Making the 81-85 ES-335 Better

Here's a stock red '82 with the "good" body type. The red isn't as "see-through" as the guitars it emulates but it's still somewhat transparent and a very nice looking finish. The blondes get all the attention but the redhead is a better deal. Look for these in the $2500 range. The blondes will cost you as much as $1000 more.

I’m very familiar with the 81-85 ES-335 dot reissues that were released toward the end of the Norlin (concrete, beer) Era and I’ve written fairly extensively about them. I generally consider them to be better than the 335’s from 70-80 and certainly as good as the modern Historics. The years in between-let’s say 1986-1998 or so seem not to have come into their own yet. From my point of view, it’s hard to believe that these are 30 year old instruments. That’s vintage to most folks even though they don’t really seem like it to those of us who were there as adults. It’s scary to think that an 81 dot reissue is as old as a 59/60 dot neck was in 1990 which is about when I started noticing vintage guitars. Will these 80’s reissues be as revered in twenty years as the 59-64 ES 335’s are now? I only need to look at the ’68 Les Paul reissue to know the answer. I recall when most folks thought the 68 Goldtop reissue was a piece of crap. It wasn’t accurate with its wide binding in the cutaway and the routs were different and any number of other complaints that kept it from hallowed status. Well, now they are pretty well accepted as a genuine collectible and I agree that they can be wonderful guitars. I’ve owned at least 3 of them and each has been quite good. So, I don’t think it’s going to happen tomorrow or the next day but I do think that the 80’s reissues are destined for a higher status than they currently enjoy. There are things that are wrong and things that are right about these guitars. The worst thing is that they are inconsistent. There are no less than 3 distinct body shapes and there are 3 piece necks and one piece necks. The harnesses are generally considered pretty awful with their 300K pots and most folks just don’t like the looks of a Nashville bridge. So here’s what you do: Go out and find yourself an 81-85 ES-335. Look for the ones that don’t have that awful stubby little cutaway that seems to show up without rhyme or  reason. I originally thought it had to do with Nashville or Kalamazoo builds but it doesn’t. They show up in both places. I believe the three piece necks are every bit as stable (some say more) than the one piece and isn’t something worthj obsessing over. Yes, the originals had a one piece neck. I see nothing wrong with replacing the original harness with a 500K aftermarket one and keeping the original in the case. Your guitar will sound better. The combination of the somewhat “dark” Shaw PAFs and the 300K pots seems to leave many of these guitars sounding anemic. The 500K harness will help that considerably. The Nashville bridge is a perfectly good design. It looks wrong-in much the same way chrome hardware seemed wrong on a 68 goldtop. You can get a Faber ABR-1 that will fit on the Nashville studs with no alteration or, if you can find them, get a set of offset studs that will allow you to use the original holes and use a normal spaced ABR-1. I look for blonde ones without much figuring. The flamey ones just look wrong to me.  The red ones look pretty good even though the red is more opaque than the original finishes from the 60’s. They can be harder to find. The sunbursts are often flamey and look nothing like the model they are meant to emulate. I’ve never owned a sunburst 80’s 335 for that reason. I don’t find them attractive in the least. But that’s just a matter of personal taste. The first ones to run up in price will be the blondes which means the bargains will be the reds and the sunbursts. So, get out there and find yourself one. You won’t be sorry.

One of these has the "stubby" horns and the other has a very authentic looking body if you ignore the heavy flame. One still has its Nashville bridge and the other has a Faber. I think the long guard looks cool as well on the one with the "right" body. Can you see the difference?

20 Responses to “Making the 81-85 ES-335 Better”

  1. John Gruber says:

    One on the left is stubby and has the nashville.

  2. RB says:

    Weren’t the early “ES-335DOT” RI guitars produced at the Kalamazoo factory? And in addition to natural, sunburst, and red finishes … there was a black finish offered as well. There’s something cool about making changes and/or upgrades to these re-issues and not sweating bullets about altering originality. I’m sure these first year re-issue guitars do have a following. There are many who point to first year Fender Custom Shop guitars as semi-collectible.

  3. OK Guitars says:

    They were produced at the Kalamazoo plant until 84, I believe, although quite a number were made in Nashville during the transition and in 1985. The serial number will tell you which factory they were made in. If the last 3 numbers are below 500, it is a Kalamazoo guitar. If they are between 500-999, then it was made in Nashville. There was indeed a black finish available and also, although rare, a cherryburst-there’s one on Ebay right now.

  4. OK Guitars says:

    Absolutely correct. Give the man a free guitar.

  5. Klaus says:

    Hi, I have a ES-335 Dot Reissue made in 1982. From the last 3 digits of the serial number (…..512) it was made in Nashville. Mine is in natural finish, with a plain top. It has a 3-piece neck with a very nice shape. It is almost stock. I only changd the bridge because the stock one was a very strange design. I have been recommended to change the tuners, too, because they have long posts. So it is necessary to do lots of windings of the string around the post or the angle of the strings behind the nut will be quite flat.
    I bought the guitar new back in 1983. I still have it – so I obviously like it 😉

  6. OK Guitars says:

    ’85s are often excellent guitars. I prefer a one piece neck for resonance but a three piece can sound just as good and are often more stable. I agree with you about the bridge-I think I mention Faber as a good alternative since a Gibson ABR-1 has the wrong spacing. I would leave the tuners alone. The are good and the break angle over the nut isn’t that big of a deal.

  7. Jose says:

    Is there any difference between 335 from the eighties with black ang gold knobs?

  8. OK Guitars says:

    The knobs don’t make any difference and the 335s from 81-85 are generally good. The ones that followed are also OK but the Bill Lawrence pickups don’t sound as good as the Shaw PAFs that were used until 85.

  9. Scott says:

    Nice website and very informative. I have a chance to trade for a 1982 355 59 reissue in Blond. My only hangup is that the guitar has a Bigsby tailpiece and has a plack that says “Custom Made” around where the bridge would ordinarily be. I understand that these are both factory items, but I’m wondering if they detract from the value. The guitar is in good condition, although the finish on the back of the neck is pretty well worn. I guess that means somebody liked the guitar and played the heck of it, which maybe is a good thing. Anyway, any comments on the Bigsby and “Custom Made” will be appreciated. Finally, what would be your best guess for a price range?


  10. Scott says:

    oops, typo. It’s a 335, not a 355

  11. JoeG says:

    Hi, I have a 1981 back then I replaced the Grovers with original Klusons from a 1956 Goldtop and used the Tune-o-matic , Truss Rod bell cover and switch as well as added an old marbleized pickguard, I also had the neck reshaved to have the feel of a 1961 ES335 as well as the headstock made to 1961 shape and size. ( I wish I would have kept it all original but back then they weren’t making great re-issues like they are now) I kept the Shaws and all the electronics and did not mess with the finish. I’d like to send you a few photos

  12. Zach says:

    Hi there. First of all, thanks for this very cool website. I’ve been hunting for a 335 for some time now and I’ve found this to be a great resource.

    I’ve happened upon a pretty good deal on an ’83 Nashville dot, which I’m locked into buying at this point, but I wanted to ask you a question about the “weird” body style you mention here. Do you consider it a serious problem, or is it just that you don’t like the way it looks in comparison to the classic shape? Mostly, I’m worried about how it might affect the future value of the guitar, as I’m not immediately turned off by how it looks in the pictures.


  13. cgelber says:

    Nothing wrong with the “weird” body shape. It just looks funny and not like a classic 335 that the reissue was trying to emulate.

  14. Scott says:

    Hey guys I am new to this I know this is an old post. I’m currently looking at buying a 82 dot RI, and I’ve come across two. One guy said that his is a reissue (cherry)and the other guy isn’t sure (burst), just knows it’s from 82. My question is were all dots produced in 82 reissues? Was there a dot standard made? Thanks for the help.

  15. cgelber says:

    All 82 dots necks are considered reissues.

  16. Scott says:

    Perfect thanks for the reply. I ended up picking the cherry one up and I’m loving it.

  17. Richard says:

    Hi all,

    Another question to an old post, but i really love these guitars. I am currently looking at buying one. This is an 83′, Ivory white with gold hardware. The person selling this gorgeous guitar states its a “Gibson ES-335 Antique Guitar
    Rare professional antique 1″… I cant find any 83’s that were Ivory white. Maybe one or two on the webs… is this a gem? They are asking $3200. Let me know what you all think about this. Very limited info out there. I attached a pic.


  18. Richard says:

    …i just love it. Want to make sure im making a good investment though… 🙂

  19. Dan says:

    Hey there,

    Do all of these early dot reissues have the same neck size/profile? I thought that there were some different ones out there… some slimmer, some fatter. Then I realized that I don’t actually know that for sure. What do you think?



  20. cgelber says:

    There is a pretty big range. Most are kind of medium slim-ish. Some are as big as a 59. All have the wide 1 11/16″ nut that makes them easier to play for most players than a typical 65-79 with a 1 9/16″ nut.

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