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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