Archive for March, 2023


Saturday, March 11th, 2023

It’s 1959 and my Dad (The Doc) and five of the seven Gelber brothers are at the beach in Cape May. That’s me on the left at the age of seven. Nice haircut (thanks, Dad).

I remember a lot about 1959. I was six, then seven in May. My Mom and Dad and the seven Gelber brothers piled into our ’58 DeSoto wagon and drove the (interminable) five hours from upstate NY to Cape May, NJ on vacation for two weeks. In ’59, Castro took over Cuba and the USA added a couple of new stars to the flag. We went to the movies and saw North by Northwest, Ben Hur (the lepers scared the crap out of me) and Journey to the Center of the Earth. The Yankees lost the pennant for the first time in my short memory and Gibson built the best guitars ever made on planet Earth.

We could talk about which ones were the best but you have your own opinion about that. I’ll just write about the 335. It was only the second year of its very long run but they had already made a few improvements and maybe took a small step backward as well. The first ’58’s were less than perfect. The unbound board was a little déclassé, the neck angle was too shallow, the frets were too small (for modern players anyway) and the bridge was prone to collapsing. But they sounded magnificent. The thin top had nearly all the resonance of an archtop but the center block kept it all under control. There has never been a more brilliant design; so what did Gibson do in 59? Apparently there were a number of customer complaints about that thin top. Most players used a straight plug and the leverage of that plug, when pulled hard would nearly rip the jack right out of the top. A 90 degree plug would have kept that from happening. Moving the jack to the rim would have kept that from happening. But Gibson chose to make the top thicker and while it didn’t ruin the design by any means, didn’t help the tone.

There were so many changes to the 59 ES-335 that it’s almost like there were five or six different models. A very early 59 will still have the little frets and very often the thin top and the shallow neck angle. The unbound neck was gone after a few months in 58. In 59 the little frets were the first thing to go, followed by the shallow neck angle. By making the neck angle steeper, Gibson was able to utilize a full height ABR-1 which took care of the collapsing bridge problem. They distributed shaved full height bridges to customers who complained about sagging bridges.

Gibson still had a lot of 58 thin top bodies in stock and the complaints really hadn’t had an effect on the top brass in early 59. In fact, the thicker four ply tops really didn’t arrive until around May. After that, they still show up with some frequency probably when the orders outpaced the ability to build the thicker topped bodies. they must have figured that most folks wouldn’t notice. After all, how many players were actual performers who would have the opportunity to strut to the end of their lead and yank the jack out of the guitar? The thin tops show up as late as July 1960 (SN A33765 has a 58 FON and a thin top). I’ve owned three thin top 60’s.

So, you can have a 59 with a shallow neck angle, shaved ABR-1, small frets and a thin top. You can find them with a good neck angle, full ABR-1, small frets and a thin top. Good angle, big frets and a thin top. Good angle, big frets and a thicker top. Then there’s the 59 neck profile. Early 59’s had the same profile as a 58. The depth at the first fret was usually around .88″ but could be as large as .95″ (the necks were carved by hand and could vary a lot). The 12th fret depth was typically a full inch or slightly more. That’s a big honkin’ neck. By sometime around September, the neck starts to get a slimmer profile. Still has the wide nut but the depth at the first fret now seems to fall between .83″ and .86″ while the twelfth fret is usually around .96″ to .98″. It’s a very comfortable neck and while the big neck aficionados still brag about theirs, the “transitional” neck has become very popular.

Oh, and the pickups. All were PAFs but there were four varieties of those too. Most of the early 59’s had double black PAFs. The zebra PAF showed up sometime in February but wasn’t common in 335’s until April. Double whites and zebras are fairly common in 335’s from April until perhaps late July. They continued intermittently in 345’s and 355’s through 1960 and occasionally into 61 on 355’s. The fourth iteration, the reverse zebra rarely shows up in 335’s. They are less rare in 345’s but I’ve only seen two 335’s with them. You want are rare 59? Find a thin top with a pair of reverse zebra PAFs. There is at least one…it’s A30183 and I currently own it.

So, when you tell me you have a 59 for sale, which one is it? Fortunately, they are consistently good guitars. I’ve never had a bad 59. I’ve had some average ones but seven out of ten of the best ES guitars I’ve owned (over 600) are 59’s. Four are 335’s, two are first rack 345’s, one is a stop tail 355. All are thin tops. The others in my top ten are two late 58’s and a refinished 62 dot neck. In case you were wondering. The price of a 59 ES-335 has risen sharply in the past few years but still pales when compared to the same year Les Paul. That tells me that even at $85,000 (The current record for a sunburst 59, I believe), a 1959 ES-335 is still worth every last nickel.

1959 ES-335 SN A30183 with a pair of reverse zebras, thin top, big neck and probably the rarest iteration of the many, many different varieties of 59 ES 335’s. The pickup covers are back on but those backwards zebras are still in there.

It’s Old. It’s Tired. It’s Vintage.

Thursday, March 2nd, 2023
A 335 harness consists of four pots, a three way switch, two caps and a jack. And, of course, some wire. None of these parts (except maybe the wire) can be expected to last forever. The pots in a cheapo Sears Roebuck guitar and the pots in a vintage 335 are exactly the same. They wear out.

First off, I apologize for not posting anything in February. I don’t much like the Winter and February is generally the worst of it. That, along with a new (first) grandchild kept me away from the computer and it’s probably time to make up for that. I’ll start with something of a rant, if that’s ok.

With prices where they are (now higher than 2007), it isn’t at all surprising that folks have become more particular about the guitars they are paying good, hard earned money for. Maybe a $35000 dot neck 59 was a bargain but now with big neck early 59’s almost impossible to find, that $35,000 guitar is now $75,000 or more. Five years ago, when I sold a 59 (or a 58 or a 60) and something was wrong, I would do my best to make it right and buyers would understand that some things simply aren’t fixable without compromising the vintage “integrity”. I think it’s time to think about what is an “expendable” and what isn’t. Nobody cares if the strings are changed. Nobody expects that mint guitar to have its original strings and if it did, it would probably sound like crap anyway after 65 years or so. I understand wanting original frets and when I’m lucky enough to get a guitar that still has them, I can charge a premium. But a good fret job is every bit as good (and sometimes better) than the one done at the factory. But I’m not talking about frets either.

I’m talking about pots. Pots don’t last forever and they are prone to a host of problems-some fixable, some not. Corrosion is going to cause flat spots and noise and you can spray a ton of De-ox-it in there and it may improve but it may not be possible to make the problem go away without replacing it. Pots are date coded, so if I’m going to replace a worn out pot, I will always disclose it (and include the removed pot). I always try to get a vintage correct one that matches the others but it’s not always possible. I can’t tell you how many times I get a phone call or an email weeks or months after a sale and the owner is upset that a pot has developed a flat spot or some noise. Often those owners will say to me something along the lines of “hey, a $50,000 guitar shouldn’t have noisy pots”. My answer is “but a 65 year old guitar certainly could”. I believe that replacing the harness should be a common thing but it isn’t (except in 345’s and stereo 355’s). I’ve never, ever had a guitar sound worse after a vintage harness is replaced with a high end modern harness. Put the original in the case (intact if possible) and enjoy your guitar for another 30 or 40 or 50 years. Pots don’t last forever if the guitar gets played. They don’t last forever if it doesn’t either. An unplayed, mint 65 year old guitar is probably more likely to have problems with the pots. I have a near mint 59 that is extraordinary right now and the pots are totally quiet. When I sell it and 6 months later, they start getting noisy, it’s a lot like have to do a re-fret after you’ve played them down to nothing. Or replacing the tires on your vintage Jaguar. It doesn’t work properly if you leave it alone.

It’s funny how vintage Martin owners seem to understand that a Martin may require a neck reset to play properly. While we would all prefer one that hasn’t been touched, a pre-war Martin with a reset will still command serious money and most serious collectors are happy to pay it because, above all else, you are buying a musical instrument and if it can’t make serious music, as it should, then you are obligated, as a musician, to make sure it does.

Most 345 buyers don’t seem to have a problem when I remove the stereo harness and Varitone and replace it with a modern 335 harness with the same specs. But swap out a pot in a 335 with another vintage one and you hear about how the solder is no longer original or, worse, how the vintage “integrity” of the guitar has been compromised. Just so you know, I try to price everything in.