ES-335 vs Telecaster (Differences & Which To Buy)

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  • Learn the history of two iconic Fender and Gibson guitars
  • Find out what makes ES-335 and Telecaster better than most contemporary axes
  • Rock, blues, jazz, or pop? Find the guitar that suits your playing and writing style

Fender and Gibson have revolutionized the world of guitar making (and playing) by constantly competing with each. This healthy race resulted in numerous top-tier guitars that musicians from all styles have grown to love. Even though many people own an ES-335 and at least one Telly, most guitarists tend to pick a side in this “conflict.”

Those in the Gibson camp hold ES-335 as the ultimate jazz & rock guitar ever made, while Fender fans point at the exceptional versatility of the Telecaster as its edge over Gibson’s ES-335. As someone who’s had the fortune of playing on both, I agree with both statements but I would also say they are very different.

If you’re unsure which guitar (or brand) is best for you, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, I will summarize the similarities and differences between ES-335 and Telecaster guitars before declaring the winner, so let’s begin.

ES-335 vs Telecaster: Who Wins?

In short, Gibson’s ES-335 is a better all-around choice for players seeking a specific sound and don’t mind paying a small fortune for it. On the downside, the ES-335 series is home to only two models, and the dimensions of these guitars aren’t too beginner-friendly. 

Individual Telecaster models may look pale in comparison to the two ES-335s, but you have the option of cherry-picking the model that suits your playing style and sonic preferences, unlike with Gibson. To top it all, even the most expensive Telly is more affordable than the cheapest Gibson ES-335.

As for the answer to “who wins?”, my vote goes to Telecaster. As a fan of metal and rock, I gravitate more toward Gibson guitars, especially ES-335. However, having more models to pick from means that you have a significantly higher chance of choosing the model that’s right for you.

ES-335 vs Telecaster: Breaking it Down

Telecaster and ES-335 models are the cream of the crop when it comes to boutique guitars; surprisingly enough, they do not share too many similarities between each other aside from sounding great and offering tremendous bang for the buck.

In this section, I’ll explain in detail what sets Tellys apart from ES-335 to give you insight into how each model performs.

ES-335 & Telecaster: History

Telecaster is older than Gibson’s ES-335, but only by a few years. The prototype for the first Telly was in the making for almost two decades; the process was helmed by none other than Leo Fender and a team of artisan guitar builders who worked on a revolutionary solid-body guitar.

The first Telly was made in 1950; it was a blond single-pickup guitar made of maple & ash tonewoods. 

Around the same time, Gibson was primarily focused on hollow-body axes. Pre-50s Gibson guitars were famous for their naturally distorted tone and exceptional vulnerability to static interference at high volumes, so Gibson and Les Paul gave solid-bodied guitars a shot.

This proved too sharp of a turn, so the company tried to find an in-between solution, and ES-335 came to be – a compromise between the wild & loud hollow-bodied axes and tame but thin solid-bodied Gibsons. It’s the first semi-hollow model in the company’s catalog, featuring a maple & poplar construction.

Sound Quality

Fender Telecaster

The Telecaster launched a musical revolution when it was released. Quickly adopted by working guitarists who were enamored with its trend-setting sound, feel and unique style, the Telecaster laid the foundation for modern country, blues and even heavy metal.

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One of the main reasons why Gibson abandoned its focus on hollow-body models is that Les Paul wasn’t too satisfied with how erratic these guitars could sometimes sound. Loud mid-tier amps could barely handle them, and the ambient had to be perfect for the guitar’s tone not to break up into pieces.

Years of experiments, research, and investments led to the iconic tone of ES-335 we love today. The maple tonewood gave it the much-needed clarity, although it cut a bit of its sustain. This instantly made the earliest ES-335 great for jazz players that wanted a controllable guitar with as few sonic surprises in store as possible.

Versatility-wise, ES-335 can fit into any rig, playing, or writing style. Its sound is quite warm, and due to premium quality tonewoods, it “embraces” rather than struggles with feedback and natural distortion. 

The American Original ‘50s Telecaster is more or less the same today as it was over half a century ago. The combination of ash & maple tonewoods gives it a distinctly bright, highly pronounced tone. 

It’s still a “blonde” guitar with a single pickup, so it’s not tonally as versatile as ES-335. None of the Original series Tellys sport a dual pickup system; the American Vintage models are equipped with two pickups while sporting more or less the same specs as the Originals.

Interested in more Gibson models? Check out Gibson ES-335 vs 339 vs 349 vs 355 (Differences & Which To Buy)


The dimensions of a guitar play an important role when it comes to performance, especially for gigging and touring musicians. The fabled Gibson LP aesthetics grace the ES-335 guitar, but they make it a bit unwieldy and difficult for beginners and people unaccustomed to playing big, heavy guitars.

Telecasters weigh just as much on average, but their slender bodies and slimmer U-shaped necks allow the player to navigate the fretboard with ease. In contrast, the Rounded C-shaped necks of Gibson ES-335s offer a unique feel, but you’ll need a bit of time to adjust your palm to its size and position your fingers across the frets accordingly.

Another important difference between an Original Telly and the ES-335 is the cutaway on the former or the lack thereof on the latter. 

Accessing the higher frets can be difficult on a Gibson ES-335 because of two factors. The wider neck and the lower “wing” will get in your way, meaning you’ll need to be experienced and nimble enough to efficiently play higher notes.

That is not the issue with Telecasters, as their lower wings are cut and purposefully shaped in such a way to ensure you can easily perform any guitar techniques across the entire fretboard.

Beginner or Pro-oriented?

Gibson guitars were always favored by semi-pro and professional players. Even if beginners could afford a Gibson ES-335, this guitar is “quirky” in more ways than one and may not be the best teacher because of this. Its big, round body, wide frets, and relatively short sustain make it ideal for guitarists that have plenty of experience with both electric and acoustic guitars.

Again, Telecasters have the upper hand as they can serve as training tools, perform excellently on stage, or be used full-term by road dogs. Durable, sleek, and highly playable, a Telly is as great of a choice for up-and-coming guitarists as it is for seasoned veterans.


Most Gibson fans probably know this little fun fact, but the company named ES 335 as such after its original price. When this guitar first came to the market in 1958, its cost was $335.

Another lesser-known fun fact is that Gibson’s ES-335 is just a couple of dollars more expensive today if we take average inflation between ‘58 and 2022 into consideration.

The original Vintage Burst ES-335 costs $3,499, while ES-335 Figured costs $3,999. Today’s equivalent of $335 from 1958 is approximately $3,454.46.

The story with the first Telecaster models is quite similar. The Original 50’s Telly was $139.95, which is the equivalent of $1,730.57 today – this is the average price range of most contemporary Telecasters. Historical prices aside, you can buy an ES-335 today for $3,499 or the ES-335 Figured for $3,999.

Gibson offers a much broader price range for its Telecaster models. The cheapest Telly is the Player Telecaster (only $849.99), while the most expensive model is Brent Mason Signature Telly ($2,899.99).


Who are the most famous ES-335 and Telly players?

Some of the most popular ES-335 guitarists are Ritchie Blackmore (Rainbow, Deep Purple, Blackmore’s Night), Alex Lifeson (Rush), Larry Carlton (Steely Dan, The Crusaders), and Chuck Berry. The most famous Telly guitarists are Jimmy Page (The Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin), Andy Summers (The Police, Soft Machine), and Jim Root (Slipknot, Stone Sour).

Are ES-335 or Telecasters better for beginners?

Telecaster guitars are much better suited for beginner guitarists because of their thinner necks, slender bodies, and softer frets.

Final Thoughts

The answer to whether ES-335 or a Telly is better largely depends on the player and their needs. If you’re searching for a specific sound and possess a certain degree of skill, ES-335 will fit you perfectly.

The broader range of available models and the excellent versatility of Telecaster models make them better suited for beginners, although anyone can be happy with a Telly with the right gear.

If you’re searching for a more solid ES-355 alternative, here are the best options.