The 5 Best Gibson ES-335 Signature Guitars

Updated on November 26, 2018
Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw started playing the guitar when he was 12 years old. He loves nothing more than to pick one up and pluck some strings.

The Gibson ES-335

1958 was a great year for Gibson guitars, they debuted several models which have been resounding successes up to this day. The Gibson ES-335 was one of those new models, and it is easily the single most desired, recognized, and played semi hollow body electric guitar in the world. The persons singing the praises of this six string masterwork would make a for long list.

These guitars are just pure elegance. They are beautiful to behold. It's all those stylish curves and such. With two humbucking pickups and the semi-hollow body design, these guitars can be used to make any style of music from country, jazz, hard rock and blues.

The ES-335s look very much like their cousins, the Epiphone Casino guitars. But these are very different beasts. The ES-335 is a semi-hollow body guitar. What this means is that it has a solid center block of maple inside. The solid center helps to increase the sustain of notes, and reduces feedback. The hollow sides of the guitar's body have f-hole style sound holes to add warmth one doesn't get from a solid body guitar, this is what makes the ES-335 a favorite of blues and jazz guitarists.

The tops of these guitars are arched. So these are, in truth, semi-hollow body, arched top, electric guitars. The model was the very first of this kind ever created, and Gibson has always been known for providing original and classic designs such as these.

BB King with an ES-335
BB King with an ES-335 | Source
Jazz Master Larry Carlton with a Gibson ES-335
Jazz Master Larry Carlton with a Gibson ES-335
The late great Alvin Lee
The late great Alvin Lee

Gibson's ES-335 has been the guitar of choice for some of the greatest players of all time

The late B.B. King, and the still alive at 90 years of age Chuck Berry are very very different guitarists. While B.B. King was always a blues guitar purist, Chuck Berry had an absolutely huge impact on the development of rock and roll as a genre of music, and he showed everyone that rock and roll was an electric guitar driven music, and how to duck walk. They both played Gibson ES-335s.

B.B. King, of course, very famously named his guitar Lucille. Well, what one should know is the man had a hell of a lot of guitars, and he thought of every one of them as Lucille. For a time B.B. King's Lucille was a Gibson ES-335. After a while Gibson saw what a good thing it would be for everyone were they to get with Mr. King and have one made to his most exact ideals. So you can buy a Gibson Lucille today, it's a modified ES-335.

Chuck Berry gravitated to the fancier versions. Chuck liked the gold hardware look. Chuck's guitar of choice is the ES-355, which is only an ES-335 with flashier appointments. In any event, the notion I'm trying to convey here is these two men of very different style of play were two of the most important men in the history of the electric guitar, as they were in their prime at the time these instruments were becoming widespread, and they both adored the ES-335.

In 1964 Eric Clapton purchased his Gibson ES-335. He only owned two other guitars at that point in his career, and the Gibson was the first guitar he'd ever purchased new. He played the same one from his time with the Yardbirds up until he sold it in the 90s in an auction to benefit his Crossroads drug and alcohol treatment center. The guitar sold for $847, 500 dollars. So you see, a Gibson ES-335 can be worth just under a million dollars under certain circumstances.

Larry Carlton has long been a jazz guitar wizard of the highest order. He's won four Grammy awards for his guitar compositions. He started playing guitar at just six years of age. Clearly, the playing of six string guitars was his calling in life, and gosh darn, he's sure filled the role. When I think of Larry, I'm thinking of his work with the Steely Dan, and his theme song to Hill Street Blues. But the list of people Larry has recorded with is too long for this page. Even if you don't think you know about Larry Carlton, don't fret, you've heard him play guitar. His weapon of choice? His 1969 Gibson ES-335, of course.

Alvin Lee is gone from this world, but he's not forgotten. So far as I could ever tell he was never given the amount of credit for his greatness of playing guitar he was due. Alvin Lee was nearly a shred guitarist even and before Ritchie Blackmore had come of age. His band, Ten Years After, wasn't a metal band, but it was heavy blues for sure. And Alvin was forever playing his red and hippy decorated ES-335.

The purpose of this article is to display and describe some of the most notable signature series editions of the legendary and enduring Gibson ES-335. Every ES-335 is a great guitar.

Gibson Chris Cornell ES-335 guitars

Gibson Chris Cornell ES-335 -Aged black with hard tail
Gibson Chris Cornell ES-335 -Aged black with hard tail
Gibson Chris Cornell ES-335 - Olive drab with Bigsby vibrato
Gibson Chris Cornell ES-335 - Olive drab with Bigsby vibrato

1. Gibson Chris Cornell ES-335 guitars

There are not one but two editions of the Gibson Chris Cornell ES-335. There were not many of these guitars made at all. If you ever happen to see one for sale, it might be the only time you ever do. So keep that in mind, you folks with extra guitar buying cash.

Chris Cornell, of course, is someone we all know and loved for being one of the single best rock and metal vocalist on the planet. He was not known for being a guitarist, but he played well, and used the instrument to compose songs with. Chris was also one of the world's best songwriters.

The olive drab guitars come with a Bigsby vibrato. The aged black ones do not. There's no wiggle room in any of this, it's written in stone, so to speak. Either guitar comes with the Jason Lollar pickups that Chris liked the best. The cases come with some sort of symbol on them which Chris had taken a liking to.

You can see these guitars have dot fingerboard positioning marker inlay. The finish on either is plainly not meant to be flashy or overly beautiful. There is a minimalist, understated vibe here.

These are not signature series guitars. Chris Cornell's signature is not on them. These are a batch of guitars made to Cornell's desired specifications, and they've got his sign on the case, and a bit of a case candy booklet which comes with it. Again, you will almost certainly not ever even see one of these, so if you do see one and you've got the cash to buy it, either version will be a great guitar and super collectible.

Gibson ES-335 Joe Bonamassa signature guitar
Gibson ES-335 Joe Bonamassa signature guitar

2. Gibson ES-335 Joe Bonamassa signature guitar

Joe Bonamassa has dedicated his life to playing guitar. He's reached a higher level of play than most people could ever even imagine, much less attain. Seemingly Joe was born to play the guitar, and even so, Joe will tell you it is hard work and requires constant continued work.

Joe Bonamassa was playing shows with B.B. King before he'd even become a teenager. Does that sound like something I made up? Sounds like something someone would make up to me, but the facts are it's all very true.

So it is then little wonder Joe has an affinity for the Gibson ES-335. Of course Joe owns and plays more guitars than most people. He collects old guitars and amps too. Joe loves guitars and amps in a way I understand perfectly, chances are persons reading this page also understand.

Joe's 335 is a 1961 model.To reproduce it the folks at Gibson bust out all their calipers and fancy tools to measure Joe's instrument down to the smallest and most definite details.The Gibson ES 335 Joe Bonamassa is especially distinct for its neck, which is described as being very much in between the sizes of the 1959 necks and the 1960s necks.

Gibson ES-335 Joe Bonamassa features:

  • An authentic recreation of Joe's 1961 ES-335
  • Spliced maple/poplar/maple 3-ply body construction; two-piece veneer top
  • VOS nitrocellulose lacquer finish and aged nickel hardware
  • Thin '60s neck with a Burst Brothers profile
  • Holly wood headstock veneer with mother-of-pearl "Gibson" and "Crown" inlays
  • Vintage single-line Tulip button TonePros tuning machines
  • Two '57 Classic humbuckers; CTS pots (two volume, two tone); three-way toggle

Gibson ES-335 Larry Carlton guitar

Gibson ES-335 Larry Carlton guitar. The vintage burst of this finish is also known as a Carlton burst.
Gibson ES-335 Larry Carlton guitar. The vintage burst of this finish is also known as a Carlton burst.

3. Gibson ES-335 Larry Carlton guitar

The Larry Carlton 335s were first produced in 2004. Again, Gibson busts out all manner of measuring equipment to analyze Larry's guitar in order to reproduce that exact guitar as exactly as possible.

With something as popular as an ES-335, there are lots and lots of them made, so it's simply not possible for them all to the exact measurements. And of course Gibson sometimes changes pickups and wiring schematics, tuning machines.

In any event, Larry's 335 is a 1969 model, and the reproductions are as exact as is humanly possible in this age. The burst finish is even now referred to as the Carlton burst. Larry, of course, is even known as Mr. 335, so this is all very fitting.

Perhaps Gibson will make another run of the Larry Carlton guitars. As it is, they were a limited edition produced over the course of a few years, and are available used in all the familiar places on the web. Prices are generally in the three thousand dollars and slightly below range. Again, even if you aren't familiar with Larry's music - you still are because he's been on more albums and soundtracks, etc, than he even likely remembers. This is because he's in such demand for sounding so good.

Gibson Larry Carlton Signature ES-335 features:

  • Larry Carlton signature semi-hollow electric guitar
  • '57 Classic humbuckers offer vintage tones
  • '60s Slim Taper neck is comfortable for lead and rhythm
  • Semi-hollow construction is the best of solid and hollow builds
  • Schaller M6 tuners offer tuning stability

Gibson Alvin Lee "Big Red" signature model electric guitar
Gibson Alvin Lee "Big Red" signature model electric guitar

4. Gibson Alvin Lee "Big Red" signature model electric guitar

Alvin Lee's guitar was modified. He had a single coil pickup added between the two humbuckers. He used an aftermarket bridge and tailpiece, and, of course, all those hippy stickers were used for personalized decoration. These guitars are reproductions of the one Lee rocked out with at the original Woodstock festival.

Alvin's guitar was a 1959 model, so it has the neck profile Gibson used during that year. One needs to know the 59' neck profile was thicker than the years after. The single coil pickup in the middle is a Seymour Duncan, and as they say, you don't go wrong with that fine brand of pickups.

These guitars are not in production at present, and the ones on the used market are not selling for cheap. These in good condition are bringing five thousand dollars. Myself, I like to buy used guitars with scratches already on them. I like that because making the first scratch is a horrible thing to realize you've done. These guitars are quite rare though, so if you see one for sale it's not going to be cheap regardless of its condition.

Gibson Alvin Lee ES-335 features:

  • Laminated maple top, back, and sides
  • One-piece 1960 mahogany neck with long tenon
  • Bound rosewood fretboard
  • Black finish on back of neck
  • Naked '57 Classic humbuckers at the neck and bridge
  • Single-coil Seymour Duncan in the middle position
  • Top and back binding
  • Alvin Lee stickers on finish
  • Chrome hardware
  • Kidney bean tuners
  • ABR-1 bridge
  • TP-6 tailpiece
  • 24-3/4" scale

Dave Grohl signature ES-335 guitars

Dave Grohl signature ES-335 guitars.
Dave Grohl signature ES-335 guitars.

5. Dave Grohl signature ES-335 guitars

When you are me you will always think of Dave Grohl as the drummer for Nirvana. He's had a lot more success as a singer and guitarist though. The guy is just a pure musician, obviously. The Gibson ES-335 Dave Grohl is one hell of a sexy looking guitar.

The demand for these is far greater than the supply. The competition to own one has driven the price to levels some may consider unreasonable. We can always hope Gibson makes more of them.

With its non traditional headstock and sound-holes, this 335 stands out from the pack. Further distinction is found on the fingerboard with the non trad positioning marker inlay. The pickups used are the new burstbuckers, and these are a very traditional PAF style humbucker set.

These guitars, of which 200 were made in 2015, are a hybrid between the old Trini Lopez guitars and an ES-335. They're selling for around nine to ten thousand bucks. Hopefully Gibson will see to the production of more of these so the prices become more reasonable. If the looks are what someone is going for when desiring one of these they could get off much cheaper with an Epiphone 'Dwight Trash' Casino.

Gibson Dave Grohl ES-335 features:

  • 8.5 pounds
  • Pelham Blue Metallic Finish
  • Laminated Maple/Poplar/Maple Semi-Hollow Body
  • Mahogany Neck with Rosewood Fretboard
  • Pearloid Split-Diamond Headstock
  • BurstBucker 2 (Neck) and BurstBucker 3 (Bridge) Humbucking Pickups
  • 24-3/4" Scale Length
  • 12" Radius
  • 1 11/16" Nut Width
  • Black Top Hat Knobs with Silver Inserts
  • ABR-1 Bridge
  • Stopbar Tailpiece
  • Chrome Mini Grover Tuners

Gibson Memphis ES-335
Gibson Memphis ES-335

Gibson Memphis ES-335

I like signature series guitars simply because I often like the artists involved, and because I love guitars, and all the variations on a guitar models theme which come about from them all. All the guitars talked about above are pretty rare, so they are hard to find, and an ES-335 is expensive already. Typically signature series instruments are more expensive than base models.

What's a poor guy to do? Get a Gibson Memphis ES-335

When I was a kid my grandfather had an ES-335 for maybe a year or so. He was forever swapping, buying, and selling stringed instruments. I went to his house every Saturday for years and years, to hang out, and to see what new stuff he had. As long as he had that ES-335, it was the guitar I most wanted to play when I was there.

The things just scream at you, visually, for being so classy looking. They look like a work of art, a sculpture or something, and then you can make music with them. They aren't inexpensive, but people often love their toys, and when someone gets into playing an instrument, that hobby or profession will tend to be ranked very high on the priorities list.

These guitars are big, and they are heavy. I don't want to sound sexist, but I don't see a lot of women playing ES-335s, and I think I know why that is. If you're not performing on stage, then there's no bother with the weight, assuming you play seated when not performing.

Of course the beauty of the ES-335 isn't limited to the visual appeal. The tonal appeal here is immense. I always felt like I could get a good practice in with the ES-335, even without it plugged in, provided the room wasn't too loud. Plug it in and you can dial in all the country, jazz, and blues tones the model is renowned for offering. But the ES-335 can do rock as well as anything else. It's the guitar that can do everything. Thanks for reading.

Gibson Memphis ES-335 Features

  • Gibson Memphis ES-335
  • Maple/poplar semi-hollowbody shouts, barks, and howls blues, jazz and rock
  • Center-block design adds sustain and controls feedback
  • Specially calibrated Burstbucker 1 and 2 pickups deliver vintage PAF-like tone
  • Rounded "C" neck profile with rolled binding
  • Adjustable ABR-1 bridge with titanium saddles enhances tone and playability
  • Grover Milk Bottle tuners keep you in tune onstage and in the studio
  • Pearloid block inlays and mother-of-pearl headstock crown

Questions & Answers

    © 2016 Wesman Todd Shaw

    Comments

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      • beagrie profile image

        John Bullock 

        12 months ago from Yorkshire, England

        Eye candy! One day I hope to own a legit Gibson 335 (right now I'm rocking Epiphone). Great article.

      • Coffeequeeen profile image

        Louise Powles 

        19 months ago from Norfolk, England

        It looks a very cool guitar. I wish I had learned to play this.

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