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Mid Sixties. Good Guitars. Small Necks.

If you can live with the narrow nut and the trap tailpiece, a 66 is a pretty good choice. Vintage pedigree without the sticker shock.

I must come off as a little bit of a vintage snob. I pay a lot of attention to the ES line from 58 to 65 but I pretty much ignore the rest of the sixties and that really isn’t fair. Most vintage aficionados draw a line somewhere and I drew mine at the moment they switched from wide nuts to narrow nuts (insert joke here). The guitar boom that occurred during the mid 60’s caused some major changes in the guitar industry. In 1959, they sold around 1500 guitars from the ES thin line series. That would include 335’s, 345’s and 355’s. By 1967, that number was closer to 10,000. That huge increase must have caused all kinds of headaches with the corporate suits. You can thank John, Paul, George and Ringo for a lot of that. I was 11 when I first heard The Beatles and I wanted to be a rock star (along with a zillion other kids my age). I couldn’t afford a 335 but that didn’t stop me. I never got there but had a lot of fun trying for about ten years. So, let’s take a look at the mid 60’s in the next few posts and see where the changes occurred and why these years don’t command the big bucks and maybe why they should. And we’ll blow away a myth or two along the way.

I’ve owned a bunch of 66’s, so that’s the year we’ll start with. If I had to point out the shortcomings of 66’s, it would be a pretty short list. Narrow nut. End of list. The nut went from 1 11/16″ in early 65 to 1 5/8″ to 1 9/16″ by the early Summer of 65. That’s pretty narrow even for a guy with small hands like me. I find that I’m clumsy and get in my own way on the limited real estate of the lower frets. I simply can’t play them very well. But beyond that, 66’s are not all that different from the well regarded 64’s. They went to the trapeze but (myth buster #1) I don’t find that it makes all that much difference in tone and sustain. You’d think it would but I’ve played lots of 66’s with great sustain and tone. Well, what about the pickups? You can’t really compare a t-top to a PAF can you? Here’s myth buster #2-they didn’t use t-tops in 66-at least not in any of the 66’s I’ve had or inspected. The pickups are pre t-tops which are, essentially, PAFs with poly coated windings. They are different than PAFs and early patents but they are very good pickups. I find them a little brighter and a little more tame than a PAF but still a really good sounding pickup. However, if you’re buying a 345 or 355, you still have a shot at a set of early patents which are the same as a late PAF. Early patents are not common on gold hardware guitars by 66 but they are out there.

The quality of mid 60’s ES models suffered during the mid 60’s almost certainly because of the wildly increased sales volume. I’m sure the pressure to crank out more guitars in less time was intense and when that happens, quality is the loser. But 66’s are generally good as far as fit and finish are concerned. To me, a 66 is very close to a “Golden Era” 335 for less than half the price. I had a 66 ES-345 a few years ago that I would put up against any year except maybe an early 59. It was a monster guitar. The 66 still has a lot of the same components of the earlier ones. The nickel had changed to chrome on 335’s by late 65 but the 66 was the last year for the wide bevel guard, the reflector knobs and Brazilian rosewood fingerboards. I think that if Gibson had kept the wider nut and the beefier neck (66’s are pretty thin front to back-like a 61), the prices would be a lot higher. Just look at early 65’s. A big neck 65 is pretty close to a 66 except for the neck profile. And yet, the price of the 65 is 50% more on average. So, I consider the 66’s a bargain. You can pick up a ’66 345 for about the same price as a new high end 335. You can always take off the trapeze and do a stop tail conversion. I find that if its done right, it doesn’t diminish the value significantly, if at all. There are always buyers for stop tails (done right by somebody else). And, much as I like some of the newer 335’s, I’d still rather have a 66 even with that narrow nut.

This 66 345 was pretty unusual. Full Mickey Mouse ears and early patents made it look and sound like an earlier one. Keep your eyes open, there are some excellent mid 60’s guitars out there for less than you might pay for a new one.

16 Responses to “Mid Sixties. Good Guitars. Small Necks.”

  1. RK Watkins says:

    Evening Charlie,
    Love the 345. I little of topic but how many 345’s with the first fret inlays have you encountered. I know of a couple but I don’t know if they were custom orders.
    thanks,
    rk

  2. RAB says:

    Good advise as always! That ‘66 345 in the photo is a beautiful git-tar! Aged to perfection over 52 years, yum!

  3. okguitars says:

    I’ve seen plenty of 345’s with the fist fret inlay. All have been 61’s. Not all 61’s have it but a lot of them do.

    Charlie

  4. Andy says:

    What do you make of the Epi models of the same time? It seems the sheratons and sometimes rivieras can command even more than 335s. there’s certainly a uniqueness to them (not just another 60s 335- to have such problems!) but does the quality etc match the gibson line?

  5. tak says:

    My 66 had a 39mm nut and I could totally get it why people call it a pencil neck. You could tell how thin it was just by looking at it from a distance. Too bad I couldn’t play it at all even though the sound was not bad.

  6. Ollie says:

    Hurrah! Some love for the class of ’66. I always liked the smaller nut due to my small hands although could do with a touch more size to the back of the neck. However…. No way could I have afforded an earlier 355 so thank god for small fingers and people’s love of big necks!

  7. okguitars says:

    Yes, the quality is equal. The necks are pretty much the same from 65 onward. The only real significant difference is the mini hum pickups.
    I played a 66 Riviera when I was a teenager that belonged to our bass player. I couldn’t afford one.

  8. Steve Newman says:

    The Epis follow the same neck profile timeline as the Gibson 3xx models. Having owned a couple of Gibson built Sheratons, I always liked the tone of the mini humbuckers, especially the early ones with their very own PAF stickers. The narrow nut width is really no smaller than most Fenders of the same era, and with a replacement nut with optimized string spacing, they can work pretty well. Just ask Larry Carlton, Drew Zingg, and Robben Ford. Robben’s current #1 is a sunburst ’66 Epi Riviera that has had a stop tail added. I think, as with most guitars, you subconsciously learn to adjust to the instrument, no matter the spec. After you play it enough, it becomes “normal” to you. Still personally prefer the wider 1 11/16″.

  9. Steve Newman says:

    Re smaller nut widths, this ’64 strat , complete with spaghetti logo,has a 1 5/8″ nut, and a 9/64 heel date. Plays and sounds great.

  10. RAB says:

    Yup, my ’62 Riviera has the BIG, wide nut width. Still, I had a ’63 Wilshire that had a narrower nut and it played fine. It had a bit of beef front to back in the neck and that helped the overall feel!

  11. Leeds says:

    I bought a used but mint 66 345 in high school. The neck felt fine to me and my friends who owned wide-neck Gibsons. It sounded as good as the stop-tail ES guitars and PAF Les Pauls I bought later. I only sold it because I didn’t care for the trapeze tailpiece looks. It remains the one guitar I still regret selling.

  12. RAB says:

    Nice Strat Steve! My SVL has a BIG HUGE neck profile that I requested from Simon…

  13. chuckNC says:

    My ’68 355 has a much beefier neck than my old ’66 Trini Lopez did. Both of them have the narrow nut. I’d consider either one playable *enough* but I like the feel of the ’68 more.

  14. RAB says:

    Good enough for B.B. who always seemed to play a recent issue 355 when he could have been playing the finest ’59! But then that would have been a used guitar and, as a successful bluesman he could afford a new fiddle!

  15. Brian O Grady says:

    Just sold my 66 335 a couple of months ago. Really enjoyed having it from a collector point of view, and it had great tone and resonance but wasn’t a fan of the nut width.
    Sold it and for less than half the price got a 62 ES-330 T
    I mostly sit around at home and play on the sofa unplugged so from that point of view it’s a more appropriate guitar – and has the mickey mouse ears and wide nut too !!!

  16. Steve says:

    I bought a ’66 ES-335 with the stopbar modification last year and love its tone. I am a tone fanatic, and I would say its tone on the plain strings comes as close to that of Clapton’s ’64 as any guitar I have played, including several vintage 3x5s. Using the rear pickup, the wound strings sound different from Clapton’s, perhaps because of the routed-out center block in my ’66. The newer 335s I’ve played don’t have the sustain or vintage tone of my ’66, although I could understand players preferring them for their clean tone and wide necks. I have small hands, so the narrow neck of my ’66 is not that much of a problem, although I prefer a wider one.

    What I noticed in comparing a trapeze 335 with a stoptail one is that the strings felt slinkier with the stoptail. I’m not certain that the strings were the same gauge, but I didn’t notice a difference in that or the string height. So for string bends and finger vibrato, I preferred the stoptail. Maybe a player that likes the resistance of big strings and a longer neck scale would prefer the trapeze.

    My ’66 has pretty rounded ears like the 345 above. I had the pickguard custom made as the original was missing.

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