Cons of a vintage Gibson ES-335

Discussion in '"Vintage" Instruments' started by A-Mags, Aug 11, 2017.

  1. A-Mags

    A-Mags Supporting Member

    Dec 27, 2012
    Hey Everyone!

    I've been given the lifetime opportunity to get a dream guitar and I've fallen in love with a '64 ES 335. It's in good condition with a lot of play and neck wear. I also own some reissues so I'm quite familiar with semi hollow guitars.

    What has me most hesitant is the height of the pole pieces on the pickups. The pickups themselves are pretty recessed with the pole pieces jutting out like skyscrapers. However, I don't intend to change a thing as the guitar plays and sounds extremely sweet. Im just wondering if such an issue might eventually affect the wire in the pups.

    I'm also not a vintage collector so I'm concerned on the frailty of such an old and worn guitar.

    So, what has been your experience with vintage instruments?

    Any other things I should know?

    Thanks in advance
  2. yucatown

    yucatown Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 16, 2008
    Tampa, FL
    Are you buying it from a trusted source? Unless it comes from either the original owner or a reputable dealer, you always have to beware of hidden issues below the surface. That is unless you're getting a steal and you're ok with potential surprises (changed parts, mods, refins and the like). The pickups setup does sound weird, so I would take that to a good luthier and get an opinion.

    As for frailty, unless you drop it on its head, it'll be alright.
  3. Franktone

    Franktone Member

    Feb 28, 2008
    The pole screws are fine. You can lower them back down, but don't tighten them down too hard or they may crack the plastic bobbin itself.
    Just do them down softly into the pickup covers, not very tight.

    The screws will not interfere with any wires because the wires are not anywhere near where the pole screw channels are.
    Somebody just wanted that cleaner sound that comes with lower pickups with raised pole piece screws.

    Play the guitar unplugged, and then plugged into a good amp.
    Do you really like the feel of the guitar?
    Do you really like the sound?
    Does it play well everywhere up and down the neck?

    If your answer to the three above questions is yes then I would seriously consider getting it, especially if it has the original pickups, is going for a good price, and there are no obvious problems with the guitar. It may have had a head stock repair or a neck reset after all of those years.

    The year 1964 is desirable because because of the chunkier necks found on them (also on late 1963 models).
    Eric Clapton's ES335 was a 1964 model.
    Some people think that the chunkier neck has a favorable influence on the sound.
    The original pickups are most likely not stickered PAF's but will essentially be identical to stickered PAF's in construction.
    It is known to be a favorite year for those reasons.

    Try to find out if the original pickups are still in it.
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2017
    Tidewater Custom Shop likes this.
  4. Tidewater Custom Shop

    Tidewater Custom Shop Performance Enhancing Guitarworks Supporting Member

    Jul 22, 2008
    Under a stack of textbooks
    I recently sold a '64 Cherry Red ES-335, all stock minus a non original lightweight stop bar. It was by far the best sounding and playing semi hollow I've owned of 4 ES-335s.

    I don't think the coil wire will be adversely affected, but the poles really should be set properly and pickup body raised. They weren't designed that way.

    I agree with @yucatown about the pickups. The setup as you described is not usual. Why is it that way? It's worth asking. It's best to remove the 4 mounting screws and look what's going on. Hopefully you can do that, or ask the seller to.
    • The best case scenario is the owner doesn't know how to properly adjust the pickups. Thought you're supposed to raise the "adjustable pole pieces."
    • Maybe the adjustment screws are stripped and fixed to the legs somehow.
    • Maybe the tapped legs holes for the adjustment screws are stripped and soldered to nuts underneath.
    You gotta know why the poles are that way.

    Look out for sagging of the ABR-1. It's usually evident from a visual inspection.

    See where the thumbwheels set on the posts when action is set where you want it. Too low/too high could be trouble.

    Bear in mind this guitar is 53 years old. It's gonna have some quirks. You need to ask yourself if you can live with those quirks. If you get it, you take on custodial responsibility for the rest of us - those of us that may want to buy it in the future. Mine was a joy to own, but outrageous to play. I sold mine in as good or better shape than when I took over responsibility.
  5. Jayyj

    Jayyj Supporting Member

    Mar 9, 2015
    Manchester, UK
    This is my favourite era for Gibson necks: not as chunky as a '59, not as shallow as a '60-'62. Perfect!

    I wouldn't worry about frailty in terms of it being a working instrument - I've always gigged my older guitars and they're no different to a modern one in terms of how they will need to be treated. Obviously there are precautions and common sense involved when taking out a guitar worth into the five figures, but that's more about value than frailty.

    If you go with a vintage instrument you have to be able to work with the instrument more or less as is: it's not like a modern instrument in that you can swap out any bits you don't like to make it yours. There's a degree of flexibility in this - the market for accurate drop in replacement parts is much better than it was and some issues such as a sagging ABR-1 or damaged tuner can be fixed by popping the original in the case and buying a drop in replacement. On a larger scale I just spent two weeks figuring out how to fit a Bigsby onto a set of screw holes intended for a Vibrola so that the guitar could be returned to stock if I ever sell. But for the most part you need to like it the way it is, because if it's lasted 50 years in good original condition now isn't the time to start modding.

    Beyond that, they were made to be played and for the most part that's still what they're there for. Buy it and enjoy it!
  6. sikoniko

    sikoniko Member

    Jul 29, 2011
    this is my favorite neck size / shape of the model. Very similar to my '63 SG. I do like smaller frets though.

    I can't comment on the guitar in particular. It would be one I would want and if there wasn't any deal-breaking issues, I would attempt to negotiate accordingly. as long as the price fit the issues, I would jump and restore it if was necessary.
  7. davess23

    davess23 Member

    Mar 18, 2006
    Swampscott, MA
    I don't think I'd worry about the guitar's frailty just because it's old. Old 335s aren't like old acoustic guitars. Being basically plywood, they've held up pretty well. My 1968 is plenty naturally relic'd, but it has no cracks or breaks, and it's as gig-worthy as it was the day it was built.
    Jayyj likes this.
  8. A-Mags

    A-Mags Supporting Member

    Dec 27, 2012
    Thank you for all the replies!

    Another thing I found is that this particular 335 has a 'stinger' headstock. The dealer said this is not a problem but knowing the issues with Gibsons and their headstocks I am more uneasy.

    Does anyone have opinions on stinger Gibsons?
  9. eddie101

    eddie101 Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 4, 2004
    Back in the day, Gibson used a stinger to hide a finish flaw, not necessary a structure flaw although it's a possibility but rare. Over time somehow it became a cool feature to have so - at one point - Gibson started putting them on their guitars on purpose. Go figure.

    Anyway, back to your Q: I wouldn't worry about it if I were you. I've seen them on old LPs, blond 335s, etc and they play just fine. Just enjoy the thing for what its worth and play the heck out of it UNLESS you're buying it for an investment. My 2 coppers as always.

    What is the asking $$ of the 335?
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2017
    TELECOLLECTOR likes this.
  10. Dane Kurnhart

    Dane Kurnhart Member

    Mar 25, 2017
    My experience that still remains, is the most problems I've had with the integrity of guitars are the new ones I bought.
    The old guitars (25 years (+) ) seem to ALWAYS had their lemons long fixed or settled in. If it's playing real well and all parts are working, chances it continue to as long as you take care of it and not abuse it.
    e??? and A-Mags like this.
  11. Carl_Tone

    Carl_Tone Member

    Mar 3, 2008
    Kailua, Island of Oahu, HI
    Check for dead spots...

    DANOCASTER Silver Supporting Member

    Jul 4, 2003
    Nashville, TN
    LOWERING the body of the pickup and RAISING the pole pieces ( often very high ) is used to get more clarity / brightness out of the pickup

    This is why you commonly see neck pickups, P 90s in particular, with the pole pieces backed way out of them

    If that’s your biggest beef with the guitar… I wouldn’t think twice
    djd100 and TELECOLLECTOR like this.

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