From The Golden Era to the Guitar Boom

"The Mexican" One of the last Golden Era Gibson ES-335s. It's an early 65 with an original stoptail and a big 64 sized neck. I found this in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Most of us place the beginning of the Great Guitar Boom precisely on Feb 9th, 1964 at around 8:45 PM EST. Why so exact? That’s about the time the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan for the first time. I’m not totally sure of the exact time-I remember having to slog through the usual dog acts and ventriloquists to get to JPG&R. I was 12. I was impressionable. I was hooked. I bugged my Dad to buy me a guitar and he came home with a Kay flat top with terrible action that was just about impossible to learn on but I started lessons within a few months. Most of us Gibson types feel that the Golden Era ended in 1964 with a little slopover into 65. Fender folks fall in line to around that time as well. Is the fact that so many kids wanted electric guitars the reason that the perceived quality of the instruments started its long  decline? Is it true that Gibson couldn’t keep up with the demand? The simple answer is yes. But there’s more to it than that. Fender was giving Gibson fits because they were mass producing guitars cheaper and faster than they could and with the sales going through the roof, Gibson had to do something. It’s a little like New Coke, if you remember that. Consider this: Gibson sold 1241 ES-335’s in 1964. In 1967, they sold 5718 and these were not “starter” guitars either. So, the guitar boom was on and all the guitar makers benefitted (and they sprung up like mushrooms).  Suddenly Gibson was trying to appeal to a younger, hipper and less discerning buying public who was inundated with rock groups appearing on TV with their oh so cool guitars. There were no less than 4 TV shows that emerged that put the spotlight on the rock groups of the day. Shindig! showed up on ABC in September of 64, Hullabaloo was NBC’s entry in 1965. Where the Action is was created by Dick Clark and aired after school on ABC (House band Paul Revere and the Raiders). Finally, there was a show that had actually been on the air since 1961 which was sort of a LA based American Bandstand called The Lloyd Thaxton Show which went national in late 64. That’s a lot of programming showing a

Hermie's in Schenectady where retail rules. Still there with the same sign out front. I'm pretty sure Hermie himself is no longer with us, however.

lot of guitars. Beatles aside, most of them were Fenders, if memory serves and Gibsons were a rarity. Sure, there were Guilds and Voxes and Gretsches but Fender seemed to rule the roost. I bugged my father to take me to the local Fender dealer-the estimable Hermies Music Store in Schenectady, NY-our motto “we will sell no guitar below retail” to get an electric. Gibson wasn’t even on the radar.  I ended up with a white Duo Sonic and a Princeton Amp. So Gibson saw that even though their sales were climbing exponentially, they had to do something to compete with Fender. I assume they took a look at Fender guitars and tried to figure out what the attraction was. Apparently it wasn’t the bolt on neck. Apparently it wasn’t the contoured body. It must have been the skinny neck because that was Gibson’s response. The common perception was that a slim neck played “faster” and fast was what a lot of kids were about on their guitars. The perception was that the best lead player was the guy who could play the fastest and Fenders were known as fast. Gibson had to compete and so they narrowed the nut  to 1 9/16″ which was about 1/16″ narrower than most Fenders of the day. The addition of the trapeze tail was related as well but only because it eliminated a step or two from the manufacturing process. And what are the elements that separate the Golden Era from the years that followed? Of course, the trap tail and the skinny neck. Next up, we’ll take a close look at the 66 model year.

This is a fairly typical 66. Smaller pointy ears, chrome hardware, trapeze tail and, of course, the 1 9/16" nut width

7 Responses to “From The Golden Era to the Guitar Boom”

  1. Butch says:

    Hi Charlie, I am your age and agree with your explanation of the changes Gibson made while “chasing” Fender. I’ve always felt as well that Gibson changed to the trap for the same reason, to make the guitars much more readily convertable to match Fenders other advantage, the trem, Bigsby or Maestro. Either factory ordered or purchased after market,.

  2. OK Guitars says:

    Wow, Butch, you’re really old:)

  3. Butch says:

    Yeah, but still immature. The Fenders that Gibson was chasing weren’t the Tele’s and Strats, They were the hotter Jaguars and Jazzmasters, narrow necks, cool trems, and lots of ever shinny CHROME..hmmm…

  4. OK Guitars says:

    Interesting that they never copied the Jaguar trend toward lots of switches. I had a 65 Jaguar that my father bought me (after bugging him mercilessly for a year) in 1965 when I was 13. I had wanted a Strat originally but then everybody had one of those.

  5. Ira Siegel says:

    Hi Charlie. AFA Gibson trying to imitate Fender Jaguar/Jazzmaster switching, I guess the closest they got were some of the Epiphones of the era (the Al Caiola, for example). My earliest 335-type (I’m your age) was a Trini Lopez Standard which I ordered from Gibson with Stereo and Varitone (!) in August ’65, and which I didn’t get until April of ’67. Why? ‘Cause I’m lefty! Oh, if you hear of any lefty 335s, please e-mail me. Thanks!

  6. cgelber says:

    The Caiola really isn’t much like a Fender-it’s really a variation on the Varitone (notch filters). The Jaguar had two on-off switches for the pickups and some kind of “bright” switch if I’m recalling correctly. It did have a 25.5′ scale like a Fender though. Where’s the lefty stereo VT Trini now?

  7. Ira Siegel says:

    Sold it back in 1990. It had undergone many ill-advised modifications over the years, so it was nowhere near mint. Stoptail, removed Varitone, even changed the neck at one point! (it was changed back)

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