When is a 58 not a 58?

This 59 has a T7280 FON from 58 and the serial number A30518 which is June of 59.

When it’s a 59, of course. Guitars that fall on the cusp of a new year are often tricky to describe. We are all obsessed with what year our guitar is from. In fact I get more emails about dating these guitars than for any other reason. they can be hard enough to date without the year end confusion that Gibson’s seem to cause. During those years, there wasn’t really a “model year”. Gibson didn’t tout the “new 1959” lineup but we are conditioned to expect exactly that thanks to the automobile industry. They touted new models but not the new model year probably because guitars, especially higher priced guitars, often didn’t sell during the year they were built. I’ve found lots of guitars with a sales receipt dated a year or even two years later than the serial number indicates.

From 1958 to 1961, Gibson used two numbering systems. The factory order number (FON) which was generally stamped in black ink on the inside of the guitar (often twice-once on the back of the top and once on the inside of the back. And there was the serial number stamped or written (usually stamped during this period) on the orange label. No serial on the back of the headstock until 61. There is little confusion when the two indicate the same year but when they don’t, it can give you a headache. When I date a guitar, I consider a few factors: The serial number carries the most weight-that indicates the year the guitar was shipped. The factory order number indicates the year the build was started but not necessarily completed. And finally, the features of the guitar (dot markers, long guard, bonnet knobs, etc.). It’s not surprising that year end builds would get a following year serial number. I usually mention that in my listings-I would describe a 60 with a 59 FON as exactly that. I’ve covered this situation in earlier posts but there is an anomaly that occurred in the late Spring to early Summer of 1959.

The changes that were made in early 59 are quantifiable. The neck angle increased and the thickness of the top increased. These changes addressed some problems the 58’s were having. An early 59 with a 58 FON is common. I usually just call them 59’s. But what about a mid year 59 that has a 58 FON? How did that happen? Was there a rack of leftover builds that got put aside due to complaints about top cracks in the thin tops? So far, I’ve had seven ES-335’s with mid year serial numbers that have 58 FONs. The earliest in my database is A30247 (probably late May) and the latest is A30659 (mid July). Most are from one of two racks-T7303 and T7304 both late 58 racks. Two, including the one pictured, are from earlier racks. The rack number is not really of interest here but the year designated by the letter “T” is. That’s a 58 build.

So, are these “not-on-the-cusp” 59’s really 58’s? Well, yes and no. Here’s why. It’s pretty clear from the thin tops and the big round necks that the bodies and necks were fabricated in 58. The increased neck angle would have already been in place by late 58. But many of them have double white or zebra pickups which didn’t exist in 58-they were the result of a shortage of the black plastic used to make the bobbins in 59. They also have 59 pot codes. So, we can assume that the assembly of the finished guitar occurred in 1959. But, this is Gibson and nothing is totally logical. Another change occurred in 1958 to 59. The Kluson tuners went from patent applied to patent number (and they changed the formulation of the plastic). Some of these 58/59 ES-335’s got 58tuners and some got 59. Go figure.

I wasn’t there so all of this is speculation. They could have simply been leftover tops and backs that were already stamped but I doubt it. The neck and neck angle just shouts late 58. But I still call them 59’s probably in part because everybody wants 59’s anyway but also because of the 6 month discrepancy between the FON and the serial. The best I can do is describe it as a 59 with a 58 FON and call it a day. There is good news amid the confusion, however. These are some of the best of the best. The thin tops are more fragile and prone to cracking, to be sure. But they are also more resonant. The necks are big and rounded-the baseball bats we all know and love. The neck angle allows for plenty of height adjustment at the bridge unlike the earlier 58’s where the bridge sits on the top of the guitar. So, look for these and ask about the FON when you buy a 59, especially one in the above mentioned serial number range. It might be an exceptional one.

The “T” means 58. The rack numbers are sequential (supposedly) and the last digits are the rank-what number the guitar was in the 35 unit (more or less) rack. T7280-xx is pretty late in 1958 but the guitar didn’t ship until June of 59. No idea why.



9 Responses to “When is a 58 not a 58?”

  1. Michael Minnis says:

    Great post, Charlie. And I agree with you. These 58 FON/59 serial number guitars can be very special! Thanks again for your wonderful website!

  2. James says:

    I think a date range of the actual build is what really matters. I would like to know when Gibson started building the vintage guitar, when it was completed, the ship date, and last, when it actually sold in a music store. It’s like the guitar is a living being, and you are researching its origins. They are all coming up on their 60th birthday. Break out the cake, careful with those candles!

  3. RAB says:

    Any Golden Era ES 335/345/355 is “jake” in my book…transitional examples are cool curiosities!

  4. Unbound Dot Neck says:

    How does this bound neck example differ from a 58 unbound neck.
    Other than the binding.
    Neck angle ?

    Thxs Charlie , great post as always

  5. okguitars says:

    Most 58 unbound 335’s have the very shallow neck angle that requires the “low profile” ABR-1 or a shaved full size one. Some bound 58’s have the same neck angle although I haven’t seen enough to get a big enough sample to tell you what percentage of bound neck 58’s has the shallow angle. Probably more than 50%. The very earliest unbound 58’s have a different shape to the “ears”-more pointy-and the construction of the heel and tenon is different (two pieces glued together instead of a single piece). These very early ones are pretty rare. I think I’ve had only two out of at least 20 58’s.

  6. Art-Chris says:

    Hi !
    Excuse my certainly poor english speaking ! (I am french you know ! )
    I am happy to discover this website because I own a 345-TD and the number is 840399. There is no letter before the number.
    What do you think of that ?
    The varnisch is crackelled as a oil painting !
    Thanks for your answer !
    Chris 🙂

  7. okguitars says:

    That serial number was used twice. It could be a 66 or a 69. Easy to tell the difference. If there is a dot over the “i” in the Gibson logo, it’s probably a 66. If there is not, it’s definitely a 69. There ways to tell beyond that-cutaway shape, f-hole size (bigger on 69), inlay position, knobs…or you could send a photo and I’ll tell you what year it is.

  8. Tom Choate says:

    I have purchased a few wonderful instruments from Charlie over the years, he is the expert without a doubt. I have serial number A30518 and although its is out of the “sweet spot” it has all of the great features, big neck, thin top and PAFs absolutely howl. FON is a T(1958) Thank you to Charlie for the great guitar and the great article on the 335.

  9. okguitars says:

    The “sweet spot” was based on my notes of which guitars had those features. I will have to extend the sweet spot to include yours. Somehow, that one didn’t get into my notes. Did I sell you that one?

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