By Popular Demand: The 81-85 ES-335 Dot Reissue


A Comparison of 2 distinct body shapes on early 80's ES 335s


It’s pretty easy to do a “by popular demand” post when you’re a relatively new blog simply because the populace is a little thin at this point. Basically, if some guy in Tampon Springs, Minnesota asks me for some advice, I’m happy to give it in many more words than necessary. I already wrote about the best 335 to buy if you have a limited budget but I guess I overestimated the term “limited”. So, as I think I mentioned, by popular demand, the best 335 to buy if you have a really limited budget like, say $2000-$3000. Well, there are 335s for that price that are very well made, very good sounding, real by gosh Gibsons made during the Norlin Era (you know the South American Beer company that bought Gibson in 1969).  In  mid 1981 or so, the big shots at Gibson had an idea: Why don’t we go back to making decent guitars instead of putting out the crap we’ve been subjecting the world to since the early 70’s. Hence, the ES-335 Dot Reissue was born. They don’t have all that much in common with the original dot necks but they are still pretty good guitars. A guy named Tim Shaw was asked to make a new pickup that was a copy of the original PAF and while Gibson was too cheap to give him Carte Blanche on it, he was able to make a reasonable facsimile of the original PAF called, not surprisingly, Shaw PAFs. What’s not like the original 335? Well the body shape is different. In the 2 versions you see in the photo, the one on the right is closer to the original but the one on the left is more common. I think the one on the left is really ugly but no worse than the shape they came up with in the 70’s. Gibson moved from Kalamazoo to Nashville in 1984 and I wonder if they had 2 different molds one in Kalamazoo and one in Nashville until they closed down the Kalamazoo plant.  I don’t see any pattern in guitars with one body type or the other. The necks were sometimes one piece but, more often than not, they were 3 piece. I’d look for a one piece although I don’t think there is much difference in tone, or durability. They started using a lot of flame maple tops which I don’t love but you can find plain ones that are pretty close to the original look.  The sunburst was all wrong-too brown and muddy. The red isn’t bad if you can find one. They used a different bridge on all of them-what’s called a Nashville bridge which has a bit more range than the classic ABR-1 but it doesn’t look right. Having more travel on your bridge means the neck specs can be less precise because you can adjust the intonation a little better with a Nashville. You can see on the one on the right, I swapped the bridge for an ABR-1 type. But they changed the measurement between the posts, so you need to either modify the posts or get a bridge with the correct measurements. I got a bridge made by Faber of Germany which worked great on the ’85 on the right. The neck tenon was a good bit smaller on the 80’s reissue but I’ve never had a stability problem with these. Lastly, the pots are cheap 300K crap and should be changed for better quality 500K pots. The tuners are Grovers which I can’t complain about-they are a very good tuner. Other than that, it’s pretty much like a real 335 from the Golden Era. The neck profile can be big like a real 59 or in the middle kind of like a 62-both good profiles. The sound with the Shaw PAFs is often a bit darker (less dominant highs) than the original PAF and Patent # pickups but they are very consistent and fairly versatile.  Recently, some very optimistic sellers have been asking $4000-$5000 for blonde 80’s 335s. Someone needs to poke them with a pointy stick or something and tell them that they are asleep and dreaming. You’ll also note that those listed at that price (over and over again) don’t sell.  I got the 2 in the photo for well under $2500 each at the very top of the market. I don’t know why some folks think the market fluctuations don’t apply to them. Anyway, they can be really good guitars for the money. In 1986, Gibson was bought from Norlin by the current owners and a slow transition to higher quality began. Gibson is now making guitars that nearly rival their Golden Era brethren. They just cost an awful lot of money. So buy one of these. You’ll be a happy camper and you won’t have to live in one (a camper that is).

12 Responses to “By Popular Demand: The 81-85 ES-335 Dot Reissue”

  1. Eric says:

    Awesome! Much appreciated. I’ll keep my eye out for them now.

  2. OK Guitars says:

    They’re out there. You will save a lot of cash if you look for a sunburst or a Red one. the blondies have been going up lately-at least the asking prices are going up.

  3. tgee says:

    The 2 guitars pictures have different pickguards. Did they use short/long in different years on the 80s reissues, or maybe one was swapped out?

    Thanks for all the info!

  4. OK Guitars says:

    All of the 80’s ES-335s had the short guard. the one on the left is a 59 which is why it’s worth the big bucks. No 80’s ES 335 is worth anywhere near that. Some folks seem to think the blonde 81-85s are worth over $3000 and they keep listing them (as high as $6000) and they never sell. There may be a sucker born every minute but they aren’t buying these.

  5. tgee says:

    Ahh, tat makes sense. I misunderstood – thought both in the pic were from the 80’s. I thnk I’ve decided that my first ES-335 will be one of the 1959 Historics, blonde, gloss finish. I’ll be on the lookout for a used one in perfect condition and a low price :). There was a VOS on ebay that didn’t sell, but the VOS doesn’t sit right with me. Maybe I need to get over that.

  6. OKguitars says:

    Your instincts are correct. Don’t get the VOS, it isn’t the same guitar. Get the Historic (59 or 63)-the ones with no serial number on the headstock-only on the orange label. The serial number should begin with A9XXXX for a 59 or A3XXXX for the 63 on the recent ones. I got my ’63 Block Historic on Ebay from a pawn shop for $2500 (I got lucky-they usually run over $3000).

  7. tgee says:

    Thanks for validating my thoughts on VOS. I’m sure I would be happy with either the 59 or 63 Historic, but I’m most interesred in blondes right now (in more ways than one, I suppose!), and I don’t think that’s avalable on the 63. Either way, I’ll be looking!

  8. Jose says:

    How are these compared to modern 59 Historics, what would you choose?

    Thanks in advance!

  9. OK Guitars says:

    I like the recent Historics-the ones that were built in the Nashville facility. From the late 90’s until 2009, they were great. I haven’t played a newer one. The 80’s guitars are a bit different tone-wise. They can be great players or just average. I’ve only had one or two that I didn’t like. There are a number of different variations. At least 2 body shapes-one is pretty accurate and the other is awful looking. The pickups are generally Shaws and are quite good if a little dark. I like to replace the 300K pots with 500K and I usually add a Faber ABR-1 a get rid of the Nashville bridge. Add a repro long 59 style pickguard and you’ve got yourself a great player and a real looker for well under $3K.

  10. David Kampmann says:

    Hello! I am the lucky and proud owner of a DOT reissue with the following serial number: 82466549. The guitar dater tells me, it was either made in Memphis or Nashville on the 3rd of september 1986. Thus, is it to be considered a post-Norlin model? Also, will it most probably have the cheap 300k potetniometers?

    Thank you.

  11. okguitars says:

    It is post Norlin. It is 86. 246 is the day of the year (I’m sure you did the math. I didn’t). I’m not sure when they stopped using 300K pots. I don’t see a lot of post 85 335’s.

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