Really Good 335. Cheap.
What’s good and cheap these days for a 335? You can find them for under $2000 pretty routinely but a lot of them will be from the Norlin Era (beer, cement) and that can be hit and miss. When the suits took over Gibson, building quality guitars was no longer job one. Or job two. making more guitars for less money was job one and cutting corners was job two. Job three might have been convincing people that Gibson still made quality instruments. History has spoken to that. Most of you who read me regularly know that I don’t like ES-335s that were built between 1969 and 1981. There are good ones from the era but it’s a crapshoot at best. My rule when it comes to 70’s guitars is this: If you can’t play it first or there isn’t a liberal return policy, don’t buy it. Many ES models from the 70s suffer from poor builds, cut corners, heavy woods and poor fit and finish. Despite all that, there are still some good ones out there. There are a number of models unique to the era that don’t get a lot of press and I’ve written about many of them-the ES-347, the ES-325, 320, 340, Artist, Pro and ES-369. There are good ones and there are bad ones (and there are really, really awful ones). Like I said, play before you buy. That brings me back, again, to the bright spot among the Norlin guitars. Good and cheap (and vintage). It’s hard to believe that the ES-335 dot reissue came out 31 years ago. 1981 seems like a few years ago to me. Think about this. Had you bought a 59 dot neck in 1990, it would have been the same age as a first year ES-335 dot reissue. I’m not saying that the 81 is going to rival the venerable 59 in another 20 years but considering they run about one tenth the price of a 59 (and less than a Historic), they really are a pretty good deal. The other thing about the last of the Norlin 335’s is that they aren’t all created equal. The first year dot neck reissue has one unique characteristic-it uses a Schaller bridge which looks kind of clunky but is a pretty good bridge with a lot of mass and good tone and sustain. Late 81’s and all subsequent dot reissues made during the Norlin Era (until 1986) have the Nashville bridge-also a perfectly good bridge but, again, a bit clunky looking if you’re used to seeing an ABR-1. All of the 81-85s have Shaw PAFs (except for a few that came with EMGs). These are very good sounding pickups with a real vintage vibe. The guitars also came with 300K pots which have what most feel is a detrimental effect on tone. I’m not sure why but I’ve changed out the harness on more than a few 81-85 335s and heard a marked difference. The guitar brightens up considerably. The neck tenon is smaller than it was during the “Golden Era” but the guitars have no problems with stability. Necks can be three piece or one piece. Again, no problems with stability from either. I’ve been told the tops on some of these are birch-not maple. These two woods can be really hard to tell apart but birch is not usually figured and a lot of mid 80’s 335s are heavily flamed. So, if any of them are birch, they would be the plain ones. Plywood is not a tone wood, so I don’t think the makeup of the plywood is much of an issue. Lastly, there were two distinct body shapes. One is very close to the original dot neck and the other isn’t. The one that isn’t is a narrower through the waist and has stubby little horns. Ugly, ugly iteration. Avoid it if you care (they play fine). The other last thing is that if you want to get one cheap and, by cheap, I mean under $2K, look for a red one or a sunburst. The blondes (and first years) command a premium and usually cost around $3000-$4000. I think the 80’s sunburst is pretty awful looking but that’s just a matter of taste. The red is much more of a Ferrari red which can look pretty good. There are also black ones (nice!) and a special edition pearlescent white one (really ugly, if you ask me). I see sunbursts and reds routinely for $1600-$1900. Really good 335. Cheap.