The addition of semi-solid and acoustic models to Epiphone’s Inspired By Gibson series is both inevitable and welcome. It’s all about giving players much more of the Gibson look and feel at an affordable price and, in common with the Inspired By solidbodies, our ES-335 has the open-book Kalamazoo headstock and hand-wired CTS control pots. The block markers and impressively flamey maple on the front and back mark this out as the ES-335 Figured model – plain tops and dots are available elsewhere in the range.
This is an ES-335 to get you noticed and the factory deserves a lot of credit for the finish quality. We particularly like the soft transition from the ‘raspberry’ into amber and the flame maple veneer is nicely enhanced on the front and back of the instrument. Confining the shading to the body edges is very much an Epiphone feature – the Gibson inspiration here doesn’t extend to a ‘teardrop’ burst, though you will find it on the Blueberry Burst and non-figured Vintage Sunburst incarnations.
We obliged to point out some inaccurate binding scraping – it’s actually slightly better on the back than the front, but in places the binding is so thinly exposed that it’s barely visible. It’s a pity because in all other respects the binding on the body and neck is very well applied. The body – and in particular those Micky Mouse ears – would look even better with a more strongly defined outline.
“Epiphone’s LockTone Tune-o-matic bridge and stop bar tailpiece are nickel-plated to a high standard and the bridge is easy to adjust thanks to screwdriver slots in the posts”
Epiphone’s LockTone Tune-o-matic bridge and stop bar tailpiece are nickel-plated to a high standard and the bridge is easy to adjust thanks to screwdriver slots in the posts. The Alnico Classic Pro humbucker covers match perfectly and they’re mounted in black rings to coordinate with the reflector knobs.
The bridge pickup mounting looks fine but the neck pickup ring is unusually shallow and it tapers down to just over 2mm at the end of the fretboard. As a result, the neck pickup sits at quite an extreme angle relative to the strings, making the cover a few millimetres lower on the neck side.
The aforementioned headstock has a crown inlay and vintage Kluson-style tuners. We offer no objections to the attractive Indian laurel fretboard and the block inlays have been executed perfectly. The fretwork is similarly impressive and we’d describe the ‘medium jumbo’ fretwire as tall vintage with a smidge of extra width.
The neck isn’t especially deep, but it’s so rounded it fills the hand and feels quite chunky. Overall the guitar has a solidly built feel and, despite a hint of neck heaviness, it balances nicely whether you’re playing seated –as most of us are these days – or standing.
The unplugged tone is bright and rings clearly with long sustain. That said, the overall sound and dynamic response is more akin to a loud solidbody than a vintage semi. The woody mellowness you hear from an old ES-335 isn’t particularly apparent and the neck profile doesn’t have an old-school feel. However, the playability is excellent, the fretwire is well chosen and the tuning is very stable.
Plugging into our Rift Princeton Reverb-style test amp, the hitherto elusive ES-335 tone finally emerges. The pickups are extremely clear and very sensitive, they have power without being excessive and each of the three settings sounds distinct.
Starting in the neck position, the tone is vocal, rounded and sweet, but also pleasingly well defined even in the lower registers. Providing contrast, the bridge has a convincingly vintage midrange quack, wiry bite and a touch of twang to balance out the grunt.
For many ES-335 players, the middle setting is where you’ll find much of the magic. Here, our Epiphone displays a funky phasiness with a more compressed response. It’s a superb rhythm tone and ideal for textured chord arpeggios. All this is enhanced by controls that offer plenty of useable range.
“For many ES-335 players, the middle setting is where you’ll find much of the magic”
Overdriven tones can be backed off for vibrant and clear clean sounds and, just as you would with a vintage Gibson, you can roll the neck volume back a touch in the middle setting to hit what we often refer to as the ‘quack point’. This delivers vocal and expressive lead tones for solos and also provides a fuller alternative to bridge-pickup rhythm tones in a band mix. As for the tone controls, they roll the treble back evenly and smoothly so they prove useful throughout their entire range rather than a just a narrow band towards the bottom.
We were massively impressed with all three of Epiphone’s Inspired By Gibson solidbodies we reviewed in early 2020. The weight, neck profiles and finishes were so good, all three were just a set of hand-wound pickups and a hardware upgrade away from giving their Gibson-branded counterparts a serious run for their money. It’s much the same story with this ES-335.
“a thoroughly enjoyable guitar with a build quality and standard of finish that exceed expectations at this highly competitive price point”
It fall shorts slightly short of the acoustic character that sets the best 335s apart, and perhaps that has something to do with the relative complexity of semi-solid builds. In any case, all that is quickly forgotten once it’s plugged in.
The neck carve perhaps isn’t as well matched to this model as the profiles were on the Epiphone solidbodies we looked at last year and on balance we prefer a ‘teardrop’ sunburst on an ES-335 body but the latter is purely an aesthetic preference, and there’s clearly nothing fundamentally wrong with this Epiphone take on the ES-335 theme. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable guitar with a build quality and standard of finish that exceed expectations at this highly competitive price point.
- PRICE £549 (inc padded gigbag)
- DESCRIPTION Thinline semi-hollow electric guitar, made in China
- BUILD Bound maple ply body with AAA flame veneers, maple centre block, mahogany set neck, bound Indian laurel fretboard with small block inlays, 22 medium-jumbo frets, Graph Tech NuBone nut
- HARDWARE Epiphone nickel-plated LockTone Tune-o-matic bridge and stop bar tailpiece, Epiphone Deluxe tuners
- ELECTRONICS 2x Alnico Classic Pro humbuckers, 2x volume and tone controls, 3-way pickup selector switch
- SCALE LENGTH 24.7”/628mm
- NECK WIDTH 42.8mm at nut, 52.9mm at 12th fret
- NECK DEPTH 21.5mm at first fret, 24.5mm at 12th fret
- STRING SPACING 35.3mm at nut, 51.5mm at bridge
- WEIGHT 8.33lb/3.78kg
- FINISH Raspberry Tea Burst (as reviewed), Blueberry Burst
- LEFT HANDERS No
- CONTACT epiphone.com