- Learn the differences between several types of ES-style guitars
- Discover which model is best for your style and sound
- Learn what sets semi-hollow body guitars apart from solid body ones
Gibson’s semi-hollowbody guitars have a sound all their own and were big players in creating some of the best guitar tones in music history.
From rock to country to blues, there really isn’t any other type of guitar that can replicate what they do. But what makes them sound so different from other guitars like a Casino, Les Paul or Strat?
The thing that sets semi-hollow-body guitars apart from other styles is that they straddle the line between hollow and solid bodies.
The true differentiator is a solid block that runs through the center of the body. This creates two side “wing” areas that are hollow, hence the term “semi-hollow body”.
There are violin-style F-holes over the hollow parts of the guitar body which help with tonal projection and resonance.
While you could retrofit single-coil pickups into them, most come off the production line with humbuckers.
Some do feature a type of single-coil pickup called P-90s, which sound absolutely amazing no matter what type of guitar they’re paired with.
Different ES-type guitars
Chuck Berry, Eric Clapton, Noel Gallagher, Peter Frampton, Dave Grohl, BB King, Alex Lifeson. Some of the biggest names in music history have all rocked one, and some exclusively.
The ES-line is one of the most admired and misunderstood ranges in the Gibson electric guitars family.
The ES series of guitars (“Electric Spanish”) have complete vintage Gibson appeal. There are multiple variations in the family.
In this article, we’ll focus on a few of the most popular, that offer different flavors of a similar concept and aesthetic.
There are some key qualities of ES-style guitars that makes them appeal to certain players over a traditional solid-bodied guitar.
They’re a fit for almost every musical style, and make some of the best blues guitars you can find.
Here we’re going to do a rundown of four of the most popular ES models so you can see which might be the best option for you.
With impeccable sounds across its wide-ranging tonal palette, the ES-335 can be found in the hands of jazz, blues, and rock players all over the globe.
- Has been one of the best around since 1958
- Quality tonewoods
- Amazing tones
You’ve seen plenty of popular guitar heroes swinging them, and for good reason!
The ES-335 is hands-down the king when it comes to semi-hollow guitars.
Introduced in 1958, it’s by far the most identifiable model in this guitar family. As the first commercial semi-hollowbody design, it set the bar for every other model that would come after it.
Gibson has predominantly kept this model intact throughout the years, so buying one of these today will give you all the charm and mojo that the oldies had.
The inlays are slightly different on every ES model. When it comes to the 335, they are pearloid dot/block inlays.
The 335 was the granddaddy that became the template for pretty much every semi-hollowbody guitar that came after it.
Pickups are another area where each variation can slightly differ. 335s generally use Calibrated T-Type humbuckers. On the Gibson models, the control assembly is also hand-wired.
They also use Vintage Deluxe tuners with Keystone buttons, and the ABR-1 bridge with stop bar tailpiece helps a ton with tuning stability.
If you’re looking for a semi-hollowbody that can cover a very wide range of styles, the 335 should be your starting point.
- Amazing tones
- Fairly lightweight
- Can pull off a variety of styles
- Reasonably affordable
- Some players might find it a bit bulky
- Feedback can be a concern
The Gibson ES-339 is loved by players who need semi-hollow tone but don't want a guitar with too much bulk.
- Delivers vintage Gibson tone
- Light and small
The 339 is similar to the 335, but it has a smaller, more modern, and ergonomic body style. Some players feel that the 335 can be bulky and a bit awkward, so the 339 offers a good solution to that.
Being much closer to a Les Paul body feel means the ES-339 is the perfect choice for guitarists looking for the sound and general feel of a 335, but who want something a little lighter and slimmer.
It’s offered with two different neck profiles, the slimmer 30/60 or the thicker ’59. Despite what thickness you prefer both come in a C-shape. It still has the pearloid dot neck inlays and rosewood fretboard.
Tuning stability is a concern for everyone, and the Grover Rotomatics provides that on the ES-339. It’s got the standard ABR-1 bridge and stop bar tailpiece that Gibson is known for.
The pickups are a little different than the 335. Depending on the model it could sport 57 Classic+ humbuckers with Alnico II magnets, the Memphis Historic Spec pickups, or Burstbuckers.
The electronics are still hand-wired.
Another thing that sets the 339 apart is the “Memphis Tone Circuit”. This means it has the 50’s wiring scheme, so there is no treble bleed cap.
Usually, when you roll the volume down, you’ll notice the treble frequencies can roll off and sound a bit muddy, this circuit allows the high-end content to bypass the volume and remain intact.
- Small, comfortable profile,
- Might be the best choice if you want a semi-hollow that isn’t too cumbersome
- Wiring scheme may not suit every player’s style
The Gibson Memphis ES-349 semi-hollowbody electric guitar combines big semi-hollow tone, a smaller body size, and ES-345 appointments into a single instrument.
- Killer vintage tone
- Streamlined profile
- Thick neck makes it strong and stable
The 349 has similar dimensions to the 339 but is scaled down even further. Think of it like a double-cut Les Paul with a semi-hollow body.
It does have its own thing going on, with split parallelogram inlays, gold hardware, and multi-ply binding.
Once again, the pickups are different. The ES-349 sports MHS humbuckers. These give you the tried-and-true PAF tones that include mismatched coils and relic windings.
The neck is Teflon coated and has a larger diameter, brass anchor, and bigger washer. It’s also thicker, which gives it greater stability against things such as humidity and climate factors.
The bone nut is icing on the cake.
It features a classic aesthetic too. These include gold plated hardware, three-ply top binding, and an F-hole emblem engraved truss rod cover.
- Streamlined profile
- Smaller body shape
- Not quite as prone to feedback
- Smaller body profile
- Might not suit all semi-hollow body enthusiasts
From blues to jazz to rock, there’s just no substitute for the vibrant tone and supreme playing comfort of the Gibson Custom 1959 ES-355 Reissue.
- Jaw-dropping craftsmanship, quality, and tone
- Reissue Of a legendary electric guitar
- Handcrafted by Gibson
Billed as “the king of the ES models” the 355 might be best known for being Chuck Berry’s guitar of choice. It came out the year after the 335 and was meant to be a companion to it.
You can still get them, but they’re pretty exclusive and only available from the Gibson Custom Shop. And due to the refined process that it takes to manufacture them, they are fairly expensive.
But the craftsmanship, quality, and tone you can pull from them are nothing short of jaw-dropping. There’s a reason they’ve remained so popular for almost 75 years.
The modern version is made by the Gibson Custom Shop. It has Custombucker Alnico III pickups, and individual tone and volume controls for each pickup.
This makes it a perfect representation of the “golden age” of Gibson’s tone. The feedback-resistant design also helps it cope with more modern tones and setups.
- Masterfully built
- Great range of tones
Which Gibson ES is the Best?
There are a few factors at play here. Body size is one of the biggest. The 335 is much bigger, making the 339 better for people used to electric guitars.
But by far the most popular by far is the ES-335.
What is the difference between a Gibson ES-335 and ES 345?
The 345 is one model not covered here, but it’s worth noting how it differs. Most of their differences are aesthetic. There are some bigger differences in how they’re wired as the 345 has an option for stereo output, while the 335 is mono.
What artists used the Gibson ES?
So many! As stated above Chuck Berry, Eric Clapton (335), Noel Gallagher, Peter Frampton, Dave Grohl (335 and Trini Lopez), BB King, Alex Lifeson (335).
As you can see, most favor the 335. But that just means it’s the best for their style, not necessarily yours.
Which ES model is right for me?
What size of body do you want? If you want something slimmer, the 339 is a great starting point.
What type of wiring and pickup configuration works for you? Most come with humbuckers, but you can custom order them with single coils.
They’re all fantastic models that offer a similar starting point, but with some “X factor” elements that set them apart.
Up next, check out ES-335 vs Telecaster: What’s The Difference (+ Which To Buy)