The ES-335, a classic icon, seen in the hands of so many of the guitar greats ever since it was first introduced in 1958. This cherry beauty from 1988 takes you right back to the same design as the original dot inlay ES-335s, before the block inlay version came in in 1962. A timeless classic!
It's hard to imagine, but up until the 1950s, modern guitars were designed, and expected, to sit quietly as part of the overall mix of the band, usually a big band. Yes, there were the wonderful jazz and gypsy guitarists that broke the mould, but the idea that a guitarist should command centre-stage and attention was considered a rare and reprehensible eccentricity. Thank you, Leo Fender, for launching the Age Of Loud with the first mass-produced solid-body electrics in the early 1950s. Suddenly, every guitarist could make some noise, from bedroom to stage. But, if you wanted the warmth of those classic 40s and 50s hollow-bodies, at volume, chances are you'd end up with squalling feedback as you turned up the volume. So, it was an act of pure innovative genius by Gibson to hit upon the idea of sticking a solid block of maple down the middle of the body to create the ES-335TD in 1958. Not only did it minimise your chances of having your audience running for the door chased by ear-piercing feedback, but it also added the type of sustain that you could only get with the solid-body guitars that were starting to take the spotlight. We owe a lot to the 1950s!
Unlike many Gibson models - even the fabled single-cut Les Paul, first discontinued in 1961 - the ES-335 has never been out of production. Beloved by guitarists as wide-ranging as Chuck Berry, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, and Richie Blackmore, through to modern bucks like Chris Cornell, Alex Turner, and St Vincent, it's a design that has changed only little, and often unnoticeably, over the years - and nowadays just as often reverts back to the original 50s and early 60s design in reissue form. Which is exactly what this one is. A return to the dot inlay original that ran from launch in 1958 to 1961 when Gibson replaced those dot inlays with block inlays. Check out our 1977 Gibson ES-335TD for a great example of the block inlay version. In 1981, Gibson reintroduced the dot inlay, with the first modern ES-335 Dot, effectively a 60 Reissue.
This 1988 model is an absolute beauty. It's hard to capture in photos the way the cherry finish has aged to a glorious burgundy, or the binding has yellowed to evoke a lifetime played in smoke-filled clubs. This is all pure bloodline, and stands side-by-side with any well-preserved model from its heritage. A piece of terrific, and a hugely versatile guitar. And, yes, you can turn it up to 11, without unleashing a night chorus of screaming cats . . .
See & Hear It In Action
Greg's Guitars' Loops and Blues on a 1988 ES-335 Dot: One of the most talented and amazing guitar demo artists out there, Greg makes his 1988 ES-335 just sing. Beautiful playing, beautiful sound.
Deep Purple's Child In Time, with Richie Blackmore On An Original ES-335TD: If you thought Richie Blackmore was all about Strats, er, you'd be right . . . 90% of the time. In the early days of Deep Purple, he was as often seen with an ES-335TD, one of the dot inlay ones from 1958 - 1961 - this one with a Bigsby. Apart from the ES-335, this clip is for pure personal indulgence. I remember spending hours listening to this when I was young. And for a song that clocks in at over 10 minutes, it's easy to understand how the hours just sped past. Rock out!
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Number of Frets
Arched Maple, bound
Grover Rotomatic 102s
Bill Lawrence "The Original" HB-R & HB-L Humbuckers
ABR-1 Nashville Tune-O-Matic
This version of the ES-335 was first launched as a limited edition Heritage series in 1981 It proved so popular that Gibson removed the limited edition status by the end of the year, and went on producing it until 1990, when it changed the name to ES-335 Reissue.
So what does a 60 Reissue take us back to? The changes may seem small, but they make for a guitar that looks and plays beautifully:
Most obviously, it's the dot inlays. These appeared on the first ES-335 in 1958 and were replaced in 1962 with the block inlays that take it closer to what you'd find on more sophisticated siblings, the ES-345 and ES-355.
The other differences are more subtle. The reintroduction of the one-piece mahogany neck and its vintage profile, shaped to sit perfectly in your palm. The 1 11/16" nut width, a return to standard after experiments with narrower necks. The "Mickey Mouse" ear cutaways. The return of nickel hardware, with that benefit of taking on a lovely grey patina over time. The small F-holes which featured on every 335 through to the mid-60s, and which, incidentally, make maintenance of the electrics all the harder (see below!). And the stopbar - you could get an early 335 with a Bigsby, but the more common version came with a stopbar.
To be fair, this was the 1980s. Gibson didn't have that same dedication to completely accurate recreation of the 50s and 60s classics that we see nowadays. The tuners are standard Grover Rotomatics, where the original would have come with tulip-keyed Klusons. And the pick-ups are Gibson's off-the-shelf humbucker of choice in 1988/89, Bill Lawrence's "The Original" (aka "circuitboard") pick-ups. Always a bit of Love Em/Hate Em chat in the Gibson forums, but to my mind they bring out some extra darkness in the warmth of the neck pick-up, while still being able to scream at the bridge.
It's all original with the exception of the bridge which, as sometimes happens, had sunk a little in the middle over time. You'll know if this ever happens to you. The D and G string start to buzz against the fretboard. The bridges Gibson used at the time were "MADE IN GERMANY", so it was easy to replace with an exact match Schaller ABR-1 Nashville Tune-O-Matic.
Finally, big thanks to craft guitar builder and tech James Collins for fixing what seemed like the most unsolvable of earthing problems when this guitar arrived. I've never had a guitar where the earthing buzz gets louder whenever you touch a string or metal part. Not until this one. I got halfway through trying to fix it at home, before realising quite how far beyond my skills it was. And those smaller vintage F-holes may look the part, but you'll be dropping a lot of money into a swear box if ever you try to get the electrics out through them. Some things are best left to professionals. Needless to say, this 335 is now a model of silent perfection - until that moment you start to play. And then it just sings, or roars, or whatever you want it to do!
Sources & Links
ES-335 Dot History & Spec: As ever, indebted to Vintage Guitar & Bass for their wonderful research and insights. Here the lowdown on the ES-335 Dot, and, if you want to read more about the ES-335TD which it superseded, click here.
Gibson Catalogues: 1960 vs 1989: For a bit of compare and contrast, here's the 1960 and 1989 catalogues. Were it not for the pick-ups, you'd hardly spot the difference ;-).