Epiphone ES-335 PRO Review

Budget Gibson ES-335?

So what do we have here? a guitar with the exact same construction as the real deal (a 2015 Gibson Memphis ES 335). Or in other words, a laminated hollow body, with solid center block and glued in mahogany neck, bound rosewood fingerboard and block inlays. What you are getting here is the same as a Gibson for all intents and purposes, for a fraction of the price (£299 compared to at least £1899).

So why go for the Gibson?

Hardware, pickups, electronics and finishing,

The Gibson is fitted with Grover Rotomatic tuners which people will tell you top trump the Wilkinson Vintage classic units on the Epiphone ES335 PRO You will also hear that the nut, bridge, tailpiece and all the hardware are of better quality.

The Gibson comes with Burstbucker 1 & 2 compared to the Epiphone’s cheaper Alnico Classic Units, and the consensus is that this is all connected up with higher grade electronics and pots.

A nitrocellulose finish is very labour intensive and one of the main reasons for the Gibson’s higher price tag, along with the proper pearloid inlays.

Gibson employ’s a ‘Plek’ machine to make sure the frets are perfectly level, given the current state of the fingerboard. For more info, take a look at the vid.

Below is a table of the main differences between the two guitars. Thank you to all the contributors of http://www.thegearpage.net/ for this information, I hope this has made the hub more informative and balanced.

 

The Gibson “Plek” System

Gibson Memphis ES 335 / Epiphone ES 335 Pro differences

Gibson ES 335
Epiphone ES 335 PRO
Body: Top and Back
3ply – Maple/Poplar/Maple
5-ply laminated Maple/Birch
Body: Rim
3ply – Maple/Poplar/Maple
3-ply laminated Maple/Birch Sides
Headstock: Pitch angle
17Degree
14Degree
Headstock: Scarf Jointed
No
Yes
Centre Block
Maple with kerfed spruce spacers
Mahogany
Pickups
Gibson Burstbucker 1+2
2 Epiphone Alnico V Classic PRO humbuckers
Brigde/Tailpeice
Locking
LockTone™ Tune-o-matic + Stopbar
Tuners
Grover Milk Bottle Rotomatic tuners
14:1 ratio Vintage Wilkinson Classic tuners
Nut
Bone
Synthetic
Coil-taps
No
Yes
Inlays
Pearloid Blocks
‘mother-of-pearl’ small block inlays
Plek Setup
Yes
No
Country of Manufacter
USA
China
Case Included
Yes
No
Epiphone ES 335 PRO

Epiphone ES-335 PRO

 

 

End of the Story?

Nope.

This Epiphone ES335 PRO has a few tricks up it’s sleeve. The most useful of which are the Alnico Classic Humbuckers, not only are these upgraded from the Epiphone ES 335 DOT but they’re splittable via the volume pots, unlike the Gibson’s Burstbuckers (although you or your guitar-tech can carry out this mod later if you want to). A semi-acoustic is already a very versatile instrument and adding coil-taps just adds to this. It’s also is a very ‘full’ sounding guitar, so having the coil-taps available to clean things up on the Epiphone is a major plus.

The Epiphone’s Wilkinson tuners are smooth and keep the guitar in tune. So there’s no need to replace them. Also on the hardware front, Epiphone have always been a bit clever in this area. The bridge and tailpiece lock to the body so they don’t fall off when you remove the strings. Gibson are missing a trick here.

Electronics wise, all the pots taper nicely and there’s no crackling sounds. What more do you want?

The below video is a comparison of The Epiphone ES 335 DOT vs a Gibson ES 335. Don’t forget that the Epiphone ES 335 PRO has upgraded pickups so will be even closer to the Gibson.

 

The Sounds of the Epiphone ES 335 PRO

My last guitar, a Gibson Les Paul Studio, was predicable, nothing special clean and 90% of my time was spent on the bridge humbucker when overdriven. Of course it was a great tone, but I wanted more….. versatility, responsiveness, unpredictability and character. My guitar hero, Brian May of Queen, often talked about his Red Special being ‘designed to feedback’, and the guitar came ‘alive’, ‘singing’ when gain was applied….

… And that’s what you get with the Epiphone ES 335 PRO.

Starting with overdrive on the bridge pickup, the Epiphone doesn’t have the immediate power of the Les Paul. The response is slower, with a softer attack, so it’ll take a while to get used to tight riffing and sharp chord stabs, but the pay-off is a wider, more expansive sound, and a better balance between the individual notes, making chords sounds massive, open and clear. The Epiphone is more responsive than the Les Paul in that backing off your picking attack makes a bigger difference to attack/sustain of the notes played.

There seems to be larger differentiation of tone between the bridge and neck pickups on the Epiphone than on the Les Paul. The bridge is spikier compared to the much fuller neck, but again I have found more use for the neck pickup on the Epiphone, the Gibson’s always being too indistinct for anything other than a full blown delayed ballad solo.

If it all gets too much, the coil-taps can turn a mildly driven tone back to clean, and add some welcome snap into the proceedings (particularly good if you have a few retro/lo-fi numbers in your set for example). Whilst maxing the gain can get you from full-solo, back down to clean(ish) using the coil-taps and backing off the guitar volume. The range of this guitar is phenomenal.

Of course the semi-hollow nature adds yet another layer of sophistication to the proceedings, meaning that notes bloom with a bit of controlled vibrato, into singing feedback, but in a sometimes unexpected way, which all adds to the fun. You can actually feel the body vibrate and the air coming out of the f-holes.

Clean is where the neck and middle positions really come into play, with full-bodied jazz tones the Epiphone’s forte. Manipulation of the tones,volumes and coil-taps can take you anywhere you want, from funk with coil-tapped middle and a phaser, to even a bit of country on the bridge. In fact, I’ve often quite happily strummed away for hours with the Epiphone ES-335 PRO clean, there’s an inspiring range of tones here that are a great tool for songwriting.

I realise now what they say about the versatility of the 335, It’s range of sounds is huge, they all have character, and you can use them all.

Deal of the century then?

Well, yes. At the end of the day the Epiphone ES 335 PRO is less then a SIXTH of the price of a Gibson ES 335

You wont get the nitrocellulose finish. But you’ll get a harder wearing one, and can you really tell the tone difference anyway?

You’ll get inferior pickups and electronics. But you will have upgraded pickups from the Epiphone ES 335 DOT, coil-taps (for the same price), and electronics that work.

You won’t get Grover Rotomatics. But you’ll get tuners that work.

You get inferior hardware but again will you be able to tell the difference?

You won’t get ‘Gibson’ on the headstock. Do you care ?

You won’t get any Pearloid. But you will get blocks. And still get a classy playing experience.

You’ll need to spend some time setting it up, polishing up the frets maybe, getting it just so. That’s par for the course and is something you should enjoy doing anyway.

Oh, and you won’t worry so much about damaging it or having it stolen.

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13 Responses

  1. Chaz Bufe says:

    Very informative review.

    I’ve been using single-coil guitars forever (a strat for the last 20+ years) because of the greater tonal variety, but this sounds like something that would work — it’d fit well with my “never pay more than $300 for a guitar” philosophy. (The Epi 335 pros go new for about $450 here, which translates to $300 or under for a used one in good condition.)

    I’ve been looking around for an affordable, good quality split-coil for a while, but the only ones I’ve found that I like are the old Peavey T-60s; but they’ve gotten expensive of late and are so heavy (much heavier than Les Pauls) that there’s no way I’d want to play one all night.

    This sounds like a great alternative. Thanks again for the useful review.

    Cheers,
    Chaz

    • Thanks Chaz. You’ll need to be quick as these are now discontinued. I’d like to think that’s because they are just too good for a £300 guitar and were costing Gibson sales, maybe, thanks for reading and good luck getting one, it’ll be worth it, please share the article if that’s not too much trouble

  2. I find Gibsons very unforgiving to play compared with the Epiphone. That was until I picked up a Strat Plus in 1990. I wouldn’t play anything else now.

  3. My last guitar was a Les Paul Studio and I don’t miss it. The Sheraton’s are more expensive and not as versatile (no coil taps) thanks for reading 🙂

  4. Eugenia says:

    Awesome review and thank you fro the follow.

  5. Hi Adam. Tried to learn the guitar. But soon found it is better to listen and enjoy music than try to create it enjoy writing with music to help my thoughts. Thank you for wanting to follow my poetry adventures. Very interested in all things Paranormal! Conspiracy theories! UFO’s! And Observing this crazy dangerous and unstable society! Writing a passion that keeps me sane and alive! Great to meet you. #TheFoureyedPoet.

  6. Great review. Must give Gibson a headache when their Epiphones turn out so well. Same with Fender and some of the Squiers.

    • Thanks guitarcongress. I think the Fender range is even closer together. Fender say it’s providing an instrument at each price point but I say they are merely maximising profits from 2 basic guitar designs (the Tele and the Strat).

  7. Howard Franklyn says:

    Really enjoyed your review. I was very lucky to find a new Epiphone ES335 PRO in the U.K. just recently in a natural finish that looks superb. Lovely grain on the wood which shows beautifully through the carefully applied clear lacquer finish. This guitar is a dream to play, and so versatile benefitting from the addition of the coil tap feature. Having owned a Gibson ES335 in cherry many, many years ago that I loved, but traded for a Les Paul, I was somewhat apprehensive about the Epiphone being something I could get along with. As soon as I opened the packing, inspected it, and then played the guitar, it was very evident that this was a high quality instrument that was a definite keeper for me to add to my already healthy arsenal of guitars. This guitar adds a new dimension to the sounds I have available from Strats, Teles, Jaguars, Les Pauls (now much too heavyweight to gig all night) and a myriad of other brands, by adding the open airyness of the semi-acoustic body that I have missed for so many years. As I occasionally play in a soul band (in complete contrast to my more usual rock band gigs), this guitar fits in perefectly with the sounds and style of that music, yet it will rock like a good one if needed. Should anyone reading this have any concerns about buying a Chinese built guitar (as I did), then have no fear. This is a superbly crafted instrument despite its low price tag. It sounds and plays just great with only very minor adjustments needed to suit individual tastes. I have replaced the control knobs with more chunky Gibson style knurled speed knobs, only because I found the originals difficult to lift up to access the coil tap feature due to their smooth and tapered shape, having to hook my finger under the edge of the control knob to lift it. I will also eventually replace the plastic nut with a Tusq nut, but for now I have just re-cut the original very slightly to lower the action over the nut. To sum up……if you can still find a new one – BUY IT. These guitars are ridiculously cheap and superb value for money, They must be robbing Gibson of countless sales of their Memphis ES335’s. It’s a no brainer.

  8. Adam Harkus says:

    Thanks for reading Howard. Yeah 2 years on and I still love mine. It’s been in it’s case a while but I soon as I took it out again…. yep it’s still a fantastic looking, playing and sounding guitar. Still hard to believe this retailed at £299. The only two concerns I still have is 1) The action isn’t as low as my old Gibson Les Paul. This is down to the nut and the fretwork. and 2) The response isn’t as lightning fast as solid-body, with a slight “Delay” to the notes.

    • Howard Franklyn says:

      Hi Adam, as I mentioned previously, the nut on my guitar wasn’t cut quite low enough so gave it a higher action and therefore played very slightly sharp across the first couple of frets. Re-cutting the nut was quite easy to do and rectified the problem. Fretwork on mine is spot on, Can’t put the thing down at present and just love playing it, sadly at the expense of my other guitars, with the exception of my ’89 Strat Plus which is my ”go to” guitar for gigs. The novelty will no doubt wear off eventually and it will then be rotated in use with the others.

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