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Keys to the Kingdom

Got a Lifton or a Gibson badged case with a lock that looks like this? The right key says 6K11 or H345. Note that the lock even says 6K11 on it. So much for security.

Got a Lifton or a Gibson badged case with a lock that looks like this? The right key says 6K11 or H345. Note that the lock even says 6K11 on it. So much for security.

I’ve written about case keys before but I’ve had some reader questions lately and I’ve got a bit more information than I had back when I first wrote about case keys. First off, let me point out that locking your guitar into its case and thinking it’s more secure that way is kind of dumb. If I’m playing a gig in some dive bar and someone in the bar is bent on stealing my guitar, they will not be deterred. You will never hear this statement: “Oh, crap. I was going to steal this guitar but the case is locked so even if I do, I won’t be able to open it.” You all know it takes about ten seconds to break the lock off a guitar case. I think the only function of a working lock on a vintage case is to keep your kids from messing with your prized instrument while you’re at work or out shoveling the driveway. Your kids are probably going to figure out where you keep the key anyway.

As collectors, having the original key in its little manila envelope is a nice thing, along with the little screwdriver and the other nice case candy items that came with the guitar when it was new in 1958. At least 90% of the original keys are long gone by the time these guitars get to me. Probably closer to 95%. But the good news is that all the locks from a given case maker are opened by the same key. Gibson badged cases and Lifton cases have the same lock and the same key will open them I have brown cases from 58-61 and black cases from 61-68 and all can be opened by an Excelsior key numbered either H345 or 6K11. They appear to be identical. They are pretty easy to find and will usually cost you around $15 or so. That key will open most 335/345/355 cases but not all of them.

Cases for 335’s were made by Stone during the 50’s and early 60’s and Ess and Ess in the mid 60’s and later. The Excelsior keys that fit the Gibson and Lifton cases don’t fit these. Stone cases were widely used in the 50’s and a lot of 58, 59  and 60 335’s have them. They are a really good case but, unlike the Gibson and Lifton, they have one spring type latch for the locking piece and usually the springs get broken. The latches usually still work and the key, if you can find one will still work. The key for some Stone cases will also be an Excelsior (which means “ever upward” in Latin in case you care-and it’s the state motto of New York). The key for the Stone case will have the number 301 on it but it is for the type of latch pictured. There are also brown Stone cases with a different spring latch. I don’t know what key opens these.

By the early 60’s Stone Case Co. (of Brooklyn) was either gone or Gibson stopped using their product. If your case is black, it isn’t a Stone. If it doesn’t have a Gibson badge on the outside or a Lifton badge on the inside, it’s most likely an Ess & Ess (also of Brooklyn). These usually have a label inside up by the headstock (but not always) and they also. like a Stone, have a spring type latch for the lock. The key that I have that works on an Ess & Ess has no writing of any kind and it looks like a generic luggage key. Good luck.

After 1969, the cases changed but some of the same keys still work. I have a black with purple interior 70’s case made by Lifton that uses the same H345 or 6K11 key. I have a grey Epiphone case from the early 60’s that uses it as well. Finally, I have seen 335’s from the 60’s in Victoria cases but I don’t believe that Gibson ever supplied them. They were used extensively by Fender for the Coronado series and they will fit a 335 pretty well. I have no idea what key they used, however. If I find out, I’ll revise this post.

Any early 335 may have a case made by Stone. They have a spring latch-usually broken-with a key that is numbered 301.

Any early 335 may have a case made by Stone. They have a spring latch-usually broken-with a key that is numbered 301. Not all Stone cases used the same lock, however. See the next photo.

Here's the lock on another Stone case from the late 50's or early 60's. I don't have a key that fits this type. If anyone has one, send me a photo and I'll update the post

Here’s the lock on another Stone case from the late 50’s or early 60’s. I don’t have a key that fits this type. If anyone has one, send me a photo and I’ll update the post

If your 335 is mid 60's or late 60's or even 70's, you might have an Ess & Ess case. They key is pretty generic looking with no number. It looks like this if that helps

If your 335 is mid 60’s or late 60’s or even 70’s, you might have an Ess & Ess case. They key is pretty generic looking with no number. It looks like this if that helps

5 Responses to “Keys to the Kingdom”

  1. Rob says:

    How heavy were the Cali girl es cases. I have a new gibson badged brown and pink case and it feels like it weighs 15 lb. without the guitar in it?

  2. RAB says:

    Charlie, a fascinating bit of trivia! I have all my vintage cases safely ensconced in the closet and of course gig with the sturdiest modern cases I can lay my hands on including the Cedar Creek case you sold me (thanks!) which is built like a battleship! My clumsy brother (and our bass player) kicked the case (with my 355 in it) over twice after a recording session. The case suffered some road rash but no damage to the vintage fiddle! I should have kicked over his blonde ’61 Jazz Bass’ case to get even!

  3. moxie50 says:

    Wow, logged in today to try to find old posts about cases (daunting with so many months to look through now)! I’ve always felt bad that my cheap Epiphone LP Studio has a cosmetically beautiful case, a perfect puzzle-piece like fit, and, at least I think it would be important, a “ramp” on the floor to spread the load of the body, and not put it all on the neck support, especially when in a horizontal position, which is how it usually is. My ’66 Lifton case fits both 335 bouts sloppily (if not a word at least its an adverb), especially the upper, has way too much slop front to back (even with a Bigsby), has one latch gone, the others suspect, and looks like shit. I know its not a premium case, but have been following the equivilant Epi case and saw a stupid good price on Amazon ($84 to my door) and ordered it.

    I know today’s subject was latches and keys–so please give me slack here. My concern now: have seen cases worse than mine (on the outside)(most seem ok inside) being offered for amazing (to me, anyway) amounts–$250-400!!) I know its just like you teach us about the guitars, but do they bring even close to these figures? I could plow that back into my Buescher 400 tenor sax (about as cool in the sax world as my ’66 335) overhaul! ORRRRR is it really important for provenance or selling price of the guitar when my heirs eventually sell it? What do you guys think??

  4. RAB says:

    Moxie50, vintages cases generally don’t do as good of a job protecting your guitar as a more technologically advanced new case. But having the original case with a vintage guitar is a plus if/when it is time to sell, especially for the more picky buyer. That is why I have original cases for all of my vintage Gibsons and Epiphones. It is somewhat of a waste since, as noted above, I never use the cases to transport the guitars, the cases take up closet space and I never intend on selling any of the guitars…but, I’d be positioned for top dollar should I change my mind!

  5. cgelber says:

    The originals weren’t heavy at all. The reissues are heavy but the ones from the 90’s are even worse.

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