Weird and Wonderful One-Off

What the....??? No, it isn't a Barney. It's a one off '63 ES-355 with Venetian cutaways.

What the….??? No, it isn’t a Barney. It’s a one off ’63 ES-355 with Florentine cutaways.

Back in the olden days, before Gibson was overrun by beer and cement makers (Norlin), they would make just about any variation of a catalog model you wanted. For a price, of course. Odd colors, fancy or personalized inlays, different bindings…really just about anything. The result is guitars like the “greenburst” 335, or the red 59 dot neck with a varitone or Tommy Mottola’s no f-hole sunburst 355 and plenty of others. I’ve written about most, if not all of the ones I just mentioned but a reader sent me another, perhaps weirder than any of the others.

The owner says it’s a 63 and the serial number bears that out although you really can’t tell much from the guitar itself. It’s had more than its share of mods done over the years. It is, essentially, a stereo VT ES-355 with Florentine cutaways and bound f-holes. I’ve seen bound f-holes on a few custom made ES models including the black 66 335 I had. But Florentine (sharp) cutaways? Thats a new one for me. There seems to be no record of it in the Gibson shipping ledger although I have seen entries that read “spec. cutaway” before. It looks, essentially, like a thinline Barney Kessel-not my favorite design but I’m not a big archtop guy. I’d say this one is about as close to one of a kind as you’ll get. Too bad it’s been so heavily modded. What did they do?

There are few obvious changes like the 70’s harmonica bridge and the extra switch at the treble side cutaway. Possibly a kill switch or a coil tap. It looks like it came from the factory with a Bigsby like most 355’s and that was removed and a stop tail installed (a bit low). Perhaps the most unusual mod is a separate-probably mono-output jack. You don’t see that one very often. It’s got Grovers but looks to have been shipped with Kluson wafflebacks which is correct for 63. Finally, it looks like the headstock had a “smile” crack that was repaired and oversprayed. As I’m fond of saying, 50 years or more is a long time for a guitar to stay stock. It just takes one owner with “improvements” in mind to, let’s say, “take it out of collector grade”.

Still, I’m always inclined to want one just like it because it’s just so different. I love 355’s and there’s nothing like a one off to get a conversation going. Like it or hate it, it’s just too interesting to ignore. Somebody really wanted this-enough to pay some very serious dollars for sure. ES-355’s were really pricey to begin with. By 63 they were pushing $1000 with the optional case which is close to $8000 in 2015 dollars. And that’s for a stock one. I wonder what this cost? Big thanks to David P. for letting me write up his guitar.

Nice flame on the back too. I can't figure out why so many had flame backs and plain tops.

Nice flame on the back too. I can’t figure out why so many had flame backs and plain tops.

13 Responses to “Weird and Wonderful One-Off”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, a fun and interesting item to feature. Yes, Gibson’s Custom Shop was alive and well during the 1950s and 1960s resulting in many an unusual instrument! Case in point the green burst 1959 Les Paul Standard mentioned in Robb Lawrence’s book. Robb also mentioned a pair of sunburst flametop 1959 LP Customs ordered by a Southern CA music store. Declining a standard Bigsby or sideways vibrato tailpiece on a 355 in favor of a stop tailpiece must have also been a custom order though there is no mention of that request at least in Gibson’s shipping ledger for my ’63 355 mono…shipped 11/21/63, the day before a tragic event in Dallas, Texas!

  2. Kerry says:

    Perhaps the flame backs/plain tops is a vestige of spruce topped arch tops. Needless to say, that would be a silly reason. But sometimes tradition trumps reason. Beautiful one-off 355 with that color and wood.

  3. Rob says:

    RAB, that shipping date is cool. I don’t know the date my 355 was shipped, but the serial number indicates that it is a ’62 and I’ve long called it “JFK”. My ’69 Les Paul was “Nixon” and my ’51 Tele was “Truman”. My lay-around daily beater is a Squire Jag HH that I guess would be “Obama”. Fittingly, made in Indonesia.

  4. Ollie says:

    Wow! I’m glad this one has found a home. I’ve seen it advertised for sale a few times over the years and was always tempted but was put off by how much had been done to it….. And how much I’d end up spending putting it back to how it was. Still, If the current owner ever wants to sell it I could be tempted again! What a beauty.

  5. Rod Allcock says:

    It would be quite easy to get rid of the worst eyesores, that ghastly bridge should go immediately. They even look vile on the things they were put on as new. And putting a Bigsby back on would be sort of appropriate and cover up the worst of the anomalies from the stop tail being in the wrong place. I expect the added switch is probably a phase reversal to put the pickups back IN phase so is probably worth keeping after all this time. As for the extra jack, I really don’t know.

  6. RAB says:

    Yes! Someone should restore this rare bird, restore it right we say!

  7. RAB says:

    P.S. I had a ’59 355 Stereo/Varitone that had a book matched tiger striped back!

  8. chuckNC says:

    I love the looks of that guitar! Beautiful color, lovely checking, devilhorn cutaways…..Looks like it was born to play garage rock. The low-rider tailpiece doesn’t seem so offensive on this creature, though they usually bug me on 335’s.

    I’d be curious to see what the extra wiring appointments offered. After all, they’re already there. I’d never do that to a guitar myself but I’m not above enjoying the fruits of someone else’s questionable decision!

  9. moxie50 says:

    Yes, the checking is very cool, almost looks like leather. “Horns remind me of the Kay “Red Devil 592” that I started on, preceding my 335.

  10. Max says:

    Hi Charlie, did you recognize that this very guitar is currently for sale on Ebay?

    Cheers, Max

  11. cgelber says:

    Yes, I saw it. Seller quoted me in his listing.

  12. Tad Bennett says:

    Pat Sherm of the Foo Fighters looks like he’s holding the exact same model on the cover of Guitar World a few months ago. The article on the band didn’t mention specifically what model it was, only a Big Gibson. Beautiful guitar, not sure about the bound f holes. Dave Grohl holds a cool Trini Lopez Gibson on the same cover.

  13. okguitars says:

    That’s got to be the same guitar. I don’t think there would be two like that. He took off the 70’s bridge. Pat must have bought it. It was on the market for a long time. Grohl has a few blue Trinis. His tech was in touch with me when I had a blue one for sale 7 or 8 years ago but somebody else beat him to it.

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