Deep-Dive Review: The Iconic Gibson ES-335


Few electric guitar models are as influential and enduring as the Gibson ES-335. Introduced in 1958, this iconic instrument has left an indelible mark on music history, shaping the sound of countless songs and inspiring generations of musicians.

This essay delves into the captivating history of the Gibson ES-335, examining its groundbreaking design, signature sound, and enduring popularity among enthusiasts and professionals alike. From its innovative semi-hollow body to the notable musicians who have wielded it deftly across multiple genres, the ES-335 is more than just a guitar; it’s a testament to Gibson’s exceptional craftsmanship.

History and Design of the Gibson ES-335

The Origins of the Gibson ES-335

The Gibson ES-335, initially launched in 1958, is a semi-hollow body guitar that has become a standout instrument in the music industry. The “ES” in its name stands for Electric Spanish, a naming convention Gibson used for their electric guitars. The number 335 denotes its original price of $335.

Ted McCarty, Gibson’s president at the time, played a significant role in the design and execution of the ES-335. The company aspired to create a guitar that combined the warm tones of a hollow body guitar with the reduced feedback and improved sustain of a solid body.

Unique Design of the Gibson ES-335

Chris Cornells signature ES 3351

The main distinctive feature of the ES-335 is its semi-hollow body design. It is a marriage of the best attributes of hollow and solid body guitars. The center of the guitar, where the bridge and pickups are located, is a solid maple block, while the wings are hollow, creating the f-holes typically seen on archtop guitars. This design reduced the chance of feedback, an issue commonly encountered with fully open guitars, especially at high volumes or gain levels.

The ES-335 generally features a pair of humbucker pickups. The use of humbuckers also helps to minimize feedback and adds to the overall versatility of the guitar. Its body is typically made of maple and has a mahogany neck with a rosewood fretboard. This mix of tonewoods offers a combination of brightness from the maple and warmth from the mahogany.

Legacy and Impact on the Music Industry

The innovation brought forth by the Gibson ES-335 cannot be overstated, having paved the way for more advanced guitar designs since its inception. This semi-acoustic guitar, known for being the first successful thinline archtop model in the market, has changed the face of music since the late 1950s by offering musicians a unique blend of volume, response, and tonality.

Being the chosen instrument of numerous celebrated artists such as the king of blues, B.B. King, rock pioneer Eric Clapton, jazz maestro Larry Carlton, and fusion genius Al Di Meola has undeniably cemented the ES-335’s position in music history. Their iconic performances using the guitar have contributed to its monumental popularity.

With its distinct tone, exceptional quality, and balanced craftsmanship, the ES-335 has transcended being just a guitar, becoming a symbol of musical prowess cherished by performers of various styles. This is why this semi-hollow body model Gibson guitar remains an essential yardstick in the industry and continues to be pursued by enthusiasts long after its initial debut.

Gibson ES-335 For Every Budget

Classic Features and Specifications

A Closer Look at the Hardware of the Gibson ES-335

The intricate design and engineering behind the Gibson ES-335 is nothing short of impressive. Loaded with high-end hardware like tuners, a bridge, a tailpiece, and a pickguard, it is purpose-built to deliver the perfect performance. Among the standout features are the Grover Rotomatic tuners, known for their extraordinary 18:1 gear ratio, which provide highly accurate tuning. The ABR-1 Tune-O-Matic bridge paired with titanium saddles and a locking tailpiece stud provides impeccable sustain and beautifully balanced tone.

The Wood Types and Shape

The Gibson ES-335 boasts a double-cutaway laminated maple body with a center block running down the middle to reduce feedback. This semi-hollow design helps the guitar achieve a warm, rich resonance characteristic of vintage models. Meanwhile, the mahogany neck adds warmth but keeps the tones rich and full.

Neck and Fretboard of Gibson ES-335

The neck and fretboard are not just proportioned for comfort, but they also contribute to the overall sound. The neck is crafted out of quartersawn mahogany, upheld by Gibson’s traditional build techniques. It prolongs the guitar’s lifespan and improves the transfer of vibration. On the other hand, the fretboard is made from rosewood, known for its ability to balance the overall tone – absorbing extreme highs and lows.

Pickups to Set the Tone

Equipped with Burstbucker 1 and 2 pickups, the Gibson ES-335 offers vintage PAF-like tones with added emphasis on the mid-range. These are some of the most critically acclaimed humbucker pickups on the market. They provide a versatile range of tones, from clean blues to gritty rock. The neck pickup gives warm jazz tones, the bridge pickup offers great rock sounds, and they produce an excellent balanced tone.

Controls to Master the ES-335

The Gibson ES-335 has two-volume, two-tone controls and a three-way pickup selector switch. This means you can precisely control the pickup blend and sculpt your tone just how you want it. These hand-wired controls with orange drop capacitors are designed for optimal performance.

ES-335 Performance

The Gibson ES-335 offers a fantastic blend of warmth, clarity, and complexity. Thanks to its semi-hollow body with a solid center, it can thrive in multiple musical settings, from jazz to rock, while reducing feedback. This guitar has outstanding sustain and clarity, and its harmonics can sing for days. The ES-335 is not just for playing chords or rhythm parts. Also, its string-to-string definition makes it excellent for intuitive, expressive soloing.

Lastly, this guitar is beautifully balanced; it feels excellent seated or on a strap and has a smooth finish. It’s chunkier in the neck than some modern rivals, providing a substantial yet comfortable grip. The advantage of the thickness is that it imbues chords and single-note lines with an authoritative resonance and sustain.

Initial Review

The Gibson ES-335 has enjoyed a reputation that extends well beyond attractive aesthetics—its combination of diverse wood types, hardware, and semi-hollow design collectively yields an array of tonal possibilities. This guitar is a familiar, highly regarded presence in music, offering incomparable comfort, playability, and musical prowess.


Signature Sound and Performance

The Signature Sound Palette of the Gibson ES-335

Renowned for its unbeatable, unique sound, the Gibson ES-335 has become a preferred choice for artists across many music genres. This semi-hollow body electric guitar takes pride in its tonal warmth and the resonance it brings to the table. The sound it emits is a sweet mixture of deep hollow body tones and the clarity inherent in solid body models, thus striking an appealing balance between warmth and sharpness. The sound quality and depth of the Gibson ES-335 are primarily dictated by its construction – a laminated maple top, back, and sides, with a mahogany neck and rosewood fingerboard. Its rich vintage sound is further amplified by a pair of ’57 Classic humbuckers included in its design.

Tonality, Resonance, and Sustain

Its excellent tonal range is one prominent feature that makes the Gibson ES-335 unique. The guitar can produce a clear and bright tonal quality on the higher end and a warm, mellow, and powerful sound on the lower back. Whether used for lead or rhythm playing, the ES-335 delivers a full sound that cuts through in any mix, with plenty of belly and bite.

When it comes to resonance, the Gibson ES-335 surpasses most others. The semi-hollow guitar’s design augments the guitar’s natural resonance, which contributes to a well-rounded, rich, and whole tone. The resonance of the ES-335 allows clear chords and single notes to bloom in a way that few other guitars can match.

Sustain is another area in which the Gibson ES-335 excels. Sustain refers to how long a note continues after being plucked before it fades away. The semi-hollow body and the dual humbuckers on the Gibson ES-335 deliver a terrific sustain. This means the guitar can hold or prolong a note with minimal degradation, which can be a massive advantage in various music genres.

Expansive Versatility Across Musical Styles

The Gibson ES-335 is not just a guitar but a chameleon, demonstrating its versatility across a wide variety of music genres, including jazz, country, rock, and even bluesItshe smooth warmth and deep resonance have made it endearing to jazz musicians aiming for a melodic sound profile. Simultaneously, its clear tone is loved by country music players. On the other hand, Rock practitioners gravitate towards it due to its biting treble that cuts through the mix, combined with a crunchy mid-range.

The truly distinctive element of the Gibson ES-335 is that it maintains an apparent distinctiveness in each note while performing perfectly among musical styles. This makes the Gibson ES-335 an instrument that rises above the rest. The genius of its design lies in the combination of the best aspects of hollow and solid body guitars, owing to its semi-hollow construction. This brilliant fusion makes it an exquisite musical tool for any discerning guitarist, regardless of their favored genre.

The Best Gibson ES 335 For Every Budget
Deep-Dive Review: The Iconic Gibson ES-335 8

Notable Players and Musical Genres

Iconic Choice Among Musical Legends

The Gibson ES-335 doesn’t just get its reputation from being a remarkable guitar. Its allure is also enhanced by the galaxy of legendary musicians who have chosen to wield it throughout the years. This illustrious list cuts across various genres, including blues, rock, jazz, and country, establishing the ES-335 as a classic instrument with enduring appeal.

The Signature Player: Larry Carlton and the ES-335

Larry Carlton, a highly celebrated jazz and session guitarist, is regarded as one of the most influential Gibson ES-335 players. Known for his immersive bluesy tones and smooth, liquid jazz runs, Carlton’s playing style exemplifies the clean, balanced tone, excellent intonation, and remarkable resonance that the ES-335 is renowned for.

The ES-335 and Music Industry Titans

In the sphere of rock, the ES-335 has been the weapon of choice for titans such as Eric Clapton. During his successful stint with the band Cream, Clapton favored the ES-335. The famous Bluesbreaker tone, one of rock music’s most recognizable sounds, was also masterfully created using this very guitar.

Blues legend B.B. King used a variant of the ES series, the Gibson ES-345, to enrich his signature style of playing, which was marked by magnificent vibrato and string-bending techniques. This highlights the ES series’ suitability for the blues genre and its versatility.

Reasons Musicians Prefer the Gibson ES-335

Gibson’s ES-335 is beloved and recognized for innumerable qualities and features, with its versatility paramount. It features the warm tonality of a hollow-body model and the sharp sustain of a solid-body electric guitar, allowing it to serenade audiences across a spectrum of musical styles and genres.

Playability and tactile comfort are other factors that make the ES-335 stand out. Its thin, double-cutaway design facilitates easy access to upper frets, which technical players much appreciate. The slim, tapered neck profile reduces hand fatigue and allows smooth navigation across the fretboard.

Apart from its punchy tone and playability, the ES-335 draws in fans due to its extraordinarily sleek design and visual appeal. Its double-cutaway body and f-holes, which lend an air of sophistication, set it apart from its solid-body counterparts.

The ES-335’s top-of-the-line hardware ensures stellar performance and long-lasting durability. The Gibson’s Tune-o-Matic bridge and a stop bar tailpiece keep the instrument precisely in tune. At the same time, two humbucking pickups and four control knobs allow a vast scope for tonal experimentation and shaping.

As a final thought, the glory of the Gibson ES-335 can be ascribed to its harmonious balance of versatility, playability, design aesthetics, and superior hardware. This is further validated by the legendary guitarists who’ve gained recognition and fame using it. Whether you’re a guitarist searching for an adaptable instrument with high playability or a zealous fan seeking an instrument steeped in music history, the Gibson ES-335 caters to all, continuing to excite and inspire musicians everywhere.

rich robinson on his gibson memp
Deep-Dive Review: The Iconic Gibson ES-335 9

Purchasing Guide and User Reviews

Cost of a Gibson ES-335

The Gibson ES-335, a classic and time-honored guitar, is priced to reflect its high demand. The price of a standard new Gibson ES-335 varies depending on specifics like model and finish. However, they are generally within a $2,700 to $4,000 range. Unique or limited-edition models can potentially increase this price range.

For budget-conscious individuals, pre-owned options can start at roughly $1,500. Pre-owned prices scale with the guitar’s status; vintage models, for example, possess a higher value attributable to their collectability and naturally aged components.

Different Variants of the Gibson ES-335

The Gibson ES-335 comes in various models and finishes, providing plenty of choice for potential buyers. The “Standard” model is perhaps the most well-known, with its dual humbuckers and semi-hollow body. It’s also available in various finishes, like Sunburst, Cherry, and Ebony.

Other variants include the “Dot,” which features dot inlays on the fingerboard; the “Studio,” a stripped-down model offering excellent value; and the “Figured,” a more upscale model with a beautifully figured maple top. Depending on the model, different hardware and pickup options are also available.

Where to Buy the Gibson ES-335

There are a few different places to consider when buying a Gibson ES-335. Traditional brick-and-mortar music stores often carry a selection of Gibson models. This enables you to try out the guitar before buying and can provide reassurance on the purchase.

You can also buy directly from the Gibson website. Another popular choice is buying from online retailers like Guitar Center, Sweetwater, and Reverb. They have extensive stocks and offer detailed descriptions and images, helpful customer service, and reliable shipping.

Insights from User Reviews

Professional musicians and hobbyists alike have praised the Gibson ES-335 for its balanced and versatile tone. Many users appreciate the rock and roll heritage the ES-335 carries, with its warm, rich, creamy tones ideal for jazz, blues, and rock.

Users also praise the guitar’s build quality and the attention to detail in each piece. Lastly, many users mention the guitar’s aesthetic beauty, honoring the iconic shape and finish options.

However, there are some critical points as well. It’s not uncommon to see mentions of the guitar’s high price, with some arguing that similar tones can be found in less expensive guitars. Some users have also criticized the guitar’s weight, expressing that long periods of play can cause discomfort.

Considerations for Potential Buyers

Potential buyers should consider their playing style and the types of music they typically play before purchasing a Gibson ES-335. The ES-335’s versatility and iconic tone make it a valuable addition to any collection, but its higher price point may not be necessary for beginners or those who play infrequently.

Also, potential buyers should thoroughly inspect any guitar, mainly second-hand models. Issues to look out for include scratches or dents in the body, warped necks, or issues with the electronics.

Finally, due to the ES-335’s substantial weight, potential buyers might want to ensure they’re comfortable with this before deciding. If possible, trying out the guitar in person can provide valuable information on its feel and playability.

Gibson ES-335 guitar in Cherry finish

Photo by timwildsmith on Unsplash

Over six decades after its debut, the Gibson ES-335 continues to be a sought-after instrument, dazzling users with its stellar combination of design, sound quality, and performance. The guitar’s rich history and an impressive roster of famous players consistently make it a choice for music lovers. With a wide range of variants to cater to different preferences and budgets, the ES-335 guarantees an unforgettable musical journey. Looking at user reviews, it’s clear that the Gibson ES-335 can live up to its reputation, presenting as an instrument and a companion in the quest for unmatched musical expression.

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