This ES-355 represents a historic moment in Gibson's history, when the semi-hollow electric guitar was in its infancy.
Why We Love This
We're certainly no strangers to great vintage, but once in a while a special instrument comes through that really commands the attention and adoration of the entire staff here at The Music Emporium.
It's hard to put into words just how incredible this guitar is, but we're gonna give it our best shot!
It represents a major historical moment in Gibson's history, when the semi-hollow electric guitar was in its infancy. Built within the first official year of production, this ES-355 has all the hallmarks of the earliest iteration and design of the now-heralded model; a thin 3-ply laminate top, solid Maple center block, and "conversion" headstock. We'll touch on that last point later...
What makes this ES-355 different from the ES-335 is primarily in appointment level, but more commonly the 355s are outfitted with a Bigsby tailpiece and wired for stereo use via the Varitone circuit. For one to obtain an ES-355 with a mono input and a stop bar tailpiece, it would have to be a special order. There's no denying that this ES-355 ticks the boxes for a special order. Mechanically, we're now closer to a stock ES-335, which puts this ES-355 into the 'ultra rare' category.
Focusing on the aesthetics now - the ES-355 has 7-ply binding on top, 3-ply binding on the back, and 5-ply binding on the headstock. On top of that, the ES-355 has an Ebony fingerboard with large pearl block inlays as opposed to the Rosewood fingerboards and pearl dot inlays used on ES-335s. The slightly enlarged headstock of the ES-355 reveals a couple of early changes (or evolutions) in the build process. Sure, there's the split diamond inlay and factory Grover Rotomatic tuners that sets it apart from the ES-335, but Gibson got thrifty in their manufacturing process with these necks. Often mistaken for re-drilled tuning machine holes, early examples of ES-355s reveal that Gibson simply took ES-335 neck stock that was already drilled and spaced for tuner orientation, and plugged these holes in order to convert the neck to that of an ES-355. The larger overall size of the ES-355 headstock required larger wings and changed the spacing of the tuners. Instead of cutting another neck, Gibson just reworked a 335 neck to accommodate the change. This is commonly revealed through the finish of the factory "stinger", a thin laminate applied the back of the headstock, painted black with a sharp taper that points towards the body terminating at about the halfway point between the nut and 1st fret. A keen eye can spot the circular imprints left from the factory dowels.
We're deep into nerd territory here, but we embrace it on guitars like this. They tell a story about how Gibson was working through concepts of business, design, and manufacturing at a critical point in the era of electric guitar.
Now that we've covered the intricacies of the early ES-355 model, let's dive into the good stuff. TONE!
Rocking its original 'double white' PAFs with undisturbed gold plated covers and factory wiring harness with pots dating to the 44th week of 1958, this ES-355 reaches a level of tonal nirvana us mortals simply do not come in contact with on a daily basis! Clean tones are addictively good - a perfect balance of fundamental power, harmonic complexity, and an airiness that delivers some serious touch sensitivity these PAFs are known for. In the neck position, it's all about clarity and definition. Chimey and slightly forward sounding without ever feeling edgy. Switching to the bridge position rewards you with all the sweet, open midrange response and top end sizzle that is nothing short of amazing. Thanks to the stop bar tailpiece, all of that acoustic resonance and sustain is captured and put on display through the pickups. Plenty of focus, sure; but the tonality is deeper and more expressive thanks to the semi-hollow construction. The Ebony board tends to add a little bit of extra "zing" in the trebles as well.
Playability is absolutely top notch with this guitar. The neck carve leans more to the slim/medium profile sometimes found on '58s and later '59s with a nice taper, and the knockout pro refret done by Joe Konkoly of Elderly Instruments makes both chords and single-note runs a total breeze to play. You can go from Chucky Berry and Freddie King to Keith Richards and Alex Lifeson with ease.
When it comes to originality, this rare beast is about as complete as it gets. The only changes made to the guitar are the pro refret and evidence of some light overspray on the back of the neck. There's a small fingerboard binding crack on the treble side that is stable. All hardware is original to the guitar, including the short seam stop bar tailpiece, no-wire ABR-1, PAFs, pots, switch, and tuners. Plastics are also original to the guitar. There is evidence of a minor stress fracture on the back of the headstock near the edge of the stinger, but it has been evaluated by our team and by Elderly at the time of the refret and has been confirmed as completely stable without any structural implications. Outside of some minor play and handling wear, it's a very clean guitar with a great vibe and other-worldly tone.
As 1 of less than a half dozen original examples, it's an exceedingly rare guitar that commands attention and demands to be played.
Priced with its original Lifton hardshell case (fair condition) and a new Calton.
**NOTE: Payment is requested via wire transfer. Please contact us for details.**