ES-355. The Road Less Traveled.

This is the only mono big neck ES-355 I've had. I've had a number of 59 monos but most had a pretty thin neck-wide but thin front to back

This is the only mono big neck ES-355 I’ve had. I’ve had a number of 59 monos but most had a pretty thin neck-wide but thin front to back. This one had a 58 FON but a mid 59 serial. I know, the neck pickup is upside down.

I have a kind of love/hate relationship with ES-355’s. I’ve called them a “335 tarted up like a cheap hooker” but I’ve also called them a “335 in a red tuxedo”. Yes, they can be heavy (Bigsby with a sideways) or they can be relatively light (mono version with a stop tail-rare but not unheard of). Interestingly, the ones I find are generally in unusually good condition. There is a pretty good reason for this. In the 1960 catalog, an ES-335 cost (duh) $335. A 355 was not, however, $355. It was more like $675. In 2014 dollars, the 335 would be $2655 but the 355 would be $5350. That’s a lot even today but the comparison of the 335 and 355 is the more important point. Would you pay double the price for some fancy bindings, ebony board and real MOP inlays? OK, maybe the wood was a little higher quality but it’s still a plywood guitar. The guts are the same as is the quality of the construction, although I could make an argument there which I’ll do in another post. The original selling price has a lot to do with why you find them in such good shape so much more frequently than you find 335’s in great shape. Look at it this way…who could afford a $675 guitar in 1960? Adults, that’s who. An adult who spends that much on a high end guitar is more likely to take care of it than a kid who bugged his parents to buy him an electric guitar. More 355’s are still in the hands of the original owners or their families than 335’s. That usually means better care has been taken.  The same is probably true if you compare a vintage Rolls Royce to an old MG. High end stuff gets cared for. That’s just human nature.

ES-355’s are also less desirable these days than 335’s. Everybody knows that-just look at the prices for 59’s. A 59 335 Bigsby (apples to apples here) in 9.0 condition is currently over $30,000. A 59 ES-355 in the same condition would be more like $18K-maybe $22K if it has double white PAFs and is a mono rather than the SVT version. These are retail prices and vary greatly dealer to dealer. Selling prices and asking prices vary as well. But let’s look deeper. The big deal with 59’s is the neck. A great majority of the buyers want a 59 ES 3×5 for the big fat neck. The later 59 ES-335’s with the “transitional” neck are a lot harder to sell than the early ones. In fact, I can move a 58 with a big neck faster (and for at least as much money) as a thinner necked 59-even though the mere mention of the year ’59 seems to carry some voodoo magic for some. But most of you want the neck. And that’s a problem with 355’s. You see, they didn’t follow the same timeline as the 335s and 345s. You want a big fat neck 59 ES-355? Good luck. The 335’s and 345’s necks started thinning out in the Fall of 59. Many and perhaps most 335’s and 345’s in the A31xxx and later range have a medium to thin neck, although fat necks can be found (in my experience) as late as the early Spring of 60. I’m sure there are later ones-they were hand shaped and anything is possible. But a 59 ES-355 probably isn’t going to have a big neck because the folks at Gibson started thinning the necks on them much earlier, although I couldn’t tell you why. I’ve had perhaps a dozen 59 355’s and, so far, only two have had that big ol’ 59 neck we all want so much. One of those two had a 58 FON but a later serial A306xx. The other is in the late A29xxx range. The 58’s all have big necks but good luck finding one-they only made ten of them. There aren’t a whole lot of 59’s out there to begin with and finding one will probably take awhile. It’ll take even longer if you want a mono. But if you want a mono 59 with a big neck, you better have some real patience. It’s pretty close to a Holy Grail. Oh, and a mono 59 big neck stop tail? I’m speculating here but I think there may have been three of them made. I know of one. If you happen to have the other two, I’ll take both of them please.

This is the only stop tail 355 I've had. It's a 59 in the A314xx range. Nice guitar for sure but the neck was decidedly medium/thin.

This is the only stop tail 355 I’ve had. It’s a 59 in the A314xx range. Nice guitar for sure but the neck was decidedly medium/thin.


8 Responses to “ES-355. The Road Less Traveled.”

  1. Rod says:

    Could it be that as the 355 was MUCH less popular than the 335 Gibson didn’t make them for stock, only when they received an order? In which case the specification would be more up to date than a 335/345.

  2. Ollie says:

    Nice to see a bit more on 355’s. I agree with your idea that the higher cost meant people were more likely to keep em nice. My ’66 could almost pass for a new if it weren’t for the tarnished gold, I’ve probably put more wear on it in teo years than the previous owners had in forty something. Also, I’m still amazed by the love out there for the wide nuts and fat necks! There must be more people like me with stubby little fingers and hands who just can’t play the things!

  3. Rob says:

    I have small hands and relatively short fingers and the neck of my ’62 355 is perfect for me. About the same feeling as the ’69 Les Paul Custom I used to have. Of course the 355 frets are a bit larger. I just love that ebony.

  4. chuckNC says:

    Looks like somebody loved playin’ on that fat-neck ’59. I would too, I’ll just bet.

  5. Dave W. says:

    I love my thin-necked, mono, Bigsby’d 1965 355 just fine!

  6. RAB says:

    OH BOY, OH BOY, you know how much I love ES-355s! 355s sound great IMHO, a little different sound than other ES models due to the ebony fingerboard…a little more bite! They are know for playing the Blues but can Rock hard too (Rick Derringer used one for years). Yes, big neck ones are hard to find. There are some out there. For example, I owned a mint ’59 ES-355 mono that had a “ginormous” neck profile. It was serial number A3006X, double white PAFs. I sold it because I didn’t like the weight of the Bigsby. The neck was as big as the early, “first rack” ’59 ES-345 I had (and foolishly sold…) My ’63 355 mono/stop tailpiece has a pretty beefy neck albeit not of the famed ’59 big neck proportions but definitely enough to grab onto for those big Blues bends! Long live Classic Year 355s!

  7. Leeds says:

    Charlie is, as always, correct when he mentions the (ply)wood perhaps being of slightly higher quality. However, I’ve always enjoyed André Duchossoir’s “Gibson Electrics, Volume 1”, in which he somewhat breathlessly says of the 355, “According to Gibson’s introduction text, the one piece neck was made of Peruvian mahogany!”
    Duchossoir also mentions that mono versions cost $50 less than SVT versions, thus showing once again what a perverse bunch we are: we can get lovely red SVT/Bigsby (or side-to-side) tailpiece 355s all day long, but we want watermelon/stop/mono 😉
    (I still love plugging mine into two amps for that killer stereo sound!)

  8. RAB says:

    People may want a watermelon red, stop, mono classic year 355 but that fiddle is rarer than hen’s teeth, even if coin is no object!

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