ES-335

 

Pictured here is a fine example of an all original 1958 ES-335TD

The Gibson ES 335 is one of a handful of guitars that has a tone I recognize immediately upon hearing. I grew up listening to Eric Clapton and Alvin Lee use this guitar model. Nearly 20 years later I had the opportunity to act as guitar tech for an example from the early 1960s. I took care of this guitar from the mid 1980s until the late 1990s when the owner retired from the company we both worked for. Jim, (the owner), was an old man who played in a gospel group that traveled on weekends to states in the South and played at different churches. Jim would bring the 335 to me on a Thursday or Friday and then pick it up when the band was ready to head out of town. I maintained this wonderful guitar for free. I just loved taking care of it.

This photograph retrieved from Gruhn Guitars is, again, of a 1958 model. Note the "Mickey Mouse Ears" shape of the upper bout's double cutaway as well as the elongated pickguard.

 

Whenever I plugged Jim's 335 into an amp I was struck by it's warm articulate tone. Less punchy than a Les Paul. Just a touch of the natural woodiness of a classic Gibson hollow-body model. I've had experience with the Gibson Byrdland, L-4,  L-5, Switchmaster and Citation. I've played many Les Pauls and SGs over the years. The 335 was a beautiful blend of what I loved of all these examples. The ES-335 wasn't as jazzy as a hollow body and could never replace a Les Paul, but the voice it produced was beautiful in a whole new way.  In my opinion, it produced the best blues, blues rock and psychedelic guitar tones of any guitar on the market at that time. Enough "hollow" remained for decent country, jazz and blues while the center block opened the 335 to the world of vintage and early hard rock perfectly.

The Gibson ES-335TD thin bodied, semi-hollow, double cut dual P.A.F. pickup guitar design was another brain child of Ted McCarty. The idea was both simple and revolutionary. It's development was closely linked to another well respected Gibson model and some history is beneficial in understanding how the ES-335 became a model offered by Gibson Guitar.
 

The Story, (as culled from articles and previous interviews of the parties involved and referenced at the end of this knowledge base entry).

Until the 1950s Gibson Guitar Corporation had built it's reputation among guitarists as a manufacturer of high quality traditional arch top and electric hollow body guitar designs. Classic styling, fine woods and excellent craftsmanship. The guitars of choice among many of the finest players of the time. The advent of the 1950s would find design teams at multiple manufacturers attempting to address an issue that had plagued preforming guitarists since the magnetic pickup had been introduced as a means to increase the volume of the instrument. Feed back. The shriek from nowhere. The great annoyance shared by electric guitar players, their bands and audiences. The cure had already been found in the design idea of a performing guitarist. Les Paul mounted pickups on a length of solid wood and found feedback greatly diminished. He added winged bouts to give it the appearance of a proper electric guitar. He took his idea to Gibson. Multiple times.
Gibson's response: "We'll get back to you."

Out on the West coast Leo Fender was working on a similar idea in his shop. His goal may have had more to do with simplifying the build of an electric guitar and decreasing the cost of their production. Gibson Guitar Corporation's new president, Ted McCarty, took notice.
During meetings with executives and designers Ted McCarty either remembered or was made aware of Les Paul's prior visits to Gibson.  "Hi, Les. We apologize for our delay in getting back with you. Would you be available to ......"

The Les Paul solid body guitar was released as Gibson's answer to the issue of feedback. It had little in common with Leo Fender's, or for that matter, Les Paul's original design. The design of the body shape, thickness and type of woods used, head stock shape, tuners, inlays, bindings, etc. are more in line with Ted McCarty's own preferences. He had Gibson's reputation for quality and the maintenance of Gibson's desirability among high end players to consider as the design developed.

By 1957 Ted McCarty knew that Gibson's Les Paul model, while selling in numbers sufficient to continue production, had never caught on with the majority of Gibson's client base. Players showed displeasure with the weight and body shape of the instrument. Not one to give up easily Ted had continued to evolve the design of the Les Paul from it's inception. The original "trapeze" style bridge that Les Paul had contributed to the design was dropped. Ted McCarty's Tune-o-matic bridge and stop bar tailpiece design replaced it. This increased the instruments ability to sustain a note. Multiple models catering to both wealthier and less wealthy cliental had been developed. Most models carried the newer humbucking pickups over the original P-90s. While these innovations were well received they failed to markedly increase sales figures. The single biggest complaint he continued to hear was the Les Paul model didn't look or feel like a guitar. The body was too small and weighed too much. It's weight distribution and shape of the treble side bouts made it unbalanced when played in a sitting position. Gibson's cliental considered the Les Paul to be an instrument based on the guitar but not a guitar.

Ted's response to the issue he faced would no longer be addressed by tweaks to the original Les Paul design. He needed to rethink the goals that led to the production of the Les Paul and start from the ground up. He had a minority of players who embraced the current Les Paul design and Gibson would have to continue it's production. He had  personally signed on to Les Paul's innovative idea of mounting pickups to a solid rather than hollow structure. He knew the improvements provided by the Les Paul design could not be duplicated using a hollow bodied instrument. Both the reduction in feedback and increase in sustain would be lost. He knew the original example Les Paul had brought to him consisted of a body made from a solid block of wood to mount the pickups in with additional side pieces to create the look of guitars in favor with musicians of that time. Les could demonstrate his design with or without the side pieces attached to the instrument. What if ...

The new guitar model would be a reverse of Les Paul's original build brought to Gibson. Rather than start with the block and add wings to make it look like a guitar, Gibson would start with a guitar body and insert the block inside and down the middle. This would allow the pickups and sustaining bridge / tail piece to be mounted to a solid block yet retain the classic look of the electric guitar favored by the majority of Gibson's players. Preproduction models demonstrated the degree of feed back reduction was less than their true solid body. Sustain was slightly decreased, but, resonance and depth of tone increased. The issues of weight and weight distribution were throughly addressed. Body shape and comfort were also improved upon in the eyes of traditional electric guitarists. The innovations that had been applied to the Les Paul during the prior five years were also included. The new model was equipped with Gibson's P.A.F. Humbucking pickups, the same bridge / tail piece and much of the same hardware as the Les Paul. It had a thick neck with a 12 degree fingerboard radius, 22 frets, and so on. In 1958 the new guitar model was issued as the Gibson ES-335TD. Electric Spanish - 335 - Thin Body / Double Pickup.

Can an electric guitar that looks more at home on a Jazz, Swing, Blues or Country players lap ever really be considered a "Dino" Guitar?

While it's true that image and attitude play a huge role in a "Dino" presentation, I've always felt that the voice and tonal quality of a guitar and amp setup trumps brand name plate, appearance or preference of other guitarists within a style.  A country bar crowd expects to see a Telecaster or maybe a Country Gentleman through a Fender Amp. An outdoor rock concert in the late 1960s near demanded a Les Paul or Stratocaster through a Marshall. Yet, within the privacy of the recording studio the instrument a player chose was based on how it sounded and be damned what it looked like. Because of this image versus sound conundrum, fans listening to their favorite band recordings usually had no idea what gear they were listening to. The ES-335 was often chosen for recordings that brought the mental image of a Les Paul to an LP players fans. Even Stratocaster and SG players often used 335s in the studio. Eric Johnson, the well known player of 1956 / 1957 Stratocasters, (whose name adorns my favorite signature Strat), used an ES-335 to record the biggest hit of his career. Many of Cream's hits were recorded with a 335. The ES-335 and Les Paul are closely related. A song might sound better performed "live" on one and "in the studio" on the other.  Perhaps most Dino of all, Ritchie Blackmore played an ES-335 dot neck prior to switching to a Strat, and that cream, thick lead tone you hear on Child in Time was played with the ES-335, as was much of the Deep Purple Mk I recordings.

I've heard guitarists say that the ES-335 isn't as Dino as an ES-355 (Alex Lifeson). It's virtually the same guitar. Other than gold plating, extra binding, different tuners, inlays and an ebony fingerboard it is the same guitar. Over the past 20 years, the definition of heavy music has been expanded to include the scooped mid metal tones of modern metal. To players of this musical style I'll agree the ES-335 has no place to roost. The ES-335 is full bodied, mid rich, slightly woody and can get muddy under extreme high gain conditions. Think of the ES-335 as excellent for vintage Dino but unsuitable for modern Dino. No matter what pickups you might choose or whether you drop the tone knob or whatever the ES-335 will never sound truly metal. 

Original Design and Design Changes Over the Years.

(The ride up)

The 1958 ES-335 was a winner with guitar player's right out of the gate. A blend of Gibson's classic electric hollow body line, Gibson's Les Paul solid body line and contributing a few design ideas new to Gibson, the ES-335 may qualify as the finest achievement of design, business savvy and customer satisfaction during Ted McCarty's tenure as president of Gibson Guitars. Orders from dealers rolled in. Ad campaigns reached their intended audience. Guitarists from both sides of the hollow body / solid body debate were drawn into the showroom to try out this new take on the electric guitar. Not all became buyers. Some wondered at the "double cut" body style with the Mickey Mouse ears. Others were taken aback by the thin line body. Yet, still others embraced the new model. Considering the quality of construction, innovative design and a price tag of $270.00 it was hard not to look at least twice. For those players looking for something flashier Gibson quickly followed up in 1959 with the ES-355. Gold Hardware, an ebony rather than rosewood fingerboard, extra layers of binding, differences in the inlay work and tuners. All for an additional $20.00 dollars over the base ES-335. Either model could be had with a stop tail or a Bigsby. 1959 also saw the introduction of the ES-345 "stereo" model. Gibson didn't want to alienate anyone.

 It should also be noted that Gibson really confused the model identifiers by offering mono and stereo versions as well as custom gold plating options for all three models.

 

 A nice example of a 1959 ES-355.

Gibson's run of the 1958 ES-335 consisted of either 267 or 317 units depending on the source referenced. In 1959 that figure climbed to totals of 592 ES-335s, 478 ES-345s, and 176 ES-355s for a grand total of 1246 semi hollow body guitars. Roughly a four fold increase between the first and second year of production.
 
The 1958 ES-335 build included a maple body with bound top and back containing a maple center block. A mahogany neck with a "fat" profile. A brazilian rosewood fingerboard with dot inlays and a 12" radius and 22 frets. The neck joined the body at the 19th fret. The classic Gibson headstock had Kluson tuners. Later upgraded models used Grover tuners. The earliest 1958 ES-335s lacked binding on the fingerboard. Binding was added before first year production ended. The 1958 model was issued in Natural and Sunburst finishes and had a pick guard that extended below the bridge. A pair of P.A.F.s controlled by 2 volume and 2 tone controls and a three way switch made up the electronics. All models came with either a stop bar tailpiece or a Bigsby vibrato and a tune-o-matic  ABR-1 bridge.  

 1959 introduced the extended model line as well as more options. The varitone rotary switch that produced six different tonal options was standard on the 345 and optional on the 335 and 355.

Part of the way through 1960 the 335 followed the Les Paul in switching to a slimmer neck profile. The same arguments put forth by Les Paul players for or against the design change were echoed in the 335 community. The pick guard was shortened and the Cherry Red finish of the 1959 355 was made available on the 335.

In 1961 the Natural finish option was dropped.

1962 was a year of change for the 335. The dot inlays on the fingerboard were replaced with small block inlays and the Mickey Mouse ear shaped horns of the double cutaway became pointier. Bridge saddles switched from nickel plated metal to nylon and P.A.F. Pickups became Patent Number pickups. Also, in late 1962 the neck profile became larger again.

 These photographs of a 1962 ES-335 show both the block inlays introduced in 1962 as well as the shorter pickquard intoduced in the latter half of 1960.

(The ride down)

A change that occurred in the mid 1960s really took quite a few players off their feed. The original tailpiece options were dropped and a trapeze tail piece became standard. The Bigsby would still be available, but, only as a custom option. Much of the sustain was, off course, lost. This change remained in place until 1981 when Gibson reissued the ES-335 Dot.

Sales figures:

1967 a little under 6000

1968 approx. 3500

1969 around 2000

An example of the 1968 version.

 

This is a 1972 model.

In the mid 1970s the center block was shortened from running the full length of the body to, rather, running from the neck to just below the bridge. Again, sustain lessened. Sales figures were lessened. Ted's original design had gone from a classic Gibson body shape sporting a woody to a classic Gibson body shape with a stick up it's ass.

What 1979 had to offer.

 

(The comeback and today)

In 1981 Gibson ended the run of the ES-335TD and replaced it with the ES-335 Dot. This was the beginning of a slow comeback trail that would see the ES-335 return to much of it's original design. Todays ES-335, 345 and 355 models are well built instruments with a solid following among players. The rosewood is no longer brazilian and the pickups aren't original P.A.F.s, but, that just puts the 335 in line with most other guitars manufactured today.

The early 1950s through the mid 1960s have been called the Golden Age of the Electric Guitar. In a span of 10 years guitarists were introduced to the Les Paul, the Stratocaster, the ES-335, the Telecaster, the Flying V, the Explorer and the SG. Fine hardwoods were readily available and appropriate electronics were being explored, invented and improved upon.

A Few Players Who've Made Great Music with the Gibson ES-335, ES-345 and ES-355 Semi-Hollow Body Guitar.

Chuck Berry

 

 

When the ES-335TD was released in 1958 Chuck Berry was one of the first in line. He used this guitar to record "Johnny B. Goode", "Maybelline" and "Roll Over Beethoven." The following year he grabbed up an ES-355. Today, he's back to using an ES-335.

B.B. King

The final Lucille that B.B.'s played the death out of is an ES-355 with the F holes deleted. He runs 490's in both the neck and bridge position.

John Lee Hooker

Carl Wilson


Carl Wilson started out with Beach Boy friendly Fender guitars and Rickenbacker 12 strings, but, later in life chose the Gibson ES-335 for 6 string work and the Epiphone Riviera for 12 string.

Otis Rush

Eric Clapton

The ES-335 Eric owned had nylon bridge saddles. He used it onstage for most of the Cream farewell tours in the U.S. And England. This was the guitar tone associated with Eric's work with George Harrison as well as the guitar used to record the Harrison / Clapton penned "Badge."

Ritchie Blackmore

Justin Hayward.
A great guitar for those Moody Blues arrangements. The ES-335's voicing is dead on for the songs "Isn't Life Strange" and "I'm Just a Singer in a Rock & Roll Band."

Larry Carlton.


Larry played a 1968 335. This is the guitar he used to record his solo on Steely Dan's "Kid Charlemagne."

Alvin Lee.


The ES-335 was always his #1 main axe. Whether you're listening to "I'm Going Home", "Hard Monkeys" or "I'd Love To Change The World" you're listening to a ES-335

Elvin Bishop.


His main axe was an ES-345 stereo model.

Peter Frampton


Gary Moore.

Alex Lifeson.


A signature ES-355 carries his name. I believe our membership already knows what Alex has pulled off with his ES-355.

Eric Johnson


The main guitar for the recording of "Cliffs of Dover."

Gibson Guitar Corporation 1957 through 1962

Whether you go by guitar model, resale value, legendary status, or famous players choice, the years 1957 through 1962 are the mountain top for Gibson Electric Guitar production. The Thin-Line Semi-Hollow Body design envisioned by Ted McCarty and brought into being with the introduction of the 1958 ES-335TD is representative of what went right.

  • In 1957 Gibson created the P.A.F. Humbucker and began designing the ES-335.
  • In 1958 Gibson's parent company, Chicago Musical Instruments, bought out Epiphone, (one of Gibson's main competitors), and introduced the sunburst finish on the Les Paul. The ES-335 went into production this very same year.
  • In 1959 Gibson created the most sought after Les Pauls and ES-335TDs on the shopping list of players and collectors today.  
  • In 1960 Gibson altered the neck profile of both models. While some hated this change others loved it.
  • In 1961 Gibson foolishly stopped production of the original body shape of the Les Paul, yet, stumbled on the thin solid body shape of what would become the SG.
  • In 1962 the newer Les Paul line was renamed the SG and the "block" model of the ES-335 was introduced. Towards the end of 1962 the neck profile of the ES-335 found it's way home.

Thanks to the following sites for the resource materials required for this knowledge base article. Specific dates, shipping totals, photographs, model history and diversity, player information, etc. I've provided a link to each site for those who want fine details for the purpose of dating, current market prices and the opinions of a knowledgable group on the Gibson ES-335.
       

Gibson Guitar  www.gibson.com

Legendary Tones http://www.legendarytones.com/claptonearly1.html

The Gibson ES-335  http://030be21.netsolhost.com/WordPress/

Psychedelic Rock 'n' roll  http://psychedelic-rocknroll.blogspot.com/2011/07/gibson-es335td-1958-19...
 
Norman's Rare Guitars  http://www.normansrareguitars.com/

Gary's Classic Guitars  http://www.garysguitars.net/

Gruhn Guitars  http://www.gruhn.com/

Main Street Vintage  http://www.mainstreetvintageco.com/

Rumble Seat Music  http://www.rumbleseatmusic.com/

Where's Eric  http://whereseric.com/

Eric Clapton.com  http://www.ericclapton.com/front

Chuck Berry.com  http://www.chuckberry.com/messageboard/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=2794

WBG  http://www.webuyguitars.org/

Guitar Center  http://www.guitarcenter.com/

The Les Paul Forum  http://www.lespaulforum.com/forum

The Charlotte Observer    http://www.charlotteobserver.com/

Books:

"Cream" written by Chris Welch and published by Balafon Books in 2000.

"Guitar Rigs" written by Dave Hunter and published by Back Beat Books in 2005.