Repair log – December 14th, 2006 Gibson ES335 thin-line double cutaway archtop guitar SN: xxxxxxxx made in the Nashville Plant, TN, USA
Copyright retained by Terry Relph-Knight 20/06/18
Current value range estimate – £ 1,500 to 2,000
Weight = kg. lbs.
Delivered with Gibson branded hard case
Strung with – 0.008, 0.010, 0.015, 0.024, 0.033, 0.046 ????
This guitar is an extremely well made, double cut away, thin line archtop electric. A classic Gibson dot neck, 19 frets to the body in cherry finished flame maple. In pristine condition.
Gibson ES335 thin-line double cutaway archtop
Body – Thin-line double cutaway arch-top semi-acoustic of laminated flamed maple ply with a maple centre block and two F holes. Finished in cherry nitro with cream plastic binding back and front.
Neck – A one piece mahogany neck with a medium U’ profile and cream binding. 22 medium frets on a rosewood fretboard, 12 inch fret radius. Dot mother of pearl fret markers above the 3, 5, 7, 9, 12, 15, 19 and 21st frets. Truss rod adjustable from the headstock, 5/16 brass hex nut. The neck tenon extends half way under the neck pickup. 24 3/8inch scale length.
Hardware – The 2 Gibson humbuckers are ‘57 Classic’s (I unscrewed the pickups and checked the labels on the back). They have a replica black and gold Patent Applied For sticker (which is kinda funny) and a label – ‘57 Classic 1212060303 on the neck and ‘57 Classic 1212060237 on the bridge (made on the 12th of December 2006). They have nickel plated nickel silver bases and covers. So the two pickups appear to be the same. Gibson also make the ‘57 Classic Plus which has a few more turns on the coils for a higher output and you might expect to find it in the bridge position. That doesn’t appear to be the case here. The ‘57 Classic pickups, like the Burstbucker, are intended to mimic the best of the old 1957 PAF pickups. They have the lower strength Alnico II magnets and, unlike the Burstbucker, the two coils are balanced, which offers maximum hum rejection, but a slightly warmer tone than the Burstbuckers. In this guitar the ‘57 Classics do sound great, warm and smooth with great definition.
According to Jim DiCola, master luthier at Gibson USA, the ’57 Classic is made to Seth Lover’s original specifications, to the exact letter, in particular the two coils are very closely matched, while the Burstbucker is a consistent version of how the production PAF pickups were actually made, with an imbalance between the two coils. The Burstbucker version 1,2 and 3 also has Alnico II magnets. The legendary pickup maker Tom Holmes apparently worked for Gibson on the design of the ‘57 Classic. Holmes has built guitars for Billy Gibbons and is perhaps the first person to produce an accurate reproduction of the original Gibson PAF pickups.
In the original production PAFs the coils were used as they came off the winding machine, with no attempt at matching and the magnets used might be Alnico II, IV or V, depending on what Gibson happened to have purchased for each inventory period.
The controls on this guitar are the usual Gibson two volumes, two tones and three way toggle switch. I don’t know if the volumes are 300K linear or 500K log. The controls are fitted with Gibson small black witch hat knobs and metal pointers. Floating three-ply black pick guard. Nickel plated zinc alloy Gibson ABR-1 Tune-O-Matic bridge and stop bar.
Grover three on a side sealed nickel plated tuners with metal kidney buttons.
Bridge height – guitar top to top of the thumbwheel – 8mm on the bass 8mm on the treble
Stop bar height – guitar top to underside of the bar – 6.5mm on the bass 3mm on the treble
I’m not sure why anyone would choose to tilt the stop bar like that. The two threaded bridge supports are screwed quite far into the body. Their tops are around 3mm below the top of the holes in the bridge.
The threaded bridge support posts are UNC 6-32 thread by 1 inch (25.4mm) long. Around 7/16 (12mm) of an inch is driven in to the top of the guitar. This leaves very little of the post within the post holes in the bridge.
Delivered strung with – Ernie Ball Nickel wound Super Slinky’s 0.009, 0.011, 0.016, 0.024, 0.032, 0.042.
Problems – In for a general check and setup. Needs a good clean and polish. Exhibits the usual tuning instability of nut stick for a Gibson instrument with 3 on a side tuners. Customer also wanted to try a vibrato on the guitar. Originally a Bigsby, but by the time the necessary modifications were added to avoid drilling holes in the guitar and to stabilise the Bigsby tuning problems, this would have been a very expensive option. I suggested a Duesenberg Les Trem II vibrato.
Work done –
Guitar cleaned and polished. Frets level checked with a fret rocker. Frets and neck cleaned and polished. Polished the corian nut with metal polish on a toothbrush, including flossing the the string slots with string offcuts, to reduce friction through the strings slots as much as possible. Also sprayed on a coat of beeswax and buffed the nut to a high gloss. Tuning still wasn’t stable so I also fitted a String Butler (later upgraded to a String Butler Tremolo model).
Fitted the Duesenberg Les Trem II vibrato in place of the stop bar.
The Gibson 6-32 bridge posts are an acceptable fit in the Goldo bridge post holes so I stayed with them rather than removing them and drilling to fit the Goldo inserts and posts. I stabilised the Gibson posts by fitting 6 washers underneath the thumb wheels, drilled and tapped the Goldo for M3 locking screws and then locked the bridge in place. I had to fit the Goldo bridge with the locking screws and intonation screws facing towards the bridge pickup otherwise access to the screws is blocked by the Duesenberg vibrato. The bridge pickup height can be dropped down to improve access to the intonation screws while intonation is set.
Re-strung and set up the action and intonation. I tried winding the strings with one turn below the string through the post hole then two turns above the hole. I wanted to lock the strings and minimise the break angle over the nut to help tuning stability by reducing friction over the nut. In practice this didn’t work very well because the coils of the string didn’t settle smoothly around the post. The easiest way by far to get a tidy string wind around the post is to allow the right amount of slack for two or three winds around the post and then to feed the string on from the bottom.
This guitar suffers from the same problem that all recent Gibson’s with a corian nut suffer from – the strings do not slide smoothly through the nut. As a result any string bends result in the string going slack when the bend is released and the tuning goes flat by around 10 cents on every string.
Adding a vibrato system of course just makes things a lot worse! One difficulty is that with the vibrato the string tension of all six strings interacts because they are coupled together by the vibrato balancing spring. If even one string jams in the nut then this change in net tension affects the tuning of all six strings. When using a fixed stop bar, rather than the vibrato, any nut jamming problems with each string are confined just to that string.
Rather than replace the unpolished Plek cut Gibson corian nut straight away I wanted to try to get the existing nut to work. Extreme care is needed when making any adjustments to a Gibson nut because Gibson choose to set the Plek to cut the slots as low as they will go before buzzing on the first fret. Added to that the nut is shaped to a sharp edge to minimise the amount of cutting the Plek machine has to do. Unlike many other guitars, there just isn’t much leeway in the Gibson nut slots.
First I tried polishing the nut with metal polish on a toothbrush. Although this did a fine job of polishing the surface of the nut, it seems it did not get right down into the string slots. Next I tried flossing the slots with offcuts of guitar string coated in a few dabs of metal polish. To my vast surprise this actually seems to have worked!
Intonation as received
This test consists of first accurately tuning each string to pitch, depressing each string behind the nut until it touches the headstock, then releasing it. The pitch is then measured (and recorded). If the string is sticking in the nut the string will go sharp.
If any problems are found the nut slots are filed and lubricated and the test is repeated.
The second set of numbers are from tuning up to pitch then applying a whole step bend to each string.
Behind nut bendWhole step bend Bend – After all modifications
E +10 -10 0
A +11 -10 0
D +22 -3 0
G 0 -10 0
B +15 0 0
E +10 -3 0
Note – There is still some tuning instability for extreme use of the vibrato.
The Duesenburg Les Trem II
The Duesenburg Les Trem II won’t fit this guitar without modification because the inserts for the stop bar fixing studs are on 82.5mm centres. The DLTII requires the fixing centres of the stop bar mounting studs to be 81.5mm apart.
The nickel plated stop bar from this guitar looks like a standard Gibson part, but has no identifying marks. The distance between the inside faces of the two stud hooks is 73.6mm and the hooks are 7.9mm wide. So the fixing centres should be 81.5mm. Unlike the Les Trem II there is enough clearance left in the Gibson stop bar for it still to fit with the studs at 82.5mm.
Drawings of the Wilkinson stop bar show the centres as 82mm, Allparts shows it as 82mm and AxesRus Gotoh as 82mm, AxesRus aluminium as 82.5mm and AxesRus zinc as 82.5mm.
So the only way to fit the DLTII is to file or drill out the holes in its base plate to gain the clearance for the two bolts. Seems dumb that Duesenberg didn’t elongate the holes to allow for variations in the insert spacing.
I had thought perhaps that the guitar wouldn’t fit in the hard case with the DLTII installed, but I have done a test fit with it attached by only one of the stop bar bolts and there seems to be plenty of clearance.
Eventually I filed the outsides of both fixing holes just a little and managed to get the DLTII to fit the stop bar insert spacing on this guitar. I fitted just one washer under each end which was enough to clear the top curve of the guitar. The entire assembly with the arm fitted seems to go inside the case just fine, even without any string tension pulling it down.
Another possible drawback of the Les Trem II is that the spring and bar pivot are quite close to the bridge and some players may find that this protrusion gets in the way, depending on playing style.
The Goldo roller bridge
The Goldo bridge has 4mm holes at either end (the holes in the ABR-1 are close to that) and is supplied with solid posts with integral thumb wheel that screw in to press fit inserts. The guitar has an ABR-1 bridge with two threaded posts screwed in to the top of the guitar. So the option is either remove the two posts and re-drill the top of the guitar for the Goldo inserts, or keep the threaded posts and fit the Goldo to those.
With lock screws fitted to either end of the Goldo bridge, once those are tightened, the bridge will no longer be adjustable for height through turning the thumb wheels. I decided to stabilise the bridge and stop the thumb wheels coming loose and rattling, by fitting a stack of washers under each thumb wheel. The Gibson ABR-1 measures 12.1mm and the Goldo roller 13.3mm from the curved base to the top of the centre two saddles. So the Goldo is 1.2mm higher than the Gibson. To fit the Goldo subtract that 1.2mm from the previously measured 8mm thumb wheel heights and set them at 6.8mm to arrive at around the same action. Which is 6 x 0.63 mm thick washers = 3.15 under the 2.72mm thumb wheel.
Re-stringing – Three wraps of the strings around the Grover tuner posts requires 52mm of string. This is more than enough for the wound E, A and D strings. The lighter strings can be allowed a few more wraps. Unstable loops of string around the tuner post will contribute to tuning instability.
I experimented with different methods of stringing such as winding the string upwards above the string through the tuner post (to reduce the angle over the nut) and one turn under the string through the rest above to help lock the string in the post. Eventually decided that winding the string onto the post neatly for two or three turns below the hole is the easiest, most efficient and most stable way to do it.
Note also that the brass ball on bridge end of the strings is attached with a simple twist. This can and does, act like slip knot and settling in this twist is one of the main causes of tuning drift when new strings are fitted. At worst slipping in the ball end twist can be a long term cause of tuning problems. The more expensive strings tend to have more reliable twists. D’Addarrio NYXL for example have solder bonded twists for the plain strings.
With this guitar it is very important to guide the strings in to the centre of the bridge rollers and rollers on the String Butler.
The String Butler
The String Butler is device that is intended to stabilise tuning for guitars which have 3 on a side tuner headstock’s, such as Gibson, by deflecting the strings into a straight path over the nut. It is attached using the barrel nuts on two tuners. It consists of a metal plate with an attachment forks on either side that clamp under the two tuner nuts. The plate carries four rollers on short vertical posts. The A, D, G and B stings are passed around the rollers, pulling them into a straight path across the nut. This helps to reduce friction in the nut slots, particularly on the D and the G strings which normally angle both downward and to either side and almost always exhibit tuning problems due to nut stick.
On the standard version of the String Butler the rollers have perhaps 2mm of vertical movement. This in itself can be a source of tuning problems. The ‘tremolo’ version has small rubber O rings fitted above the rollers to reduce vertical movement. Sven Dietrich at Sting Butler sent me a String Butler Tremolo version, which I ordered to replace the butler I borrowed from my Les Paul and a packet of eight 4.5mm outside diameter, 2.5mm inside diameter O rings. The String Butler Tremolo version ships with a single O ring fitted above each string roller, limiting the slack vertical space on the roller posts.