| November 29, 2023 |

Seven Reasons Why You Need a Gibson ES-335 in Your Guitar Collection

Throughout the Gibson Custom, Gibson USA, and Epiphone lines, there’s an ES-335 for every budget—read on to find out why you need one in your life

This article is designed to explain why you need a Gibson ES-335 in your collection, why its unmatched versatility makes it ideal for almost every genre, and why it might just be the greatest electric guitar design of all time. But first, here’s a short ES-335 history lesson.

The 1958 NAMM Convention must have been one hell of a show. Held in Chicago across four days from July 21-24, the music-industry expo would be the first public airing for four new Gibson electric guitar models that would later become icons: the Flying V™, the Explorer™, the sunburst Les Paul™ Standard, and the ES-335.

It would, of course, take the guitar-playing public a while to embrace the angular charms of Gibson’s futuristic korina models, and the story of the fall and inexorable rise of the sunburst Les Paul Standard is worthy of a soap opera in itself. However, in terms of both sonic versatility and sheer design, there’s a persuasive argument that the understated grandeur of the semi-hollow ES-335 was the company’s greatest achievement during the Ted McCarty era.

It’s hard to imagine now, but back in ’58, the jury was still out on those newfangled electrified solidbody guitars. The compact and relatively heavy Les Paul was still seen as something of a white elephant, and plenty of players yearned for instruments physically closer to the jazz boxes with which they felt at home.

Applying Gibson’s unrivaled archtop heritage to the new demand for electric guitars that could be tamed at higher volumes, McCarty claimed that he “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,” he remarked, “plus the instrument’s hollow wings would vibrate and we’d get a combination of an electric solidbody and a hollowbody.”

The principle wasn’t a million miles away from Les Paul’s “Log” prototype, famously made with some Epiphone parts and rejected by Gibson shortly before the USA entered World War II. Yet rather than mirroring Les Paul’s approach and starting with a solid center block and adding hollow wings to make the instrument look and feel more familiar, McCarty incorporated a center block into a new symmetrical 16-inch thinline archtop with a pressed-laminate back and top.

In addition to its feedback-reducing properties, this hybrid design would deliver an even balance, light overall weight, excellent upper-fret access, and a comfortable playing experience, whether standing or seated. When it entered production in April 1958, the revolutionary ES-335 also benefited from the technological advances that had recently been applied to the Les Paul, in the shape of Patent Applied For humbucking pickups, a Tune-O-Matic™ bridge, and a Stop Bar tailpiece.

Most sources agree that 317 of Gibson’s new thinline semis left the factory that year—267 in sunburst (ES-335TD) and 50 in natural (ES-335TDN), marketed at $267.50 and $282.50, respectively. There were a few wrinkles to iron out—for example, early models had a very shallow neck angle—but the formula was soon perfected, and production ramped up, peaking in 1967 with 5,718 ES-335 models shipping out of Kalamazoo.

In addition to the ES-335, the more ornate ES-345 and ES-355 joined the ranks in 1959. The Trini Lopez Standard model arrived in 1964, much later finding favor with a certain Mr. David Grohl and providing the inspiration for his own signature model, the DG-335—one of many variations on the ES-335 theme that have been released in recent years.

History lesson over. Let’s explore some of the reasons why you need a Gibson ES-335 in your guitar collection.

1) The Gibson ES-335 is the most versatile guitar of all time

The ES-335 and its close cousins the ES-345, ES-355, and Trini Lopez can cover any genre from blues to jazz, to funk, sixties pop, country, alternative rock, and even metal. Just ask any of the diverse range of players who have gravitated toward these instruments over the years: B.B. King, Freddie King, Alex Lifeson, Dave Grohl, Noel Gallagher, Larry Carlton, Eric Clapton, JD Simo, Johnny Marr, Bernard Butler, Emily Wolfe … the list goes on.

2) It’s aesthetically versatile, too

An ES-335 will never look out of place, whether you are wearing a tux in a jazz band or rocking out in ripped denim. From Elvis to Taylor Swift, you’ll struggle to find a successful artist for whom image hasn’t been an important consideration. And it isn’t just about fashion—it’s about the whole aesthetic. Legend has it that when he joined his brother Liam’s band, Oasis, Noel Gallagher’s first act was to insist that bassist Paul McGuigan dispensed with his five-string in favor of an instrument with a more classic look. Over the years, when it comes to guitars, Noel has exhibited impeccable taste, often favoring ES-335 variants such as the Gibson ES-355 and Epiphone Riviera. Armed with one of those, you’ll never feel underdressed.

3) Feedback is no longer a problem, and controlled feedback is cool

In the heady days of towering amplifier stacks, curly cables, and corduroy flares, even with its innovative center block design, the anatomy of an ES-335 could cause issues with howling, out-of-control feedback. However, times have changed. The low volumes on most modern stages, combined with the popularity of direct rigs and sophisticated monitoring, negate the issue entirely. And even if you are using a tube amp, anything more powerful than 25 watts is overkill in most situations these days. A smaller, low-wattage rig makes it easier to control feedback and make it a feature of your playing. Your bandmates will thank you, the sound engineer will thank you, and so will your ears.

4) The middle position on an ES-335 is a funky breath of fresh air

Although the classic ES-335 pickup configuration is a pair of humbuckers™, the semi-hollow construction lends an airy jangle to twin-pickup tones that you won’t find when playing a Les Paul or SG™. The middle position on the ES-335’s toggle switch is your go-to for the hollower, funkier single-coil style sounds beloved by neo-soul, funk, and pop guitarists. Now throw a compressor into the mix and get in the pocket.

5) An ES-335 is a perfectly balanced, ergonomic dream

Thanks to the placement of the strap button at the heel and its large, symmetrical semi-hollow body with center block construction, the ES-335 balances perfectly on a strap, doesn’t suffer from neck dive, and when seated, falls naturally into a comfortable playing position. Access to the upper frets is a breeze and the pickup switch is easy to access on the fly, but hard to flip to the wrong position accidentally. And all that space behind the tailpiece means you can add an aftermarket vibrato without impeding access to the volume and tone controls. What’s not to like?

6) All the Les Paul and SG tone tricks also work on an ES-335

Like a Les Paul or SG Standard, an ES-335 comes with the classic Gibson wiring configuration, featuring independent volume and tone controls for each pickup and a three-way toggle selector switch. All the Les Paul tone tricks work on an ES-335—roll back the neck pickup in the middle setting for a fatter bridge-pickup tone that fills out the sound superbly in a power trio, roll back the tone controls for Cream-era Clapton, roll one pickup’s volume all the way off and use the toggle switch for killswitch effects … the options are virtually endless, and all are instilled with a little more air and openness thanks to the ES-335’s semi-hollow construction.

7) The ES-335 is a great platform for experimentation and mods

An ES-335 is pretty damn near perfect right out of the box. However, we guitarists are tinkerers at heart, and there’s plenty of experimentation you can do. Ok, a full pickup swap and new wiring harness install on a center block equipped semi isn’t a task for the faint of heart, but there’s still plenty you can try, from fitting nylon saddles for a slightly softer and warmer tone that still rocks (just ask Dave Grohl), to top-wrapping strings for a slinkier feel when performing bends. And there’s always the opportunity to fit a Bigsby® vibrato or Maestro™ Vibrola™ tailpiece for even more fun with sustaining chords and controlled feedback.

There ends our rundown of seven reasons why you need an ES-335 in your life. Whether you are shopping for an Epiphone or a Gibson Custom Shop model with Murphy Lab Aging, there’s something in the catalog for all budgets. It’s a BIG guitar that makes a statement and says you mean business. Now go pick one up and prove it.

Learn more about Gibson’s ES-335 models and shop now.