Poor Man’s 335

The "Poor Man's" 335. This is a 66 with a 1 5/8" nut that has been converted to a stop tail. If you have a sharp eye, you'll notice that the stop is very slightly lower than it should be. The bottom edge of the stop should just about line up with the 3 way switch. Not enough to bother me because, hey, we're not fooling anyone into thinking it's something it's not. It's pretty unusual for a 66 to have this nut width but it's Gibson. Anything is possible.

I’ve heard the term poor man’s 335 or poor man’s ’64  now and then and figured I’d look into the concept. Essentially, the term refers to trapeze tailpiece equipped ES 335s being drilled for a stop tail.  As most of you probably know the very last of the “Golden Era” stops were made in the first few weeks of 1965. That was a year of big transition and the beginning of the great 60’s guitar boom which lasted until around 68. 1965 was also the first year of the narrow neck at 1 9/16″. There are some at 1 11/16″ like the 58-64s and I’ve seen a few at 1 5/8″ but the bulk of 65s are 1 9/16″ which is kind of narrow. The idea of the smaller “faster” neck was likely a product of corporate hype and the folks at Fender who were leading the charge here in the USA for guitar based rock and roll. When I was a teenager (in the 60’s), Fenders were all the rage. Gibsons were too expensive for most of us-we knew they were good and often considered “the best” guitar available but  they were also considered kind of stodgy. Look at the early American rockers-before the discovery of the Les Paul as rock icon. They were playing mostly Fenders. But that’s another subject altogether. Anyway, back in 65 a few other things happened. The headstock angle changed from  17 to 14 degrees probably in the hope that they wouldn’t break off so easily. The bevel on the  truss rod cover went from wide to thin and the hardware transitioned from nickel to chrome. And I could add that they changed the wire that they used to wind the pickups. So, it was a big year for the 335 and that’s one of the reasons that 65’s have become so much more collectible. The wider neck is one of the most sought after elements in old 335s and 345s. the 355s tended to be narrower-maybe because ebony was so expensive. The “poor man’s 335” refers to one of these wide necked 65s that have been converted to a stop tail.  Essentially turning a 65 into a 64. It can also refer to a later, narrow necked one but those will always be compromised in the minds of many by it’s narrow width. But before you go drilling holes in a $6-$7,000 guitar, think about what you’re doing. Extra holes will kill the vintage value in a big way-even though there will only be 2 of them from the trapeze. Most collectors know that if there are 2 holes by the strap button, the guitar had a trap tail. A Bigsby B7 will show 4 holes. So, here’s my take on it: If you’re looking for a player and you can’t afford $12,500 or more for a stop tail 62-64, then spending, say $5000 on a wide neck 65 with a stop already on it is kind of a no brainer. It won’t appreciate like a stock 65 might but you’ll have what is essentially a 64. It’ll look like one (some 64’s had chrome pickup covers, too), it’ll play like one and it’ll sound like one. The one pitfall to look for is stop tails that have been put in the wrong position. There’s a bit of a range-even at the factory but for some reason, folks seem to want to put them way too far away from the bridge. Not only does it look wrong but it messes up the break angle of the strings. The savings over a stock trap tail can be enormous. I picked up one recently for about half it’s stock value. I also recently came across a 63 that had been equipped with a Bigsby and had been converted to a stop. While the price we came to was decent but the stop was way too low on the guitar and not only did it look dumb but it knocked no less than $8000 off the value.

This is the 63 I mentioned that was originally a Bigsby model but someone who was apparently visually handicapped decided to put the stop tail about an inch and a half too low. If you put it where it belongs, you get 2 huge holes that would need to be filled. If you leave it where it is, it will always look glaringly wrong, even if it functions perfectly. This totally destroyed the value of this otherwise very nice 63. How do you value a guitar like this? Half? One third? These are the tricky ones.

4 Responses to “Poor Man’s 335”

  1. Tyler says:

    I may be wrong, but it seems like I’ve read that when someone would have a trapeze converted to a stoptail, the reason they put the stop tail further back is because that is where the actual trapeze would’ve held the strings in place. No doubt it probably creates a bad break angle, but I think that was the rationale behind that decision.

    I’m loving this blog.


  2. OK Guitars says:

    That may be the rationale for it but the theory behind a stop and a trapeze are very different. A trap is meant to suspend the strings above the “box” and not hinder the vibrations of the top at all-like on a real hollow bodied archtop. That’s why they’re attached to the side of the guitar. A stoptail was meant to do the almost the opposite-to allow the vibrations to be passed directly to the center block by physical coupling. The trapeze was a poor choice from the standpoint of physics (there is very little resonance in a semi) and from the standpoint of function (the strings’ break angle over the bridge wasn’t acute enough).

  3. Tyler says:

    Not to mention that the trapeze just looks terrible…imo. 🙂

  4. OK Guitars says:

    Yeah, I’m not a big fan of the trap tail either. It belongs on a hollow body. They are also a pain to restring.

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