A distinctive new Gibson sound and body
By Jerry Collins
Look, if you are a guitar player, drop what you’re doing. Turn off the TV, turn down the music. This is that important. You have to check out the new Gibson ES-339. It’s that simple. Back in ’58, Gibson set the electric guitar world on its ear with the introduction of the ES-335. Like nothing before, the ES-335 delivered the sustain of a solidbody guitar, with the fat tone of a hollowbody. It was called a semi-hollowbody guitar. The ES-335 is still a favorite of rock and blues players around the world. It took 49 years from that first ES-335 to usher in the next level of the semi-hollowbody guitars from Gibson, the new, ES-339. Simply put, if you’re a player, you need this tool in your arsenal.
The first impressions
I’ve been playing guitars for many years (since the mid-’60s!), and if you’re like me, I enjoy the quest for that sound, that tone, that we all seek. I’ve owned a good number of guitars, from Les Pauls, to SGs, Strat and Tele guitars, ES-335s, and Gretsches, and while they all sounded great, they never quite hit that “sweet spot” in my head. The Les Paul I have now (a 2001 Standard) is still my “go to” guitar, and I use a late ’90s ES-335 for a fatter sound.
I jumped at the chance to give the new ES-339 a test run. My first impression was WOW it’s the size of my Les Paul, but much lighter. Cosmetically, it retains that classic, ES-335 shape. The smooth, mahogany neck on my sample was the ’59 rounded style, and it was immediately comfortable. It’s also available with what Gibson is calling a “30 over 60 neck”, a thinner ’60s style neck with an extra .30" in depth. My sample was finished in a killer light caramel burst. The ES-339 also comes in antique cherry red or anitque vintage sunburst, in either neck shape. The guitar was well-balanced and fit comfortably, whether I was sitting or standing. Cool. That’s good, because my ES-335 was always a little too big to play while sitting on a sofa!
The proof is in the playing
Of course I wanted to compare the sound of the ES-339 to a few other guitars. These included my Les Paul, my ES-335, and a buddy’s Epiphone Dot. I even grabbed an SG Standard, and another friend’s brand new Les Paul with Burstbucker pickups to round things out. My reference amp: A Fender Princeton Reverb. Tone control at 10. Volume at 6. I stood three or four feet away, and let ’em rip. The Epiphone sounded good for it’s price range. My personal Les Paul was next. Yup, it had that Les Paul sound, nothing like it. My buddy’s new LP Standard was next. The Burstbuckers sounded great, a little more “vintage” than my Les Paul.
After all that, the SG was up. Brighter on the high end, but not quite the sound I was looking for. OK, here’s the ES-339. Man, I think I found nirvana! The ES-339’s ’57 Classic Humbuckers, combined with the new smaller semi-hollow body sing! It growled, it roared. The harmonics! The sustain went on and on. The first few picked notes had plenty of bite and sting – much more than I was expecting. Power chords roared, yet were articulate.
Especially useful were the guitar’s tone and volume controls. They were a vast improvement over those on many other guitars I’ve tried. The highs didn’t roll off as I adjusted the guitar’s volume down. I later learned that Gibson is calling the new, improved electronics the “Memphis Tone Control” circuit. I don’t care what they call it, it works! Notes sang out, well defined, without brittleness. Just a bit of feedback at the highest volume levels give the guitar some edginess. The maple center block really keeps what little feedback there is to a minimum.
In a nutshell, the ES-339 covered all the bases very well. It’s more comfortable and lighter than an ES-335, with a much wider tone palette than a Les Paul. With its thin, smaller, semi-hollow body, the ES-339 represents an entirely new direction for Gibson’s ES series of guitars. It maintains the classic style, while adding new levels of tone, comfort, and playability.
Features & Specs
- Body type: ES-339
- Body wood: Maple/poplar/maple laminate
- Top wood: Maple/poplar/maple laminate
- Scale length: 24-3/4"
- Neck joint: Set-in
- Neck wood: Mahogany
- Neck profile: Slender Profile
- ’60s Gibson Slim Taper, plus .30" over, front-to-back
- ’59 Rounded
- Fingerboard: Hand-selected rosewood
- Frets: 22
- Nut width: 1-11/16"
- Fretboard radius: 12"
- Bridge: Fixed
- Pickup (bridge): ’57 Classic Humbucker
- Pickup (neck): ’57 Classic Humbucker
- Controls: Volume/Volume/Tone/Tone
- Tuners: Kluson
- Hardware: Nickel
- Pickup selector: 3-way
- Finish: Nitrocellulose lacquer