They say that if the formula works, you shouldn't mess with it. But since when has Gibson ever heeded that advice? Precisely never is the answer, and you need only look at the ES-335 for proof.
Introduced in 1958 in the wake of a Ted McCarty brainwave (a centre block? In an electro-acoustic?), the 335 was an instant success, destined to be beloved of everyone from Eric Clapton to Dave Grohl.
Yet Gibson's most elegant of electrics has weathered all manner of tinkering over the years, with a seemingly endless parade of neck profiles, bridges, reconfigured electrics and slight redesigns cluttering up the original concept.
"The frills have been discarded so that you, the humble punter, can afford this guitar and still get the full Gibson experience"
It's a tradition of tweaking that carries on today, with the latest twist to the 335 formula arriving at NAMM in January in the form of the ES-335 Studio. It's an ES-335 in silhouette all right, but everything else is... different.
It's been robbed of its f-holes and half the controls. There's a piece of plastic shaped like Mick Jagger's mouth where the neck joins the body, and a single lonely pickup. It's like someone took a 335 and subtracted everything that wasn't absolutely essential.
The frills have been discarded so that you, the humble punter, can afford this guitar and still get the full Gibson experience. A single strum confirms that this is very much the case: the Studio retains that semi-acoustic build - it's still hollow with a solid centre block - so it's lively and bright unplugged. You can feel the weight of that block when you pick it up, giving the guitar reassuring heft and keeping it well balanced.
You might recognise the pickup configuration (it's similar to the Tom Delonge signature that Gibson put out a while back), and like that guitar, the Studio swaps features for primal power. The Dirty Fingers Plus pickup is exactly as filthy as its name suggests: a high-output humbucker that's all about the raunch.
On a clean channel with a bit of volume, you get some lovely break-up, but it's on a dirty channel or using a fuzz pedal that the Studio really makes sense. This guitar was born for sleazy blues and pornographic riffs. The simple controls are perfect for frantic live performances, and the matt black hardware and flawless dark finish complete the picture.
"It was built to play dark sweaty music in dark sweaty rooms"
The lack of f-holes means you can turn up without having to worry too much about feedback, a real live bonus. Some may be wary that a single pickup might be limiting, but this isn't aimed at refined jazzers or tone-snobs. It was built to play dark sweaty music in dark sweaty rooms, and it's got the charisma and the menace to carry it off.