ES-335s from 1959 are the most sought-after, but any made prior to 1965 with the stop tail and wider nut are collectible – George Gruhn

‘My 1960s 355 is the basis for everything. I’ve got so many guitars but the ones I bring on tour are 355s or 345s’ – Noel Gallagher

‘There are no other tools in my life so long-serving’ – Eric Clapton

Variations on a theme

The ES-335 soon became the basis of other models. An early 335-style signature was the Trini Lopez, built from 1964. Lopez was a big star back then, and had been playing a Gibson Barney Kessel – a double Florentine cutaway akin to the ES-175. When approached by Gibson, Lopez suggested diamond fretmarkers, diamond f-holes, the Firebird-style ‘hockey stick’ headstock and more. The Trini Lopez is an ES-335 in all but name, and has its own fans: Noel Gallagher has a mint ’60s tobacco-finish one. Gibson’s DG-335 of the 2000s, a Dave Grohl signature, is essentially a Trini Lopez revamped with hotter pickups. It’s now Grohl’s main guitar… and they all lead back to the original ES-335 design. ‘Many younger players like my guitar,’ says Lopez, now 75. ‘Maroon 5’s guitarist plays my guitar, the Edge plays my guitar, Paul McCartney’s guitarist plays my guitar, Dave Grohl, Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac played my guitar, Sting’s guitar player plays my guitar. The Edge auctioned his Trini Lopez for $280,000. It’s amazing.’

The ES-335 design has certainly proved an inspiration to many, and it remains massively versatile. Jazz/fusion player Larry Carlton – who has added his guitar skills to artists diverse as Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell, the Crusaders and Michael Jackson – is known as ‘Mr 335’ and his own record label is 335 Records. ‘I didn’t own a 335 until 1969,’ Carlton says. ‘I had been playing a Les Paul or an ES-175. As I got busier in the studio scene, I really wanted to start carrying one guitar as opposed to carrying three or four. And the 335 was the most versatile, and I was a very versatile player. I could depend on that guitar for the majority of sessions I was doing. It’s a great blues guitar, a great jazz guitar also, and I played all of that. And it’s a great rock’n’roll guitar… if you crank it.’

The 335 as indie icon

Looking back over more than five decades, 335s to 355s can be found across all genres. Blues legend Freddie King cut his classic Hideaway on his ES-345. Eric Clapton played a 335 in Cream (see Famous Thinlines on page 28). The thinline is still a staple of many jazz players, but the glorious design reaches way beyond ‘archtop’ excellence. It’s surely not what Gibson intended, but the ES-335 has also become something of an indie guitar icon. In the 1980s, the Smiths’ Johnny Marr often played a vintage cherry red ES-355, and that same guitar caused some future stars to embrace the design. Noel Gallagher claims that after seeing the Smiths on Top Of The Pops, he went out and bought a red 335 the very next day. ‘That’s what I want to look like! My 1960s Gibson 355 – that’s the basis for everything,’ Gallagher said in 2011. ‘I’ve got so many guitars, and people just throw things at me. But the guitars I bring on tour are either 355s or 345s. Those are what I play.’

Bernard Butler was another swayed by Johnny Marr’s use of a 355. Influenced by his teen hero, Butler bought his ’64 Bigsby-fitted 355 in New York on Suede’s first US tour. Tellingly, the name of Butler’s own studio these days is Studio 355. Bigsby vibratoloaded 355s aren’t widely coveted, however. George Gruhn says, ‘All of the hollow and semi-hollow models bring more money in a non-tremolo [sic] version. Those with the tremolo simply don’t stay in tune as well.’

Today, the ES-335-style endures as an indie icon. The Cribs’ Ryan Jarman plays a Gibson Memphis ES-335 Dot, while Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig favours the closely related Epiphone Sheraton II.

The 335 influence

From 1936’s ES-150 to the ES-335 is a big journey, but it hasn’t stopped. The 335 shape is now part of guitar culture. Epiphone, Gibson’s sister brand, has its own variations. The fully-hollow Casino (much like an ES-330) was a favourite of the Beatles. John Lennon played one regularly: when Paul McCartney played Beatles guitar solos (Ticket To Ride, Drive My Car, Taxman) it was on a Casino. The Edge of U2 likes a Casino, and also its more 335-alike (solid-centre) Sheraton. John Lee Hooker was a Sheraton player for much of his later career. Epiphone’s Casinos and Sheratons are all essentially 335-style designs, but with subtle variations.

Gary Clark Jr, the most-lauded young blues singer of 2013, prefers to play a genuine ES-335 or his own custom finish Epi Casinos. ‘The Gibson ES-125 changed my world as far as introducing me to the hollowbody sound,’ says Clark. ‘And then from there, I had my eyeballs on Casinos until I finally got one. I just recently got two Blak and Blu Casinos which I’m so stuck on at the moment. They’re all so amazing. Blak and Blu with a Bigsby! They’re a dream.’

The ES-347 of the 1980s added a coil-tap switch – creating the option of a Beatles-esque Casino-like tone. Today’s ES-336 is a scaleddown version. With a body 13″ wide and 16″ long it’s easier on smaller frames but still looks like a classic ES-335. The same goes for the ES-390. There’s also the 339 (and the posher 359). All differ in some respects, but if you find a ‘regular’ ES-335 unwieldy, look at these variations.

Signature spin-offs abound. For a unique example, the Epiphone-branded Tom Delonge (Blink-182) ES-333 has just one pickup and one volume control – it seems under-specified and ‘wrong’, but it’s been very popular. There was also a Gibson Custom ‘Inspired By’ ES-336 for Kiefer Sutherland. Yep, the actor. Maybe it was only in production for 24 hours?

But ultimately, there is no other semi-solid guitar design that has spawned such a long lineage as Gibson’s ultimate Electro Spanish guitar, the ES-335. Eric Clapton may have sold his most famous one, but he still loves them. ‘The ES-335 is beautiful, and I loved it, says Clapton. ‘It was played regularly over the years. It got on albums, it never really changed. It never got old, it never wore down. It never lost anything. I’d play it now.

‘Anything that’s been that long in my life and is still functional – there aren’t too many things that can command that kind of respect. I’ve had no cars that long, for instance. There are no other tools in my life that have been as long-serving. After I sold the red ES-335, I immediately bought a sunburst one. It’s a great guitar… and it’s so loud. I’d forgotten how loud they were!’

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