The Mystery of the Center Block

Here's a 63 with the cutout in the center block. I think most 63's don't have it but I need more data.

I’ve touched on this before but now we’ll go into some more detail and I’ll also elicit your help to try to figure out the timeline for this. Originally, the ES-335 (but not the 345 or stereo 355) had solid block down the middle with no cutouts of any kind. There were holes through the block for the pickup wires but nothing else. The harnesses were actually put into the guitar through the f-hole.  At some point, it occurred to the bean counters at Gibson that it was taking rather a long time to get the damned harnesses through that little hole and they intended to do something about it. Someone had the bright idea to cut out a section of the center block so that the pickup cavity was open to the hollow part of the guitar. It probably didn’t require much thought since they had already done this on the 345 to accommodate the varitone chokes-which are those two (connected) big silver boxes that add all the weight to a 345. They are actually transformers for the varitone circuitry-1 for each pickup. The mystery part is that it really isn’t very clear when they started doing this and when they stopped using the block without the cutout. Gibson likes to do things gradually, using up all the “old style” units-whatever they may be-and phasing in the new unit. they did thid with PAFs and patent number pickups, they did it with Mickey Mouse ear bodies, new and old style ABR1 bridges, tuners, tailpieces and just about everything else. The transitions took place over varying lengths of time. The bridge transition seemed to take about a year (65-66), the Mickey Mouse ears a bit less than a year (63) and PAFs around 2 years (early 62-late 63). Well, the transition from solid block to cutout block took even longer. Tom H. who runs the excellent site says the cutout shows up as early as 62, although he’s heard some say that it showed up in some 61’s.  I own a guitar (“The Mexican”) from early 65 that has no cutout. My 64 doesn’t have it either. My 62 didn’t have it. My 63 did. So, if there are any readers who can take a look at your 61-65 335’s and tell me if there is or isn’t a cutout, it would strike a blow for knowledge and understanding in the world of ES-335’s. Interestingly, the existence of the cutout doesn’t seem to make much difference in the sound of the guitar. Even though the ones with the cutout have a bit more hollow “area”, they don’t seem any more resonant. I’ve heard some folks say that the ones without the cutout sustain better which is one of the reasons the early 335s sound better than the later ones. I find that a bit far fetched. I think the bigger difference occurred when they went from the stop tail to the trapeze which seems to follow the existence of the cutout to some degree. It seems that most ES 335s with the stop do not have the cutout. How many more remains unknown. perhaps I’ll get some responses from owners. I tried that on the Les Paul Forum but I got nowhere. I guess that’s why it’s called the Les Paul Forum and not the ES-335 Forum.

Here's the rout on my 65. This is the only 65 I've seen without the cutout. By this time, most ES-335s had a trapeze tailpiece and the cutout in the block.

30 Responses to “The Mystery of the Center Block”

  1. docfox says:

    This is a great blog – I follow it closely and appreciate the info. Real reason I am writing, though, is a recent eBay travesty. See if this isn’t wrong on a lot of different levels!

  2. OK Guitars says:

    Hey Doc-It’s interesting-I don’t find it so much a travesty as a surprise. While I consider a 79 to be the nadir for the 335, it is possible to get one that plays well. I think $2800-sight unseen-for a 79 just shows how badly the buying public needs to read my blog. For $2800, you could get a mid 60’s 345 that will blow this one away. You’d have to look pretty hard but they are moist definitely out there. The travesty part is the description. Trapeze=Sustain? I think not. Articulation due to maple top, back and sides? It’s plywood and it has little or nothing to do with articulation. The center block has more to do with it. But in any case, it’s really just a typical over hyped sale and, frankly, it must have worked because I wouldn’t have paid half that for a 79. His information about the dot is wrong too-it was introduced in 81 but that’s a nitpick. Still, it’s a 335 and worthy of our examination. There has to be a best year and a worst. That one pretty much defines everything that Norlin (beer/concrete) did wrong.

  3. docfox says:

    I actually own an ’81 that I picked up cheap, and it’s a good “utility instrument” – plays well,good build, just has the quirky Norlin features. I like it well enough, but it is what it is. I guess my concern was the way the seller hyped the guitar. I mean really, “so this is one of the last years of the 335 in all its glory” (!). Also, by serial number, this is a 1980, not a ’79. Does ’79 sound more “vintage” than ’80? Of course it does. Dual Patent Number pickups? Highly doubtful. And am I wrong, or does that not look like a walnut finish? I guess the sad thing is, the seller says he is an authorized Gibson dealer, and the buyer only has 10 eBay history. Good thing the guy doesn’t sell used cars. “A true classic from Gibson”.

    Agree the buying public needs to follow this blog. Keep up the good work, you are appreciated!

  4. Roberto says:

    I think trapeze or stopbar is a big challenge. I put trapeze on my lucille and the fell is very different, the sustain remain the same but attack is much like an hollow body, smoot, I like this because let me to play really in jazz feel.

    Question: Who know the composition of a center block? I see is not a one piece but seems maple/Spruce on my lucille. Really appreciate any info on this. Compliment to this site.

  5. OK Guitars says:

    The center block in the early 335s is maple. The ends are usually mahogany and there is a piece of kerfed spruce between the block and the top. Pretty complex design that was simplified in subsequent years.

  6. Mike M says:

    I’ve got a mid 64 with no cut out and a late 64 with a cut out….if that helps at all. cheers!

  7. OK Guitars says:

    There is no pattern emerging as to the cutouts. I’ve seen 62s with it and at least one 65 without it. Most 64s seem to NOT have it but a fair number do. I’ve never seen a trapeze tail 65 without it but I have seen a 65 stop without it.

  8. John Manzella says:

    I have a 1972 335 with the cutout in the center block. It was a TC that I converted to a stop tailpiece. I have often wondered why my guitar had the cutout in the block. I suspected that It was a cost cutting measure instituted by Norlin but since it dates back to 1962 it predates Norlin. I have played newer 335s, all have a solid center block. It increases the weight but does not appear to provide any advantage. My 335 has a great sound with excellent sustain. My tuning stability increased substantially when I installed the stud tailpiece.

  9. OK Guitars says:

    The cut in the centerblock makes it much easier to install the wiring harness. Without the cut, it has to be stuffed in through the f-hole. I’ve done it. It’s no fun. It doesn’t make very much difference in the tone except unplugged. The cut centerblock 335s are a little more resonant most of the time. Amplified, there isn’t much difference.

  10. Gianfranco Alloggio says:

    Excuse me,
    I’m the owner of a perfect ES 335 TD Cherry finish with trapeze tailpiece, serial number 810573. I bought it from the first owner in 1970 (more or less…). Do tou know the year when the guitar went out from Kalamazoo. I think in 1968 but I really don’t know….. .

    Thank you very much and bye bye from Italy……

  11. cgelber says:

    Send me a photo and I’ll tell you what I think. That serial number suggests 1969

  12. Giangranco Alloggio says:

    ….I made a mistake: the serial number is 510873, and not 810573 a I wrote. I don’t have any e-mail address for sending some jpeg pictures.

  13. cgelber says:

    That serial was used in both ’65 and ’68. It’s really easy to tell a 65 from a 68 though. All I need is a photo. Send it to me at

  14. Gianfranco Alloggio says:

    I sent you some jpeg pictures with differents particulars of my 335. Now I think it was made in 1968: the guitar has four black knobs in shape of an hat with numbers written in white (tone, tone, volume, volume). In 1965 335’s knobs where gold (or jellow) with a different shape (not like an hat).
    Isn’t it?
    Thank you very much……

  15. cgelber says:

    I don’t think I received them. Please send to my email at and I’ll take a look.

  16. Gianfranco Alloggio says:

    I sent some jpeg pictures for the second time, hoping that the e-mails and attachements will arrive to you….


    G. Alloggio, Varese, Italy

  17. Craig Beasley says:

    I have a 63 (according to the serial number) but it is obviously a transition piece — mutt for lack of a better word. Patent number pickups, no cutout and I think rounded ears — hard for me to tell. Serial number 113993. I am the second owner, bought it in 71. She was a working girl until 74 when I hung it up and went to grad school. But it is in pretty good condition, considering everything. Kind of like me.

    I hope this helps in your attempts to understand.

  18. cgelber says:

    Transitional 63’s are pretty interesting because so many things changed over a fairly short period of time. During 63, the transition from PAFs to patents was largely completed, the small neck profile to the chunkier profile occurred and the change from Mickey Mouse to pointy ears happened. On top of that, more guitars got the center block cutout although it persisted, although rarely, into early 65. One of my favorite guitars was a 63 with MM ears, PAFs, no block cutout and a big neck. A very unusual combination.

  19. DJPreston says:

    Picked up my 73? ES335 last month and was concerned about the center block not being there until I plugged it in. Sounds Great and Looks Good too!! (Great site, thanks for the information)

  20. cgelber says:

    I’ve got a 73 or 74 in my shop right now with most of the center block missing and it also sounds really good. A little different than those with the full block but still great tone.

  21. Holger Böhm says:

    Hi Folks,
    I have a 1972 ES335 cherry with a half centerblock that ended under the bridge .
    Between pu´s it is hollow. It is a 335TD with Trapez mod. to Stoptail.
    Sounds great. Any comments?

  22. cgelber says:

    Gibson was cost cutting in the 70’s and it is not unusual to find center blocks which don’t from end to end. I had a 74 that had a center block from the bridge pickup to the neck pickup and nowhere else.

  23. peter venskus says:

    I have a cherry ’63 335 that has the cutout, factory bibsby/custom made plaque, and 2 PAFs. serial is 100246. Hope this helps. Let me know if you want some pics. This site is awesome.

  24. Chris says:

    Charlie, looked at my 62 335 and was appalled to see what looked like a modification. Googled 335 center block and got to your article. So add another 62 dot neck to the cut out side of the ledger. I wonder if it had to do with filling the gap in the arch with an unforgiving single block which was easier using two pieces?

  25. cgelber says:

    It was done simply to make it easier to get the harness in. It used to have to go through the f-holes which I’ve done about a zillion times and its not fun.

  26. OJ says:

    Great discussion. I have a 70′-72′ with a full tailblock (77471#). There is a small underlying mahogany strip, with the maple tailblock sitting on top. There are some shavings where the two meet. The original owner had a maestro put on, in place of the trapeze. The maple block appears very fresh (not aged). Sometimes I wonder if the full tailblock was added as a mod. (when the maestro was added). I had another 335 from said era, that only had a partial block. Interesting.

  27. Marc says:

    1962 Dot w/PAF pickups and cutout…

  28. Eric Monteil says:

    I just bought one (#14) of the 50 Alvin Lee model 2005 made in Nashville CS . (You may think ‘shame on me’, as I noticed you do not like much reissue and even less stickers…) Worst, I already have a wonderful 62 factory mono 355 converted to stop tail (You know this guitar as I already asked you how it was possible there was absolutely no hole on the top and you kindly answered it probably was an original custom ordered item with a trapeze tailpiece). So what’s the hell am I doing with an Alvin Lee Artist model ? The short answer is that 1) I have always been a fan of Alvin Lee, 2) I cannot afford the original Big Red currently on sale for 2.5 M$ !!, 3) I have always been curious to compare my vintage 62 with a relatively recent 335, however I did not want to buy any 335 reissue but a guitar appealing to me that I would actually play, even if it was not as good as my 355 – thus this apparently odd choice…. Back to the point (center block) you’ll see on the picture that the cut out is different from what we usually see (as in my 62 355) : there is half of the cavity that still includes a part of the center block. Then my question is : have you already seen this type of cut out in vintage 33X or is it an ‘invention’ of the Custom Shop ?

    Besides did all 345 and 355 have cutouts because of the bigger stereo/varitone harness or do they exist without cutout ?

    Finally, in the 335 book from Adrian Ingram (inferior quality compared to Tony Bacon and terrible pictures but still some interesting info) he claims page 23 that, unlike the 335 where the plywood was made of maple/poplar/maple, for 345 and 355 the plywood was made of maple/spruce/maple. Do you confirm this theory?

    Thanks again for you great site.


  29. okguitars says:

    The block looks to be cut deeper than the usual 335 with the cut. probably done to more easily accommodate the middle pickup. I have no problem with newer guitars. I just don’t usually buy or sell them.

  30. okguitars says:

    I can’t confirm that. I’ve never seen that information anywhere else and I don’t believe it to be true. It’s impossible (for me anyway) to tell
    what wood is in the inner plies without taking the plies apart. And, while the construction was slightly different on 345’s and 355 stereos, I don’t think that the wood is. Logic dictates that it is the same wood. First, Gibson was very cost conscious and I’m sure plywood with spruce component would have been more expensive while not adding much to the quality (it’s still plywood). Second, I believe it would have made the logistics of the process more difficult. There were occasionally racks that were mixed models which would have made keeping which bodies were which somewhat confusing. It is more likely that they sourced various types of plywood as was available. As long as the outside plies were maple, I don’t think anyone cared. I’ve read that poplar, alder, basswood, spruce and all maple were used at times. If I ever get a completely irredeemable 345, I will take the plies apart.

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