Ultra-399 review by Epiphone

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  • Features: 8
  • Sound: 7
  • Action, Fit & Finish: 8
  • Reliability & Durability: 8
  • Overall Impression: 7
  • Reviewer's score: 7.6 Good
  • Users' score: 6 (3 votes)
Epiphone: Ultra-399

Price paid: £ 260

Purchased from: eBay

Features — 8
The 339 is a small semi-hollow guitar about the size of a Les Paul but a similar shape to the 335. Mine is in a beautiful sunburst colour with bindings (probably painted on like all epiphanies). The 339 Ultra is a short lived variant that has the difficult to explain but fairly simple to play Ultra system that can also be found on Les Paul models. The key benefit is a NanoMag pickup that gives a pseudo acoustic sound that can be blended with the humbuckers or used on its own. There are two jack outputs one hum bucker only and a mono/stereo output that allow the hum bucker and nanomag to be either blended or sent to different amps. It also has a USB output that can be plugged straight into a computer (apparently). The other remaining feature is a built in tuner - the bridge pickup has a surround that has LEDs in it. It uses a PP3 battery although you can plug into the hum bucker only connection and still get a sound without a battery.  Feature wise it is one of the only guitars of its sort although there are Line 6 Variax and other guitars with piezo bridges

Sound — 7
I'm into '70s/'80s/'90s rock but also play and sing other stuff. This is my first semi-hollow. Whilst I admire experienced players of acoustics I find them uncomfortable (old shoulder wound). I have a Gibson Studio LP so did not want the Epiphone LP Ultra as I thought they might be too similar. The switching system sounds complicated but is fairly natural and quick to understand when you play it. The NanoMag has a dedicated volume control (at the front instead of a tone control on a normal Gibson type) plus recessed treble, bass and gain controls in the back. At the front there are three volume controls (one per pickup), one shared tone control and one three way switch for the hum buckers. The NanoMag volume control has a multi way switch that allows NanoMag only, magnetic only and blended.

It's a great guitar for noodling on the settee. It sounds great even unplugged and feels nicer to play sat down than my Les Paul I like feeling the music. I do prefer the unplugged sound of the 335 but its a bit big for me and they don't do Ultra versions. Plugged in it varies from its semi acoustic sound to a moderate hum bucker. I wouldn't use it for full on heavy rock as I think it sounds a bit flat (compared to the LP) but for anything else its surprisingly good. I think its acoustic is okay for an open mic night but I wouldn't pretend that its as good as an expensive acoustic. For me its good enough for most things and the difference could easily be hidden with an effects unit.

Action, Fit & Finish — 8
I bought mine second hand and it had a bit of fret buzz on the lower two strings and five frets but after a setup it is lovely. I suspect it has been hardly played so probably left the factory like that. There is nothing else that looks wrong or poorly assembled. There are no flaws I have seen (I play mine almost every day and would notice). The build quality does seem to be very good and my friends are drawn to it despite it being the cheapest of my stable. It's burst finish is very beautiful... It plays beautifully when sat down but I do not like its balance on a strap.

Reliability & Durability — 8
Electrically it has been fine. No horrible noises or failures. Being a semi-hollow it feels more fragile than my LP but I don't really wish to test this. Whilst mine came with a soft gig bag I ordered the Epiphone 339 case. It took nearly six months to come but is worth it for the piece of mind. The finish of the case is really nice but you can see where the money has been saved compared to the Gibson variant - e.g. it has moulded stitching when you have two. I would use it without a backup to play a couple of tracks at an open mic. But I would never consider turning up for a major gig with one guitar! I replaced the strap buttons with strap locks. All Gibsons/Epiphones have larger screws so it's not as easy as it could be.

Overall Impression — 7
I play the 339 almost everyday and it is my preferred practice guitar. When I am strumming unplugged or playing into a small modelling practice amp it is slightly nicer than the Gibson Les Paul - that semi-hollow chime is great and feel is almost as good. Its main weakness seems to be on a strap where its balance is horrible or when I am playing into a Blackstar valve amp when I just prefer the LP. If it was stolen, lost or broken I would consider buying a 335. I know they play nicely on the knee and I suspect they hang better on the strap too. It's such a shame I can't get a 335 Ultra!

1 comment sorted by best / new / date

    Does it fret out on the high e string above the 12th fret as is custom of all chinese-made epiphones?