Oddities and One Offs

I have to say that my favorite part of the vintage guitar business is finding rare or one of a kind ES guitars (or having them find me). I’ve done this post before showcasing the “greenburst” 335, a lefty block neck blonde 335 and a 355 with pointy cutaways. Gibson has always been accommodating to the needs and wishes of musicians and was happy to make something out of the ordinary for you (for a price, of course). It was often the owners name inlaid in the fingerboard or an alternative electronics setup (think Varitone in a 335). Interestingly, these things often diminish the value over a bone stock version. Who wants to play a guitar with somebody else’s name writ large across the fingerboard. Short of changing your name, there isn’t a good fix for this. But then there are one of a kinds that are simply colors or a configuration that isn’t offered in the catalogue. I’ve had a few of these recently and this is a good time to write another post about these wonderful oddities.

A cherryburst 335 is neither rare nor particularly exciting unless it’s a dot neck. This finish was common starting in 1965 but a cherryburst dot neck? Unheard of. This is the only one (as far as I know)

The cherryburst 1961 dot neck was offered to me recently (and I bought it). When I saw the photos, my first thought was “oh, another cherryburst 65…” I don’t particularly like this finish and I was ready to dismiss it until I noticed the dots. This finish was in the Gibson lineup as early as the 1940’s but not for a 335. That didn’t happen until 1965. This is the only cherryburst dot neck I’ve ever seen. Beyond that, it was also the cleanest dot neck I’ve ever seen. I rarely use the term “mint” but this one was all of that. There’s a very lucky, very happy collector out there who owns the only one of these known.

White ES guitars have never been common. Keith Richards has the one he calls “Dwight”. His is a 345. This is a 1965 wide nut ES-355.

I was really skeptical when I first saw this white 355 many years ago. But when I owned it years ago, I didn’t know much about these guitars and I sold it to the next owner as “ambiguous”. It was the paint on the neck binding that threw me off. Now I know that Gibson usually painted white guitars that way (look at any LP/SG Custom) and it’s definitely a factory white finish. They became a little more common by 1969 and into the 70’s but a mid 60’s white one is pretty rare. The white tends to turn yellow because the clear lacquer that goes over the paint tends to turn yellow over time. You don’t notice it so much on a sunburst or even a red guitar but on a white one, it really shows up.

Whenever I encounter a rare variant, I try to get hold of the ledger page for that serial number to see if there’s a note about it being a special order. Sometimes, there’s nothing. Sometimes it’s noted and sometimes, the serial number is left blank in the book. I’d say it’s 50-50. Having the page is a real plus but not having it doesn’t necessarily diminish its authenticity. Of the 5 black 59 ES-345’s, only three of them are noted in the logs but the others are very clearly original. This 1963 black ES-345 is one that we got lucky on. I don’t own this one but it’s the only black 63 I know of. Black is rare but has always been a popular color so there are a fair number of them around each year. I know of perhaps twelve of them from 59 to 64. Interestingly, most are 345’s. I’m not sure why. A black 335 seems to be incredibly rare until the late 60’s and even then you can count them on one hand.

Sometimes you get lucky. I was sent a photo of a black 63 ES-345 by a friend of the original owner who special ordered it. And there it was, 115826 plain as day in the 63 log book.

And here it is. I don’t own it but i’ve been after it for at least four years now. You’ll know if I get it.

14 Responses to “Oddities and One Offs”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, your presentation of these rare birds is very cool! What fun to track down these unique fiddles. Best of luck in landing the black ‘63 345 and other oddities! RAB

  2. RAB says:

    Hmmmm…is that a silver toned Varitone surround on the ‘63 black 345? Seen black and gold, but never silver!

  3. Nelson Checkoway says:

    I love the odd ducks! Didn’t you also feature a no-f-hole prototype ES-355 owned by Tony Mottola a few years back? That was part of a Christies 2005 sale of Mottola guitars. He had a few other oddballs including a ’64 with gold Firebird pickups and a weird Walnut/Rosewood guitar – looks like a custom version of the Gibson Crest – with those Les Paul Professional lo-imp pickups.

  4. Nelson Checkoway says:

    Here’s the Mottola-Crest

  5. RAB says:

    Nelson, WOW! Those are two really unique ES models for sure!! Thanks for sharing. The rosewood one with the low impedance pickups isn’t my cup of tea but the mono 355 with Firebird pups could be! My bet is it’d be a very usable sound!

  6. Collin says:

    I love oddballs!

    One of my favorites is a ’64 ES-345 that was custom ordered with an ebony fretboard, tortoise pickguard and a Bigsby. So there are no stoptail holes. It’s almost like the customer wanted an ES-355 and couldn’t afford one, or couldn’t decide between a 335 and 355, and simply split the difference.

    It’s a monster player though, and has a bridge PAF (in a ’64!).

    As was usual with Gibson (?) it wears a “CUSTOM” truss rod cover instead of the usual “stereo” one.

  7. Collin says:


  8. Nelson Checkoway says:

    … and then there were those ’69 era ES-335s with the leftover Epi Riviera fretboards and inlays. Waste not want not!

  9. okguitars says:

    It’s gold. Photo looks like silver but I have another photo in which it is clearly gold.

  10. RAB says:

    Thanks Charlie about the VT ring color.

    Nelson, Yeah, seen those 335s with the Riviera parallelogram inlays…

    Loving seeing these wacky one-off Gibsons y’all!

  11. Stephen Newman says:

    Nelson, I personally owned and played a used red 335 with the Riviera neck inlays in 1972. It was a good guitar, but I eventually traded it because it never quite looked “right” to me. Later in that decade I also owned a blonde ES 340. While it looked great, it was nothing special in the playability/sound category….average at best.

  12. Tony Mottola Jr says:

    My father was a Gibson endorser beginning in the 1940s, and a good friend of Ted McCarty who often sought his opinion on the company’s new designs in the development stage. Over the years the company made several prototypes of instruments they hoped to market as a “Tony Mottola Model” Gibson guitar. Being a perfectionist my father was always tinkering with them but he never did approve a final design. The Walnut finish ES shown here was the last of those attempts, and he had written notes on the guitar on the torn pieces of yellow paper affixed next to the instrument knobs.

  13. okguitars says:

    I have seen a number of unusual ES models attributed to your father. The one I recall most clearly is a 65 ES-355 with no f-holes in sunburst (which is unusual in itself. I featured it in a post from 2010 (the first year I did the blog) here

  14. okguitars says:

    Thanks for the information about your father. I always liked his no f-hole sunburst 355 in the post about one offs. The photo in the ad look to be a 355.

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