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No Rules

Very unusual 66 ES-345. Look at those ears...M-I-C-K-E-Y you know the rest. Stranger things have come along but not many.

Very unusual 66 ES-345. Look at those ears…M-I-C-K-E-Y you know the rest. Stranger things have come along but not many.

I write frequently about how to identify the various years and models of ES guitars and, mostly, they follow a pretty predictable set of rules. Except when they don’t. Just when you think you’ve got it nailed down, something comes along and you say to yourself…”see, anything is possible at Gibson in the 60’s…” And, by and large, it is. I’ve written about a number of oddballs over the years.

Recently, I bought a 66 ES-345. It’s the third one I’ve seen with Mickey Mouse ear cutaways. Those were gone by mid 63, so the idea that they were left over bodies is remote. But there they are. I’ve seen some kind of rounded, almost MM ear 66’s and with the hand work that went on, I suppose some variation is likely but this one is dead on. OK, big deal, I wrote up the first one a couple of years ago. Everything else about that one was typical 66. The neck was 1 9/16″ at the nut and the depth was a pretty typical .80″ or so at the first fret. Not this one. First off, the nut is 1 5/8″. Not unusual on a 65 but not usual at all on a 66. Being a fairly low volume model, the neck could have been left over from 65. But then there are the other measurements. This one is .87″ at the first fret and a whopping 1.02″ at the 12th. That’s 58-59 territory. Not even the 64’s reach .87″. Custom order? Maybe but there was no “Custom” truss rod cover which is pretty consistent on custom orders. Employee guitar? I have been told by a Gibson employee from the 60’s that the employee guitars had to have “2” stamps (even if they weren’t “seconds”). Somehow, that neck is outside the “normal variation” bell curve that 60’s ES’s seem to exhibit. An outlier, if you will.

That’s one of the things that is so much fun about 60’s Gibsons (I still say “so much fun” rather than “so fun”-that still sounds wrong to me) is that there are these rule breaker guitars. When I buy a guitar sight unseen from an individual, it’s still an adventure (or a crapshoot depending on your attitude)-even after many hundreds of them. It still feels a little like Christmas morning when I open a guitar box-especially one bought from Ebay or Craigslist. Mostly, the surprises are not so good-changed harnesses, wrong bridges, changed pickups and on and on. When the widow or the family is selling the guitar, it really isn’t fair to ask them to start taking the guitar apart. You look at the two or three photos they provide and hope for the best. Sometimes you get a bad surprise, sometimes you get a good surprise. It would be nice to say that the good surprises outnumber the bad ones but they don’t. That’s simply part of being in this business. But, to be truthful, the good surprises usually outweigh the bad ones. Getting a set of double white PAFs in a 61 when you didn’t even ask if the guitar had PAFs is a good surprise. Getting a 76 harness in a 59 dot neck is not. And, really, you can’t point a finger at the widow of the original owner and say “you didn’t disclose this…” There are no returns in these cases. You simply make the best of it and hope you get it back to being correct and playable.

The point here is not so much that Gibson was full of surprises back in the day. They weren’t. Most of the guitars I get follow the timeline pretty well. But then there are some that don’t and sometimes they don’t in a wonderful way. It’s often a big gamble when you’re spending thousands of dollars on a guitar that you’ve seen perhaps 6 photos of and have no hope of recourse from the 86 year old seller. But, in this case,the Mickey Mouse ears were right there for everyone to see. So how come I was the only one interested? Well, it’s that crapshoot thing again. And besides, that’s why I’m here.

Speaking of unusual, my friend Richie just bought this very rare and very cool 64 Bigsby only. These are are rare to begin with but this one has ears that don't match. How cool is that?

Speaking of unusual, my friend Richie just bought this very rare and very cool 64 Bigsby only. These are are rare to begin with but this one has ears that don’t match. How many martinis did you have for lunch?

 

4 Responses to “No Rules”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, fun stuff! Wow, never seen an ES with mismatched ear shapes! Yes, probably a Friday afternoon or early Monday morning guitar! Best, RAB

  2. Steve Newman says:

    Hard to believe Gibson would have let that one slip through QC and out the front door! Is it marked as a “2”? I see that it also has no stop tail stud bushings installed, which should have been standard, so maybe a “back door” employee piece, instead of a special order “Bigsby only” for a retail customer? I know Gibson was cranking out a lot of guitars to meet the demand during that time, but the mismatched ears are just too far off and too obvious to think it wouldn’t have been noticed by someone who had gone to the trouble of custom ordering it through a retail dealer.

  3. Richie says:

    No unusual markings or “2” marking. This is 100% “right and, as Charlie sez, quite unusual.. This is the 3rd Bigsby only (no custom made plaque) ’64 that I’ve owned. I just prefer these for no particular reason. What I’ve noticed in the Bigsby only ’64s is that this variation was particuarly more common in late 1964, as the transition to the 1965 models came closer. As far as the ears are concerned? It is unusual feature that I’ve never seen, so, of course, I had to have it :-).

  4. Andrewish says:

    Regarding the Mickey Mouse ear ’66… I have seen quite a few of them actually! A dozen at least throughout my ebaying and searching. Now, when it comes to Gibson there does seem to have been quite a few times where parts were left in storage until such a time as they were needed, but I’ve always wondered what ‘made out of leftovers’ means in Gibson’s case…

    Now, there were a bunch of Flying V’s assembled in the year after they were discontinued, and there were still explorers being assembled in ’63 out of pre-cut bodies, and the rumour about the ’68-9 LP’s being made out of leftover bodies has a lot of subscribers. And there are ’61 Les Paul Custom Black Beauties. But all of that stuff was leftover because the models were unpopular, but the ES only got more and more popular over time. So why would there be ‘leftover’ bodies for 5 full years?

    Now, while you are a better expert than me obviously! ES Bodies were whipped up on moulds/templates correct? Is it possible as the demand for ES models skyrocketed in the latter half of the 60’s that they were forced to increase output rapidly to meet demand? In that case is it not possible that they pulled the old MM templates put of the cupboard to allow them to have more people building new bodies at the same time? Is it also possible they used the MM templates because one or more of the other templates and jigs were damaged or destroyed in accidents? Forcing them to use the older templates for months while they made new ones up?

    The Mismatched horn ES may in fact damage my theory on this one… But to make new MM ears they would have needed older mm templates.

    Also, just as an aside, I love the fact that when people say the ’68 LP’s were older ’60 bodies, they make it sound like the term ‘body’ means that the whole guitar from fretboard, to neck, to top were already assembled. When it’s far more likely all that was left over were the Slab body backs and nothing else. As they are the first bit cut. So, about 30% of the guitar is from 1960.

    Gotta love an MM though.

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