Vintage Gibson ES-355 Stereo - USA 1967
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The ES-355. The Cadillac of the Gibson semi hollow body line. The no expense spared, top of the line model offered by Gibson. The weapon of choice for such greats as BB King, Keith Richards, Noel Gallagher and Johnny Marr - a guitar with hotly debated innovations that are responsible for some of the most iconic tones in blues and rock and roll history.
By the late 1950s, stereo sound started to become popular in households. The splitting of audio into two distinct left and right signals brought a sense of space and immersion that caught on quickly as stereo televisions, radios and record players became all the rage. The guitar world jumped on this craze by inventing the stereo electric guitar. A few iterations from different companies had popularity in the late 50s and 60s, the two big names being Gretsch and Gibson. Gretsch, who were always quick to adopt various bells and whistles, had a very sophisticated stereo system with an overwhelming number of different stereo configurations available to the player. Gibson’s set up was decidedly simpler and user friendly, with the neck pickup taking one channel and the bridge taking the other. The stereo ES 335 came with two different leads – one with a TRS (stereo jack) at both ends, and one with a TRS for the guitar, which split in to two mono leads at the other end.
The possibilities of a stereo system like this are extremely fun to play with. Your neck pickup can go to one amp, with one sound, your bridge into another with completely different characteristics. The signals can then be brought together in the middle setting for a mighty stereo sound that can sound enormous.
The second unique feature of the ES-355 is the Varitone knob. This is essentially a variable notch filter that scoops mid frequencies at different amounts, with position 6 being the most and position one being “off”. Off being subjective as, with these early models position 1 is still technically in the circuit. Modern iterations have position 1 wired as true bypass.
This guitar is in fabulous condition. A really nice old example that has been well preserved. While being available from factory with the vibrola vibrato that is currently on this instrument, this one has evidence of originally having a trapeze bridge, with three small screw holes around the rear strap button. While Grover tuners were available on Gibson guitars, the Grovers on this instrument have been installed later, with the original Kluson footprint being visible at the back of the headstock. The Grovers are a well-built unit and can offer better tuning stability over vintage Klusons.
This ES-355 was previously owned by famous American singer-songwriter Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reed. You can even see his name, address and phone number written by hand on the underside of the guitar’s case - a cool bit of provenance on the history of this fine specimen.
BB King famously used the Varitone equipped ES-355 for his signature sound. The Gibson Patent humbuckers provide the big creamy tone they are famous for, while the Varitone gives you the ability dial in twangy and scooped tones. The Vibrola vibrato works efficiently and holds tune very well, better than any B7 bigsby you are likely to find. The big center block greatly reduces the potential for feedback. The huge stereo tones and rock and roll capabilities of this machine are as unique as they are impressive. A wonderful piece of rock and roll history.
Scale length: 24 ¾"
Fretboard Radius: 12”
Action at 1st fret: 0.4mm
Action at 12th fret: 1.5mm
Neck depth at 1st fret: 21.1mm
Neck depth at 12th fret: 25.6mm
Nut Width: 39.9mm
12 fret width: 51mm
Neck material: Mahogany with ebony fretboard
Fretboard inlays: pearl block
Total guitar weight: 9.89lbs
Body size at lower bout: 450mm
Front Pickup: Humbucker
Bridge Pickup: Humbucker
Tuners: Grover pat pend aftermarket
Bridge: ABR 1
Hardware: Gold plated