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Archive for the ‘ES 335’ Category

Parts Timeline #2: Tuners

Saturday, June 13th, 2020

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.

Parts Timeline #1: Pickups

Monday, May 25th, 2020

Nice clean set of unmolested PAFs. Note how clean the solder is and how perfectly straight the edges of the cover are. Unmolested pickups will usually have no flux around the solder and the solder will be duller than new solder would be

It can be hard to tell the orange poly windings from the purple enamel coated ones in a flash photo but these are the purple ones-more brown really. The red ones are very coppery looking. This would be a PAF or an early patent number. A short magnet PAF and an early patent are identical except for the sticker.

I’m constantly searching for parts on the internet and I’m generally appalled at the descriptions some sellers write. It’s not that they describe the parts incorrectly, it’s that so many folks use the “wishful thinking” approach to dating them. My knowledge of ES guitars and their parts comes from only one source and that source is simple observation. I read everything I could find but most of what I found was full of errors. In fact the thing that started me on my ES-335 web site was a glaring error on what was (and to an extent still is) the best place to go to learn about vintage guitars. That site states: 1968 Gibson ES-335 guitar specs: Neck size increases back to 1 11/16″ with a decently size back shape. It didn’t. If the premiere vintage guitar site has that wrong, what other misinformation is out there? Plenty.

Printed information is very useful but if your observations don’t back it up, it usefulness becomes suspect. OK, enough explanation. What do folks get wrong? Let’s start with pickups. I’ve owned somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 1964 ES-335’s and probably at least 25 ’65’s. I don’t open pickups if they are factory sealed but I do open them if they have been opened in the past-if only to clean up the solder. I have never seen a T-top in a 65, let alone a 63. I’ve also never seen a poly wound pre T pickup earlier than 65. And yet, I read in ads for poly wound pre T-tops that they were in use from 63 until 65. They were not. I have a 69 in stock right now that has pre T-tops. I’ve never seen a poly winding patent number with a nickel cover unless it’s been messed with.

My experience tells me that nickel PAFs ended in 64 and they are rare in 64. Most 64’s have early enamel wound patents and none (that I’ve found) have poly windings or the black and white leads. I hear of gold PAFs showing up as late as 67. I suppose that’s possible-my experience with 67’s is limited. I’ve never seen one after 65. The earliest T-top I’ve ever found was in a 66. The latest pre t-top was in a 69 although they could have even shown up in 70. So, there is clearly quite a lot of overlap. The non gold pickup timeline as I see it is: Long magnet PAF 58-early 61. Short magnet PAF 60 (overlap with long magnet)-64 (rare). Enamel patent: 62 (overlap with PAF)-65 (overlap with poly). Poly patent: 65 (overlap with enamel)-70 (overlap with T). T-top: 66-79. The gold timeline is the nearly the same but has longer overlap. PAFs after 63 are rare. Where gold differs most is the enamel wound patents. They extend well into 65 and I’ve seen a few in 66.

Part of the problem with dating parts is the fact that they can be changed without much evidence. Pickups require re-soldering when changed, so it isn’t hard to tell if a pickup has been out of a guitar. The problem is that nobody wants to pull the harness of a 335 to check. It can be a lot of work. I almost always pull the harness when I get a “new” guitar. I check the solder at the pots, I check the solder on the covers. It isn’t hard to re-solder a pickup cover and make it look original, so look at the sides of the covers…if they are bent or dented at all, they’ve been opened. Changed pickups are really common. Les Paul guys have been scavenging double whites for decades, largely out of 335’s and 175 but also out of 345’s and 355’s. They pull the covers anyway and it’s really easy to swap out a set of gold pole screws for a set of nickel ones.

  • ES 335 Pickup Timeline
  • 1958-1961 Long magnet PAF. Rare in 61
  • 1961(overlap)-1964 Short magnet PAF. Rare in 64
  • 1962-1965 (rare)-Patent number enamel (purple windings) black leads always nickel covers. Identical to short magnet PAF except for sticker
  • 1965-1969 Pre T-top poly (orange windings) black and white leads always chrome covers.
  • 1966 (overlap)-1976 T-top with sticker. Later has embossed pat no.
  • ES-345/355 Pickup Timeline
  • 1958 (355 only)-1961 Long magnet PAF.
  • 1961 (overlap)-1965 or later (rare, overlap) Short magnet PAF
  • 1962-1965 Patent number enamel (purple) windings. Identical to short magnet PAF except for sticker
  • 1965-1969 (overlap) Pre T-top poly windings
  • 1966-1976 T-top with sticker. Later has embossed pat no.

It’s called T-top because of the “T” embossed into the bobbin (duh). Supposedly, it was there to tell the winders which end was up. You can also see that the little window (square in the circle) isn’t there on a T-top.

Scavengers II

Tuesday, February 18th, 2020

The stop tail on the right is correct for 1958 to 1964. The one on the left is from the late 60’s. Look at the seam. The one on the right has a seam that is thicker in the middle and thinner everywhere else. The one on the left has a thick seam from end to end. Some repros have gotten this seam correct so you have to look for other features. The stud on the left is correct for the same years. Note the length.

In 2015, I wrote a post called “Scavengers” which is why this post is called “Scavengers II”. In 2015, the market was rising, as it is now and the cost of vintage parts came along for the ride. Changed parts have always been an issue on vintage items. Cars, furniture, virtually anything collectible that is made of components, is subject to changed parts both by unscrupulous sellers and by folks who simply can’t tell the difference between authentic parts and reproductions. What is different now, five short years later, is that the quality of the reproduction parts has gotten so good that it has become hard, even for experts, to tell the real from the fake.

Consider this: A vintage stop tailpiece for a 1958 to 1964 ES-335 will cost you around $1800. A really good reproduction will cost you about $100. You might spend $40,000 on your collector grade ’59 and never know that someone along the way has swapped out the vintage tailpiece for a good repro (or a bad repro for that matter). The likelihood is that you either won’t check to see if it’s real or you won’t know even if you do check. You’ll likely find out at the worst possible time-when you bring it to me or another knowledgable dealer to sell or trade. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve had to be the bearer of bad news of this kind. If the owner isn’t right there when I go through the guitar, it calls my honesty into question, especially if the guitar was bought from another reputable dealer. Fortunately, I make a point of checking the parts before the owner leaves the shop. If you’re buying or trading online, then it can be a real dilemma.

It’s not just the tailpiece either. Amber switch tips don’t cost $1800 but they get swapped out a lot. But even a $250 part can be a deal breaker. Certain parts have gotten really good. Stop tails, ABR-1 bridges, catalin switch tips, knobs, truss rod covers, pick guards, pickup surrounds even PAF stickers. I have mentioned in many previous posts that early 95% of the guitars I buy from individual sellers have an undisclosed issue. Fortunately, it’s usually something minor that I can address from my parts stash but sometimes I have to return a guitar due to something expensive like a repro stop tail and that’s going to be trouble in almost every case because somebody got cheated. “It was right when I sent it” is a pretty common response and I look like the bad guy. The hard part is figuring out who the criminal is if there is one. Usually, I’ll simply return the guitar to the seller if I can. The seller will obviously know if he is the culprit but if he isn’t, he has to consider the person he bought it from or he has to consider me. This is why reputation in this business is everything.

How do we, as dealers, minimize the problem? The best way is to ask for extensive photos. That means pulling the pickups, removing the tailpiece and bridge to show the underside and finding out where the seller acquired the guitar. I know which dealers are meticulous when they check out the guitars they sell and which ones don’t dig too deeply. Those who buy and sell without going through every part aren’t necessarily dishonest, they are simply lazy and that can have the consequences that are being discussed here. “I was too busy…” is a poor excuse. As a dealer, you should be busy authenticating the guitars you’re going to sell. But extensive photos won’t do you any good unless you know what to look for. I can tell a repro part from a real one from a clear photo with very few exceptions. Truss rod covers are tough as are switch tips. Knobs and pick guards can be tricky in a photo but are easy to tell in person.

My advice to sellers is to document every part with the same good photos you are supplying to your buyer. That way if a guitar comes back because of wrong parts you can compare what came back with what you sent out. Easy with metal parts, not so easy with plastic but the photos give you a fighting chance. Wear patterns are like fingerprints. Better yet, when you buy a “new” vintage guitar (and you aren’t an expert) use the approval period to take it to someone who knows what they are looking at to get a second opinion. At current market prices, you deserve to get exactly what you are paying for. Don’t immediately assume someone is trying to cheat you if a part is wrong. Everybody, even the experts, can get it wrong. But a dealer should go out of his way to make it right if that occurs. An individual seller should do that as well but if you aren’t buying from a dealer, go back and read the line about what percentage of guitars I get from individual sellers have an undisclosed issue.

Note the size of the “ears” on these two tailpieces. Both are correct but you’ll only see the shallow one on the left in very early 335’s. I’ve never seen one after 58. I see them on 50’s Les Pauls. But they are real-none of the repros are doing the shallow ears. Another feature that gives away a repro is hard to photograph but easy to feel. The top of the tailpiece should have a very slight hump or ridge. You can’t see it but you can feel it. It’s the first thing I check for when I get a guitar. No hump, no deal.

Vintage 335 on a Budget

Wednesday, February 12th, 2020

335’s from 1981 (not the block necks) to 1985 are generally really good players. Yes, it’s the dreaded Norlin Era but they mostly got these right. The blondes have gotten a bit pricey ($4,000 or so) but non blondes, including, if you’re lucky enough to find one, black ones, are hovering in the $2500-$3000 range. This is a 1984.

A typical email to me contains the following: “I have around $3000-$4000 to spend and I want a 335 but I’d rather have a vintage one than a new one. What should I buy?” It always puts me on the spot a bit to answer that inquiry because there are a lot of good choices vintage and not vintage. Now I guess I have to define vintage. Not new. Not recent. Not crap. I was resistant to calling 70’s 335’s vintage for a long time because so many of them were not any good. But, in recognition of the good ones, 70’s counts as vintage. 80’s as well. Don’t think so? C’mon, 1985 was 35 years ago. If you had bought a 59 dot neck in 1994, you would have considered it vintage back then, so don’t give me a hard time about that. I would go so far as to say we’re getting to where the 90’s are worth consideration as vintage but I’m not quite there yet. So, what are you gonna do with that $3000 you can’t wait to spend?

Unless you’re OK with some big issues, you can skip the 60’s. If you’re OK with a decently repaired headstock crack, you can get yourself into an otherwise original late 65 to 68 in the $3K-$4K range. They are wonderful guitars as long as you can comfortably play a guitar with a very narrow fingerboard (1 9/16″). You might grab an early 65 with a big neck for around $4K but expect issues beyond that busted headstock. The pre T-top pickups are around for a lot longer than most of you think. I see them as late as 68 pretty frequently. T-tops are not a bad pickup either, so don’t fret over the pickups. And if you don’t like them, buy a set of Throbaks. Brazilian rosewood is gone by late 66 or 67 but Indian sounds the same no matter what folks say. A stop tail conversion is a good mod if the luthier or tech puts it in the right position. Too low and it will work fine, it will just look wrong. There are some small differences between 65 and 68 but none of them are all that significant when it comes to tone and playability.

Most of you who read my posts know that I draw a line at 1969. The necks lost the long tenon, the necks became maple or three piece, the quality of the wood and the build started to decline and, while you could still get a good one, you’ll have to play more than a few to find it. Don’t agree? Then go ahead and buy one from the 70’s. Just don’t ask to trade it to me when you’re ready to upgrade. The pickups are still pretty good (T-tops) and the design hasn’t changed much until around 72 when they start shortening the center block and in 75 when they do the seemingly impossible…they make the prettiest body in the guitar world ugly by nipping in the waist and narrowing the cutaways. You can get 70’s 335’s in that price range although they have risen significantly in the past year or so. Most are still under $3K but they have been creeping up along with almost everything else. Don’t confuse the asking price with the selling price. I would look for a 69-71.

That brings us to what I think is the best vintage choice in the range…a 335 “dot reissue” from 1981 to 1985. The earlier ones have a three piece neck so if that bothers you, look for an 83-85. I don’t really mind it. You can still find sunbursts and reds in the $2500 range or even lower if you’re patient and quick on the trigger. Blacks are rare but are very cool and don’t seem to command much of a premium. Blondes, however, do. You can still find them in the low threes or even less but you also see them in the $4K range. They haven’t run up much in price so I think they are still a pretty good deal. The neck tenon is a little wimpy but they seem to be perfectly stable and the nut is as wide as a 59. Profile can be fat or slim. The pickups are Tim Shaws which can be a little dark but tend to come alive if you get rid of the 300K pots and put in 500K pots like 335’s always had before that. I’d just buy a new harness and toss the old one in the case. Creamtone makes a really good one. The tailpiece is usually the heavy zinc one. Buy an aluminum repro for 75 bucks and save a couple of ounces in weight. A repro long guard looks great on them too. Then there’s the Nashville bridge. Perfectly functional design but it looks wrong on a 335. Faber makes an ABR-1 copy that fits the Nashville post spread. Do all that and you’ll have a pretty nice guitar that looks a lot like a real dot neck from 58-62. I can tell but from 20 feet away on a dimly lit stage, it will look pretty authentic and will sound pretty good too.

Next, I’ll take a look at the more recent (1986-2010) 335’s that fall into this same price range and see what you can get for your hard earned buck.

The late 70’s ES-335’s had an extra switch (coiltap), a narrower waist, giant f-holes, Nashville bridge (or harmonica bridge in the mid 70’s) and pointy horns. I think it looks misshapen and out of proportion next to a Mickey Mouse ear 58-63. Not too crazy about some of the colors either. Wine red and walnut finishes will be harder to sell down the road. 335 folks are pretty traditional. Look for a sunburst or a red one. Blondes and Blacks are cool too but not common.

Year Ender 2019, Part 1

Thursday, January 2nd, 2020

Top Performer

Blondes went to the moon this past year as they did the year before and the year before that. With only 211 335’s and 50 345’s out there, it’s no wonder that these keep shooting up in value year after year. There are still a couple of these left if you’re looking for the best investment of all the ES guitars. Even the blonde 330’s have seen record prices with a two pickup 59 selling for nearly $20K.

Contrary to popular belief, guitar dealers actually talk to one another once in a while. And, to have heard them talk last Summer and Fall,  you would have thought the bottom had fallen out of the market. There was all kinds of moaning and complaining going on. “Nothing is selling.” “Seller are asking stupid prices.” “The are too many Strats on the market…” and so on.

That could be the opening sentence of this year’s market wrap up but I actually copied it from my 2017 post. The more things change, the more they stay the same, I guess. There are still too many Stratocasters on the market and the dealers still complained about nothing selling over the Summer and sellers asking stupid prices. The big difference this year is the stupid prices. Last year it was dot necks trying to reach new highs with $50,000 asking prices for 59 sunbursts. This year it’s 62-64 block necks with asking prices in the high $20K’s to well over $30K. I don’t know of anyone actually getting that much for a 62-64 but the fact that the asks have gone nuts tells me the market is strong. The real world price for a collector grade 62-64 is up nicely into the mid $20K range but anything over $25K is wishful thinking, IMO. Still, that’s about 10% higher than last year and that’s a very nice rise with red PAF guitars leading the way.

If any ES-335 deserves a mention for 2019, it’s the blondes. It’s a pretty rarefied market and it’s up in a big way (again). You could buy a good stop tail blonde three years ago for $65-70,000. I sold 5 this year with prices ranging from $85K for a 60 in very good condition to $120K for a near mint 59. Even blondes with major issues (headstock repair and Bigsby holes) were strong at $30K. It’s a tough market to quantify with so few for sale and so few that have changed hands in the past year. I know of only two sales besides the 5 I sold. It’s my opinion that there is plenty of room for appreciation. They only made 211 of them and they don’t come on the market very often.

I can’t do a year ender without a look at sunburst dot necks. Last year, the market was tested by a lot of sellers and the market spoke and said “slow down”. As with block necks this year, you can ask any price you want but asking prices don’t mean anything. Selling price is the only thing that counts. Dot necks from late 58 and 59 have been strong over the past few years and continue that trend. The interesting development this year is the strength of the early 60 dots-those with the late 59 features. Unless you absolutely must have a 59, an early 60 is the same guitar and will often cost you 20% less. While the preference for big neck 59’s is still dominant, the more manageable “transitional” neck has become very popular and has driven up early 60 335’s over the past year. Expect to pay around $40K for a clean 59 with no issues and a few thousand more for a near mint one. You can still find clean stop tail 60’s for around $30K but don’t snooze. The early ones are going up. The wild card is the unbound 58. Big collectors have to have one to complete the set but players are often scared off by the shallow neck angle. Don’t be. They are wonderful guitars when set up correctly. Finally, the laggard is the 61. The thin neck profile is the issue. 61’s can be unstable, so check the neck for truss rod cracks and distortion. A good 61 is as good as any 335. A bad one is trouble. A good one should cost you around $25K. Note that a late 60 (around A34000 or later) generally has the same neck profile as a 61 and the 61 will cost you a fair bit less. The 60 gets you the long guard and sometimes long magnet PAFs whereas a 61 will almost always have a short guard and short magnet PAFs. Nothing wrong with either of those features. Just make sure the neck is straight and has no hairline crack down the middle.

OK, I’m running long but I do want to mention one other interesting trend. Red dot necks. Red 59’s are too rare to even discuss (there are 6 of them known). Red 60’s are almost in that category with only 21 built. A clean red 60 is approaching $50K (I sold two last year). A red 61 is half that. The reason is simple. Red 61’s are pretty common with over 400 built. So, why spend big bucks on a 60? Yes, the long guard is nice but not $25K nice. It’s the finish. Most red 60 335’s will have the faded watermelon finish. It’s rare, it’s beautiful and you can’t fake it. There aren’t many out there but if you are looking for one let me know and I’ll find it for you.

Block necks, especially red ones with PAFs were stronger this year than they have been in the past. There was considerable resistance at around $20K but that’s in the rearview now. Asking prices have gone nuts and selling prices aren’t too far behind. $25K is still a lot for all but the mint ones but until this year, $25K was in the fat chance category. Sunburst blocks are up as well but they take a bit of a back seat to the red ones.

Sweet Spot

Monday, December 2nd, 2019

Right in the sweet spot for great tone (and cool pickups). A30183 has a thin top, reverse zebras, killer tone. Reverse zebras are crazy rare. I’ve seen 5 of them in twenty years.

I’ve been collecting a database of ES serial numbers and factory order numbers for a few years now, hoping for some new insight to leap out at me. Data is great stuff but without interpretation, it’s just a bunch of numbers. The database covers only 1958 up until early 1961 when they discontinued the use of factory order numbers (inked into the wood inside the treble side f-hole). What I’ve been looking for are patterns and transition points based on approximate dates of manufacture. For example, when are double white and zebra PAFs most prevalent? When do the thin tops end (and start again and end again)? When do the “first rack” 345’s start and end? Stuff like that. I’ve been able to answer a lot of those questions from the 200 or so guitars I’ve catalogued and many of which I’ve owned and played. But there is another question that has been much harder to answer. When were the best 335’s made?

I keep an informal mental list of the top ES guitars that have passed through my hands. It’s mostly about tone but playability is considered nearly equally. A great sounding guitar that doesn’t play well is not a great guitar (until you fix the problems). From that (mental) list of around 20 guitars, a general pattern has emerged and I’ve written about that. Most are 59’s. Not all are 335’s but most of them are. There are also 58’s, a couple from 60, a 62 and a 64. There’s a 355 and a few of 345’s but out of the twenty or so best ones, almost half of them are 59 ES-335’s. This is not a surprise.

58’s are great but there were some issues that keep them from being consistently excellent. The small frets are the obvious issue-easy to fix but nobody wants to do a fret job before it’s necessary. The shallow neck angle is not a bad thing. When the bridge sits right on the top, it can improve the tone. More mass in contact with the body means more sound being transmitted to the wood. Some 58’s have such a shallow neck angle-especially the earliest ones-that a low profile bridge was necessary. That bridge always collapses after a while and is usually replaced with a shaved full size ABR-1. The neck angle was fixed in 59. The little frets were fixed in 59. But one of the elements of the 58 that was a problem for Gibson was a factor in the great tone of so many 58’s. That was the thin top. Three plies instead of four. More resonance. More fragile. The tops were cracking around the output jack and folks were not happy about that. The four ply top fixed that but, in my opinion, affected the tone in a negative way. That doesn’t mean that thicker top 335’s sound bad. Many of the best 335’s in the database have the thicker top. It’s a small factor. So, by 59, all the problems appeared to have been addressed and many Gibson owners feel that 59 is THE year and I agree.

Early 59’s have a very large neck profile-.88″ to .93″ at the first fret and a full inch or more at the 12th. The profile gets progressively thinner (front to back-not the nut) as the year goes on. By the Summer, the neck has slimmed down on many 59’s but not by much. First fret down to .85 to .87″ and the 12th down to around .97″ By the Fall, the neck slimmed down a bit more to what we call a “transitional” neck. This is a wonderful profile- not too fat and not too thin for most folks. This profile continues well into 1960 and is very popular among players. First fret is usually around .83″ and the 12th around .94″.

So, where is this “sweet spot”. OK, it’s my opinion but seeing as I’ve played more 335’s than you have, it’s based on real experience. Beginning in late May of 1959, for reasons that are unclear to me, a fair number of thin top 59’s were shipped. Somewhere around serial number A30100, these thin top 335’s begin to appear. Many have a 58 FON (T prefix) but some have a 59 FON. They seem to continue until around serial number A30360. Not all the 335’s in this range have thin tops-probably less than half of them, so it’s not a lot of guitars. Wait. It gets better. Many of these have double white or zebra PAFs. These are often slightly overwound with readings from 8K to 9K (you can find my theory about this in an earlier post). These thin top 335’s line up almost perfectly with the period when double white and zebra PAFs were most prevalent on 335’s (gold hardware double whites last well into 1960).

There are lots of amazing 59’s that don’t fall into this period (from early late May to mid June). In fact, the best 335 I’ve ever played is a very late 58 but in this small cluster of 59’s, there are two of my top ten and four of my top twenty. If that ain’t a sweet spot, I don’t know what is. As always, tone is really subjective so your impressions may not line up with mine. To be honest, I’ve never played a bad 59 and the difference between a good vintage 335 and a great one is pretty small. Hair splitting, really. And to make a further point, there are a few 60 335’s that have thin tops (I’ve had two and I know of two more). One of them in in my top ten as well.

The takeaway here should be twofold. First, 59 335’s are consistently excellent but so are most 58’s and many 60’s. There are killer 61-64’s too. Second, if you have the opportunity to buy a 59 in the A30100 to A30360 range, ask the seller to look at the top. If it’s three plies rather than four, it just might be the best guitar you ever played. The double whites are just a bonus if you’re lucky.

A30248. Double whites, thin top. The FON for this 1959 ES-335 is from 1958. No idea what the guitar was doing from late 58 when construction began until mid 59 when it finally shipped. The parts are from 59, so it must have sat somewhere as an uncompleted husk. This is in the top ten.

Dots and Blocks and Parallelograms (Oh my)

Monday, November 25th, 2019

Block inlays on a 335 will curl up, turn brown and fall out eventually. Most replacement pre cut inlays are very white and won’t match the ones that aren’t damaged. You can still get real celluloid but I’ve only seen it pre cut for Les Pauls.

It’s interesting (to me anyway) that I’ve written very little about the inlays in the ES line. I’m not sure how interesting a little piece of plastic (or other material) is to most of you but if it’s stuck into the fingerboard of an old Gibson, it’s pretty interesting to me. I find it noteworthy that this teeny little detail is the primary descriptor for 335’s. Most folks, if you ask about their vintage 335 will tell you what they have by describing the inlays. “I have 59 dot neck…” “I have a 62 block neck…” I can’t think of another guitar that is described in that manner. On the other hand, nobody says “I have a parallelogram 345…” perhaps because all of them are that way.

Typically, dot markers were used for the least expensive guitars by most manufacturers. Fender was notorious for taking the cheap way out and used dot markers in all of their guitars in the 50’s and well into the 60’s. Lower line builders like Harmony and Hagström used dots on nearly their entire lines as well. When Gibson introduced the 335 in 1958, it was considered (by Gibson) to be the bottom of a new line of semi hollow guitars. True to form, the 1958 335 got dots. The 1958 355 was next and got large block markers and when the 345 was launched in the Spring of 1959, it got something in between-the twin parallelograms that it still features. But, the 335 was not an inexpensive guitar by anyone’s calculations at the time. It was actually a rather expensive guitar when compared to its closest competitors. A 58 Stratocaster was around $200. A 58 335 was more than half again higher at $335. Apparently, there were complaints by consumers. I have no hard evidence of this; it’s one of those things that everyone seems to know. By the Spring of 62, the dots were gone, replaced by the small block markers we are all familiar with.

Another interesting aspect of the inlays in the ES line is the material. The dots, small blocks and parallelograms were all made out of the same celluloid material that was imported from Italy. The 355 markers were real mother of pearl (nacre) usually made from oyster shells. If you research other Gibsons from the era, you will find that the celluloid (plastic) inlays were ubiquitous from the Melody Makers to the Les Paul Standard. Mother of pearl was found only in the really high line stuff like Les Paul Customs and the pricey arch tops. Abalone shows up in Gibson/Epiphone Sheratons.

The problem with celluloid is that it deteriorates, especially in an oxygen starved environment (like a closed case). Shrinkage is the usual issue with inlays. The dots don’t really shrink much but the blocks (on a 335, not a 355) can curl up and fall out. They will also turn a pretty ugly brown color. The only solution to shrunken, curled inlays is to replace them. You can glue them back down if they aren’t too bad but they will eventually come back up. Celluloid doesn’t stick very well to modern glues. Gibson changed the formula for the plastic blocks in the mid 60’s and the problem, to a large extent, went away. The later blocks are brighter, smoother and more “toilet seat” looking. The 345 parallelograms will also shrink and fall out but they seem a bit more stable than the small blocks. The 355 inlays, being natural mother of pearl, don’t shrink, curl or come undone. I’ve never seen a 355 with a damaged inlay.

If you have a 335 with damaged, discolored or shrunken inlays, you can still get the proper material from Historic Makeovers (Retrospec) but they only sell Les Paul inlays, so you may need to do a little surgery. I suggest only replacing the inlays that are damaged or curled. You can get 335 inlays that are pre-cut but they won’t be the same plastic as the ones that are there now. Even if you get the real celluloid plastic, there is a pretty good chance that it won’t match the vintage ones due to decades of wear, oxidation and sweat. If your inlays are your biggest issue, then you don’t have big issues.

355 inlays stay the same and will do so over the course of the next few thousand years. Mother of Pearl is about as stable as anything on earth. 345 inlays are the same material as 335 blocks and they will shrink and turn brown but they don’t generally fall out. No idea why.

The Strange Story of FON T5972

Saturday, June 15th, 2019

Rack T5972 has an unusual history. This 1960 was built in 58 but shipped in May of 1960.

OK, it’s not an oogly-boogly strange story with intrigue and supernatural stuff, it’s just kind of unusual and marginally interesting to 335 geeks. The FON is a number that is stamped into a 335 when construction begins. It is an ink stamp and it’s usually visible through the treble side f-hole. They are date keyed to a letter prefix that goes in reverse. So, for a 335, the letter T is 1958, S is 59, R is 60 and Q is 61. Then they stopped using the FON. The letter is followed by a 3 or usually 4 digit number, a space and a one or two digit number. So, a typical FON for a particular guitar built in 58 might be T-5972 12. T is the year, 5972 is the rack number and 12 is the rank. A rack is 35 (more or less) guitars, usually all the same model. The numbers are supposedly sequential although there is some evidence that it isn’t always the case. The rank is the number within the rack-usually 1 to 35. So, picture a rolling rack with space for 35 guitars that gets rolled around the factory to the various work stations. It starts as a pile of body parts and ends up a rack of 35 finished guitars. Or does it? Here’s where it gets weird (cue the oogly-boogly music).

The first 335’s appeared in April of 1958, although construction likely began earlier. The earliest FON in my data base of 200 ES guitars is T3804 23 although it doesn’t correspond to the earliest serial. T3804 23 is serial number A27992. Oddly, serial number A27696 has a slightly later FON of T3806 3. So. like I said, maybe they aren’t totally sequential. But these very early 335’s seem to follow a logical and orderly path, so we won’t dwell on them. But some racks didn’t. Our example T5972, did not.

Now, it isn’t unusual for a rack of 335’s to be started in one year and finished in the next. It takes a bit of time to build 35 guitars, so a late 58 rack is very likely to have a 59 serial number. T5972 is one of those “on the cusp” racks. In fact, I have no guitars from T5972 in my database that were shipped in 1958 based on the serial numbers. The first one I have documented is FON T5972 20 with SN A29063 which would be late January. So, they probably had a pretty good backlog. The next one from the rack that I have in my database is T5972 30, A30248 shipped in early June. There could have been many from the rack shipped between those two but it’s odd to have guitars from a given rack 6 months apart. But then, T5972 5 (A 31254) ships in September. What’s going on? There are plenty, hundreds in fact, shipped from “S” racks during this time. Why is this (and a few other) T racks trickling out? Or is it simply random?

That’s weird enough but there are at least two others from T5972 that show up in 1960. An ES-335 with the SN A33765 ships in May of 1960. It shows the FON of T5972 19 and the big fat neck of a 58 and the thin top. By May of 60, most 335’s have gone to the “blade” neck or close to it. T5972 is not the only 58 rack that shows up well into 1959 but I believe its the only one to show up well into 1960. And, with the price of a 60 so much less than a 59 or even a 58, these guitars are worth seeking out. While most of us use the serial number for dating, it is clear that the FON means so much more than the simple ship date biased serial.

What I don’t know is why a 58 build would sit around the factory for over a year. Was there a problem with this and a couple of other “T” racks that show up in mid 59? I know Gibson was having consumer complaints about the tops cracking around the jack which they addressed by making the top thicker. They also had neck angle problems with the earlier 58’s (which T5972 doesn’t have). Maybe they used the leftovers when they got behind in their orders. In any case, A T rack ES-335 is going to be a great guitar. I’ve often commented on how much I like the thin top 335’s and, like so many others I love a big fat neck. It also makes the larger point that maybe the serial number isn’t the best way to date a 335 (at least until the FON was discontinued in 1961). I often mention the FON in a listing for a guitar when it’s on the cusp of a year. Instead of writing up a guitar as a 1960, I’ll mention if it’s a 59 build (“S” FON). When you buy one, you should ask the seller to check the FON. It could get you that 59 you really want for the price of the 60 that you can afford. Knowledge is power, folks.

A30248. Shipped in June 59. Construction began in late 58. Monster guitar.

Existential Dilemma

Wednesday, June 5th, 2019

This is my main player. It’s an original finish blonde 1959 ES-345. It has had the neck replaced and a couple of holes filled. I don’t know what it’s worth but I know for sure it’s worth a lot less than it would be if it was all there.

I don’t usually comment on guitars for sale elsewhere but I came across a listing recently that brings up some interesting (and important) questions. I think we all agree that a refinished guitar is worth around half of what an original finish guitar is worth. Maybe as high as 60% in some cases and maybe lower but always in the neighborhood. But I recently came across a blonde 1960 ES-335 that was listed for $41,000. A blonde 60 with the original finish would sell for between $80,000 to $95,000 depending on condition and a few other factors (pickup bobbins, neck profile). So, $41,000 is a reasonable price. Or is it? The listing points out that the guitar was a factory blonde and I suppose that should count for something. But, a properly stripped sunburst 60 that has been refinished blonde would be, in theory, a $15,000 guitar. So, is the fact that the guitar left the factory as a blonde really worth an additional $26,000? Therein lies the dilemma.

Let’s look at it from a different perspective for a moment. Let’s say I have a refinished Stratocaster. It’s a sunburst 64 but it was originally surf green. Is the fact it was once surf green-a rare and valuable color-have any bearing on the value of it in its refinished state? If not, then if I refinish it again in surf green, is it worth more than it was as a sunburst? Or, conversely, if it was originally sunburst and has been refinished in a rare color is it worth more? Most of you (and me) would say no. Otherwise, we’d be refinishing refinished guitars and making a good living doing it.

So, what is refinished blonde ES-335 worth? Good question. To answer it I think you have to ask “what is it that I’m paying a premium for?” Let’s say the guitar as an instrument is worth whatever a refinished sunburst is worth-a refinished sunburst and a refinished blonde will be, ultimately, the same guitar from a players standpoint. As a collector’s piece, it’s value as an original (beyond the value as an instrument) is gone. I justify that by saying that a sunburst that has been competently refinished blonde looks exactly the same as a blonde refinished blonde. I’ll ask another question that might shed light…is a factory stop tail that has had a Bigsby added worth more than a factory Bigsby that has had a stop tail added? I would say they are worth the same. By that logic, the sunburst refinished blonde and the refinished blonde are worth the same.

I can confuse the issue even more. A blonde has only  clear lacquer. A sunburst has color and clear. A sunburst that has its original color but has been over-sprayed with clear is worth more than a total refinish. So, do we treat a refinished blonde that has always been blonde as an overspray?  Just a thought.

A few years ago. I had a client looking for a blonde 345. Blonde 345’s don’t come up for sale very often. They made 211 335’s in blonde but they only made 50 345’s. I was offered a refinished 60 ES-345 that was originally sunburst. The finish, while not perfect, was decent. There was some dark paint left in the routs and it would never be passed off as anything but a refinished sunburst. It sold for $20,000 which was way less than half the value of a blonde 345 at the time. But, and it’s a pretty big but, that $20,000 was a whole lot more than a sunburst 60 refinished in sunburst would have brought. I find that hard to justify but I don’t make the rules. I guess if you want a vintage blonde and you don’t want to pay a huge premium for it, then perhaps this makes sense.

So, I guess that a blonde that’s refinished blonde is worth more than a sunburst refinished blonde. But that begs the next question. Is a blonde refinished sunburst worth more than a sunburst refinished sunburst? I sure don’t think so but I’ve really just made a pretty good argument that it actually is. I think the key is the desirability of the end product. People want a blonde and will pay extra for it, regardless of its former configuration. If you had a truckload of refinished sunburst 59 ES-335s and you refinished them all in blonde, you would probably make money not that I suggest you do that.

This is making my head hurt. I’m going to go play a guitar for a while. There’s a blonde one around here somewhere.

Blondes will always command a premium. A blonde refinished blonde (with documentation) should be worth more than a sunburst refinished blonde…right?

Changes 1962

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019

It’s a dot neck AND it’s a 62. Last of the dots were shipped in early 62. Then the blocks took over.

OK, back to the “changes” series just in time for Gibson to make a couple of big ones. It’s 1962. Men have flown into space, the young president is scaring the crap out of us with the Russians and their missiles and rock and roll is here to stay. But the dot neck 335 isn’t. Most folks equate 62 as the year of the block neck but it didn’t start that way. The first 62’s were, in fact, dot necks. You don’t see a lot of them and, while I don’t know exactly when the change was made, it seems like it had to have been very early in the year-my guess is early February. Out of the hundreds of 335’s that have passed through my shop, only two 62 dot necks have been among them. Why change from dots to blocks? As I understand it, a lot of buyers were put off by the dot markers because they were associated with the cheapest guitars in the Gibson lineup and the 335, while nowhere near the top of the line, was not a cheap guitar. So, to bring in those buyers who didn’t want to appear to be playing a cheap guitar, Gibson changed the markers to small blocks. Probably cost them about 75 cents extra per guitar. They were still cheap plastic. Only the 355 got real MOP.

The ABR-1 bridge was still the no wire type in 1962 but by the end of the year, the nylon saddles start to appear. I’ve always thought the nylon saddles showed up in 63 with the wire type bridges but I recently bought a 62 from the original owner who said he never changed the saddles and they were nylon. There is also some question about when the wire type bridge appeared. I’ve seen them on 62’s but I’ve seen no wire bridges on 63’s. Two things going on here. One, the change probably transitioned over a period of time and second, some folks are probably scavenging the no wire from a 62 and replacing it with a wire bridge and selling the no wire for big bucks.

The other big change to occur in 62 is only big in the collective mind of the collector. The venerable “Patent Applied For” pickup finally got its patent number assigned. Oddly, the number that Gibson put on the sticker wasn’t the correct patent number for the pickup. It’s the patent number for the Les Paul trapeze tailpiece. Why that is has been the subject of debate for as long as I can remember. As most of you already know, the only thing that actually changed when they went from PAF to patent number pickups was the sticker (The $1000 sticker). There are 62’s with two PAFs, two patent numbers and one of each. You also start seeing pickups with no sign of any label at all. There could be a number of reasons for that. Some pickups got neglected or somebody had a 62 with one PAF and one patent and wanted to make it look like both were PAFs and if one had a PAF sticker and the other had no sticker, well, doesn’t logic dictate that they are both PAFs? No, it doesn’t and don’t be fooled by some genius who tells you that.

So, 1962 is the year of some big changes but not a year for a lot of changes. If it ain’t broke… 62’s are wonderful guitars-to me it is a real sleeper year. The neck profile is still slim but it is usually slightly larger than a 61 “blade” neck. The center block is still solid (with a few exceptions) and the ears are still Mickey Mouse. And the 335 is still great

One of each. 62 is the first year of the patent number pickup, replacing (slowly) the PAF. PAFs will still show up for years but not as frequently. The pickup didn’t change, only the sticker.

A block neck 62 with the short lived (and horrible) sideways trem. I know, it’s not connected but it’s the only photo I have. It looks pretty cool but unless it’s perfectly set up, it just goes out of tune. You could still get a Bigsby and many trem equipped 335’s had the stud bushings for a stop tail covered with the “Custom Made” plaque (which they weren’t).