There is no way to start this article without paying a great deal of due to Gibson’s President during their “Golden Era” (1950s to early to mid 1960s) Ted McCarty. The man was a visionary and helped or invented futuristic models such as the Explorer and Flying V and had his hands dirty in the development of the Les Paul and Electric Spanish or ES series semi hollow bodies. Thanks Teddy!!
The Gibson ES-335, 345 and ES 355 guitars are probably if not THE most verstaile guitar ever … certainly amongst the top. The solid maple block running through the middle of the guitar is why it is called a “semi” hollow. It allows for the sustain of a solid body with the overtones of a hollow body and the Feedback issue is solved all in one brilliant move. This solid block however would come into play as a difference later between eras which i will soon address in the article.
The ES335 was introduced in 1958 with a market price of $267.50. I know … i know … if only today … but if it makes you feel any better .. you had to pay seperately for the case!!
The very 1st releases were in sunburst or natural or what is also referred to as blond today. The early 1958s were slightly different in that they had no neck binding. Though early and unique most dealers and collectors sell or value these for slightly less than a bound model. By mid 58 this was a non issue as binding was introduced and by 1959 the model was really off and running whether 335 345 or 355. Players like BB King and Chuck Berry would help put them on the map.
Shortly after its release came the fancier models just mentioned. introduced in 1959.,…. the ES345 and 355. What set these models apart was mostly ornamentaion and the stereo option as well as a vibrola, usually a Bigsby but some sideways are seen too. The 1959 ES355 would also show off the upcoming cherry finish officially introduced in 1960 AND the fancier bound ebony fingerboard. You may have seen the early 59 ES355s and most of them were actually made from the same red anolyn die that faded out of all their other models so the 355s often took on a more reddish orange hue than its later 1960 release where they had solved the fading issue … much like in Les Pauls standards of that era. It should be noted that while stereo was a big part of these models that early ES355s were also made occasionally in mono which is a superbly collectable combo. By 1960 all 3 models were available in Cherry Red, Sunburst and Natural but natural was discontinued after 1960.
As time progressed some of the features would change and come seriously into play thus why certain eras are considered much better.
A very big one to me with ES335s was the history of the solid block. 1958-1961 “Dot Necks” (referring to their dot inlaid fingerboard) all had solid blocks through and through … but as Gibson’s production on this model would ramp up they in 1962 began cutting out the treble side of the block between pick ups allowing for a “universal” shell so that determination of model could come later in case they needed a 345 instead for example. The stereo models required a big choke and stereo splitter and this device was mounted between the pick ups so suddenly the ES335s were also cut out. This will not show from the bass side F hole but will from the treble with a light. Then earlier ones had merely a small pilot hole drilled in the block for wiring as on Dot Necks but in mid 62 you’ll see about a 1+1/2 – 2″ cut out between the pick ups TREBLE SIDE ONLY. In my opinion as a 335 owner and obsessed fan all of my adult life is that the earlier solid block had more sustain and a darker sound more like a Les Paul and the later ones a little jazzier tone. This is a very important to some … yet a little discussed turning point except between the deepest of “335 heads!”
This would be the start of a transitional era that eventually revamped many features of the model. Up to this point only minor mods like a knob change in 1960 had occurred. The changes in most cases happened in the mid 60s, These affected many Gibsons in that way. In later 62 the PAF decals were replaced by patent number pick ups though this was mostly a formality and didn’t amount to changes made right away. Also at this time block neck markers became stock though dots were still an option. In 1963 dots were no longer offered. The next evolution would be in the mid 60s late 64 into mid 65 when the well accepted wider fingerboard would disappear ….the nickel hardware would be replaced my chrome .. the stop tailpiece was then replaced by the trapeze, “T-tops” or later humbuckers were introduced and eventually what you wound up with was still a great guitar but certainly somewhat different than the original eras.
The 60s and 70s brought players that would also give ‘cred’ to the model Eric Clapton used his 1964 on Cream’s “Badge” … one of the best and most noted guitar solos of all time. In the 70s Fusion guys would put the dot neck into the history books forever with players like Larry Carlton cutting it up on Steely Dan’s “Kid Charlemagne” and Lee Ritenour showing up on the cover of everything with his red Dot.
By the late 60s the changes were mostly the same as other models in that Norlin’s signs would show up … like the head volute … “made in USA” stamp” But all in all stayed the same until the late 70s when small additions like coil splitters were added. But there is also another point regarding the center block to be made here and that is there was also a period early in the 70s where some but not all 335s were made with a total divide in the block from bass to treble side that you actually Can see through from both side F holes … or a non solid block. This may have a good clean sound but i have played several and feedback can be an issue at high gain and volume situations.
By the nearly 1980s everyone was aware that the earlier features were the ones they wanted and much like Fender … Gibson launched into the reissue business and the reissues are a very close aesthetic version of the originals … though most would argue not on a level of the guitar’s actual playability, sonics and desirability. Which would explain why the reissues go used for about $1500-$2000 and the orignals more like $25,000- $40,000 (and more for a blond!).
I too … have payed through way too much for a blond … but back to guitars … It is my humble opinion that the Gibson ES335 is the most versatile guitar ever. It can be used as a Rock and Roll overdrive guitar, a jazz clean guitar, BLUES guitar extrordinaire …. a country guy can use one on the treble pick up and so on.
If i had to part with all of my electric guitars and keep just one … you KNOW its going to be my 61 dot neck ES-335!!
Thanks for listening.
Dan Yablonka. Dan Yablonka Guitars.