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Gibson unveils the Alvin Lee ES-335 ‘69 Festival’ Custom Shop signature model

(Image credit: Gibson Guitars)

It's one of the most iconic Gibsons of all time, taking centre stage in the hands of Ten Years After's Alvin Lee at the legendary 1969 Woodstock Festival. Now the guitar he called 'Big Red' is finally getting the Gibson Custom Shop tribute treatment it deserves. 

Only 50 of the Alvin Lee ES-335 '69 Festival' will be made and we can see them flying out the door, regardless of the $7,299 asking price. 

The guitars are built to the exact specifications of the original, including the HSH pickup configuration with uncovered Alnico III Custombuckers and a single coil Seymour Duncan SSL-1 in the middle position. 

(Image credit: Gibson)

A lightly relic’d sixties cherry finish and accurate recreations of the stickers Lee added to the guitar adorn a three-ply maple/poplar/maple body. 

Other key features include the vintage correct No-Wire ABR-1 bridge, Bigsby B-7 tailpiece and the set of Kluson Single Line, Single Ring Tulip tuners.

This model captures the 'Big Red' ES-335 as it was in 1969, but it went through a number of changes in its history that Guitarist magazine detailed when it featured the original guitar on its cover in a Woodstock 50th anniversary special earlier this year.

April 29, 1974: Alvin Lee onstage with the 335 in Copenhagen, Denmark. Nearly five years after Woodstock and the Bigsby vibrato had been removed from the guitar and more stickers had been added

April 29, 1974: Alvin Lee onstage with the 335 in Copenhagen, Denmark. Nearly five years after Woodstock and the Bigsby vibrato had been removed from the guitar and more stickers had been added

(Image credit: Jorgen Angel / Getty )

British guitarist Lee bought the guitar around 1963 / '64 from a Nottingham music store for around £45, and it even included a fitted case for the price. 

By 1967 the guitarist was experimenting with an extra pickup between the traditional PAF humbuckers. A year later the first 'ban the bomb' sticker on the upper bout became the first to be added. 

A close-up of the 'ban the bomb' sticker on the original Big Red, the first sticker Alvin Lee added to customise his ES-335

A close-up of the 'ban the bomb' sticker on the original Big Red, the first sticker Alvin Lee added to customise his ES-335

(Image credit: Olly Curtis / Future)

The blues rock band's set at Woodstock on Sunday 17 August 1969 that would make Big Red famous was actually delayed for a few yours due to the torrential rain that hit the site – proving waterlogged festivals aren't just a modern affliction! 

Just a year later Alvin had replaced Big Red's Bigsby with a TP-6 tailpiece, coinciding with the UK release of the Woodstock film that would raise Alvin and Ten Years Afters' profile significantly. But it wasn't plain sailing for Big Red…

Alvin Lee's original Big Red pictured earlier this year for Guitarist magazine's Woodstock 50th Anniversary issue

Alvin Lee's original Big Red pictured earlier this year for Guitarist magazine's Woodstock 50th Anniversary issue

(Image credit: Olly Curtis / Future)

Around 1972/'73 the guitar's neck was damaged on stage. Gibson repaired the damage and lacquered over its stickers. It's the replacement of the headstock that has made the guitar's date difficult to pinpoint. The guitar remained a regular for Lee until 1986 when it was retired, largely due to its value. 

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The humbuckers on the original's the 335 are, according to Alvin, the original PAFs. A self-confessed tinkerer, he removed the pickups’ covers in the hope the it would enhance the top-end

The humbuckers on the original's the 335 are, according to Alvin, the original PAFs. A self-confessed tinkerer, he removed the pickups’ covers in the hope the it would enhance the top-end
(Image credit: Olly Curtis / Future)

The original 'Big Red' ES-335 as it is today


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The extra volume control is for the Fender single-coil pickup that Alvin installed between the 335’s two PAFs. It enabled him to blend in single-coil sounds to add more top-end to the guitar’s sound

The extra volume control is for the Fender single-coil pickup that Alvin installed between the 335’s two PAFs. It enabled him to blend in single-coil sounds to add more top-end to the guitar’s sound
(Image credit: Olly Curtis / Future)

The original 'Big Red' ES-335 as it is today

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When the guitar was returned to Gibson to replace the neck after it was broken one night during a gig at London's Marquee, the body of the guitar was re-lacquered making the infamous stickers a permanent feature. Big Red’s original neck had dot position markers. When Gibson replaced the neck, they used a Custom with block inlays with gold-coloured Grover machine heads.

When the guitar was returned to Gibson to replace the neck after it was broken one night during a gig at London's Marquee, the body of the guitar was re-lacquered making the infamous stickers a permanent feature. Big Red’s original neck had dot position markers. When Gibson replaced the neck, they used a Custom with block inlays with gold-coloured Grover machine heads.
(Image credit: Olly Curtis / Future)

The original 'Big Red' ES-335 as it is today

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The serial number of Big Red’s replacement neck confirms it as being made between 1970 and ’72. The original serial number inside the f-hole is obscured with black paint.

The serial number of Big Red’s replacement neck confirms it as being made between 1970 and ’72. The original serial number inside the f-hole is obscured with black paint.
(Image credit: Olly Curtis / Future)

The original Big Red ES-335 as it is today


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The stickers around the controls look to have been added after its Woodstock appearance

The stickers around the controls look to have been added after its Woodstock appearance
(Image credit: Olly Curtis / Future)

The original 'Big Red' ES-335 as it is today

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The TP-6 tailpiece replaced Big Red’s original Bigsby. No-one is entirely sure why the replacement was made, but popular opinion is that the Bigsby was broken during one of Alvin’s frenetic workouts

The TP-6 tailpiece replaced Big Red’s original Bigsby. No-one is entirely sure why the replacement was made, but popular opinion is that the Bigsby was broken during one of Alvin’s frenetic workouts
(Image credit: Olly Curtis / Future)

The original 'Big Red' ES-335 as it is today

Sadly, Alvin passed away in 2013, aged 68. His original Big Red is now for sale via RockstarGuitars.com, price available on request. 

Alvin Lee's original 'Big Red' Gibson ES-335 as it is today 

Alvin Lee's original 'Big Red' Gibson ES-335 as it is today 

(Image credit: Olly Curtis / Future)

For more info on the Custom Shop recreation visit Gibson