The ’59 Gibson ES-345 Mod… Deja Vu All Over Again


This is my third kick at the 1959 Gibson ES-345 in only the last half dozen years. I had one that reputedly belonged to Duane Allman – and I had a letter from Greg Allman’s record producer to prove it… he even said he had the original case, totally beat to uselessness… and I could have it for the cost of shipping… which I never got around to… but that’s another story!

In the later part of 1959, the necks on these beasts changed from a whopper to a more sedate “60s slim rounded profile”, and the ES-345 that I have now (courtesy of my pal Stephen S.) has the smallest profile of the 3. That may be why I just had it re-fretted in jumbo 6100 frets. “I don’t usually comment on my own fret work” said luthier Russ L., “but this one came out particularly well!”. Indeed it did! And the lack of girth is not missed as a result.


These guitars typically come from the factory both “stereo” and with a somewhat lame (at least by modern standards) Varitone with 6 different tonal positions. What I did here – and what I usually do with these guitars, at least eventually – is to take the guts out, lose the Varitone, save all the wiring, pots, caps, etc. intact (in case any future owner wants to restore the guitar to original) – and then to install a new, vintage inspired set of pots, caps, etc. This means the guitar is now in mono – thank goodness – and the Varitone is just a dummy switch (for cosmetics). What we also do here, is to save about a pound or so in weight – “light” being “right” here. This ES-345 is around 7.65lbs… and she rings like a bell – very woody!


One of the other ES-345s I owned – a particularly nice guitar that did have the whopper neck – had a particularly nasty hole cut under (and beyond) the Varitone switch. I say this to illustrate my tendency towards “guitar rescue”. Doris Day would be proud! (you may not get the reference, that’s OK). Here are before and after pics of the rescue on that other guitar:





So back to this year’s project… the current ES-345 had replaced pickups – the PAFs were long gone – and for some reason, although this is an original “stop tail”, there was a long tailpiece on it for a while… leaving some extra holes in the top… these two issues got me this beauty at less than 1/2 it’s book value. She’s a “player’s guitar” now! I ended up putting in a real PAF that I had in my stash (although nickel covered and from 1962 rather than 1959), and it’s THE MAGIC in the bridge position – aggressive, woody, open… The Voodoo pickup that I threw in the neck position, while a killer pickup, turned out to be the wrong pickup for this guitar – a brighter, more open sounding pickup being, IMHO, more appropriate. I found a very cool aged gold covered Duncan Antiquity on ebay, and it’s the tone of the Antiquity that my friend Pete F. thought would work best – and I agree. We’ll see when it gets here…

Duncan Antiquity Pickup

Duncan Antiquity Pickup

I’m also a huge proponent of “paper-in-oil” caps or anything but those ceramic disk caps! The paper-in-oil caps have a much smoother taper and a transparent tone that has a broader, wider sweep – very useful – and we now have them in this 345!!!

I’m really pleased with the changes in this vintage 345 so far… there’s a total 10/10 tone from the bridge pickup (and I can see the possibilities for the neck pickup), uber playability, lightweight ergonomics… tone that you’ll rarely find in a newer ES guitar – all good!!! I might even keep this one for a while!!!

ES-345 - Guts... Varitone, Pots, Caps, n Wire

ES-345 – Guts… Varitone, Pots, Caps, n Wire



Les Paul Madness

Five years ago, I never would have predicted this… a Strat was the only geetar that found it’s way around my neck! Now I can hardly tolerate them! (OK, Strats are great guitars, classic guitars… but I’m going for a sense of the dramatic here!). What were you thinking, Leo!? The addictive and cool thing about these Lesters, is that there’s no “Les Paul sound”. They are all different. And that’s the magic! Right now I have a CC#3 “Babe” with a Bigsby… and then a ’55 series Wraptail all mahogany Custom with humbuckers… and a 1 pickup Jimmy Wallace Les Paul (oh, dang! Pete’s got that one now!). Anyway, for me, it’s the humbucker guitars that turn my crank, and I am just starting to feel shameless about “converting” older models to ‘buckers. At least I’m currently confined to “rescuing” guitars with “issues”… rather than assaulting “cherry” vintage instruments (but that could change!). There’s something about the old growth 50s wood that makes a great starting point for a killer guitar – although there are no rules – my ’55 wraptail is a couple of years old and it sounds as good as anything – new or old!

So the latest project (and I might add that by tomorrow, I will probably have a 2nd vintage project in the works) is a ’52 first year Les Paul that I got with a bad refin and a repaired headstock break (known as the “Gibson smile” due to the shape the break line most often takes) – a perfect candidate for a “Conversion”, methinks! Behold…

1952 Les Paul 8 months ago… in need of help!

The “Gibson Smile”!

Now you should understand that I am currently crazy enough that I’ll probably buy a few early 60s SGs – just for their glorious PAF pickups! I have 1 set left for one more LP… and after that… I’ll need more! But I digress. Anyway, the above pictured “piece of work” was beautifully converted by the luthier extraordinaire, Mr. Russ “Rusty” L. He kept the neck angle low enough when he reset the neck that the guitar just “has the magic” now – and rings like the proverbial “bell” that all guitar players speak of. Here’s a picture after frets, neck reset, new bridge and stop tailpiece, plus a route for “them” true toned vintage Gibson pickups!

The 1952 Les Paul begins it’s “transition”

I stripped the finish myself – great on the front, not so great on the back when I ran out of patience and energy! Another thing that’s cool about this 1952 Lester, is that it’s an “export” model from that year (’52s had NO serial #, by the way) – we find a “Made In The USA” stamp engraved in the wood on the back of the headstock… what we have here is a Canadian guitar, eh!!! Cool!

1952 Les Paul – It’s a Canadian guitar, eh?

So where are we “at” with this beast? Well, the most excellent Kim Lafleur at Historic Makeovers has taken our mongrel into his care for a complete restoration to a distressed “Gold Top” – probably very much like the guitar was when it was 20 years old. Kim has done work for the likes of Joe Bonamassa … as well mere mortals. Here’s a pic of one that Kim did for our pal Steve Rigby in Sunburst. Close up, it looks like the “real deal” – a 1959 Gibson Les Paul – if you don’t have $300,000, this one makes a great substitute. Even if you do have $300,000, this one STILL makes a great substitute! A great example of Gibson’s second golden age and HM’s great aging and finishing:

Gibson Les Paul Sunburst Makeover – dubbed “The Rigbyburst”

A closeup of The Rigbyburst’s superb aging and distressing.

My next project is to get an original Gold Top pre-1957. If it has the original finish and is from late 1953 up to 1956, then all I will need to do is route for humbuckers… and possibly do a re-fret… the neck angle and bridge will already be correct.  Donations gratefully accepted! 🙂

Sounds like a plan!!!