Vintage Feel Vintage Sound

Here's a couple of mid eighties 335 dot necks made by Norlin (beer, cement). One of them has been upgraded to be more like a "Golden Era" ES 335. It's got a Faber bridge and tailpiece and an RS harness with 500K pots. It got pretty close to the real thing (although the Shaw PAFs are a bit on the dark side) and was under $3000. It was the one on the right. Note the different body shapes. Can't see it? C'mon, look at the ears.

I got a phone last week from a reader who was looking for a player guitar. He already has a ’63 ES 335 that’s pretty close to mint and like a lot of us, he is hesitant to take it out of the house and subject it to the forces of nature-not to mention the forces of ill-natured people who will steal it. He asked me what he should get as a player and I suggested an early 80’s dot neck reissue. I’ve written about how good these can be and I stand behind that statement. They are very good guitars. But he wanted one that was going to sound like and feel like his beloved ’63. An 80’s dot neck is not that guitar for a number of reasons. They don’t sound the same. The probable reasons for this are myriad. The most obvious difference would be the pickups. The Shaw PAF that came on most of these is a very good pickup but it is often rather dark. The one’s I’ve stuck a meter to often are in the low 7K range which can make for a lack of brightness. They are still excellent sounding pickups but they suffer from the poor quality 300K pots that these normally have. A harness change is a good idea. Next, they have a Nashville bridge. I don’t think this makes much difference but it could. They also have a very different neck tenon-it is narrower and has a lot less mass. The body shape (there were 2 different shapes) is a bit different as well. Those things, I think, account for a good bit of sonic difference. they sound different acoustically and therefore, they sound different amplified. The reader also wanted a guitar that felt like his ’63. Feel is a bit more subjective but I know exactly what he means. The neck profiles on 81-85 Norlin dot necks are all over the place but are generally pretty comfortable and not dissimilar from early 335’s. What is very different is the finish. I’m not sure whether they are poly but the finish seems very thick and feels like poly. They tend to be a little sticky and that isn’t so good. So, what is the closest you can come to a “Golden Era” 335? I suppose if you took an 80’s 335 and swapped the Nashville bridge for a Faber or other ABR-1 that will fit, changed the harness and pickups and refinished the neck in nitro, then you would have a pretty good substitute. But there’s a better solution-it might cost you a few bucks more and it won’t appreciate in value any time soon. Get a Nashville built Historic. I’ve had 2 so far-a 2009 block neck and a 2006 dot. If I close my eyes and I pick up one of these, I could be fooled into thinking it was the real deal. From a tone standpoint, they are excellent. From a “feel” point of view, they are excellent. I think that the most likely give away is the smell. New lacquer smells like, uh, new lacquer. Look for a recent one-they seem to get better year after year. I’ve played a 2003, a 2006, a 2009 and a 2010. the only one I didn’t like was the 2010. I’m told that all the bodies are made in Memphis now but that they are still assembled in Nashville. maybe they’ve gone downhill in the past year-I really can’t say. But if you can find a 2003-2009 for a reasonable price (I paid $2600 and $2800 for mine) then you can get very close to the vintage 335 experience. You want to get even closer? Find yourself a Clapton reissue. best guitar to come out of Gibson in 47 years, if you ask me.

2006 ES-335 Nashville 59 Historic. Great guitars, beautifully made. These are the guitars your kids are going to want in 20 or 30 years and there aren't that many of them being made. You might think about getting one now. You can find them for under $3000.

Ok, this is the real one but the Gibson Clapton 335 is perhaps the best guitar that has left the Gibson factory since early 1965. These are still pricey but they come up every now and then. I saw one go for under $6000 recently. Again, only the smell will give this one away as a newer guitar.

4 Responses to “Vintage Feel Vintage Sound”

  1. DIEGO says:


  2. OK Guitars says:

    That one is sold. I occasionally get Historics in as trades but I don’t seek them out. Check the “For Sale” page every few weeks.

  3. Jonathan says:

    Did something happen to the Historics after 2002, or was your recommendation just based on the ones that you tried? Thanks!

  4. OK Guitars says:

    I base my opinion on observation. I’ve played a lot of them made from 2005-2010. The 2 I played from 2010 were dull sounding and so, based on my limited experience with them I recommend the ones from 2009 as the last of the great ones. You should try out a 2010 or 2011 should one come along.
    As for the earlier ones, I found a marked improvement between a couple of 2002’s I played and a few 2005s. I haven’t played a 2004. I guess the larger point is that any Historic is probably worth playing. I just found them to be consistently good from 2005-2009 with no exceptions.

Leave a Reply

Optionally add an image (JPEG only)