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Red Dots Before my Eyes

This is the very first red ES-335. It shipped in December of 1958 and was wired in stereo. Gold knobs were probably factory (355’s had them too in 58). I don’t know the FON. The serial is A28800.

I formerly used the user name “red59dot” on guitar websites and forums (fora?) because I had been on the lookout for a red 59 335 for years. The rumor back in the early 00’s was that there weren’t any-only a stereo 58 that left the factory in December of that year. Then, out of nowhere (well, out of New Jersey, actually) a guy calls me and says he has a red 59 and I said “I want it”. He said to meet me at such and such a park in North Jersey and bring cash. It was $18000 which, at that time was in line with what a sunburst 59 would cost. I’m always hesitant to meet someone I don’t know with a paper bag full of Benjamins but I really wanted the guitar. It was a Bigsby with a big neck and a zebra in the bridge (I think). Anyway, all went well (whew) and my search was over. Until it wasn’t. I wanted a stop tail.

After a trip to North Jersey, meeting the owner on a park bench with a paper bag full of cash, this is the next red 59 dot neck I came across. SN A30906

It’s maybe ten years later and while I’ve had a few red 59 345’s, I hadn’t seen another red 59 335 except another Bigsby that had little black diamonds painted on the cutaways. That was a mint example and was for sale for $55,000 at a well known dealer. I saw it at the Philly show and passed mostly because it was a Bigsby. The diamonds, supposedly factory, weren’t that big a deal. I had actually seen a 330 with the same decoration. And they were under the clear coat so I assumed they actually were factory.

The “black diamond” ES-335. Mint. I should have bought it back when I first saw it at the Philly show. $55K seemed like a lot back then. Not so much now for any mint 59. SN A31962

The following year, I get an email from a dealer in Paris (France, not Texas) asking me if I’d be interested in a red 59 335 stop tail. Yes. I would be interested. It’s a fairly early 59 with a 58 FON. Oh, and it has a Varitone. The Varitone first appeared in February of 59 on a short run of 4 or 5 ES-345’s that pre-date the “first racks” of April 59. But this guitar, which had to be a special order, started its build in 1958. So, is this the very first Varitone equipped guitar ever built? The serial number of the earliest known ES-345 is A29132 shipped in February 59. The FON is T7303-xx. This 59 ES-335 is serial A29553 but the FON is much earlier. It is T6473-xx. FONs are sequential. Serial numbers are not. Also worth noting, I’ve never seean a stereo 355 with a 58 FON. So, the question remains. Is this the first Varitone? I don’t know but it certainly could be. Even if it isn’t it’s a piece of Gibson history being the first red 335 (of 6 known) shipped in 1959. And a great player.

I currently own this one (yes, it’s for sale like everything else I get). This is the second one shipped and has a 58 FON. It also is possiblt the very first ES built by Gibson with a Varitone. Or maybe not. Serial is A29553. The shipping log makes no note of it being red or being a Varitone.

I still haven’t had a stock red 59 stop tail 335 but I believe there are two of them. I know where one is but not the other. If you have one, call or email. I consider the red 59 dot neck to be the holy grail of 335’s. Yes, blondes are nice but they are relatively common (they made 71 of them in 59). And I’d really like to find a black one (I know of only one) but I don’t expect to. If you recall Dan Erlewine’s “rule of two”, I’ll probably end up with both of them the same week.

One other point worth making. Until mid to late 1960, the red dye used to color the wood red was particularly UV sensitive. While it starts off a rich vibrant blood red, it often fades, with UV exposure, to a pinkish light red we’ve all called “watermelon”. In more extreme cases it can fade to a pale orange. In guitars that spend most of their life in the case (and not a store window), the red can retain nearly all of its original color. The guitars pictured in this post are a pretty good representation of what these early reds can do. The 58, the Varitone 59 and the “diamond” 59 are still vibrant. They look similar to later reds that haven’t faded. The New Jersey Bigsby is clearly faded to that wonderful watermelon shade. The stop tail below is somewhere in between. When a later red ES guitar is exposed to sunlight it tends to darken rather than lighten, moving in the direction of brownish maroon. These watermelon 335’s are, I think, among the most attractive 335’s on the planet. Sadly, by the Fall of 1960, they were gone forever.

Here’s one of the known stock stop tail 59 ES-335’s in red. It is owned by the same collector who has the “black diamond”-you can tell by the photo background. It is also near mint. This one isn’t for sale but I’ll take the other one if you have it. This is also an early one with an A299xx serial number.

2 Responses to “Red Dots Before my Eyes”

  1. RAB says:

    Dottz cool! Uber rare and beautiful fiddles and I’m sure sound awesome too!

  2. Dave says:

    Awesome post Charlie. Great esoteric early 335 history and images.

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