Last of the Really Good Ones

68 saw the introduction of the less than wildly popular walnut finish. Just ‘cuz George played a brown guitar doesn’t make it a good marketing tool.

We covered 66 and 67, so let’s look at 68. Why am I calling 68 the last of the good ones? Weren’t 69’s pre Norlin and pretty much the same as a 68? Yes, the earliest ones are but most of them aren’t, so the last good full year for the 335 is 1968. There were a lot of changes in 69 and none of them were good. But 68 saw some changes as well and some weirdness too.

I’m really not sure why Gibson didn’t leave well enough alone sometimes. They must never had heard the old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, axiom. Interestingly, some of the changes in 68 were improvements-most, however, were not. The cutaways got more rounded again-not exactly Mickey Mouse ears but still, a good step towards that. There were some other, less obvious changes as well. The f-holes got bigger and they look a little strange to my eye. They also used two different logos over the course of the year. The usual logo-same a 67 and the one they call a “pantograph” logo which has a more streamlined look and is actually pretty rare but you do see them on occasion. 68 saw the addition of the “boob” logo (I have to stop calling it that-someone is going to complain, I just know it) to the guard. Also, a pretty rare sight but always, it seems, on a 68.

A new color was introduced called “walnut”. I’m guessing they were responding to the massive sales of the walnut colored Gretsch Country Gentleman but apparently didn’t realize that the reason Gretsch sold so many wasn’t because it was brown but because George played one. I don’t know exactly how well the walnut 335’s sold but I can tell you this: You can’t give ’em away now. It is, by some margin, the hardest 335 to sell. Perfectly good guitar but I don’t want them and, unless you plan to keep it forever, you don’t want them. There was also “sparkling burgundy” which was Gibson’s version of candy apple red. It didn’t look bad when it was new but it fades to a pretty awful pinkish copper color. 68 was big year for it though.

Some things were transitioned in. Surprisingly, a lot of 68’s still have pre T-tops. Everybody thinks t-tops were the norm from 65 on but they absolutely were not. You can still find pre T’s as late as 69 but not very often. But a 68 with pre t-tops is pretty typical. Of course, all the nickel parts were gone by 68. You might find a nickel pickguard bracket on a 68 but most were chrome. The tuners didn’t change-still Kluson double line double ring but the “Gibson Deluxe” version seems to have started showing up in late 68 or maybe early 69. It was virtually the same tuner with a different name, so it isn’t a big deal either way. The knobs, guard and truss cover were the same as 67.

I do have to point out a pet peeve of mine when it comes to 68’s. The guitarhq website which is incredibly detailed and informative (and I learned a whole lot from) still says that Gibson went back to the 1 11/16″ nut in 68. They increased the profile to a chunkier depth but the nut width, alas, stayed at 1 9/16″. I still get emails from readers who insist they want a 68 because of the nut width and I have to explain that they will be looking for a wide nut 68 for a very long time because there simply aren’t any. OK, you can buy a 68 Johnny Smith and it will have a wide nut but not a 335, 345 or 355.

At the end of the day, a 68 is a really well made, excellent sounding guitar. Yes, Gibson was still cranking them out much faster than in earlier years but the build quality was still good and the tone was as well. Pre T tops and t-tops are very decent sounding pickups. You might find them a little bright and a little thin compared to a PAF or early patent but they really can be good (and consistent). The hardest thing for me to deal with is the narrow nut and, to be honest, that’s the only reason I don’t buy them. I do take them in trade as long as they aren’t walnut.

I should stop calling this the “boob” logo and come up with another name although that’s what it looks like, so excuuuuse me. This is a 335 -12 string which was still a pretty popular seller in 68.


17 Responses to “Last of the Really Good Ones”

  1. Larry says:

    Hey, I owned a walnut 335 in the 90’s. Mine was from the early/mid 70’s, but looked identical what is seen in your picture. I like that finish color a lot. It looks good on a 70’s Telecaster Custom also.

  2. RAB says:

    Ugh, walnut! Boo! And boo to the too big f-holes too!

  3. Gus says:

    when I was a teenager in the 90s I had an old video of BB King playing a walnut 355 at Rumble In The Jungle. For that reason, I always thought they were cool and have kinda wanted one ever since.

  4. okguitars says:

    Nothing wrong with a walnut 335 as a player. Just don’t expect it to become a valuable collectible. It isn’t going to happen. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not next year. Not ever. You can quote me.

  5. jazz_etc says:

    I’m really enjoying your latest posts, thanks for that! Any chance you’ll be covering the ’69 and ’70 models as well at some point? My main guitar is a cherry 1970 335 still with the orange logo. I love it dearly and play it almost every day, but then I’ve never tried an earlier vintage 335 so probably I just don’t know what I’m missing…

  6. DavidK says:

    I’ve always disliked walnut finish 335s. But I just challenged myself to consider how much my perception is about sheer aesthetics and whether it’s more about the association of that finish with the decline in quality during the ‘walnut-era’.

    If Gibson had produced 71 walnut 335s in 59 instead of 71 blondes would I find walnut quite so aesthetically unattractive? Perhaps not……………

    Despite such hypothetical musing I still don’t want one in the house!!!!!

  7. RAB says:

    Gulp! My plans to corner the market on walnut ES models dashed in a flash! Ha, ha!

  8. Nelson Checkoway says:

    Another thing that makes 1968 a watershed year: not only the last full year without the neck volute (I think those crept in during the course of 1969) but also the last full year of the long neck tenon – which seems to be a pretty significant structural advantage over the “short tenon” (really “no tenon”) introduced in the ’69 models. BTW, I’m with you on walnut – didn’t like it then, don’t like it now!

  9. okguitars says:

    I don’t think so. I won’t buy a brown car either.

  10. okguitars says:

    Probably not 70’s but I might do one on 69’s. 70’s aren’t all bad but they made some really ill advised changes in the 70’s that make them sound like something other than a 335 (like only half a center block-that probably saved them fifty cents per guitar

  11. Steve Newman says:

    Great article, as usual, Charlie. Just 3 examples of incredible players using the “inferior” late sixties 335 models…Larry Carlton, Robben Ford, Drew Zingg. These world class players can play any instrument they choose, including any one off custom made guitar they can envision. And they do play different models/brands occasionally. But they all have made their main “number one” instrument a guitar from the “bad” late sixties 335 era.

  12. RAB says:

    And think how great those legendary players would sound on a Golden Era ES!

  13. Steve Newman says:

    RAB, you are missing my point. For example, Mr. Carlton has used and recorded with ’50’s holy grail model strats and telecasters, TV yellow Les Paul, several custom made Valley Arts instruments, the famous sunburst ’59 L.P., and has owned and used several original dot neck and block neck golden era 335s. He PREFERS his famous ’69 over all others, along with an almost identical sister 335 as a backup that was more recently acquired from a fan. Robben Ford has used numerous dot and early 60’s 335s, but has used later 60’s ES instruments for the last decade or so almost exclusively. His current favorite is a stop tailed ’67 or ’68 Epiphone Riviera with mini hums and narrow nut. Drew Zingg still plays his famous walnut 335 (also stop tailed) that he has used with Steely Dan, Boz Scaggs, etc. to the present day. Some very evolved and critical players don’t necessarily buy into the premise that Golden Era equates to better sounding/playing instruments. If they did, they would be using them. We all have our personal preferences, and I certainly admire and lust after the Golden Era 3×5 models, but it ain’t the arrow, it’s the Indian.

  14. okguitars says:

    You do me an injustice here, Steve. I don’t recall ever having called late 60’s 335’s “inferior” and certainly not in this post. Here’s a quote from this post: At the end of the day, a 68 is a really well made, excellent sounding guitar. I call 70’s 335’s inferior all the time and I stand by that assessment but the only thing that makes a late 60’s less desirable to me (at least until early 69) is the narrow nut. I simply don’t play as well on them. If you have no problem with a 1 9/16″ nut, then, by all means, save yourself some serious money and buy a 65-69 335. Just don’t buy a walnut one if you ever want to sell it.

  15. RAB says:

    To each his or her own! At the end of the day it’s all about what floats your musical boat and inspires you to make beautiful music!

  16. Steve Newman says:

    Charlie, no disrespect to you intended. I know you have never referred to the late ’60’s 335s as inferior. I think that is the perception of a lot of people in the market, when comparing them to the more popular pre-’65 models. The point I was making “and think how great those legendary players would sound on a Golden Era ES”, is that those players have already tried those instrument, used them professionally, and have opted instead to use ES 3×5 guitars outside of the Golden Era timeline, for their own personal reasons. If anything, I am reinforcing the position that those later ’60’s models can be as musically valid as their earlier counterparts in tone and playability. Personally, I prefer the wider nut spacing, neck profiles and aesthetics of those earlier models, as I think most people do.

  17. RAB says:

    Steve, I hear you. Frankly a fine player can make music on any git-box! The magic is in the fingers, heart and soul!

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