Not a 335.

The sleeper of all sleeper guitars. Epiphone Wilshires. The only Gibson made guitar with 2 P90’s, stop tail and ABR-1 from 1958 until 1968. The only other is the LP Standard from 55-early 57 and 68 and later. From the left: 62, 61, 60 and the Custom Shop reissue from 2004 on the floor.

Folks ask me about my personal guitar collection all the time and they are always disappointed with the description…”I don’t have one.” It’s not that I don’t own any guitars, I own lots of them but I’m a dealer and I sell them. I do have a few “keepers” (and even they get sold on occasion) and I’d like to talk about one of my favorites. And it isn’t a 335. It isn’t even a Gibson (except it is but I’ll get to that). It’s the Epiphone Wilshire. The what??

First, a short history lesson. Somewhere around 1958, Epiphone was sinking rapidly toward bankruptcy and Gibson wanted the Epiphone upright bass line. A deal was made and Gibson got the name and the line of instruments. The bass thing never worked out and the instruments didn’t last long but the name became a whole new line of slightly lower priced guitars and amps that were nearly the same as the Gibsons of the era. Epiphone never made the models you know-Sheraton, Casino, Riviera, Wilshire, Crestwood and others. Those were all new models based on existing Gibson designs. Epiphone actually never made solid body guitars at all. The first Epiphone solids showed up in 59 as the Crestwood, Wilshire and Coronet. End of history lesson.

I started playing in local bands when I was in the 7th grade which would have been 1964. I had a new Fender Duo Sonic and a Princeton amp. Between 64 and 68, I probably played in a half dozen different bands and none of them lasted very long but all of them played local gigs and I became a fairly well known lead player among the local musicians (and hacks). In late 67 one of the better known local bands (named after an historic house in my hometown of Scotia, NY called Sanders Mansion) broke up and the keyboard player got the name but not much else. He put together a new band with the same name and I was tapped to play lead. We were six pieces (which meant we didn’t make much money considering the average pay for a night was around $100 for the better bands in the area (and $75 for most). We had two lead singers (one male, one female), keys, drums, bass and guitar. I played a Gibson ES-330 by then and was heavily influenced by Eric Clapton. Cream was at its apex and that’s what I wanted to sound like.

I couldn’t get the sound I wanted out of the 330 because as soon as I got the volume and tone settings right for the “woman tone”, the 330 would feed back and drive everybody nuts. I couldn’t afford to go out and buy something else but the lead singer (the male one) had a friend with a guitar I could borrow. It was a 62 Epiphone Wilshire in a falling apart cardboard case. I would borrow that guitar for every gig and use it on the Cream covers and a few other songs and it nailed the tones I wanted (without the feedback) and I became quite attached to it.

He wouldn’t sell it so I bought an SG and life went on without much change. Fast forward to 1995 or so. I haven’t played a gig since the mid 70’s and I’m starting to get interested in vintage guitars (with the advent of Ebay). The first vintage guitar I looked for was an Epiphone Wilshire but I couldn’t find any of the P90 version which they only made from 59 until 63. The mini humbucker version was out there but they had a very narrow nut and I knew I wouldn’t like that. So I bought a white, refinished 63 Crestwood for $600. It was the same as a Wilshire except it had mini humbuckers and a “Trem-o-Tone” vibrato. I sold that for a decent profit and suddenly, I was a vintage dealer. My personal Wilshire would have to wait.

Between ’95 and now, I’ve probably owned 15 60-63 Wilshires (I’ve never found a 59) and every one of them has been a great player. What’s so great about this guitar? Well, the P90 pickups, while somewhat limited in their tonal possibilities, are great for rock and roll and blues. The guitar weighs almost nothing (5 to 6 pounds usually), has great access to the upper frets and costs very little compared to most guitars from that era. It also has an unusual configuration. Two P90’s, ABR-1 bridge and stop tail. What’s so unusual about that? LP Special and SG Special both had wrap tails. ES-330 had a trapeze tailpiece. At the time, only the ’55 and 56 (and early 57) goldtop Les Paul had this configuration. If I’m given the choice between close to 9 lbs of mahogany over my shoulder and under 6 lbs, I’ll take the lighter one please. I’m not 16 any more (much to my chagrin).

I currently own four of them. A 60, two 61’s and a very good 2004 reissue made in the Gibson Custom Shop. The 61’s are for sale but the 60 is my go to guitar when I don’t want humbuckers. There is little difference between the 60, 61, 62 and 63 other than the neck profile, the logo and the position of the three way switch. The 60 is chunky. The rest are pretty slim and wide. There are mostly red ones although I know of a few white ones and one black one. Tuners were three on a side Klusons-usually oval button single lines although my 60 came from the factory with strip type Klusons (like an LP Special). All had unbound Brazilian boards and celluloid guards (which will off gas and make a mess if you don’t open the case once in a while). They are wonderful players and perhaps the easiest guitar to set up of any I’ve had. You can set it up and leave it for a month and it will still be in tune.

You can still find these in the $6000-$12000 range. Many (and probably most) have had the short seam tailpiece scavenged (it’s a $2500 part these days). Any Wilshire over $10K should be all original. Mods are common especially tuner changes. At $6000 for a slightly unoriginal or lightly modded Wilshire, you’re getting a huge bargain. A comparable early 60’s SG Special or LP Special will run you two to three times as much (and have a wrap tail).

This is the guitar I pick up when I want to play a solid body or I want a screaming rock and roll steamroller of a guitar. I love my 59 ES-345 but sometimes you gotta have P90’s. This is a very early 60. Note the “bikini” logo and oddly placed 3 way switch. That’s not the original case. I have it-it’s cardboard and pretty useless.

4 Responses to “Not a 335.”

  1. Andrew says:

    Love my ’60


  2. Dan says:

    Thank you for shining a light on these fantastic guitars! The only Epiphone with ‘Burst and early 335 hardware – pretty awesome!

    I also own a 1960 Wilshire just like yours – no-wire ABR-1, short seam stopbar, fat neck with ink stamp, and bikini badge. It’s an incredible player with a smoking original set of P90s along with a fully intact and original wiring harness. I have yet to experience a similar SG or LP Special that sounded and felt like this guitar. I feel quite lucky!

  3. okguitars says:

    Does yours have individual tuners (like all the later ones) or strip tuners (like my 60). I’ve never seen another with strip tuners.
    They are original.

  4. Agree that these are wonderful guitars! I feel very fortunate to have found one last year. It is from late 62 / early 63 and has the strap button on the horn which I love and haven’t seen on any others. The neck is pretty much perfect. A bit more of a D shape and is on the slimmer side, but not super thin like some.

    When I first got the guitar the tone felt a bit thin and light. I adjusted some of the pole pieces and it really came to life with power in the lower strings. It is incredibly articulate and also has great presence. The P90’s are strong and their interaction with the tone and volume controls is fantastic. Sometimes just changing the volume a half notch up or down completely changes the dynamics. And the tone knobs can make the sound have such nice warmth in the lower half and makes it scream on the upper half. When up close to 10, the tone knobs seem to give it this great natural compression.

    It’s also worth noting that Jimi Hendrix played one of these for a bit right before he switched over to Stratocasters. Imagine what these rare guitars would be worth if he had stuck with them a bit longer where the guitar was more documented?

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