1964 Gibson ES-345 TDC, gloriously aged cherry finish, made famous in the hands of blues legend Freddie King and many others . . . not to mention a eureka moment for Chuck Berry in the 1985 film Back To The Future ;-). "I guess you guys aren't ready for that yet. But your kids are gonna love it."
Back To The Future came out in 1985 - and took Marty McFly (and us) back 30 years to 1955, the birth of rock and roll. At the Enchantment Under The Sea Dance, Marty McFly stands in for the band's guitarist Marvin Berry, launches into Johnny B. Goode, leaving Marvin open-mouthed and rushing to call his cousin, Chuck, to tell him he's found the "new sound" he's been looking for. That's just before Marty brings his 1985 self to bear with a run-through the moves and playing of guitar heroes Pete Townsend, Jimi Hendrix, Angus Young and Eddie Van Halen. Leaving his 1950s audience silent - and Marty delivering the inspired words: "I guess you guys aren't ready for that yet. But your kids are gonna love it." All played on a beautiful Bigsby-loaded cherry ES-345.
It's a wonderful scene. And not ruined by the following geek alert. The ES-345 wasn't released until 1959, so was itself back to the future in 1955. Honestly, for a film that blurs so many boundaries so magically, it really doesn't matter. Still, it explains why it's better that one of the Three Kings - Freddie King - takes the mantle for "as made famous by". One of the blues giants, behind songs like "Have You Ever Loved A Woman?", "Hide Away" and "San-Ho-Zay" that just blow you away. A truly unique feel and sound, generated by a truly unique picking style - no plectrum, but a plastic thumb-pick on his thumb, and a metal pick on his index finger. I've never yet tried, but I'm guessing you'd need to do the same to if you want to get close to that very special bite in his solos. He loved his Gibson ES guitars too - and played 335s, 345s and 355s throughout his career. And seemed to prefer the stop-bar or tailpiece models over those loaded with Bigsbys. Which brings us to this fabulous 1964 ES-345.
This is a guitar that's lived life to the full - and had some early mods along the way. My guess is all those mods happened towards the end of the 60s or first years of the 70s. The first clue is the lack of gold hardware. The 345s and more ornately-appointed 355s came with gold hardware. There are traces of it, mostly hidden from view. But a previous owner clearly got it in their heads that chrome was the way to go. It certainly bears the passing of time with less erosion. The original Bigsby's been replaced by a chrome stop-bar and a Tune-O-Matic bridge. There were more stop-bar versions of the ES-345 than ones with Bigsbys , so it's a mod that's true to the original design. Open the guitar up, and the bridge pick-up has been swapped out for a chrome-cover PATENT NO humbucker. But the neck pick-up's original - a late PAF or an early PATENT NO humbucker, with a later chrome cover soldered in. Who knows why someone went to all this trouble? And who cares? It's all a bit academic really. This is one of only 193 ES-345s shipped by Gibson in 1964. And 1964 is one of the fabled years for ES-345s. It plays like a dream. Buckets of mojo, fabulous low action, and a Varitone that's been wired for mono play - so you get all those tonal variations across all pick-up combinations. And it just looks the part. Marty McFly was right. You're gonna love it!
See & Hear It In Action
Marty McFly, an ES-345TDC, and a Stunned Audience: It's a wonderful moment - and includes that history-making call from Marvin Berry to his cousin, Chuck.
Freddie King Playing Hide Away on his ES-345TDC: "It's one of the swingingest things I ever heard" - it was then, and still is today. Loaded with some of the most famous up-tempo blues and rock and roll riffs into just over two minutes. Just fantastic!
Be the first to go back to the future with this absolute classic!
Number of Frets
Brazilian Rosewood, Bound
Vintage Kluson Single-Line/ Single Ring Tuners
PAF/PATENT NO Humbuckers
Gibson PAT. NO. 2,740,313 Tune-O-Matic
Fun fact: The number on the main Gibson ES-models wasn't some clever design code. It was the price! In 1959, you could get an ES-345 for $345. Check out what a later 1970 Gibson ES-355TD-SV gave you for that extra ten bucks (even if, by 1970, the original launch price was a long way behind its actual sale price).
The 355 may have given you more binding and more mother-of-pearl for your $10, but that aside, the 345 had all the features you could want coupled with outstanding build quality:
The big mother-of-pearl split parallogram inlays in a beautifully bound dark rosewood fretboard
The super-slim neck, with 1 11/16" nut width and 10" radius - a player's dream
The stereo circuitry which allowed the guitar to be played through two separate channels or two separate amplifiers (later modified on this one, as with so many others, to a mono circuit)
The 6-channel Vari-Tone selector switch, which, with three pick-up settings, really does give you up to 18 tonal varieties for this guitar (more if you play around with the Tone knobs for each pick-up)
And to cap it all the heavily plated gold hardware throughout.
When it first came to market, this one had all the gold hardware - and a Bigsby. You can still find that gold, most obviously with the Varitone ring, and less obviously where daily play and natural tarnishing haven't taken their toll: the bridge posts, the pick-up selector, the scratchplate bracket, the truss rod cover screws, even the pole and mounting screws for the neck pick-up.
But a previous (and early) owner obviously didn't feel the love for all that gold, or that Bigsby, And it looks like they didn't have gold plated replacement parts to hand, so went with a chrome overhaul. Not as damaging as it sounds - and the start of another thrilling detective story . . . OK, stop reading now if dating guitars by their components isn't your thing.
So, for the one remaining reader (thank you), I'm pretty sure all these mods happened in the late 60s, possibly as late as 1971. Based on:
The replacement Tune-O-Matic bridge was made from 1966 - 71. It has the period-correct "GIBSON PAT. NO. 2,740,313" embossed on the underside, and has a saddle retaining wire, which was taken off the design in 1971 as more secure screw-through saddles were introduced.
The bridge pick-up has been replaced with a chrome cover "PATENT NO 2,737,842" humbucker. The original sticker's on the pick-up base. Likely made between somewhere between 1968 and 1972, on the basis of the slotted bobbin screws, first used in late-1967, and the visible "L" tooling marks on the pick-up legs (last seen in 1972). It's almost certainly a "T-Top" humbucker, first introduced in 1968.
Both lovely vintage components, if not part of the original 1964 build. I’d say it’s pretty likely the remaining modifications (removal of the Bigsby, installation of the Gibson stop-bar, replacement of the cover for the original neck pick-up, rewire to mono) all happened at the same time, just to get as much matching chrome in place at once.
Which just leaves the question of whether the neck pick-up is an original “PATENT APPLIED FOR” (PAF) pick-up or, like the replacement bridge pick-up, a “PATENT NO” pick-up. It’s not easy, because when the replacement chrome cover was (poorly!) soldered in, most of the identifying sticker was melted. All that remains is a small corner with the tantalising letters “PA” in gold. So, it could be either. And there are a few things that point to it being a PAF:
It’s the original pick-up. It still has the gold plate on the pick-up pole screws. So, it was built in or before 1964.
Gold-plated PAFs continued to be installed as late as 1965 – especially for Varitone guitars, which had a different magnet configuration, meaning they were used less often and stock lasted longer.
The mounting ring is the original MR491/MR-69 ring, the one used for PAF pick-ups (the replacement bridge PATENT NO pick-up has the later M-8 ring, introduced with “PATENT NO” pick-ups).
So, a good chance this is a PAF pick-up. And if not, a PATENT NO pick-up that has the same wiring and dimensions of a PAF. The only way to confirm finally would be to take the cover off and look at the wiring, bobbins and magnet dimensions. One day, I might get around to doing that. But I'm in no hurry. It’s good to have some mystery in your life. Especially when it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference. Play this, and you’ll know what I mean. This really is the business!
Sources & Links
The Gibson ES-345TD Story from Vintage Guitar And Bass: A huge wealth of information about the spec, history and production numbers from the incredibly thorough and well-researched Vintage Guitar And Bass people.
1962 Gibson Catalogue: Just an Aladdin's Cave of the guitars we'd all want to have now, page down for the ES-345TD. A little above the launch price of $345, but track back three years and you can imagine these really did sell for that in 1959.
The Authorative History of Gibson PAFs from Guitar HQ: I'm always stunned by the detail Guitar HQ provides. This page just utterly essential in dating Gibson PAFs and PATENT NO humbuckers - even down to the mounting rings!
How To Sound Like Freddie King: Thanks to the Happy Bluesman, a comprehensive run-through of your options for achieving the Freddie King sound, including that unique thumb and finger-pick configuration. And, while you're there, click the menu for a "how to sound/play like" catalogue of the blues greats. Priceless!