It’s 1958. Duck and Cover!

Duck and Cover. It's the fifties and the cold war is raging. This is how they terrorized children back in the 50's.

Most readers aren’t going to remember 1958. Or “air raid drills”. Or “Duck and Cover”. I was 6 in 1958 and there was a cold war going on and people worried about the bomb. In some grade schools, they had you hide under your desk for the air raid drill. I guess they thought an atom bomb couldn’t penetrate an oak desk. In my school-New Lincoln Elementary (there was actually an “old” Lincoln) in Scotia, New York, an air raid drill meant going out into the hallway and standing by your locker with your coat over your head. I remember, at the age of six, asking the teacher why we had our coats over our heads. She said “to protect you from flying glass.” So I asked why we were in the hallway. She said “because there’s no glass out here.” The next question was obvious. “OK, then why do we have our coats over our heads?” The answer? “Shut up and put your coat over your head”. The nice folks at Gibson weren’t worried about the bomb. They were innovating like there was no tomorrow and, what with the bomb and all, there might actually not be a tomorrow. 1958 saw the introduction of the Flying V, The Explorer, The ES-335, the ES-355 and probably a few other cool things I’m forgetting about. If Ted McCarty, the president of Gibson and their über designer was worried about the bomb, it didn’t show, although you could argue that the V and the Explorer bombed at the time but that’s another story. I’ve had a few hundred ES-335s over the years but I’ve only had three 58’s. 58’s are different. There is no other year that is like them. The ears are different, the top is different, the headstock inlay is placed differently and the first ones don’t have a neck binding. The 58 I bought this week is one of the very first ones off the line and it gives me an opportunity to do a real close inspection. What strikes me first is how thin the top is. There’s some cracking around the jack which is really common. With only three plies instead of four, the plywood top is pretty fragile except where it has the center block running under it. That’s why you see all kinds of vertical cracks in so many 58’s that you just don’t see in other years. That’s the downside to a thinner top. The upside is a more resonant guitar. It takes less sonic energy to get the top moving and it gives the guitar that “woody” tone that is sometimes missing in later 335s. Many have a kind of banjo-ish tone when played unplugged. They still sound great plugged in but they have more in common with a solid body than a hollow body. And therein lies the paradox. The 335 was supposed to have the advantages of both but, in my opinion, the semi hollows have much more in common with a solid guitar than with a hollow body. I’ve had SG’s that sound like 335s but I’ve never had a 350 or a Byrdland that sounds like one. The 58 gets closer but still the balance tips toward the solid body when it comes to tone. The neck angle, which I’ve covered in detail, also comes into play. The angle was so shallow on the 58 that a special “low profile” ABR-1 was developed to get the action low enough. Many feel the shallow neck angle is why so many dot necks have the “magic” that block necks don’t. While I agree that the shallower angle guitars seem to be consistently better, there seem to be plenty of shallow angle block necks too. This has never been consistent-the neck angles are all over the place from 62-64. But there was a problem with the “low profile” ABR-1. Every single one I’ve ever seen has collapsed in the middle. It was just too thin to support the normal forces exerted by a set of medium gauge strings. Remember 10’s and 11’s didn’t even exist back then and G strings were wound (and were .26 gauge). So, they were swapped out once they collapsed. If you’re lucky, it’s still in the case but I can pretty much guarantee it isn’t on the guitar. I had a mint lefty 58 in the house a few months ago that looked like it had never been played but the original bridge was in the case looking like a rope bridge from an Indiana Jones movie. More to come.

WooHoo. Unbound 58 ES-335 A28100. You can see the sort of fat ears but there are a lot of things you won't see unless you get up close and personal.

Look how shallow that neck angle is. Nothing but fingerboard showing-sorry for the dust. How cool are those white side markers?


9 Responses to “It’s 1958. Duck and Cover!”

  1. chuckNC says:

    That’s a beaut, Charlie!

  2. RAB says:

    Yes, 1958 was a special and innovative year for the Kalamazoo folk! I recall buying (circa 1975) and then quickly turning a really early 1958 ES-335, possibly some sort of prototype. Cosmetically it looked much like the one you have in the photo. It had a super flat neck angle. What was unusual about it is it wasn’t factory drilled for a tuneomatic bridge nor stop tailpiece. When I purchased the guitar from a pawnshop in Phoenix, AZ it was unstrung. I surmised the guitar must have had some sort of archtop-type wooden bridge and a trapeze or rim-mounted Bigsby tailpiece (no holes in the top from a tailpiece). Or it may have had an “ES-225 style” bridge/tailpiece combination (also like what came on early Les Pauls). I think I have an old Polaroid photo of the guitar. Unfortunately I didn’t take any detailed photos of the butt-end rim to see if there were tailpiece holes.

  3. UnboundDotNeck says:

    Hey Charlie,
    Interesting, the red bleed on the top under-neath the black pickup rings.
    on your 58 , 335
    Mine too,

    See it also, on older blonde finished fender body from the 50’s
    behind the neck plate. Wierd, there is no red laquer on a blonde finish.

    Your thoughts ?


  4. UnboundDotNeck says:

    My 58 , 335 sn #

  5. OK Guitars says:

    I think it has to do with the black plastic on a Gibson. Some kind of chemical reaction with the components of the plastic. No idea on the Fenders.

  6. OK Guitars says:

    39 earlier than mine (28100). That could be the same run. As I understand it they would often do 40 at a time.

  7. Chris says:


    Hello All,

    My QUESTION is early ES-335 related in that I am asking for any information regarding ES-335 ‘Prototypes’…specifically regarding body thickness. I have a few early 1958 & 1959 EB-2’s (certainly bretheren of the wonderful ES-335 ;-). One that I have is definitely completely stock/original…however…this sunburst EB-2 has an entirely thicker body. The depth of the body is a good 1/4 to 1/2 of an inch thicker. Also the arch of the top & back are more pronounced making for an extremely thick EB-2!

    I remember hearing some where along the way that someone had an ES-335 with the same thick body trait. My QUESTION: Has anyone heard of these anomalies in an early ES-335? Could it be a sign if a ‘Prototype’ or maybe a ‘custom build’ from way back then?

    This bass has all the normal trademarks of an early EB-2…banjo tuners, black plastic cover pickup (not brown), etc.

    Any help would be appreciated!


    Chris (marauderman66)


  8. cgelber says:

    Body depth changed in the early 60’s and there is also a fair amount of variation even within a given year. Most 58-60 335’s are 1.65″ deep. There are variations but not as much as a quarter or half inch during the period. The range for 59 is 1.63″ to around 1.73″ That’s only 1/10″ of variation. By 61, the thickness starts creeping up to where the average reaches 1.77″ or so and may go as high as 1.81″. That still isn’t a quarter inch, though. The thick body bass could be a prototype or an employee instrument or even a special order. Gibson would do pretty much anything you could ask for back then. It certainly falls outside of the “normal” range for the era. I don’t see a lot of EB-2’s, so I don’t have the same experience with them as I do with the rest of the line.

  9. Chazguitar says:

    I’ll post a picture after taxes are done – I have a one-off 335 from 1968 with a 3″deep body. This is almost 2 years before the ES-150, but is essentially the same construction, sans the master volume. Great guitar, in near mint condition.

Leave a Reply

Optionally add an image (JPEG only)