Don’t Get No Respect. The ES-345

Here’s a photo you won’t find anywhere else. All 59 ES-345’s. In 59, they shipped 446 sunbursts, 32 blondes, 9 reds and 5 blacks. There could be more reds and blacks but they haven’t surfaced yet. There are at least two Argentine Gray ones (two tone sunburst).

It was 1959, arguably the pinnacle of Gibson’s guitar making empire. The ES (Electric Spanish) line had been well established and the thin bodied semi hollow entrants into the line had already established a respectable level of popularity. The ES-335 hit the scene in April of 1958 and, while not wildly successful out of the starting blocks, certainly merited note among the top brass at Gibson as a moderate success. The gilded ES-355, then only available in mono, showed signs of becoming a success as well as the calendar turned over and 1959 began.

It seems that when there are three models in a lineup, the middle one suffers. Automobile lines are a good indicator. The top of the line is great, the bottom of the line is you get what you pay for and the middle is neither. Same with middle children (I am one-4th out of 9). I remember an old aphorism that said “go first class or third class. Never go second class.” I think it was the author John Barth who came up with that and I actually took it to heart as a twenty something and have followed the wisdom of that statement ever since. I could get into why but it’s actually kind of irrelevant here. This is about the middle child in the ES semi hollow lineup, my old favorite, the ES-345.

If the 335 and the 355 didn’t exist, the 345 would be positively revered by guitarists. OK, the stereo wiring has become an anachronism and the technologically archaic Varitone circuit is beyond quaint but the rest of the package is everything I want in a guitar. My main player is a blonde 59 ES-345 with a couple of repaired holes and a new neck. Why a 345? I can have any 335 I want (one of the perks of being a dealer) or maybe a 59 mono 355. It’s pretty simple. I like the way the 345 looks. The parallelogram inlays are much more interesting than the dots or the blocks. The simple but not too simple body bindings are appropriate for a guitar of the caliber. The simple headstock of the 345 and 335 seems to show a little more class than the somewhat tarted up 355 headstock. The wood is often a little fancier than the 335 gets. I like a rosewood board over the ebony of a 355 and while I don’t care one way or the other about gold hardware, I really like the fact that you can buy a ’59 345 for about half the price of a same year 335.

Now why is that? Why is the bottom of the line twice as expensive as the middle and top of the line? Simplicity? Is a 335 a better guitar? No. Is it simply because a 335 isn’t stereo and it doesn’t have the Varitone? That’s part of it but not the whole story. If that was the reason then a mono 355 would be the equal of a 335 in value and desirability and it isn’t. I always thought the players were a big part of it. Eric Clapton, Larry Carlton, Alvin Lee and lots more. But wait. What about the 345 players? Freddie King, Elvin Bishop, Jorma Kaukonen and don’t forget Marty McFly who played one years before it was even invented. My conclusion? Guitar people are quirky. The LP Standard is way more desirable than a Custom. A Strat or Telecaster is more desirable than a Jaguar or Jazzmaster. A Firebird I is about equal in price to a V or a VII. I’m a pretty logical guy and logic doesn’t really come into play here. All that said, I still prefer a 345. Mine is now converted to 335 specs. The stereo and the weight were big considerations. Who wants to haul two amps to a gig on the second floor of a walkup building. And the Varitone? It’s an old school notch filter. It has some interesting tones that you might use for one song out of twenty. Or not. It weighs nearly a pound and you can find a pedal that does the same thing and doesn’t hang off your old, tired shoulder. But take the original circuit out or leave it in, the ES-345 is a wonderful guitar and perhaps among the best deals in vintage. You can take that to the bank.

This is my current main player. It’s an original finish blonde 1959 ES-345. It has had the neck replaced and a couple of holes filled. It has been converted to mono and the Varitone removed.

8 Responses to “Don’t Get No Respect. The ES-345”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, no Rodney Dangerfield here! 345s get plenty of respect from me. The best Gibson thinline I ever owned was a First Rack (huge neck, high output PAFs) ‘59 345. But I just had to have a dotneck 335 dontcha know so I sold it! Sad day…The ‘61 dot was inferior in all respects to the 345. Thanks for selling me another FR 345. It’s almost as nice as my first FR! And the mono mod you did on it makes it a great sounding axe, a poor man’s ‘59 dot 335! Best, RAB

  2. RAB says:

    P.S. I also owned an early red ‘59 345. Serial number A3141X. Stop tail, black Varitone ring. Gorgeous watermelon red, birds-eye grain. Can’t recall if it had any white pickups. It was fabulous…paid $400 for it circa 1975 in Hayward, CA…them was the days, eh wot?!

  3. steve craw says:

    Charlie, thanks for the ES-345 article. I fell in love with them visually and sound-wise years ago when I checked a lefty 1962 that Alex wanted to buy. I decided that if God played the electric guitar, it would be an ES-345. I finally got my own, a 1964 in June, and love it. IMO, they are the most beautiful guitars ever produced. My
    Les Paul has been sulking ever since.

  4. RAB says:

    Charlie! WOW! Your photo with the 4 colors of ‘59 345s is absolutely killer! Four times bee-oot-tee-full! Congrats for assembling this award winning cast! RAB

  5. davek says:

    The image of the 4 59s is pure guitar porn – wonderful!!

  6. IrishBrian says:

    Hey !!!
    I like that “tarted up headstock” !!!!


  7. Frank says:

    Thanks for the usual great writing!
    As a young kid I became obsessed with The Right Guitar For Me, and did exhaustive reading and trying on many many guitars. Liked the LPs because Les Paul, liked the Strat because of the different sound and comfort. Friends 335s hooked me on the speedy necks and hum buckers. Then I saw BB. Life changed lol. Scrimped and saved and finally acquired a ‘68. Got derision when I opened the case, until I plugged in and played. The thing just fit me. Yep I’ll haul two amps. Yeh I think Vari-Tone gives superior versatility.
    I’ve found a replacement finally, after my baby was stolen many years ago, as exact as can be. I consider myself fortunate and thank our Great Advisor Charlie for his knowledge.
    I’ll be reporting back as soon as my time allows!

  8. Michael Minnis says:

    A little late to the 345 party, but Amen, Charlie! My 345 is all that and more. And I appreciate your frank assessment of the varitone circuit!

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