You have heard of it happening.  Most guitar shops will have somewhere that they keep the "good stuff."  You are standing in your favorite local guitar shop.  You overhear another customer say something like "have you gotten in anything good lately?" while he is standing next to Custom Shop Les Pauls, Gretsch White Falcons or CS black guard Teles and what not.  As if those were not good.

This customer is talking about the stuff in the back room, upstairs, or maybe even right behind the counter and out of sight of the average dude walking in to for the sole reason of playing "Stairway To Heaven" for everyone to hear.

You might be asking yourself "what do they have back there?"  This is one of the things they might have.  But probably not.

1960 Gibson ES-355 with the original brown Lifton case.

The ES-355 was officially introduced in 1959 but supposedly a couple were shipped in '58.  It is constructed of a laminated Maple body with a solid block down the center and a neck of their standard, Mahogany.  It also features 2 humbucking pickups- just like a 335.  Where it differs from the 35 is in the fretboard (Ebony instead of Rosewood) and all that sexy bling, binding and gold hardware.  Oh, and the factory Grover tuners (the good ones) and Bisgby tailpiece.

This example made it out of the factory with some cool features.  The serial number says that it was manufactured in 1960 so it must have been early in 1960 because it has the longer pickguard as well as 19 frets to the body (instead of 20).  In 1960 they shortened the pickguard so that it would not go past the bridge pickup.

The best part of these 355s is that they featured gold plated hardware.  PAF pickups were made in nickel and gold finishes.  Gibson used nickel hardware on most of their guitars and saved the gold hardware for the really fancy ones.  As a result, the gold covered PAFs lasted well into the early 60s.  This one features PAFs.  They sound damn good too.

Most of the 355s came with a feature that Gibson called "Varitone."  This was a switchable notch filter that cut certain frequencies using a range of different capacitors.  Many players/collectors think that Varitone "kills tone" and therefore it makes a vintage 355 less valuable.  I haven't messed around with a Varitone switch enough to form my own opinion but I do like the simplicity of not having it.  This guitar was spared of that switch.

Here is a shot of a real M-69 pickup ring.  You may be wondering to yourself why this little piece of plastic matters at all.  They are commonly faked and sold for a good bit of money.  If you buy one of those $200k+ '59 Les Pauls you are probably going to want to have all original parts.  But, these pickup rings were prone to crack and break.  Many were replaced throughout the years.  Now you have a market for  little pieces of plastic that apparently go for $500 or so.  Go figure.

This guitar had a little surprise for us when we decided to take out the neck pickup to check out the PAF.  We removed the pickuard in order to get a good look at the PAF (the bridge pickup's lead was too short!).  We had been discussing what kind of person would have bought this instrument new in 1960.  I was thinking a big band guy or a jazz guitarist.  Probably not the standard country western kind of thing that was popular at the time.

When we set the pickguard aside we noticed a name stamped on the underside of the pickguard.  Max Williamson.  I couldn't find anything about him online but maybe you have some information about him?  Here's to you, Max, and your good taste in fine instruments.

This guitar is available from Bailey Brothers Music Company in Birmingham, AL.  Thanks to Clay and Keith for letting me snap a couple of quick pictures of it.


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