Gibson ES-335

Nineteen fifty eight was a pretty special year for Gibson. It gave us the launch of the single-cutaway sunburst Les Paul Standard. The “Modernistic” range, including the Explorer, Flying V and rarely-seen Moderne. And, of course, the ES-335.

Rather than being a solid-body the ES-335 drew on the semi-solid ethos of earlier “Electric Spanish” jazz Gibsons such as the ES-175 and ES-295, but boasted a super-shallow and double-cut body for burgeoning rock'n'rollers.

Yes, 1958 is a long time ago, but the ES-335 has been in constant production ever since which says a lot. 2016 sees everything from vintage-true spec to modern models with the latest tech innovations. The ES-335 is a truly great Gibson guitar...

Origins of the Gibson ES-335

Gibson had built ‘slimline’ designs before – the ES-350T and the ES-225T – with a shallower body but these were still essentially hollowbody ‘jazz’ guitars.

Gibson design legend 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.”

In some ways, the ES-335 was reminiscent in idea of Les Paul's primitive “Log” guitar (built after hours at the Epiphone factory) but was a massive refinement. The laminated top and back stretched across the body's width (rather than just glued on “wings”) with center-block inside

Gibson ES-335 Artists

The list is huge, across numerous genres. Roy Orbison, Chuck Berry, Otis Rush, Alvin Lee, B.B King (before he adopted the uptown ES-355, and later his own signature Lucille model), T-Bone Walker (mainly in the '70s) Larry “Mr 335” Carlton, Lee Ritenour, Freddie King, Justin Hayward, Dave Grohl (honored with his own DG-335 signature), Eric Clapton, Johnny Marr, and many, many more...

Larry Carlton

B.B. King recalled in his later years, “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, so it was comfortable to play… even back then when I was somewhat slimmer than I am now!”

Who's Your Favorite ES-335 Player?


Not every guitarist stays faithful to an ES-335 forever, despite its versatility. So let's try and narrow down its specific appeal — who's your favorite Gibson ES-335 player and on what recording?

For Larry Carlton, sessioneer supremo (everyone from Steely to The Crusaders to Joni Mitchell to Michael Jackson, it's all about the ES-335's versatility.

“I really wanted to start carrying one guitar as opposed to carrying three or four,” says Mr 335 about his sessions, “And the 335 was the most versatile, and I was a very versatile player. I could depend on that guitar for the majority of sessions I was doing. It’s a great blues guitar, a great jazz guitar also, and I played all of that. And it’s a great rock ‘n’ roll guitar if you crank it.”

Eric Clapton’s “Cream” ES-335

Eric Clapton purchased his Cherry Red Gibson ES-335 in 1964 and used it throughout his career until it was sold by him at auction in 2004. It became known as the “Cream Guitar” as during his tenure with the band, a roadie painted CREAM in large letters on its flightcase.

Clapton auctioned it in 2004 to raise funds for his addiction rehabilitation facility, Crossroads Centre at Antigua. Its $847,500 price – paid by the US music retailer, Guitar Center – is the highest recorded for any Gibson ES-335.

‘It was the second electric guitar I ever bought,” remembered Clapton. “The Kay got me into The Yardbirds, and then when we started making money, I found I had nothing else to spend it on but guitars - a cherry red Gibson ES-335, which was the instrument of my dreams, of which the Kay had been but a poor imitation.’

“I just was very focused on a guitar and would play that exclusively for a year, two years and then for some reason I’d go somewhere else. The only one I held on to was the ES-335; it was the oldest guitar in my collection. Well, not the oldest, but the one I had the longest.

“I think the cherry Gibson ES-335 was really acceptable on every front. It was a rock guitar, a blues guitar – the real thing.”

While with The Yardbirds, Clapton’s band-mate, Chris Dreja, was more often seen playing it: EC used it more frequently from late 1968 and played it often during Cream’s farewell tour of America. It also featured prominently in Cream’s farewell concerts at London’s Royal Albert Hall in November 1968. Clapton also used this guitar when Cream recorded Badge and other tracks on the band’s Goodbye album and during the filming of the Rolling Stone’s Rock And Roll Circus in December 1968. Eric used the guitar extensively while in Blind Faith (1969).

Clapton, Gibson and Guitar Center collaborated on a 250-only limited Crossroads ES-335 replica in 2005, and there was also a '63 Block Reissue, very similar, 2012-2013 All sold out! Even 2005 Crossroads ES-335s go for vintage prices second-hand.

Gibson ES-335

Alvin Lee’s ‘Big Red’

The guitar most-associated with the late, great Alvin Lee was his modified cherry red 1959 Gibson ES-335. He had a single-coil pickup installed for extra tonal options and it became his trademark, particularly for its heavily stickered body after Ten Years After’s barnstorming performance at Woodstock in 1969. Gibson previously honoured Lee’s 335 legacy with a limited run signature replica.

Gibson ES-335

The Gibson ES-335 In 2016

In 2016, the ES-335 comes in many guises: uncanny recreations of '50s and '60s originals, a great new bargain Studio version, artist models that flip with the original “dot neck”/ stop tailpiece format, and new colors. Browse the full Gibson ES range of guitars (also including slightly smaller ES-336s and ES-339s), new ES Les-Pauls and more.

But here's a few of the outstanding guitars still known as the ES-335s. Click on the model names for full spec.

2016 Gibson ES-335 Studio

The Studio dispenses with multi-ply binding but still offers a classic vibe. Wine Red or Ginger Burst colors, original-style dot neck inlays, plus 57 and 57 Super 'buckers at a bargain price of $1999.

Gibson ES-335

2016 1958 ES-335 VOS

A “new” '58, if you will – based on the first ES-335 to roll out of Gibson. Correct '58 shape with “Mickey Mouse ears” cutaways, no 'board binding, MHS humbuckers and even period correct fretwire.

Gibson ES-335

2016 1959 ES-335TD

A repro of the “2nd gen” TD (thinline double-pickup). Perfect historically- accurate detailing down to the tan binding (including neck). Two MHS humbuckers for PAF-alike tone.

Gibson ES-335

Vintage Guitar reviewer Michael Dregni notes the difference between Gibson's '59 repro and '58. “The main difference lies in the neck profile. And what a difference. The ’58 is a classic baseball bat – solid and meaty. The ’59 has that slim profile.” The new 1958 ES-335 got a lauded Vintage Guitar Approved tag in a late-2015 review.

2016 ES-335

The “base” 2016 model in Cherry, Natural and Faded Lightburst (pictured) finishes. Block inlays these days, plus the latest titanium saddles, locking stopbar tailpiece and Burstbucker 1 and 2 pickups. Also comes in Figured options, showing off the AAA grain of the maple tops, or a more subtle Satin finish (Faded Cherry only).

Gibson ES-335

Gibson ES-335

Artist Models

This is where the “rules” are re-written. With diamond f-holes and inlays and Firebird-style headstock, theDave Grohl DG-335 is actually more like a Gibson Trini Lopez from the 1960s. But that was itself based on an ES-335, do you get the picture. Sounds very different to the Latin jazz of Lopez, though, with hot Burstbucker 2 and 3 pickups.

Gibson ES-335

The Luther Dickinson ES-335 is a “guitar that never was”! Yup, it has dot inlays in the image of a late '50s ES-335, but adds a Bigsby (from ES-355s) and P-90 pickups. “If we can get the P-90 sound and response of a 330 on a 335 semi-hollow that can handle the rock and roll environment - now we’re really getting somewhere.” The finish is based on one of his father Jim's favorite ES-175s. Hybrid time!

Gibson ES-335

Likewise, the Chris Cornell ES-335. This also adds a pair of Jason Lollar™ Lollartron® pickups for '50s twangin' tone, with the Bigsby as an option. Black (stoptail) and Olive Drab Green (Bigsby) finishes. Unique stuff.

Gibson ES-335

Even if he sold his “Cream” ES-335 for charity we'll give Eric Clapton the last word on these greatest of semi-solid Gibsons. “The ES-335 is beautiful, and I loved it,” said Clapton. ‘It was played regularly over the years. It got on albums, it never really changed. It never got old, it never wore down. It never lost anything. I’d play it now.

“Anything that’s been that long in my life and is still functional – there aren’t too many things that can command that kind of respect. I’ve had no cars that long for instance. There are no other tools in my life that have been as long-serving.

“After I sold the red ES-335, I immediately bought a sunburst one. It’s a great guitar and it’s so loud. I’d forgotten how loud they were!”


Eric Johnson

There are loads of ES-335 players on YouTube, of course, so here are just two ES-335 fans famed for their sounds.

Eric Johnson talking tone with Gibson...

… and Larry Carlton (with Robben Ford)'s “Cold, Cold”.