Going Upscale: The ES-345


Three Sisters: Three Late December 1959 ES-345s


The name of this site is, so why am I writing about the ES-345? I love all the thinline Gibsons with this body shape and pickup configuration. That means I include the ES-345 and ES-355. I’ve also included the ES-330 even though it’s a true hollow body rather than a semi hollow. I did this because it was the first Gibson I ever owned back in 65 or 66. The ES-345 was considered a step up from the 335 and it shows in the details. While not as popular than its simpler sibling (it seems like we all have a simpler sibling, doesn’t it?), it is still a fabulous guitar with amazing versatility and good looks. Better than that, a vintage 345 will usually cost you a good bit less than its 335 counterpart. Back in 1959, when it was introduced, it cost $10 more. What’s different about the 345 lies in the details and the electronics. Let’s take a look at appearances first. The fingerboard markers are much more elaborate-an inlay design called the “split parallelogram” graces the Brazilian rosewood board. The hardware, rather than nickel (and later, chrome) plating, it is all plated in real gold. Pickup covers, bridge, tuners, tailpiece-everything metal that is visible on these guitars is gold plated except the pointers on the knobs and some of the screws. That alone seems like it would be worth the ten bucks extra but no, there’s more. The guitar is wired in stereo. When using a Y-cable or a stereo cable you can use two channels of an amp or two different amps-one for the bridge pickup and one for the neck pickup! This can make for some pretty cool sounds-especially when one channel is loaded with effects and the other is “dry”. But wait…there’s more. Ahhh, the Varitone. Never has a button or dial on a guitar generated so much controversy.  The Varitone was an available option on most Gibsons but most frequently is seen on the 345 and the 355. It came standard on only the 345 (in this line). What it is is a 6 way switch which acts as a notch filter. By putting various size capacitors in the circuit, it allows for some very Stratocaster single coil sounding tones. Position one is supposed to be a bypass but it isn’t a true bypass and there are those who insist that the Varitone ruins the pure tone of the pickups even in the bypass mode. I’m going to save my opinion for another post, however. Gibson allegedly saved the better grades of wood for the higher end models and you will occasionally see highly figured examples. they are rare but they’re out there. The 345 was made from 1959 until 1982 or so. They have been reissued recently but now have a mono output along with the stereo. For you tech heads, here’s a schematic.

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