Price Differential ES-335 to ES-345 to ES-355

There are 335s with a Varitone but I've never seen a 345 without one. I've seen a 335 with a 345 fingerboard but it didn't have the fancier binding. I think if 345 monos existed, they would be very popular.

When the great Ted McCarty ran Gibson back in the day, he was an innovator and a brilliant marketer. The semi hollow (or semi solid as he is said to have called it) was his idea and was based on trying to find some balance between the sound of a full hollow body and the fully solid body. He wasn’t the only one messing around with the concept but his was a lot simpler than other attempts. In fact, Rickenbacker still takes a solid block of wood and routs chambers for their “semi” hollow series (360 and others) as did Fender for the thinline Tele. Like most good marketers, Mr McCarty saw this as a complete line of instruments from the low end 335 to the top of the line 355. The new Varitone innovation and the stereo wiring would differentiate the models along with a few other, mostly cosmetic, elements. The bottom of the line 335 had dot markers, shared with the cheapest of all the Gibson lines. The 345 would have parallelograms which where a lot more work (and were also plastic) to install and were shared with the SJ and Country Western flattops. The 355 would have real MOP block markers. The body bindings (especially on the front) were more elaborate on the 345 and even more so on the 355. The headstock on the 355 was bigger and fancier and the 355 had an ebony fingerboard whereas the 335 and 345 had rosewood. Keep in mind that ebony was more expensive in 1958 than the now vaunted Brazilian rosewood. In fact, Brazilian was dirt cheap which is why they sold  (and cut) so much of it and pretty much destroyed the species. Environmental issues aside, ebony was considered the “better” (and more durable) material and the high end 355 got it. So, why the counterintuitive valuations in the vintage market? Let’s use 1960-61 as an example. The 335s still had dots, the 345s in red were now common and the 355 was still relatively popular. While 60 and 61’s aren’t the most popular year for any of these (59 is), I think it makes as good an example as any. Let’s compare the market for each. Not the stupid priced market of most Gbase or Ebay sellers but the real market-what these guitars actually sell for. I’ve sold at least a couple of each this year. The 61 dot necks I sold were both solid 9.0-9.5. Average price? $23,000. Both were stoptails and both were red. Three of the 5 or 6 60 and 61 ES-345s I sold this year were stoptails and in 9.5 or higher condition. One was a 9.5 and the other was probably around a 9.0. Average price? $16,000. That’s a difference of 30%. Yikes. I sold only one 61 355 this year but I did sell a couple of 59’s and since they all have trems, I’ll make the comparison anyway. What mucks up the comparison of the 355s is, of course, whether they are mono or stereo. I’ll do both. The  61 I sold went for $10000 (sideways, stereo, Varitone). A 9.5  59 (Bigsby, stereo Varitone) went for $14K. That makes the average $12K. The 59-61 monos went for an average of $13,500 but none were 9.5 condition so the comparison between stereo and mono is not very telling. So much for the details. So why this huge premium for 335s? Conventional wisdom say “oh, folks love the simplicity and workmanlike design of the 335 over its overly ornate counterparts.” While that’s true, to a degree, I don’t think that’s the whole story. I do think the Varitone controversy is a big part of it. The conventional wisdom is that the VT “sucks” the tone out of your guitar. That can be true but is not necessarily true-especially in the early 345s) Big news on this front is coming in my next post. The Bigsby on the 355 without stoptail studs (under pearl dots or “Custom Made” plaque) doesn’t help the 355 mono compete with the 335 either. In fact if you compare a Bigsby only 335 with a mono 355, the difference in price is rather slight. The problem with that comparison is that there aren’t very many Bigsby only 335s.  I’ve also found that many 335 collectors, who already have a stoptail 335 or two or three seem to have the desire to add a mono 355 to the herd. In fact, every mono 355 I’ve sold this year (4 or 5 of them) have gone to a player or collector who already has a stoptail 335 or 345. I also believe that if mono 345s existed, they would be hugely popular (who doesn’t like the fancy fret markers) and if stoptail 355s weren’t so freaking rare, they would also give the 335 a run for your money. So maybe Ted got it right-by keeping the models from competing with each other (by making them just different enough) he kept the entire line selling throughout the era and into the 80’s.  It was only after McCarty left in 66 and Norlin took over in 69 and started messing things up that the sales and quality began to seriously erode.

I really want one of these. The über rare stoptail mono 355. This is a 60. If there were more of these, they would be hugely popular but, alas, there are only a few of these.

2 Responses to “Price Differential ES-335 to ES-345 to ES-355”

  1. moxie50 says:

    A ’61 (I think, pretty sure) red 355 stereo with a sideways came on Antique Road show the other day (we “tape” them so I don’t know when it was braodcast, it was in El Paso that day) and from reading your site voraciously without even looking up from my reading material I pegged a 335, lowered down for stereo and trem and blurted out $11,000 to my wife (who, once again, doesn’t give a crap). The appraiser, sorry didn’t get his name, pegged it at $10-$12k, I was so proud of myself. The customer had purchased it at a pawn shop some time ago for $500. Jay Davis, the “Blast from the Past after 35 years” guy. See, I CAN do a short email!

  2. OK Guitars says:

    Pricewise, I’d say you were both high. Monos are more in that range for 61. I don’t think I could get more than $10K for a 61 stereo unless the condition was really outstanding. You see them priced at $14K on Ebay all the time and they never (ever) sell. Bigsbys do a little better. While the sideways makes a pretty good tailpiece (certainly better than its successor, the Maestro), it makes a pretty poor trem unless its adjusted perfectly and you use heavier strings. In my opinion, the stereo circuit knocks of 10-15% and adds around half a pound. I think I’ve bought one stereo 355 in the past two years and it was a 59. Not that I don’t like them-I do-but I can’t sell them.

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