Purchased from: Guitar Center
Features — 9
I bought my Dot new, is a 2013 model, and it's in the cherry finish. This is, without a doubt, a meat and potatoes, no bullsh-t guitar - a journeyman working guitarist's guitar, for the kind of person who cares only about how well a guitar sounds and plays, not about having the most expensive brand-name axe. Collectors and guitar snobs should just move on and not bother reading the rest of this review (not that they're reading it anyway - this is a lowly Epiphone after all). Although the Dot is versatile and can sound good in any genre of music with just a few adjustments of the tone controls and your playing style, it delivers a big, fat, dark, no-frills woolly sound that sounds much more at home in a run-down Chicago blues club than at a Steve Vai concert. With the Dot, we're talking Jimmy Dawkins, not Joe Satriani.
All the hardware and electronics are pretty utilitarian, and they all work well. Tuners are good solid Grovers with the standard kidney buttons, and they hold the Dot in tune really well. The tailpiece and TOM bridge do their job well enough, with no annoying rattling and providing good note sustain, which is surprising for a semi-hollow body guitar. The electronics are surprisingly rather good, which is surprising to me since electronics have always been the one area where I've found Epi guitars to be consistently lacking; the tone controls actually provide an effective means of tone control, so you can actually hear a difference in tone when the knob is turned down, for example, from a 9 to a 7. Same goes for the volume pots, though I do wish the treble wouldn't drop so drastically when you turn down the volume on the guitar.
One of my favorite features of the Dot is the way it is able to perform brilliantly at high volume. Unlike most semi-hollow body guitars, the Dot does not produce feedback at high volume. In fact, I'm happy to say that the Dot, amazingly, sounds better the louder you crank up the volume, and this is even true on clean settings. On just about every semi-hollow guitar I've played, and certainly on every full hollow body one, the sound deteriorates drastically the louder you play; I get a harsh, booming bass overload that just flattens all the mid-to-high frequency tones, producing a dull, headache-inducing slog of a sound (I should note that I play mostly jazz, and therefore play without distortion). Not so with the Dot. As I crank up the volume, I find that the clarity between notes actually increases, producing a crisper, even clearer sound, without that awful bass overload. I own a Gibson Midtown Custom, which costs about four times the cost of the Dot, and I can't even play that thing past 3 on my amp without the bass overpowering everything and the whole sound just falling apart. In the case of the Dot you DON'T get what you pay for - you get MORE.
Sound — 8
There is nothing fancy about the sound of the Dot. This is one dark sounding guitar, and I'm not talking about a "muddy" sound either. We're talking about a huge, resonant, throaty, earthy bellow of a sound. It has what I consider a quintessential down home blues guitar sound. The stock pickups sound good, but not amazing; they somewhat lack the richness and depth of Gibson's 57 Classic pickups (which they put in the ES335, but they do have a certain raw, unpolished sound that is actually quite attractive in itself, and which the Gibson pickups do not have. I sometimes wish the stock pickups had a little more snap in their sound than they do, and the rawness of their sound means you have to really strike the strings gently when you want to play something like a jazz ballad.
For blues, the Dot is perfect. For jazz, it sounds good, but some players might find the output of these stock pickups a bit too strong and the tone a little too assertive and crude. The strong note sustaining qualities of the Dot may also take some jazz players aback. Personally, I like the Dot's jazz sound, and it's mainly just a matter of my attacking the strings more gently than I would with a full hollow bodied archtop guitar. You don't want to flail away at the strings when you're playing jazz on the Dot. It would sound too overpowering and strident.
The Dot definitely needs amplification to be heard. The semi-hollow construction of the Dot is essentially useless when the guitar is unplugged, producing a cardboard-like, flat, weak-ass sound that is completely lacking in resonance. You may as well be playing a cheap solid body guitar when you play the Dot unplugged, as its semi hollow body contributes no acoustic richness at all without amplification. Plug the Dot in, however, and we're talking a whole different game. The sound literally explodes out of the amplifier, even on clean settings, and the resonance of the semi hollow body springs to life. In fact, when amplified the Dot almost sounds like a full hollow body guitar. The sound is huge, deep and warm.
Action, Fit & Finish — 9
How well was the guitar set up at the factory? I don't even think that's a fair question, since few guitars don't need to be adjusted when you first buy them. Frankly, my Dot was set up like crap when I bought it; the bow in the neck was so severe I think the neck would have snapped if it weren't for the truss rod, and of course the strings were a mile above the fretboard. I do my own set ups, and I literally had to tighten the truss rod two full turns to get the neck straight. But come on, who the hell cares? I don't think it's asking too much of a buyer of a new guitar to have to adjust the truss rod, adjust the action, intonate the guitar, etc ... I don't see how you can fault Epiphone for this. My Dot set up great after I spent some time with it, and that's all that matters to me.
My Dot was flawless. The fret work was excellent, with smooth rounded edges, even height across all the frets, and no dead spots or sitar-like buzzes anywhere on the fretboard. The cherry finish is beautiful, and you can see the grain of the wood on the top and back through the finish, which adds some nice depth to the overall look of the guitar. Both the top and the back appear to be single pieces of wood, not multiple panels of wood glued together, which adds to the Dot's good looks.
One cannot adequately review the Dot without commenting about the neck. I've held baseball bats that have a slimmer profile than the neck on my Dot. It is a long, thick, chunky neck, which I love, but will definitely not be to everyone's tastes. It feels like a weapon. I have big hands, so the neck feels good in my hands. The Dot is a BIG GUITAR for sure, a real handful that makes you stretch out and make room for yourself when you play it.
Reliability & Durability — 10
I'm always careful with my semi hollow and hollow bodied guitars. I always feel like they're going to collapse like balsa wood if I'm not careful. Having said that, this Dot looks and feels like it could take a serious beating. I'm not saying I'd slam it into a concrete piling, but I think if I dropped on a hard floor, it wouldn't suffer a scratch and would probably even stay in tune (those Grover tuners are awesome). I'm assuming that the varnish on my Dot is that armor-like polyurethane coating that Epiphone uses on most of their guitars, which means it's practically bulletproof. I always take good care of my guitars, and I'm not a pro musician, so this Dot probably won't have many opportunities to take much of a beating. But based on my past substantial experience with owning and playing Epiphone guitars (I've owned about 20 of them), I'm going to assume that my Dot will give me many years of glitch-free enjoyment. I've never had an Epiphone fail me, and I don't expect this one to either.
Overall Impression — 10
The Dot represents incredible value. Except for having the "Gibson bug," I can't see why someone would spend $3000 on a Gibson ES335 when you can get a Dot for $350 and almost the same quality. I think every electric guitarist at some point in his life gets the Gibson bug - that overwhelming, persistent, "I gotta have a Gibson!" mindset that makes people drop thousands of dollars just to have a guitar with that Gibson logo. I went through that phase myself: I've owned about 12 or 13 Gibson Les Pauls and SGs, and you know what? I've sold all of them except one. Were they great guitars? Absolutely. But were they worth my money? Did they make me want to play guitar more? The answer is a flat no.
Is the Dot of the same quality as a Gibson ES335? No. But is the Gibson significantly better? Sorry, but the answer is also no. The Gibson has better pickups, and it's got that cool looking binding on the neck, which the Dot does not have. But is it $2,500 dollars better than a Dot? No way. For my purposes, the Dot more than satisfies me, and I continue to be blown away by its incredible value for my consumer dollar every time I play it. Would I turn down a Gibson 335 if it were offered to me? Of course not. But for me, a guitar like that is nothing more than a freaking museum piece that would end up sitting on a stand in my living room so I can look at it when I walk by. With the Dot as good as it is for such a low price, a Gibson335 to me is a waste of money.