Archive for August, 2023

Witch Hats, Chicken Heads and Cupcakes?

Thursday, August 31st, 2023

Do these look like a bonnet to you? Thanks to Vintage Correct Parts for the photo.

You won’t learn a whole lot from this post but it might be fun. Guitar players seem to have a soft spot for nicknames for their instruments and for certain guitar parts. When I first heard the term “whammy bar”, I knew what they were talking about. Well, the guitar community never met a knob that it didn’t have a descriptive nickname for. Gibson seems to have the most knob nicknames but Fender and Epiphone have a few as well. Some are descriptive and some maybe not so much.

For example, the simple numbered knob that was found on nearly every Gibson guitar from the mid 50’s until the early 60’s is called a “bonnet” knob. It doesn’t resemble a bonnet to my eye. It looks more like a derby but nobody calls it a “derby” knob. Earlier, there was the “speed” knob which mostly just stays still but I guess the idea was that it was somehow faster at turning. Speed knobs were largely used in the late 40’s and 50’s. More descriptive is the Gibson “top hat” knob. It looks like a top hat. It’s also, for obvious reasons, called a “reflector” knob as it had gold or silver foil on the top with the function printed on the reflector part…either “volume” or “tone”. Continuing the descriptive slant is the ubiquitous “chicken head” knob. With a little imagination, this knob, found mostly on Fender tweed amps and Gibson guitars with a Varitone, looks like a cartoon chicken head. Clever bunch, these guitar players.

Top hats. Or reflectors. They look a little like top hats. There were a few versions of these-short knurl, long knurl, tall, gold and black. They all look like little top hats.

The always popular “chicken head”. So named because it sort of resembles the head of a, you guessed it, chicken.

My favorite is the “cupcake” knob. It looks like a cupcake. OK, more like a cupcake liner than a cupcake but it leaves no doubt what knob it describes. Look at a Fender brownface or white Tolex amp built from 1960 until around 1963. There are white ones and brown ones but they are apparently all the same flavor. Two knobs-one Fender and one Gibson-are very similar. The numbered “skirt” knob is the knob of choice for the Fender blackface and silverface amps. The Gibson version is called a “witch hat” because, uh, it looks like a witches hat. They showed up in late on ES guitars and later on Les Pauls and SG’s.

The very illustrative “cupcake” knob. Comes in vanilla and chocolate and it does, indeed, look like an upside down cupcake. Or a Reese cup.

There are knobs that don’t seem to have been given descriptive names and, frankly, if they were all like that, I wouldn’t be writing this post. The black knobs on a Fender Jazz Bass and Jaguar don’t have a name (that I know of). Strats and Jazzmasters have versions of the “skirt” knob including a “short skirt” found on early Strats (well before short skirts on women became popular in the 60’s). Telecaster knobs are called “knurled” knobs because, well, they are knurled. Not terribly creative. I’ve seen them referred to as “barrel” knobs as well but they don’t look a whole lot like barrels. Epiphone has a real imaginative one that appeared on 50’s Epiphones. It looks kind of like a circus tent and most folks call them “carousel” knobs or “big top” knobs. This from the company that brought us the “bikini logo” Guess what it looks like.

The “carousel” knob looks something like a circus tent. This pair is a little dirty but so are most circus tents.

Find Another

Saturday, August 19th, 2023

They don’t get any rarer than “one of a kind”. This is the only known sunburst stop tail mono ES-355. It’s a 1959. There are a few other sunburst 355’s from the early 60’s but this is the only stop tail and the only 59 as far as I know.

You would think that after decades of buying and selling guitars that I would be jaded. Ho-hum, another blonde 59 335 (yawn)…Nope. I’ve written many times about the thrill of finding and ultimately buying a one of a kind vintage guitar. You know, the guitars that simply aren’t supposed to exist but, somehow, they do. Gibson and Fender both would custom make a guitar for you during the fifties and sixties. These custom orders usually took a very long time to get (a year or more) and were fairly expensive although I’ve never seen paperwork showing exactly what you might pay for a custom color or an unusual electronic configuration. The records kept by Gibson are notoriously poor so if you are lucky enough to find the ledger page that goes with the custom order you just paid stupid money for, it might show no sign that it was anything but a stock example. Early on in, say, 59, it was more likely that the ledger page would list the unusual characteristic of a special order and even show the name of the buyer or dealer it went to. By 61, that was pretty much gone and you only see the serial number, model, color and maybe if it had a Bigsby. Using the ledger page to prove your guitar is a special order is, more often than not, a fool’s errand.

I know of five black 59 ES-345’s. I’ve owned four of them. This one belonged to Geddy Lee for a while and now lives in the UK.

I love the one of a kind Gibsons and I almost always buy them when they come up. The average player/collector probably scratches his or her head and wonders why a sunburst, stop tail, mono ES-355 would be worth $125,000. Find another. (it’s the only one known). Why would a 1959 ES-345 in black be worth close to $200K? Find another (there are five of them and black is a hot color right now). There are 211 blonde 335’s from 58-60. There is one from 63 and one (a lefty) from 64 as far as we know. These rarities are all special orders. There are some other unique custom orders that I’ve found or heard of over the years. There’s a green burst 335. There are a few blonde 355’s-I’ve had a 60, a 62 and a 63. There are a couple of tenor (4 string) 345’s. There’s a lovely white ES-345 and a black 355 – both owned by Keith Richards. It goes on. If you have unlimited resources, you could probably put together a wonderful collection consisting only of special orders. There are lots of them and at the same time, they are rare as hen’s teeth.

I wish I could have afforded to keep many of them. I still have the blonde 63 ES-335 and the blonde 63 ES-355. The white ’65 ES-355 is gone as are the four black 59 ES-355’s I’ve owned. The sunburst mono stop tail 355 is gone. The blonde ebony block 62 ES-355 is also gone. There are lots more but if I think about these gems for too long, I will try to buy them back. I know where all of them are. Part of the appeal of collecting is the hunt and finding these often one of a kind special orders is great fun and very satisfying. Early in the internet era, I joined a few of the guitar forums (fora?) and used the screen name “red59dot”. I didn’t have one at the time and, in fact, I had never seen one but I was aware that a few existed. I knew about the one 58 but not a 59. I scoured the internet, magazines, newspapers and every other source I could find looking for that elusive example. I bought what was supposed to be a red 59 335 in 2001 but it turned out to be a fake. It was a 335 body but the neck was from an Epiphone with a cut down long headstock and a dot fingerboard added. The give away was a cut out in the center block under the bridge pickup which didn’t exist in 59. I eventually found 5 red 59 dot necks. It took decades but the hunt was great fun. In keeping with my “don’t fall in love” rule, I didn’t keep one for myself.

Near mint and simply stunning watermelon red 1959 dot neck 335. There are five or six of them. If there is one guitar I wish I had kept, it is this one. This ended up in California.

I recall another guitar that took me nearly five years to acquire. One of my readers wrote to me to tell me about his elderly guitar teacher’s beloved 1963 black ES-345. I made an offer immediately and was, of course, turned down. Every year for the next four or five years I made another offer (always higher). The teacher eventually passed away and the guitar was gifted to my reader. He didn’t want to sell it either as it had special sentimental value (and it was a great guitar). Eventually, the purchase price became compelling enough to make the sale happen and the hunt was over. I didn’t keep that one either. I’m a dealer, not a collector. If I was a collector, I would have an incredible collection (and I would be dead broke).

One of a kind 1963 ES-345 in factory black. Near mint and a wonderful player. Yes, it has f-holes they are just hard to see.

If you have an unusual (or unique) ES guitar from the 50’s or 60’s, let me know. If you want to sell it, I’ll probably buy it. If you don’t, I’d still like to see it and maybe write a post about it (with your permission). One more super rare one that I just acquired that is currently for sale. It is a 1963 ES-355 in factory blonde. I’ve owned a blonde 59/60, a blonde 62 and a blonde 63. Of course, Gibson didn’t make any blonde 355’s until they did.

I know of five blonde ES-335’s made before 1965. There are a few made in the late 60’s as well (I had a 68 a few years ago). I know of one 59, two 60’s, a 62 and this 63. Surprisingly, the sideways trem on this guitar works perfectly.