Anatomy of a 72


There a big fat section of the center block missing from 70's ES-335's. That's not such a good thing. There is nothing from the bridge to the lower edge of the neck pickup.

There a big fat section of the center block missing from 70’s ES-335’s. That’s not such a good thing. There is nothing from the bridge to the lower edge of the neck pickup. Note the Phillips screws on the backs of the pickups. Most folks think that means pre T-tops. Nope. Those are T-tops. I checked.

I don’t get to see a lot of 70’s ES-335’s because I don’t generally buy them mostly because I don’t generally like them. But they are ES-335’s and they are made by some of the same folks who made the early ones, so maybe it’s time we looked under the hood and took some notes while we’re at it.

I had to ask myself…”what makes a 335 sound like a 335?” Certainly the electronics are part of that but it’s the construction of the guitar that is the big player. Otherwise, a 335 would sound just like a Les Paul which has the same electronics. The guitar I have in my hands is a 1972 ES-335 made by Gibson during the much maligned Norlin Era. Norlin was in the business of making a profit (as was Gibson) but there was a difference-or at least one that can be perceived from their respective products. Gibson-especially under ted McCarty, wanted to make money AND make great guitars. Gibson-under Norlin- wanted to make money. Period. There were no notable innovations during the Norlin years but there were some serious cost cutting measures that made the business profitable but hurt the guitars.

A 335 is not the easiest guitar to build. The center block alone of the original version had four separate components-the maple block-the mahogany end block and 2 kerfed spruce “spacer” on top and bottom of the block. Apparently, assembling all those components was too costly and time consuming for the Norlin (beer/cement) bean counters and they “simplified” the design. The 72 I have has no mahogany end block and the maple is missing about a 5 inch space from the bridge to the back edge of the neck pickup. You would think that this had the upside of decreased weight but this one weighs 8 lbs which is pretty average. It is more resonant unplugged but that makes it less like a 335.  And then there’s the neck. While it’s probably less work to make a one piece neck, it’s more expensive because you need bigger pieces of mahogany. So, in 1969, Norlin went to a three piece neck. More money for us, less quality for you. Actually, I don’t really have a problem with a three piece neck from a tone standpoint. I’ve played many multi piece neck guitars that sound great. But I’m sure they were saving a few bucks on every guitar.

Where I think the 70’s 335 falls even farther is in the neck join. The long tenon is gone and the loss of all that wood coupling the neck to the center block causes what I find to be a clear change in the tone and sustain of the guitar. I’m sure the missing 5 inch chunk of center block has something to do with that as well. I’m not getting the same richness of tone-the complexity and harmonics that I get from the early 335’s. Maybe it’s the pickups? I dunno, it’s got T-tops and I’ve heard some great T-tops that have made their way into early 335’s and some 67’s and 68’s with them that could give a dot neck a run for its money. T-tops are often a bit thinner sounding but they can still be an excellent pickup, so I don’t think the pickups are the problem. If I dropped a pair of 59 PAFs into this guitar, it might sound better, but it wouldn’t sound like a 59. And, by the way, just because you see Philips screws on the back doesn’t mean they aren’t T-tops. This 72 has them and I looked. T-tops.

There are plenty of other differences but they are largely cosmetic. The neck volute annoys most of us but it probably doesn’t change the tone of the guitar. The bigger headstock just looks funny as does the “pantograph” logo. The binding on the neck tends to crack at the fret ends but I don’t know what’s actually different about it. Different plastic formulation? Still, it doesn’t change the tone. The overall construction of the body is pretty similar outside of the changed block characteristics, so that isn’t the thing making it sound different. So, I can conclude that the real difference in tone comes from the center block and neck tenon changes. That’s not to say that a 70’s 335 can’t be an excellent guitar. It just won’t sound like a 59-68.

Where's the neck tenon? Not where it usually is on the 58-68's. It's missing a couple inches. Also not a good thing.

Where’s the neck tenon? Not where it usually is on the 58-68’s. It’s missing a couple inches. Also not a good thing.

6 Responses to “Anatomy of a 72”

  1. Rod says:

    Whereas I would NEVER choose a late 60s/70s 335, or any other Gibson for that matter from this period, I do think that the absence of the full centre block is something I might be able to accept. OK, it’s a different sound but not necessarily an inferior sound. Personal opinion. What I do not like and could not live with is the narrow nut so that would preclude a guitar from this period full stop (or as you would say, period).

  2. RAB says:

    Charlie, yes the 70’s were an unfortunate decade for electric guitars…most unfortunate were the bullet trussrod, 3 bolt Fenders…interesting to see them proffered as valued vintage guitars now; we hated them back in the day!

  3. Rod says:

    Yep, the 70s Fenders were crap then and now they’re still crap but now
    with dings in them and vastly overpriced!

  4. cgelber says:

    Interestingly, the folks at Guild made decent guitars well into the 70’s. I guess not having been bought by big greedy corporate conglomerates made a difference. I had a 79 F212 that was great and I’ve played some very decent Starfires from 70-73.

  5. Rod says:

    Pound for pound, or indeed dollar for dollar, I always though Guilds were better value and better built than Gibsons. I suppose it’s like the old car rental advert, ‘We try harder because we’re number two’.

  6. RAB says:

    True, Guilds are under appreciated. I always liked their top of the line thinline, sort of equivalent in ornamentation to a Gibson 355; what, the Starfire VI or was it the VII?

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