Pick of the Month - June 2000
1960 Gibson ES-355TD-SV

Another trophy from the Police / XTC U.S. tour of late fall 1980, I found this at Guitar Resurrection in Austin, Texas. Even though I could see it had been "worked on", I couldn't leave the store without it and had to blag an advance from the tour manager to pay for it!

Following the successful launch of the ES-335 in 1958 (see Miss January 2000), Gibson extended the range the following year with two fancier modifications to the design; the ES-345, stereo wired, with gold-plated hardware, and the top-of-the-range ES-355, also stereo, aimed at the up-market jazzer. Finished in eye-popping cherry with a gold-plated Bigsby vibrato unit and hardware, it also featured a transparent faux-tortoiseshell pick-guard, ebony fingerboard with pearl block inlays, and a large, bound headstock sporting the split-diamond inlay and Grover Rotomatic tuners. Shweeet!

Gibson's stereo circuit came complete with the notorious "Vari-Tone" selector, a six-position tone switch that was basically a primitive form of passive on-board EQ. It's practically useless, though positions 3 and 4 lend a certain charm. A special "Y" cable is necessary to accommodate the stereo input socket.

Sadly, this guitar has lost its Bigsby unit, replaced by a standard stud tailpiece which had been retro-fitted incorrectly half an inch from the bridge, making it very uncomfortable to play. I had Jonny Kinkade remove the studs and bushings and locate them in the proper position; you have to look very closely to see the repairs he made to the body! For some reason the pick-guard mounting bracket is missing, necessitating a clumsy bodge involving a metal strip and a screw.

The real joy of this instrument is in the sound, those early "Patent Applied For" humbucking pick-ups epitomising the classic Gibson tone. With a snarling, bluesy honk at the bridge and a warm, mellow tone at the neck, it's as luxurious to listen to as it is to play.

Recording debut: XTC - Leisure (October 1981)
Features on: Partir (solo) by Louis Philippe (1998); also seen in the video for King For A Day (XTC, 1989)