Bound for Glory

Here's a 59 ES-355 I had a while back which illustrates the fancy ES-355 7 ply (count 'em) binding around the top. You can also see the tortoise guard with its added binding. Finally, you can see how yellow the bindings get with age from the yellowing of the lacquer. Compare that to the binding on the 2007 Historic down at the bottom.

Most players don’t give a whole lot of thought to the bindings on a guitar. Usually, they’re white and they turn yellow with age. End of story. But, whether you care or not, the bindings are one of the things that set the ES models apart from each other. The ES-335 at the bottom of the ES semi hollow line have a single ply binding top and back. The earliest 335s didn’t even have a bound fingerboard but that was remedied fairly early on during the early part of 1958. All ES models have the same binding on their fingerboards-single ply with little nibs at each fret and tortoise dot markers in the usual locations. As you move up the scale, the bindings get fancier and the price gets higher (and the hardware and circuits change, etc.).

Oooh, mint 60 ES-345. I particularly like the three ply top binding. Classes it up without looking like a ten dollar hooker.

The middle of the line ES-345 has a 3 ply white/black/white binding on the top and a single ply binding on the back. The additional black stripe in the body binding classes it up a bit without being ostentatious. Did somebody say ostentatious? ¬†Well, the ES-355 at the top of the line has its detractors (tarted up like a cheap whore, pimpmobile guitar, etc) but I like the over the top 7 ply binding on the top of a 355. Five ply wasn’t enough for these somewhat overpriced instruments…it had to be seven. w/b/w/b/w/b/w is how it goes with the black layers being very thin. The back gets the 3 ply binding that the top of the 345 uses (waste not, want not, I guess). The 355 also gets the bound headstock which no other ES semi has as well as a bound pickguard. The neck binding is the same as the rest of the line which is kind of surprising considering how fancy some of the neck bindings are on the high end archtops. The 60 Byrdland I sold a while back has a 5 ply (it might even be 6) neck binding. Something worth pointing out is that these bindings really were white-not the beige off white that Gibson uses now. The binding were made of a plastic called Royalite which is still available both in white and off white. One of the things that makes “reissue” and “Historic” guitars look like reissue guitars is the bindings. The color is solid beige. When a vintage ES ages, the lacquer which started off clear on the white bindings, turns yellow, making the bindings look aged and yellow. The blonde Historics with their beige bindings just look wrong. It seems like it would make more sense to use an amber lacquer over white than to use a beige binding. Probably costs an extra $1.75 per guitar to do that. Take a look at a really well played vintage 335, 345 or 355. You’ll see that the areas of heavy wear on the bindings are often pure white. You could wear the binding right off a Historic and it would still be beige. Yeah, it’s one of those things that Gibson could easily get right but they just figure that nobody notices. Granted, you probably never paid all that much attention to the bindings on your ES either but aren’t glad somebody does?

You wanna see some fancy bindings? This is my old 60 Byrdland. Them's some real purty bindings. Makes your 335 look a little sad, doesn't it? Like the girl who shows up at the prom in pants.

Yuk. You call these "Historic"? They look even worse on the red ones.


12 Responses to “Bound for Glory”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, I love the title of this posting! And I am also a fan of the “fancy features” of the 355! Interestingly, I had an early ’59 ES-355 mono (A300XX) that was somewhat of an anomaly in that it had 7 ply binding around the BACK as well as the top! Maybe this was a late Friday afternoon or early Monday morning build, eh?

  2. OK Guitars says:

    The title is always my favorite part of the process.

  3. Gary S. Gay says:

    Ironically, Gibson gets the binding color correct on the Les Paul Custom and ES-355 reissues, as well as the acoustic guitars from Bozeman. It seems to be only the Les Paul and SG Standards and reissues and ES-335s that are saddled with that disgusting beige binding. Apparently, Gibson bought a lifetime supply of that stuff 30 years ago and is determined to use it up.

  4. OK Guitars says:

    Seems that way. We know they CAN do it right. They apparently simply don’t choose to do it right.

  5. chuckNC says:

    My 355 is a total pimpmobile guitar. And no true pimpmobile would be complete without a hood ornament. That’s what a Maestro is really all about. It sets the tone, man.

  6. OK Guitars says:

    Interesting take. Makes a better hood ornament than it does a trem.

  7. RAB says:

    ‘nuther comment on 355 fancy binding. I recall I’ve seen a couple 355s with binding around the F-holes. Do you think that was factory original (the rest of the guitar looked jake) or was it most likely added by a luthier after the fact?

  8. Rob says:

    I have a ’62 ES 355 with bound F-holes. I have never seen another old one with bound F-holes.

  9. OK Guitars says:

    I know your guitar (it’s on Tom’s site) and I’ve always been fascinated by it. I’ve seen one other with bound f-holes (a 61) but it was many years ago and I now believe they may have been aftermarket. The fact that yours is sunburst with bound f-holes means it has to be a factory custom. How did you come by it and do you know its history?

  10. rob says:

    My father gave it to me about ten years before he died. It was the last electric he kept having given me most of his others in previous years. I left home in late 1967 and don’t recall him having it then but he may have kept it hidden since he considered it his premiere instrument. I have some photos of him playing it in what appear to be the mid to late 1970’s and it appears as it is now with the pickup covers gone and the bound F holes. I have not had it black-lighted but the bindings are single ply and appear to have aged (yellowed) as nicely as the rest of the bindings leading me to believe that if it was not done at the factory, it was done shortly after it left the nest.

  11. OK Guitars says:

    Everybody (including me) took off the covers in the 70’s. I believe yours left the factory with the bound f-holes. Some close up photos would make it clearer. Also, I’d love to feature it in a post if you can send me some hi rez photos.

  12. rob says:

    I will gladly send you some better shots than I provided to Tom for his website. I will also loosen the strings, unscrew the pickup rings and shot closeups of their bottoms. I’m pretty sure that my father bought his guitars at small local music stores (well that’s all there were back then) including one on Main Street in Lansdale, PA, and Willard Green’s shop in Green Lane farther out in the sticks.

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