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Jazz Guitar Today Review: Epiphone Joe Bonamassa 1962 ES-335



In this review, JGT contributor Brad Jeter takes a close look at the new Epiphone Joe Bonamassa 1962 ES-335 – and he has a lot to say…

A very famous person once told me that it was not cool to namedrop. Having said that, some years ago, I was speaking to Joe Bonamassa backstage before his show. The topic came around to 335s and we both agreed that it was one of the most versatile of the classic two-humbucker guitars.

Joe in the studio with the new Epiphone Joe Bonamassa 1962 ES-335

I have been a fan and user of 335s for decades. I have owned many and certainly had favorites that were just right for the preferences I have.

When I first began playing guitar, one of the pieces that I made a vow of learning was Alvin Lee’s Woodstock version of, I’m Going Home–I was somewhat successful but it taught me about playing ridiculously fast and loud–something I was later to realize was, for the most part, stunt playing unless you were truly gifted (I was not).

Not long after this, maybe a year or so into playing, an older player I admired sat me down to listen to Rick Derringer’s stunning work on White Trashes’ live masterpiece album, Roadwork. Yes, Tobacco Road was fast and impressive but Richie was more focused on having me closely listen to Rick’s version of Back In The USA–particularly his amazing rhythm chops. Why do I mention Derringer? He was using a 355 (close enough!).

A few years later, I discovered one of my foundational influences that still informs my playing, Bill Nelson of Be Bop Deluxe. Yes indeed, another acolyte of the Gibson semi-hollow range, weaving his magic on a 345.

Another later influence (I mean, who didn’t he influence?) was Larry Carlton with his 335. MISTER 335.

Oh, in the era of the internet, I am sure everyone knows now but back in the day it was not well known that Ritchie Blackmore used a 335 on Hush. What????

That brings us to the guitar that is sitting next to me as I pen this review. The Epiphone Joe Bonamassa 1962 ES-335. It is certainly an interesting story about how this project came about and it is readily available all over the web so I won’t regurgitate it here. Suffice it to say, the guitar that inspired this Epiphone holds a very special place in Joe’s heart.

Straight out of the case, you can sense that quite a bit went into getting things right while obviously needing to keep it affordable.

The cherry finish is not a garish over-emphasized tone of red and the binding on the body and neck are a convincing tone of cream. The finish–although poly which is really not the dirty word it used to be because of modern formulations and application–is thin enough to not interfere with letting the guitar ring true. What struck me with the first few strums is just how even the notes sustain and ring out. There may be just a slight lack of “girth” to the overall acoustic tone of the guitar but I think it has more to do with the strings supplied rather than the instrument itself. 

Epiphone Joe Bonamassa 1962 ES-335

The neck has a very nice profile and falls into the slightly meaty side of the spectrum. I can’t imagine anyone really having an issue with it being “too” thick for those who normally gravitate toward thinner profiles. It is indeed generally indicative of the 335 carves of the 62-64 era. 

The frets fall into the medium jumbo category and are ever-so-slightly flatly crowned. Absolutely no dead frets and all are installed and seated very well indeed. Frets extend to the edge of the binding and if this is a deal-killer for anyone, then pony up for a Gibson. 

Something I immediately noticed and give great credit to Epiphone for is the fretboard is not over-sanded (polished) that I have always never cared for whatsoever with most Asian guitars (this guitar is made in China). There is an open grain which is certainly a desirable attribute that allows the board to breathe. 

I am not sure what the nut material is made of but it is very well-formed and cut.

The strings slots are not too deep and the depth of all six strings are proper. Again, well done Epiphone!

Tuners are Epiphone branded, two-ring era correct Kluson style. They are smooth and with no slippage. 

The bridge is a hybrid style that has vintage (saddle wire-retainer) elements and modern (body inserts rather than threaded rod). The tailpiece is a replica long-trem “Lyra” style. Personally, I have never been a fan of this tailpiece but it is vintage correct and doesn’t cause tuning issues with dive-bombing simply because this type of bridge cannot even get close to dive-bombing. It will allow you to add shimmer to chords and some mild action beyond that but, that is the limit of this style of vibrato. 

The controls are smooth and give a just-right resistance when rotated. Full-size CTS pots, Mallory caps, and a Switchcraft three-way toggle simply add to the value of this instrument. The pickguard is also vintage-inspired and adds to the overall vibe that Epiphone was going after.

The pickups are also premium Gibson Burstbucker 2 (neck) and Burstbucker 3 in the bridge. These have been quite popular over the years since they were introduced and should please anyone but the most snobbish pickup geeks. One personal observation: The neck mounting ring is installed low-side towards the neck. Now, there is certainly no right or wrong way to do this but I have always reversed this to allow the pickup to sit in a more parallel to the strings alignment. Again, no big deal, and a five-minute swap if one were so inclined. 

Plugged in it offers up all the tones you would expect. It will growl with the best of them and also give you those tones that a solid body simply cannot conjure up. The Burstbuckers are well matched to this guitar and neck/bridge combined has that just-discernible mid-scoop to it that really adds to the tonal palette. 

Another surprising bonus is a very well-made and sturdy hardshell case. It is refreshing to see that even at this price point, there was no compromise with a throw-away gig bag.

It is really quite easy to conclude this review with few words.

You will be hard-pressed to find such a quality guitar that checks off so many premium features for $1299.

It is an absolute bargain for what you invest and would be a great affordable addition for someone looking for their first 335 but can’t swing the investment in a Gibson. It is also such a well-made and playing instrument that it would be right at home in the hands of a gigging musician, night after night. Highly recommended!

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