What’s Wrong with this Picture?

This guitar was offered to me as part of a fairly large collection. I made an offer to the seller but was outbid by another dealer. This “59” was part of the deal and I had serious reservations about it from the get go.

So, what’s the difference between a fake and a reproduction 59 dot neck? Mostly, it’s a matter of how you approach it as a seller. When a talented luthier like Ken McKay makes a 335, he puts his own name on the headstock even if it is more like a real vintage 335 than anything Gibson has come up with at this point. Don’t get me wrong, Gibson makes some really good 335’s but they still haven’t nailed the 59. I could go into detail but that’s another post. There are plenty of Asian made “copies” but they are generally laughably easy to spot. This one is a different animal altogether. When a 335 that isn’t made by Gibson is marketed as a real one, then it’s a fake. If a legitimate repro Gibson 335 is marketed as a vintage 335, it’s also a fake. I’m not completely certain what the guitar pictured is but I was sure it wasn’t a real 59. There’s a lot that looks right but there’s also a lot wrong.

Well, these don’t look right, do they. The stickers aren’t too bad but they don’t black light and that’s a pretty much foolproof test. Oh, where are the “L” tooling marks on the feet? The bowed out edges of the covers don’t look so hot either.

The construction is pretty accurate but the ears are a bit narrow. That’s what Gibson’s early attempts at reissue Mickey Mouse ears looked like as well, so the body could actually be made by Gibson. But they went to some length to try to fool the buyer. The orange label looked pretty good but the font was wrong. The neck tenon and routs looked real good. They even stamped a FON number into the body. Nice touch. Wrong font again. And, you wouldn’t know this, but the FON was non existent-there were many numbers that were never used. The placement of the stoptail is a little high but mostly, the controls are where they should be. There is some variation in the real ones so that’s not always a great tell. One of the biggest errors that the builder made was the in the neck. The heel on a real 59 (and also 60-68) is very small and rather flat across the top. This one was just wrong. The headstock inlays were also wrong. The mahogany itself didn’t look quite right either-the grain was too open and it didn’t look to be sawn the same way. Oh, and another huge clue? A 59 ES-335 is always between 1.5″ and 1.65″ deep. Later, the bodies got deeper reaching 1.75″ by 1964. Most of the modern reissues are around that number as well, at least the ones I’ve seen. This was 1.76″ so even if they had absolutely nailed everything else, it would have been clear to me that this wasn’t a real 59. A tenth of an inch isn’t easy to eyeball from a photo but your digital calipers won’t lie.

The heel was too tall and too rounded across the top. The work is competent.

Where it really went off the rails was the parts. Fake PAFs. The labels looked pretty good but they didn’t black light. No tooling marks on the feet either. And the nickel covers were those “raw” nickel ones that really don’t look like the real thing. But, they went to some length to make it look real. The tuners were repro Klusons but they actually aged a second set of repro Klusons and shrunk and broke the buttons and put them in the case along with a set of used flatwounds and a vintage Gibson string box and some old song chord charts. Nice touch and a big effort but, really, how dumb do we look? The scammer added a few relatively valuable vintage parts on it though. I guess a modicum of legitimacy fools some of the people some of the time. It was housed in a super clean brown Gibson case-a real one from the 50’s. The amber switch tip and knobs were the real thing too. As were the pickup surrounds. Wait, it gets better…These criminals actually went to the trouble to source an old harness (wrong year but it was a 62 and fairly valuable) and drop it in. But it had fake bumblebees (and bumblebees were gone by 62 anyway). The bridge and tailpiece were Gibson repro’s aged poorly. So, someone spent a couple thousand on parts and the case but probably made a huge profit selling this as a real 59.

The “crown” inlay is too thin and spindly but the logo isn’t too bad at all. Those are the shrunken Klusons that ended up in the case as “the originals”

The dealer that bought the collection saw the problems and asked the seller to take this guitar back. The seller asked if I would go through it and catalog what was wrong and what was right which I agreed to do. I don’t know what he paid but he did mention that it was a great player and had excellent tone. I played it and it was certainly as good as many modern 335’s. I made an offer for the value of the real parts and ended up buying the whole thing. I took the real parts and the good repros and put them away for when I get a guitar that needs them or another project That leaves me with some questionable pickups and the husk. I can’t sell it as anything but an unknown fake but, overall, it’s a pretty decent (and unscrupulous) attempt designed to fool anyone who simply has never laid eyes on the real thing.

12 Responses to “What’s Wrong with this Picture?”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, fascinating the length an unscrupulous individual will go to to try and rip off another, in this case an unsuspecting musician who was hoping to fulfill their dream of owning a real ‘59 335. A good fake is hard to detect especially from a photo but, if you take your time and are diligent, as you were, it can be done in person. After many years of owning, playing and studying vintage guitars you can often sense when things are wrong. Years ago I helped a friend keep from getting ripped off on a supposed ‘58 V headstock Explorer. The crude pickup routes were the biggest giveaway. However fakes keep getting better and the financial incentive is there for determined evil doers with effective luthier skills. Caveat Emptor! If you don’t have the experience and savvy to know better consult an expert (like Charlie!) before laying out a pile of your hard earned coin!

  2. Mike says:

    Hi Charlie, love your site, choc-full of valuable info. One other element that would seem to be a giveaway here is the alignment of the f-holes with the rhythm pick-up. On most of the 58-64 335s I’ve come across, the f-hole extends to _at least_ half the width of the rhythm pick-up ring (though there is some variance, and 58s seem to have the shortest extension). On 70s 335s, the f-hole extends almost to the far edge of the pick-up ring. This example seems way off–the f-hole clearly doesn’t even reach the halfway mark. Gibson reissues also can’t seem to get this right (among other things), though the newer 64 reissues seem to be getting better and more consistent. What do you think?

  3. DaveK says:

    That’s fascinating Charlie.

    I’ve maybe naiively thought that Strats, because of the interchangeability of parts, and Bursts and Korinas, because of their value, are the main targets of serious fakers.

    Its interesting and a bit worrying to see some real effort put into faking a 59 ES335. Not good enough to fool you for a second and I hope some of us amateurs would have spotted stuff like the absence of L tooling marks on the PAF feet. So I wonder if there have been other examples of fakers trying their hand at old ES335s?

  4. okguitars says:

    I agree with your assessment. There is considerable variation in the location of the pickups in relation to the f-holes. Its something I’ve never measured. I see so many that any time anything is even sligtly off, I will notice. I won’t always know what’s wrong right away but I can usually figure it out pretty quickly.

  5. RAB says:

    Charlie, the 335 whisperer! :>)

  6. Bernard says:

    Charlie, thanks for the blow by blow on the dissection. You did not mention the finish. This guitar appears to have that obvious fake finish checking common to so many of these. It’s the first thing I thought of in response to the question what wrong with the picture. It seems to be one of the biggest (in surface area) tell on a fake. Though perhaps there are those that can do it more convincingly. Tread carefully all!

  7. Rod Allcock says:

    For me the shape of the head ornament is a complete and instant giveaway. And Gibson STILL don’t get it right s far as I can see!

  8. Leeds says:

    As RAB says, people will go to great lengths to cheat others. I’ve not purchased fakes, but did have a dealer tell me my burst was a fake in an effort to buy it cheaply.
    I ignored him, but he was persistent: some time later he contacted me saying my guitar wasn’t a fake- but that it was a partial refin.

    Caveat emptor- and caveat venditor.

  9. Nelson Checkoway says:

    This is truly scary–the depths to which someone stooped to fake a valuable guitar. Passing off a refinished guitar as original is very bad in its own right, but this was apparently a “whole cloth” forgery. What I find most puzzling is the odd looking crest inlay on the headstock. It almost screams “new”. I’m sure that your expert eyes picked up on the dozen or so other cues, but even to casual inspection, the inlay stands out.

    As for the case candy and the extra set of “bad” tuners — wow — that’s classic con artist misdirection. One question: what about the fingerboard. We can’t see much of it in these photos. There’s hint of orange at one edge that could be a sign of Brazilian rosewood, though you genearlly see only dark BR behind the frets. But was the fingerboard another “tell” on this instrument?

  10. Steve Newman says:

    Great breakdown of a forgery, showing your excellent detective skills, Charlie! Thank you for sharing your experience in pointing out all of the “tells” on this instrument. As well as all of the inaccuracies you have mentioned, I will add one more detail….though it is extremely hard to tell from you photos, without the guitar being in hand, the finish checking looks too artificial to my eyes. It is too consistent in its patterns and there are no “partial” striations that I can see, which occurs when the finish checks naturally and authentically. Seems like a well done relic faux checking job, where fresh (soft) lacquer is scribed with a razor blade to create the finish checks, then left in a freezer to add to the effect. There are other tricks using a mild solvent involved, too. Your authentication skills on the 3x5s are without peer. Thanks again for sharing!

  11. okguitars says:

    I agree but that only tells us the neck isn’t original.

  12. okguitars says:

    I’m no expert when it comes to relics. I simplyt don’t see that many as it isn’t my market. Thanks for the tip.

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