58 ES-355. Cool. Rare. Evasive.

This extreme fade is typical of very early red 355's. You can seethe original color peaking out from behind the guard. Stop tail isn't factory-this would have had a Bigsby.

This extreme fade is typical of very early red 355’s. You can see the original color peaking out from behind the guard. Stop tail isn’t factory-this would have had a Bigsby.

If you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you know that I never keep any of the guitars I get. I do tend to jump up and down when I get something really rare like the 63 blonde 335 or any of the three black 59 ES-345’s I’ve had. Or maybe the “nonexistent” red 59 335’s and 345’s or the three stop tail ES-355’s I’ve had. All great guitars and all so impossibly rare that it’s a wonder I ever found them at all. There is one ultra rare ES that I’ve never had-until today that is.

In 1958, they made 10 ES-355’s. Now, we know that model years don’t mean very much and the first 59’s were the same as the 58’s but not for long. The 58’s have some very distinctive characteristics that make them interesting and very cool. All of them were mono and every one I’ve seen has gold bonnet knobs. That would change almost immediately in 59 along with a few other features. In 59, the ES-355 would be offered in both stereo and mono  and would be fitted with black knobs. The 58 has the 3 ply thin top which lasted into 59 but was gone by the Spring. That’s not what is so interesting, though.

In the late 50’s, there was a burgeoning trend toward smaller neck profiles and, while we are all familiar with the big 58 and 59 335 necks, the ES-355 followed a different timeline.  As the top of the line, Gibson saw fit to equip it with a slimmer “faster” neck fairly early in 1959. I can’t tell you exactly when but I can say that big neck ES-355’s are very hard to come by. Out of the perhaps 50 ’59 355’s that I’ve owned or played, only four have had a big fat neck. Of those four, all have had a 58 factory order number. There are other interesting features that seem to be limited to 58. They were all red but of the 5 ’58’s I’ve seen, all but one has faded to a pale orange. The 59’s and the early 60’s tend to fade to that wonderful “watermelon” red but the 58’s must have been a slightly different paint/dye formulation. Maybe more like the red element of a burst. Plenty of 59 Les Pauls lose their red element completely. The 58 ES-355 I just got is nearly blonde, it has faded so extensively. It’s not a particularly pretty color but it sure is distinctive. It’s very red under the guard and under the bridge but mostly it’s blonde with an orange tinge.

I have seen the first 58 shipped and it also has that orange fade-not as extensively but definitely not watermelon. I was offered another 58 (which I passed on because the seller wanted nearly $25K for it) a few years ago and it too had the orange fade. I know of another that hasn’t faded extensively and I can only assume it spent much of its life in the case.  I like this guitar a lot. There’s a list of features that I really like on 3×5’s and very few ES’s have all of them. The neck should be .88″ at the first fret and around 1″ at the 12th. Check. The center block should be uncut. Check. The top should be thin. Check. The guitar should be red. Check (sort of).  It should be a stop tail (it’s had one added) and it should be a great player. Check and check. Red ES guitars with a big neck are pretty much limited to late 63 and 64 but even those have more of a medium neck. No 64 is as large as .88″ at the first fret.

There are a half dozen red 59 ES-345’s and perhaps five or six red 59 335’s. Add those to the ten 58 355’s and maybe another fifty (could be more-could be less) early 59’s and you have perhaps 75 big neck red ES’s. So, your chances of getting a big fat neck red 335, 345 or 355 is pretty slim. That’s why I jump on them when I see them. And then I sell them. What a dope.

This is the very first 58. Similar fade and, of course, the gold knobs. Thanks to LP Forum member/owner "MacDaddy" for the photo.

This is the very first 58. Similar fade and, of course, the gold knobs. Thanks to LP Forum member/owner “MacDaddy” for the photo.


11 Responses to “58 ES-355. Cool. Rare. Evasive.”

  1. chuckNC says:

    I believe I could bond with such an instrument.

  2. RAB says:

    Cool and impossibly rare! Interesting to note the significant space between the end of the fingerboard and the neck pickup ring! I would assume this is a prototype or early production attribute! Best, RAB

  3. cgelber says:

    Hard to know. It is missing its serial number but has an unusual handwritten FON from late 58. Could be a prototype of just another strange Gibson anomaly.
    The #1 58 shown at the bottom of the post doesn’t show that space. Good eye.

  4. chuckNC says:

    I see it’s on hold. I’ll get over it…..How many stages of grieving do they say there are? Seriously, somebody is going to be pleased.

    Not saying that I that I saved the photos you have up on your GBase page or that I’ve since blown them up in some pathetic virtual attempt to be close enough to smell that guitar or anything….but I couldn’t help but notice the TS5 sitting on top of your tweed Bassman. The “Dist.” knob seems to have realized the maximum in clockwise travel.

    We been gettin’ down a little, have we?

  5. Rod says:

    Rab:- I have a 335 numbered 96461 and some years ago had another one numbered (I think) 84472. The neck pickup routs were in noticeably different positions. There was a definite gap between the end of the neck and the mounting ring on 84472, no gap at all on 96461. I had always assumed therefore that the routs were done with a template but the positioning was freehand.

  6. RAB says:

    Rod, interesting. My ’62 Riviera has a factory black plastic “boo boo” strip applied (with small round head brass brads) to fill the abnormally wide gap between the end of the fingerboard and the neck pickup ring. I’ve found another Riviera on the ‘Net a few serial numbers away from mine with the same treatment. Maybe the luthier was having a bad day or two? Best, RAB

  7. Ollie says:

    Out of interest, what is the gap between the end of the fingerboard and the pup ring supposed to be? My ’66 355 has a fair gap and I’ve not seen enough in real life to know if it’s usual. I only mention it because it’s been brought up and I thought, “mine has a gap….”

    Anyway, I was gonna ask Charlie about when he passed on a ’58 for 25k, Have there been any guitars where you’ve knowingly overpaid just because you wanted it so much? Or are you beyond that now you’ve got into the business side? Are there any you’d just have to have and pay over the odds for?

    The only guitar I’d do it for would be a ’62 cherry Sheraton with a Bigsby which apparently they did a run of, even though they don’t officially exist.

  8. RAB says:

    I’ve paid a premium to get a guitar I really wanted especially if it was nicer than the run of the mill examples. You’ll rarely regret the additional cost especially when amortized over the many years you hopefully keep and play the instrument. And nicer examples typically bring a higher sales price if and when it does come time to sell or trade in!

  9. RAB says:

    My ’63 335 has a small gap (maybe 1/8″) between the end of the fingerboard and the neck pup ring…RAB

  10. GuitarMikey says:

    They must not have thought up the “Goof Strip” idea yet 🙂

  11. chuckNC says:

    I see a larger gap between the ring and the fretboard on the treble side of that ’58. Optical illusion? It really stands out on the two full-guitar shots.

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