Before we get into our Epiphone Limited Edition ES-335 PRO Review, let’s consider that most people associate the ES-335 with Gibson. Quite rightly so. First manufactured in 1958, it has become an iconic Rock classic as we will find out later.
It was the first electric guitar that was a semi-hollow Thinline and had a unique design. It was an archtop, but it wasn’t hollow as was the norm at the time, it was a hollow body separated by a block of Maple wood that went right down the middle. This formed two internal chambers and altered the sound drastically. One thing it did do was reduce the feedback experienced by hollow body guitars.
And this is one area where we confess we have problems with Gibson, the company. Having experienced what happens when you plug a hollow body into an amp with any volume, feedback. Having created a guitar with a great sound that reduced that problem drastically, the 335, but what happened next?
A year later, in 1959, they released the ES 330. A 335, but with a hollow body. Welcome back to feedback boys.
The sunburst 330 was pretty, but as the rock n roll era forced up the volume, it wasn’t much good, nice as it was. The 335 rocked the place. It wasn’t long after Epiphone said to Gibson, “anything you can do, we can do better.” From the same factory in Kalamazoo (yes, they were competitors sharing a factory in 1961), Gibson got a shock.
Epiphone guitars made a statement. In 1961 the Epiphone Casino arrived. Much prettier than the 330 Gibson, it played fast-for the time and sounded great with two P-90s. And despite the fact it was a hollow body, had reduced feedback. Some of the big names of the time bought and used it. Keith Richards, Dave Davies of the Kinks, and others, but the Beatles were its biggest champion.
Here is a little bit of trivia for you. The Epiphone Casino was the only guitar used on every Beatles recording session. Every one, by at least one of the three guitarists. To rub salt into the wound, John Lennon ditched his other acoustics and started playing the Epiphone EJ160E.
“Anything you can do, we can do better” In today’s world, that would have been the music for the TV ad.
Maybe that is why Gibson made sure it would never happen again. They had bought the Epiphone company in 1957 from the Stathopoulo family, who were retiring. They maintained separate marketing and design offices but shared the manufacturing and warehousing sites.
Epiphone was eventually banished to Asia in the early 70s and branded as the ‘cheap’ Gibson. They got all the left-overs and lesser quality materials to work with. Someone in Kalamazoo had a serious hump!
Nowadays, Epiphone is still considered Gibson’s poor relation, but the quality of their guitars has risen dramatically.
So let us return to the iconic Rock status of this guitar briefly. Just why the ES-335 took on such iconic status is rather baffling. BB King played his 335, Lucille. Chuck Berry used one, Dave Grohl and Otis Rush. Alvin Lee, of course, from Ten Years After, but apart from one or two others, that’s about it. Make a list of those using a Strat or a Les Paul, and the list fills pages.
Maybe it is because it was the first ‘big’ one and is remembered like that. And even today, when it comes to archtop guitars, it is still the best.
Undertaking an Epiphone Limited Edition ES-335 PRO Review is like going to visit an old friend. And if you are thinking that this is just going to be another ‘poor man’s Gibson’ think again.
This instrument says a lot about Epiphone’s commitment to producing great guitars. Instruments that are good and affordable and well-worth owning.
And before the Gibson fraternity throws the old chestnut about, let’s remember one thing. It has been 50 years since Gibson did their thing with the original 335. They haven’t been able to get it exactly the same since. Let’s see how close Epiphone is getting with their Epiphone ES 335 Pro.
If you are looking for a guitar with that 335 look, you are not going to be disappointed with this. It looks great. You would think that Epiphone had the original blueprint designs. Perhaps they have.
It has an arched Maple top, with laminated back and sides. The gentle cutaways give you access to the full fingerboard. It is semi-hollow with its strip of wood down the middle giving two internal chambers. The chambers have violin style ‘f-shaped’ sound holes over them carved into the top.
The body is laminated with a mixture of Maple and Birchwoods.
It has the traditional raised pickguard in black with the ‘E’ logo. There is an original looking cream binding to upper and lower edges right around the body. It is given a gloss Vintage Sunburst finish.
It is made in China and looks great, and the standard of workmanship appears very good. If you were an Artisan, we are sure you can probably find things that are not quite right. But to our eye, it looks very nice indeed.
The neck is made from mahogany and has a slim taper ‘D’ design. This taper is reminiscent of the original 60s guitars and makes playing easy and comfortable. It has a Rosewood fingerboard with 22 medium frets. The scale length, of course, is 24.75 inches.
The neck is a set-in glued design. There is a truss rod for any adjustments that might need to be made. Pearloid block inlays imitate the originals.
Let us clear up a bit of confusion over Alvin Lee’s ‘Big Red’ Gibson 335. When Gibson re-issued Alvin’s rather unique guitar, they put dots on the fingerboard. Some people complained and said they had got it wrong. As it was the ‘Woodstock’ version, this was correct. The neck did have dots for that gig, but normally ‘Big Red’ did have the block inlays.
The neck has been given a gloss finish and a cream edging to the full length.
For an attempt at recreating the replica of a great guitar, Epiphone has done a good job. The neck is slick and very playable and has a sturdy fit for the body. It feels right and feels good.
Put it on its strap, hang it over your shoulder, and grasp the neck. You are taken back to about 8.30 pm on a Sunday night in New York. It is August of 1969. Country Joe and the Fish had just come off stage. Even backstage people were still singing “…don’t tell me I don’t give a damn, the next stop is Vietnam”.
Alvin and the band waited. A virtually unknown UK band in the US about to do their stuff. Alvin and ‘Big Red’ the ES-335, were about to show everyone how good they were and remind everyone what a great guitar this was and still is.
Epiphone could not copy that. Even Gibson cannot copy it. But Epiphone has got pretty close, and for the price point that is close enough for us.
The standard of workmanship as with the body is good. They have got it right so far.
And now it’s time for a little more trivia. The ES-335 had a remarkable, unique sound. Driven by two PAF pickups in those days, it was threatening and aggressive. The perfect guitar for Blues. PAF’s are long gone, and so is the sound, but if you listen to Alvin Lee’s 335, it was sharp and just different.
Here comes the sacrilege. There was a Fender single-coil pickup between the PAF’s to brighten it up a bit. Gibson included it on the Woodstock re-issue, but it wasn’t a Fender pick up. Can’t imagine why?
The Epiphone ES 335 Pro needs to be as close as possible sound wise to the original. To many, Alvins’ 335 was ‘the’ epitome of this instrument, but of course, there were other great guitarists as well. The brilliant BB King, for instance. They were straight HH setups for the pickups. Epiphone stayed with the original lineup and rightly so.
They have fitted two Alnico Classic Pro humbuckers, one at the bridge and one at the neck. These passive pickups have been designed by Epiphone. They are not PAF’s by any stretch of the imagination, but they do a decent job.
They have stayed to the original format with the controls but with one small extra. Each pickup has a volume and tone control, and there is also a three-way pickup selector toggle switch. On the lower position of the volume controls, it has a push and pull function. This serves as a coil splitter, Coil tapping was added to the 335 in the 70s but is included here to give you a single-coil option to the sound.
With the hardware, everything is very much as you might expect. It has a fixed Tune-o-Matic bridge with a stop bar tailpiece. At the headstock are classic vintage-style Wilkinson tuners with the tulip-style heads. The heads are a very light green in color, which we are not convinced about.
Tuners on the 335 were changed many times over the years, so saying that a certain brand was authentic vintage in style is very difficult. The hardware is all made of nickel.
Hardware then is basic but functional with no big surprises. The Machine heads hold it in tune well, and the bridge is stable. You can argue that it isn’t of the highest quality. But we are dealing with a guitar that has an affordable price ticket.
How Does It Play?
Epiphone guitars are usually built so that they play easily. The Epiphone ES 335 pro is not an exception. Seated or standing, it is well-balanced and comfortable. It is though a big guitar and will take a little getting used to if all you’ve played is a Strat or Tele.
It weighs a little over ten pounds, which isn’t excessive but a little heavier than a Fender. The neck is smooth and slick and is possibly the most vintage authentic feel you will be able to achieve. It is quite quick as well, which is good for those who like to inject a bit of speed.
It is a nice guitar to play, and because it is well-constructed, it is easy. Its Thinline style is built for comfort, and that’s what this guitar is to play, exciting but comfortable.
How Does It Sound?
This might be a silly thing to say, but if you are expecting an original 50s sound, you will be disappointed. We are afraid those days are probably gone forever. The two humbuckers, though, are quite good. They have an edge, but when used clean, they do produce a very warm sound. Good for the jazz players.
Push them on, though, and you can get some raw and punchy sounds. The humbucker sound is thick with that raw edge that blues players love. And if you want to get a bit closer to Alvin’s toppy sound, the coil splitter gives you a single-coil effect to go with it. It’s a good sound, but it is versatile as well.
Both jazz and blues players alike will appreciate the finer points, but as a guitar, it still rocks pretty well.
Well, clearly we are fans of this ES-335, but it might not be exactly what you’re looking for. If that’s the case, check out our reviews of the Best Hollow Semi Hollow Guitars, and the Best Blues Guitars currently available. Also, our reviews of the Ibanez AS73 ArtCore Semi Hollow, and our Oscar Schmidt OE30CH review may well be of interest.
Epiphone Limited Edition ES-335 PRO Pros & Cons
- Classic stunning shape and looks.
- Block inlays as opposed to the cheaper looking dot inlays.
- Alnico Classic Pro humbuckers.
- Coil-tap for single-coil sounds.
- Easy and fun to play.
- Hard to believe, but considering the cost, there are none!
By now, you will probably be thinking that we love this guitar, and you would be correct. Epiphone has done a great job with their Epiphone ES 335 Pro. The thing we really like about it is that they haven’t tried to create an exact sounding copy. You can’t do that. No one can do that.
But they have used the influences of the original. The body styling, the neck is a near copy and gives you the feel, but the sound is their own. It plays well and looks great. It sounds good and has variety, and the quality of the build and the hardware is good enough. For the price point, it is a great guitar.
The Epiphone Limited Edition ES-335 PRO takes you back the heady days of what this guitar was all about. Now with this version by Epiphone, you can go some way to living it all again, or maybe for the first time. Either way, welcome to New York in ‘69.