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Getting Better All the Time

One of these is a real 61 and the other is a Warren Haynes 61 built in 2014. Getting close aren't they?

One of these is a real 61 and the other is a Warren Haynes 61 built in 2014. Getting close aren’t they?

The doomsayers in the vintage market are saying that it’s only a matter of time before there is no vintage market. The word on the street is that after all of us old guys (you know who you are) either get too old to play or simply die, the market will die along with us. The other word on the street is that the reissues are getting so good that nobody will spend the money for the vintage stuff anymore. As an old guy, my response is that I won’t stop playing until you pry my vintage guitar from my cold, dead hands. I have no plans to die in the next 35 years either (my Dad lived to 95). But the other reason is worth looking into a bit more.

I recently took in two guitars that are recent reissues and they are worth commenting on. There have always been a fair number of folks saying how great the Gibson reissues are but I’ve always attributed some of that to commenters who have never played a great vintage one or who just want to feel better about the guitar they bought. I felt that way because I had played the guitars they were raving about and I just didn’t see what they were seeing and I didn’t hear what they were hearing. I had a 2006 Nashville ES-335 that was a wonderful guitar but it wasn’t up there with the best of the vintage pieces. I don’t know if the issue was the pickups, the wood or the construction but it just wasn’t as complex, articulate or as “musical” as my old 58. Now, the Memphis built 335’s (and 345’s) are getting a ton of praise and much of it is deserved. I’m not only talking about whether they got all the details right (they didn’t but they are closer than ever), I’m talking tone and playability.

Not even close. How tough is it to get the knobs right? That's a real 60's reflector on the right. A blind person could tell the difference.

Not even close. How tough is it to get the knobs right? That’s a real 60’s reflector on the right. A blind person could tell the difference.

And just how tough would it be the get this right? The vintage one is one the left.

Well, I certainly can’t tell the difference here. Not. The vintage one is one the left.

My first example is a Warren Haynes ’61 dot neck. It looks like a 61. Really. While they’ve finally gotten the body shape pretty close. Given the variation that the vintage ones have, I don’t think I could tell this from a real 61 very easily until I look at the neck. The way it’s shaped at the headstock is still too sharp and defined-probably because it’s being done by CNC rather than by a human being. They still have some easy details totally wrong like the knobs and the pickguard bracket and, especially, the pickup covers. These are really easy things and it is kind of baffling why they are so far off. But really, who cares as long as the guitar sounds and plays like the guitar it is trying to emulate. One out of two ain’t bad. The guitar feels like the real thing. If I close my eyes, I can be convinced that I’m playing a real 61. But my ears aren’t convinced. Maybe once the wood dries out a bit and a bit more resonance emerges, it will be closer but the guitar sounds a bit one dimensional. It sounds good but it doesn’t sound like the great dot necks I’ve played and loved. You could argue that it’s because the smaller 61 neck doesn’t sound the same as the big 58 and 59’s that I usually play. Fair enough. But I’ve got a 61 here that sounds pretty good and the Haynes isn’t quite up to the challenge. Close. It’s an excellent sounding guitar for sure. I really should get a Rusty Anderson model and compare that. Those are getting some great buzz as well. My feeling is that given a few years and some playing time, these reissues will get better and better. I can’t tell you if they are going to kill the vintage market but I have no intention of buying a load of them and putting them away for a few decades to find out.

Next, we’ll look at a new 2015 ES-345 out of the Memphis shop and see how that stacks up.

This Haynes 61 is looking like the real thing, sort of. Those pickup covers are an easy giveaway though. The edges are way too round. And that VOS finish...don't get me started.

This Haynes 61 is looking like the real thing, sort of. Those pickup covers are an easy giveaway though. The edges are way too round. And that VOS finish…don’t get me started.

17 Responses to “Getting Better All the Time”

  1. RAB says:

    Nice to hear the new Gibson ES models are getting better but I’ll just stick with my Golden Era Gibsons, Epiphones and blackface Fender amps thank you very much!

  2. RAB says:

    P.S. Not wanting to sound too elitist I realize not everyone can drop 5 figures or more on a fiddle so the new ES models do seem to be a nice git-tar and a good price point alternative!

  3. stefan says:

    It’s great that you are covering the recent Gibson’s as well now, Charlie. However, if I could “stick with my Golden Era Gibsons” like you RAB, I’d do the same.

  4. Steve Newman says:

    Great review, Charlie, and really accurate with your assessment on the detail variations. You may recall a post I made a couple of months back where I commented on my experience of playing a brand new, out of the carton Warren Haynes model 335, and comparing it to the real thing. I was very impressed with the playability and how close the over all package was (minus the blatant details you’ve pointed out). I think part of the tonal difference is in the pickup choice that Gibson installs in the WH model; which is a combination of Burstbucker I and II, I believe. The new Memphis 345’s have yet another variation of pickups (slightly lower output) that sound a lot closer to an original PAF set to my ears. There is a ton of variation in those originals, too, as you are aware of. My favorite all time P.U. set was from a very early ’62 block marker (PAF’s), which was beautifully balanced and extremely musical and versatile. To sum up, agree that the WH is a very, very good instrument that can probably be tweaked even closer sonically to true vintage and is an extremely good value. A 50 year old Golden Era 335 it isn’t, but then what else is?

  5. Kelly says:

    I have a quibble. Since we are judging Gibson on the accuracy of their reproduction, and the WH model is supposed to replicate one particular guitar, how can we say that they got the pick-up covers wrong, for instance, without knowing if Warren changed the pick-up covers on his guitar? It seems to me that it is impossible to judge the accuracy of the reproduction without having the reproduced guitar in hand.

  6. Rod Allcock says:

    I would be very surprised if the pickup covers were, like the knobs, nothing more than the standard part that Gibson use at present. As Charlie says, easy things to put right but do Gibson care that much? Probably not when they are selling everything they can produce. It is, after all, a business run for profit, not for the whims of a bunch of collectors even though Gibson are very glad to take their money.

  7. Kelly says:

    All I’m saying is that before you can jump to the conclusion that Gibson just doesn’t care enough to get things right, that they are only interested in taking your money, don’t you have to know for sure what knobs and pick-up covers Warren Haynes has on his guitar?

  8. cgelber says:

    In theory, that’s a valid point but the reflector knobs and covers (and bracket) are wrong on all the models, not just the Haynes. These small details really aren’t a big deal but they would be so easy to get right that it annoys me that Gibson doesn’t even bother. There are plenty of non Gibson repro knobs, brackets and covers in the marketplace that are just about spot on.

  9. stefan says:

    Kelly, original PAF covers don’t look like the rounded modern ones. A pet peeve of a lot of vintage Gibson aficionados. I highly doubt, Warren Haynes took out the original PAFs of his ’61 to fit it with Burstbuckers. As to Warren Haynes changing the covers: Why would he do that? Because they’re more beautiful?
    Doubt it. Same for the knobs and other details.

    Personally, I am not massively into “period correctness” on modern guitars and take them for what they are…

  10. Kelly says:

    Warren Haynes is a player, not a collector, and may not care at all whether his knobs, etc. are “period correct.” The scenario would be that his guitar, which is an old guitar and has seen a lot of use, needed some work on the pickups and his tech put on new covers. Or WH had the knobs switched out because the new knobs are bigger, or easier to see on stage, or whatever. Then the repro comes out and people are annoyed because Gibson “just can’t be bothered to do it right.”

  11. stefan says:

    You’ve got to admit, this is a bit far-fetched. Btw: Do you have a Warren Haynes Sig.? 😉

  12. Kelly says:

    I would love to have one, and I love the sound that Warren Haynes has, and the way he plays. But I don’t think the above scenario is far-fetched. I love to watch the Rig Rundown videos and guitar techs do a lot of funky (and cool) things and spend no time at all worrying about whether something is period correct.

  13. Kerry Leeds says:

    I’ve not handled Mr. Haynes’ 335, but the photos I’ve seen seem to show original or at least period-correct parts. To each his own, but I much prefer reproduction details and parts to be accurate on reproduction (or “replica”) guitars. Partially correct seems to be missing the point and half-hearted.

  14. Steve Newman says:

    One more tidbit of info on the pickups in the Warren Haynes VS. the 345 re-issues. While the Haynes has the Burstbucker I and II, the 345’s have the new MHS (Memphis Historic Series?) pickups which use Alnico 3 in the neck and Alnico 2 magnets for the bridge. Output of 7.5K neck and 7.8 bridge. Just like the original PAF these pickups are unpotted, unlike the potted Burstbuckers of the Haynes model. Also the construction and materials (including wire gauge, wooden spacers, etc.) are truer to an authentic PAF. The harness is built with matched value pots and high quality caps. Very interested in how you perceive the difference in tone and response between these two pickup versions, Charlie, in a side by side comparison. I prefer the new MHS.

  15. cgelber says:

    I just compared them and they are very, very close. I think the 345 with the MHS pickups wins by a whisker. What I like about the 345 is that at high volume the neck pickup is right on the edge of feedback and the harmonics come out to play. The bridge pickups are nearly identical to my ears. The output on the Haynes is a bit higher and the bite is a bit more pronounced. Both sets are articulate but not terribly complex. The best PAFs are similarly articulate but usually have a bit more complexity to the tone. An average PAF isn’t far off from either of these sets. I was playing (loud) through a ’60 Epiphone Century (6V6, single 12) amp with no reverb or pedals. I would gig with either of the guitars and be very happy. I like the neck better on the 345 but the Haynes feels more like a real vintage piece. The Haynes neck is a little thin for my taste but it sure feels like a real 61. The 345 still doesn’t feel like a real 59.

  16. Kevin says:

    I’ve been following the posts on the newer Gibson reissues for a while … but I haven’t had a chance to play too many of them. That changed last week when a used Rusty Anderson popped up locally. I tried it out mostly out of curiosity – I’ve had a few 70s ES models and recently picked up a pretty beat up, but glorious, ’62 ES345.

    I liked the RA so much that I bought it on the spot. I had no need for this guitar (my 345 will be with me for life), but having played countless modern ES models over the years the Rusty Anderson was the first one I’d played that I felt was worth having in addition to a good vintage ES. Is it as good as a vintage guitar? Not quite … but then again it’s new. The pickups sound far better than anything Gibson have been putting on reissues for the last few years – I had a 2009 ES345 reissue that, from memory, sounded far muddier and less detailed than this guitar sounds.

    Sure – details are off. Knobs are wrong, as are some smaller details like the bracket etc. But what they’ve nailed, at least on the one I have, is the neck. The store where I bought this has a ’59 ES345 as well (vintage, not reissue). The necks were as close as I’ve encountered from Gibson – the merest hint of straightening at the binding, but no real ‘shoulder’ as we’re used to finding on these modern ES guitars.

    The best praise I can give this guitar is that it’s easily competing with my 345 for my attention.

    If anyone sees a Rusty Anderson in a store – try it out. I can’t wait to hear how this guitar sounds in ten years when it’s been played a lot.

  17. cgelber says:

    I keep hearing good things about the RA but I haven’t had one in my hands yet.

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