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When is a Gibson not a Gibson?

Not a Gibson but still, a Gibson. This is a 59 Sheraton-one of only 3 made. NY pickups, big vee neck, Frequensator tailpiece and the coolest guitar I’ve ever owned.

There are two answers to this question. The obvious one is “when it’s a Chinese fake.” The other one, if you know your guitar history isn’t that hard either-when it’s an 59-69 Epiphone. OK, go ahead and argue that the post ’69 Epiphone are still Gibsons but we all know they really aren’t. Gibson owns Epiphone but the folks who make modern Gibsons don’t make Epiphones. They are made all over Asia. They can be very nice guitars but that’s a different post. From 59-69 (more or less), Epiphone were made in Kalamazoo by the same folks, on the same assembly line, from mostly the same materials as your favorite Gibson models of the day. And they are wonderful guitars.

I really should write about the solid bodies at some point but since this blog is really about semi hollows, I’ll stick to them for now. Today, since I just got another one, I’ll talk about the Sheraton. The top of the Epiphone semi hollow line and the equivalent of the ES-355 (again, more or less). The Sheraton model didn’t exist before the sale of the Epiphone company to Gibson in, I believe, late 1957. In fact, nearly every “Gibson Epiphone” was a new model derived from an existing Gibson model. Epiphone was meant to be a lower line of guitars from the Gibsons but you would barely know that-the prices were pretty close and the specs were, other than the pickups, nearly identical. 

The Sheraton is a very fancy guitar. The inlay are much more intricate than the big blocks of a 355. The headstock inlay is pretty fancy as well. While nearly all 355’s were shipped with a Bigsby, the Sheraton was shipped with either a “Frequensator” trapeze or a “Trem-o-tone” vibrato tailpiece. The former is quite good, although the concept is a little weird. The Trem-o-tone looks pretty cool but it really doesn’t work very well. So, look for the frequensator if you are buying.

The Sheraton went through, essentially, three iterations before Epiphone was moved to Japan. The first is my favorite but all three are really great guitars if you can find them. The production numbers were really low. The first version had the best neck I’ve ever played on any guitar, ever. It’s a 5 piece with a fairly hard vee with good depth and a width close to 1 3/4″. These necks were leftovers from the old Epiphone NY factory and Gibson used them until they were gone (by 1961 or so). The fancy abalone and MOP inlays stayed for the duration however. The 59’s and most of the 60’s had what are known as NY pickups which were also a leftover part from Epiphone. They are, contrary to what you might read elsewhere, single coils, not mini hums. Great pickups but not real screamers. They are relatively low output and very sweet and musical.

1962 was a year of considerable change for the Sheraton. While the “short” headstock was yet to be extended, the neck lost 5 piece construction (the vee profile was gone by 61) and was contoured, more or less, like the Gibsons of the era-fairly wide (1 11/16″) and fairly slim (.82 or so). The NY pickup was gone and replaced by PAF mini hum buckers. These are excellent pickups but are more aggressive than the old ones and the guitar is rather a different animal. There are a few out there that were routed for the NY pickups but were fitted with mini hums and goof rings. Always plan ahead.

By 64, the Sheraton had acquired the long headstock that is still associated with the brand. The necks became slimmer still and the nut width was slimmed down to 1 9/16″. There are 64’s and 65’s and maybe even some 66’s with wider nuts-the Sheraton was such a low volume guitar that a 64 build could have been shipped as late as 66. Still fancy though right up to the end of the line in late 68. You might find one shipped as a 69 but that’s the year the brand was shipped off to Asia to become what it is today.

Vintage Sheratons are priced much lower than Gibson and are a real bargain in a market where bargains are rare. There aren’t a lot of them, so it might take some time for one to pop up for sale. I prefer the early ones but I’ve never played one I didn’t like. Blondes are stupid rare-you can count the 59’s and 60’s on one hand. You can count the 61-63’s on two hands and a foot. But even the rarest of the blondes can be had for under $30K. Compare that to a blonde 335 for as much as 4 times that. Or compare it to a blonde 355 which is early nonexistent. I’ve owned one. I know of just three more. The price of a blonde 355 can break into 6 figures with ease. Can’t find a blonde? A sunburst Sheraton is more common and usually priced around 30% lower than a blonde. Red ones are rare. 

61 and 62 Sheratons.

7 Responses to “When is a Gibson not a Gibson?”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, as you know I’m a big fan of the early 60’s Epi semi-hollow and solid body guitars! Those equipped with the mini-PAF pickups are particularly great sounding. I used my ‘62 Riviera almost exclusively when recording our band’s last CD…Roger

  2. okguitars says:

    You should write the Epiphone equivalent of my blog. The 59-69 Epiphone are perhaps the most under appreciated vintage guitars out there (although Guilds are pretty under appreciated too). I have only two guitars in my “permanent” collection. One is a 59 Gibson. One is a 61 Epiphone. I would sell the Gibson before I sell the Epiphone.

  3. EC says:

    Yeah! the RAB-blog!

  4. Barney Roach says:

    The late LARRY HENDRICKSON of AX-IN-HAND fame ( DeKalb, IL ) told me that his favorite guitar ever were also the early Epiphone Sheratons- he liked them better than the red late ’60 335 he was selling me, around 1995-ish. Quiet the expert- and quite the character- Larry passed in 2000. I have always wanted to try one. As usual- great article Charlie!

  5. Steve Newman says:

    Reposted pic just for Epi lovers. The only factory stop tail Riviera I have ever seen. No tailpiece holes on lower bout rim; no Bigsby holes in top; no finish “shadow” from any type of tailpiece in the finish; still in possession of original owner. Bought new from a mom and pop small music shop in northern Indiana. Now resides in Memphis, TN. Original nickel plating on all metal parts, and evidence of factory finish on the edges of the stop tail anchors.

  6. RAB says:

    Pant, PANT! Want, want WANT IT! There is something seriously wrong with this guitar! That it isn’t mine!!

  7. RAB says:

    Want it, want it, WANT IT!!

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