Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes 1961

An early 61 looks a lot like a late 60 because an early 61 is the same as a late 60.Most of the changes straddled late 60 and early 61.

In the dot neck universe, the 1961 ES-335 is kind of the red headed stepchild. The reputation is not deserved. There really isn’t all that much difference between a 1959 and a 1961 ES-335 but the 59 will cost nearly twice what the 61 will cost you. What is it that makes the 61 so very inexpensive compared to the other years? Well, mostly, it’s a change that actually occurred in 1960.

As noted in the last post, there were some significant changes that were put in place in late 1960 and these changes are more associated with 1961 than 1960. Because most 60 335’s have the long guard, the general perception is that the short guard is a 61 thing. Same goes for the very thin neck profile and the white switch tip. In fact, there weren’t a whole lot of changes that actually were implemented in 1961. Like the transition from 59 to 60, the transition from 60 to 61 was marked by…nothing. A late 60 is the same as an early 61.

There are long guard 61’s (not many) and there are 61’s with the amber catalin switch tip. As with most changes, they are phased in over time and the timeline in this case happens to straddle the end of the year and the beginning of the next. So, what changed during the year? The most significant change, I think, was in the pickups. They are still PAFs but 1961 marked the change from the long magnet version (A2 or A4) to the short (A5) magnet. You can probably find a 60 with a short magnet and I don’t make a habit of opening sealed PAFs but it is my best guess that the change occurred in early 61. There really isn’t that big a difference between long and short magnet PAFs-the shorter magnet is to keep the strength the same-an A5 is stronger than an A2 or A4. I find short magnet PAFs to be more consistent than long magnet but that may be due more to changes in the winding machine technology.

I think the biggest reason for the 1961 335’s relatively low price is the neck profile. In 1961, the guitar playing public was showing a preference for thinner “faster” necks and Fender, as far as sales were concerned, was eating Gibson’s lunch. Player preference has been for larger necks for a number of years now but some of that is simply “mines bigger than yours” macho BS from online forum posters who probably have never owned a 61 (or a 59) ES-335. When folks come into my shop to play multiple 335’s, the response to the big neck 59’s is “you got anything a little smaller?” It seems that when the money is on the table, the slimmer neck seems to suddenly become more palatable (and it saves you some serious money).  The 61 neck is really slim front to back-the fingerboard is still 1 11/16″ wide. There is so little wood between the truss rod and the back of the neck that even a slight over tightening of the truss rod can cause a hairline crack-usually right down the middle of the back of the neck extending from the third fret to the seventh fret. It’s an easy repair and it doesn’t cause long term problems but it’s something you should look for and be aware of. For the record, the 61 neck is pretty easy to play on. For anyone switching from a 60’s Fender, the 61 should feel pretty good. It’s not that far off from a mid 60’s Strat profile.

The 335 was intended to be a relatively low line instrument and it was considerably less expensive than the big Gibson arch tops and just over half the price of the ES-355 which is really a 335 with fancy appointments and an ebony board. That explains the cheap dot markers (which their lowest priced guitars all had) and the plastic strap buttons. In 1961, I guess they decided they could spend an extra 5 cents per guitar and upgrade the strap buttons to metal. Not a big change and, like most, it seems to have been phased in over time. It’s hard to know exactly when this occurred because a lot of the plastic ones broke and were replaced by metal over the years. It seems to have been implemented in early 61 or very late 60.

Another 1961 change doesn’t affect the guitars at all-it’s the case. Early 61’s still have the brown with pink lined case. The black with yellow case was phased in at some point probably during the first quarter. Most 61’s I’ve had have the black case. Most have the leather covered metal handle and have the Gibson badge. There are Liftons (label inside) with a heavy leather handle and the heavier textured covering but they are also black with yellow.

The only other change to occur in 1961 is not terribly significant. In 1961, the serial numbers beginning with the letter “A” were abandoned and after serial number A36147. Supposedly, the next serial number was 100 but I don’t think that’s right. I think they started at 1000. I’ve owned a lot of 61’s and I’ve never seen a three digit serial number. Correct me if I’m wrong, please. Also, at this time, Gibson started stamping the serial number into the back of the headstock as they do now. There were some odd transitional serials where an “A” serial is shown on the label but a different all digit serial shows up on the headstock. Go figure. Lastly, 61 marked the end of the factory order number. At some point in early 61 they simply stopped. The letter “Q” is the prefix for 61 but I’ve seen very few of them.

If you want a red dot neck, a 61 is very nearly your only option. There are fewer than 30 from 58-60 but over 400 in 1961. It’s not the old red that fades so beautifully. In fact, the later red often fades toward brown which is not so attractive. On the other hand an unfaded 61 in red can be stunning.

12 Responses to “Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes 1961”

  1. Erwin says:

    I have a 355TDW mono no VT, from 1969 with a FON, with in the F-hole (treble side) this marking (in blue ink): I1099-.
    FON supposed to stop after 1961? Or didn’t keep Gibson records after 1961 of FON’s?

    Greetings, Erwin

  2. okguitars says:

    There is no record of Gibson using FON’s during that era. If they did, a 69 would have been designated by the letter “I”, so maybe they did use them for a time in the late 60’s/ early 70’s or maybe somebody thought it would be clever to add a credible FON in their guitar. I don’t see very many late 60’s 335’s so I don’t have a large sample to compare.

  3. RAB says:

    I had a ’61 335 (serial number 1000X) that had the skinny neck profile but was a good sounding fiddle. Quite a lightweight example too!

  4. Rod Allcock says:

    Always vaguely wondered why the cutout in the pickguard for the neck pickup was always neatly done but the cutout for the bridge pickup was always oversized.

  5. Erwin says:

    Dropped the same question at Gibson their reply was,
    did Gibson do stuff like that?

    Hi Erwin,

    The I does not look like an I to me, to me it looks like two times 1, which makes it a normal serial number, referring to 1961.

    Serial number 814235 would indeed refer to 1969. Maybe it’s an older body that they still had at the factory and they attached the neck in 1969?

    I have attached the specs of this model, taken from the Gruhns Guide to Vintage Guitars, maybe these will help you further as well.

    Kind regards,

  6. Steve Newman says:

    RAB, check my ’61 stop/Bigsby on the “335” header section of this websites homepage.

  7. okguitars says:

    Perfectly reasonable question. I have no reasonable answer. I could guess that they made the template over sized because there is more variation in the location of the rout for the bridge pickup than there is for the neck pickup. I could also guess that they were simply lazy and sloppy.

  8. RAB says:

    Steve, your red ’61 335 is beautiful! I had one that looked just like it including the Bigsby and Custom Made plaque. S/N was in the 10,000 range IIRC. Cost me $300 including a nice black pebble case, Berkeley CA circa 1970! RAB

  9. Butch says:

    I have a 69 ES 345TDC-SV with a FON and a Brazilian board?

  10. Erwin says:

    In the comment above I mentioned my ES355 with the extra number and I always thought the first marking was a letter, but seeing Butch message it must be a digit: so it must be 11099.
    That makes sense because on the post ”ES FON Home”(2014) there is a comment of a 1968 ES-330 with 10693, Butch has a ES 345 with 12157 and mine should fit there in between. So it’s not a ‘real’ FON in trad. sense but…..another kind of numbering beside the serial numbers.
    Maybe there are more out there…..?
    note: fonts are different!

  11. Butch says:

    I’m not sure that the fonts are all that different, I would say it’s more that the numbers on mine are more firmly and clearly stamped.

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