The Ten Best Gibson ES-335 Guitars

1964 Gibson ES-335 TDC
1964 Gibson ES-335 TDC | Source

1958 was a great year for Gibson guitars, they debuted several models which have been resounded successes up to this day. The Gibson ES-335 was one of those new models, and it is easily the single most desired, recognized, and played semi hollow body electric guitar in the world. The persons singing the praises of this six string masterwork would make for a very long list.

These guitars are just pure elegance. They are beautiful to behold. It's all those stylish curves and such. With two humbucking pickups and the semi-hollow body design, these guitars can be used to make any style of music from country, jazz, hard rock and blues.

These guitars look very much like their cousins, the Epiphone Casino guitars. But these are very different guitars. The ES-335 is a semi-hollow body guitar. What this means is it has a solid center block of maple in its body. The solid center helps to increase the sustain of notes, and reduces feedback. The hollow sides of the guitar's body have f-hole style sound holes to add warmth one doesn't get from a solid body guitar.

The tops of these guitars are arched. So these are, in truth, semi-hollow body, arched top, electric guitars. The model was the very first of this kind ever created.

Chuck Berry (left) and B.B. King with Gibson ES 335s
Chuck Berry (left) and B.B. King with Gibson ES 335s
Eric Clapton & Gibson cherry red ES-335
Eric Clapton & Gibson cherry red ES-335
Jazz Master Larry Carlton with a Gibson ES-335
Jazz Master Larry Carlton with a Gibson ES-335
Alvin Lee with his ES-335
Alvin Lee with his ES-335

Gibson's ES-335 has been the guitar of choice for some of the greatest players of all time

The late B.B. King, and the still alive at 90 years of age Chuck Berry are very very different guitarists. While B.B. King was always a blues guitar purist, Chuck Berry had an absolutely huge impact on the development of rock and roll as a genre of music, and he showed everyone that rock and roll was an electric guitar driven music. They both played the Gibson ES-335.

B.B. King, of course, very famously named his guitar Lucille. Well, what one should know is the man had a hell of a lot of guitars, and he thought of every one of them as Lucille. But B.B. King's Lucille was a Gibson ES-335. After a time Gibson saw what a good thing it would be for everyone were they to get with Mr. King and have one made to his most exact ideals. So you can buy a Gibson Lucille today, it's a modified ES-335.

After a time Chuck Berry gravitated to the fancier versions. Chuck liked the gold hardware look. Chuck's guitar of choice is the ES-355, which is only an ES-335 with flashier appointments. In any event, the notion I'm trying to convey here is these two men of very different style of play were two of the most important men in the history of the electric guitar, as they were in their prime at the time these instruments were becoming widespread, and they both adored the ES-335.

In 1964 Eric Clapton purchased his Gibson ES-335. He only owned two other guitars at that point in his career, and the Gibson was the first guitar he'd ever purchased new. He played the same one from his time with the Yardbirds up until he sold it in the 90s in an auction to benefit his Crossroads drug and alcohol treatment center. The guitar sold for $847, 500 dollars. So you see, a Gibson ES-335 can be worth just under a million dollars under certain circumstances.

Larry Carlton has long been a jazz guitar wizard of the highest order. He's won four Grammy awards for his guitar compositions. He started playing guitar at just six years of age. Clearly, the playing of six string guitars was his calling in life, and gosh darn, he's sure filled the role. When I think of Larry, I'm thinking of his work with the Steely Dan, and his theme song to Hill Street Blues. But the list of people Larry has recorded with is too long for this page. Even if you don't think you know about Larry Carlton, don't fret, you've heard him play guitar. His weapon of choice? His 1969 Gibson ES-335, of course.

Alvin Lee is gone from this world, but he's not forgotten. So far as I could ever tell he was never given the amount of credit for his greatness of playing guitar he was due. Alvin Lee was nearly a shred guitarist even and before Ritchie Blackmore had come of age. His band, Ten Years After, wasn't a metal band, but it was heavy blues for sure. And Alvin was forever playing his red and hippy decorated ES-335.

The purpose of this article is to display and describe some of the most notable editions of the legendary and enduring Gibson ES-335. There are very fine signature series editions, and even guitars like the Lucille instrument which now are considered somewhat separate. Every ES-335 is a great guitar.

Gibson Memphis BB King - Lucille

Gibson Memphis B.B. King 'Lucille' guitar

B.B. King is more closely tied to the Gibson ES-335 than any other single artist. He lived a long and successful life as a blues man, and his name and legacy won't be forgotten any time soon. His Gibson B.B. King Lucille guitars are in production and available for all who can afford to buy them. They are modified ES-335s.

The original Lucille wasn't even an electric guitar, but was a Gibson acoustic. When King was first coming to prominence, however, his Lucille was a 335. The modern Lucille is B.B. King's desired guitar. It is a 335 with some minor structural modifications, and some advanced circuitry.

You notice straight away these guitars lack the f-hole soundholes on the top. King had requested a guitar without the sound holes so as to have a reduction in feedback from his amplifiers. Still, only the center of these guitars are of solid maple, the side wings are hollow and provide the warmth minus the feedback.

What is the deal with Memphis? Is a Gibson Memphis guitar different from one made in Nashville? Since Gibson opened the factory in Memphis, Tennessee, they've moved production of all the ES guitars to that factory. So an older ES-335, or B.B.King model made before the Memphis factory was built, wouldn't have been made there. That's all that is going on with the designation.

The Gibson Memphis B.B.King guitar has unique inlay on the headstock. Seems obvious the guitar should say, 'Lucille' on it somewhere, and so it does. The bridge is a non traditional for Gibson. This bridge features fine tuning capability. This guitar has the famous Varitone circuitry. The circuit includes capacitor networks plus bypass. There is no coil splitting here, but the Varitone is another animal altogether.

These guitars are not cheap or inexpensive. They cost around seven thousand dollars. They need not be black in color either. Gibson is using Richlite for the fingerboard here. Using the new material on such a high profile product as this really shows you how well regarded the material is. Keep in mind when shopping used these Lucille guitars have been produced for a long time now, and so older ones may have some different specs from what I'm listing below.

FEATURES

  • Body shape: ES-335
  • Body type: Semi-hollow
  • Body material: Maple, Poplar, Maple
  • Top wood: Maple, Poplar, Maple
  • Body wood: Maple, Poplar, Maple
  • Body finish: Nitrocellulose Lacquer
  • Orientation: Right
  • Neck shape: Traditional C
  • Neck wood: Maple
  • Joint: Set
  • Scale length: 24.75
  • Truss rod: Single
  • Neck finish: Nitrocellulose Lacquer
  • Fretboard Material: Richlite
  • Radius: 12"
  • Fret size: Jumbo
  • Number of frets: 22
  • Inlays: Full Block
  • Nut width: 1.681"
  • Nut Material: Corian
  • Pickup Configuration: 2 Humbucker
  • Neck: Gibson 490R
  • Bridge: Gibson 490T
  • Brand: Gibson Passive
  • Series or parallel: Sereis
  • Special electronics: 2-inductance coils (chokes)
  • Control layout: 2-volume potentiometers, 2-tone potentiometers
  • Pickup switch: 1-Toggle switch pickup selector, 1-Varitone switch
  • Fixed Bridge design: Tune-o-Matic with Stop Bar Tailpiece
  • Gold Color Tuning machines: Grover Tulip
  • Case: Hardshell
  • Country of origin: USA

Gibson Chris Cornell ES-335 guitars

Olive drab with Bibsby vibrato
Olive drab with Bibsby vibrato
Aged black with hard tail
Aged black with hard tail

Gibson Chris Cornell ES335 signature guitar review

There are not one but two editions of the Gibson Chris Cornell ES-335. There were not many of these guitars made at all. If you ever happen to see one for sale, it might be the only time you ever do. So keep that in mind, you folks with extra guitar buying cash.

Chris Cornell, of course, is someone we all know and love for being one of the single best rock and metal vocalist on the planet. He's not known for being a guitarist, but that doesn't mean he isn't one. Chris is also one of the world's best song writers at present, and so, when he writes he's usually playing guitar to aid in creating a song.

The olive drab guitars come with a Bigsby vibrato. The aged black ones do not. There's no wiggle room in any of this, it's written in stone, so to speak. Either guitar comes with the Jason Lollar pickups that Chris likes the best. The cases come with some sort of symbol on them which Chris has taken a liking to.

You can see these guitars have dot fingerboard positioning marker inlay. The finish on either is plainly not meant to be flashy or overly beautiful. There is a minimalist, understated vibe here.

These are not signature series guitars. Chris Cornell's signature is not on them. These are a batch of guitars made to Cornell's desired specifications, and they've got his sign on the case, and a bit of a case candy booklet which comes with it. Again, you will almost certainly not ever even see one of these, so if you do see one and you've got the cash to buy it, either version will be a great guitar and super collectible.

Gibson Government Series ES-335

The administration of President Barack H. Obama orchestrated a politically motivated raid on Gibson guitars in August of 2011. The government stole guitar fingerboards, bodies, and in some cases - entire guitars. Gibson got all of its material back, but the point was made. The Obama administration would harass even one of the finest known brands of musical instruments for its CEO holding opposing political views.

So Gibson guitars decided to commemorate the petty behaviors with its Government series of guitars. There were exactly three hundred Government series ES-335 instruments created. They have some unique features, none cooler than the American Made eagle emblem on the pickguard. They are also all gunmetal grey in color, because nothing screams 'USA' quite like government goons with firearms, apparently.

These Government Series ES-335s come with Gibson's new 'dirty fingers' pickups. These are 'hotter' wound pickups than are typical. It isn't something one can say is better or worse, more just a matter of personal taste. The black binding and black corian nut add to the stark visual presence. Think heavy and dirty blues when you think of these Gibson Government Series ES-335 guitars.

Features

  • Body shape: Double cutaway
  • Body type: Semi-hollowbody
  • Body material: Laminated
  • Top wood: Maple/Poplar/Maple 3-ply
  • Body wood: Maple/Poplar/Maple 3-ply
  • Body finish: Gloss
  • Neck shape: SlimTaper
  • Neck wood: Mahogany
  • Joint: Set-in
  • Scale length: 24.75"
  • Truss rod: Standard
  • Neck finish: Gloss
  • Fretboard Material: Rosewood
  • Radius: 12"
  • Fret size: Vintage-style
  • Number of frets: 22
  • Inlays: Dot
  • Nut width: 1.675" (42.5mm)
  • Pickup Configuration: HH
  • Neck: Dirty Fingers ceramic
  • Bridge: Dirty Fingers ceramic
  • Brand: Gibson Passive
  • Series or parallel: Series
  • Control layout: Volume 1, volume 2, tone 1, tone 2
  • Pickup switch: 3-way
  • Fixed Bridge design: TonePros AVR2
  • Tailpiece: Stopbar
  • Nickel Color Tuning machines: Grover Rotomatic
  • Special features: Limited production
  • Case: Hardshell case
  • Country of origin: United States

Gibson ES-335 Joe Bonamassa signature guitar

Gibson Custom Shop Joe Bonamassa ES 335 VOS

Joe Bonamassa has dedicated his life to playing guitar. He's reached a higher level of play than most people could ever even imagine, much less attain. Seemingly Joe was born to play the guitar, and even so, Joe will tell you it is hard work and requires constant continued work.

Joe Bonamassa was playing shows with B.B. King before he'd even become a teenager. Does that sound like something I made up? Sounds like something someone would make up to me, but the facts are it's all very true.

So it is then little wonder Joe has an affinity for the Gibson ES-335. Of course Joe owns and plays more guitars than most people. He collects old guitars and amps too. Joe loves guitars and amps in a way I understand perfectly, chances are persons reading this page also understand.

Joe's 335 is a 1961 model.To reproduce it the folks at Gibson bust out all their calipers and fancy tools to measure Joe's instrument down to the smallest and most definite details.The Gibson ES 335 Joe Bonamassa is especially distinct for its neck, which is described as being very much in between the sizes of the 1959 necks and the 1960s necks.

FEATURES

  • An authentic recreation of Joe's 1961 ES-335
  • Two-piece veneer top
  • Thin '60s neck with a Burst Brothers profile
  • Reproduction '58 tuners
  • '57 Classic humbuckers

Gibson ES-335 Larry Carlton guitar

The vintage burst of this finish is also known as a Carlton burst.
The vintage burst of this finish is also known as a Carlton burst.

The greatness of Larry Carlton and his 1969 ES 335

The Larry Carlton 335s were first produced in 2004. Again, Gibson busts out all manner of measuring equipment to analyze Larry's guitar in order to reproduce that exact guitar as exactly as possible.

With something as popular as an ES-335, there are lots and lots of them made, so it's simply not possible for them all to the exact measurements. And of course Gibson sometimes changes pickups and wiring schematics, tuning machines.

In any event, Larry's 335 is a 1969 model, and the reproductions are as exact as is humanly possible in this age. The burst finish is even now referred to as the Carlton burst. Larry, of course, is even known as Mr. 335, so this is all very fitting.

Perhaps Gibson will make another run of the Larry Carlton guitars. As it is, they were a limited edition produced over the course of a few years, and are available used in all the familiar places on the web. Prices are generally in the three thousand dollars and slightly below range. Again, even if you aren't familiar with Larry's music - you still are because he's been on more albums and soundtracks, etc, than he even likely remembers. This is because he's in such demand for sounding so good.

Gibson Larry Carlton Signature ES-335 Features:

  • Larry Carlton signature semi-hollow electric guitar
  • '57 Classic humbuckers offer vintage tones
  • '60s SlimTaper neck is comfortable for lead and rhythm
  • Semi-hollow construction is the best of solid and hollow builds
  • Schaller tuners offer tuning stability

Gibson Alvin Lee "Big Red" signature model electric guitar

The late great Alvin Lee playing his Big Red ES 335

Alvin Lee's guitar was modified. He had a single coil pickup added between the two humbuckers. He used an aftermarket bridge and tailpiece, and, of course, all those hippy stickers were used for personalized decoration. These guitars are reproductions of the one Lee rocked out with at the original Woodstock festival.

Alvin's guitar was a 1959 model, so it has the neck profile Gibson used during that year. One needs to know the 59' neck profile was thicker than the years after. The single coil pickup in the middle is a Seymour Duncan, and as they say, you don't go wrong with that fine brand of pickups.

These guitars are not in production at present, and the ones on the used market are not selling for cheap. These in good condition are bringing five thousand dollars. Myself, I like to buy used guitars with scratches already on them. I like that because making the first scratch is a horrible thing to realize you've done. These guitars are quite rare though, so if you see one for sale it's not going to be cheap regardless of its condition.

FEATURES

  • Laminated maple top, back, and sides
  • One-piece 1960 mahogany neck with long tenon
  • Bound rosewood fretboard
  • Black finish on back of neck
  • Naked '57 Classic humbuckers at the neck and bridge
  • Single-coil Seymour Duncan in the middle position
  • Top and back binding
  • Alvin Lee stickers on finish
  • Chrome hardware
  • Kidney bean tuners
  • ABR-1 bridge
  • TP-6 tailpiece
  • 24-3/4" scale

Dave Grohl signature ES-335 guitars!

Gibson Memphis Dave Grohl ES-335 Signature

When you are me you will always think of Dave Grohl as the drummer for Nirvana. He's had a lot more success as a singer and guitarist though. The guy is just a pure musician, obviously. The Gibson ES-335 Dave Grohl is one hell of a sexy looking guitar.

It's not an inexpensive guitar. With its non traditional head-stock and sound-holes, this 335 stands out from the pack. Further distinction is found on the fingerboard with the non trad positioning marker inlay. The pickups used are the new burstbuckers, and lots of people are raving about those.

These guitars, of which 200 were made in 2015, are a hybrid between the old Trini Lopez guitars and an ES-335. They're selling for around nine to ten thousand bucks. Hopefully Gibson will see to the production of more of these so the prices become more reasonable. If the looks are what someone is going for when desiring one of these they could get off much cheaper with an Epiphone 'Dwight Trash' Casino.

Tech Specs

  • 8.5 pounds
  • Pelham Blue Metallic Finish
  • Laminated Maple/Poplar/Maple Semi-Hollow Body
  • Mahogany Neck with Rosewood Fretboard
  • Pearloid Split-Diamond Headstock
  • BurstBucker 2 (Neck) and BurstBucker 3 (Bridge) Humbucking Pickups
  • 24-3/4" Scale Length
  • 12" Radius
  • 1 11/16" Nut Width
  • Black Top Hat Knobs with Silver Inserts
  • ABR-1 Bridge
  • Stopbar Tailpiece
  • Chrome Mini Grover Tuners

Rich Robinson ES-335

Rich Robinson on his Gibson Memphis signature ES-335

A lot of the music of The Black Crows is now considered to be classic rock. The truth of the matter, though, is the stuff was so catchy on the day it debuted it was instantly classic rock. It's never a pretty thing when members of the same family can no longer stand to be around each other, and especially it is sad for the fans of The Black Crows. Well, life deals us all some bad cards.

In any event, Chris Robinson's guitar playing was an integral part of the magic of The Black Crows, and his guitar of choice was a Gibson ES 335. Oh, his style wasn't super original, and there's nothing unique about using a 335, but when you've got something people love to hear, who cares that it has been done like that before? The entire style of music we think of as classic rock will become something like folk music to future generations; and so none of this stuff is ever going to go away. That's a great thing when you think about it.

Dark Rosewood fingerboard with the small Cellulose Block position markers on a one piece Mahogany neck look classy and distinct from the standard models. Burst Bucker #2 bridge and Burst Bucker #1 neck pickups are Gibson's newest PAF style humbuckers, these pickpus are widely desired, and the circuitry inclues Sprague Black Beauty Bumblebee capacitors.

The following provide further distinction: “Custom Made” plaque to cover the stop tailpiece holes, Bigsby B7 tailpiece and a “no wire” ABR-1 tune-o-matic bridge, Double Ring Tulip Kluson tuners, Slightly wider 1.711″ width at the nut, and of course, the thing comes with a hard shell case. There were exactly 500 of them made.

Gibson Memphis 1959 ES-335TD

Gibson Memphis 1959 ES-335 TD

1959 is one of the most desired years for persons seeking an old Gibson guitar. Some of the guitars made that year will sell for over a million dollars should they ever see an auction. 1959 was only the second year of production for the ES 335, but because all things Gibson from that year have reached iconic status, Gibson Memphis 1959 ES-335TD reissue guitars are on the market.

These guitars, as you surely can figure, aren't inexpensive. They are priced above standard production 335s, but they are less expensive than Dave Grohl models, and Lucille models too. It is important to know Gibson's 1959 neck profile is a fatter neck than are the necks from later years. So it is extremely important someone know going in which neck profile it is which suits their hands the best.

A hell of a lot of work involving a lot of technology goes into these 1959 reissue guitars. What bothers me about it all is the very idea that Gibson reached its peak that year. Lots of years have passed since 59' and shouldn't Gibson's brand new guitars be superior to ones from long ago? I certainly think they should, but Gibson also gives people what they want, and lots of people want 59' reissue this, and 59' reissue that. Well, here it is.

Gibson Memphis 1959 ES-335TD Reissue Semi-hollowbody Electric Guitar Features:

  • Re-creation of the "dot neck" ES-335 during its second year of production
  • Historically correct "Mickey Mouse ears" body shape
  • All-maple, semi-hollow construction delivers a lively, vibrant sound
  • MHS humbuckers with 550k audio-taper pots yield a gorgeous airy tone
  • Comfortable traditional C-shaped neck and rosewood fingerboard with rolled binding
  • Hot hide-glued quartersawn Adirondack spruce bracing for true vintage tone
  • Historic truss rod provides excellent adjustability and tension resilience
  • Multi-ply black long ES-335 pickguard with 45-degree bevel

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