Long Time Comin’

Nope. Not a reissue. Not a real dot neck either. It's a Ken McKay "tribute" 335 that took me and my friends more than four years to complete.

Nope. Not a reissue. Not a real dot neck either. It’s a Ken McKay “tribute” 335 that took me and my friends more than four years to complete.

I think it was 2011 that I was contacted by Ken McKay to help him out with some measurements for his new 59 ES-335 “tribute” bodies. Ken was going to make the bodies an exact copy of a 59 ES-335 and you were on your own when it came to putting a neck on it and fitting it out. I was very impressed with Ken’s work and wrote a blog post about him. Find it here. I bought one of Ken’s creations to see how it checked out against the real thing. Then things started going awry.

My friend Chris made a neck for me using a nice piece of Brazilian rosewood for the fingerboard I had been saving since the 90’s. I had the dot markers made from a set of vintage inlays and had him custom carve a rather 64ish neck profile. It was a true custom as I was there when he shaped it so I could say take a little more off here and leave it fat here. I did it by feel-not by the numbers. I could have asked for .88″ at the first fret and .98″ at the 12th like my 58 but I chose to go by feel alone. It turned out to be around .855″ at the first and .96″ at the 12th. A little shoulder but not much and a neck set angle somewhere between the really shallow 58 and the more moderate 60. Medium jumbo frets finished slightly lower and flatter than normal and I had a true custom neck. That part was delayed by various circumstances affecting my life and Chris’s so it took some time. I think we had a completed body and neck by around 2013. Then came the finishing.

I wanted the guitar to be watermelon red and I asked my regular luthier, Dan, to paint it. I was very specific about the red I wanted and we just couldn’t get it right. We got a nice red but it wasn’t the right red. So, I told him to just paint it black. Dan got very busy with his own line of guitars and I got very busy moving from Westport, CT, closing my NYC video business and opening my shop in Kent, CT. I kind of forgot about the McKay 335 and so did Dan. We both had too many other things to do. But, finally, the McKay was painted and ready to put together.

I thought about assembling the guitar using only vintage parts but I didn’t have everything I needed, so I improvised. The tuners are no lines from a 52 Les Paul, the bridge is a 59 no wire ABR-1, the stop tail is a repurposed wrap tail from a LP Special. The neck pickup was a Shaw PAF that Dan rewound for me using the purple enamel wire of a PAF and a pair of white bobbins that I left uncovered for the neck. The bridge pickup is a real 59 PAF that I left covered. The harness is from RS, the knobs and guard are repro. The TRC is a real “Custom” from the early 60’s and the strap buttons are the real deal plastic ones from 59 or 60. So, it should sound like a real 59, right? Well, the wood isn’t exactly old and the lacquer is still curing but I strung it up with a set of 11’s and sat down to play.

First impression was more than just OK. The bridge pickup is awesome. Bright, articulate and complex. The neck pickup is a monster. Loud, prone to distortion (it’s slightly overwound per my specs-I love a neck pickup that approaches 9K) and did I say loud? The middle position was out of phase which is pretty interesting but I’ll probably flip the magnet in the neck pickup and see if I like it better in phase. I’m supposed to check the phase before I install the pickups and string up the guitar. I didn’t. But beyond the great tone of this guitar was the surprising playability. Having a custom made neck is a real luxury. Having the frets done to my spec is also a luxury. And a piece of very tightly grained dark, dark Brazilian rosewood completes the package.

So, it took me more than four years to get this guitar done but it really compares favorably with the best of the dot necks I’ve had. The shallow(ish) neck angle and perfect intonation make for a very playable and comfortable guitar. Vintage electronics and a custom wound neck pickup make it sound like I want a 335 to sound like. And look at it. It looks authentic. Ken got the shape dead on which Gibson still can’t do. I didn’t have it relic’d so I can crap it up myself. Most of you know, I never keep guitars-even my favorites end up for sale and this one will probably go as well. Somebody is going to get a work of art. Thanks Ken.

5 Responses to “Long Time Comin’”

  1. James says:

    Very cool! I love reading about one-off customs and why people choose the specs they do. Not much for black 335’s but I really dig that you put a ’64 nut width on it.

  2. Paul says:

    Wow, like stepping out of a time machine to pick up your brand new custom order ’59. Very cool piece of living history, in another 57 years i wonder…
    Hope it gets played a lot!

  3. Rod says:

    I really wish I could afford one of Ken’s 58s. Still can’t even though it is much cheaper (and possibly more useful?) than an original. The point about being more useful is that with an (all) original, if something, anything like say a pot being not quite the right track, is bothering you, you don’t have to agonise about the originality being compromised. You lucky man!

  4. RAB says:

    Charlie, beautiful fiddle, congrats! RAB

  5. Ken McKay says:

    Thanks Charlie for showing this off! I love black myself. I have made a few.

    Shameless plug:
    My son Quinn took the reigns and is arranging the sale of these classic kits. Send an email to him and a kit request form will be sent.

Leave a Reply

Optionally add an image (JPEG only)