Gibson's Historic Reissue ES-335 is back and better than ever—thanks to a year of studying, scanning and listening to original examples. The expert craftspeople at Gibson Custom Shop have rendered every contour, profile, inlay and colour of the priceless vintage models in magnificent detail, giving it the unique character, vibe and feel of an original example from Gibson's "Golden Era." Nick Jennison tells us more.
Is there a more divisive topic in all of guitar playing than vintage guitars? The desire to own a piece of history from the dawn of the electric guitar era is understandable, but there are only so many of these legendary instruments out there, and both price and access puts them out of reach of anyone outside of the collector elite. Gibson has been trying to re-capture that magic in their "Historic" collection for almost three decades now, and every advancement they make inches them ever closer to instruments that are indistinguishable from the originals, and the new Murphy Lab aged instruments are about as close as anyone has ever come to re-creating a mid-20th century guitar in the modern era.
The model we're looking at is a re-creation of a 1961 ES-335, which is something of a goldilocks year for this kind of guitar. It features the dot inlays found on earlier models, but it's in the ubiquitous cherry red that was previously only available on more expensive guitars like the ES-345. It also sports the same legendary PAF humbuckers and thin profile neck found on the last Les Pauls of the "burst" era. If you want a 335, this is probably what you're looking for.
Now, I have been lucky enough to have played a number of '60s ES guitars, and honestly, the only giveaway that this is a new guitar and not an original is that the frets are perfect. There is a particular "feel" that old Gibsons have in the hand, and this guitar captures that to a frightening degree. No doubt this is down to the crazy attention to detail the craftspeople at Gibson's custom shop and the team at Murphy Lab (led by relic guru Tom Murphy) who are responsible for the ageing process. For example, Historic 335s have been made using the same machinery as the original models for a number of years now in an effort to get the top carve just right, but it transpires that over time the machine itself has slowly worn away to the point that the carve on new 335s was subtly different to the old guitars. While this difference would be imperceptible to all but the most expert eye, it was enough for Gibson Custom Shop to completely re-work their top carving process.
Murphy Lab aged guitars are available in a a range of finishes from the heaviest of relics that would make Rory Gallagher blush through to the "Ultra Light Aged" finish on the model we're looking at in this review. This finish is essentially what we'd expect a 1961 335 to look like if it had never been played. There is some laquer checking, but it's light. There's a patina on the metal parts but no real ageing on the plastic (usually caused by skin contact and sweat). The handful of knocks and bruises are more consistent with a guitar being taken in and out of a case, but without any real playing mileage. It's subtle, and very tasteful indeed.
Of course, here at GI we're not collectors - we're players. All of these details are cool and all, but a guitar at this eye-watering price tag had better play and feel superb. Fortunately, this guitar is quite special. Sonically, the new Custombuckers deliver the kind of airy, clear PAF tones that I've come to expect from older Gibson guitars. The lows are clean, expansive and piano-like, and that characteristic 335 "honk" is there in abundance, but never sounds peaky or grating. Of course, low to medium gain tones are where this guitar thrives, and the un-potted pickups and hollow body are a recipe for feedback at high gain and volume levels, but it does sound pretty excellent through massive fuzzes and gained-out lead tones. You might be disappointed if you're expecting a modern, shred-tastic setup, but if you're willing to work a little bit then this guitar will reward you by magnifying the nuances of your playing in a way that's hugely satisfying.
The march of progress towards history never stops at Gibson's custom shop, and the new Murphy Lab-aged guitars are as close as they've ever come to capturing the magic of the guitars that built the company's legacy. The price tag may be bordering on the farcical, but it represents decades of tireless work from some of the most talented craftspeople in the entire industry. If you just want a great 335, there are better options for the money, but if you want to feel like you're playing a piece of history then the Murphy Lab guitars from Gibson are as close as it gets.
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