RSS

Archive for January, 2024

Red Dots Before my Eyes: Update #2

Saturday, January 13th, 2024

This is the very first red ES-335. It shipped in December of 1958 and was wired in stereo. Gold knobs were probably factory (355’s had them too in 58). I don’t know the FON. The serial is A28800.

Red 59 ES-335’s are rare. It was my holy grail guitar. I was told by folks who were “experts” that there were no red 59’s. There was one red 58 and 21 red 60’s but no 59’s. Well, experts, I’m going to update this post every time another red 59 335 surfaces. New information…I was recently told by a Gibson employee that the shipping ledgers (which they hold pretty close to the vest these days) showed that 15 cherry red ES-335’s were ordered in 1959. All had to be special orders as red wasn’t offered as a standard finish until 1960. As of January 2024, I know of eight of them. The latest turned up in Germany and I bought it through a dealer in the UK.

I first posted this in 2018 and a few more red 59 dot necks have turned up and, of course, I bought them (and sold them). First, a little history…

I formerly used the user name “red59dot” on guitar websites and forums (fora?) because I had been on the lookout for a red 59 335 for years. The rumor back in the late 90’s was that there weren’t any-only a stereo 58 that left the factory in December of that year. Then, out of nowhere (well, out of New Jersey, actually) a guy calls me (this was maybe 2008) and says he has a red 59 and I said “I want it”. I was skeptical. He said to meet me at such and such a park in North Jersey and bring cash. It was $18000 which, at that time was in line with what a sunburst 59 would cost. I’m always hesitant to meet someone I don’t know with a paper bag full of Benjamins but I really wanted the guitar. It turns out it was a Bigsby with a big neck and a zebra in the bridge (I think). Anyway, all went well (whew) and my search was over. Only it wasn’t. I wanted a stop tail.

After a trip to North Jersey, meeting the owner on a park bench with a paper bag full of cash, this is the first red 59 dot neck I owned. And the first one I ever saw. SN A30906

It’s maybe ten years later and while I’ve had a few red 59 345’s, I hadn’t seen another red 59 335 except another Bigsby that had little black diamonds painted on the cutaways. That was a mint example and was for sale for $55,000 at a well known dealer. I saw it at the Philly show and passed mostly because it was a Bigsby. The diamonds, supposedly factory, weren’t that big a deal. I had actually seen a 330 with the same decoration. And they were under the clear coat so I assumed they actually were factory. I figured someone had sanded through the thin spot where the cutaways bulge upward.

The “black diamond” ES-335. Mint. I should have bought it back when I first saw it at the Philly show. $55K seemed like a lot back then. Not so much now for any mint 59. SN A31962. I did eventually buy it in 2020 (for a lot more than $55,000) and sold it shortly after locally. It sold again recently and is still in CT. Factory Bigsby with zebras I think.

The following year, I get an email from a dealer in Paris (France, not Texas) asking me if I’d be interested in a red 59 335 stop tail. Yes. I would be interested. It’s a fairly early 59 with a 58 FON. Oh, and it has a Varitone. The Varitone first appeared in February of 59 on a short run of 4 or 5 ES-345’s that pre-date the “first racks” of April 59. But this guitar, which had to be a special order, started its build in 1958. So, is this the very first Varitone equipped guitar ever built? The serial number of the earliest known ES-345 is A29132 shipped in February 59. The FON is T7303-xx. This 59 ES-335 is serial A29553 but the FON is much earlier. It is T6473-xx. FONs are sequential. Serial numbers are not. Also worth noting, I’ve never seen a stereo 355 with a 58 FON. So, the question remains. Is this the first Varitone? I don’t know but it certainly could be.

This is the Varitone red 59 out of France. This was, I thought, the second one shipped and has a 58 FON. Turns out it wasn’t-it waas the third. Serial is A29553. 58 FON. The shipping log makes no note of it being red or being a Varitone.

Another year goes by and I still haven’t had a stock red 59 stop tail 335 but I believed there are two of them. I consider the red 59 dot neck to be the holy grail of 335’s. Yes, blondes are nice but they are relatively common (they made 71 of them in 59). And I’d really like to find a black one (I know of only one) but I don’t expect to. If you recall Dan Erlewine’s “rule of two”, I’ll probably end up with both of them the same week. The elusive stop tail red 59 turns up in a large collection in Toronto. The owner also owned the “diamond” Bigsby 59 and the Varitone 59. I bought all three from him.

Here’s one of the known stock stop tail 59 ES-335’s in red. It was owned by the same collector who has the “black diamond”-you can tell by the photo background. It is also near mint. A29919 serial number.

Just when I think that’s the end of them, another turns up out of the blue (or red) in the Summer of 2021. This one is also a stop tail but had a Bigsby added at some point later. It isn’t as clean as the other one but it’s still a collector grade. While the first one cost me $18,000, this one was $80,000. It came out of North Carolina if I’m recalling correctly.

This is a factory stop tail that had a Bigsby added and then removed. No holes in the top. It’s a fairly late one…serial number A31481

One other point worth making. Until mid to late 1960, the red dye used to color the wood red was particularly UV sensitive. While it starts off a rich vibrant blood red, it often fades, with UV exposure, to a pinkish light red we’ve all called “watermelon”. In more extreme cases it can fade to a pale orange. In guitars that spend most of their life in the case (and not a store window), the red can retain nearly all of its original color. The guitars pictured in this post are a pretty good representation of what these early reds can do. The 58, the Varitone 59 and the “diamond” 59 are still vibrant. They look similar to later reds that haven’t faded. The New Jersey Bigsby is clearly faded to that wonderful watermelon shade. When a later red ES guitar is exposed to sunlight it tends to darken rather than lighten, moving in the direction of brownish maroon. These watermelon 335’s are, I think, among the most attractive 335’s on the planet. Sadly, by the Fall of 1960, they were gone forever.

Fast forward to November 2023. I get a phone call from a gentleman, again in the Carolinas (South this time) and he tells me about a near mint Bigsby 335 from 1959. One owner, tags and all original. I make an offer. I buy the guitar. It’s expensive but what do I expect? Now there are seven (not including the 58) that I know of and I’ve owned all but one (I think Vince Gill owns that one). This one is a factory stop tail that has had two different Bigsbys. The first was probably a B6-the triangular hole pattern is at the endpin. It also has the four hole configuration from the late 60’s or early 70’s B7 that was on it when I got it. It’s now set up as a stop tail with a proper 50’s Bigsby in the case. It’s also already gone.

This red dot neck now gets the notation of being the earliest 59 red 335. Serial number is A29258 making it a February build, although you never really know with serial numbers.

I think we’re getting to the point where “new” finds are rare and infrequent. The guys who bought 59’s in 59 are in their 80’s and 90’s and have already sold off their collections. I am surprised (and thrilled) when a rarity like a red 59 shows up out of nowhere. It’s like Bigfoot showing up at your campsite. Usually it turns out to be a moose but sometimes it’s a red 59 dot neck.

So, I wrote the above post (minus the first paragraph which I just wrote) in November of 2023. Clearly, I didn’t expect another red 59 to turn up 6 weeks later. I get an email in mid December 2023 from a dealer in the UK with whom I do a fair amount of business (I’m usually buying, he’s usually selling). He tells me about a red 59 335 in Germany that he has been offered. He is skeptical about the finish (and so am I). It has faded a bit more than most early reds and it has the most spectacular flame top. It’s hard to strip a sunburst and refinish it in red without some sign of the darker parts of the sunburst being visible. A factory blonde would be easier to refinish but the economics of that don’t really work unless the blonde was already refinished. Fortunately, my connection at Gibson was able to look it up in the ledger and there it was. Part of a run of four of them done in or around May of 1959 A30220-A30223. The one in question is A30222. That answered the refinish question. I bought the guitar and it is perhaps the most beautiful 335 I’ve ever seen.

This is number 8 out of 15. Where are the rest? Under a bed? In a closet? In a dumpster? This is a factory Bigsby that had pearl dots over the stop tail bushings. Double white PAFs and a thin top, too. This is the fun part of being a vintage dealer. I know they are out there. They just have to find me.