Keeping up your Guard

Long guard on my all time favorite 59. Note that it extends past the bridge and that the bevel is wide and the lower white layer is wider than the upper one. This becomes important later. there will be a quiz.

OK, a pickguard isn’t the most interesting part of your guitar but on ES-335s and 345s it can be a pretty expensive one. It can also tell you a lot about when your guitar was made. We’ve been through some of this-but not all of it so don’t bail on me. First of all, who pays well in excess of $1000 for a piece of plastic? Answer: anybody who needs a long pickguard for a 58-60 ES-335 or 345. Yes, it seems silly but considering the Les Paul crazies will pay close to $5000 for one pickup ring makes us ES types a little less crazy. The long pickguard which extends to the bottom of the bridge was used from the beginning until late 1960. If you have a late 60 ES-345, there is a pretty good chance it will have a short guard. Late 60 ES-335s are less likely to have them but I wouldn’t rule it out. I’ve never had one but I’m sure they exist. So, how do you know someone didn’t steal the long guard off that late 60 and substitute a short guard. After all, a short guard will “only” cost you $400 or so (still a lot of money for a piece of plastic). Look underneath the guard at the mounting block-the thing that the bracket screws into. If its been moved and reglued, the guitar probably had a different guard at some point. The angle that the bracket comes off the guard is different on a long guard than it is on a short guard so if somebody swapped the long for short, they would have to rotate the block slightly and reglue it. Sneaky bastards. Gibson is generally inconsistent during transition periods and the transition from long guard to short was no different. There are late 60 ES’s with short guards and early 61’s with long guards-especially 345’s for some reason. It all sorts out within a few months but it gets confusing. The next pickguard change came in 1967 when they switched from the wide bevel short guard to a narrower bevel. There are some “in-between” bevels as well-not quite wide and not quite narrow just in case you thought this was going to be easy. It’s pretty easy to tell the wide bevel from the narrow. It’s also a fairly quick transition from wide to narrow. You’ll find most 67’s have the narrow bevel with only a few early ones getting the wide version. There’s another odd one out there as well. I call it the “upside down” version. The way I see it, the guys (or women) who cut out the guards had a big sheet of 5 ply plastic-black on the top and bottom and black in the middle with unequal depth white plies between the black ones. Well, it would seem that every once in a while, somebody would cut a sheet of plastic into guards upside down. I’m sure they looked just fine but over the years, they tend to warp backwards. Instead of dishing like 99% of them do-that is, the middle gets lower than the edges, these “upside down” guards bow upward. I’ve only seen two upside down guards so far-one on a 66 and one on a 64. They also tend to be overly shiny which must be a function of the difference in the finish of the back versus the front. The difference in price between a narrow bevel short guard and a wide bevel is pretty significant as well. A wide bevel short guard should cost you around $400 while a narrow bevel will be around $100. A bit more if you are looking for the rare “boob” logo guard that showed up for a minute in 1968. The pickguard is a pretty handy way to tell if a guitar is a 66 or a later one since the serial numbers are so screwy during the period. 66’s always have a wide bevel guard or so it seems from my experience. 67’s almost always have a narrow bevel-it’s an unusually consistent feature for Gibson. Useful. too. Very often 66’s and 69’s share a serial number, so the presence of a wide bevel guard is a good indicator of which year it is. There are other “tells”, of course and you should look at all of them. After all, how hard is it to change out a pick guard? Also, you should be aware that the guard on an ES-355 is a completely different animal. And the timeline is a bit different. We’ll look at that next.

These are both wide bevel guards but the one on the left was cut from a sheet of plastic that was upside down. You can see that it has warped convex as opposed to "dishing"like most of them do. You can also see that the wide white ply is the upper one on the "upside down"guard and the lower one on the normal guard.


Here's a narrow bevel guard with the rare "boob" logo and a shameless plug for my bud Kyle at Vintage Correct Parts. Most of them don't have the logo. Only some 68's as far as I can tell.

4 Responses to “Keeping up your Guard”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, I definitely learned something this go-around! I never appreciated the fact that the white layers in long guards were of differing thickness. Was this also the case for short guards (or maybe I missed that?) Very interesting about the guards made from the “upside-down” sheets of plastic! Looking forward to the next installment on ES-355 guards. And maybe a third chapter on Epiphone guards? (smile…)

  2. moxie50 says:

    Thanks for all the times you include stuff about the ’66’s, it makes us feel like we belong!

  3. banksy says:

    I have a tortoise guard that was sold to me as an original gibson part. It dosen’t have the plastic block on the back and appears to be only 4 ply, w/b/w/tortoise. Have I been conned. The website is fasinating by the way.

  4. OK Guitars says:

    The plastic block probably was never attached-a NOS part wouldn’t have the block attached because it has to be angled to match the angle of the bracket. the binding is another story, however. I don’t get to see a lot of later ones but all the 355s I’ve ever had have the w-b-w-b-w five ply binding.

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