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ES-335, 2013 Style

A very recent (2013) '63 Anniversary ES-335 reissue. Close. Real close. But those ears. C'mon, really, that's the best you can do?

A very recent (2013) ’63 Anniversary ES-335 reissue.
Close. Real close. But those ears. C’mon, really, that’s the best you can do?

First off, sorry for the recent radio silence-I’ve been renovating and moving into my new (actually really, really old) house here in beautiful Litchfield County, Connecticut and haven’t had much time to write. My apologies. It’ll get back to the usual 5 or 6 posts a month pretty soon. Today, I thought I would write about something that I keep getting emails about–folks seem to want my opinion of the newest Gibsons. I usually respond that I haven’t played them and that I’m really a vintage guy. But I wrote about the “Nashville” Custom shop models a while back when I got a couple in trade. Now I have a ’63 50th Anniversary 335 from the Memphis facility that a lot of folks are saying good things about. It is a 2013 (50 years from 1963 but you knew that). There are things I like and things I don’t like. First and most important is how does it play and how does it sound? The good news is that it feels like the real thing. The neck profile is fairly close, the feel of the finish is right (this is more important than you think) and the frets feel decent as well-a little on the high side but the guitar isn’t 50 years old yet. The frets will have plenty of time to get low. My big gripe about new Gibsons is that they don’t ring out and sustain very well. That could be an age factor-new wood isn’t as dry as old wood and old wood seems to be more acoustically active. More resonant, if you prefer. On the other hand, the quality of the woods might have been better back in the day but, hey, it’s a plywood guitar. How much difference is it going to make. Well, actually, it could make a pretty big difference because so much of the tone comes from the center block and the neck. In the past, these guitars felt kind of heavy and that may also have been related to the wood. Most 50’s and early 60’s 335’s weigh in around or slightly below 7.5 lbs. Some hit 8 lbs but most don’t. Don’t count 345’s and 355’s-Bigsby’s and Varitone chokes are heavy. The ’63 Anniversary I have in my hands weighs 7 lbs 6 ounces which is what it should weigh and  very comfortable for an old dude like me. This guitar sounds pretty darn good too. Lots of bite in the bridge pickup (a Burstbucker) and no mud in the neck (also a Burstbucker). Nicely balance and the middle three way position doesn’t sound almost exactly like the bridge pickup which I’ve found in a lot of modern 335s-it’s actually a pretty useful tone.

So what don’t I like? Well, it sure doesn’t look like a 63. They made the ears pointy but they are way wrong. There was a later iteration of the pointy ears that you saw in 67 and on a lot of Trini’s. Some folks call them “fox ears”. They are short and pointy and kind of stumpy looking. That’s more what these look like. It’s strange that Gibson got the Clapton reissue almost dead on and they couldn’t nail this one. The rumor is that the Clapton bodies were made in Japan where they know how to copy stuff. Next, the neck heel is way too big-how tough would it be to get this right? Really. The knobs are way off and the pickup covers are too. These are easy to change if you’re so inclined but, again, you’d think they could source accurate parts. I can source accurate parts, so I don’t see why Gibson can’t. Lots of great repro stuff out there. For some reason the three way switch tip is black and the owner of this guitar insists that’s how it came from the Gibson dealer. And how about correct vintage length stop tail studs? These are the short ones. I hear the Nashville ones that you pay a couple thousand more for have the long ones. I haven’t checked recently. They’ve finally gotten the bindings better but the headstock inlay (the crown/flowerpot) is a bit odd. These are kind of nitpicks I suppose but it would be so easy to fix them. Fit and finish, by the way, are excellent. I had a Memphis “fat neck” back in 2009, I think, that looked like it was routed with a chain saw. These new ones are smooth and clean inside. Nicely done. The important thing is that they are sounding and playing pretty well and if they can keep the price from going up every year, they just might make sense for a lot of buyers who were hoping to find vintage in that $3000 range. Myself, I’d still take an 81-85 over this guitar but not because they sound any better. Only ‘cuz they’re old and I like old.

This is a real one. Do those ears look the same to you? They sure don't to me. These are longer and they stand up straighter. And the knobs. How tough can it be to copy the real ones??

This is a real one. Do those ears look the same to you? They sure don’t to me. These are longer and they stand up straighter. And the knobs. How tough can it be to copy the real ones??

18 Responses to “ES-335, 2013 Style”

  1. Rod says:

    Charlie, you say the head inlay is odd. Can you show us this please? To my mind the crown seemed to change shape and become elongated when it moved down the head, but you may well correct me!

  2. Kevin P says:

    Nice to have you back Charlie.

    I cannot for the life of me understand why Gibson continue to insist on using the wrong shaped pickup covers in their reissues. They’re always too square in the corners. As you say, there are plenty of vintage repro options out there – I think it’s just a general sense that “sure your average guy isn’t going to care too much about that”. I’m sorry – but if you’re charging premium price for a vintage reissue it should look the part in every way, otherwise it’s hard to justify the upcharge.

    Good luck with the house move – just been through the same myself, so I feel your pain.
    K

  3. Mike says:

    Those knobs have bothered me for the past few years. They actually used to have them looking pretty close and took a huge step backwards recently.

  4. RAB says:

    Yeah, how hard should it be to get the reissue looking more like the original given computerized design tools, etc? Come on Gibson! And, from what I hear they aren’t exactly giving these guitars away. For the price or a little more scratch why not find a nice, REAL vintage 1965-67 335 from a reputable dealer like Charlie?

  5. RAB says:

    Heh, heh, not that the reissues are bad, and they are cheaper. A nice real ’65 will run you considerably more than 3 large!

  6. Rod says:

    I don’t recall Golden Era 335s consistently being made of highly figured wood like the reissues are. I would willingly trade figured wood for more accurate shapes and fittings. But I suppose that’s the Marketing Department at work.

    With regard to the 80s 335s, they all seemed to have very ugly blocky/slabby heads to me and for me Grovers are a no-no!

  7. Steve Newman says:

    Not to stir up a hornet’s nest, but which of the current (2014) variations of the 335 ARE closest cosmetically to the vintage models that they try to emulate? I recently had the pleasure of playing a new, out of the box (case) Warren Haynes signature model, which is supposedly based on his ’61 dot neck. I was shocked at how good it was sound and quality-wise. The cherry finish was very close to my real ’61; neck profile shape quite accurate (no more variation than I have seen in actual individual examples from the same (1961) year);PLEK playability was great and overall extremely neat and tidy in all the little detail areas….felt and sounded really good! Ear shape and f-hole position not quite right, but much closer than the example of the 2013 above. Knobs very cheap looking copies and the figure and contrast in the wood grain was much more pronounced than on the original. No brazilian fingerboard, of course and heel shape of neck a little too blocky. The photos of the Rusty Anderson sig. model seem to be getting closer to the real thing, too. The debate about differences in quality between the Nashville and Memphis produced instruments seems to be dying down, as the Memphis QC seems to have really improved. Now why not take pristine examples of the most popular holy grail 335’s; i.e. ’58-59, ’61, ’64 and EXACTLY copy them, down to construction methods as Martin has done on their Authentic series acoustics? The technology to make that happen already exists within Gibson today. They would be expensive, but still well below their vintage counterparts; I doubt they would de-value golden era 335’s one cent.

  8. cgelber says:

    Everybody makes good points. I haven’t played a Haynes or a Rusty so I can’t comment on them until I do. They do look good though. There’s a lot of chatter about how close to vintage they are but I always wonder if the folks who are saying that ever get to make a side by side comparison with a real 59 (or 61).

  9. Buckaroo says:

    “Most 50′s and early 60′s 335′s weigh in around or slightly below 7.5 lbs. Some hit 8 lbs but most don’t.”

    Looking at the small sample of ES 335 weights referenced here:

    http://www.es-335.net/weights.html

    Seems the sampled 335’s average a bit heavier. But, it is a very small sample size. I have not played anywhere close to the number of golden era 335’s as Mr. Gelber but the few that I have owned (8 to be exact) have all been right around 8 pounds. I confess that have sold them (all but one) for a Les Paul and a Rolex!

    Regarding the ears. I agree that the ears on the 2013 models do look a bit more like the “fox ear” later 60’s guitars…a bit at least. I too am baffled by that. I have observed some variance in the ears of 63 /64 335’s. But not to the point of the reissue I don’t think. I do wonder if the old ears were soft tooled and vary a bit. Like guitar necks can vary.

    I am very pleased to see Mr. Gelber comment on this new reissue. It reveals that a relative vintage purist has a very open mind; without leaving his vintage bias behind. His review of the anniversary 2013 ’63 ES 335 is about the best I have read to date. It is very fair and very candid. I can’t overstate how much I appreciate his perspective.

  10. RAB says:

    And no reissue has the mojo of the real thang!

  11. Steve Newman says:

    RAB, you’re right! There are no new 50+ year old guitars being made and nothing can sound or feel exactly like old wood, old electronics and the effect that hours and hours of playing time have on the ageing process. But with just a little more attention to important details, I think Gibson could come closer to making much more accurate looking and feeling instruments, as your golden era 3xx felt when it was brand new. I LOVE the real ones, but I think there is room for completely accurate reproductions, too, as in the Martin Authentics.

  12. RAB says:

    Steve, I agree completely! RAB

  13. Kelly says:

    Firstly, I don’t think I agree with the concept of getting vintage reproductions EXACTLY right, as I think everyone will concede that in the Golden Era of the 335 no two guitars were exactly the same. Secondly, I have noticed that with the Rich Robinson repro a lot of potential customers are complaining that it has the “Custom Made” plate, and wish it had been left off—in other words, that it is TOO accurate. Finally, I can’t imagine that there is a player out there who will pass on a great-sounding and great-playing guitar because the ear shape isn’t exactly right.

  14. Danny says:

    Okay, here’s my experience with custom shop vs vintage 335s. I’ve owned a 2003 dot reissue, a ’66 es335, a Custom Shop 2010 50th Anniversary 1960 es335, and now own a ’64 es335. I sold my 2003, because for aesthetic (vibe) reasons, I thought I wanted a vintage one. I bought the ’66 on Craigslist from its original owner and it sounded amazing. However, I couldn’t get used to the smaller nut width and also thought the trapeze was making it sound different. When I played my friend’s ’64, only then did I realize that it was actually a finer instrument than all the rest. To my ears, it sounded much better. So, I sold the rest, and made my investment in the ’64 I finally bought because it’s the best instrument: it sounds the best (the ’66 was a very close second), it feels the best and it looks the best.
    I do have custom shop fenders and I don’t feel a need to have real vintage fenders. I think their custom shop does a way better job than Gibson’s. Those guitars are really hard to tell apart from actual vintage ones. Maybe Gibson should siphon off one of Fender’s builders…?

  15. cgelber says:

    Actually, I think you would be surprised. I think a lot of buyers will pass on a reissue guitar that isn’t quite shaped right. Ask the Les Paul guys. They’re nuttier than we are.

  16. Dr335 says:

    Hi Charlie (and everyone else),

    Just thought I would offer some insight here as I recently bought a 50th anniversary ’63 ES-335. I have to say the one that you show Charlie does look beyond inaccurate in terms of horn shape, and I am surprised by the black switch tip. But I have a theory on these… Mine has a later serial number and the body and horn shape is, to my eye, identical to the Clapton reissues. We all know that these weren’t ‘correct’ at all, the curve from the neck to the body at the 19th fret was far too shallow compared to the original and the tiny sliver of pickguard above the neck pickup ring exaggerated this. But my 50th anniversary is bang on identical – even down to the weird pickguard (at least it covers the inner bracket nut, which is kinda cool). So I reckon the weird slimmed Sheraton 2 horns versions are early runs, and Gibson later reverted to whatever they learned from doing the Clapton run. The saddles aren’t right, the knobs are nowhere near, the nut is too transparent and the black lines in the flowerpot inlay are too thick. But it is not a ’63, it’s a 2013 and in my experience the later runs are a damn sight closer than the Nashvilles that cost nearly £4000 here in Blighty. And, most importantly, they sound right, more right than any other historic.

    Just my 2 pence worth 😉

  17. Eric says:

    This is an old post I’ve read several times since I’ve purchased a late 2016, 50th anniversary ES-335. I like it a lot but it is my first 335 and I don’t played a lot of them to compare. (I have recently played unplugged a 2015 1958 reissue that was just amazing. Sounding almost like a full hollow, very woody, nothing like the other modern 335 I’ve played.)
    Well, about the black switch tip. As far as I have seen, the tip doesn’t come installed on the guitar from the factory (or the shops I’ve been just removed them to avoid theft ?). Whatever, the tip wight just have been lost or swapped by the shop it came from or stolen. Probably not Gibson fault…

  18. Steve says:

    I have no proof to back this up, but I have long suspected that Gibson and Fender deliberately make their reissues inaccurate to 1) make it harder to pass them off as vintage originals and 2) so they can gradually improve them and keep people still buying the new, improved versions. A variation of the “planned obsolesence” strategy that I believe was used by US carmakers to keep their sales going.

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