The Mono ES-355

Here's a nice 59 ES 355 mono. It looks great with the long guard and that orangey fade. Don't like the color? Just look for a later one. I know where this one lives.

From the very beginning the top of the line ES-355 was available in both stereo with the varitone circuitry and in mono. The mono version was wired to be identical to a 335 but with all sorts of upgrades.  The gold hardware ES-355-unless specially ordered, came with a Bigsby or, by late 1960, a sideways trem and by 63 a Maestro vibrato. There are almost no stoptail 355s out there. I’ve seen photos of two or three. The next upgrade was Grover tuners and later, Kluson “wafflebacks.” While the 335 had dot markers, then small blocks and a rosewood fingerboard, the 355 always had big block markers and an ebony board. Finally, the single ply binding on a 335 was classic simplicity while the 355 had a 7 ply binding. Rumor has it that the wood used for 345s and 355s was of better quality but I really haven’t seen that much difference. Finally, the headstock was bound and had a big split diamond inlay on it to class the thing up a bit. To some it’s the most elegant guitar there is. To others, it’s just a 335 tarted up to look like a cheap hooker. A cheap hooker always dressed in red. While the occasional sunburst or custom color 355 shows up now and then, red was the only standard color. The much reviled Varitone (I’m writing a big post about it and will debunk the myths next week) is a factor in the lack of desirability of the 355. They just don’t sell very well. It’s just one of those guitar collector ironies where the bottom of the line outshines the top. The Les Paul Standard and Les Paul Custom are another good example. The Fender Telecaster and the Fender Jaguar are another. It isn’t unusual for the lower end “peoples guitar” to  be the ones everybody wants. But then there’s the mono 355. It’s still a tarted up 335 but it does everything a 335 does and nothing more. That’s a good thing to most collectors. The mono 355 is somewhat rarer than the stereo version with only 624 out of 1853 examples made in the mono format in the years 1958-1964. That’s about a third of them for those of you who won’t do the math.  Recently, I’ve been seeing an uptick in the interest level of the mono 355. With dot necks still out of reach of many collectors and players, they are looking for alternatives. The early block necks have always been popular but they can be pretty pricey as well with good examples reaching into the high teens. But a mono 355 is still relatively well priced. Not exactly the bargain of the century, but still, for a “Golden Era” ES, it’s pretty affordable. One thing to look out for is the neck carve. While no year is totally consistent, you can be pretty certain that a given year 355 is going to have a narrower neck than the same year 335. I’m not entirely certain why. Maybe Gibson felt that thinner necks were more desirable and put a premium on them by placing that aspect in the high end guitars first. Maybe because ebony was so expensive, they figured they would save a couple of bucks by making the fingerboard narrower. But put a 64 ES 355 up against a 64 ES 335 and you’ll notice a small difference in the nut width and a rather large difference in the depth of the neck. The one’s everyone seems to be looking for are the 58’s and 59’s. There are only 10 58’s, so don’t bet on finding one. There are 177 59’s out there and they come up for sale pretty regularly. What I like about the early ones is the way they fade. As most of you know, the red in the Les Paul sunburst tended to disappear over the years while the 60 Les Pauls tend to retain their red element. That’s no accident. Gibson changed the formulation or the manufacturer of the red aniline dye used on their red finish in 1960. The early 345s and 355s fade to a gorgeous watermelon to orange color. Some 1960 355s fade the same way since they didn’t do the changeover right away. The mono 355 is, on its own, a terrific guitar. Being somewhat less costly than the corresponding 335 year over year, it’s a great value too. An average 59 335 will cosy you close to $30,000. I’ve seen mono 355’s from 59 for $15K to around $18K. There are plenty that cost more but they are overpriced, so don’t buy them.

I think I'd buy a red 64 if it had that great 64 neck profile. Unfortunately, most of them have a thinner than "normal" neck on them. Look at the nice red. I personally prefer the faded ones but this is nice, too.

8 Responses to “The Mono ES-355”

  1. mike says:

    I´ve got a late 60´s 355 mono with the “lyre” tremolo, and I wonder what would be a fair price for it if I put it up for sale? Don´t really wanna let her go, but sometimes you have to…
    It´s all original, but it´s not a minty, I would estimate it to a 7,5 (some dings, oxidized gold parts etc.) the worst being 2 small cracks (2-3mm) in the binding and pretty rough oxidation on the pickguard. Should i keep the guard on or look for a replacement?
    Thanks for a great site!
    all the best / mike

  2. OK Guitars says:

    email sent

  3. RAB says:

    I am also a fan of the ES-355 mono guitars. I had a mint ’59 (Bigsby tailpiece) with double-whites that I sold a number of years ago. It was lovely and had a HUGE neck profile and factory jumbo frets. I recently acquired one of my dream guitars, a 1963 factory original mono, stop-tailpiece 355 mono. It has a large neck profile, not as chunky as a ’59 but definitely a handfull! Its the best sounding “classic era” thinline I’ve owned and I’ve owned more than a few over the last 40+ years!

  4. OK Guitars says:

    I should relate the story behind the 63 stoptail you own since it reflects the way the private market can run sometimes. This doesn’t reflect badly on you at all-you were just trying to buy a guitar-but it does reflect badly on the seller. I saw the listing for the stoptail 63 mono 355 and got in touch with the owner the same day. I ,made him an offer just below his asking price and we made a deal. I was going to pick it up in North Jersey on a Sunday. I couldn’t make it and changed it to Wednesday. On Tuesday, I get an email saying that he had sold it for more money than I offered. I understand the desire for a seller to get the most out of his sale item but I think it’s common courtesy to at least notify the buyer with whom you already made a deal and say, at least “I’m sorry I’ve gotten a higher offer-can you match it?”. As a dealer, I don’t take higher offers once a deal is made but as a private seller, I understand the desire to do so-even if its only a few hundred bucks. But to take the higher offer and later tell the earlier buyer “sorry, I sold it for more money” -that’s a bit slippery. Enjoy the guitar-I would have loved to have owned it as I’ve been looking for a stop tail 355 for myself for some time, too. Enjoy it. I’ll just have to find another (I know of 3 more).

  5. RAB says:

    Thanks Charlie, I appreciate your sentiments on this! RAB

  6. Jonne says:

    Talking about the history the first ES-355 in´58 was offered only in mono. Gibsonin historics and Gruhn/Carter guide states the stereo SV didn’t come until ’59. But ES-345 beat it and came a bit earlier ’59 and it makes 345 the first stereo/varitone Gibson!

  7. […] Need some help guys 1959 Gibson ES355 MONO Here is some info. The Mono ES-355 | The Gibson ES-335 What is the nut width? It looks a little skinny compared to the truss rod cover. If we say an […]

  8. cgelber says:

    Nut width is 1 11/16″. There’s an optical illusion at work on 355’s. The first fret inlay makes the neck look skinnier than it is.

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