Berry to B.B. Carlton to Cornell. Grohl to Gallagher... Gibson's ES-335/345/355 guitars have no limits when it comes to music, and that's why they're up there with the Gibson Les Paul as one of the definitive electric guitars in music history.

ES, as you should know, denotes “Electric Spanish”. Yes, it’s now a somewhat archaic name – as are the models' names. The ES-335 was so-named as in 1958 it originally cost $335 (and the others, likewise.) But the names kinda stuck. Gibson have made numerous variations for nearly 60 years and they have always been in high demand.

The guitars' genesis can be disputed, by some. Les Paul's home-made “Log” guitar that he first hand-built was a hint, but very primitive. And much more unwieldy. It took the luthiers of Gibson to work out what to do. 1950s Gibson supremo Ted McCarty recalled of the now legendary ES-335: “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.”

Gibson ES-335

And how! Fat tones from the center block, and resonance from those f-hole “wings.” And a great, slim design for a truly ground-breaking archtop guitar. Jazz, pop, rock'n'roll, blues. The ES-3XX-series guitars could do anything.

As the great B.B. King once recalled, “I knew I liked the 335 from the first time I played one. The first one I had was a brown sunburst, and the main thing about that guitar was that the neck was so thin and the body was so shallow... it was so comfortable to play.”

What's The Difference?

The ES-335 arrived in 1958 as the “base” model. Dot-neck inlays.

The ES-355 added more blingy bindings, sometimes with Bigsby vibratos, and the Varitone switch which added various combinations of inductors and capacitors to the pickup circuit in order to alter its resonant frequency and add "color" to the sound. B.B. King was fond of calling the Varitone “the magic switch!”

The ES-345 was in the middle: but, like the 355, had block (varying) fretboard inlays instead of simple dots. The line was an instant hit, and it's been in production ever since. Not even the mighty Gibson Les Paul can claim that.

Variations have continued. The Trini Lopez model has a few adjustments to the then-star's taste. Slashed diamond-shaped soundholes instead of the original “f-holes”. Plus a one-sided headstock as on a Gibson Firebird. The Dave Grohl DG-335 is a further development of the original Trini Lopez signature. Though it's obviously a lot more hot-rodded when it comes to pickups...

B.B. King got his own signature Lucille model, of course. This was Gibson finery befitting a legend, but had no soundholes at all. King had sometimes stuffed towels into his 335's soundholes to eliminate any feedback. When asked for his own bespoke Gibson 335-esque model, B.B. decided he wanted rid of the soundholes altogether. Fair enough. You don't question the King!

A very brief history of the legendary Gibson ES-335 and its relations that have ruled for nearly 60 years. The ultimate Gibson archtop semi?

335s in 2016

Not much has changed. It doesn't need to. The classic ES-335 design remains intact. Maple/poplar/maple tops. Mahogany necks. Rosewood 'boards. Humbuckers (usually). “Mickey Mouse ears” cutaways. And with its semi-solid build, the ES-335 (and uptown relations) is almost too perfect.

There remain plenty of variations still, courtesy of Gibson Memphis. The classic ES-335 comes in Satin, Figured, Studio versions and more, with an array of finishes from Cherry to Natural and all sorts of 'bursts. For 2016, the necks have been slimmed further.

There are painstakingly made “Historical” models, too. 2016's 1958 ES-335 is based on the first ES-335 ever built in 1958.

Gibson Custom offers the '59, '60 and '63 specs: glorious reproductions, to the last detail, of legendary ES-335s.

There are the Trini Lopez, Rich Robinson, Luther Dickinson and Chris Cornell signatures, too, all specifically spec'd for fine players. Never thought you'd covet a green ES-335? Check the Cornell sig, with its Bigsby and Lollartron® pickups. It's a looker. And I've previously thought green guitars were “wrong”.

A very brief history of the legendary Gibson ES-335 and its relations that have ruled for nearly 60 years. The ultimate Gibson archtop semi?

The bespoke B.B. King Lucille is still made by Gibson, and rightly so given the great man's passing. And it's still got that Varitone “magic switch.” The thrill is not gone...

If you battle with a regular ES-335 size – I personally don't, but every player is different – you can go for an ES-339 or a 2015 ES-349. Same shape, just smaller body dimensions. So there remain many variations on a classic theme.

 

ES-349

 

As an aspiring guitar-twangin' teen, all I wanted was a Gibson Les Paul. After that, I also discovered the Gibson ES-335. Now? I'm honestly not sure which is my favorite.

What I do know is that the Gibson ES-335 is a guitar like no other. Gorge yourself on the whole Gibson ES range here.