This is huge news when you consider that James’ luxurious Walnut semi-hollow was one of the most exquisite electric guitars of last year, and that Epiphone has done what Epiphone does best; nailing the essence of its more high-end sibling at a more approachable £/$899 price point.
The Epiphone Jim James ES-335 IS not a cheap guitar per se, but a lot of guitar for the money. It has to be in the conversation for many players’ first serious guitar. Like its Gibson forebear, this ES-335, has a distinctly ‘70s vibe – its finish is Seventies Walnut – that would look great with a pair of corduroys and maybe an old, beat-up vintage guitar amp.
James’ signature owl decal can be found on the back of the headstock, with his other cosmetic signature touches including a set of vintage-style Kluson Waffleback tuners with metal buttons, and an circle/arrow emblem on the truss rod cover. Single-ply binding has been applied to top, back and neck, just to tie the whole thing together.
The mahogany neck is carved into a Jim James Custom SlimTaper C profile. It is glued to a 5-ply laminated maple body, which, crucially, features a solid centre block of maple to help boost sustain and cut down on feedback when playing at high volume, or when the fuzz pedal is out of its cage.
While the original has a set of Calibrated T-Type pickups, here James has gone for a set of Alnico Classic Pro humbuckers, just like those you might find on the Epiphone Noel Gallagher Riviera. That these are hooked up to CTS pots and Orange Drop capacitors is indicative of the sort of quality these Chinese-made Epiphones sport these days.
Other very pleasing – not to mention retro – touches include the Black Witch Hat knobs with silver inserts. Your pickup controls comprise the typical dual volume, dual tone knob configuration, with a shoulder-mounted three-way pickup selector.
Speaking to MusicRadar in 2021, James said he had to have the Witch Hat knobs. The Owls? Well, that's a Twin Peaks reference.
“I love the Witch Hat knobs, They just look so classic. Just the term ‘witch hat’ sounds cool. [laughs] There are a couple of symbols on there too, which make it unique – a symbol on the truss rod cover and an owl emblem on the back [of the headstock]. I’ve always loved the owl. There’s something about the owl which speaks to me. That’s been one of the symbols My Morning Jacket has used for years.
“Owls play a big role in Twin Peaks, and there’s a beautiful part in a Twin Peaks book that says, ‘They remind us to look into the darkness.’ I’ve always really liked that. I feel like that’s part of how we can all grow and change – if we face the darkness and deal with it, rather than running from it.
“Also, the owl is a reminder of nature. And in this modern world filled with technology I think it’s good to get as many reminders as you can to get outside, breath fresh air, and connect with nature. So, the owl means a lot to me.”
The dimensions and vital statistics are as you might expect, with the Jim James ES-335 sporting a 12” radius Indian laurel fingerboard, with dot inlays and 22 medium jumbo frets. It has a LockTone Tune-O-Matic bridge and tailpiece, a 43mm nut, and more mojo than any guitar costing £/$899 ought to have.