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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Gibson ES 369:
TONE to the BONE
Right now my guitar collection consists of an very limited run Black "Gibson ES-369."

I searched the web and found there really wasn't much out there in the way of information on the ES-369, the following is what I could find.

Toward the end of the 1970s, Gibson was looking for a viable adaptation of the popular ES-335 model guitar that would capture players imagination. Gibson brought out the ES-335 Pro (Dirty Finger pickups with exposed coils, 1979-1982), ES-335 CRS/CRR (Country Rock Models, stereo, coil tap switch, brass nut, 1979 only), ES-347 (coil tap switch, TP-6 tailpiece, ebony fingerboard, large block inlay, 1978-1992) and the ES-369. These models were made at a time when variations of popular models were created by the major guitar manufacturers to build sales. A few short years later the reissue period would begin that has engulfed the marketplace. By 1982, Gibson introduced the ES-335 DOT. A reasonable, but not exact replica of the early dot-neck models. Fender was also bringing out their '57 and '62 reissue Stratocasters.

By the early 1980's, the guitar market was faltering and both Gibson and Fender was having a tough time earning the level of profitability that their large conglomerate parent firms demanded. It was an era of electronic music. Keyboards, as well as cheaper instruments were in demand. The quality of guitars built in this period suffered. Within a few years, both Gibson and Fender would be sold.

The ES-369 is classified as a thinline, double-cutaway, semi-hollowbody instrument. A maple block extends end-to-end down the middle of the body with F-holes cut into the laminated maple top. Perhaps the most striking feature of the ES-369 is the double-bound (red binding) snakehead headstock with embossed truss rod cover engraved with the model designation. This shape is reminiscent of the snakehead peghead styles of the 1920s and 1930s. It's interesting to note that Paul Reed Smith (PRS) guitar headstocks somewhat resemble this styling. Also, Gibson's Mark series acoustic flat-top guitars built from 1975-1979 used a similar snakehead headstock. Gibson used a slant script logo inlay on the ES-369 like those used in the late 1920s. Chrome tulip button tuners were installed along with a brass nut.

The 369's scale length is the same as a Les Paul or ES-335 at 24.75 inches with 22 frets. A rosewood fingerboard with creme binding complements the front and back creme body binding. At the back of the headstock where it meets the neck, a large volute was added for additional strength. Stamped on back of headstock is the serial number and 'Made in U.S.A.' .
Gibson designated zebra (black/creme pickup coils) exposed coil Dirty Finger pickups for the 369 that are hotter than their regular issue humbuckers. A coil tap switch was included to emulate single coil Fender type sounds. This coil tap option for humbucker pickups was popular at the time this guitar was introduced. The typical Gibson three way toggle switch and input jack on the face of the guitar is the same as a ES-335.

A Nashville tune-o-matic bridge along with Gibson's TP-6 tailpiece was chosen for better intonation and control. The tailpiece is built with individual string tension adjusters. The idea is good theory, however players have not supported this idea and stop tailpiece Gibson guitars are the configuration of choice these days.

By the time the ES-369 was introduced, the ES-335 and ES-347 both had coil tap switch configurations. Gibson moved the coil tap switch on the ES-369 from the upper cutaway bout location of the other two models to just beyond the end of the pickguard and replaced the regular toggle switch with a mini-microswitch. Essentially, the most outstanding difference between those two models and the ES-369 are cosmetic. The ES-369's headstock design and trapezoid fingerboard inlay differentiate it from the others.

Gibson's original factory in Kalamazoo built the ES-369 as well as the highly sought after original ES-335 guitars which were first made in 1958. The ES-369 has a stamped serial number with 8 impressed digits. Digits 6-8 less than 500 (and produced before July of 1984 for all Gibson guitars) indicates it was made in the Kalamazoo plant. The company eventually moved all guitar production from Kalamazoo to Nashville.

Gibson produced ES-369 guitars with finishes commonly associated with ES-335 instruments, sunburst and cherry. In addition, a solid black finish was available. A rectangular label with white background and orange and black triangles can be viewed through the upper F-hole. The model pictured was equipped with black speed knobs and single-ply creme pickguard. There are no production figures available for these instruments.

These instruments were probably not built in large quantities and were not considered a market success. The 369 guitars are an eclectic mix of a few faddish features of the 1980's with old world styling appointments. In the end, a decent guitar that is mostly an ES-335. Guitar enthusiasts looking for something different will find it appealing due to it's one-of-a-kind looks and limited availability. by Larry Meiners


  • Glad to have found your ES-369 blog. Not much info exists. Somewhere on the net, I saw a picture of Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson with a black 369 among some other semi's (345,355). The ES-369 looks really nice. My first Gibson was an ES-335CRR, which you mention in your blog. I sold that long ago, and have since gotten a late 60's model ~ a fabulous instrument. There's something about the Gibson semi-hollowbodies that just grabs some of us.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At May 28, 2007 at 10:55 AM  

  • Nice pics. I also have a black ES-369. I love it. What's the serial number on yours, if you don't mind my asking? The serial number on mine suggests a manufacture date of March 25, 1980, which would make it one of the first built, according to the limited production date estimates for these guitars. Did yours originally have a pick guard? When the plastic truss rod cover on the headstock is removed, are there any markings on the headstock wood? The picture of Alex Lifeson with his is from the Moving Pictures tour book, which would have been printed some time in late 1980 or early 1981, which makes his either an '80 or '81. I'm just trying to get a more accurate timeline for the ES-369.

    By Anonymous John Thornton, At September 13, 2007 at 1:42 PM  

  • Hello John, I don't have your email so I will have to reply here. I have the original pick guard, but I prefer it without, I think it looks sexier. I have not removed the truss rod cover so can't say anything there. It also originally came with white pickup covers, I was lucky enough to meet an original luthier from the Gibson Kalamazoo factory, when they closed the factory he took a box full of parts and it had black es pickup covers vintage 1970, so I picked up 2 of these, I can't beleive how lucky I am but to me it looks slicker like this.

    The birth date for my es 369 is: 1981. feb 10th - the 6th instrument made for the day.

    The es 369 was in production from 1980-1982 from the records I have found.

    The following serial number system was used:
    Serial Numbers, 1977 to present.
    All models, 8 digit number impressed in back top of peghead in the following format:
    YY (1st and 5th digit) = year
    DDD (digits 2-4) = day of the year,
    001=Jan 1st, 365=Dec 31st.
    NNN (digits 6-8) = rank of instrument for that day.
    Example: 80012005 = 5th instrument made in Kalamazoo
    on the first day of 1982.

    I hope this helps.


    By Blogger Axe Man, At September 26, 2007 at 3:40 PM  

  • Hi Rob. Thanks for the info. Everything you said is in line with the info I've collected in the past. And yeah, it's a slick looking guitar, for sure!

    By Anonymous John Thornton, At October 17, 2007 at 10:11 AM  

  • I also have a ES-369 black but it does not have a pick guard. I took it out to look at the serial number and the 5th number is a 3. Thanks for posting the info. It is the most info I have ever seen about the 369 and the first I have seen any one else own black ones. Great to see we all love this type of guitar!

    By Blogger Jonathon, At May 24, 2009 at 11:57 PM  

  • I am lucky to own one myself. I bought her October 1981 and must say it is the best guitar I ever had.
    After almoust 30 years of using her, she is still like she always was ... just a great guitar.
    Reinhard (

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At August 16, 2009 at 5:12 AM  

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