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Gibson ES-335 Most Versatile Guitar Ever by Dan Yablonka Guitars

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.

Grinning Elk interview with Ray Mauldin from Grinning Elk

Hi Ray, thank you for taking your time to speak to us. Could you please tell as a little bit about Grinning Elk? Where are you located?
Lee and I have been attending shows together since 2000. At the time, I owned an electronics repair service and was well- established here in my hometown. Lee walked into my office one day and as we were talking, I asked him, “What exactly do you do, Man”? He answered, “I buy and sell vintage guitars”. Well, I had always been a gear junkie, having played in various bands around Atlanta for years and I thought that his answer sounded very intriguing, so I asked if I could go to a show with him sometimes. He said, “Sure” so in October 2000, we drove out to the Arlington, Texas show and on the way back, the idea of forming a company was born. Our office is in Douglasville, Ga., which is about 20 miles West of Atlanta.

What initially motivated you to set up a music store, and when was that?
We don’t have what is referred to as a “brick and mortar” store. We are primarily a web- based business and have an appointment only office where clients can set up a time to come and visit. Our office and company was officially opened in Sept. 2006.

In EU the current Gibson case “lacey act” has gotten a lot of attention, what is your perspective on shipping between US & EU? Have you had any problems regarding this case so far?
Not yet. In the last year, we have been asked to send only two guitars that had Brazilian Rosewood overseas. Both were vintage Martins and we decided that rather than take a chance on them being confiscated, we would sell them here in the U.S. Thankfully, our clients understood and the guitars sold easily here.

Do you play music yourself? If so, what do you play, for how long have you been doing it?
I have been playing bass since about 1987, which was right after I got out of the Army. Lee’s been playing guitar since the late 70’s, when he was in high school. I think he even won a talent show back then, so he obviously got an earlier start than I did. He’s a much more accomplished musician than I am. He’s taller too.

The Elk Nation….James Hetfield….could you tell us a bit more about that?
That was one of the best days of my life. It was a Sunday and I was lying on my couch, watching TV.  Metallica was playing Atlanta that night and was thinking I’d get tickets down at the arena right before the show started. Lee called me up and said, “Pull out those two Flying V’s and the ’65 Strat. We might be showing them to the guys in Metallica this afternoon”. I probably said something like “Yeah, sure we are” but he insisted that I get up off my comfortable couch and get ready.  So I begrudgingly did as he asked, thinking that this was a cruel joke because you just didn’t get to go meet Metallica on a Sunday afternoon, but sure as shootin’, two hours later, we were standing at the service entrance to Phillips Arena with those guitars in hand. James’ guitar tech, Zak took us into a room where we laid the guitars out and it wasn’t long before Hetfield walked in and started checking them out. He eventually bought the white ’75 Flying V. We later showed the Strat to Kirk Hammett, but he said it was too clean and “not vibey enough”. Go figure that one out!

What do you consider the biggest challenge for dealers of musical instruments today?
I think the most difficult part of our business today is completing a deal over the telephone or by email. It’s a challenge to sell a piece to someone that is halfway around the world with only a written description or with words spoken on the phone. We want to make sure that the guitar or bass being discussed is exactly what our client is looking for and will fit his or her needs. The last thing we want is to mail a guitar across the planet only to have it come back.  We try to do all of the legwork and preparation before the guitar goes out so that when it arrives at its new home, the customer opens the case and says “wow”. That’s our goal with every transaction.

How do you choose what products to carry?
That’s another challenge in itself. We are so picky when it comes to condition and originality, the pool of instruments we will consider buying is a small one. We want them all to be as close to new as possible and completely original. Every once in a while, we’ll purchase a guitar that might have broken solder joints or a replaced nut, but it’s a rare occasion. There’s even a term that’s been coined in our industry- “Elk clean”. I hear it all the time at the shows we attend and I’d like to think that it refers to best of the best.

What is the oddest guitar you’ve ever sold?
A few years ago, at the Philadelphia Guitar Show, we bought a 1986 Kramer Triax that was virtually unplayed. It was flip- flop pink and had its original flight case and all of the tags.  Very cool and very 80’s!

Do you have any personal favorite guitars in your shop? If so, why is said guitar your favorite?
My favorite guitars are usually basses, so at the moment, it’s a Rickenbacker 4003s8. It’s an 8- string bass in Desert Gold that was made as a “color of the year” piece in 2001. There can’t be more than one or two in the world. In terms of favorite guitars, we have the first Murphy- aged Les Paul ever made at Gibson and it’s one of the most authentic looking ’59 reissues we’ve ever seen. I think Lee’s got that one stashed away somewhere so I can’t get my hands on it.

Given that this is for a blog, what role has technology (the internet, your website, etc.) played in the success of your business?
Well, it has exposed us to the entire world. Anybody, anywhere with a little electricity, an internet connection or a smart phone can look at our inventory and buy from us. Think about it: prior to the establishment of the internet, most guitar dealers sold their gear from a store and if they did have any national or international exposure, it would have been through magazine advertisements. Now, you can place a banner on a forum and be seen by literally millions of visitors to that forum a year.  I once sold a 1967 Stratocaster to a gentleman in Belgium from my Blackberry, sitting in the parking lot of a local post office. You couldn’t do that ten years ago.

Is there a general trend to the people who purchase from you, in terms of how skilled or experienced they are?
The majority of our clients are professionals, serious collectors and higher- end musicians. They know their stuff when they call, they like what they see on our website so generally, the only thing left to discuss is price. The gear we have speaks for itself.

What advice would you give to somebody looking to purchase a guitar from you?
If you’ve never heard of us, check us out. Another important aspect of the internet is, if you consistently perform at a high level, people will say so. The various forums have become powerful mediums and people all over the world talk about their purchases, experiences, etc. If you make just one person unhappy, they will certainly say something about it somewhere. Your reputation is the most important thing your company can have. It’s everything.

Any famous last words?
Sure. It’s a Latin saying: “audentes fortuna iuvat, which means “Fortune Favors the Bold”. Or, on a lighter note, Two Elks are always better than one…

In 2010 V&R visited Arlington Guitar Show and Ray was kind enough to introduce us to some of his pieces: (The interview with Ray Mauldin starts at 1:43)

A selection of Grinning Elk pieces:
Korina Explorer R9
Gibson ES330T
Rickenbacker 660/12 Tom Petty
Gibson USA map guitar