It was probably a good thing but I have to say, I love the tone of a thin top 335. More air, less wood.

Then there’s the little stuff. The change from the thin ABR-1 to the “normal” or sometimes factory shaved ABR-1 is just about impossible to determine since almost all of the thin ones collapsed and were tossed in the trash. I currently have A27771 and it still has its original thin bridge but that doesn’t tell us much. The existence of the thin ABR-1 is the result of the very shallow neck angles the early 335’s have. There is considerable range even within 58 but by early 59 the angle had been deepened a bit eliminating the need for the thin version. A28950 is an early 59 but the neck angle is such that the normal ABR-1 sits right on top of the guitar. Shallow angles existed much later but never again so shallow that the bridge had to be shaved. Did you ever notice the neck heel on an early 58? It’s bigger than the later ones. That went away pretty early. The center block changed as well. The early ones don’t have the spruce insert between the maple block and the top. The routs are also different in early 58. They are much cleaner and neater. Then there are the little frets and even a strange stubby looking stop tail version that shows up now and then. And the inlay position. I’ll go into more detail on the small stuff in my next post.

Three ply thin top 58

Three ply thin top 58

Four ply thicker top on a 59.

Four ply thicker top on a 59.

8 Responses to “Early 58 to Early 59 Evolution”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, really cool early ES facts! I picked up a 335 circa 1974 in Dallas, Texas that was a strange beast. Unbound fingerboard and a near flat neck angle. Interestingly it didn’t have a stop tailpiece and, get this, it didn’t have a tuneomatic bridge at all (no posts in the top)…it also had super thick binding in the cutaways…the guitar was not set up when I got it. I sold it soon thereafter and I’ve always wondered what kind of bridge/tailpiece set-up it had when shipped from Kalamazoo! I always assumed it must have been some sort of prototype, maybe with an archtop, rosewood bridge and a trapeze tailpiece. I can’t recall if it had any screw holes in the rim…

  2. Rod says:

    Remember seeing a black and white photo somewhere of a prototype with the arching of the top and back extending into the cutaways. The binding in the cutaways, front and back, was deep like a 70s Les Paul. Couldn’t see what sort of bridge/tailpiece were fitted.

  3. Rod says:

    Rab

    I would guess that your guitar would have been built to take the rather unpleasant trapeze bridge/tailpiece used on the 225/295/52/3 Les Paul. These anchor at the rim of the body but are supported on the top by height adjusters on a machined circular foot which is held in place by the pressure of the strings. This would explain there being no evidence of bridge supports on the body face.

  4. RAB says:

    Rod, good call! Yes, also think about the ES-225T models…they used the same “Les Paul” combination bridge/trapeze tailpiece though at least Gibson got it right about having the strings go over the top of the “bar”. So, they could have tried to use one of those units on a prototype 335 model! Wish I’d took closer note if there were any holes in the rim of that early 335…that might have confirmed our hypothesis!

  5. RAB says:

    Sorry, I see you already mentioned the ES-225!

  6. RAB says:

    Funny when you think of the decades of experience Gibson had in building arch tops (didn’t Orville essentially invent the archtop “built like a violin” approach?) that they couldn’t get the neck angle correct right off the bat on the ’58 ES-335s?

  7. J Robert says:

    My 1959 355’s FON is S7625x and the serial # is A3084x. This is very close to Charlie’s guitar referenced above. It also has a big neck and thin top.

  8. cgelber says:

    Same FON as mine, in fact. Interesting that the serial is 40 numbers away.

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