A couple of years ago, keyboard player David Garfield introduced me to guitarist Paul Jackson jr. and thereby his Gibson ES-346 that he brought along with him for the gig. At the time the ES-346 was Paul Jackson jr.’s signature model. The guitar sounded fantastic and was super versatile. It had a full and massive tone like a Les Paul, with lots of sustain, and at the same time a warm and jazzy tone when it was needed. I was impressed and maybe a little in love.
After the gig I did some research and found that the model had been discontinued. I browsed the internet from time to time to see if I could find a used one, but without success.
“Roadworn” and “pleked”
Since I couldn’t let the thought of this guitar go, my online search intensified. Suddenly, a red ES-346 came up on Ebay. It was even a little extra special since it was branded “roadworn” on the back of the headstock, right next to the “Gibson Custom Shop” logo. What did this mean? Actually, it has been quite difficult for me to find out what this means. From the information I could gather, I learnt that this roadworn-branding came about, when the guitar was sold at an auction, when Gibson’s Custom Shop closed down. The auction was an “invite only”, and the guitars sold were ones that had been used for people to try them for a specific tour or session, meaning that they were not brand new, but “roadworn”. (If anybody reading this knows more about this, please let me know).
Since I wasn’t sure about this “roadworn” malarky, I emailed Paul and asked if he knew of this specific guitar. Maybe it was made for him, since it was his signature model, and maybe he had discarded it. But no, he didn’t know it and had nothing bad to say about it. I emailed the seller several times, who was very sweet and patient. He emailed me lots of photos and blithely answered my many questions. During this emailing back and forth, it also turned out that the guitar had been “plek’ed”?! More research! It meant that it had new frets, plus a new saddle mounted by a machine. The adjustment after the re-fretting was also done by the machine that had analyzed the neck shape and curve and adjusted the action according to the programmed wishes, concerning action and the owners playing style. Kind of scary when you are used to the good old fashioned way of doing it. But try googling: “plek + guitar” and watch the video clips that come up … pretty impressive.
I transferred the money and suddenly the days were infinitely long. After a couple of weeks, because it had to clear customs, I got the message that I could pick it up at the local post office. The guitar’s hard case was in a fine box wrapped in oceans of cardboard so it took ages for me to unpack. When I finally got to the hard case and opened it, I was very pleased … the guitar was beautiful and wonderful to play – I was totally in love within seconds.
Materials and technically stuff
The materials are the same as on my old custom built Strat-style Washburn, which was my main guitar the last 10-12 years before I got this, but the construction is totally different. It is a hollow body like a ES-335 but it’s slightly smaller than a 335. The fretboard is made of ebony. The first ES-346’s had rosewood, but the Paul Jackson signature model, was made with ebony. The neck is a one piece mahogany that is compound, which means it doesn’t feel thick further up the neck. The body is made of a single piece of mahogany, which is carved out the same way our ancestors made canoes out of tree trunks, but it still has a center block. The mahogany body gives a full and warm tone and the neck made of flamed maple, gives the guitar a very fast response with good attack. The fact that the body isn’t made the same way hollow bodies normally are, allows a rounded back which leaves space for the stomach and “daily specials”. On the back there’s a cover that provides quick and easy access to the electronics.
Speaking of electronics, the pickups are Gibson’s 57 Classic humbuckers, and the “wiring” is classic Gibson, with a volume control and a tone control for each pickup.
Another special thing about this model is the “snake-head”, which doesn’t look like the ordinary Gibson heads. This design makes the strings go straight thru the saddle to the tuners. I’m told that this makes the guitar easier to bend, although I don’t think it’s a major issue … but it looks cool.
Within days I became dependent on this guitar. What a tone and character! I immediately began to use it in the studio and lived happily ever after … or?
Almost – I thought it felt natural with the 0.11’s it was set up with, but I also missed a softer bend, if I wanted to play some bluesy stuff, so I started dreaming about another ES346 for that – but you can’t have it all. I enjoyed the full and warm jazzy tone and started recording guitar parts for my second album “Miss you” with a big smile on my face.
All the very best.