Happy new year! Tired of hearing that yet? Not us. Here at Leading Tone, we’re all about milking the holidays for as long as we can.
Just before Decemberween hit, I was asked to do an appraisal on what I was told was a ’62 ES-335. The serial number checked out for a ’62, but from the moment the case opened I knew it wasn’t a ’62. How did I know? Well, that’s the point of this article.
When doing an appraisal, I spend a great deal of my time taking notes on the instrument, examining components and noting features that seem inconsistent for the suggested year of production. I then take those findings and compare them with specs from the era, taking into account the changes that happened from month to month- especially with Gibson. For instance, Gibson felt no hesitation to use parts as they were available, meaning that you’ll find a few 335’s with nickel hardware well into the late 60’s even though chrome officially replaced nickel by ’66.
How, then, does one truly know the provenance of an instrument? In a case like this, it all boils down to looking not at one specific year and fitting the guitar’s specs into that mold, but rather looking at the range of years specific specs or parts were in production and narrowing it down from there. Think of it like a game of 20 questions; you start knowing nothing at all, and as you ask questions your focus narrows until you zero in on the final answer. It’s like CSI, but without Gil Grissom going on about bugs or how blood reacts to fine leather and fear. This is how we do it here at Leading Tone.
Can you guess how I knew the guitar in question wasn’t a ’62? I’ll let you in on a little secret: Ears. Ears? Ears. Over the years, Gibson continued tweaking the look of the upper and lower horns (or “ears”) on 335s, and as such some years or groups of years show differences in the curve and shape of the ears. Here’s a handy chart I lifted from ES-335.org, which is THE source for information on ES models:
Can you see the difference? Now, see if you can pick out the ’64. Stumped? It’s letter C. Let’s look at each:
A) The ’58 “almost Mickey” ear, not quite as full as B.
B) The classic ’59-’63 “Mickey Mouse Ear”, considered the most appealing style and is highly coveted. Pay attention to the line inside towards the neck.
C) ’64-’67 sharper horn, marking a drastic difference in look from the previous years. This shape is my preference.
D) Ears became more rounded in ’68
E) ’69-mid 70s
F) Late 70’s sharp horn.
Also worth noting is the waistline of these guitars, getting lazier and expanding as the years passed. There’s a joke to be made about American obesity, but I’m far too comfortable in this leather chair to bothered with it.
Ears are one telltale sign, but there are plenty others:
1) In ’63, the center block of the body received an additional cut-out to facilitate the installation of the wiring harness. Prior to ’63, the block was entirely solid and the pickup cavity looked like what you’d see on a Les Paul.
2) The orange interior label inside the bass-side f hole that tells us the model and serial number of the guitar has “Union Made” printed next to the info. This appeared in ’64. Regretfully, I neglected to obtain a detail shot of this one!
3) Tuners are of the Kluson Deluxe make, with “single line, double ring” configuration. This refers to the line of text stamped into the middle of the tuner enclosure and the two rings around the tuning key itself. These features only appeared between the years of 1960-1964.
4) The pickups on this guitar are of the nickel covered “Patent Number” variety which replaced the earlier “Patent Applied For” (P.A.F.) between the years of 1962 and 1965. After ’65, these pickups were chrome covered.
6) Block inlays appeared mid-’62.
7) The nickel Gibson bridge (chrome mid ’65) has the telltale retainer wire (’58-75) and “GIBSON ABR-1” with corresponding foundry mark (’58-late ’64) and nylon saddles, which appeared in ’63.
Other smaller, but no less significant, details include the position of the “crown” or “flower pot” inlay, which moved frequently throughout the model’s history. This one is just above the A and B string tuners, so we can infer that it’s a pre-’67 model.
Also, the neck has what’s known as a “tenon”, which is the length of wood that preferably extends past the neck on a set neck guitar. This tenon extends well into the neck position pickup rout, which ended around 1970.
Some parts can be changed out, but if they’re original they can also be used to narrow down the year of a particular instrument. For instance, the four-ply pickguard is of the short variety (it ends before the ABR bridge) and has a wide bevel. The long guard was available until ’61, and after ’65 the short guard was given a narrow bevel. The truss rod cover exhibits the same change.
Also telling is the Gibson logo itself. It’s in the open ‘b’, open ‘o’ style that we see from the years of 1958-69. The Gibson logo changed a lot after that, from the letters closing and opening, the ‘s’ becoming quite lazy, and loosing the dot of the ‘i’ entirely. If you see a guitar that’s purported to be a ’60s instrument but is sans dot, beware.
After returning this guitar to its store-bought glory and writing up a report, I spent some much-needed alone time with it, and I can’t tell you how much I fell in love with this guitar. Sweet, singing neck pickup tones gave way to an unparallelled vocal presence in the middle position. The bridge was all-out, gloriously full pushed-mids thrill, and brought a tear to my eyes. Did I mention the neck on this thing? Wonderfully worn in by the same hand all of its life, this neck was smooth and fast, and not at all chunky or too thin. Really something, this one. I was sad to see it go.
If you’re interested in having your guitar appraised by Leading Tone, let us know! We’ll take on any project and treat your instrument as we would our own. Appraisals are $75, including a painstakingly researched evaluation of your instrument written up and printed on official-looking paper. We sign and date the document and stand behind not only its correctness, but also its viability for those using it for insurance purposes.
Bring your guitar in today!