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Parts Timeline #2: Tuners

PAT APPLD next to later patent number Kluson tuners. The PAT APPLD had a different plastic tip that was less likely to deteriorate. By 59, they were all patent number

It’s worth keeping track of what changes occurred in the timeline of ES guitars and when they occurred especially when you’re trying to date these guitars. As I’ve said about a zillion times before, changes didn’t happen on January 1 of a given year. They happened when they needed to happen and the changes were usually gradual, taking place over the course of weeks or months. It was never PAFs of December 31 and patent numbers on January 1. The pickup timeline is full of overlaps and erroneous “conventional wisdom”. The tuner timeline is a little easier to document but there are still some commonly held beliefs that need to be addressed.

Let’ start with 335’s. It’s pretty simple, really. Klusons from day one and that never changed. In 1981, they went to Grovers but we don’t really deal with “new” guitars from the 80’s (I can’t believe 1980 was 40 years ago). Klusons, while always the tuner of choice on a 355, went through all sorts of changes in the 50’s from single lines with no hole for the tuner key shaft to no lines with that hole to single lines with the hole which is where we begin in 1958. Wait a second. What does single line mean? You can’t imagine how often I get asked this. It’s simple. The words “Kluson Deluxe” engraved on the back of the housing are on a single line down the middle of the housing. Double line would have the same words engraved on two vertical lines. Then there single ring and double ring. This refers to the tuning key tips. Single ring had one “ring” a circular element at the inside end of the tuner top. Double ring tuners had 2 rings. The photos make it clear if my description doesn’t.

Let’s kill two birds here. Big oil hole (1958-early 60) on the left with a single ring tip. On the right, small hole with a shrunken double ring tip. Double ring tips started in mid 60 or so.

1958-1960 (mid year): Single line single ring nickel Klusons. 1960-late 1964: Single line, double ring Kluson. Late 1964-1968: Double line, double ring Kluson 1969 -1980: Double line, double ring “Gibson Deluxe”. Same tuner as Kluson Deluxe but the text reads Gibson Deluxe.

But wait. It isn’t quite that simple. The SLSR (single line single ring) Klusons in 58 are different from the ones in 59 and early 60 and this is where a lot of misconceptions arise. In most of 58, the tuner says PAT APPLD on the side of the plate that goes against the headstock when installed. These have a large oil hole and tips that tend to stay intact, that is they don’t shrink or turn to dust like so many later ones do. At around the time that they started putting the patent number on the plate “D169400”, they also changed the formulation of the plastic in the tips. This occurred over a period of months, I suspect, at the end of 1958. If your 58 has shrunken tips, check the size of the oil hole. If it’s small, the tuners aren’t original. If it has a patent number, your 58 should be a very late one. Tuners get changed so often that you’re more likely to get correct tuners than original tuners or so it seems. The small oil hole really doesn’t show up until early 60. The tips still shrink however. In fact, they didn’t change the tip plastic formulation again until around 1965. While I don’t see as many double ring (mid 60 and later) Klusons with shrunken tips, I see enough to figure the plastic is the same as a 59.

Same tuner, different text. “Gibson Deluxe” began showing up in 69, although you can find 69’s with the Kluson Deluxe designation as well. Transitions never occurred overnight. Gold 345 tuners always had single rings.

ES-345’s follow a somewhat different timeline but the situation with the tips is pretty much the same. The big difference is that they never used double ring tips on 345’s. I’ve seen a few but I’m guessing they had their tips changed. There are no 58 345’s, so we start in 59. The 345 was discontinued in 1983. Here’s the timeline:

1959-1964: Single line single ring gold. Big oil hole in 59 and much of 60. Small oil hole after that. Tips that deteriorate right up to 65. 1965-1969: Double line Kluson Deluxe single ring gold. 1969-1980: Gibson Deluxe double line, single ring gold.

Finally, we get to the ES-355 which is the easiest of all to understand. 1959-late 1963: Gold factory Grover Rotomatics marked PAT PEND. Late 1963-1982: Gold Kluson “wafflebacks” with metal buttons. No oil holes in wafflebacks or Grovers.

ES-355’s from 58-late 63 had “Pat Pend” Grovers. I don’t have a set of gold ones at the moment but the chrome one in the photo shows the Pat Pend designation. It can be in a heavy deep font like this or much lighter. On the right is a gold Kluson waffleback. These were used on 355’s from late 63 until the 355 was discontinued in 1980.

It is worth noting that tuners are the most frequently changed part on 335’s and 345’s. This is mostly because so many Gibsons had nut slots that were cut too small and the strings would bind in the nut slot if you did a lot of string bending. We all thought it was the tuners-Klusons were generally regarded as inferior in the 60’s and many of us who played these guitars back in the day (like me) switched to Grovers. It didn’t fix the problem but the damage was done and we eventually figured out that a little graphite in the nut slot was all we needed. By the 80’s, folks were still doing it but Schallers were the tuner of choice. Folks are probably still doing it to their new guitars. It’s also worth noting that guitar players are notorious tinkers. We will tweak and adjust and swap out parts in the hope of finally getting the tone that’s in our heads. I figured out long ago that the tone comes mostly from your hands.

6 Responses to “Parts Timeline #2: Tuners”

  1. RAB says:

    Glad I “tuned” in to this new blog update! Ha, ha! Interesting to note Epiphone Riviera models, the equivalent of a 335 had metal buttons on their Kluson Deluxe tuners as opposed to the “snot green” plastic keystone buttons Kalamazoo luthiers installed on the 335.. same assembly line! Stay safe y’all and play yer git-tars!

  2. Joe Campagna says:

    As a Luthier/Guitar tech.My biggest gripe is,when Grover changed to the large washers in the mid ’60’s.I’m so tired of fixing the “raccoon eyes”made by those hideous things when converting back to Klusons.Grover probably went to the large size to cover the hack methods used to enlarge the peghead holes by amatures.Someone should remake the the small dome shaped washers again.You can see those giant washers from across a room!!Ugh!Rant over.Cheers Charlie.

  3. okguitars says:

    I’ve never been able to make those nasty dents go away. I’ve tried a few woodworker tricks – damp cloth and a hot iron didn’t work, compressing the area around the dent (nope)
    Let me know if you have a method that works or at least improves them. It seems that everyone who ever did this conversion tightened down the lock nut as hard as they possibly could.
    I remember that the instructions from Grover said to hand tighten the lock nut or at least it did back in the 70’s when I last did one of these conversions on my own guitar. The small washers leave just as nasty a dent, it’s just smaller.

  4. RAB says:

    And Schallers leave an oddly offset tuner screw hole on the back of the headstock as well! I was guilty of putting those “higher quality” German tuners on several vintage gits back in the day to address the “dreaded” Kluson slippage problems! Strangely my all Kluson equipped gits stay wonderfully in tune these days! The other old-age learning is to not mess with the tuners after the guitar is well-tuned at the beginning of the gig!!

  5. Luiz says:

    I have a 1967 ES-355 with the milk bottle grover “pat pend” tuners. There’s no marks of a previous waffleback tuner behind them. What’s your guess?

  6. okguitars says:

    My guess is that they are factory. It is possible that they wanted to use up a set of Grovers that was left over from earlier 355’s. Or it was a special order wherein someone requested that the guitar be equipped with Grovers rather than wafflebacks.

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