You've got to love the ES-335. One of the true 'golden era' designs there's not a line out of place, and its history in the hands of so many guitar giants speaks for itself. It's an icon that, more than any other, perfectly bridges the gap between tradition and modernity.
Quite simply, it's a work of genius and a serious contender for Best Electric Of All Time. So our limited edition Custom Shop 50th Anniversary model has some reputation to live up to.
It would have been nice to see the tobacco sunburst beauty peeking out from a pink-lined tan 'Lifton'-style case, but the fact it comes in a standard plush-lined 'Levant' one means at least that it's well protected.
In truth, all who have seen this guitar have gasped at how realistic it looks on first glimpse. Gibson has used its ageing know-how to imbue the 50th with the patina of five decades without resorting to physical violence to distress it.
The cellulose finish fades from pure black into classic yellow on the arched top and back of the laminated maple body. Round the slim, cream-bound edges and along the mahogany neck the colour glows nut brown just like the old ones – lovely!
Our guitar has a figured rosewood fingerboard and pearloid dot markers. The other vintage statement is a long pickguard that extends past the treble pickup. This was only found on the early 335s and was probably a modified ES-175 'guard.
Most aesthetes would say that the later one is more pleasing, but vintage buffs would string you up just for thinking it.
The 50th Anniversary's neck features the long tenon of the original, giving better neck-to-body rigidity and overall resonance.
Inside we find traditional 'bumble-bee' capacitors, 500K CTS pots and a centre block with curved spruce struts to accommodate the body's arching. Overall the quality looks like Gibson at its best.
Based on the profile of the early ES-335s the Anniversary's neck is a chunk-and-a-half to hold. Checking it against this reviewer's own '59 VOS Les Paul it's deeper, with more 'meat' on the shoulders.
While the Kluson-style tuners, traditional ABR-1 bridge and stud tailpiece are untarnished nickel plate, the pickups have been lightly aged. But Gibson can't get the shape of its pickup covers right.
Older humbuckers were rounded at the corners with minimal edge radius, so the face looked flatter and sat more flush with the black surrounds. These have pointy corners and rounder edges; for performance it's irrelevant but it spoils the look for those who know how it should be.
With well-finished medium frets and typically flattish fingerboard radius the Anniversary plays like butter. The neck's size is no encumbrance and the top-end access is great for EC's second Crossroads solo.
In the following video clip, Neville Marten compares the 2008 '58 ES-335 with his 1961 original:
The '57 Classic pickups are hotter than most vintage 335s we've played, but still full of warmth and dynamics courtesy of the guitar's construction.
Sustain is on tap at every turn and backing off the volume cleans things up beautifully, while tempering either pickup's tone control gives beefier, more Les Paul-like tones.
The £2,299 for this limited edition beauty seems almost miserly. What's more (pickup cover shape aside) the company has done an awesome job of recreating the look, feel and overall vibe of one of our favourite guitars.
Imagine it's 1958 and you're seeing an ES-335 for the first time ever. Wow! Well that's the response we've had here on seeing this one.
True, it's beefier sounding than most originals, but we suspect most players would actually like that. Big neck? Yeah but that means big tone too!
The one thing that does surprise us is the limited edition run of 200. Surely a guitar such as this could continue in this 'original' guise for another 50 years? We certainly hope so.