RSS

Archive for May, 2018

ES Artist in Captivity

Sunday, May 20th, 2018

1980 ES Artist. Good points and bad points abound. Good points? It’s black and the neck is pretty nice. Bad? Read on.

 

I don’t do re-runs (OK, I posted the Christmas poem twice but I warned you) but this one is different. I wrote about the much maligned ES Artist a while back but I had never owned one and had never played one plugged in. So, in that post, I could only wax theoretical about active electronics and on board gimmickry. But now I own one and I’ve had my electronics tech go through it and make sure everything was working right. It needed a few capacitors changed and some general maintenance but I’m pretty sure it sounds like it was meant to back in the day.

In order to not bury the lede, I have to say right off the bat that this thing sounds pretty god awful with the active electronics engaged. I don’t recall ever hearing sounds like the Artist puts out-even in the 80’s which, in my memory, were a bit of a cultural wasteland. C’mon, the biggest hit of the Summer of 82 was “Don’t You Want Me Baby” by the (where are they now) Human League. Synth pop. Wasteland indeed. And they were nominated for best new artist at the ’83 Grammys fortunately losing to the much more talented Men at Work whom I kind of liked. Anyway, it’s the late 70’s and Gibson/Norlin is trying to be innovative by hiring on Robert Moog (Dr. Bob) to design a circuit for their new “Artist” series. Actually, Norlin owned Moog at the time and it was probably more like they drafted him. The RD Artist was first and flopped pretty badly. Then came the Les Paul and ES Artists which did much better but can’t exactly be called a rousing success. The line died a quiet death in 1985. So lets listen to this thing.

So, with no on board effects engaged, the guitar sounds like a slightly strident 335. The active tone controls which have a center detente and are boost and cut controls work pretty well. The one I have doesn’t have the detents going up or down-just in the flat or middle position. Apparently some had 5 detents in both directions. Different concept from the usual tone controls but perfectly functional once you get used to them.

Then we get to the three on board effects. There is a compressor, an expander-whatever that is and a treble boost. In general, they are way too strident and artificial sounding. The compressor is the best of the effects but you have to dial it back using the little pot inside the control cavity. Dimed, it’s a horror. Sounds like cats being tortured. The expander has a level control and a delay control inside there and that too needs to be tamed a bit to have any use at all. I couldn’t figure out exactly what the delay pot did. The level pot turned up made a kind of swirly, trebly slightly atonal mess that was worse than cats being tortured. Turn it down and you have the cats being tortured with a blanket thrown over them. The treble boost did just that but the guitar is plenty bright without it and it just gets overly glassy. Sorry, Dr. Bob, this is not your best work. The guitar in normal mode is pretty much like a normal 70’s 335 with active tone controls. The neck profile is OK. The nut is 1 11/16″ and the neck has some meat to it. The pickups are, I believe, Shaws which sometimes need a little treble boost (but not these). Output seems a little low but tone wise, you can get some decent music out of it. Just don’t touch the miniswitches.

ES-Artists are relatively cheap and you can ignore the effects and have a decent guitar. Or you can use the effects and scare small animals and children. My Artist is a 1980 and it’s factory black. And yes, you can buy it from me for cheap.

This is the heart of the Artist. A couple of stacked circuit boards with three little mini pots to control the amount of animal torture you want to add to your 335 tone. Takes a 9V battery and a lot of getting used to.

“First Rack” ES 345’s Database

Saturday, May 12th, 2018

First black 345 made. Also, one of three black “first rack” 345’s.

If you aren’t an ES geek, this will be meaningless. If you are, it will be mildly interesting. If you own one of these, you’ll get it. I’ve written about “first rack” ES-345’s before. You can find that post here. If you’re too lazy to read that post, here’s what we’re talking about:

The term itself is a bit of a misnomer to begin with. It was, as far as I know, coined by Gil Southworth of Southworth Guitars and refers to what were thought to be the first three “racks” of ES-345’s. These April 59 guitars have distinctive characteristics that set them apart from all later ones. The very first 345’s (which are included in the database and have an asterisk next to them) were built in late 1958 (“T” FON). They have the same characteristics as the others and may have been prototypes later shipped in February 1959. Two are known and a third with a 58 FON and an April serial number is also included.

A “rack” is usually a grouping of 35 guitars, usually the same model, that move through the various stages of assembly together-literally rolled around the factory on a rack. They are stamped at the beginning of the process with a number-usually in the treble side F-fole. It is a letter and a three four digit number followed by a space and another 1 or two digit number. The letter designates the year-backwards alphabetical-“T” is 58, “S” is 59, “R” is 60, “Q” is 61 and then they stopped using them. The first number is (supposedly) a chronological designation starting at 100 and going to 9999 and starting again. A lot of numbers don’t seem to exist and there is some strange overlap between years. The last number is the “rank” or the number of the particular guitar. Each of the 35 guitars gets a unique rank number from 1-35 (or more in some cases). Clear as mud, right?

So why three “first racks”? Because these three racks (plus the “T” FON outliers) have a bunch of distinctive characteristics that later 345’s don’t have. As far as I know all of them have a very large neck profile, at least .90″ at the first fret and .99″ or more at the 12th fret. All have a small rout for the chokes rather than the fully cut center block of later 345’s. Some have wax potting around the choke, some don’t. All have a “short leg” PAF in the bridge position to accommodate the choke. Later 345’s had the rout deep enough to accommodate a normal PAF. Assuming each rack had the requisite 35 guitars, there are approximately 105 first rack 345’s plus the 3 outliers and one black 335 that was probably intended to be a black 345 but someone needed a black 335 probably for a special order and built it as such. It has the 345 rout but no other 345 features. Oddly, it didn’t ship until much later in the year. Two of the black 345’s from those racks also shipped much later.

This is what I have so far. I’ve owned most of these at some point and some were sent to me by owners. If you have a 345 from one of these racks, please let me know and I will include it. I have noted the FON, serial, model, year shipped, color, tailpiece configuration and any miscellaneous information I have. All have black Varitone rings. Some are missing the FON but were surely “first rack”.

FON SERIAL GUITAR YEAR S/N Color TYPE MISC
*T7303-16 A29132 ES-345 1959 SB Bigs/dots
*T7303-9 A29133 ES-345 1959 SB S/T
S8539-xx A29656 ES 345 1959 NAT S/T wht/z
S8539-5 A29662 ES 345 1959 SB S/T
S8539-20 A29663 ES 345 1959 SB S/T B/B
S8539-21 A29664 ES 345 1959 AG Bigs/dots
A29666 ES 345 1959 SB S/T
S8539-15 A29667 ES 345 1959 SB S/T
S8539-18 A29674 ES-345 1959 Black
S8538-3 A29714 ES 345 1959 SB S/T B/B
A29761 ES 345 1959 NAT S/T
S8538-28 A29769 ES 345 1959 SB S/T RZ/RZ
S8538-5 A29808 ES 345 1959 SB Bigs/dots w/rz
S8538-34 A29822 ES 345 1959 SB S/T
*T7443 A29823 ES 345 1959 SB S/T Singlebound
S8537-14 A29845 ES-345 1959 SB S/T B/B
S8537-12 A29846 ES 345 1959 SB S/T
S8537-29 A29849 ES-345 1959 SB S/T B/Z
S8537-7 A29914 ES 345 1959 SB S/T
S8537-9 A29952 ES 345 1959 SB S/T
S8537-32 A29958 ES 345 1959 SB S/T Z/W
S8539-29 A30576 ES 345  1959 Black S/T Added Bigs
S8538-31 A30589 ES 345  1959 Black S/T
S8537-5 A31302 *ES 335 1959 Black  

S/T

“Mystery” 335

This shows the shallow rout for the choke, wax potting and the short leg PAF (top one).