The Mysterious Neck Tenon

Long tenon on the left. Short tenon on the right. Both look pretty substantial but which one do you want holding the neck onto your guitar?

You hear a lot about long tenons versus short tenons on vintage guitars usually in reference to Les Pauls because those guys are nuttier than we 335 guys are and we’re plenty nutty. A tenon is simply a “tab” of wood that fits into a similarly shaped slot (called a mortise) to form a joint. Mortise and tenon joints are strong and well suited to guitar making where you need an immovable connection between 2 separate pieces of wood-the neck and the body. It stands to reason that the longer the “tab” and the longer the slot it fits into, the more stable the joint will be-more surface area means more glue and better hold. The physics of leverage probably comes into play as well. Gibson, in order to save money on manufacturing costs (you mean they would actually do this???) has periodically cut corners and one of those corners was the neck tenon.  As Gibson limped its way into the 70’s) the tenon, at least in the Les Paul, started shrinking. I’m not certain about 335s during this period since  don’t like them, I don’t have one to check out. I do have plenty of experience with 80’s 335s and they too have a smaller tenon. Does this make it an inferior guitar? Well yes, in a way. It may sound as good and it may be perfectly adequate but it won’t be as strong as the original long tenon neck joint found from 58 into at least the early 70’s. Should you care? Well, lets look at the relatively inexpensive 80’s 335s that I like so well. I’ve never seen one break at the neck tenon and I’ve never had one that has excessive movement in the neck join, so no, I don’t think you should be terribly concerned about the smaller neck tenon in the 80’s 335. To my knowledge, Gibson didn’t go back to the old style neck tenon until around 2006 with the Historics. I know this because I sent my 68 (which I thought was a 65 at the time) to Gibson to be renecked in 2006 and I was told that they don’t make any necks with that tenon except for the Eric Clapton 335 which was, of course, an exact copy of his ’64. I had an occasion to ask the same thing this year and was told that the Historic necks were now being made with the same long tenon as the original 335s. Apparently it’s only the Historics-not the Anniversary Models and not the Memphis Custom Shop Models either. If you want your new 335 to be constructed the old fashioned way, you will have to buy a Nashville Historic.

Here's the short tenon in a recent memphis ES-335. Note how far it extends into the pickup rout. Not very.

Here's a long tenon in its mortise on a Nashville 335. Note the width and how much farther it extends into the pickup rout.

12 Responses to “The Mysterious Neck Tenon”

  1. Mike Kingham says:

    Hi, Love your blog! A couple of questions if you don’t mind.
    Are the custom shop 50th anniversary vos 1960 es 335’s made with the long neck tenons? What do you think of these guitars?
    Any thoughts on the classic 57 humbuckers gibson now uses?

    Thanks and all the best, Mike

  2. OK Guitars says:

    Hi Mike
    I haven’t looked at an Anniversary model up close yet but I’ll tell you what I know.
    The Anniversaries are made in the Memphis shop alongside the regular CS ES-335s. That tells me the quality won’t be as high as those assembled in Nashville, although all of the bodies are now made in Memphis. I am told that while the Memphis CS model has the short tenon, that the Anni’s have the long tenon which is a good thing. However, they also have the cutout in the block which the 59 Historics don’t have and that can be an issue as it affects the tone, in my opinion. The pickups used on the Historics are great and the ones I’ve heard on the Memphis are good as well-probably the same 57 Classics. I’ve found all of them to be very high output-more so than even PAFs.

  3. Mike Kingham says:

    Hi Charlie,

    Thanks for the info-very useful!

    I sometimes wonder if part of the reason the real PAF pickups sounded so good is partly because they were lower output-7.5-8k, and this allows more complexity in the upper mids and highs to come through? I agree though that the classic 57’s have sounded good in the guitars I have tried out so far.

    Best, Mike

  4. OK Guitars says:

    As you are probably aware, PAFs were wound by hand and the operators of the winders just kept winding until the bobbins appeared full. It was also incredibly boring work and even before the days of multitasking, I’m told the winders would find ways of amusing themselves to keep the crushing monotony from putting them to sleep. That’s one of the reasons so many PAFs sound so different-especially the early ones. It wasn’t just the number of winds either-it was how the wire sat. More on the edges-more in the middle-more on one edge. I don’t think anyone has come up with a definitive logic regarding what winding sounds best but many have tried to duplicate the best of them-not always with great success. My theory on the white ones is that they seem to have more windings (and thus higher resistance) because it was easier to see the wire against a white background than a black one and so they tended to get filled closer to capacity. Every double white I’ve owned has been 8.0K or higher.

  5. Eric says:

    Great info here. I’m gonna chime in with a question as well that’s somewhat related: what do you think of the Burstbucker pickups? From what I’ve gathered they attempt to match the sounds of the uneven windings in the PAFs.

  6. OK Guitars says:

    I was not at all happy with the Burstbuckers on my R9 Les Paul. They were muddy and lacked character. I liked the Classic 57s on my 2 Historic 335s, however.

  7. dave says:

    Hi …I have a 1959 EB2 bass which is made to look the same as the 335. Is mortise and tenon the same construction? I am getting ready for a neck reset.

    Thanks dave

  8. OK Guitars says:

    Neck tenon should be the same construction and of similar size.

  9. Wyley says:

    Hello, it’s been a while since this thread had any comment, but I do have question/comment: I have a 1964 335 which at some point in its life had the neck broken (you can see the remnant of the tenon in the pickup cavity) and was replaced with a 9/16″ nut size neck with a butt joint to the body. I just spoke to Gibson about replacing this neck with one of their Historic necks (or preferably the Clapton neck) but the Gibson tech said they could not repair any 335s from that time period because the necks manufactured today don’t have the same tenon and are attached at a different pitch than the vintage guitars. He said this was the case even with the Clapton re-issue neck…they could not put that neck on an actual 1964 335.

    Does that make any sense?

  10. cgelber says:

    Nope. Gibson put a Clapton neck on a mid 60’s 335 for me perhaps 10 years ago. Most likely, the Clapton neck was the same and the recent necks aren’t. When I had it done, I requested the Clapton neck and they said they only had one or two, so those are probably long gone. I would have a good luthier make you a new neck. I’ve had great results using the original headstock overlay, truss rod and fingerboard and a new mahogany neck.

  11. Rooster Ross says:

    Thanks for this post. I recently purchased a 2021 ES335 that was (of course) made in the Nashville facility. My tenon looks like picture #2. However, what this picture doesn’t show is the air gap beneath the tenon. Did you realize this was going on? It’s hollow beneath the mahogany tongue. True. This really put me in a head spin because – after all – with the neck pulling upwards towards the bridge it seems to me that this gap is a future problem. In the very least the neck joint is not as stable as it could be. If you notice in picture #1, Gibson has filled this pocket area with Titebond glue from the look of it, and this seems a really good idea to me. So much so that I did this to my new 335, using Titebond III.

    And then the next issue: Why is this pickup route on the ES335 left raw with NO sealer or lacquer to protect the end grain from absorbing moisture? This looks like another accident waiting to happen. And if you think this isn’t important, why then does Gibson paint all the HB tenon routes in the Les Paul and it’s other solid bodies? So here I also painted this with brush on clear lacquer, 3 coats.

  12. okguitars says:

    Because these would be extra steps in the manufacturing process and every additional step costs money. I’ve seen lots of small but significant corners cut over the years by guitar makers. It’s a lot better than it was in the 70’s but that’s probably small consolation when you spend 2021 dollars and get a less than well made guitar.

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