The Gibson Custom Shop ca. 1959

OK, so there wasn’t a Gibson Custom Shop in 1959, not officially anyway. But there were custom guitars. Gibson, in 1959, would make just about anything you wanted as long as you were prepared to pony up a premium. You’ve all sen the personalized guitars with the player’s name inlaid (usually in really big, bold letters) on the fingerboard. That was fairly common both at Gibson and aftermarket. I don’t know how much it cost to have that done but I’m sure it wasn’t cheap. Unfortunately someone else’s name on your prized vintage ES-355 isn’t going to enhance the value. It’s easier to change your name than it is to change a fingerboard.

But the folks at Gibson went much farther than that. Want a special color? An extra cutaway? Different tuners? A custom neck profile? I could go on. If they could do it, they would do it. My favorite aspect of the vintage guitar business is the oddball stuff. The one offs that make me (and most of you) stand up and take notice. Rather than tell you about these unicorns, I will show you some photos. I’m sure you get tired of hearing me talk.

What better way to get your name out there than having it inlaid into your J-200 fingerboard? This guy didn’t really need much help but Gibson was happy to accommodate his wishes. Custom guard too. I don’t actually know if this was done at Gibson but I’d bet it was.

What’s so custom about this? It looks like a normal sunburst 335. Except it’s not. Look closely. It’s a 355. Sunburst was not and option nor was a stop tail. All production 355’s were red and all of them had a Bigsby in 1959 unless you special ordered. This is the only original mono sunburst stop tail 355 known.

Here’s a whole bunch of 59 335’s in red. Big deal, you say? They only made seven of them, all special orders. I’ve owned five of the seven. Still have two. Want one?

Want a special color that will match your car? Gibson would be happy to do that. Just tell them what color your car is (Cadillac green)

This ES-355 has lots of custom features. Some factory, some aftermarket. Extra jack, switch, harmonica bridge and stop tail are aftermarket. Pointy double cut body and bound f-holes are factory.

There are lots more out there. White ones, blue ones, 335’s with Varitones, custom fingerboards and many more. Collect ’em all.

6 Responses to “The Gibson Custom Shop ca. 1959”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, thanks for putting this posting together. A cool topic; fun to see Kalamazoo’s quirky creations. The late 50’s- early ‘60’s EMS double necks could represent some crazy combinations. I saw a photo of one with a 5 string banjo neck. Can’t recall what the second neck was…best, RAB

  2. Collin says:

    Yep, I have a ’64 ES-345 TDSV that was custom ordered in cherry red with an ebony fretboard, bound tortoise pickguard and a Bigsby. It’s like the original owner couldn’t decide between a 345 and a 355.

    As a result, it also has a “Custom” engraved truss rod cover, which is a worthy point of discussion for this article. Weren’t they a signifier than an instrument was truly custom ordered?

  3. RAB says:

    Collin, nice fiddle! Would be interesting to know what the Gibson Shipping Ledger says, if anything about the custom order…RAB

  4. Len Kovalsky says:

    Hi Charlie: Here’s an interesting customization. The ’60 ES330 below shows a pickguard that has the beveled B-W-B-W edge running around the pickups. Of course, the beveled edge usually only runs between the pickups and not around them. I asked the dealer who was selling this, and although he could not confirm if it was Gibson work, it appears to be original, since it has the “Gibson warp and all.”

    Have you ever seen one like this?

  5. okguitars says:

    I have seen one that was an original guard that was altered to look like that. I know it was altered because the owner was the original owner and he had it done.
    I have a photo somewhere

  6. okguitars says:

    Yes, the “Custom” truss cover is a good indicator of a custom order. Of course, anybody can put a custom truss cover on a non custom guitar. I recently got a red 59 335
    (red 59 335’s were all custom orders) that has the custom truss cover. I had a black Trini with that cover. All four of the black 345’s I’ve had didn’t have that cover.

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