Archive for May, 2023

What Makes the Great Ones Great?

Sunday, May 21st, 2023

This is 1959 ES-335 SN A30248. It is the best sounding ES-335 I’ve ever played. It has a 58 FON, thin top, double white PAFs. Neck depth is around .88″ at the first fret and 1″ at the 12th.

I have a post ready to talk about what to do now that I’ve pretty much exhausted the ES guitars but a reader suggested that I write about the best of the ES guitars that I’ve had. I’ve covered the topic in dribs and drabs but never really drew a solid conclusion about what makes the best ones any better than the not quite the best ones (or the worst for that matter).

Let’s look at the top ten. It’s a fluid list…if you follow it through the years (if you can find the posts where mention it) you’ll see that it changes every time I talk about it. That’s simply because I get “new” guitars all the time and one of those new ones might step up and take the place of one of the others. It’s a pretty loose compilation because it’s hard to remember how good a guitar sounded that I owned twelve years ago compared to one I just got yesterday. I suppose I could have recorded them all but I don’t have good recording equipment and everything sounds like crap on an iphone. That said, there is a very clear common denominator among the top ten (and most of the top twenty). Let’s look at number one, two and three. All are 59 335’s. All have thin tops. Two of the three have double white PAFs (I’ll get into that later) and two of three have 58 FON’s. All have big necks (at least .87″ at the first fret and .98″ at the 12th. Two of the three come from the same rack T5792 and all three have serial numbers in the A30xxx range. They are A30248, A30173 and A30957…so they aren’t particularly close together by serial number.

Now, all of those things could be factors or none of those things could be factors. If we look at the rest of the top ten, all but one are thin tops so I think I can safely say that the thin 58 three ply top is a big factor. The top ten as I currently have it is as follows:

1.59 ES-335 58 FON. 2. 59 ES-335 59 FON. 3. 59 ES-335 58 FON. 4. 59 ES-355 mono 59 FON 5. 59 ES-345 59 FON. 6. 58 ES-335 58 FON. 7. 59 ES-345 59 FON. 8. 60 ES-335 58 FON. 9. 58 ES-335 58 FON. 10. 62 ES-335 (dot neck) no FON.

Five have double whites or zebras which means five have double blacks. We all know that the color of the bobbin doesn’t affect tone but the windings certainly do. Because there was no automatic stop on the old winders, the folks who did the winding (mostly women, by the way) stopped when the bobbin looked to be full. Because the color of the wire and the black bobbin are both quite dark, the winders probably were al little more cautious about overwinding. If the windings came off the bobbin, it would slow down the assembly and cost the bean counters time and money. With a white bobbin it was easier to see how close to the edge of the bobbin the windings were and because of that, double whites and zebras got a lot more turns and higher DCRs. Do higher DCR’s sound better? Some say yes. Some say no. It’s pretty subjective. Everyone has an opinion. I like a neck pickup to be in the mid 8’s and the bridge in the low 8’s. Most like a “hotter” bridge. I might add that DCR doesn’t equal output. It’s a common myth and everybody has to stop thinking that a higher DCR is better.

All are stop tails (including the 355). If we go to the top twenty, there is only one Bigsby in the group. So, I THINK I can safely say that a stop tail is a factor. All but one has a big neck (as do most of the top twenty) so that’s a likely factor as well. Neck angles are all over the place among the top ten. At least three have very shallow angles. Maybe a factor, maybe not. There are probably characteristics that are unmeasurable or impossible to know. I don’t know the composition of the plywood for any of these (and it varied). Body thickness also varied a good bit but I don’t usually measure that. For all I know, The amount of glue used to attach the neck could be a factor-I don’t look at that either.

One thing worth noting…the difference between an “average” 58 to 64 ES guitar and a top twenty ES guitar isn’t much. I don’t know that I can say that there is a measurable percentage difference. I could guess 5% maybe? Out of around 600 ES guitars that have passed through my hands, only one was a total irredeemable dog and perhaps a dozen were playable but not terribly good. So 2% of them aren’t worth playing (or paying big bucks for). Those are pretty good odds. Consider that by the 70’s, the odds of getting a bad guitar were more like 75% or 1 good one out of four (my opinion only. YMMV). Keep in mind, the best 335/345/355 for you is the one that sounds best to your ears, not mine.

This is number four. Look closely. It’s not a 335. It’s a sunburst mono ES-355. This sat in the number two position for a year or so and still resides in the top five. It is certainly the best 355 ever and is so close to the number one 335 that on a given day, I might like it better than number one. At that point it depends on the amp and my ears.

What to Do Next

Sunday, May 14th, 2023

I have recently moved into the Les Paul market and have learned a lot about them. The marketplace itself is very different than what I’m used to but I guess the buyer of a $400,000 guitar is a bit different than the buyer of a 335. I sold the 58 in the photo recently as well as a museum grade 59.

Well, I knew it would happen eventually. After 12 plus years, I’ve just about run out of things to say about ES-335’s, 345’s and 355’s. I could repeat some things and maybe correct some errors (yes, there are a few errors, mostly in the early years) but unless someone wants to tell me otherwise, I’ve covered pretty much all the aspects of these guitars. I suppose I could get into real esoterica like taking apart the pots and pickups going through the components but I don’t think there would be that much interest. I’ve thought about covering later 335’s from the mid 80’s onward and maybe even the 70’s but there is a problem with that as well. I simply never see any of them. You all know what I think about 70’s Gibsons and for me to write intelligently about them, I’d have to buy and sell them. All my knowledge comes from observation. I don’t generally read guitar books (although I’ve helped to write a couple). There are some great later 335’s but, again, I don’t see enough of them to write with the kind of detail that you’ve come to expect from me. I think most of you understand that I’m a vintage dealer who writes and not a writer who sells vintage guitars.

There are a couple of interesting options though. I’ve started dealing in vintage Les Pauls and I’m learning a lot. I’ve sold my fair share of 50’s gold tops and lately a few bursts. I’ve always felt that the burst market was a little too scary but now that I’ve gained a lot more knowledge about them, a $400,000 guitar no longer scares the crap out of me. Well, actually it still does but that’s probably healthy. So, maybe I write about Les Pauls. The problem is that everyone writes about Les Pauls and unless you love the way I write, you might not learn anything new or be entertained. I actually find the Les Paul marketplace to be more interesting than the guitars themselves. I have to admit a great Les Paul sounds like a choir of angels but, like 335’s there are good ones, better ones and great ones. Provenance is a big deal with LPs and I find that very interesting as it hardly ever figures into the value of 335’s. How pretty the guitar is (read how much figure in the wood) is another factor that is largely absent from the 335 market. 335’s are all about tone and condition. LP’s seem to be about flame and provenance (and, yes, tone).

I could write about SG’s. I’ve always liked SG’s and I’ve owned at least 100 of them over the years. There’s a lot of overlap between SG’s and 335’s (and Les Pauls) but there are quite a few issues that are unique to them-like the terrible neck join that they kept changing because it wasn’t stable. The other guitars that I have a good base of knowledge about (and really need somebody to champion them) are Gibson made Epiphones. They are, by far, the most underappreciated guitars in the vintage realm. I’ve owned lots of Sheratons, Crestwoods, Coronets, Casinos and Wilshires. I keep a 60 Wilshire in my very small personal collection. I play it as often as I play my main guitar which is a blonde 59 ES-345 with two patched holes in the top.

It’s a tough call for me. I could probably come up with more ES topics but I don’t know if I want to start writing about pickup slugs and height springs. But I could. Let me know what you think. I’d love to get your input.

Gibson made Epiphones are worth writing about. A blonde Sheraton is maybe a $25000-$30000 guitar while a Gibson in blonde is three times that or more. That’s a pretty good deal. Also, the best P90 guitar I’ve ever played (and I own four of them) is the 60-63 Wilshire.