Really Good 335. Cheap.

This is a very flamey 83. But it looks funny. This is the "stubby" version that I really think is ugly. They seem to be most common in 83 and 84 and mostly on designated "Custom Shop" versions. Most 81-85s have very accurate looking bodies. Look for those.

What’s good and cheap these days for a 335? You can find them for under $2000 pretty routinely but a lot of them will be from the Norlin Era (beer, cement) and that can be hit and miss. When the suits took over Gibson, building quality guitars was no longer job one. Or job two. making more guitars for less money was job one and cutting corners was job two. Job three might have been convincing people that Gibson still made quality instruments. History has spoken to that. Most of you who read me regularly know that I don’t like ES-335s that were built between 1969 and 1981. There are good ones from the era but it’s a crapshoot at best. My rule when it comes to 70’s guitars is this: If you can’t play it first or there isn’t a liberal return policy, don’t buy it. Many ES models from the 70s suffer from poor builds, cut corners, heavy woods and poor fit and finish. Despite all that, there are still some good ones out there. There are a number of models unique to the era that don’t get a lot of press and I’ve written about many of them-the ES-347, the ES-325, 320, 340, Artist, Pro and ES-369. There are good ones and there are bad ones (and there are really, really awful ones). Like I said, play before you buy. That brings me back, again, to the bright spot among the Norlin guitars. Good and cheap (and vintage). It’s hard to believe that the ES-335 dot reissue came out 31 years ago. 1981 seems like a few years ago to me. Think about this. Had you bought a 59 dot neck in 1990, it would have been the same age as a first year ES-335 dot reissue. I’m not saying that the 81 is going to rival the venerable 59 in another 20 years but considering they run about one tenth the price of a 59 (and less than a Historic), they really are a pretty good deal. The other thing about the last of the Norlin 335’s is that they aren’t all created equal. The first year dot neck reissue has one unique characteristic-it uses a Schaller bridge which looks kind of clunky but is a pretty good bridge with a lot of mass and good tone and sustain. Late 81’s and all subsequent dot reissues made during the Norlin Era (until 1986) have the Nashville bridge-also a perfectly good bridge but, again, a bit clunky looking if you’re used to seeing an ABR-1. All of the 81-85s have Shaw PAFs (except for a few that came with EMGs). These are very good sounding pickups with a real vintage vibe. The guitars also came with 300K pots which have what most feel is a detrimental effect on tone. I’m not sure why but I’ve changed out the harness on more than a few 81-85 335s and heard a marked difference. The guitar brightens up considerably. The neck tenon is smaller than it was during the “Golden Era” but the guitars have no problems with stability. Necks can  be three piece or one piece. Again, no problems with stability from either. I’ve been told the tops on some of these are birch-not maple. These two woods can be really hard to tell apart but birch is not usually figured and a lot of mid 80’s 335s are heavily flamed. So, if any of them are birch, they would be the plain ones. Plywood is not a tone wood, so I don’t think the makeup of the plywood is much of an issue.  Lastly, there were two distinct body shapes. One is very close to the original dot neck and the other isn’t. The one that isn’t is a narrower through the waist and has stubby little horns. Ugly, ugly iteration. Avoid it if you care (they play fine). The other last thing is that if you want to get one cheap and, by cheap, I mean under $2K, look for a red one or a sunburst. The blondes (and first years) command a premium and usually cost around $3000-$4000.  I think the 80’s sunburst is pretty awful looking but that’s just a matter of taste. The red is much more of a Ferrari red which can look pretty good. There are also black ones  (nice!) and a special edition pearlescent white one (really ugly, if you ask me).  I see sunbursts and reds routinely for $1600-$1900. Really good 335. Cheap.

1981 (first year) ES-335 dot reissue. Note the oddball bridge. It's big and heavy but it works pretty well. Gone by 82.

Can't see the difference in body shape? How about now? The one on the right is an 85 with a few mods-an ABR-1 and a big guard.

11 Responses to “Really Good 335. Cheap.”

  1. Chris says:

    Charlie, that bridge is actually not a Schaller. It’s a genuine Gibson-made bridge that was called a “Top-Adjust Tune-O-Matic,” and that was used briefly by Gibson around 1982 or thereabouts. A full description of the story of these bridges can be seen if you scroll to post #27 at the following link:

  2. Paul S says:

    Hi Charlie,

    why the different shapes? Did they have a few different ES forms that were actually different spec, or was it just the tolerance for error? I think you said there were even more shape variations through the years.

    Love the site!


  3. OK Guitars says:

    The forms apparently wore out over the years and, beyond that, they also kept finding ways to make them that cost less and had fewer human operations. Economics became a huge factor when Norlin took over in 1969 and nearly destroyed the brand forever. The brass at Gibson seem to be starting to do the same probably as a result of the poor economy. The difference is that they are also raising prices, often higher than the market will bear for certain artist models.

  4. OK Guitars says:

    I always thought they were made by Schaller. I just took one off and looked and there is no name anywhere on it. I coulda sworn I had pulled one years ago that said Schaller.

  5. Ray Wagstaff says:

    I have a 1981 Blonde Dot Re-Issue 335 in near mint condition. It also has original case and bill of sale. I am wondering what it is worth. Thanks, Ray.

  6. OK Guitars says:

    Retail on a really good 81 is a little over $3K. I’ve seen folks try to get a lot more but they don’t sell. First year reissue dot necks (81) get a little premium over later ones but the early ones have 3 piece necks which some people don’t like. A really clean one might get to $3500.

  7. Jonne says:

    I just bought a 81 cherry red Dot ES-335. The Gruhn guide tells these came first out “late 1981” Mine serial number dates late Aug 1981 but the Shaw pickups date Oct and Dec 1981. Do you guys know for sure that Gibson really shipped these dot-reissues before 1982? The soldering looks authentic on mine and/or is there any other explanation of this big delay between guitar and pickups? I’ve seen many case vice versa where pickups are few months older like in my 1981 Les Paul Heritage Standard 80 and which is very understandable. Also I checked old GP publications from late 81 and early 82 and I found the first Gibson ads picturing blond dot-reissue only in late spring issue (probably May-June 1982) – I know it’s not very scientific but just might support the idea.

  8. OK Guitars says:

    I’m not sure it makes much difference. The date coded guitars were almost certainly built in 81-why would you bother date coding the serial numbers if the date didn’t mean anything? Many guitars are built ove a rather long period of time due to the rise and fall of demand. I’ve had a lot of 81’s-at least a dozen of them and the earliest date code I can recall is May. I don’t remember the pickup codes but I also don’t remember them being out of line with the guitars date coded serial number. Gibson’s published ads and printed brochures are notoriously out of date with the previous year’s models showing up in the photos. This is probably because the new models weren’t ready at the time of publication (which would have preceded the “model year”.

  9. Marc says:

    Hi I found a kind of odd 81: Has the multi-piece maple neck, block inlays, serial makes it december 1981, TB, the Schaller Bridge and pat. Number pickups. Stamped Second. It plays & sounds great, but the dealer is asking $ 3k.
    Seems a little stiff to me. What are your thoughts?

  10. cgelber says:

    If it’s blonde the price is ok. If it’s sunburst or red, it’s very high.

  11. Marc says:

    It’s a sunburst. Fantastic action & sound. Too bad.

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