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Double Oh

Here’s a very attractive and very early (January) 1960 ES-335. It is 100% identical to a December 1959 ES-335 but would likely be priced many thousands less simply because it is a 60 and not a 59.

In addition to the dozens of ES guitars I acquire and sell every year, there are a few other models I seek out and sometimes buy. Regular readers know how much I like the early Epiphones (1959-64) and Fender Esquires. I buy reverse Firebirds, Telecasters, Strats and even the occasional Les Paul. My previous post was about the year 1959 and how the vintage guitar market has come to embrace that year as the absolute pinnacle of quality and tone (at Gibson anyway). I also pointed out that guitars don’t have “model years”. Gibson (and others) made changes to their models when the changes were needed whether to address an issue like neck angle problems or to lower the production costs like the switch from stop tail to trapeze in 65. These changes didn’t happen on January 1 of the given year.

I prefer to date a guitar using the serial number. Many feel that the factory order number (on hollow body Gibsons) is more accurate. But the FON only tells us when the guitars’ assembly was started. I’ve had three 1960 ES-335’s with a 58 FON. Are they 60 or 58? I call them 60. Argue the point with me if you like. That brings me to a very interesting phenomenon among Les Paul aficionadoes. They call them “double zeroes”. What’s a double zero? It refers to the serial number. The first digit on a Les Paul is the year-a 58 is “8”, a 59 is “9” and a 60 is “0”. That’s the first zero. The second set of digits is the numerical order within that year. The first one made in 1960 would be (I believe) 0 0100. The last “double zero” would be (theoretically) 0 0999. I bring this up for a couple of reasons. First, I own one. Secondly, they are very desirable guitars-nearly as desirable as a 59 but not quite. Why is that? Well, it’s not dissimilar to a 60 ES-335 with a 59 factory order number and 59 features. A “double zero” was probably built in late 1959 and given a 60 serial number in January or maybe February. While I haven’t owned a whole lot of Les Paul bursts, I’ve had a few-many of them from 1960. The necks on those were slim and that is a factor in the desirability of both a LP and an ES. Bigger necks are simply more popular although that can change over time. That seems to be a very big factor here…”double zeroes” often have big necks.

I went to the burst serial site to see how many double zeroes are accounted for and I found 55 (not including a couple of re-stamped serials). I don’t know if all of them have all of the 59 features but they all seem to have the bonnet knobs of a 59. I can’t determine neck shape from the photos but I understand that many have the big 59 neck. Plenty of them have double white PAFs which was kind of a surprise because double whites aren’t common on 60 335’s (but they are on 345’s and 355’s). Well, it seems reasonable that these somewhat rare guitars should command some kind of recognition especially given the price differential that has emerged between a 59 and a 60. I believe we (meaning guitar aficionadoes) have become a little too obsessed with model years. The price differential between a collector grade 59 and 60 ES-335 can be $30,000 (or nearly 30%). The price differential between a 59 burst and a 60 burst can be $100K or more, also approaching 30%. It shouldn’t be, in my opinion. I’m tempted to start buying up all of the early 60 335’s with the bigger neck profile and waiting for the market to catch on. It appears that the Les Paul folks have started to do this simply by creating the term double zero. This is a good thing. 335 folks will eventually catch on, most likely when 59’s simply are out of reach.

This is Les Paul serial number 0 0119. It is the third lowest 60 serial number known on the burst serial site. I bought this guitar recently and it has the big 59 neck, double white PAFs, mid 59 pots, a very pretty top and is, essentially everything I would want in a burst except for a 59 serial number. A 59 like this one would be over $500,000 today. So why is this nearly $100K less?

3 Responses to “Double Oh”

  1. I was lucky enough to play an early 1960 Burst recently and it was arguably the best vintage guitar I’ve encountered. The clarity and warmth of the neck pickup was unlike any I had yet played. And the bridge pickup had heavenly gain when pushed…at $100K less than a 1959 it seems like quite the bargain. Now to go win the lottery!

  2. Peter says:

    I will never understand the 59 thing. I get the neck depth part. You want a bigger neck fine, but I don’t get the market superiority. Many of the famous guitars that people associate with 1959 can’t be proven as such. Mike Mccready said he got a 59 strat because SRV played one and as it it turned out neither his or SRV’s strat was from that year. Maybe Page’s number 1 is a 59, maybe not. Maybe Beano was a 59, maybe not. Nobody knows. The price difference is just laughable to me. That being said, every vintage Gibson I’ve had has been from 1960 with the exception of a 63 335. It’s because 1960’s perception of inferiority, that I can afford to have a dot neck 335. So, thank you 1959, for making 1960 cheap (relatively) lol!

  3. okguitars says:

    You are not alone in that assessment. I like a bigger neck but the price premium for a 59 is out of proportion. a late 58 is the saame as an early 59-that doesn’t save you much since 58’s are pretty pricey as well. But an early 60 has a great medium neck profile and can be $20,000 less. Just make sure you get the earlier 60 neck profile. I don’t know exactly when they changed over so ask for a measurement of the depth. An early 60 will measure around .83″-.86″ at the first fret (behind the fret). A later 60 will be much slimmer at .78″-.81″
    If that’s the measurement on the 60 you are looking at, you might as well buy a 61 which will cost even less.

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