Gibson ES-350T Thinline Hollow Body Electric Guitar (1959)

Gibson  ES-350T Thinline Hollow Body Electric Guitar  (1959)

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Item # 8237
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Gibson ES-350T Model Thinline Hollow Body Electric Guitar (1959), made in Kalamazoo, Michigan, serial # A-29304, sunburst lacquer finish, laminated maple body and neck, spruce top, rosewood fingerboard, original brown hard shell case.

This guitar is a lovely example of a fairly rare variation of one of the Gibson company's classiest 1950s thinline hollow body electrics, the ES-350T. This particular instrument is unusual in having a laminated spruce top instead of the typical maple; this variation was never catalogued (or even mentioned) by Gibson, but scattered examples do exist from the 1950s. It's not known why Gibson built these off-spec models, but most of them seem to date to early in the instrument's run and this 1959 guitar with the combination of a spruce top and PAF humbucking pickups is a rare creature indeed.

The ES-350T was introduced in 1955 as a "more modern" version of the standard ES-350 arch-top, which had been in production since the late 1940s. The inspiration for the new model lay with two of the company's Nashville endorsers, Hank Garland and Billy Byrd. They suggested that the standard 17" archtop guitar body could be made thinner at the rim and thus be more comfortable to play, especially standing up as was increasingly common. They also requested a thinner neck with a short 23 3/8 scale length, reportedly to enable guitarists with normal-sized fingers to play the extended chords used by jazz great Tal Farlow, which required long fingerboard stretches.

The model created for them was dubbed the Byrdland, and featured the same solid, carved wood construction (flame maple and tight-grain spruce) as the L-5CES. At the same time Gibson applied the formula to the more venerable ES-350, resulting in the new ES-350T with a thinner rim and a short scale neck, but on a laminated maple body with midline ornamentation. The model was prototyped in mid-1955, but only a handful shipped before 1956. Early in 1957 the ES-350T was one of the first guitars to be fitted with the brand new humbucking pickups, the now-legendary PAFs. The ES-350T was considered a moderately high end instrument, listing originally at $395 in sunburst finish and was a relative sales success, at least at first.

This particular guitar carries a factory order number suggesting a build date of mid-late 1958 and a serial number indicating shipment in March 1959. In this year the numbers sold began to drop and only 90 were shipped, as internal competition from the new semi-solid ES-335 series cut into the thinline market. Still, the ES-350T is a classic Gibson creation, with some of the company's iconic touches. The 17" body is finished in a rich amber-brown sunburst on every surface and triple-bound, the headstock single-bound with a "crown" inlay under the pearl Gibson logo. The bound rosewood fingerboard has split parallelogram inlay.

All hardware is gold-plated and includes Kluson Deluxe tuners and of course those PAFs. The only alteration on this guitar is a period gold-plated Bigsby tailpiece and bridge, likely added soon after the guitar was purchased. Stored in the case is a metal "Mono-Plak" substitute truss rod cover, with the owner's name engraved on the face. The original Gibson 3-ply piece is back on the guitar; the ghostly outline of the substitute cover is just visible on the headstock.

These original 1959 PAF pickups have gone down in legend at least as some of the very best ever made, with a super touch-sensitive feel and splendid tone from clean sparkle to overdriven raunch. The 350T's slightly narrower neck means the pickups fitted are built with a tighter polepiece spread than the standard version, making them unsuitable for Les Paul recreations and thus less likely to be robbed from their original home! This guitar is a rare and extremely fine instrument, with a specific tonal character due to the mix of PAFs and the livelier-sounding spruce top. There are likely not more than a handful of other guitars with this specific combination extant -- we have never seen another.

This splendid and rare guitar is an excellent player and a superb example from Gibson's 1950's glory days. The ES-350T has a sublime Rock'n'roll pedigree as Chuck Berry's main squeeze at the height of his 1950s career, but this guitar can handle anything from fluid jazz to country twang equally well. Still, if you clang out the intro to "Johnny B. Goode", it's just like ringin' a bell.
 
Overall length is 41 1/2 in. (105.4 cm.), 17 in. (43.2 cm.) wide at lower bout, and 2 1/4 in. (5.7 cm.) in depth, measured at side of rim. Scale length is 23 3/8 in. (594 mm.). Width of nut is 1 11/16 in. (43 mm.).

This guitar is quite clean overall; the deep sunburst finish still shines with only some small dings and typical light checking. The gold plating is relatively well-preserved except for some typical wear on the pickup covers, and on the Bigsby unit. The Bigsby itself is not original to the guitar, but looks to have been in place since the instrument was fairly new.

The aluminum Bigsby bridge top has been cut down a bit and re-radiused from the top to better match the fingerboard radius. The only other alterations to the guitar are that the Kluson tuners have reproduction buttons ('59s are famous for crumbling away) and a strap button has been added at the heel. The frets show some light wear, but this is a wonderful-playing and sounding guitar, straight out of the tailfin Cadillac era and complete with the original pink-lined brown HSC. Excellent Condition.