We’re all familiar with the Gibson ES-335 – the stunning, versatile axe whose neck pickup can bring tears to your eyes.
Over the years, the 335 has been played by the likes of Chuck Berry, Ritcie Blackmore, B.B. King, Dave Grohl, Eric Clapton, the list goes on and on. You’d be hard-pressed to find a genre of music that hasn’t seen an appearance by the ES-335.
Despite all of its success and popularity, there was one major sticking point for many players:
How big the body shape was.
I’m not gonna lie, it does take some time to get used to a semi-hollow body style if you’re coming from a solid body – they’re just bigger, rounder, and can feel a bit awkward when you first sit down with one.
To try and solve that problem, in 2007 Gibson introduced the ES-339. It included everything that everybody loved about the 335(the beautiful tones, playable neck, etc.) in a slightly smaller and more compact body.
In this review we’ll take an in-depth look at the ES-339 to help you decide if it’s worthy of being your next instrument of choice.
About Gibson Guitars
Founded in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 1902 by Orville Gibson, the Gibson brand has been a pioneer in many areas throughout its life.
Gibson invented and was the first to make archtop guitars, they made the first commercially available hollow-body electric guitars and were also at the forefront of innovation in acoustic guitars during the 1930s.
The 50s-80s saw an explosion of popularity and new models for Gibson. During this time, they introduced the Les Paul – perhaps the most famous and iconic electric guitar to date. During this era, they also introduced such innovative designs as the Firebird, Explorer, Flying V, and the SG.
Today, Gibson is known worldwide for their high-quality instruments and the exhaustive list of famous and talented artists who choose to play their guitars. Picking up a Gibson gives you the feeling of picking up all of electric guitar history with it.
Gibson ES-339 Review Highlights:
Let’s dive right in and look at a few things we think make this guitar fantastic, as well as a few things we didn’t love as much.
What We Liked
- The Gibson ‘57 Classic Humbuckers really impress the ears
- A smaller body shape is noticeably more comfortable to play
- Incredibly versatile
What We Didn’t Like
- Limited color options on this model
- Expensive – out of reach for many players
Gibson ES-339 Review: Features & Specifications
- Maple and poplar body deliver bright, responsive tone
- Dual 57 Classic humbuckers give you that vintage Gibson tone
- Gibson’s Tune-O-Matic bridge and stop tailpiece
- Rounded “C” neck plays easily
- Grover tuners deliver tuning stability
- Classic-looking nickel hardware
Gibson ES-339 Review: Our Insights
Now let’s take a deeper dive into the ES-339 – we’ll examine everything from the build quality and tonewoods used to the playability and tones that can be pulled out of it.
In the world of guitars, as with most other things, you get what you pay for. Gibson is a premium guitar manufacturer with the price tags to match, and as such the build quality on the instruments they produce is exemplary.
With cheaper alternatives (I’m looking at you, Epiphone) you may see issues when pulling it out of the box with binding, tuning stability, set up issues, etc.
With a Gibson guitar, you’re (most likely) not going to run into any of those issues. These instruments all have individual attention paid to them during the manufacturing process to ensure that there are no defects or small blemishes and everything is up to standard.
The guitars also get played and adjusted by a specialist before being shipped out to make sure everything is right with the set up and it will play beautifully on arrival.
Purchasing a guitar at this price point should be considered an investment, and when you invest in a Gibson you can see and feel the quality as soon as you pick it up.
Gibson has a lot of years of experience in the hollow and semi-hollow body guitar world, and they’ve nailed down exactly which woods to use to produce the sounds they know the players of their guitars want.
In the body, the ES-339 uses a combination of maple and poplar. This combination gives the 339 its bright, snappy tone that can really be heard shining through on the bridge pickup and is perfect for a country rock/twangy tone.
The center block of the 339 is also made of solid maple, which guards against feedback while playing with higher gain levels.
Balancing out the snappy tone of the maple is the rosewood fingerboard. This choice of wood is what gives the 339 those deep, rich tones on the neck pickup that are perfect for soulful blues with a bit of drive turned on.
Finally, the mahogany used in the neck strikes a fine balance between treble and bass and gives off a softer sound than other woods.
Hardware and Electronics
This ES-339 was built to recreate the vintage tones of the earlier era Gibsons that used the PAF pickups.
We’re pleased to tell you that this guitar absolutely NAILS that goal thanks to Gibson’s ‘57 classic pickups that you’ll find in this axe.
In the bridge position you’ll find the ‘57 classic+, while the neck gets the ‘57 classic. These pickups do a wonderful job of emulating the original PAF humbuckers of that bygone Gibson era, and allow you to pull out all of those velvety, edgy tones those pickups came to be known for.
As far as the hardware choices, they are mostly the standard Gibson offerings. You’ll find Grover Rotomatic tuning machines, Gibson’s tune-o-matic bridge and stop tailpiece, and a GraphTech nut, with all of the hardware finished off in a pleasing nickel color.
The ES-339 is a wonderfully versatile instrument offering a wide assortment of tonal possibilities that will knock you out.
Let’s start in the bridge position with the ‘57 Classic+. This humbucker gets overwound coils that give you a snappy bite. Played on a clean sound, this position is perfect for country twang or rockabilly style music. Add on some gain and you can get beautiful open, ringing chords and punchy lead lines.
Add even more gain onto the bridge position, and you get searing, vintage-style lead line tones that will rip a hole in your face. Seriously, the ‘57 classics are amazing humbuckers, and the bridge can handle itself with gain.
Move the 3-way selector to the bridge, and you find the magic, the holy grail of tones. Played clean with a touch of spring reverb and you’ll hear all of the rich, melodic, harmonic tones that a 339 neck pickup delivers.
Throw on a touch of gain and you’ll find soulful blues tones waiting for you. A bit more gain and you’ll find Eric Clapton in Cream type tones full of thickness.
Moving into the middle position you’ll find the best of both worlds. This setting really shines for jazz as you get the deep harmonics of the neck while not muddying up the chords too much. The middle is also perfect for rhythm chords with some gain on.
The wonderful thing about semi-hollow body guitars is the ridiculous sustain they deliver.
The ES-339 is no exception.
Hit a bend on the 15th fret, go grab yourself a drink, and when you come back that note will still be ringing out. It’s perfect for gut-wrenching solos in any genre of music you want to throw at it.
Like the vintage-style guitars it modeled after, the ES-339 also utilizes a rounded “C” shape neck. We found it fits in the hand perfectly and makes tearing up lead lines effortless while also giving you enough to grab onto for chording.
One other special feature of this guitar is that it comes with plek’d frets. This process ensures that the frets are all perfectly leveled which makes this fretboard a real treat to play on right out of the box.
As mentioned, the smaller body profile makes this guitar a breeze to play sitting down as it contours well to your body.
Also, the ES-339 is also incredibly light-weight, perfect for players who need to stand with their guitars strapped on for long periods of time.
Coming in over the $2,000 mark, this is certainly not a guitar for those who want a bang-for-your-buck type of instrument.
What you do get for the money you’re spending is a beautifully and professionally crafted instrument that went through a rigorous testing and certification process and that will surely stand the test of time.
And, let’s be honest, you’re also paying a premium for the Gibson name on the headstock. While we can debate whether or not that alone is worth paying a premium for, Gibson guitars will hold their value a lot better than other brands of guitars will.
Like I said, this level of guitar is an investment.
Gibson ES-339 Review: Buying Experience
The Gibson ES-339 can be purchased in a variety of in-person shops and online stores, and of course your personal buying experience will be dependent upon which store you end up buying your guitar from.
For maximum convenience with no hassle buying, we at Guitar Advise recommend buying your guitar directly through Sweetwater.
The shipping and return policy details below are all the case when buying through Sweetwater directly.
All guitars from Sweetwater ship for free following a thorough 55-point inspection.
Sweetwater is not only known for their great customer service, but also their attention to detail when it comes to shipping products like guitars and other gear you may need.
This Gibson ES-339 comes with a hard case (as it should at this price!), so don’t worry about adding on the cost for a case to protect your investment.
After purchasing and receiving your new Gibson ES-339, you can register your instrument online through the company’s website.
After registering, you’re able to take advantage of the Gibson lifetime warranty for your instrument. (subject to conditions of course – check the official warranty after registering for up-to-date information)
Your new instrument is guaranteed to be free of any defects or blemishes when you receive it in new condition, and if there is an issue Gibson will take care of it for you.
If there is any sort of manufacturing defect or issue that is caused by defective materials, there is no need to worry. Gibson will replace the defective part, or even the entire guitar if necessary, at no cost to you.
What happens if it turns out that the Gibson ES-339 isn’t for you? We don’t think that’ll be the case, but in case it’s not the one for you, Sweetwater offers a great, “no hassle” return policy.
When buying online from Sweetwater you have 30 days to test out your new guitar and send it back with no questions asked, as long as it’s still in the same condition as it was when you received it.
If you want a refund, Sweetwater will deduct the actual amount to ship it back to them from that refund.
What Is the Gibson ES-339 Good For?
Alright, so you’ve seen how awesome and versatile the ES-339 is, but is it right for you and the styles of music that you want to play?
Let’s take a closer look at some of our recommendations for buying the ES-339.
Should You Buy the Gibson ES-339?
Our overwhelming answer to this question is a resounding YES (probably?). Let’s take a quick look at who we think this guitar is perfect for, and who may want to skip it for a different offering.
Who Should Buy the Gibson ES-339?
Players who primarily deal in rock, blues, jazz, country, etc. styles of music that don’t require heavy amounts of gain for a majority of the time.
Most importantly, the ES-339 is perfect for the players who enjoy dabbling in many genres of music and want to switch effortlessly through the above mentioned genres. It’s wide range of available tones will get you in and out of different styles without a hitch.
Also thanks to its light-weight, this guitar is perfect for players who play a lot of gigs and need something that’s going to be easier to have strapped up for several hours at a time. The difference between the 339 and say, a Les Paul, is stark. If you need to stand up with your axe, give your back a break and go with the 339.
Who Should NOT Buy the Gibson ES-339?
While we absolutely loved this guitar, it certainly will not be the right fit for everybody.
The main group of players who will not find what they’re looking for in the Gibson ES-339 are players looking for a shred/metal guitar and primarily deal with high gain tones. While this guitar is incredibly versatile, it will not handle high-gain well and you certainly cannot shred on it.
That being said, for metal players who want to branch out into different styles of music and need something that will cover all of the bases, the Gibson ES-339 may just be the axe for you.
Gibson ES-339 Alternatives
Maybe you’re still on the fence and asking yourself, “is this the right guitar for me? Is there something more suitable?”
Let’s take a quick look at some similar offerings out there that may be a better fit for your needs.
Gibson ES-339 vs Epiphone ES-339
By just glancing, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between the Epiphone and Gibson versions of the ES-339(ok, ok, unless you look at the headstock).
While their looks may be similar, there are a lot of differences under the hood.
The main differences between the two boil down to:
Electronics and Hardware
While the Gibson version uses the excellent ‘57 classic pickups, the Epiphone uses its own Alnico Pro humbuckers.
The Epiphone humbuckers are not terrible, but they can’t compare to the tones offered by the ‘57 classics found in the Gibson. The Gibson version nails the hot, vintage tones so much better.
It is worth noting here that if you bought the Epiphone and didn’t like the pickups, you could always change them out later.
There are a few small differences in the tonewoods used between the two models.
On the Epiphone the entire body is made of maple for as opposed to a maple/poplar combination on the Gibson, and Indian laurel is used on the Epiphone fingerboard as opposed to rosewood on the Gibson.
Subtle differences, but cheaper tone wood offerings from Epiphone overall which do have an effect on the sound.
As Epiphone guitars are mass-produced, they don’t have individual attention paid to them during the manufacturing process and therefore are more prone to issues in the binding, frets, truss rod, etc.
While it does occasionally happen with Gibson, it’s far less likely.
This is actually a win for Epiphone, as their version comes in a few more color offerings that are not available on the Gibson model. Give the Epiphone a shot if you’re looking for something with a more original look.
Gibson ES-339 vs Gibson ES-335
As the ES-339 was simply designed to be a version of the ES-335 with a smaller body, these two guitars are virtually indistinguishable from each other.
The same tonewoods, pickups, and hardware come in at the same price point.
The 339 has a smaller body profile.
Which one is right for you?
That’s entirely up to personal preference. I prefer the 339 as I feel like its smaller body allows me to play in a more natural position while seated. For me, when I play a 335 I feel like I have to swing my right arm up too much to get around the body.
You’ll have to play them both to decide!
Gibson ES-339 vs Gibson Les Paul
Two epic guitars that every guitarist would love to have in their stable of guitars, let’s break down the key differences between these two legends.
Starting with the obvious, the 339 is a semi-hollow body while the Les Paul is a solid body. While both have their pros and cons, generally the semi-hollow will give you a fuller sound, tons of sustain, and lots of rich harmonics.
The Les Paul will also deliver great sustain and of course great tones, but it will not be as harmonically rich as the 339.
While the ES-339 comes with Gibson’s Classic ‘57 pickups that ooze vintage sound and bite, the modern Les Pauls come with Gibson’s Burstbucker humbuckers.
While both of these sets of pickups are modeled after PAFs,the Burstbuckers will give you a lot more bite and aggression and a bit less warmth than the Classic ‘57s will, and will also handle higher gain a lot better than the ‘57s.
The necks on these two guitars are also markedly different.
On the ES-339 you’ll find the vintage “C” shaped neck, while the Les Paul gets the standard rounded neck (rounded a bit differently depending on which model you’re looking at).
Which one is better?
This of course all comes down to personal preference. You’ll have to play them both side by side to see which one fits your hand better.
These two guitars are meant for different styles of music.
While there is some overlap with blues and rock, you’re most likely not going to choose a Les Paul if you’re looking to play in a Jazz trio.
The Les Paul is the obvious choice for those who crave higher-gain settings and spend a lot of their time cranking out hard rock and metal but want to have the option to tone it down a bit for some tasty blues when they get the feeling.
Overall, you can’t go wrong with either one of these guitars.
The Bottom Line
The Gibson ES-339 is a brilliant, premium guitar that delivers all of the wonderful tones, versatility, and playability the ES-335 offers, all in a slightly smaller package.
If you’re in the market for a semi-hollowbody and want the tones of a 335 with the comfort and playability of a Les Paul, the Gibson ES-339 may just be the perfect instrument for you.