#1
I have an opportunity to purchase a 1976 Gibson ES-355 in a dark cherry finish. The guitar is all original with ohsc. It appears to be in great shape, though the finish has been worn through on the back of the neck near the headstock. Asking price is $2,200. What do you think?
#2
I'd rather have one from the last 15 years than 70s era. If the price was $600 it might be more interesting.
"Your sound is in your hands as much as anything. It's the way you pick, and the way you hold the guitar, more than it is the amp or the guitar you use." -- Stevie Ray Vaughan

"Anybody can play. The note is only 20 percent. The attitude of the motherfucker who plays it is 80 percent." -- Miles Davis

Guthrie on tone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmohdG9lLqY
#4
Gibsons were very, very hit and miss in the '70s - I'd pay the equivalent of $2,200 if I was able to try it and was very, very happy with how it played and how it sounded.

So the answer I'm giving is - If you can try it, do so, and then you'll decide whether or not it's worth that much money to you. If you can't try it before you buy, I would say don't do it - just go to a guitar shop and try some new 335s instead.
Rig Winter 2017:

Fender Jazzmaster/Yamaha SG1000
Boss TU-3, DS-2, CS-3, EHX small stone, Danelectro delay
Laney VC30-112 with G12H30 speaker, or Session Rockette 30 for smaller gigs
Elixir Nanoweb 11-49 strings, Dunlop Jazz III XL picks
Shure SM57 mic in front of the amp
#5
"Great shape" doesn't ring well when the finish is worn through on the neck.

The issue is that moisture (particularly from sweat) can absolutely ruin an unfinished neck, essentially dry rotting it and making it soft. Sometimes necks that have been maintained in this condition won't even hold tune. For years, Warmoth wouldn't honor warranties on unfinished necks if the neck wasn't finished in a "hard" finish (lacquer, poly, etc.) and warned that necks were prone to warpage if they weren't finished.

All of the "unfinished" necks that appear on new guitars actually have a tung-oil, tru-oil or satin/flat poly-finished neck. They feel smooth and woody, but you're not actually touching bare wood unless it's one of the woods with a high oil content (rosewood, etc., and I'm not just talking fretboards) that really don't require a finish to forestall dry rot.

That said, this is a 355 (does it have the Varitone?), not a 345 or 335, and if so, it should have an ebony fretboard and real MOP inlays just like the old Customs. Might even be available with a stereo output (you'll do well to check that).

It's worth the money (I'd negotiate, honestly) if the neck is still in good shape (you'll need a really good tech to help you determine that, not some guitar store slug), and I'd have the neck refinished if you intend to play it (so figure that into the cost of the guitar) going forward. If it were my guitar, I'd have it tossed on a PLEK machine for an analysis of the fretwork as well. If the neck is worn through, what shape are the frets in? How much wear? Has it been recently refretted? How's the fretboard (chipped around the fret area)? Does it have furrows where the strings have touched the fretboard?

What, exactly are you considering "great shape?" Do you know what to look for?

Some detailed in-focus photos would help.
Last edited by dspellman at Aug 10, 2014,
#7
I spoke to the owner and checked out the photos.

He says there's "barely there" wear on the frets in the "cowboy chord" area ("the previous owner must have been a rhythm player"). The owner says, "nothing that really affects play." Minor chips and dings here and there, with the wear on the back of the neck the only real glitch. Varitone's in place, the trem WILL go out of tune if you use it hard, but won't make the guitar go out of tune if you're using it gently, and it's a stereo guitar (all good things IMHO -- I hate when someone's pulled all of that off). You should be aware that a 355 has a relatively (relative to a lot of Gibsons, that is) thin neck.

I'd figure in the cost of refinishing the neck (not a major deal) -- the previous owner probably wore rings -- but I'd definitely have that done, have the frets checked for level (take along a fret rocker and maybe an 18" steel straightedge). I'd assume a Gibson Hump (slight raising of the frets down near the attachment point to the body) and be grateful if it's not there.

The current owner also notes a few dings between the bridge and the bridge pickup; he suspects the previous owner may have had a Roland (or similar) MIDI pickup mounted there at one point.

Minor gold wear (both sides of the neck pickup cover, treble side of the bridge pickup cover, and some wear on the trem's surfaces), but if the metal under the gold doesn't look pitted, you're good to go.

All in all, it's a guitar that I'd make the trip from LA to Camarillo to look at... And I'd carry cash in case you wanted to bring it back.
#8
Thanks dspellman, I greatly appreciate the effort. I'll go check it out with a buddy of mine.
#9
Followup: Did you get it?
I noticed that you crossposted this same thread in another forum and that someone mentioned the Craig's ad had come down. When I spoke to the owner he was on his way to LA and wouldn't be back until late in the day.
#10
In 1979 I was a Larry Carlton fanboy and shopped for a new cherry Gibson 335/355. I tried a bunch of guitars but couldn't find one I liked. They were sketchy build quality compared to my earlier Gibsons. I finally tried a 335 knockoff "lawsuit era" from Japan and found it to be more to my liking than any of the new Gibsons. I bought it for $400 and still have it. The Gibsons were selling for around $800.

I am sure there are some good quality 70s era 355s out there but I just never found one. A good one is probably worth $1200-$1500 simply for the name on the headstock but I think that would be top dollar for me. The "Lawsuit era" guitar is still probably a better player but has little collectible value.
"Your sound is in your hands as much as anything. It's the way you pick, and the way you hold the guitar, more than it is the amp or the guitar you use." -- Stevie Ray Vaughan

"Anybody can play. The note is only 20 percent. The attitude of the motherfucker who plays it is 80 percent." -- Miles Davis

Guthrie on tone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmohdG9lLqY
#11
Quote by Cajundaddy
In 1979 I was a Larry Carlton fanboy and shopped for a new cherry Gibson 335/355. I tried a bunch of guitars but couldn't find one I liked. They were sketchy build quality compared to my earlier Gibsons. I finally tried a 335 knockoff "lawsuit era" from Japan and found it to be more to my liking than any of the new Gibsons. I bought it for $400 and still have it. The Gibsons were selling for around $800.

I am sure there are some good quality 70s era 355s out there but I just never found one. A good one is probably worth $1200-$1500 simply for the name on the headstock but I think that would be top dollar for me. The "Lawsuit era" guitar is still probably a better player but has little collectible value.


I have an Ibanez AM205 (the original smaller-bodied 335-alike) from the late '70's, and it's excellent. I think they now have reissues that run about $2300. My 335s from '67 have been outstanding, but I've always wanted a 355. The last '61 (no trem, but with the Varitone and stereo output) I looked at was over $20 grand and accelerating up, about five years ago.
#12
Yep, early 60s 335/355s are both excellent quality and very rare, hence the mind-blowing prices for good ones. I suppose if you really wanted a Gibson ES 355, 70s issue are the only affordable ones... if you can find a decent one. It still seems like a lot of scratch for a not-so-great player but if you just need one to complete the collection...
"Your sound is in your hands as much as anything. It's the way you pick, and the way you hold the guitar, more than it is the amp or the guitar you use." -- Stevie Ray Vaughan

"Anybody can play. The note is only 20 percent. The attitude of the motherfucker who plays it is 80 percent." -- Miles Davis

Guthrie on tone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmohdG9lLqY
Last edited by Cajundaddy at Aug 12, 2014,
#13
For $2200 you could buy three Korean ES-355 copies and they’d probably all be better than a 70s Gibson. Or one really good Japanese copy that’s still better than a Gibson.
#14
I checked it out in person, but passed. It was in pretty decent shape, but there were some issues. I believe the Gibson hump was in full effect. The last few frets almost looked scalloped. The worn portion of the neck was completely raw, down to bare wood. I nearly pulled the trigger, but backed away just before committing. I think I'll be better suited applying the money towards something a little more substantial. Again, I do greatly appreciate the input. I'll be certain to keep your pointers in mind when shopping for guitars in the future.

With that said, the guitar did sell! The owner contacted me about an hour after I checked it out to inform me that another interested party had picked it up.
#15
Spellman!!!
"Your sound is in your hands as much as anything. It's the way you pick, and the way you hold the guitar, more than it is the amp or the guitar you use." -- Stevie Ray Vaughan

"Anybody can play. The note is only 20 percent. The attitude of the motherfucker who plays it is 80 percent." -- Miles Davis

Guthrie on tone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmohdG9lLqY