Loves this guitar so much, he even named his studio after it. And he's not the only one - Chuck Berry, B B King, Johnny Marr, Noel Gallagher, to name only a few, put this right up there among their own gods.
Suede was the starting point for Bernard Butler. Those first two albums putting beautifully constructed and played guitar lyricism back into your speakers, the like of which hadn't really been heard since Johnny Marr burst onto the scene with The Smiths nearly a decade earlier. And his massive contribution to Suede may be what most remember. But that was some 30 years ago - and he's not been wasting his time since. In bands (McAlmont & Butler, The Tears (back with Brett Anderson), Trans), as a solo artist, in collaboration (Bert Jansch, Duffy, Bryan Ferry, Ben Watt, Roy Orbison), and as a producer (The Libertines, Tricky, The Cribs, and many others).
All that variety, one constant: his 1961 Gibson ES-355TD-SV. Inspired by seeing it in the hands of the likes of Roy Orbison and Johnny Marr (and possibly more urgently, because his ES-345 had been stolen while touring Canada in 1994), it is, in his own words, the most money he's ever spent on a guitar. And since then it's been everywhere with him, playing nearly every day since that first day. Today, those late 50s/early 60s models trade for well above the $4,500 he spent on his, so this 1970 model will just have to do ;-). An absolute beauty to behold and to play. Just play it and the simple sense behind the name Studio 355 will shine through.
And just to postscript this story, since the late-Oasis days, the 355 has also been one of Noel Gallagher's go-to guitars, giving him the sort of dilemma that many guitarists may have faced in their lives when they find "The One" . . . "I’m in awe of the guitar. I put it second to my wife only because I can have sex with her. If I could have sex with that guitar, I’m not sure which I’d choose."
See & Hear It In Action
Bernard Butler Talks About And Plays his 1961 ES-355: And his personally refinished 1962 Strat for that matter. As he tells Guitarist Magazine: "It's like an everyday guitar for me. So, it's not really like a museum piece, and definitely shouldn't be treated like one." I agree!
Yes - McAlmont & Butler: Yes, I love Suede, - and still go to see them when they tour - but for sheer defiant and proud break-up song, it's hard to beat stand-out track "Yes" from Bernard Butler's first outing after leaving Suede. Sheer magic.
Number of Frets
3-Piece Laminated Maple
Gibson ABR-1 Tune-O-Matic
Fun fact: Many of us know that the "ES" in Gibson's ES model range stands for Electric Spanish (introduced in the 1930s to distinguish it from the then very popular "EH" Electric Hawaiian lap steel guitars . . . who'd have thought). But more interesting is the numbering: 335, 345, 355. Not some clever design specification differentiation. Just the price. In 1958, you could get an ES-355 for $355. It didn't take long to rebrand that numbering to that clever design specification differentiation...
Fun fact aside, that original $10 difference went a long way, and it's a testament to Gibson that they stuck to their guns on this one. The build quality truly sets this guitar apart:
The mother-of-pearl detail - split-diamond headstock, big block inlays in an ebony fretboard
The multi-layered binding to the headstock and body
The patent pending Bigsby tremolo (the guitar also came with Maestro and sideways vibrato options, but come on, Bigsby is best!)
The stereo circuitry which allows the guitar to be played through two separate channels or two separate amplifiers
The 6-channel Vari-Tone selector switch, which, with three pick-up settings, really does give you up to 18 tonal varieties for this guitar (more if you play around with the Tone knobs for each pick-up)
And to cap it all the heavily plated gold hardware throughout.
It's also a fine example of a Gibson that's hard to date exactly. The 3-piece neck and "MADE IN U.S.A." stamp came in in 1970. But Gibson used the 6xxxxx serial number range in the three years from 1970 to 1972. So, definitely an early 70s model, but exactly which year is the stuff of mystery.
Whatever the date, it plays just beautifully. Lovely low action, all those sounds, that sure-fire Bigsby tremolo system. Funnily enough, the only con for today's player is that stereo set-up - needing a 2-input amp (or 2 amps) to bring the full range of the guitar to life. With today's amps and pedals, you can get all the impact and effect of a stereo-designed guitar, without the limitations of your input jack. Good news, though: it comes with a 2:1 adaptor, which means that what you might miss out in stereo, you can more than make up for in range of sound. Not only a beautiful guitar, but also a truly great guitar, one that has been in the hands of so many of the guitar gods!
Sources & Links
The Gibson ES-355TD-SV Story from Vintage Guitar And Bass: A huge wealth of information about the spec, history and players from the incredibly thorough and well-researched Vintage Guitar And Bass people.
A Guitar Geek's Guide to Gibson ES Models:: Sadly no longer available (Gibson's new leadership don't seem to be that bothered about all the wonderful history they used to share). But if it ever resurfaces, all the trivia you could wish for (including the most expensive ES-335 ever sold) in Gibson's own compendium of interesting facts about the ES range.
Music Radar Interviews Bernard Butler: A fantastic run through Bernard Butler's equipment of choice - not only the 355, but some lovely vintage Gibsons and Fenders too. Thank you, Music Radar!