There are no Rules

This ES-355 has a 66 serial number but it has a wide-nearly 1 11/16″ nut. It could be that it was a leftover from 65 as 355’s were pretty low volume sellers. No rules.

I try very hard to find consistency when discussing Gibsons from the so-called “Golden Era”. Certain rules and features seem to apply most of the time…PAFs until 62, then mixed PAFs and patents from 62-64, wide nut until mid 65, stop tails until early 65 and a whole lot of other features that follow a fairly predictable timeline. Except when they don’t.

One of the most desirable features of 58- early 65 ES models is the wide nut. We call it 1 11/16″ but it varies from just over 1 5/8″ to just over 1 11/16″ but all of them are wider than the 1 9/16″ nut that was introduced in mid 65 and has rendered mid 65’s to 1981 models less desirable to many players and that’s a really big deal. Imagine if 68’s had the wide nut (it’s a common misconception that they do). They would be the most desirable year post 64 for sure. Yes, 68’s had the trapeze and often had t-tops but those things can be changed. But you can’t make a narrow neck into a wide one without some very expensive (and invasive) surgery. Then a rule breaker shows up.

It is pretty commonly known that models like Byrdlands, L-5’s, Kessels and 355’s sold in fairly low numbers. Even with the low volume, they would generally make a “rack” of the same model (usually 35 guitars) all at once and then sit on the unfinished guitars until they had an order to fill. That’s why you sometimes see patent number pickups in a 61 guitar or some other earlier feature in a guitar with a later serial number. The guitars were simply built in one year and sold in the next year (or later). That’s how we end up with 1960 guitars with 1958 factory order numbers for example. But there are no FON’s after 61, so we have only the features to go by when we are trying to figure out what year the guitar was built (or at least started).

I recently purchased a 1966 ES-355 with a wide nut-just under 1 11/16″. It is the second 66 ES-355 I’ve encountered with that feature. That probably means that the guitar was built in early 65 (or at least the neck was carved then) and sat somewhere until an order came in some time in 66. I’m sure that a bunch of narrow nut 355’s went out in 65 and early 66 because I’ve seen plenty of them. So why did this one sit? Maybe it had a small flaw or maybe it was at the back of the pile and more newly made ones were headed out the door first. Without a time machine, it’s hard to know. The larger point is that all the rules I write about get broken time and time again and it isn’t always possible to come up with a reason. You could easily ask “was it re-necked later with a custom ordered neck?” Or maybe it was simply a custom order that specified a particular nut width. I know it wasn’t re-necked (it’s pretty easy to tell) but I suppose it could have been a custom order. Again, where did I leave the keys to the time machine.

I’ve had a similar experience with another 66. This was a 345 with honest to god Mickey Mouse ears. Left over early 60’s body? Maybe. Probably. The rule is that MM ears were gone by late 63 when they redid the jigs for making ES 335, 345 and 355 bodies. But this 345 and at least two others I’ve seen made their way out the door in 1966. So, no rule is a hard and fast rule and no feature is 100% consistent over the era of 1958 to 1969. After 1969, you’re on your own-I just don’t see enough of them to know much. Let me know if you have an oddball like these. It gives me something to write about.

A 66 should not have Mickey Mouse ear cutaways. And yet, this one does and at least two others I’ve seen do as well. There is a fair amount of inconsistency in the shape of the cutaways from 66 to 67 (pointy ear, “fox ear”, etc) but Mickeys? No. Great player too, by the way, although I’m sure it had nothing to do with the ears. If I recall, this one had early patent numbers which might have had something to do with it.

6 Responses to “There are no Rules”

  1. Joe Campagna says:

    Remember this one with 2 different ears? Probably used a side from one bender and one from another.The tool makers weren’t constant.that’s for sure! Cheers Charlie,and stay well.

  2. Brian O Grady says:

    Go on … tell us how you know if a guitar is renecked……

  3. David Webster says:

    Another very interesting post thanks Charlie. I guess some of this info would be meaningless if it wasn’t for the amount of these guitars you’ve seen and had in your hands to put these anomalies into some kind of context to measure by.
    I enjoy reading these posts so much , thanks. Incidentally, April was something of a milestone, where did the last 10 years go so quickly? The ’66 345 with the Mickey Mouse ears looks like it also has the wider nut width, perhaps an illusion of the photograph. A beautiful guitar nonetheless.

  4. okguitars says:

    The 66 345 with the MM ears had a 1 9/16″ nut. I would have kept it if it had the wide nut. It was a great player.
    It has since been stop tailed and is currently for sale on Reverb from Australia.

  5. okguitars says:

    OK. There is often a thin shim on one or both sides of the tenon if it was done at Gibson. This probably is from the mortise being enlarged slightly when they remove the broken neck. Also, if it was done at Gibson. the serial number will be re-stamped but with a larger font. If the re-neck was done by a luthier, it’s a little more intuitive. You have to pay close attention to the way the logo is inlaid-this could be an entire post since the methodology changed a few times over the decade of the 60’s. There is often a lot more glue in there than you would see in an original but not always. Look at the fingerboard, inlays and especially the neck binding for anything that looks off. If you see as many 335’s as I do, any anomaly will jump out at you. I’ve had 5 guitars re-necked by three different luthiers and by Gibson. All were very well executed and each one had something that gave it away as a re-neck.

  6. RAB says:

    Charlie, very cool topic! I like it; “Gibson, no rules!”

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