The Gibson ES-350 was first produced in 1947 at Gibson's legendary Kalamazoo plant in Michigan. It was, effectively, a Venetian cutaway version of the ES-300 archtop electric. The two models were basically identical beyond this feature, but it was enough of a difference that the 350 was out-selling the ES-300 by 1951, and had totally replaced it by 1953. The new cutaway was a really useful feature, giving far better upper fretboard access, allowing the ES-350 to become one of the most revered jazz guitars of the 1950s, becoming the instrument of choice (admittedly with some modification) of jazz guitar legends Tal Farlow and Barney Kessel. In the same way the ES-350 replaced the ES-300, a new thinline model, the ES-350T launched in 1955, and was outselling (and forced the discontinuation of) the ES-350 by 1956.
1947 Gibson ES-350 - an early single-pickup version Image Heritage auctions
The ES-350 was available as a Sunburst or Natural (ES-350N) finished guitar, and with one, (two from 1948) P90 single coil pickups. Early single pickup guitars had just one volume and one tone control. Dual pickup examples initially had a volume control for each pickup, with a master tone; players had to select pickups purely by use of the volume controls. This finally changed to two volumes and two tones with a three-way selector switch on the lower body bout from 1952. The body itself was a full 3" deep, 17" wide and all-maple, with a laminate maple top. The neck was also laminate maple, with a rosewood fretboard with split parallelogram inlays and 25 1/2" scale. The headstock featured the typical Gibson pearl crown inlay. Initially, the guitar was fitted with a gold trapeze tailpiece, matched with a floating rosewood bridge. Towards the end of production (early 1954), this was upgraded to an intonatable tune-o-matic bridge, with the tailpiece updated to a beautiful gold 'wire' type somewhat similar to the Byrdland circa 1956. It seems the last (1956 only?) examples had a slightly longer fretboard with 22 rather than the previous 20 frets.
A particularly tasty 1951 'middle-period' ES-350, with wonderful three-color Sunburst finish. This beautiful guitar is fitted with two pickups, yet only has three controls: a volume control for each pickup, and a master tone. Note the location of the separate controls, with the tone situated on the lower cutaway bout.
It would not be until 1952 that dual pickup ES-350s were equipped with the more typical Gibson controls for a two-pickup guitar, i.e. volume/volume/tone/tone with a three-way pickup selector switch situated where the tone control is on this guitar.
1956 Gibson dual pickup ES-350 with gold tune-o-matic bridge, wire-type tailpiece and 22 frets. The gold pickup covers are replacements; they would originally have been black plastic. Image Heritage auctions
Although the thinline ES-350T notionally replaced the ES-350, the true descendants of the full-body ES-350 were the signature models of the fore mentioned Tal Farlow and Barney Kessel. The ES-350T had a shorter 23 1/2" scale and humbuckers, making it more aligned to the Gibson Byrdland. Both the Tal Farlow and Barney Kessel were 3" deep all-maple laminate top guitars with the same 25 1/2" scale maple neck with rosewood fretboard. Differences were largely decorative. The Tal Farlow was most similar, with the same ES-350 body style, whilst the Barney Kessel gained an upper (Florentine) cutaway. Both had their own unique hardware, and distinctive neck and headstock inlays. Despite the advent of these signature models, both Kessel and Farlow continued to use their original ES-350 guitars.
The ES-350 was described as follows in the 1954 Gibson catalog
The production totals for the ES-350 are only available from 1948, with natural and sunburst finishes listed separately. As can be seen, the peak year was 1952, with 189 instruments shipped.
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