Archive for May, 2010

By Popular Demand: The 81-85 ES-335 Dot Reissue

Monday, May 17th, 2010


A Comparison of 2 distinct body shapes on early 80's ES 335s


It’s pretty easy to do a “by popular demand” post when you’re a relatively new blog simply because the populace is a little thin at this point. Basically, if some guy in Tampon Springs, Minnesota asks me for some advice, I’m happy to give it in many more words than necessary. I already wrote about the best 335 to buy if you have a limited budget but I guess I overestimated the term “limited”. So, as I think I mentioned, by popular demand, the best 335 to buy if you have a really limited budget like, say $2000-$3000. Well, there are 335s for that price that are very well made, very good sounding, real by gosh Gibsons made during the Norlin Era (you know the South American Beer company that bought Gibson in 1969).  In  mid 1981 or so, the big shots at Gibson had an idea: Why don’t we go back to making decent guitars instead of putting out the crap we’ve been subjecting the world to since the early 70’s. Hence, the ES-335 Dot Reissue was born. They don’t have all that much in common with the original dot necks but they are still pretty good guitars. A guy named Tim Shaw was asked to make a new pickup that was a copy of the original PAF and while Gibson was too cheap to give him Carte Blanche on it, he was able to make a reasonable facsimile of the original PAF called, not surprisingly, Shaw PAFs. What’s not like the original 335? Well the body shape is different. In the 2 versions you see in the photo, the one on the right is closer to the original but the one on the left is more common. I think the one on the left is really ugly but no worse than the shape they came up with in the 70’s. Gibson moved from Kalamazoo to Nashville in 1984 and I wonder if they had 2 different molds one in Kalamazoo and one in Nashville until they closed down the Kalamazoo plant.  I don’t see any pattern in guitars with one body type or the other. The necks were sometimes one piece but, more often than not, they were 3 piece. I’d look for a one piece although I don’t think there is much difference in tone, or durability. They started using a lot of flame maple tops which I don’t love but you can find plain ones that are pretty close to the original look.  The sunburst was all wrong-too brown and muddy. The red isn’t bad if you can find one. They used a different bridge on all of them-what’s called a Nashville bridge which has a bit more range than the classic ABR-1 but it doesn’t look right. Having more travel on your bridge means the neck specs can be less precise because you can adjust the intonation a little better with a Nashville. You can see on the one on the right, I swapped the bridge for an ABR-1 type. But they changed the measurement between the posts, so you need to either modify the posts or get a bridge with the correct measurements. I got a bridge made by Faber of Germany which worked great on the ’85 on the right. The neck tenon was a good bit smaller on the 80’s reissue but I’ve never had a stability problem with these. Lastly, the pots are cheap 300K crap and should be changed for better quality 500K pots. The tuners are Grovers which I can’t complain about-they are a very good tuner. Other than that, it’s pretty much like a real 335 from the Golden Era. The neck profile can be big like a real 59 or in the middle kind of like a 62-both good profiles. The sound with the Shaw PAFs is often a bit darker (less dominant highs) than the original PAF and Patent # pickups but they are very consistent and fairly versatile.  Recently, some very optimistic sellers have been asking $4000-$5000 for blonde 80’s 335s. Someone needs to poke them with a pointy stick or something and tell them that they are asleep and dreaming. You’ll also note that those listed at that price (over and over again) don’t sell.  I got the 2 in the photo for well under $2500 each at the very top of the market. I don’t know why some folks think the market fluctuations don’t apply to them. Anyway, they can be really good guitars for the money. In 1986, Gibson was bought from Norlin by the current owners and a slow transition to higher quality began. Gibson is now making guitars that nearly rival their Golden Era brethren. They just cost an awful lot of money. So buy one of these. You’ll be a happy camper and you won’t have to live in one (a camper that is).

Caveat Emptor (Let the Buyer Beware)

Saturday, May 15th, 2010


Gibson is Making Really Nice New 335s Now. Look for the Historic line. The others are less than stellar. This is a 63 Block neck reissue. There is non Historic block neck reissue for a couple of thousand dollars less. Don't buy that one if you can afford this one.


Not that long ago, if you wanted a vintage guitar-I think we called them old guitars or used guitars back then-you had to either go to a music store or look in the newspaper in the classifieds.  With the advent of the internet, it’s gotten a whole lot easier and a whole lot more dangerous to find great vintage pieces. I don’t mean dangerous like the guy you’re buying from is going to dice you up into little pieces and bury you in the root cellar. What I mean is that you don’t always get what you think your getting.  Most guitar shops, particularly those who specialize in vintage guitars, are going to treat you honestly but you will pay a premium for that. Let’s take the 1964 ES 335, my favorite of all of them. A 1964  issue free 335 can cost anywhere from $14,995 (Cheapest on Ebay on May 15) to $34,500 from the nice folks at Fretted Americana. Is the high priced one a rip? Not if you want a near mint example that the dealer will stand behind for as long as you own it and you want it today. Also, most dealers will give you a day or two or three to decide if it’s right for you. That’s a lot of what you are paying for. Let’s see you do that on Ebay. If you buy from a reputable dealer, you will get what you are looking for with no excuses. If you buy on Ebay, you may be able to find the same guitar in the same condition for far, far less. The problem is that the seller may not have described the instrument accurately-whether from a lack of knowledge (I just know it’s a 64, I got it for my 12th birthday from my Aunt Shirley) or flat out dishonesty.  I bought an ’61 Epiphone Crestwood for $4,000 on Ebay that the owner insisted had never been broken. I looked it over when I got it and it looked fine. Much later, when I brought it to my repair guy for some electronic work, he said, “Hey Charlie, did you know there’s a repaired headstock crack?” I had owned it for at least 2 months and I felt that I couldn’t go back to the seller and complain. Or the 54 Les Paul Custom that cost me stupid money that had a rout for a Kahler that had been filled and repainted? The seller gave me back my money even though he pointed out that his ad clearly stated “no returns”. I explained to him that I thought the rule shouldn’t apply if the seller is lying about the condition. Point is you don’t always get what you pay for and when you can’t inspect the guitar or have an expert inspect it for you, it’s going to happen a lot more frequently.  Not always big significant problems like a break but often little ones like a changed pot or knob. Or maybe the pickguard is a repro-you know-stuff you can’t always see in the photos.  And don’t expect the bureaucracy at Ebay to take your side when you tell them something was left out of a listing. they’ll tell you you should have asked about it. So ask. If the price is so good you just have to buy it immediately before someone else gets it, then you’re asking for trouble. I know. I’ve done it more than once. Good pictures can be a big help and buying from sellers who specialize in vintage guitars can even out the odds as well. But if you’re looking for the bargain of the century (like the 64 ES 335 that went for $3000 last month and resold a week later for $12,500) they’re out there but you better know what to look for. So, if you want a top quality instrument that you can play for a few days before you buy, go to a dealer. Haggle with them; they often have some wiggle room. If you’re looking for a real bargain on Ebay or Craig’s List be prepared for surprises and not the good kind (not that they don’t exist). Here’s another interesting example. I bought a 61 ES 345 from a not terribly reputable dealer on Ebay a few years ago. It had the short pickguard but it had a 59 serial number. I could have emailed the dealer and told him I thought it was a 59 and he would have either raised the price or not cared one way or the other since he was still making his profit. So, I didn’t say anything and sure enough, it was a 59. I acquired a long guard for it and played it for a number of years (It’s the one in the middle of the “3 Sisters” shot) and then sold it. But I knew what to look for. Now maybe you do too (if you read everything I’ve written). Ask loads of questions, that way if anything is different than the answer the seller gave you, you have some recourse. Most sellers will take a guitar back if they have misrepresented it and you can prove it in writing.  So ASK.

Why is it So Hard to Date these Guitars?

Friday, May 14th, 2010


High Position "flowerpot" 59


Someone once said “it’s harder to date a 335 than it is to date a cheerleader”.  Actually, that was me. Mostly, these are hard to date because Gibson kept re-using the serial numbers over and over again. You can get a pretty accurate date for a 335 using the serial number up until around 1964 but then it all just goes straight to hell.  I talked about this is an earlier post, so I won’t get into the details other than to say the serial number is merely a starting point. The rest requires some detective skills.  There are 3 distinct body shapes used by Gibson from 1958 to 1975 or so. There are 3 different placements of the “flowerpot” inlay (although the first one only lasted through 1958). There are little f-holes (58-67) and big f-holes (68 on). The brightwork is another key-if its nickel (which has a greenish cast and gets very dull with age) the it’s no later than early 65. If it’s chrome (bluish cast stays pretty shiny) then its 65 or later (up until the reissues of the 80s). The ABR-1 bridge is another tell. If it has a patent number, then its probably 65 or later, although I’ve seen a nickel patent number bridge on a 64 and a chrome non patent number on a 66. Also, you can change a bridge pretty easily so don’t use it as a positive ID. The knobs changed in late 66 from the “bonnet” or “tophat” to the Fender amp-like “witch hat” knobs. So, if your guitar has witch hats, it’s from 66 or later. Again, these can be changed so it’s just part of the evidence required to date the guitar. The pickups can be helpful-PAFs mean 58-63 on 335s and as late as 65 on 345 and 355 models. Patent number with nickel covers can be 62-early 65. Pat number with chrome, 65-69 and T-top with chrome 66 on. Big overlaps here which make the pickups alone a less than reliable indicator. Nut width: 1 11/16″ nut from 58 to early 65. 1 9/16″ from 65 through the 70’s although larger necks show up in 68 and 69 for some reason. Tuners went through many changes as well but that’s going to require an entire post. Fretboards? Brazilian rosewood until early 66 or so, then Indian. Tailpieces? Trapeze or Stop? The center block (65) changed and so did the bridge saddles (63-64). And the pickguard twice (60 and 66) and the truss rod cover. Even the logo changed a few times. Notice in the photos that not only is the inlay in a differentlocation but the logo is different as well. It’s a lot of minutiae but it’s sort of fun. Anyway, the larger point here is that there is no single element that   will precisely date your 335 but taken together, all of these things can get you very close-even to the month in some cases. Or you can just ask me.

Low Position "flowerpot" 68

Going Upscale: The ES-345

Thursday, May 13th, 2010


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.

My Grandfather has an Old Guitar in the Closet: Good Dealers and Bad Dealers

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

This is a subject that has generated a lot of controversy in the forums and around the blogs. You have this old guitar and you take it to a vintage guitar dealer to get some needed advice. How do you know if he’s (or she)  legit? How do you know if he’s honest? How do you know if he’s knowledgeable? There are a few things you can do to better equip yourself for the tricky task of selling a vintage guitar. First, you can always list it on Ebay and let the buyers figure out what you have. You may get market value for it but it’s hard to list it if you don’t know what it is you’re selling. You can certainly do some research-starting with the brand name on the headstock. Most manufacturers have serial number information on their sites that will help you date the guitar and identify the model.  Unfortunately, Gibson re-used serial numbers over and over again, making it hard to find an accurate date without a lot of exhaustive (and exhausting) research.  There are books (The Blue Book) that can give you a sense of what a guitar is worth, but again, you need to know what model and what year. Any vintage dealer should be able to tell you all of that. What they may not tell you is what it’s worth-or even what they’ll pay.  Here’s a simple rule: If you walk into a dealer and they look over the guitar and say “How much do you want for it?”, head for the door. That is NOT an appropriate way for a vintage dealer to act. Do you actually think that if you say $3,000 (and the guitars worth $10,000) that they’ll tell you your asking too little?  If so, I have a bridge to sell you (and its not for a guitar). The dealer should tell you what you have and how much he is willing to pay you for it. It won’t be the amount in the Blue Book. Those are retail prices (and not always accurate). The dealer will offer you somewhat less because he’s in business to make a profit and everything has a wholesale and retail price. The difference is that the dealer will give you the wholesale price today. He may have to wait weeks or months to find a buyer and he has money tied up in his inventory and that costs him money. The guitar may need some parts replaced or repairs and that costs the dealer money as well. So, if you want retail, do the research and sell it yourself.  You won’t get it from any dealer.  There are unscrupulous dealers and there are totally honest dealers. Unless, you know who are dealing with, don’t leave your guitar with the dealer. A dishonest dealer may swap parts and you won’t know it until you try to sell it. A real 50’s switch tip from a Les Paul is worth around $175. A good reproduction is $16. You won’t know the difference if it gets swapped but I will and your buyer probably will. A PAF pickup can be worth $4,000. A reproduction can be had for a little over $100. With a little time and a soldering iron, your guitar could lose 50% or more of its value if left with a dishonest dealer. I will relate another story that happened recently to someone I know. He took his Grandfather’s guitar to a dealer in the Midwest. the dealer wasn’t sure if the pickups were legitimate PAFs so he took off the covers to check. That simple (dumb) action just cost the owner $1000 or so. Why? Because unopened PAFs are worth more than those that have been unsoldered. There are ways to tell if a PAF is legit without opening them up. So, here’s a simple and basic list of what to look for in a dealer: Find a dealer who will tell you what you have, will point out the valuable parts to you, will offer you a price without asking how much you want and will not ask to keep the guitar for a few days to check it out. If you know the dealer or you know people who have had good experiences with the dealer, these rules still apply. Perhaps the last rule could be ignored if you know the dealer to be trustworthy. Fortunately, there are way more honest dealers than there are dishonest dealers. This is simply because the dishonest ones don’t generally stay in business very long. Word of mouth is a powerful thing. If you’ve gotten screwed by a dealer, tell your friends. If you’ve had a good experience, tell your friends that as well.

What Does Semi Hollow Actually Mean?

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

The guitars that we discuss here are called semi hollow. They are sometimes referred to as semi-solid (but not by us here). The exception here is the ES-330 and we’ll cover that in depth eventually. The term hollow body speaks for itself-the guitar is a hollow box full of air that resonates when the strings are plucked or strummed. A solid body is pretty self explanatory as well. It’s a solid block of wood and while it still resonates, it does so differently. Since it isn’t a box of air, it doesn’t get terribly loud when it isn’t plugged in. The hollow guitar is the same as an acoustic guitar only it’s electric. The solid guitar wouldn’t make a very good acoustic guitar since it doesn’t play very loudly but once it’s amplified, it gets as loud as you want it to. The solid guitar has the advantage of not feeding back as easily as the hollow guitar and that became very important when rock and roll happened because the louder you play, the more likely your guitar is to feed back. OK, so back to semi hollow. An ES-335, 345 and 355 are all semi hollow. They look like hollow body guitars but they have a solid block of wood (usually maple) running right down the middle. So, you get the advantage of a hollow body tone and the advantage of a solid body not feeding back. That’s a gross oversimplification but it’s the essence of the concept. You also get the increased sustain of a solid but you don’t lose the “roundness of the hollow body tone. It is truly the best of all possible worlds to many guitar players-myself included. The invention of the semi hollow is usually attributed to the great Les Paul who took a plank of wood and strung it and put pickups on it. he then glued two halves of a hollow body guitar to the plank and voila-the semi hollow guitar. he called it “The Log” and he made his point.

Les Paul's "Log"

Inside an ES-335. Half the center block has been removed. Thanks to Tom Hollyer and

Pickups Part 2 Pat# to T-Top

Monday, May 10th, 2010

Of course we are only covering the Gibson humbucking pickups that are found in the ES 335, 345 and 355. We’ll look at the P90 found on the ES 330 another time. We covered the transition from short magnet PAF to the early Patent number pickups which were exactly the same. Details included a 2.25″ Alnico magnet, purplish windings and 2 black leads. At some point a transition was made to a more reddish/copper colored wire-probably between 63 and 64. Again, nothing at Gibson happened overnight.  And at around the same time, the lead wires went from both being black to one being white and one black. All this is great for identifying when (approximately) your pickup was made but all of these things are only visible if you open up the pickup. Well don’t. Having original solder is much more important than knowing what color the wires are. They sound pretty much the same and are worth around the same in the marketplace. In fact, your virgin solder pickup is worth more than knowing the color of the wires, so once again-don’t open it up unless someone has already done so.  Also keep in mind that since Gibson used more nickel covered pickups than gold plated ones, that the dates for these transitions among the gold pickup equipped guitars occurred later. PAFs can be found until around 65. Early patents into 67. After 65, the pickups switched from nickel covers to chrome covers and, while the wiring didn’t change, the process did and a higher level of consistency was found in the resistance readings. While PAFs and early patent numbers can run from 6.9K ohms to around 9K, the chrome covered ones show up ,more often than not at 7.5K. I’ve never been  convinced that a 9K is any “hotter” than a 7K but there are tonal differences. I think its more important that the match between the neck and bridge pickup suit you and that doesn’t necessarily mean that they be the same or even close. I like a medium (7.65K or so) neck pickup and a high bridge (8.25 or more). The frequency response seems right to me in these and the difference between them works for the type of music I play. Your mileage will most certainly vary. If you like the way your guitar sounds, don’t worry about the resistance of the pickups. Following the chrome patent number pickup was what’s called the T-top which began showing up in late 65. I have seen the older type as late as 1969, so the transition was very long indeed. We’ll cover T-tops next time. I’d show you more photos but they all look the same as the Patent number I showed you in the earlier post.

This is the New Version of the ES-335 Blog

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

Thanks for stopping by. Feel free to comment on anything you read. I’m still trying to figure out how to include followers like on the Google blog site but apparently it’s not so easy, so for now, just keep showing up and reading and making suggestions.  There’s an icon now for Facebook and Linked In if you want to check me out and the thing for adding the blog as a “like” on your FB page. I don’t know if it works.  Google made it very easy to do this but I couldn’t use my domain name now I can. The photo above-which lived on my old blog -is my 3 1959 ES 345s. All from December 59-all with different neck profiles and all within 100 serial numbers of each other.

Pickups: Part 1 PAF to Patent #

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

This is a pretty big topic, so I’ll split into 3 or maybe 4 pieces. There are a lot of good articles that have already been written about Gibson’s humbucking pickups, so instead of getting deeply into the evolution and technology, I’ll just try to cover the basics to the ES. The PAF-which stands for “Patent Applied For” is the first incarnation of the Gibson Humbucking pickup invented by Seth Lover in the early 50’s and in use on Gibson guitars since 1957. The PAF is considered by most to be the best sounding pickup ever made. Not all of them, though. Because they were largely made by hand, there as many different winding patterns as there are pickups. Some have more wire in the middle, some have more at the edges, some have more on one edge, some are evenly wound and every combination in between. Call the brilliant sounding ones “lucky accidents”. As they added things like counters which counted how many times the wire was wrapped around the bobbins, they became more consistent. As better winders were introduced, a more even and consistent wind homogenized the sound-made more of them sound exactly alike. This, however, didn’t occur until much later and so it is possible to get a great PAF, a good PAF and even a not so good PAF. I’ve never heard a bad one but they probably exist. The PAF had 2 separate coils and was wrapped with enamel coated wire that was a dark purplish color and from 1958 until they replaced it, the sticker on the back of the pickup said “Patent Applied For”. When they finally got their patent, they switched (although it took them years and they put the wrong patent number on them) to a sticker that said “patent number 2737842″ which is the patent number of a Gibson bridge. The new sticker was phased in from 1962 to 1963. It is typical to find 335s with one Patent number and one PAF in the 62 and 63 models as Gibson slowly used them up. the guitars which used gold plated pickups made the switch later because there were far fewer of them and the PAFs on hand lasted into the mid 60’s-some say as late as 67.
Another change that occurred was a change in the alnico magnet in the pickup. In the early PAFS-through 1960 (or so-nothing happens overnight at Gibson) the magnet was around 2.5″ long. These are called long magnet PAFs and are considered the most desirable type. In 1961, the magnet was shortened to 2.25” or so. These are called…wait for it…short magnet PAFs. The short magnet PAFs had the same windings as the long magnet but many say they sound different. I’m one of them. The difference between the short magnet PAF and the early Patent number pickup is the sticker. Period. Nothing else. Yet, a PAF equipped 1962 ES 335 can bring a few thousand dollars more than a Pat # equipped one. Same pickups. I would recommend if you’re a player to buy an early 60’s ES 335 with Patent number pickups and save some serious money-a few thousand dollars is not out of the question. If you’re a collector or investor, buy the PAF equipped one because it will always be more valuable when you’re ready to sell. The next change to occur was a change in the type of wire used to wrap the bobbins-a change which occurred in or around 1965. We’ll cover those and the T-top type that followed in another post. Oh, and one other point…this will be considered sacrilege by many aficionados but I’ll say it anyway. In my opinion, if you want to be assured of a great sounding pickup, get a guitar with short magnet PAFs or the early patent numbers. Almost all of them sound  excellent-they are more consistent and you are almost assured of a great sounding well balanced pickup.  Why not early PAFs? The problem is that there are hundreds if not thousands of PAFs that just don’t sound alike due to winding differences. I’ve owned long magnet PAFs that sound exactly like short magnet PAFs. I’ve owned long magnet PAFs that have full resonant lows and screaming highs or dull, lifeless lows and screaming highs. Or compressed highs and dominant mids. Find one you like and keep it no matter what the label says.  But I believe you are most likely to get a great sounding pair of pickups if you get a guitar with either 2 short magnet PAFs or 2 early patent numbers or one of each. There are other changes to talk about-double whites, “zebras”, no sticker PAFs, chrome covers, nickel covers in phase, out of phase and on and on. We’ll get to all that and ways to identify the real deal among the many copies and fakes.

Above: PAF

Above: Patent Number