Price paid: $ 1299
Purchased from: Hollowood Music and Sound
Features: Made in 2004 at the Terada factory in Japan. Features a double cutaway semi-hollow body of 5 ply maple-birch-maple-birch-maple laminate with a solid maple block in the center; a one-piece neck of African Mahogany with a bound 22 fret Indian Rosewood fingerboard and a bone nut. It's fitted with the classic Gibson wiring setup of two pickups with volume and tone controls for each pickup and a 3-way toggle switich for pickup selection. But what separates this from the current Chinese made Epiphone Dots sound wise are that the pickups are Gibson made Epiphone 50R and 50T pickups - which have been favorably compared to Gibson's Burstbucker pickups and the volume and tone pots cut down highs and volume without adding muddiness. The hardware - including the classic tune-o-matic bridge, stop-bar tailpice, and Grover kidney-button tuners - is nickel plated. The finish is Vintage Sunburst on top with mahogany finished sides and back. It comes with an archtop hardcase. It only loses a half a point for both it's headstock (Epiphone should have gave it the "offset notch" headstock that graced many a 1930's Epiphone) and the lack of a sunburst finish on the back as well as the top. // 9
Sound: Considering that I play both rock and blues and dabble in jazz, it fits in all those genres. But then again it's very much a Custom Shop Gibson ES-335 minus the Gibson name. At home, the amp she goes through is a 2001 Fender Blues Junior upgraded with a Jensen C-12Q speaker and JJ tubes. It can go from smooth jazz riffing and soloing to BB King styled blues to heavy blues-based rock with a minor turn of the volume and tone knobs, not to mention engaging my main pedal; an Ibanez TS-9 Tube Screamer reissue. I also occasionall use a Vox 847 Wah-Wah pedal with it as well. The pickups are what help give it that classic 335 sound and are probably the smoothest sounding pickups ever to fitted to a guitar. They are low-to-medium output pickups and are meant for players who prefer to get their distortion from their amps and effects (as it should be for any pickups fitted to any 335 type guitar).
And for a little tonal secret of mine, to keep that smooth tone, I use pure nickel wound strings (I currently use DR Blues strings .010-.046). // 10
Action, Fit & Finish: When it first arrived at Hollowoods it had the standard action, but when I got it, it was set up for .011s and had some modest shopworn wear and tear from many people trying it out (myself included). After I purchased it, I took it to Scott Johnson at Pittsburgh Guitars to set it up for .010s. After the setup, I really began to appreciate the classic features including the slim-taper neck, the bend friendly 12" radius, and the slick, thin polyurethane finish on the neck. I might also add that the pickups are perfectly balanced so one doesn't overpower the other. A tribute to the obvious quality of the instrument is the fact that it only had two setups since I've owned it. Once in 2006 to get it set up to my specifications and once in late 2012 for maintainence purposes.
It only gets an 8 because of the shopworn condition it was in when I bought it in 2006. // 8
Reliability & Durability: Even though I'm a hobbyist, I'm very sure she would stand up to the riggers of live playing, particularly if you are careful with it. And I happen to take real good care of my gear (!). The nickel hardware is starting to acquire an aged look as it is beginning to acquire the look of a well played, well loved instrument. If I consider gigging with it on a regular basis, I may have to install straplocks. As far as backups go, I've been advised to tak a maple board Fender Stratocaster as a backup mainly for the sake of handling the tones this can't handle. Although considering I love hollowbodies, I might instead use either an Epiphone Casino, a Rickenbacker semi, or a Gretsch as a backup. // 10
Overall Impression: Considering I'm a hobbyist who happens to dabble in various styles, the Elitist ES-335 is a perfect match. And I've been playing off and on since after graduating from high school in 1984. I also own a Yamaha acoustic on the side. If it was lost or stolen, I'd be destitute because Epiphone no longer makes the Elitist ES-335 (they ceased production of the model in 2008) and it's became very much a musical soul mate. I would have to get an Epiphone Dot or Sheraton II and modify it to my specifications. I hope to eventually get myself a Gibson ES-335 or a Gretsch someday. But then again, I'll just keep my Elitist ES-335 because it's such a exceptional guitar. // 10