The Gibson ES-335 (and the closely-related ES-345 and ES-355) remains a special instrument in guitar history. They are acknowledged as the first ‘semi-acoustic’ electrics ever made, and have been in constant production since 1958. The design and sounds they offer confirm their position as one of the most versatile guitars ever made.
Need a quick 101 on Gibson ES-335s facts and why they are so special? Of course you do!
1. The ‘ES’ denotes ‘Electric Spanish’. Yup, back in 1957 when the guitar was designed Gibson needed to differentiate this design to the ‘EH’ line of lap steels, which stood for ‘Electric Hawaiian’. Lap steel guitars were still popular back in the late ‘50s.
2. Gibson design legend Ted McCarty felt the ES-335 was right behind the Les Paul solidbody as his most important body design. “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 hollowbody guitar.” All guitar players owe a debt to Ted McCarty’s vision.
3. Early on it was nicknamed the “wonder-thin” body, as the ES-335 eliminated the feedback that plagued hollowbodies. ES-335s have a solid maple block running through the center of the body.
4. An original 1958 Gibson ES-335 was often priced by retailers at $335. See, even guitar stores have a sense of humor.
5. Chuck Berry was one of the ES-335’s earliest champions. Keith Richards says seeing Chuck “knocked me out” and he immediately “wanted to become a guitar player.” That’s a decent recommendation, yes?
Watch Chuck Berry play “Johnny B. Goode” in 1958.
6. When an ES-335 has the full name of ES-335TD, it stands for Electric Spanish 335 Thinline Double-Pickup. Bit of a mouthful.
7. The first two colors offered were Natural and Sunburst.
8. Early 1958 models had no fingerboard binding.
9. By the 1960s, Gibson was also producing ES-335s in Pelham Blue and Burgundy Red. A Cherry Red (also 1960s) finish is, to many, the “classic” color. Even now, colors are hand-applied.
10. Upon launch, the ES-335 was fitted with the famous Gibson PAF Humbucking pickups or PAF (“Patent Applied For”) 54s - they were used on the guitars until 1962.
11. The tilt-angle on the headstock of a genuine Gibson ES-335 is 17°. Copies by other companies have often used less, as they are easier to build and less easily broken - but they will never sound quite the same.
12. Also released in 1958 came a higher-end version, the ES-355, which came factory-equipped with multiple binding, gold-plated hardware, an ebony fingerboard, and an optional Bigsby vibrato, all for an extra $20.
13. Oddly, many vintage dealers now think a Bigbsy-fitted ES-355 can reduce value by as much as 20%. Bigsby-equipped ES-355s were intended to be the most-desirable 335-derived model.
14. In 1959, Gibson announced the release of the ES-345. An intermediate model between the ES-335 and the ES-355, the ES-345 came with an added Varitone control and stereo wiring.
15 The most expensive Gibson ES-335 sold remains the one auctioned by Eric Clapton in 2004. His Cherry Red 1964 Gibson ES-335 TDC (bought by EC that year) sold for $847,500 at Christie’s.
16 B.B. King is one of the legends associated with the guitar. He first played a Tobacco Sunburst ES-335, then an ES-355: “the one with what I call the magic switch,” he says, meaning a Varitone.
17 Gibson’s 1982 B.B. King Lucille signature model was based on a Gibson ES-355TD-SV, but it had no f-holes. King eventually wanted a solid top to help reduce feedback.
18. The original “Lucille” guitar of B.B. King’s was not an ES-335 model at all but a $30 Gibson acoustic he rescued from a house fire. Two people died in the fire. The next day, King learned that the two men were fighting over a woman named Lucille.
Watch B.B. King back in 1968 playing an ES-355.
19. Only 267 ES-335TDs were made by Gibson in 1958.
20. Yet only 10 ES-355TDs were made the same year. If you own one of these, congratulations: you own a guitar worth the value of a house.
21. The basic 335 shape has inspired many other models in the Gibson stable, the Epiphone Casino and the Epiphone Sheraton (I and II) being notable.
22. The Casino is, though, completely hollow-bodied and thus more prone to feedback.
23. That said, even ES-335s had a shortened center maple block in the 1970s, stopping just below the bridge. But not all of them, which seems a manufacturing anomoly at Gibson, but collectors swear it to be true. From the first early ‘80s ‘Dot’ ES-335 reisssues, they all have a full-length central block.
24. Alvin Lee of Ten Years After toted one of the most iconic ES-335s. Daubed in stickers and with an added single-coil between the humbuckers, Lee made his “Big Red” famous at the 1969 Woodstock festival. The Gibson Custom Shop has since recreated it.
Watch Ten Years After at Woodstock in 1969.
25. Blink-182’s Tom DeLonge possibly has the most unique signature model. His Gibson ES-333 has just one humbucker and one volume pot. Still, some players love the ES-333 as its back-access cover, the same as used on the Gibson B.B. King "Lucille", allows easy access to pickups and pots from the rear of the guitar.
26. The original guitar now comes in all sizes and colors. The ES-339 is a little smaller if you find a traditional 335-style too big; the ES-359 is luxurious; the B.B. King Lucille (Limited Edition) now comes in an array of eye-popping colors; Oasis’s Noel Gallagher was honored with an Epiphone Supernova version in Manchester City FC Blue or a Union Jack flag finish. Hmm…
If nothing else, the ES-335 remains a guitar for all players.