Archive for March, 2022

The Weight

Thursday, March 24th, 2022

This 59 is, in my opinion, the best sounding ES-335 I’ve owned. It is a thin top mid 59 with a 58 FON and serial number A30248. It has a big neck and a pair of double white PAFs. The weight is in the high 7’s and I don’t know why it sounds as good as it does. I’m sure it’s a combination of factors.

“I pulled into Nazareth, I was feelin’ ’bout half past dead…”

How else could I possibly start a post called “The Weight”, right? Was I pulling into Nazareth, PA to pay a visit to the Martin guitar factory? Or was it the other Nazareth about 5700 miles away. I’ve been to one but not the other (and not the one you think). That said, we’re going to look into the weight of these guitars I write about and whether it has any bearing on tone or value.

The Les Paul folks are obsessed with the weight of their guitars. And I guess that makes some sense given the huge range of weights that Les Pauls come in. If it weighs 8 pounds fifteen and a half ounces, it’s OK. Over 9 pounds and a good percentage of the buyers look elsewhere. Folks that play 335’s are a little less weight obsessed but it is still often a factor in the purchase of a vintage ES guitar.

There are really just two factors that are affected by the weight of the guitar in question. The big one is comfort. The smaller one is, arguably, tone. The weight range of a 335 is from around 7 lbs to around 8 lbs 12 ounces. The range of a 345 or 355 can be as low as 7 and a half pounds to as high as 10 lbs. Much of that is the Varitone circuit. The choke alone weighs around 10 ounces and the entire stereo VT unit adds about a pound (including the choke). Add in a Bigsby at 12 ounces or so and getting up to 10 lbs is pretty easy. Most modern players remove the stereo VT circuit so even the heaviest 355 stereo can get down below 9 pounds. That seems to be most players comfort cut off (especially older players like me). Obviously all that extra weight from circuitry doesn’t have anything to do with tone beyond what the Varitone itself actually does. But what about the wood? That’s where most of the weight lives.

The typical early 335 weighs in at 7 lbs 10 ounces or so. The lightest I’ve ever had was 7 lbs 2 ounces. It was a 62. Interestingly, a 58 and some 59’s have thinner depth bodies than later ones-by as much as a quarter inch. I don’t know how much a quarter inch of maple guitar rim weighs but it can’t be more than a couple of ounces. A 58 or 59 has a substantially larger neck than a 60-63 so that’s probably something of an equalizer between early and late 335’s. The difference is only a few hundredths of an inch but that much mahogany can add a few ounces as well. The thin top of the 58’s and some 59s is also a factor-one less layer in the plywood. Another factor is the center block. All 345’s, nearly all 355’s (including most monos) have the center block cut out to accommodate the choke. 335’s have the same cutout starting in a few guitars as early as 61 but it wasn’t standard procedure until 1965. It was done on 335’s to make it easier to install and remove the harness. It had to go through the f-holes until they decided to add the cut. The cut in the maple block can knock off a couple of ounces as well but, more important to tone, it adds some air and often a noticeable bit of additional resonance. That’s another post though.

It is impossible to quantify the tonal differences between a light guitar and a heavy guitar. Differences in the weight of maple plywood, rosewood and mahogany are largely due to moisture content and density. After 60 years the moisture has to be pretty much gone but density is another matter. I’m no expert in wood and its acoustic properties but damned if I can find a consistent difference between a 7 pound 335 and an 8 and a half pound 335. If I look at my favorite 335’s, the weight of them varies considerably. Most are 58’s and 59’s so maybe the heavier big necks makes a real difference. Or maybe its the long magnet PAFs. Or maybe its the thinner top. I could, I suppose, take a heavy 335 and a light one and swap the pickups and all the parts and see how much of the tone is in the wood but that would only tell me the difference between those two guitars. I don’t think it’s that simple. If it was, then we could say that, in general a heavy guitar sounds better (and what’s “better”) than a light one or vice versa. But there are simply too many factors involved in tone to try to isolate just one of them and say it’s the game changer. And besides, it’s way too much work.

My conclusion? To me, weight is a factor. But not a tonal factor. It’s strictly comfort. While I don’t play gigs any more, I still would rather stand for two or three hours with 7 lbs on my shoulder than 8. Or 9. Or 10. But when I buy a 335, 345 or 355, I don’t even ask the seller the weight. I expect the 345’s and 355’s to be in the upper 8’s and into the 9’s (mostly 355’s with Bigsbys) and I expect the 335’s to be in the 7’s. I’ll buy a 335 with great tone over a light weight one every time. Tone simply carries more weight. But it doesn’t weigh more.

The heaviest of the heavyweight ES guitars would be a stereo ES-355. The stereo/VT circuit weighs close to a pound, the Bigsby adds another 10 ounces and the Grovers and big headstock add a few more ounces. They can get to ten pounds pretty easily but most are in the low 9’s.