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The Least Popular ES Model

Gibson basses never exactly set the world on fire. Here’s an EB, couple of EB-2’s and an EB-0 courtesy of Tom H. who runs the es-335.net site.

While the 335 is not the most popular guitar in the history of the Gibson line, it has been in production the longest. They’ve been in production since they were first introduced in 1958. 1958 saw the introduction of another innovative model that hasn’t exactly set the world on fire. Call it the 335 bass if you like. It is the never popular Gibson EB-2. EB stands for electric bass in case you’re wondering. Perhaps it would have done better if they had called it a 335 bass. In any case, it was not a rousing success.

It is, in most ways, a 335 bass. Like the 58 335, it had an unbound fingerboard, a full length center block, the same body and finish options but it had some differences as well. It had a single pickup mounted at the neck and, in 58, it was a single coil. There was a volume control and a tone control. The tuners were Kluson banjo style with plastic buttons. It was a pretty basic instrument but then, so was the leader of the pack- Fender Precision.

Like most Gibsons, changes were made along the way and, while they largely improved the model, it still wasn’t exactly selling very well. In fairness, Fender had a virtual lock on the bass market all through the 60’s and with only slight competition from Rickenbacker, into the 70’s. Hofner sold a lot of basses in the 60’s but not so much among the pro players. That was McCartney’s trademark bass and few others played them on stage. Alembic made big inroads in the late 70’s and was popular into the 80’s. Gibson was still largely absent. Quick, name one bass player who played a Gibson bass? OK, Jack Bruce played an EB-3 and Chas Chandler (Animals) played an EB-2 (and an Epiphone Rivoli which was nearly identical). I can’t think of any others off the top of my head. In 59, they changed the pickup to a humbucker, known by it’s nickname, The Mudbucker, for obvious reasons. They added a notch filter that they called a “Baritone Switch” which cut some of the low end from that huge pickup. And then it was gone. By mid 1961 or so, Gibson had enough and discontinued the EB-2.

But fast forward to 1964 and it was back just in time for the “guitar boom” caused by the Beatles and others in the mid 60’s. The 64 had the pointy cutaways like a 335 and the banjo tuners were gone, replaced by the usual elephant ear tuners that you see on Fender basses. Unlike the 335, the dot markers stayed.  A chrome pickup cover replaced the black plastic one and you could get an EB-2 in red but no longer in blonde. Still no binding on the neck but a string mute was added. By 66, a second pickup was optional (EB-2D) with a second volume and tone and a three way switch. The “Baritone” switch remained. By 66, in my opinion, it was a pretty good bass. The second pickup made up for the narrow tonal possibilities of the Mud bucker and, with the popularity of the 335 by the mid 60’s, I would have expected it to have been more successful. That’s not to say to was a flop. It wasn’t. In 1959, they sold 263 EB-2s. By 67, the number was 2746. That’s a ten fold increase. The 335 between 59 and 67 saw a similar increase, so you really can’t call it a flop unless you consider Fenders numbers which don’t appear to exist but I’m willing to bet they were at least 10 times the number of Gibson basses sold.

If you’re in the market for a vintage bass, you probably aren’t looking at Gibsons but maybe you should. I find the EB-2 easy to play (30.5″ scale as opposed to Fender’s 34″ scale which I can’t play at all with my small hands). If you can tame that pickup with an amp that has some good headroom, you can get some great tone out of it or look for the two pickup version. EB-2s  are not terribly expensive with prices topping out at around $8000 for a blonde 59. EB-2D’s from the mid to late 60’s can be found in the $1500-$2500 range and are readily available. You can get a 58-60 EB-2 for under $5000 although many have had their tuners changed from the banjo tuners to elephant ears.

Bum bum, bum-bum-bum-bum-bum…remember the opening notes to “We Gotta Get Outta This Place” by the Animals? That’s Chas Chandler playing an EB-2.

10 Responses to “The Least Popular ES Model”

  1. Craig says:

    I can think of a number of Gibson (or Epiphone Rivoli) bass players from the ’60s through the ’80s in addition to Jack Bruce and Chas Chandler:

    Glenn Cornick (Jethro Tull)
    Bob Daisley (Rainbow and Ozzy Osbourne)
    Andy Fraser (Free)
    Peter Quaife (Kinks)
    Paul Samwell-Smith (Yardbirds)
    Chris White (Zombies, including the famous bass riff in “Time of the Season”)
    Scott Walker (Walker Brothers)
    Suzi Quatro
    Trevor Bolder (David Bowie)
    Pete Overend Watts (Mott the Hoople)
    Leon Wilkeson (Lynyrd Skynyrd)
    Mike Watt (Minutemen)
    Ron Asheton (Stooges)
    Bill Wyman (Rolling Stones, in the ’70s, on stage only)
    Doug Lubahn (session bassist for the Doors)

  2. okguitars says:

    Excellent. Not being a bass player, I forgot most of them. I did remember Samwell-Smith after I wrote the post and I saw Jethro Tull a number of times in the early 70’s but I don’t remember a Gibson Bass. Thanks for your input. Of course, if the list was Fender bass players, it would be 20 times as long. Interesting how many are Brits-Epiphones and Gibsons were apparently easier to come by in the UK in the 60’s-especially Epiphones. Thanks for your input.

  3. RAB says:

    The bass in the photo proudly says Gibson on the headstock!

  4. RAB says:

    Adding the Thunderbird II and IV basses into the mix certainly helps expand the list. The Epi Embassy Deluxe (equivalent to the 2 pup T-bird) was a big favorite with the “in the know” bassists here in the SF Bay Area in the late ‘60’s thru mid ‘70’s!

  5. Rod says:

    Seem to recall the pickguard on a Rivoli is a different shape, another way of distinguishing them.

  6. Jonathan Krogh says:

    Hasn’t the ES175 had a longer unbroken production run than the 335 series?

  7. Nelson Checkoway says:

    Hey Charlie – Have you ever come across its even rarer cousin, the original baritone EB-6? It’s even more like a (one pickup) dot neck. I believe it had a standard 6 string PAF in the neck position, a pretty standard ES-335 headstock. And I think it was set up for standard tuning 1 octave down. Not sure of the scale length. Everything “below the waist” was bass – the EB-2 bridge and the pair of controls with the bari switch. At least that what I can tell from photos – I’ve never actually seen or played one.

  8. Rod says:

    Later EB6s were built with the SG body, with, I think, two humbuckers. But I may be wrong on that.

  9. RAB says:

    Seen and played both EB-6 models including the SG-bodied variant. It has two pickups and large “paddle” type tuners…

  10. okguitars says:

    I have a friend who has one that I’ve tried to talk him into selling but he’s having none of it.

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