Gibson ES-330

Appearances can be deceptive. At first glance, the Gibson ES-330 looks just like an ES-335. And you might assume it’s lesser number just means it’s a “budget” model….

But look again, and you’ll see that ES-330 is quite different. Most noticeably, it has two single-coil P-90 pickups. And the bit you don’t see? It’s actually all hollow.

It’s true that when the ES-330 was first launched in 1959, it was a budget ‘thinline’ option to the previous year’s 335 (and the same year’s more luxuriant ES-355TD-SV with the VariTone switch and circuit). But its hollow body and P-90s made the ES-330 a different beast altogether to its humbucking hombres.

There were other differences as well: The 330’s neck originally joined the body at the 16th fret, not the 19th, like the 335 – although in 1967/1968, Gibson changed it to join at the same 19th fret. It often came with trapeze or Bigsby tailpieces, rather than the stop tailpieces that had been an instant hit on Les Pauls and most 335/345/355s.

It was still a great guitar… but it remained a select choice, even if the likes of B.B. King were fans. And then something strange happened. The budget version of the ES-330 itself – the Epiphone Casino – suddenly became hugely popular. Not least due to the unrivalled march of The Beatles and their Casinos, the Epiphone version simply eclipsed the ES-330. And by 1972, the bona fide Gibson ES-330 had gone out of production…

The Sounds & Style Of The ES-330

If you’ve never played a 330 (or a similar Casino), you may be expecting no discernible difference to a 335. Not true. With no full center block, the ES-330 is light. Even a semi-hollow 335 can rival a solid Les Paul for weight due to its bigger size, but the ES-330 is noticeably easier on the shoulder.

It plays differently in the upper registers as well. You may compromise a little in ‘dusty end’ access, but unless you’re into super-high register shredding – and, if you are, you’d be better of with a Gibson Flying V anyway! The 330’s hollow body mean ultra-amp’d tones are likely to feed back, as well: so that any notion of using a 330 as a “shred” guitar are pretty much irrelevant.

But now the good stuff: those P-90s, in combination with a hollow body, offer a different tonality that more than compensate for any other issues...

It’s all down to your own ears, of course, but consider what some other say about the 330’s sound. MusicRadar reviewed a recent Gibson Custom ES-330 and said, “compared to our ES-335, it’s simply more hollowbody-sounding; older, if you like.” No surprise. And that tonality can help it be even more versatile: “In lower-volume settings, there’s a character that isn’t in an ES-335; it sounds much jazzier – Grant Green is a great reference.” But those P-90s also make for a spikiness of tone you may not get with the sophisticated ES-335. “Add some crunch and things get very swampy: ideal for dirtier lo-fi slide sounds or alt-rock.”

Over at Guitar Player magazine, they seem to agree. They praise the ES-330’s “woody and bell-like timbre” as well. In short, the 330 could be that super-earthy 335-style you’ve always wanted. And with its P-90s, it’s not scared to play rude either. In an era where ‘50s and ‘60s lo-fi-ish sounds are very much de rigueur, it’s no surprise the ES-330 is back (limited run, though!) in the 2018 Gibson Memphis lineup.

2018 Gibson ES-330s

With the latest MHS P-90 single-coil pickups – which offer hum-cancelling properties – the ES-330 is the best it’s ever been. These are great, versatile pickups with all the midrange you’d expect: they’re medium output, but a touch of overdrive will give some real raunch.

The “regular” 2018 ES-330 comes in a beautiful sunset burst: with black P-90s and a 5-ply black/white pickguard, it simply looks stunning. It boasts some lovely vintage touches – white oval button tuners and thinline trapeze tailpiece – that capture a classic vibe, but with an ABR-1 bridge with titanium saddles and hand-wired MTC Plus control assembly, you don’t miss out on the up-to-date improvements either.

Gibson ES-330

The ES-330 VOS ups the ante on vintage ageing further, coming in classic Dark Cherry and Olive Drab Green.

Gibson ES-330

Gibson ES-330

And, although not new (it’s actually from 2016) but maybe still in a few stores, is the Bigsby-equipped 1961 ES-330TD Figured VOS – an AAA-grade top on this one and period-correct spec including dot markers, “Mickey Mouse” horns and a super-slim ‘61-spec neck.

Gibson ES-330

It may not have got its dues on launch, but the ES-330 is now regarded as the ultimate thinline hollowbody. Yes, it’s a thing of beauty, but it also sounds superb. No “filler” and all killer!