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Gibson ES-339 Semi-Hollow Guitar


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Gibson ES-339 Semi-Hollowbody Guitar ($1,799 street)

Gibson has been making headlines recently through two high-tech innovations—the slick-looking, self-tuning Robot Guitar and the technically deep (if gawkily named) HD.6X-Pro Guitar System. But the Custom Shop division of Gibson recently introduced another guitar that showed innovation from within the low-tech arena. They revisited the ES-335 semi-hollowbody by addressing its most-questioned design choices: the large size and top-mounted output jack.

The result is the ES-339, which is something like an ES-335—but with a smaller body and a side-mounted jack—yet altogether a different guitar and a unique instrument in its own right. I’ve had two review models in my possession for some time now, an Antique Red with a ’59 neck and a Light Caramel Burst with the 30/60 neck. I can say that these guitars have really grown on me—meaning in appeal; fortunately, their size has remained the same. That leads to my most important (and perhaps controversial) point: They are much more in scale to my way of thinking of “guitars” than the 335. More on that below.

339_largeARD.jpg

This is the Antique Red finish. It has a vintage look and a translucent finish that allows the maple top to show through. The top is a nice piece of wood, too, that the photo doesn't do complete justice to here. It's not the highly figured stuff you'd see on a $6k guitar, but the grain is interesting and attractive.
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The ES-339 features a laminated maple top, back, sides, and centerblock. It has a mahogany neck with a rosewood fingerboard, and a nicotine cream binding that looks great (except when it comes in contact with the shock-white nut--the photos don't reveal this) and wraps over the fret ends for a smooth feel when you come up over the side (say, to use your left-hand thumb in fretting the low E).

The electronics feature ’57 Classic Humbuckers with a three-way switch, two tones and two volumes, and a Memphis Tone Circuit—500 kOhm audio pots that prevents the highs from rolling off as you turn down the volume.

The guitar is lighter than a 335, yet rings out quite loud (which might be attributed to its light lacquer coating, as Gibson suggests). Whether it’s louder is hard to tell, but it was different from the 2004 ES-335 I had on hand. Rounding out the hardware are Kluson tuners (a nice touch) and a Tune-O-Matic bridge.

Gibson offers two neck profiles, as mentioned: a fatter one called the ’59, and a slimmer, more-low-profile version called the 30/60. The deeper ’59 is rounded and C-shaped, and definitely requires more strength and gripping power than the 30/60, which has the slim feel of an early ’60s Gibson, with an extra .030 inches of depth (thus the name 30/60). The 30/60 is a faster neck, with a “rounded corner” or D feel, and is not as smooth as the ’59 as far as a consistent feel all the way around the neck. But it would be the better choice for someone with smaller hands (who might be entertaining the 339 for the same reason), or who was looking for a faster neck. It’s not quite as thin as a ’60s ES-335, though, but this helps it to sustain—an important consideration when you make the body smaller.

My blues and rhythm friends liked the ’59, describing it as “more organic.” My rock and lead friend preferred the 30/60 for its fast feel and for its ease of playing widely spread intervals and full-fingered chords. Both guitars ring out wonderfully on the acoustic side, and don’t sound appreciably different for their respective neck choices.

Other than the necks, the only other options to consider are the finishes. The ES-339 comes with a choice of three: Antique Red, Antique Vintage Sunburst, and Light Caramel Burst. I have the AR and the LCB, and both are beautiful, with their translucence showing off well the wood grain of the top wood, but the LCB is drop-dead gorgeous. The specs describe the finish as “applied with a light, even touch to resonate naturally,” and it certainly does appear the lacquer is on the light side. I certainly don’t like my lacquers looking like those polished rocks you see at beachside souvenir shops, but I hope this will age well and not check or over time, with the changing seasons and inevitable ding assaults. It definitely is more reminiscent of the vintage style than the modern “hard candy” boutique look.

The Light Caramel Burst:
339_largeLCB.jpg

The Antique Vintage Sunburst (below):
339_largeTSB.jpg

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Though this guitar is smaller, the scale length is the same as Gibson’s other standard guitars: 24-3/4". It feels well proportioned, and of course when viewed in isolation, it looks just like another ES series guitar. So I wanted to see just how different it was. I compared it to an ES-335. Here are two photos of the guitars side by side:

339_335_2.jpg
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339_335.jpg

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Pretty subtle, the design differences. (Though the size difference is quite dramatic, don't you think?)

What I notice most is the horns: they’re slightly pointier, and they have a steeper top contour. I actually like both qualities, and may even prefer them to the 335, but of course that’s just a personal aesthetic preference.

What is more objective is the scale of this guitar: meaning the size of it compared to the size of its player (in this case, me). Because I’m 5'7", I’ve always felt a little funny about playing a 335 (and its ilk, like the ES-355, a pre-Varitone version of which I still own).

Actually, I felt fine playing it, but when I would see photos of myself onstage or in the studio, it looked like I was holding a clown guitar. I noticed that even in taller people’s hands, the 335 still looks big. Ditto for women, who are, on average, shorter than men. But the “full-length-mirror-check” really puts things into perspective, and the side-by-side placement in the photo shows why: The 339 is significantly smaller than the 335 (the 339’s lower bout is less than an inch wider than a Les Paul’s). Though there have been other attempts at smaller semi-hollowbody's (there was the LP version), none have them seem to have clicked the way this one has. And yet, it's clearly a derivative of a larger-scale guitar (by Gibson's own admission), not a clean-sheet re-design.

I think Gibson is to be commended for really making a difference here, rather than making the new guitar a wee bit smaller. That’s why I said that this guitar looks scaled down, but after you play it for a while, you really realize it’s a different instrument.

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I believe most would agree it's more than "a little more money."

Collings I-35: $5,500
Gibson ES-339: $1,799

Not really a fair comparison.

But you raise an interesting point, one that I haven't covered yet (except with a passing reference regarding the top wood in my caption to the Antique Red photo above):

The ES-339 streets at $1800.

Whenever you evaluate any guitar, you have to consider its price as part of the equation. So my impressions (favorable thus far) have been tempered the fact that this guitar's price is quite reasonable when you consider the other stuff coming out of Gibson and especially the Custom Shop. In electric guitars, once you start taking wood out of the middle, things get pretty pricey.

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The ES 335 is one of person favs that I own, I have seen the ads for the ES-339, which looks closer to the size a a Les Paul. The biggest hurdle of the ES 335 is the size, especially when some of us come from Les Paul and SG territory.

Either way the 339 looks very sweet, and I personally don't think the street price is bad either. Now on that note and not to take the wind out of the sails of anything Gibson did on this one, but The Heritage Prospect has been around for years. With this being said, when I test drove both the Heritage and the Gibson ES 335 I choose the the Gibson. I have zero regrets, and personally prefer it to my Les Paul and my SG.

I think when folks look at the ES 335 they think jazz box, which is to bad, cause it offers a lot more and delivers some sweet classic tones. Maybe with a slightly smaller body style folks that play more rock oriented music will look at this one.

Would even mind test driving that 339 myself. So "the powers that be at Gibson" if you're out there just give me a call and I'll tell you where to send one. Oh my Birthday is also just around the corner too.


Mikeo

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Quote Originally Posted by Mikeo View Post
I think when folks look at the ES 335 they think jazz box, which is to bad, cause it offers a lot more and delivers some sweet classic tones.
I agree. People equate "big bodies" with "jazz," though Chuck Berry, Freddie King, Otis Rush, Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour, Mike McCready, Eddie Vedder, and B.B. King have all done fine by the ES series (and that includes cameos by Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan!).


But ES's large silhouette was originally based on the hollowbody, unamplified jazzboxes of yore, when you needed a large resonator--even though the ES went shallow in the middle (and then put centerblocks of various sizes in the body to further "solidify" it). So those "jazz associations" are not without merit. (I mean, who doesn't love a Super 400? Beautiful to behold on the rack, but when you strap one on, mercy, it's gargantuan -- oh, and expensive.)

When I first went to a Les Paul, after my first go 'round with a 335, I said, "Now this is a guitar I can get on top of!" But it was just so dang heavy. smile.gif


Quote Originally Posted by Mikeo View Post
Maybe with a slightly smaller body style folks that play more rock oriented music will look at this one.
Good observation, Mikeo, and a concept I'm sure was not lost on the Gibson folks.
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I'm with you on the heavy! I had a 335 reissue and found it too heavy and also had to do some fret tweaking. I bought the 339 a month ago and am in heaven!! This guitar can allmost do every sound out there...is very comfortable sitting or standing and that 30/60 neck feels perfect. The workmanship is top notch too...Gibson must have been listening!!

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Quote Originally Posted by Joe Vocht View Post
I'm with you on the heavy! I had a 335 reissue and found it too heavy and also had to do some fret tweaking. I bought the 339 a month ago and am in heaven!! This guitar can allmost do every sound out there...is very comfortable sitting or standing and that 30/60 neck feels perfect. The workmanship is top notch too...Gibson must have been listening!!

I'm glad you're happy with your choice, Joe. I should point out that my comment about "heavy" was directed at the LP, and you seem to be referring to the 335. But of course you're right: the 339 is not only smaller than the 335, it's lighter too. Just look again at my pictures above where they're side by side, and note how much more "belly mass" there is on the 335!
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Something 335ish is on the top of my guitar wish list, and the 339 is very interesting at $1799.

The one concern I have is the placement of the jack on the rim. I almost always play seated, and from the photos it looks like the jack would be on top of my right thigh.

Jon, did you play it sitting down, and was that an issue?

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Here's a completely amateur review I gave my LCB 30/60 ES339 upon receipt at the end of November/early December. I think some will find it interesting and lots of pictures inside.

http://acapella.harmony-central.com/....php?t=1820721

After a few months of playing it, I continue to fall deeper and deeper in love with this amazing guitar. Highly recommended to all!

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Quote Originally Posted by Singin' Dave View Post
Here's a completely amateur review I gave my LCB 30/60 ES339 upon receipt at the end of November/early December. I think some will find it interesting and lots of pictures inside.

http://acapella.harmony-central.com/....php?t=1820721

After a few months of playing it, I continue to fall deeper and deeper in love with this amazing guitar. Highly recommended to all!
That's a beautiful guitar, congrats!thumb.gif
I just bought a Collings I-35, that 339 was what I was waiting to try, unfortunely my shop was told the original release was just for the big Musicians Friend type dealers and the "smaller brick and mortars" would get them later. Now they told my shop that the release to their type shops would be later, unspecified I think. I see what the smaller dealers go through with their required bulk purchase...I'm out because I'm not buying any Gibson on the internet.
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Quote Originally Posted by Joe Vocht

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I'm with you on the heavy! I had a 335 reissue and found it too heavy and also had to do some fret tweaking. I bought the 339 a month ago and am in heaven!! This guitar can allmost do every sound out there...is very comfortable sitting or standing and that 30/60 neck feels perfect. The workmanship is top notch too...Gibson must have been listening!!

 

The 335 reissues are all quite heavy IMO. The originals made in the 60s were much lighter... not sure what is up with that, cheaper woods I guess? Some new 335s I've played weigh as much as a solid body.
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I have owned a '66 ES-335 since '68. I bought it from a grade school buddy along with a '66 Deluxe Reverb and paid the handsome sum of $200. for both. Luckily, I still have the guitar, but somewhere along in the confusion of my youth, I parted ways with that smokin' little amp. i was too green to know what I had there. I still love my 335 to this day. At 5'9" the guitar feels fine to me, but it's been with me so long, I guess I wouldn't know any different. I have a '73 hollow body Les Paul Signature as well. About identical in size, the most noticeable difference being the lower horn is shaped like a L.P. The electronics are quite unusual as well. My biggest 'fit' problem with these guitars is not body size, but rather the width of the neck. I have an xl or xxl glove size, and that's a lot of hand on such narrow necks.
While I am quite curious to see this new model, and have been since I first read about it some time ago, I don't know that I am expecting to be won over when I finally get one in my hands. The reason being, over the last several years every time I have looked at a new Gibson product, I was shocked by the build quality, or more accurately, the lack of. Even a '92 Custom Shop L.P. Custom that I purchased was so flawed that Gibson sent me a new one. That one was worse. File marks and score marks in the neck binding, areas of the neck binding that didn't get any lacquer and are stark white as compared to the rest of the antique white butter color of the guitar. File mars in the fingerboard. Score marks in the neck binding overlapping the fret ends, and on and on. At least the neck didn't come loose and the paint crack within a week like the first one. Other Gibsons I have looked at in shops, or ones purchased by friends, were not much better or even worse. In todays' world of technology, and with the fierce competition in the industry, I would think Gibson would be more diligent and demanding. But somehow they manage to press on. In spite of the fact that Asian factories are building incredibly precise instruments for a fraction of the cost.
What words of encouragement would you have for a doubting Thomas like me, Jon. Is their attention to detail on the money with this one?

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Quote Originally Posted by otaypanky View Post
I have owned a '66 ES-335 since '68. I bought it from a grade school buddy along with a '66 Deluxe Reverb and paid the handsome sum of $200. for both. Luckily, I still have the guitar, but somewhere along in the confusion of my youth, I parted ways with that smokin' little amp. i was too green to know what I had there. I still love my 335 to this day. At 5'9" the guitar feels fine to me, but it's been with me so long, I guess I wouldn't know any different. I have a '73 hollow body Les Paul Signature as well. About identical in size, the most noticeable difference being the lower horn is shaped like a L.P. The electronics are quite unusual as well. My biggest 'fit' problem with these guitars is not body size, but rather the width of the neck. I have an xl or xxl glove size, and that's a lot of hand on such narrow necks.
While I am quite curious to see this new model, and have been since I first read about it some time ago, I don't know that I am expecting to be won over when I finally get one in my hands. The reason being, over the last several years every time I have looked at a new Gibson product, I was shocked by the build quality, or more accurately, the lack of. Even a '92 Custom Shop L.P. Custom that I purchased was so flawed that Gibson sent me a new one. That one was worse. File marks and score marks in the neck binding, areas of the neck binding that didn't get any lacquer and are stark white as compared to the rest of the antique white butter color of the guitar. File mars in the fingerboard. Score marks in the neck binding overlapping the fret ends, and on and on. At least the neck didn't come loose and the paint crack within a week like the first one. Other Gibsons I have looked at in shops, or ones purchased by friends, were not much better or even worse. In todays' world of technology, and with the fierce competition in the industry, I would think Gibson would be more diligent and demanding. But somehow they manage to press on. In spite of the fact that Asian factories are building incredibly precise instruments for a fraction of the cost.
What words of encouragement would you have for a doubting Thomas like me, Jon. Is their attention to detail on the money with this one?
I have a 66 as well, when compared to today's 335s I'm always disappointed. "Orange peel, file marks, bad cut nuts...those things don't change the fact the Gibson's still sound good. Before this thread goes south, I'd like to state I bought a new LP Standard a while back and other than a some "orange peel" finish flaws, it's perfect (I love the chambered body redface.gif).
BTW- My 66 with Bisby weights 8.4 lbs.
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Quote Originally Posted by barndream View Post
The one concern I have is the placement of the jack on the rim. I almost always play seated, and from the photos it looks like the jack would be on top of my right thigh.

Jon, did you play it sitting down, and was that an issue?
I play mostly sitting down, too, and it's not a problem if you put the waist of the guitar on your right thigh, as nature intended. I don't have tree-trunk legs, but the jack is a mile away--not even close, even if I were, as Hartley Peavey likes to say, "A big ol' hairy-legged country boy." So it's a non issue.

Also, if you balance the waist on your left leg, classical-style, the jack (and protruding cord) falls conveniently between your legs. The only time the jack and cord do become a problem is if you like to balance the rim right on top of your right leg. I sometimes do this, but only momentarily (like when working out a fingering up high on the neck), and I don't need to be plugged in.
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Quote Originally Posted by otaypanky View Post
While I am quite curious to see this new model, and have been since I first read about it some time ago, I don't know that I am expecting to be won over when I finally get one in my hands. The reason being, over the last several years every time I have looked at a new Gibson product, I was shocked by the build quality, or more accurately, the lack of.
Yes, every guitar is an individual creation, and for $1800 and with "Gibson" on the headstock, you should expect perfection. Fortunately, even if you buy over the Internet, you can exchange the guitar.


Quote Originally Posted by otaypanky View Post
Even a '92 Custom Shop L.P. Custom that I purchased was so flawed that Gibson sent me a new one. That one was worse. File marks and score marks in the neck binding, areas of the neck binding that didn't get any lacquer and are stark white as compared to the rest of the antique white butter color of the guitar. File mars in the fingerboard. Score marks in the neck binding overlapping the fret ends, and on and on. At least the neck didn't come loose and the paint crack within a week like the first one. ...
What words of encouragement would you have for a doubting Thomas like me, Jon. Is their attention to detail on the money with this one?
Wow. Sounds like you've had more than your share of bad luck. I can say is this: the guitar is worth the money, and I can say that because the two I received (and they're not hand picked, they're sent right off to the reviewer in the closed box) were impeccable. If they weren't, I'd tell you. And if I bought one and it wasn't perfect, I'd exchange it. If that one wasn't perfect either, I'd abandon the "sight unseen" approach and buy it from the showroom floor directly. (As guitarists, we're lucky in that we can assess a guitar very quickly by looking at it--unlike, say, the automobile shopper.)

But inherently--that is, without a flaw introduced in the realization of the ideal--the guitar is worth it. But you have to love the 335 and you have to be attracted to a slightly smaller body size. As I said, I used to see pictures of myself with a 335 and always cringed at the size of the guitar in relation to my body. This is much more scale to my frame.

I'm also liking the guitar for its own sake, and not just as a "scaled-down-335." The pickups reveal that the sound is different. Brighter in the bridge pickup, and not necessarily superior to the 335, but different. I ended up lowering it slightly, and I like the sound better. I think this guitar might appeal to a younger rock player who won't necessarily have the 335 as a reference.

Hey, I noticed your '66 doesn't have a stop tailpiece. Another reason to consider the 339.
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Thanks for the reply there, Jon. Surprisingly, I get nice sustain with that trapeze tailpiece. I was curious when that I first saw the hollowbody LP too. I just like the more organic feel of a semi-hollow. Beside the 335 and the '73 LP Signature hollowbody, I'm lucky enough to have found an Epiphone LP Sig. hollowbody some years back. Compared to the original, the model is also downsized a tad, but probably not as much as the difference you showed in your pics of the 339. The slightly smaller body is instantly comfortable, and seems every bit as full sounding as it's older brother. I don't have a full pic of it handy, but this may give you an idea of the body shape if you haven't seen one.
DSCF0186.jpg

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Quote Originally Posted by otaypanky View Post
Beside the 335 and the '73 LP Signature hollowbody, I'm lucky enough to have found an Epiphone LP Sig. hollowbody some years back. I don't have a full pic of it handy, but this may give you an idea of the body shape if you haven't seen one.

I'm impressed. You must be the only person in the world who has room in his collection (let alone his life!) for a 335, an LP Sig. hollowbody, a 339, AND an Epi LP hollowbody!

You're obviously a connoisseur on the subject, so where do YOU think the 339 rates? (Keep in mind it's a Gibson CS issue and the $1800 street price.) Curious ...
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Room in my life? Beside my wonderful wife, they ARE my life : )
You have a great website Jon. And I can see you a quite a well rounded fellow as well. It's funny, I had just written someone on here for a suggestion for a learning aid to help me become more adept at using my newly acquired Live 6. I jokingly asked if he knew of a "LIve 6 for Dummies". I howled when I went to your page !
Living here in south central Pennsylvania is wonderful. Until you want to get a hold of something out of the ordinary musically speaking. I had to drive 200 miles round trip for my last Strat. My most local G.C. didn't even have the bread and butter Deluxe Reverb Re-Issue for what must have been 6 months. So as much as I want to try one of these out, I'm not holding out any great hopes of being able to play one unless I drive a couple of hours to Philly or out of state. The formula seems right for sure. The price point seems fair, assuming the build quality is as good as the ones you have played. And I'm convinced the smaller body will sound as full as it's larger sibling. For me, the stop bar tail piece would be a nice change too. Spring will be here soon and I have a Ducati that hopefully will be finding a new home, so having the coin might become a reality. It looks like the stars are lining up ~ All I will need to do is locate one ~ lol

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I'm 6'4" and most guitars don't fit me when I'm playing them sitting down.

I happen to love the sound of a Les Paul but even at a gig while playing standing I actually had an ole geezer approach me years ago in one of the "animal" clubs and ask me "Is that some kinda 'lectric mandolin?".... It was a les paul.

Personally I take points off for "downsizing". For this reason alone I have never been interested in say a PRS for example. As they seem even smaller than a Paul.

For my money, they got it perfect with the 335 and monkeydiddling with it...well I don't see it as progress. But people do love anything new and different and it probably helps spur the economy ...I'm not interested.

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