Bad 335?

This is actually a 78 and not the 76 ES-335 I played recently. This shows you the strange pinched shape that these somehow acquired in the mid 70’s. Then there’s the coil tap. I think we may have damaged some brain cells in the 60’s and the 70’s were the unfortunate result.

It’s like jumbo shrimp. Or airline food. To hear me talk, you’d call “bad 335” an oxymoron. It’s true, I rarely say anything bad about them. So, without further oxymoronics, I present the bad ES-335. This past week I had the pleasure/pain to play a 1976 ES-335. It was awful. It looked bad with its pinched mid-70’s odd shape, it was poorly constructed with glue drips and finish flaws and it played like crap-it barely rang, the notes just died. I’m told there are good 70’s 335’s but, truth be told, I haven’t played one. On the other hand, to be fair, I haven’t played that many 70’s 335s.  I tend to avoid them. The chances of getting a bad 70’s 335 are somewhere around 90%-so bad that I don’t think it’s worth writing about. What is worth writing about, however is the likelihood of getting a bad 335 (or 345 or 355) from 1958-1964. Truthfully, the likelihood is just about zero. I’ll single out the 58’s as the only problem area. The neck angle on a 58 can be so shallow that you have to lower the bridge until it sits on top of the guitar or you have to shave the bridge to get the strings even lower.  But that’s really a mechanical problem. Some shallow angle 58’s are among the very best 335’s I’ve played. Gibson was made aware of the problem and fixed it sometime in 1958 or 59. I’ve had a 59 with a shallow angle but I’ve played a 58 with a decent angle, so I don’t know when it was actually fixed. However, even my 61 has a pretty shallow neck angle. Mostly it isn’t an issue. Of the 80 plus 1964 or earlier ES-335s, 345s and 355s that I’ve owned, none of them were bad players. I’ve had to do some serious work on a few to get them into good playing order but, ultimately, they turned out to be good to excellent players. Are some better than others? Without a doubt but that’s not what we’re talking about here. I’m really addressing a fear most of us have when buying a guitar that we can’t play first.  To listen to the sellers with their “tone monsters” or “sustains for days” hyperbole, you would think that all of them are superb guitars. The truth is, when it comes to these guitars, almost all of them are. That’s one of the great things about this era. You can buy one and you’ll have an excellent chance of getting a good one and an almost 100% chance of getting

Here’s an early unbound 58 from Tom H.’s site. On later guitars, you can see a bit of the neck at the body join, not just the fingerboard. This shallow angle results in a bridge that sits on the top of the guitar. They can be great players.

a decent one. But, if you’re spending $10,000 plus on a 64 or earlier, “decent” isn’t really good enough, is it?  It isn’t. That’s why you buy from someone who knows them or from someone close enough to you to go and play it. A reputable dealer who gives you an approval period is your best bet but often they aren’t the best deal in town. I guess it all comes down to how much of a crapshooter you are. Most of the guitars I buy I get to play before I put down my hard earned greenbacks. I’ve walked away from a few but not many. Usually it will be an undisclosed issue that stops me, not a bad playing guitar. Also, considering how poorly most guitars are set up, it no wonder people are disappointed on occasion. Intonation on a 335, as I said in a recent post, can be a real nightmare. But I’ve found that nearly all the guitars I get can be brought back to life with a good setup and a new set of strings. If you’re considering buying a 58-64 ES 335, 345 or 355, don’t worry too much about how it will play. As long as it’s in decent shape-the neck isn’t twisted or backbowed- you’re very very likely to have an excellent guitar in your possession. I think there is no substitute for good design and the 335 is one of the best. A well made, well designed guitar should be consistently good and this era 335 proves the point.

Compare this 64 to the 58. You can see a lot more neck below the fingerboard. This increased neck angle allows a bit more “breathing room” for the bridge. Thanks again to Tom H.’s site. I don’t know what I’d do without him.

2 Responses to “Bad 335?”

  1. nikto says:

    Saw this on the internet…
    Can I assume it’s probably a lemon?

  2. OK Guitars says:

    You can never assume a guitar is a lemon. The chances are much better that it’s a lemon if the guitar was built after 1968. It looks like it has a wide fingerboard which is good. It’s walnut which isn’t. Play it if you can and then decide.

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