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Help dating early 50s ES-125... Is it a 1954 or is it earlier?

#1 User is offline   Dave Lang 

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Posted 04 April 2012 - 08:17 AM

Hi! I have what I think is an early '50s ES-125. It's been through the ringer over the years but I love it and it's been my main guitar since I got it in 2010.

I'd like to try and nail down how old it is and then figure out one or two other things about the guitar.

When I bought it I was told it was a '57 but there's a number written in wax pencil inside that makes me believe that it's a '54. The number is "X 249". Here's a pic through the pickup opening.

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The info on this website makes me think it might be a 1954 because the number starts with "X". Although I haven't seen any mention of wax pencil vs. stamped anywhere. Maybe it was a factory second or something?

My next clue that confirms it's earlier than '55 is that it has 19 frets vs. 20. This thread contains some helpful info in that regard.

But the same thread also says that post '52 the guitars no longer had a tapered headstock. I know mine has the tapered headstock cause it made it a headache to get replacement tuners for it! The posts closest to the nut are too short. Argh. Here's another picture.

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I won't be able to find anything out from the pots etc. because they've all been replaced long ago. In fact, someone butchered the top a bit trying to put a humbucker in it. You can just see the enlarged hole around the edges of the Seymour Duncan P-90 I put on it. Just in case anyone else reads this thread in the future I chose a Seymour Duncan "Antiquity" P-90 cause it's a low enough profile to fit under the strings. The ES 125 had a uniquely shaped pickup cover that's hard (impossible?) to find now.

Anyone have any info they can share?

In addition to what year it was made I'd like to know:

- what was the original neck radius on these guitars? this one has sort of a compound radius now after partial refrets etc. over time. It needs some more fret work and I'd like to head towards the factory profile.

- what is the radius of the top?

- are there any tuning machines available these days that fit the tapered headstock better?

- anyone know where I could find a pickup cover shaped like the original (other than eBay)

Thanks!

ps - here's a picture of the whole guitar

Posted Image

#2 User is offline   SamBooka 

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Posted 04 April 2012 - 05:40 PM

Cant help you with the age.
My 64 ES125 had a butchered P90 in it. The coil/pots and cap were replaced but the magnets/screws/baseplate/pickup cover are still the originals

I bought a lollar p90 that I am going to try putting in but even he admits it is hard to find the covers (he has the pickup that is between the dogear you would see on a LP Jr and a Casino but admits you need to reuse the original cover)

To date the closest thing I have seen to the vacuform dogear cover has been the one on the antiquities but I havent seen one up close.

#3 User is offline   Dave Lang 

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Posted 04 April 2012 - 07:14 PM

Thanks for the reply, Sam.

Here are some pictures of the Antiquity installed in my guitar. I think it would cover the hole if someone hadn't enlarged it in a misguided attempt to put a humbucker in it.

This shows the shape of the Antiquity pretty well - you can see how it doesn't cover the hole perfectly on the lower left shoulder and the angle doesn't match the strings like it would with an original cover. (not the end of the world I guess)

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And another pic.

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One more from the side - in this one you can see that because the bottom of the cover is flat, it doesn't conform to the shape of the top and there's a gap under the screws - this means that there's a buzzing sound if the screws aren't REALLY tightened which makes me fear stripping the already worn screw holes in the braces - I have to figure out something for that - maybe a tiny rubber O ring on each side or find a bit larger cover or spacer (like these from Lollar) and shape it to the top - that would also have the benefit of covering the enlarged hole - I haven't gotten around to emailing Lollar for the measurements of the shims tho so I'm not sure they would fit any better. The Antiquity is 40mm across (1.58") so it would have to be larger than that to cover the big hole....

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Which you can see in this photo - argh!

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Anyway, that's probably enough from me - maybe someone else will have some more info re: pickup cover solution, neck radius, top radius and age?

Thanks for your help and good luck! Post some pictures when you're done!

#4 User is offline   pfox14 

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Posted 05 April 2012 - 09:10 AM

Although I've never seen a FON (factory order number) written in grease pencil before, I do agree with your assessment that it's a 1954 ES-125. As far as tuners go, if you are going to replace them, then there's no way of getting a set that has different height posts. The E posts will wind up being short and there's no way around that - that's the way they came from the factory.

I believe the FB radius is 16" on these guitars, but it could be 12". Not sure about the top radius as an archtop has varying degrees of arching depending on where on the top area you're talking about. Radius in the middle is highest vs. the sides which are nearly flat. The tapered PH was discontinued sometime around 1953, but that doesn't mean it's not a 1954. There was no hard date when Gibson stopped doing this. Can't help with the pickup cover other than eBay.

Hope that helps

#5 User is offline   JimR56 

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Posted 05 April 2012 - 12:35 PM

Although the tapered headstocks began to be phased out in '52, they continued to be used up through the mid-50's.

We might try to analyze your vol./tone knobs and add that piece to the puzzle. From late '49 to early '53, they were "clear, straight-sided, 5/8" high "barrel knobs" with gold-tinted kernel and 0-10 white numbers. From early '53 to late '55, they went to the "speed knobs", which were 1/2" in height.

Also, is your bridge base solid, or is it the two-footed type with a gap in the center?

The grease pencil number looks unusual to me. Have you checked carefully for any stamped numbers inside?

#6 User is offline   Dave Lang 

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Posted 05 April 2012 - 02:28 PM

Thanks, Jim.

All the electronics including the pickup were replaced before I bought the guitar. Since I bought it I've replaced the pots / wiring / cap as the wiring was a mess and there was a .047 uF cap in the tone circuit which I felt made the guitar too dark. Just to confirm - here's a scan of the pots I removed.

I'm sure the knobs were aftermarket as well but just in case here they are. They're 11.25 mm (.44") high.

The bridge base is solid.

The grease pencil number looks unusual to me. Have you checked carefully for any stamped numbers inside?

I looked on the back but I haven't used a mirror to look underneath the top. I think I'm going to start a repair thread re: my pickup spacing issue. When I take the pickup out again I'll check.

Maybe a quick poll to those of you who've been around here for a while. Should I start a new thread in repairs re: my pickup spacing / cover project or just keep this one going? Feel free to PM me if you don't want to clutter this up.

#7 User is offline   Dave Lang 

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Posted 05 April 2012 - 02:31 PM

Forgot to thank pfox - I checked out the ES-125 rehab on your website - nice work! I think I'm going to get some radius gauges re: the neck and that makes sense re: the top.

#8 User is offline   JimR56 

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Posted 05 April 2012 - 03:48 PM

According to Duchossoir, bridge bases went to the two-footed design "after 1952". Even if we knew your bridge was original, I suppose this wouldn't really be a great deal of help (no doubt the solid bridges continued to be used to some extent), but there it is anyway.

I've been here for quite awhile, and I've never even noticed the repairs forum. What you might consider doing is starting a thread there (to possibly attract more views), and just direct people here by providing a link to this thread. Everything would be in one place, that way.

#9 User is offline   retrorod 

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Posted 05 April 2012 - 05:02 PM

Hey Dave! Welcome to the forum. I am a big fan of the ES125. I have an original '53. The FON (factory order number) is stamped in ink on the bottom. It can be seen when looking down through the treble-side F-hole. Mine is Yxxxx-xx. That is the format. A FON starting with X would be a 1954. I have not seen a hand-written # like you show.
Mine has a tapered headstock, two-footed bridge and the original P90,knobs and electronics and tuners(replaced knobs).
You could take the pickup cover off and 'scallop' the base to more conform with the top,perhaps?
It is what it is, after someone has 'mucked' with it.... [wink]
"You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from."--Cormic McCarthy

Celebrating the sixty years of "white privilege" that i have just recently learned that I was born with...

#10 User is offline   Dave Lang 

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Posted 05 April 2012 - 09:17 PM

Thanks retrorod!

The wax pencil number is on the treble side - double checked just now and can't see any other numbers in there. No one else has been able to either in the few years I've owned the guitar. When I take the pickup off next I'll use a mirror and look at the bottom of the top. One of the posts on this board suggested that a number could be found there occasionally. Not that the vintage really matters, just curious.

re: the pickup cover / hole

I finally got around to emailing Lollar about their shims and heard back right away. They sent me this spec sheet that shows their shims are not big enough to cover the enlarged hole in my guitar. Rats. Might work for someone else though.

Then I found these shims from Allparts. Now we're talking. This ebay seller took the time to write down the measurements which was good of him - I couldn't find the specs on the Allparts site. I'll put them in this post in case that eBay listing goes away.

"The measurements are 4 7/8" X 2", the mounting holes are 3 3/4" apart. The bridge spacer is 3/16", the neck is 1/8" tall. The finish is matte."

I bought a set of those shims and plan to form them to the top like you would a bridge once they arrive.

Just trying to decide whether to put that project in this thread or into it's own either here or in the repair section.

thanks again everyone,
dave

PS - retrorod your post to me raised your total to 1953 - same year as your guitar!

#11 User is offline   retrorod 

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Posted 06 April 2012 - 04:32 AM

Yep, pretty cool Dave. 1953 being my birth year as well! I would say that your guitar is most likely a '54. Definitely pre-'55 with the features mentioned above, as well as a 19-fret neck. They changed to a 20-fret in mid 50's....'55 I believe.
It is well worth fixing to your liking. Sounds like you are on track with the spacers.
I don,t think it matters too much about changing to Repair/Resto sub-forum. I guess you could do that and document your repairs. It has recently been added. I think it is a good thing, but probably will contain content other than vintage as well?
Let us know how things develop.
Rod
"You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from."--Cormic McCarthy

Celebrating the sixty years of "white privilege" that i have just recently learned that I was born with...

#12 User is offline   zizala 

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Posted 06 April 2012 - 08:01 AM

Hi Dave,

I can make you a slightly oversized spacer/shim if all else fails.

My variable speed jewelers scroll saw allows for some easy precision cutting and finishing is no problem.

Send me a drawing or tracing of what you need......and let me know how much wider and how thick or thin the shim needs to be.
I don't have a P-90 spacer on hand to follow.
I do have various sheets and thicknesses of black ABS/PVC that would probably work fine.

z

#13 User is offline   Dave Lang 

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Posted 06 April 2012 - 11:40 AM

View Postzizala, on 06 April 2012 - 08:01 AM, said:

I can make you a slightly oversized spacer/shim if all else fails.


wow - thanks zizala - I love it here!

If I hadn't already ordered the other shims I'd take you up on the offer. If I have any problems making the shims I've ordered work I'll be in touch.

#14 User is offline   retrorod 

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Posted 06 April 2012 - 06:35 PM

View Postzizala, on 06 April 2012 - 08:01 AM, said:

Hi Dave,

I can make you a slightly oversized spacer/shim if all else fails.

My variable speed jewelers scroll saw allows for some easy precision cutting and finishing is no problem.

Send me a drawing or tracing of what you need......and let me know how much wider and how thick or thin the shim needs to be.
I don't have a P-90 spacer on hand to follow.
I do have various sheets and thicknesses of black ABS/PVC that would probably work fine.

z

Is this offer available to all else in need of fabrication? Maybe some of us could use your services if advertised?
"You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from."--Cormic McCarthy

Celebrating the sixty years of "white privilege" that i have just recently learned that I was born with...

#15 User is offline   zizala 

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Posted 07 April 2012 - 04:01 AM

Well my first intent was to do Dave a favor.....hadn't thought of it just yet to be providing a service.

I've been making pickguards and parts for some of my friends and my own guitars for awhile.

So a firm "maybe" on offering custom parts fabrication for the time being....its a good thought.

z

#16 User is offline   55 225 

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Posted 20 December 2012 - 07:44 AM

[ tapered headstock 1950 and before

#17 User is offline   Dave Lang 

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Posted 20 December 2012 - 01:47 PM

Can anyone else confirm re: tapered headstock time frames?

Thanks!

Gonna revisit this thread in January and try and fix the pickup cover...

#18 User is offline   retrorod 

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Posted 20 December 2012 - 04:27 PM

George Gruhn says tapered until mid-50's.....That says '55 to me! I think he knows a thing or to about vintage guitars, eh?
Since it has been such a long time-span between posting, I see no harm in starting a new thread under 'repairs and restorations'
I don,t think the written X # is a FON, however. The FON should be visible on the back when looking down from the F-holes. It would be stamped with black ink (probably faded)!
Good luck with it, Rod
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Celebrating the sixty years of "white privilege" that i have just recently learned that I was born with...

#19 User is offline   JimR56 

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Posted 20 December 2012 - 06:14 PM

View Postretrorod, on 20 December 2012 - 04:27 PM, said:

George Gruhn says tapered until mid-50's.....That says '55 to me! I think he knows a thing or to about vintage guitars, eh?

Gee, you think so, Rod? ;) Duchossoir says the same thing, by the way. Not sure why people come in and resurrect old threads just to make incorrect statements.

Quote

Since it has been such a long time-span between posting, I see no harm in starting a new thread under 'repairs and restorations'

Like I said above, start a new thread there, but don't start the discussion all over again. Just post a link in the new thread in the other forum which sends people here (where all the info already exists).

#20 User is offline   j45nick 

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Posted 20 December 2012 - 07:41 PM

View PostDave Lang, on 20 December 2012 - 01:47 PM, said:

Can anyone else confirm re: tapered headstock time frames?

Thanks!

Gonna revisit this thread in January and try and fix the pickup cover...



Generally speaking, tapered headstock lasted on flat-tops through 1954. Time frame should be similar for your ES-125. Tapered headstock, combined with a written-in number with an X prefix, makes 1954 a good guess. The FON should actually be ink-stamped inside the treble f-hole, and should be at least four numbers, sometimes plus an additional one or two digits penciled in. It may have faded out, and someone wrote in pencil what could still be seen. I'd do a very careful inspection inside the f-holes to look for what may be a very faint ink-stamped number on the inside of the back.

By the way, some vintage-style repro tuners have taller string posts than others, so I'd keep looking. Modern Gibsons, for example, have a constant headstock thickness equal to the thickest part of your tapered headstock, not the thinnest part, and the posts project higher above the face of the headstock than what you are showing here. I know I had a similar problem with replacement tuners on my 1947 L-7, which has a tapered headstock like yours.

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