Wait. Weight (Don’t Tell Me)

Early block neck 335’s (62-63) with the cut center block seem to be the lightest of the ES models (unless you count the full hollow 330). The lightest of them are just over 7 lbs. Thin top 58’s and 59’s can get pretty close to 7 lbs as well. By 64 and later, the body got thicker by a fraction of an inch and these guitars tend to hover around 8 to 8.5 pounds. There are always exceptions because the moisture content of the wood is a big factor and it varies wildly.

What’s the most frequent question I get about a guitar that I’m selling? Not just ES guitars but just about every guitar. Is it “How does it sound?” How does it play?” “Is the neck straight and does the truss rod work?” Nope. These are all very important questions but they aren’t the questions I get first. Maybe it’s because so many of my buyers are over 50. Maybe it’s because the Les Paul guys are so obsessed with it. It’s “How much does it weigh?” Seem odd to you? It sure seems odd to me. Yes, if your playing 4 hour gigs and you have a bad back or shoulder, a lighter guitar is going to make a difference. The question is one of balance. Not just the balance of the guitar (“does it dive?”) but of the qualities that make a guitar the right guitar for you.

I would argue that the weight of the guitar has very little to do with the tone with most guitars. After all, most electrics are a solid slab of wood with a neck attached. Some wood is more resonant than other wood but it isn’t directly tied to weight. I could argue that moisture content and weight are related and that moisture content and resonance are related but we’re talking ounces here. Most folks don’t care off the guitar is 8 lbs 2 ounces or 8 lbs 12 ounces. They care if it’s over 8 lbs or under 8 lbs. Or over 9 lbs or under 9 lbs. The round numbers seem to be the important ones with most buyers (especially the Les Paul guys). But, seeing as I’m not a Les Paul blog, I’m going to leave the Les Paul guys alone.

ES-335’s fall into a fairly narrow range as far as weight goes. We’ll leave the stereo guitars (345’s and some 355’s) out of the mix-the Varitone circuit weighs about 10 ounces. We’ll leave out Bigsby’s for the moment as well-they weigh around 13 ounces. A stop tail 335 will average around 7 lbs 12 ounces. Early ones tend to be a bit lighter and later ones bit heavier. There are variations in the specs that have an effect on this and those variations actually do affect the tone but it’s the design elements that make the difference and not the actual weight. Let me explain.

At some point in 1961, they started cutting a section out of the center block to make the installation of the harness easier. They did it on some guitars but not all of them. I’ve never figured out why. Most 61’s don’t have the cutout. Most 64’s do. Nearly all 65’s do. Maybe a third of the 62’s have the cut block. All 345’s have it to accommodate the VT choke. It knocks a few ounces off the weight but it also makes the guitar slightly more resonant. Whether that translates to better tone is questionable. The body depth is another factor. A 64 335 averages about 1.78″ deep. A 58 averages 1.6″ or so. A .2 difference will again be ounces but it does add up. The top on a 58 and some 59’s is thinner by 25% or so. That is a few ounces more. The body depth has very little effect on tone, if any. The thin top has quite a lot. My favorite 335’s have the thin top (and they also have the uncut center block).

The range, as I said earlier, is pretty narrow. The lightest 335 I’ve had weighed 7 lbs 1 ounce. I believe it was a 62 with a cut center block. The heaviest was just a hair under 9 lbs but that’s a bit of an outlier. The vast majority weigh between 7.5 lbs and 8 lbs. Nobody complains about the weight of a 335 if it falls at 8 lbs or below.

At the other end of the scale would be a Bigsby equipped ES-345 with its stereo Varitone circuit intact. Those two items add well over a pound to the overall weight. They still generally come in under 9 lbs but by the mid 60’s, a 9 lb plus 345 is certainly possible. You can always lighten the load by removing the Bigsby – usually around 13 ounces and the Varitone -around 10 ounces. Add back the weight of the stop tail and studs and you’re still saving nearly a pound and a quarter.

5 Responses to “Wait. Weight (Don’t Tell Me)”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, this boomer Soul, R&B and Blues player certainly appreciates a guitar that’s on the lighter side since, yes, I still play a lot of 3 and even 4 set gigs…I agree, tone-wise weight doesn’t seem to be a major determining factor…RAB

  2. Rod says:

    I have always thought 335s were first made with a solid centre block and the cut block was introduced when the Stereo/Varitone bits had to be put in. For a while Gibson, as always, used whatever was to hand, cut or not cut, for 335s but later standardised on one part for all, which would after all be cheaper.

    Tone wise I don’t think the weight makes THAT much difference but it does seem to me that lighter guitars of a given model sound livelier, as though all the string energy goes into the sound rather than some being absorbed getting all that mass vibrating.

  3. Nelson Checkoway says:

    You’re right, Charlie – weight per se shouldn’t mean an inferior guitar. I think players have long conflated “lighter” with “better” because of a (legitimate) bias against crappy 1970s guitars, many of which, in addition to lackluster quality happened to be as heavy as boat anchors.

    Remember that “heavier is better” trend–probably a nod to Les Pauls which were typically heavier than most other electrics at the time. Fender was using heavy, dense (and probably not dry enough) ash, guitars were being loaded with brass nuts and bridges, and there was a mass hallucination that making a guitar heavier would make is sustain longer and sound better.

    Players finally rebelled and the market swung the other way, with an unshakable lean toward lighter instruments, particularly among strats and teles where “featherweight” is a premium upsell.

  4. Mike Allen says:

    I’m one of those people that always asks about the weight if I’m interested in purchasing. At 65, I still gig fairly often, and I’ve found from experience that anything over about 8 lbs. starts to get uncomfortable after a bit, especially with an ES or L.P. type guitar that carries most of it’s weight in the body and bears directly on your shoulder. With me it’s strictly about comfort… I’ve played crappy-sounding really-light guitars and great-sounding heavy ones …I don’t think it affects tone that much!

  5. okguitars says:

    Yep. 8 lbs for us old guys seems to be the limit. Even 8 lbs is starting to feel heavy to me (I’m a few years older). My main player (59 345 converted to 335) weighs just under 7.5 lbs.

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