More Stuff You Don’t See Every Day

This was almost mine but it got away. Now owned by a reader in California, it is a true rarity. I know of only four mono stoptail 355s. This is the only 63 I've ever seen.

Not long ago I wrote a post describing the elusive “wishlist” guitars and was pleasantly surprised when one of them was offered to me although not as a result of the post. Another of the wishlist guitars was just about in my hands when an unscrupulous seller took a higher offer after accepting my offer. That happens a lot among private sellers and, while it bugs me plenty, I don’t let it give me an ulcer. The guitar in question was an über rare stoptail ES-355. For those of you who may not be aware, the ES-355 came with a trem as standard equipment. A Bigsby was standard in 59 and 60 and remained an option through the 60’s. The stock trem from late 60 until 63 was the sideways and from 63 on, the Maestro type was standard. What was never standard was a stoptail and they are rare. Even rarer is a stoptail mono 355. I know of four. The one I had made the deal on was somewhere in New Jersey and was a mono 63-the only known stoptail from that year. Shortly after hearing that the owner had “sold the guitar to someone else” the day before I was set to pick it up, I received an email from a reader who told me about a 63 stoptail 355 he had just scored. “Did it come from New Jersey?,” I asked. “Yes, how did you know?,” the buyer replied. Really, what were the odds of two of them showing up in the same week. Anyway, I can’t fault the buyer for making a good deal on a very rare bird. It is a stunning example and I truly am jealous. It is worth noting that even though Bigsbys and the like actually diminish the value of a vintage guitar, they were a very desirable option back in the day which is why they were standard equipment at the top of the line.  It’s always struck me as odd that a hardtail Strat is worth less than a trem version but a trem 335 is worth less than a stoptail. Like I’ve often said, guitar collectors are nuts. So, that’s the stoptail mono 355 that got away. The good news is that I know where it is so if the owner ever sees fit to sell it, I have a shot at it. In my 48 or so years of guitar playing, I’ve seen most variations and permutations of ES-335/345/355’s but I did see something last week that I don’t think I’ve seen before. Also a 355, this one has an odd feature. Those of you who are SG aficionados will recognize this feature immediately. The ebony block trem. It’s essentially a short Maestro attached to an pearl inlaid block of ebony wood that is screwed into the top of the guitar. They are fairly common on SGs from the “sideways” era of 61-63 but you never see them on an ES. I found this one on Gbase and if it was priced a little better, I would think about buying it just for it’s rarity. And, as long as we’re on the subject of rarity, it doesn’t matter too much to collectors. I never quite understood why but something has to explain why a blonde 59 ES-335 (71 shipped) is worth close to twice what a red 59 ES-335 is worth (3 or 4 shipped). Or why really rare models (like Byrdlands or Farlows) aren’t valued higher? I guess it’s Economics 101–supply and demand. Even if there is close to zero supply, it doesn’t matter because there is close to zero demand. And this ebony block 355 may fall into that category. Unless you’re someone who specifically collects oddballs or 355s, I’m guessing the demand is not huge for one of these. Still, it’s pretty cool. Painfully cool, some might say.

This is the only ebony block trem ES I've ever seen. This appears to be a 61 and it even has the gold painted varitone knob seen only for a very short time. They are pretty common on SGs (Les Paul/SGs) but not on a 355. I can't imagine anyone special ordering one but I guess its possible. It looks out of place but still, you can rest assured that nobody else has one.


6 Responses to “More Stuff You Don’t See Every Day”

  1. chuckNC says:

    That ebony block 355 is not the only one ever made. There’s a sunburtst (yes, sunburst) ’61 ES-355 with the same business on it in George Gruhn’s “Elelectric Guitars and Basses” book, pg 212. The placement is different though. The sunburst has a larger gap between the vibrola and the bridge, pretty close to where it would be located on a regular Maestro model.

  2. RAB says:

    Charlie, thanks for the cool article…I’ve owned a lot of “classic year” (1958-64) ES-series guitars over the decades and this is my favorite so-far…very light weight (8 lbs), BIG neck profile, jumbo frets and some hot early patent number pups…I’ve been gigging it A LOT!

  3. RAB says:

    P.S. I agree that the ebony block ’61 ES-355 IS painfully cool!

  4. OK Guitars says:

    No doubt it isn’t the only one. I’ve been around a long time but I still haven’t seen more than a fraction of the 335/345/355s out there. I’ve owned 200 and seen another 500 to maybe 800 from 58-64, so that leaves a lot of them still out there that I don’t know about. There were somewhere around 5600 ES-335s made during that period. Add around 2400 345s and another 1500 355s and I’ve barely scratched the surface.

  5. chuckNC says:

    Keep on scratching, Charlie—I love coming to your site and finding a new post!

    Didn’t really like it at first but that ebony block 355 is growing on me. But I would like that tail setup even better on a Trini Lopez.

  6. RAB says:

    BTW, for those interested in learning more about the ’63 355 mono stoptail I sent a bunch of photos and detailed description (including a very interesting “back” story about the fiddle’s original owner) to Tom H. for his fine site! Hopefully Tom will be able to post that info soon!

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