Buying a 61 Dot Neck

If you’ve got your heart set on a red dot neck, a 61 (or early 62) is your only choice unless you’re prepared to spend some very serious money. There is one 58. There are six 59’s. There are 21 60’s. There are over 400 61’s. Still pretty rare but not any more expensive than a same year sunburst. Beware of neck issues on any 61. 61 is also the year when the sideways trem became common. But that’s a whole ‘nother post.

With the prices of dot neck 335’s soaring out of reach of a lot of players and collectors, it’s a good time to take a look at the ones that are still relatively affordable. That will take 58 and 59 completely out of the equation unless there are major issues like a neck break or a refinish. I should make the point that for a player, these issues shouldn’t be deal breakers. A refinished 59 is still a 59. Just 40% off. A 59 with a neck break and repair is a much bigger risk and could be every bit as good as the expensive one with no issues. But maybe not. With inflation and the general rise in collectibles since Covid, a 60 335 has become a $40,000+ guitar and breaking past $50K for one approaching mint condition. You can kiss a red one good bye though. They only made 21 in 1960 and I’ve seen upwards of $60K change hands for one. That leaves the buyer on a budget with two choices. A 61 or a 62.

62 dot necks are rare. They don’t carry any price premium over other years but you simply don’t see that many. They only made them for a month or so…that’s a guess. There is no record of how many dots were shipped before they changed to block inlays. That leaves the 61. I have mentioned many times that I generally avoid 61 335’s due to neck issues. The trend among players at that time was slim equals fast. Mosrite took this to an extreme and many guitars from that era forward had impossibly slim necks. Slim meaning very little depth and very narrow nuts. The depth of a 61 at the first fret can be as little as .76″. A 58 or early 59 is .90″. That’s a huge difference. The average Stratocaster from the era is around .79″ which is pretty slim as well. The nut width on a 61 ES-335 was wide at 1 11/16″ or slightly more making it (in my opinion) easy to get around on. Fenders at the time were narrower at 1 5/8″.

The problem with a 61 dot neck is really just the neck. Everything else is pretty much the same as a 59 with a few notable exceptions…the PAFs are different but still really excellent as Gibson went to A5 “short” magnets by 61. The tuners are cosmetically different (double line, double ring) but other than these relatively minor changes, it’s a 59 with a very slim neck. The neck issues can be non existent or catastrophic. The trouble is, it’s often impossible to tell from a photo. So, if you are buying a 61, ask about neck issues. Ask for a return policy.

What are we looking for? 61’s are prone to back bow. That’s when the neck curves upward toward the strings rather than the correct curve slightly away from the strings. Why not just adjust the truss rod? Good idea. If there is evidence of a back bow, loosen the truss rod as far as it will go. Don’t loosen past where you can move the nut with your fingers-at that point it won’t do anything but fall off. Chances are somebody already did that. If that doesn’t work your options are limited and expensive. The best solution is to shave the fingerboard to remove the back bow. The neck is already really slim and that will make it slimmer (and less stable) so it’s not a great solution. Something called a “compression” re-fret is supposed to help. That’s refretting using a larger tang to open the slots slightly causing the neck to move away from the strings. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. And a refret isn’t cheap. I would simply return a 335 with a back bow and an already loose truss rod.

The other big issue is the “truss rod crack”. The neck of a 61 is so thin that there is very little wood between the truss rod channel and the back of the neck. Over tighten the truss rod and the pressure against the neck will cause the wood to crack. It’s a hairline crack usually from the third or fourth fret extending to the sixth or seventh fret. Sometimes it goes much farther-as far as the twelfth. It’s not structurally significant as the stress from the strings is unlikely to make it worse under normal playing conditions. It’s easy to fix if the neck has no other problems. But it’s a crack and simply the word “crack” can send buyers running for the exit. Fixing it doesn’t make it go away. It will still be visible and should be disclosed by the seller. The trouble is that the seller will often call it a scratch. Or a check. Or a “grain separation”, whatever that means. I’ve seen it on a few 60’s and at least two 62’s. It seems to be in necks .80″ at the first fret or smaller. Look for it and decide if it’s worth the headache on the sell side when the time comes.

Bottom line…look for a 61 that doesn’t have neck issues. I’d avoid any guitar that is back bowed. If the truss rod crack is there, look for a 20% discount, at least and make sure the truss rod still works. Then be really careful when adjusting it. A 61 can be a wonderful guitar. It just requires a bit more due diligence on your part before you spend your hard earned dollars (or yen or pounds or shekels). The short magnet PAFs are remarkably consistent (and remarkably good) and the build quality is the equal of any 335 made during the 58-64 “Golden Era”. It’s also the only way to get a red dot neck without mortgaging your house.

This is a 62 dot. They made them for a short time in 1962 before switching to the small blocks. A dot 62 commands a small premium over a block but reds and sunbursts are pretty much the same as a 61 and are valued about the same.

2 Responses to “Buying a 61 Dot Neck”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, WOW! Lottza info! I had a sunburst ‘61 dot and it was a great playing and sounding fiddle! Oh yeah, nice looking too!

  2. joe campagna says:

    Cheers Charlie.I think you’ve got the compression fretting concept reversed.The wider tangs in the fret slots actually causes the neck to recurve(backbow)thus straightening a forward bowed neck.Martin has used this method for years before the adjustable rods.No way to add relief to a recurved(backbowed) neck with frets.Like you said,the only option is to sand more relief and refret.Some folks do heat press but,IME never lasts.Sorry for the pedantry.Joe

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