Pre “First Rack” 345 Arrives

This is a 1959 ES-345 SN A29133. By serial number it is the third ES-345 ever made-nearly three months before the “first rack” 345’s were released. The FON is T7303-3 which is the last rack of 1958. The last three in the FON is it’s rank within the rack so it is probably also the third one made by that measure as well. It has some interesting features that set it apart from the other early 345’s.

A couple of years ago, I wrote about the four ES-345’s that were built on 58 bodies and given serial numbers dating to February 1959. The vaunted “first rack” 345’s were shipped in April and all have 59 FON’s. I’ve been chasing one the four that are shown in the shipping ledger for a couple of years now. The owner (it was his father’s guitar) has finally let it go and I have it. His father played in local bands around Wisconsin along with his wife, the bass player (I bought her Lake Placid Blue P Bass as well).

I got in touch with my inside guy at Gibson who checked the records to try to find the earliest 345 in the book and, sure enough, four ES-345’s were shipped on February 11th. They are, serial numbers A29131-A29134. The FON is very late 58-T7303-xx. Strangely, there is also a rack designated as S7303 and that’s not supposed to happen. Did they forget to change the letter on the stamp (like the Fender amp charts from ’66) and then noticed it part way through the rack? Consider this (this is really geeky): serial number A 29132 and 29133-both 345’s both have the FON T7303. Serial number A 29548 (6 weeks later, more or less) is S7303. The FONs are supposed to be sequential and chronological with the letter changing at the first of the year and the numbers simply continuing. So, 7304 could have been an “S” but 7303 could not since it was already a “T”. Clear as mud. Right?

So, there are four 345’s that I’ll have to call “pre first rack”. They have nearly all of the same features as the typical first rack 345’s-small rout for the Varitone choke, thin top and huge neck. But where is the short leg PAF? It isn’t there. The bridge PAF has the treble side leg carefully folded up so it doesn’t hit the choke. Apparently Gibson hadn’t quite figured that part out yet. A29133, like most (if not all) early 345’s is a killer player. It has been heavily played and shows some battle scars and the residue of more than a few smoky dance halls. It still has its original SVT harness but I am considering converting it to 335 spec. It seems that around 95% of buyers really don’t want to deal with the stereo aspect and most aren’t that wild about the Varitone either. It’s fun for a week but it’s usefulness for most folks is pretty limited. My personal 59 345 (my main player) is converted.

There are also two others that shipped in the period between Feb 11 and April 20th. One is A29623 which would be the 5th one shipped. There is one other and then the blonde A29656 mentioned in the first paragraph that has been the earliest known for some time. I’ve been compiling a FON database for nearly four years now and the more entries I make, the more confusing it gets. The overlaps at year end is just the beginning but that’s another post. So, were the first four ES-345 prototypes? Probably not since they shipped to dealers and they had no unusual notes on the ledger page. Were there prototypes before these first four shipped? Hard to know. It’s possible there were but none have surfaced.

Just in case you aren’t confused enough, the first 345 was supposed to have gone to Hank Garland in 1958 but his is serial number A29915 which is a lot later — mid May 59. But, to add fuel to the controversy, I have A29914 in my database (the one right before Hank’s supposed prototype) and it was from the earliest numerical “first rack” (S8537) if you don’t include the recently discovered ones I’m writing about. So, how is that possible? The Garland family’s recollection and “paperwork” is a little slippery, so I wouldn’t put too much stock in their “certificate of authenticity”, signed, not by anyone at Gibson, but by Hank Garland and a Robert B. Garland.  No way to know anything for sure about this, so, let’s put that aside.

In any case, conventional wisdom is once again blown to bits. We have an earlier and probably the earliest run of 345’s there is. Two have surfaced-A29132 is a Bigsby with pearl dots and A29133 is a stop tail. Keep your eyes open for A29131-that’s supposed to be the first. Thanks to the nice folks at Gibson for their help.

8 Responses to “Pre “First Rack” 345 Arrives”

  1. Collin says:

    Nice one. It would be a loss to guitar history if you converted this one from stereo to mono. Maybe I’m just in that 5% but this isn’t your garden variety ES-345. It has significance in the history/timeline of these instruments.

    They’re only original once.

    Besides, these days you can plug into a $150 box that will blend the signals AND invert the phase, making a 345 or 355 completely functional without touching anything inside. Specifically look for the “Signal Blender” pedal by Old Blood Noise Endeavors. Works great, and preserves these guitars as Gibson designed them.

  2. okguitars says:

    I agree.

  3. Bone Idol says:

    What a lovely looking thing that is… It’s been unmolested this long, so I think it’s earned the right to stay to retain its original specification.

    Am I the only person in the world who loves a Varitone?

    Admittedly, it’s not something I would use very often in a ‘live’ situation but for recording, or even with a looper box, it’s great!

    I love recording the same chords in different Varitone positions and then mixing them together for a totally unique, yet subtle effect.

    How do you use your Varitone?… Or do you rip it out?

  4. okguitars says:

    Everything is for sale. It is listed on Gbase. I don’t list on Reverb until it has been on Gbase and my site for a while. Nobody wants to pay sales tax and Reverb requires it. I don’t have to charge sales tax unless you live in Connecticut.

  5. okguitars says:

    I agree that it should stay as it was when it left the factory. I was attempting to do that but there were two wires that had come loose causing the neck pickup not to work. It was a simple repair but the harness is so fragile that every time I tried to install it, a wire would come loose. Even a later harness (which has a lot less wire and fewer solder joints) is difficult to reinstall but they are much more durable. I tried twice and gave up. Let the next guy put it back to stock. My skill set falls short.

  6. willybee24 says:

    Is there any consensus on FONs associated with “first rack” ES355’s?

  7. okguitars says:

    They never really changed the design of the 355, so designating a “first rack” doesn’t really make much sense. The first rack 345’s are notably different than the later ones. The earliest 355’s were essentially the same as the later ones. There are a few 58’s that are different than later ones-different headstock binding, gold knobs rather than black but there really aren’t any significant structural changes like the 345’s. Remember , the first 355’s were all mono. The structural differences of the first rack 345’s all have to do with the stereo circuitry. I have had at least one stereo 355 that had first rack 345 style routs but I haven’t been able to make any kind of reasonable assumptions about there being a full rack of them.

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