Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Gibson ES-335

Mark Knopfler's '58 ES-335
The 1950’s were essential years in perfecting the design of the electric guitar. For Gibson Guitars, under the leadership of Ted McCarty, 1958 was a magical year. He and his team had come up with a series of futuristic solid body guitar designs, which included the Flying Vee, the Explorer and the elusive Moderne, but they also created one of the most original and iconic electric guitars of all time; The ES-335TD, or Electric Spanish model 335 Thin - Double Pickups. Or as it is more commonly known; the Gibson ES-335.

1958 ES-335

McCarty felt the ES-335 was right behind the Les Paul solid body as the companies most important body design. He stated, “I came up with the idea of putting a solid block of maple in an acoustic model. It would get some of the same tone as a regular solidbody, plus the instrument's hollow wings would vibrate and we'd get a combination of an electric solidbody and a hollow body guitar.”

In 1952 Gibson had taken a chance on production of Les Paul’s concept of a solid body guitar which would eliminate the electronic feedback that was common to hollow body electric guitars when they were amplified loudly.

Les Paul with The Log
To prove this point, in 1941 Les Paul had created “The Log” which was a solid piece of 4 x 4 pine wood on to which he had attached an Epiphone Broadway guitar neck. Two single coil pickups were mounted to the wooden frame, along with a tailpiece to attach the strings. To make it appear to be a guitar, Paul had sawed the body of an Epiphone guitar in half and bolted the “wings” on either side of the pine plank. And that instrument did not feed back.

A modern ES 335 with maple block

This concept was essentially repeated with the Gibson ES-335. Its body had wings that were hollow shells of maple with F-holes over those chambers, but a significant maple block  separated the two sides and it was routed out to contain the pickups and anchor the neck.

'48 L-5
In the 1950’s Gibson had its feet staunchly planted in the hollow body guitar market manufacturing some of the finest electric and acoustic instruments. Up until the production of the ES-335, all the Gibson guitars with cutaways had only been manufactured with one either Venetian or Florentine cutaway, but never with two cutaways.

'49 Bigsby Guitar

Fender had been making its double cutaway Stratocaster since 1954. Surprisingly enough Paul Bigsby had built double cutaway guitars as early as 1949. And Bigsby’s guitars, though solid in appearance were actually hollow body instruments.

'55 Mousegetar
Now this may sound far fetched, but in the year 1958 one of the most popular television shows was The Mickey Mouse Club. Host Jimmy Dodd played a tenor guitar that Walt Disney commissioned to be produced by Candeles Guitars of East Los Angeles. Walt wanted that guitar to appear as if it had “mouse ears”. So the Mousegetar was built with double cutaways in 1955, three years before the ES-335. I have to wonder if this particular guitar inspired anyone in the Gibson design department.

By 1958 Gibson had latched on to the double cutaway concept.

An original 1958 Gibson ES-335 was given a suggested retail price of $335. Although in 1958 most were selling at around $267.50. By the way, in today's money $267.50 is equivalent to around $4,000 USD.

1958 Gibson ES-335
In 1958 the ES-335 body was 1 3/4” deep and had the usual Gibson scale of 24 3/4”. The top and back on the double cutaway body were made of laminated maple as was the center block. The body had single white binding around its perimeter. The neck was also made of laminated maple, for added strength and on original models, it was not bound and had a rather large feel to it. The fretboard was made of rosewood with pearl dot inlays.

1958 ES-335 Neck view
The original ES-335 guitars came with either a stop tail piece or a Bigsby B7 vibrato tail piece, which sometimes came with a sticker that said “CustomMade” to hide the routing holes for the stop bar. The bridge/saddle was a tune-o-matic model with adjustable nickel saddles.

PAF Stricker from 1958 humbuckers
This guitar came with twin PAF humbucking pickups and each had an individual volume and tone control in a gold finish with gold tops. Nearby was a three-way selector switch with an amber plastic top. The original models came with the long beveled pickguard. The strap button was made of plastic.

This year the ES-335 was only available with a sunburst or natural finish.

1959 ES-335 Cherry finish
A year later the familiar cherry red finish was added as an option. This year binding was added to the neck. Some of the 1958 models had irregularities in the shape of the neck. By 1959, these issue were resolved. A 1959 ES-335 is considered to be a very desirable guitar to collectors.

1960 ES-335

A few changes occurred in 1960. This year the neck was given a thinner feel to the back shape. The volume/tone knobs have a chrome reflector top. The pickguard was shortened this year and does not extend past the bridge.

1961 ES-335

In 1961, Gibson discontinued the ES-335 with a natural finish. This year the strap button were changed to metal. The selector switch tip colour was gradually changed to white. Most notably the serial number was stamped into the back side of the head stock.

1962 ES-335
Big changes occurred in 1962. Instead of pearl dot inlaid fret markers, the markers were now small block inlays. The shape of the cutaways have a slight change in that they are now rounder instead of being more pointed. The saddles in the tune-o-matic bridge are now made of white nylon. Most of us will never see this, but the PAF sticker on the back of the humbucking pickups now shows the patent number.

By 1963 the neck shape gradually got larger again.

1965 Gibson ES-335 
In 1965 Gibson changed the stop tailpiece to a chrome trapeze model. This may have been the most visible change. However the most dramatic change was the width of the neck at the nut. It changed from 1 11/16th” to 1 9/16th”.

1966 ES-335

By 1966 the Brazilian rosewood on the fretboard was changed to Indian rosewood. The neck angle decreased from 17 degrees to 14 degrees. The bevel of the pickguard was also changed making the black/white/black layers less noticeable.

1968 Gibson ES-335

By 1968 Gibson resumed making the nut and neck slightly wider by going back to the 1 11/16th” spacing.

1969 ES-335 Walnut Finish

It was not until 1969 that any more changes occurred. That year the guitar was offered with a walnut finish.

1977 ES-335 with coil tap switch

In 1977 Gibson, now owned by Norlin added a coil tap switch on the upper treble cutaway to keep up with the trends of the day.

1981 ES-335DOT

In 1981 the ES-335TDC was discontinued, but replaced with the ES-335DOT. These were made through 1985 and were very good guitars.

1990 Gibson ES-335

By 1990 the Gibson ES-335DOT was discontinued and replaced with the Gibson ES-335 reissue which remains in production.

ES-335 Artist
Through the years Gibson issued some variants on the ES-335 model including a 1981 model called the ES-335 Artist, or more properly, ES Artist, which came with a large headstock logo, no F-holes, a metal truss rod cover, gold hardware, and 3 knobs. The circuit inside the guitar was developed by Moog.

1987 ES-335 CMT

From 1983-1987 the ES-335 CMT was available. A very similar guitar to the ES-335DOT, but with a curly maple top and back and with gold hardware.

1990 ES-335 Studio

I recall the music store I used to spend time at had a Gibson ES-335 Studio model. It was Gibson’s effort to update and offer a lower price point. This guitar had no F-Holes, and came with twin Dirty Finger humbucking pickups. These were made from the mid 1980’s through 1991.

1988 ES-335 Showcase Edition

The Gibson ES-335 Showcase Edition lasted only a year. The hardware was black. It came with two EMG pickups. The guitar was either white or beige. Only 200 units were made in 1988.

'94 ES-335 Centennial

1994 gave us the Gibson ES-335 Centennial model to celebrate the company’s founding. This also was a limited edition of only 100 units. This guitar came with a gold medallion on the headstock and the tailpiece had diamond inlays.

1998 ES-335 Historic '59

Four years later Gibson came out with the ES-335 Historic Collection, which was a replica of their original 1959 ES-335.

'85 ES-335 Nashville made
By 1984 Gibson had moved all electric guitar production our of Kalamazoo, Michigan to Nashville, Tennessee. The ES-335 was then being made at the Nashville factory.

However in 2000 Gibson opened a facility in Memphis, Tennessee. This is where ES-335’s are built today.

Through the years following 1958, Gibson made other models that were either based on the model ES-335, such as ES-330, which was a hollow body guitar, or the ES-345 and ES-355, which had a broader tonal palette and were fancier guitars, and even the Trini Lopez Standard, which had a similar body, but different sound holes, inlays, and headstock, the ES-335 is the original starting point for all similar models.

Click on the links in the photographs for their source. Click on links in the text for further information.

© UniqueGuitar Publishing (for text only)


Glenn Lazzaro said...

Another great one!

marcus ohara said...

Thank you for stopping by Glenn. The 335 is possibly my favorite Gibson model of all time. I did not mention the vintage or modern Epiphone models that are based on the ES-335 and ES-330, such as the Sheraton and Casino which are very nice guitars. The ES-335 was the grand daddy!

~Marc O'Hara

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