What’s the Attraction?

Looking like Gene Wilder has retired to the farm, Elvin Bishop knows what guitar looks good up on stage (even if he's not entirely sure what outfit looks good up there). That's Red Dog in his hands, a 1960 345.

OK, so I like the 335/345 and 355. I like SGs and Les Pauls and Strats too but what is it about the ES series that keeps me coming back and writing about them week in and week out? After  all, it’s a guitar-not a lifestyle. I didn’t expect to be able to sustain writing about these guitars for this long. I think I’ve done something like 170 posts with some, but not much, repetition. I keep thinking about adding one of my other favorites to the mix but I keep coming up with more to write about. On top of that, I have compelling reasons, at least for now, to stick to 335s, 345s and 355s. Mostly, it’s the design. It’s brilliant. It’s attractive to the point of being iconic. The Strat has that too and maybe even the LP. But there’s more to it than that. ES’s are innovative, versatile and consistently good (well from 58-68 anyway). There is something hugely appealing to me about symmetry. That’s probably why I also like the early symmetrical solid Epiphones made until around 63. SG’s are somewhat symmetrical as well but the design has too many flaws-the most obvious being the fact that the necks fall off after 40 years or so. You could blame the glue but I think it’s the design that’s the problem.  I think Ted McCarty owes a huge debt to Les Paul for the design of the 335-after all, the 335 is really just a more sophisticated “log”.  But it works-from the high fret access to the light weight to the broad tonal palette to the ergonomics. This is a marvel of modern design. I can find a design flaw in almost every guitar ever made. If there is one aspect of the 335 I find exasperating, it would have to be the narrow range of the ABR-1. These are very difficult guitars to intonate. They have to be spot on or they sound awful. I don’t know why it is there are certain guitars that will sound fine even when they are way out of adjustment. Fenders are like that-especially Jazzmasters and Jaguars. A 60’s Gretsch Gent has only a bar bridge with no adjustment at all and yet I can get one intonated with my eyes closed. When I walk into Sam Ash or GC to fool around with the new stuff, I’m always more likely to stick with a guitar that sounds like its in tune when I pick it up or one that I can tune easily and not have to fool around with. Some just won’t tune. I’ll point out one other flaw that seems to permeate the whole Gibson line from the 60’s and that is nuts that are too tightly cut.  But, back to the subject at hand, the 335 is just so appealing that I don’t ever tire of them. Every time another one shows up at my door, it’s like Christmas morning. I can’t wait to play it and see how it compares to the others. Is it twangy or smooth? Does it have that killer neck pickup that will sing if you get your settings just so? Does it sustain forever above the 12th fret like so many of them do? That makes it sound like they are inconsistent but I look at it differently. Each one seems to have a great strength. That would imply that each one also has a weakness but that just isn’t true. It’s like there is this high standard of excellence that nearly every one of them meets and then, above that, there is some aspect of the guitar that is just extraordinary and puts a big smile on your face. I don’t think there is a guitar in the world that looks better on stage than a big ol’ red 335, 345 or 355. Even from the nosebleed seats, you know what the man is playing. If you have never played one from the 50’s or 60’s, see if you can borrow one or go to your local vintage guy and just play it. You’ll be hooked faster than a largemouth bass to a wooly bugger.

4 Responses to “What’s the Attraction?”

  1. Michael says:

    Re the intonation problem, is it really that serious? If the problem is the ABR(and not the nut or sthing else), is there a another type of bridge? Thx

  2. OK Guitars says:

    There are a few solutions. A heavier gauge string will be more likely to be within the range of the bridge. I think 11’s work well on 335s. Tens can be a problem-usually the G string. The problem is usually that the saddles can’t go back far enough so the string intonates sharp. You can turn the saddles around so the flat side faces awayy from the fingerboard-that gets you a little more length. You can also move the bridge back but that requires drilling new holes which is a bad idea. You could use a longer travel bridge like a Nashville type but it will look wrong. Out of close to 250 ES’s that I’ve owned and intonated, I’ve only had one that was completely out of range and it had been renecked. So, no, the problem isn’t that serious but you would be amazed at how poorly intonated the guitars that I get are. Even those from pro players.

  3. Tim G says:

    How about using a wound G string?

  4. OK Guitars says:

    Yes, that helps a lot if you like a wound G string. They were made for a wound G.

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