“First Rack” ES 345’s Database

First black 345 made. Also, one of three black “first rack” 345’s.

If you aren’t an ES geek, this will be meaningless. If you are, it will be mildly interesting. If you own one of these, you’ll get it. I’ve written about “first rack” ES-345’s before. You can find that post here. If you’re too lazy to read that post, here’s what we’re talking about:

The term itself is a bit of a misnomer to begin with. It was, as far as I know, coined by Gil Southworth of Southworth Guitars and refers to what were thought to be the first three “racks” of ES-345’s. These April 59 guitars have distinctive characteristics that set them apart from all later ones. The very first 345’s (which are included in the database and have an asterisk next to them) were built in late 1958 (“T” FON). They have the same characteristics as the others and may have been prototypes later shipped in February 1959. Two are known and a third with a 58 FON and an April serial number is also included.

A “rack” is usually a grouping of 35 guitars, usually the same model, that move through the various stages of assembly together-literally rolled around the factory on a rack. They are stamped at the beginning of the process with a number-usually in the treble side F-fole. It is a letter and a three four digit number followed by a space and another 1 or two digit number. The letter designates the year-backwards alphabetical-“T” is 58, “S” is 59, “R” is 60, “Q” is 61 and then they stopped using them. The first number is (supposedly) a chronological designation starting at 100 and going to 9999 and starting again. A lot of numbers don’t seem to exist and there is some strange overlap between years. The last number is the “rank” or the number of the particular guitar. Each of the 35 guitars gets a unique rank number from 1-35 (or more in some cases). Clear as mud, right?

So why three “first racks”? Because these three racks (plus the “T” FON outliers) have a bunch of distinctive characteristics that later 345’s don’t have. As far as I know all of them have a very large neck profile, at least .90″ at the first fret and .99″ or more at the 12th fret. All have a small rout for the chokes rather than the fully cut center block of later 345’s. Some have wax potting around the choke, some don’t. All have a “short leg” PAF in the bridge position to accommodate the choke. Later 345’s had the rout deep enough to accommodate a normal PAF. Assuming each rack had the requisite 35 guitars, there are approximately 105 first rack 345’s plus the 3 outliers and one black 335 that was probably intended to be a black 345 but someone needed a black 335 probably for a special order and built it as such. It has the 345 rout but no other 345 features. Oddly, it didn’t ship until much later in the year. Two of the black 345’s from those racks also shipped much later.

This is what I have so far. I’ve owned most of these at some point and some were sent to me by owners. If you have a 345 from one of these racks, please let me know and I will include it. I have noted the FON, serial, model, year shipped, color, tailpiece configuration and any miscellaneous information I have. All have black Varitone rings. Some are missing the FON but were surely “first rack”.

*T7303-16 A29132 ES-345 1959 SB Bigs/dots
*T7303-9 A29133 ES-345 1959 SB S/T
S8539-xx A29656 ES 345 1959 NAT S/T wht/z
S8539-5 A29662 ES 345 1959 SB S/T
S8539-20 A29663 ES 345 1959 SB S/T B/B
S8539-21 A29664 ES 345 1959 AG Bigs/dots
A29666 ES 345 1959 SB S/T
S8539-15 A29667 ES 345 1959 SB S/T
S8539-18 A29674 ES-345 1959 Black
S8538-3 A29714 ES 345 1959 SB S/T B/B
A29761 ES 345 1959 NAT S/T
S8538-28 A29769 ES 345 1959 SB S/T RZ/RZ
S8538-5 A29808 ES 345 1959 SB Bigs/dots w/rz
S8538-34 A29822 ES 345 1959 SB S/T
*T7443 A29823 ES 345 1959 SB S/T Singlebound
S8537-14 A29845 ES-345 1959 SB S/T B/B
S8537-12 A29846 ES 345 1959 SB S/T
S8537-29 A29849 ES-345 1959 SB S/T B/Z
S8537-7 A29914 ES 345 1959 SB S/T
S8537-9 A29952 ES 345 1959 SB S/T
S8537-32 A29958 ES 345 1959 SB S/T Z/W
S8539-29 A30576 ES 345  1959 Black S/T Added Bigs
S8538-31 A30589 ES 345  1959 Black S/T
S8537-5 A31302 *ES 335 1959 Black  


“Mystery” 335

This shows the shallow rout for the choke, wax potting and the short leg PAF (top one).

10 Responses to ““First Rack” ES 345’s Database”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, wonderful discussion. I miss my first rack 345 everyday. A29663, had a full white in the neck position. Huge neck as you note. Sounded like the angels. Near mint too! But I had convinced myself that the Varitone sucked tone so I sold it to get a ‘61 dot 335. The 335 was inferior to the 345 in every way…RAB

  2. Philippe says:

    Thanks RAB for your personal experience regarding 345 varitone vs 335.
    Electronics is a point, wood construction another.

    I stay dazzled with the great finds of charles…
    I believe this 345 black 59 stop tail is as a gold investment.

  3. Steve Newman says:

    Great post, Charlie; all the information and the nuances to help understand the significance of those first rack 345s. Just out of curiosity, do the very early and super rare 335 models that happened to be built with Varitones installed have the same construction as the 345 models (shallow choke routes, short leg pickups, minimal center block modification)? Or were existing 335s modified for the Varitone? Though not a first rack era guitar, there is a great YouTube video of J. D. Simo demonstrating a ’62 block neck 335 Mono Varitone @ Carter’s Vintage in Nashville. The vast majority of Varitone equipped ES guitars seem to have been factory wired in stereo, so the mono versions have to be incredibly small in number.

  4. Michael Minnis says:

    Great post, Charlie. A topic near and dear to my heart. I love my first rack 345. I bought it not knowing anything about first racks. As you know, it’s included in your database. It’s a very special instrument that I will never sell. I hope some other first rack owners who aren’t in the database share their information with you.

  5. RAB says:

    Michael smart, RAB dumb!

  6. James says:

    Wow, the ears on that 345 are the perfect shape in my opinion. Great post Charlie, it’s nice to have an expert close by in CT.

  7. MDP says:

    What about the FON S 608 X and Serial: A 325XX – Awaiting your kind feedback, Very best, M

  8. okguitars says:

    Not a first rack. We’ve spoken about this one via email a long time ago. Serial A325xx is actually a 60 with a 59 FON. Not a prototype, not a first rack, not even a 59 if, like me, you go by the serial number.

  9. Gilbert Southworth says:

    RAB ~ yeah, that was a good one

  10. RAB says:

    Cool Gil, thanks for selling A29663 to me. If only I’d been smart enough to keep it! In the meantime I saw it for sale years later where the double white neck pup had, by then, mysteriously turned to double black, ha, ha! My current first rack 345 is a decent replacement…

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