It's no secret that I like Epiphone guitars. I also like Gibsons. And Fenders. And a good Gretsch. Gosh, I just really like guitars. I also like modding and even fixing them sometimes.
That said, if I were to pick my top 5 guitars from my woodpile, they would probably be these, and in this order.
Four of those guitars have been modded in some way. The Strat is the only one that is bone stock. I kept saying I was going to swap out the pickups in it, but every time I decide it's time to do so, I pick it up and play it, and like the way it sounds. So it has managed to remain untouched. I guess I did add a couple of springs to it to deck the trem, but I'm not sure that completely counts.
The Gibson ES-339 is mostly un-modded. The only thing I've done to it is to swap out the bridge. I didn't like the bridge that came was on it when I bought it. I'm not completely sure it was the original bridge either. So I bought one and swapped it out. It came with 57 Classics in it, and that's how I'm leaving it.
The Epiphone 339 has had the pickups swapped out and two of the knobs have been swapped. The original shipment of those that Epiphone sold were advertised to come with their Probucker pickups. When I ordered mine, and even when it came in, they were still advertising those as the pickups. However, when I got mine in and checked it, it had the Alnico Classic pickups. I found out that, after that first batch that came over, they had swapped the pickups in all the 339s, but they hadn't updated their ads or specs on the website. I was disappointed, but the ones in it didn't sound bad. Still, I always wondered what the Probuckers would sound like in it. A year ago, I ended up with an extra set of Probuckers, so I finally got to hear what the 339 sounded like with them in it.
The Epi LP originally came with Probuckers in it. A Probucker 1 in the neck and 2 in the bridge. I really liked them. In truth, I saw no reason to change them out. Played it for a year and a half or so with those in it. Then one day I got a wild hair and decided to grab a pair of Burstbuckers (a 1 and a 2) and drip them in to see what they sounded like. Honestly, I liked the Probucker 1 better that the Burstbucker in the neck, but the Burstbucker 2 sounds better than the Probucker 2 in the bridge. Because I'm lazy and didn't want to mess with it again, the Burstbuckers have stayed in the LP.
Those Probuckers out of the LP were what went into the 339.
The Epiphone 335 came with the Alnico Classic pickups. I was quite happy with those. They sounded as good as the 57 Classics that were in the Gibson 335 that I had traded off a couple years previous. I had no plans to replace them. I played it for a year with it being bone stock. Then, back in December, I unplugged my cable from it, and the jack fell back into the guitar. Then, while I was trying to fish the jack out and back into the hole, I screwed up one of the pots. So, since I didn't feel like I had the time to I decided to carry it into the my local luthier. And, since I was carrying it in for electronics work, I started making a list of what I wanted him to do to it. Basically, put in another jack and replace the push/pull pots in it. Since I was doing that, I decided to pick up a couple of 57 Classics to put in it. When I dropped it off to the luthier, I have him do all of that at the same time. Got it back, and have been super happy with the sound of it.
You'll notice that, by and large, it's the pickups that have been swapped. I know that there are a LOT of different pickups out there, and a LOT of those pickups sound really good. You may notice that all of the pickups that I have talked about are Gibson branded in some way. That's mostly because I know what they sound like because I've played them at some point in time. So I've stuck with them. I know that Lollar Imperials are supposed to be super good. I've also been told that the Bare Knuckle brand is super good.
By my own admission, with the humbuckers I've always picked, I have always seemed to chase that PAF sound. In the Gibson stable, the 57 Classics and the Burstbuckers are both supposed to get that sound. Of the Burstbuckers, the Burstbucker 1 and 2 would be closer to that vintage 50s LP kind of sound. In the Epiphone world, it has been my understanding that the Alnico Classics are the Epi version of the 57 Classics and the Probuckers are the Epi version of Burstbuckers. I once read that, from a PAF perspective, the Burst/Probucker 1 & 2 combination would be that 50s sound. The Burst/Probucker 2 & 3 combination would be that 60s sound. And the 57/Alnico Classic combination would be that 70s sound.
So, except for the Epiphone ES-339, all of the pickups were just swapped from the Epiphone version to the Gibson version. In that 339, I just swapped from one Epiphone version to another Epiphone version. In the case of the ones being swapped from the Epi version to the Gibson version, the Gibson pickups do sound better. The Epiphone ones sound good. They're not bad. I could absolutely play them and be happy. But, since I swapped them out, I'll say that the Gibsons seem to have the edge when it comes to clarity and range. I think there's a reason that they cost twice as much, and isn't just the name on the box they came in.
Maybe some day I'll try some other pickups like the Lollars I mentioned. I hear the low-wind Imperials are just the best. In fact, I've got a buddy that said that's what he has in his 335, and his guitar sounds amazing. Course his overall tone is a step above mine too.
All that to say, if you don't like the sound of the guitar, try some new pickups. Heck. Even if you like the sound, try some new ones and see if you like them better. Or leave them the same. At least for me, half the fun is in the tinkering.
So I mentioned in my Best Gear of 2021 post that my new Epiphone 335 was the best gear I had bought last year. I still think that. I still don't see it becoming my main player, but, lately, it's the one that I've grabbed first when I walk into my music room. It's just a fun guitar to play, and it sounds really nice.
It's a gold top. Cream colored binding but all the rest of the plastic is black. Epiphone's Alnico Classic Pro pickups are in it. If I remember correctly, those are Epi's version of Gibson's 57 Classics, with the Pro signifying that they're 4-wire instead of 2-wire. Aesthetically, the one thing I wish they would've done would have been to paint the inside edge of the f-holes black instead of body colored (gold). The Gibson 335 I had for a while had that, and I just always thought it looked better that way. I haven't measured it, but I think it has the same neck that is on my Standard 50s Les Paul. It has that same handful of a feel that I've come to really like instead of the really thin necks that a couple of my older Epiphones have.
Sonically, it's not bad. That's not to say that it's not good. It is. But, remembering back to the Gibson, the Epi pickups sound nice, but they're not as articulate as the ones that were in the Gibson. Granted, that's sitting in the quiet of my practice space. It's not something I think I would notice if I were playing out somewhere. It may also be that I'm not remembering the 57 Classics as they really sounded. After all, it's been over a year since I traded that one off. I'm in no hurry to upgrade the pickups (they really do sound pretty good), but it is something that I will probably end up doing some day. Kind of like my Gretsch, one day I'll come across the right pickups for the right price, and I'll know that it's time to go ahead and upgrade them. Until then, they will definitely serve the purpose.
Playability is just fine. The action out of the box (out of the store?) was right about what I would've tried to dial in, so, after I got it home, all I did was clean up the guitar-store-funk on it and change the strings. After playing it for a while, one thing I do need to do to it is get it back on the bench and smooth some of the frets up in the squeaky-zone. I don't play up there on a real regular basis, but I've been working some stuff that has a bend on the 17th fret, and every time I hit it, I think it scrapes a little bit.
It's turning out to be a great guitar. It didn't just blow me away like the Standard 50s Les Paul did. But, in all fairness, it was that Probucker 1 at the neck of the LP that continues to pull me back to that guitar. I just really like that sound of that pickup in that guitar. So, didn't blow me away, but it did reach out and grab me at the store, make me take it home, and continues to make me leave it out on the stand and grab it at some point most every day.
Bang for the buck, dollar to value ratio, whatever you want to call it, Epiphone continues to step up their game. This new 335 just further convinces me of that.
I bought my Epiphone 339 back when they first released them in 2011. I missed that first run that delivered in the fall of 2011, so the one that I got was made in that second run. That means that I had to wait 4 or 5 months to get mine. I ordered it in November, and got it the end of March or first of April. One change that they made between the first run and the second that I didn't see them announce anywhere was that the original 339s shipped with their Probucker pickups and the second run shipped with their Alnico Classic Pro pickups. I had actually been looking forward to getting to try the Probuckers out, but the Alnico Classics sound good to my ear, so whatever.
Never gave it a whole lot of thought after that. Like I said, I wasn't unhappy with the pickups it came with. I had always heard that the Alnico Classics were Epi's version of Gibson's 57 Classics and the Probuckers were Epi's version of Gibson's Burstbuckers. I had put a pair of Burstbuckers in an old Les Paul I had, and I really liked them. Never really bonded with the guitar, but I thought the pickups sounded good. I had a Gibson 335 for a while that had 57 Classics and I really liked them too.
In my head, I always said I preferred the 57 Classics. I'm not really sure why. Honestly, I think I liked them better because that's what it seemed that most Gibsons I liked were getting when I started paying attention to that brand, and they were advertising them as being "like PAFs." In the last few years, I've realized that they now seem to be putting Burstbuckers, 490s, MHS, and another pickup or two in guitars as much as they are the 57s. When I saw that, I realized that several of those are also said to be "like PAFs." Now, I must confess, I'm not really sure what a PAF sounds like, but being a good gear hound and sometimes cork-sniffer, I know that PAFs are the sound that everyone thinks they should have. So, if it sounds like a PAF, that's the next best thing to actually having a PAF, right?
Now I'm just confused. All these PAF-like sounding pickups, and they all seem to sound a little different to my ear. What's the real PAF sound? No clue. At that point, I realized I had been sniffing a cork or two, and figured, I wasn't unhappy with the way that 339 played or sounded. As well, from a similarity standpoint, I had the real 57 Classics in that 335, and, to my ear, they didn't really sound all that different from those Alnico Classics. If I really sat and listened to them, I thought Epi version may not have been quite as clear and articulate on the low end, and they may not have been quite as harmonically rich when driven, but they sounded good. Just playing at church on Sunday or at the local blues jam, and nobody was going to hear a difference in the two. So there was no reason to change the Epi pickups.
Then last fall, I picked up that Epi LP Standard 50s (or whatever it's called). I immediately bonded with that guitar. Loved the neck! Loved the sound! And did I mention the neck? I had been playing that 339 predominately for nearly 18 months when I got that LP, and the 339 suddenly found itself relegated to hanging on the wall. One of the things I really liked about that LP were the pickups in it. They seemed super clear and articulate, and sounded good clean or driven. Maybe it was the guitars. Maybe it was the pickups. Maybe it was a bit of both. Either way, it had the Probuckers in it, so I was once again questioning what the 339 would sound like with Probuckers instead of the Alnico Classics.
So I started looking for a set of them. You could get them direct from Epiphone, but they were (1) $150 a set, and (2) out of stock. So Reverb was my option since I don't like eBay. Someone from Thailand was selling them starting at $50 a set with a wiring harness. That's a good deal, right? Seemed super sketch to me, so I passed on them. I'd see others showing up here and there, but they were running about $50 a piece (or more). I found a pair that someone pulled out of a new Epiphone where they were asking $70 for the pair. I messaged them for pics of the back of the pickups, and, when he sent them, it turned out they were actually the Alnico Classics like I already had. I let him know what he actually had, and that I'd pass since they weren't the ones I wanted. His ad hasn't changed. So be careful if you come across that ad; they're not actually Probuckers.
The next afternoon, I noticed someone had posted a set of Probuckers for a super price. Looking at the ad, the pics all looked right, so I was convinced they were real. According to the ad, the seller had just pulled them out of a new Epi LP Modern that they had gotten. Pics looked right, and the story sounded legit. Looked at the price again, and three other folks had already made offers on them and someone had them in their cart. So, since the price was really good without asking for a deal, I pulled the trigger. I will say that they are the Probucker 2 and 3 pickups where my LP has the Probucker 1 and 2.
Finally got them swapped out, and the Alnico Classics are now sitting beside me on the desk. What's the verdict on the 339 now that it has the Probuckers in it? I like them better! I think they have a clearer low end. I'm not sure the difference in the Probucker 1 in the LP neck and the Probucker 2 that is in the LP bridge and the 339 neck, but I still like the Probucker 1 best of all. To my ear it really sounds good. Either way, again, to my ear, the Probuckers have a clearer low end and are just a bit more articulate than the Alnico Classics. They also seem to be a little bit smoother and not quite as harsh when driven. When turned up, they also don't sound as hot to me. The Probucker 1 is easily my favorite, but the 2 and 3 I also like better than the Classics. Granted, in a blindfolded side by side, the only one I think I could pick out of the mix would be the 1. That is, if I could pick it out of a crowd. But trying to be objective sitting in my quiet little music room, I believe that I hear a difference in the two types of pickups.
So, I have to say that I think the Probuckers are great pickups. They're half the price of the Gibson Burstbuckers, and, to my ear, they're not that different. Granted, I haven't A/Bed them at this point, but from what I remember of that pair I had, they're pretty close. Given the chance, if I had another Epi with those quick connect ends, if it didn't have the Probuckers in it, I'd see about finding another pair. I'm not sure that all the hype around the Probuckers isn't at least a little marketing, but, I think, they're well worth the money. Like I already said, they're not the Gibson (or Duncan or Lollars), but they're close enough that nobody but us gear hounds are going to hear the difference. Bang for your buck, especially if you get them used, I don't know that you're going to get anything better.
A couple of months back I picked up one of those Epiphone Les Paul Standard 50s. A gold top. Because everyone needs a gold top, right? Never expected to play it much because I've never bonded with an LP. Granted the only ones I'd played had been the entry level Epiphones and the entry level Gibsons. I'd never played a "nice" one from either brand, so some would say I had probably never given them a fair shake.
I think I got a pretty good deal on this guitar because it was being sold as a blem from American Musical. No big though because I fully expected to just hang this one on the wall because I think a gold top is a beautiful guitar.
It came in, and I pulled it out of the box. I'm not sure why American Musical was selling it as a blem. I'm guessing someone bought it and returned it, so they couldn't sell it as new. It was setup pretty nicely, and I couldn't find anything wrong with it. Once I got it on the workbench, I noticed that the nut is a couple of millimeters off center. I think it was cut weird because it's flush on the bass side and just barely not flush on the treble. Otherwise I have been all over this thing, and can't find anything wrong with it.
The neck is perfect. I wish all my guitars had the neck on this one. It's bigger than all the other electrics I've got. I've got an Epi acoustic that has a big neck on it that is bigger and borders on being uncomfortable to play after a few minutes. This one is big without being as big as that one. It's a good handful without making my hand tired. It's just a great feeling neck.
The pups on it are advertised to be an Epiphone Probucker 1 in the neck and Probucker 2 in the bridge. I've read that those are Epi's version of the the Burstbucker pups. I really like them. To my ear, they're clear and articulate. I especially like the neck pup. I've really liked the Epi Alnico Pro (Epi's equivalent to the 57 Classics) that are in my 339, but I think these Probuckers make the Alnico Pros sound kind of average.
It has the 50s-era wiring in it. From what I've read, that means that the highs don't get muddy if you turn the tone down. Honestly, until recently I've always dimed the tone and never messed with it again, so I'm not really sure if wiring like this makes a difference. Since I've started playing with the knobs on all my guitars more, maybe I'll eventually be able to hear a difference.
I think it looks as good as a gold top should. I think that the gold color is more yellow than the Gibsons I've seen. The Gibsons seem to be a greener gold that this one. You can look at the sides and see that it is a 3-piece body. Looking at the back, they have a veneer on it (albeit a nice looking veneer) that make it appear to be one piece, but it's not.
It's got the to-be-expected cream colored binding and hardware and gold knobs with pointers. There is binding on the neck, too, but the binding doesn't cover the fret ends like it does on a Gibson. It's got the vintage looking tuners with the off-white plastic tulip keys. The headstock is the new Gisbon-inspired headstock that I, personally, like better than the usual Epi headstock.
The one thing I don't like about the guitar is that this mug is heavy. Like orca heavy! I stuck it on the scale because I was curious, and this thing is 9.5 pounds. It is noticeably heavier than any other guitar I've got. I wouldn't want to stand and play it for long periods of time.
Other than the weight, this guitar is really a great guitar. My assumptions of the guitar when I initially bought it turned out to be completely wrong. It feels good and plays good and, to my ear, sounds really good. Since I picked it up, it has become the guitar that I play the most. For the last couple of years, I was typically reaching for my 339 when I played. This Epiphone Standard 50s Les Paul seems to be making the move to become my main player. I've played Gibson LPs that I didn't like half as well as this one. Over the course of the last 10 years I've bought several Epiphones (a 1962 anniversary Sheraton, a 339, a couple of different acoustics, this Les Paul, and others), and with every purchase, I am more impressed with Epiphone's offerings.
So I've got my ES-335, my Sheraton, and my ES-339.
My Gibson ES-335 is a 2016 Studio version. As I recall, it has a few differences from the regular ES-335 model, but, overall, it's still the same guitar. It has the 4-knob arrangement (unlike the Studio version from a couple of years earlier), and it has 57 Classic pups in it. I think the bridge used was a different bridge from the regular version. I also think that the neck is a torrefied neck. I think there were a couple of other minor differences, but those two are the most significant changes in the Studio and regular versions.
The Sheraton is a 1962 50th Anniversary model. It's biggest differences between it and an actual 335 are that it uses Gibson mini-buckers instead of full size ones and it has a Frequensator tailpiece (closer to a trapeze) instead of using a stop piece tailpiece. It has CTS pots and switches, and it has GIbson cloth wiring inside. Those are also differences between it and the regular Sheratons of the time that it was built. For the purpose of comparison, when I bought the Sheraton nearly 10 years ago, it cost approximately 50% more than a regular line Sheraton and half the price of an ES-335 (which is the model I would've gotten).
My Epiphone ES-339 is from the second run that they produced. The first run was during the summer or fall of 2011. I had been looking at and toying with the idea of buying a Gibson ES-339 for a while when they announced that Epi would be producing that model as well. I got my order in late enough that I missed that first run and had to wait on the second. The only difference in the two that I recall is that the first run had Epi's ProBucker pups in it (their equivalent to Gibby's BusrtBuckers) and the second run had the Alnico Pro pups in it (their equivalent to the 57 Classics).
Although, mine have some pretty significant differences in them, the 335 and Sheraton are very similar guitars in theory. However, I believe that the Sheraton was an Epiphone creation and not a Gibson copy originally, but it's a little more ornate than the basic 335; it's closer to an ES-355. I actually like my Sheraton better than my ES-335, and, moving forward, I'm going to talk about them as if they were the same unless specified otherwise. Also, I'm not covering the differences in Gibson vs Epiphone. This is 335 vs 339.
The 335 guitars are bigger bodied. I'm too lazy to look up the actual dimensions, but they're huge guitars. They're big enough that I know at least a couple of folks that won't play them because they're "just too big." They're also pretty heavy. I attribute the weight to the fact that they're so big. Although I've always said that the 339 is the same size as a Les Paul, I've read (and seen when they're side by side) that they're not quite the same size. But they're close. See the pics at the bottom for a comparison. It's not a huge difference, but that little bit makes a pretty big difference in weight and comfort when playing.
If it makes a difference to anyone, the 335 has the jack on the face of the guitar where the 339 has it on the hip like a Les Paul. I don't usually think about where the jack is, but every time I pull out the 335 and plug it in, I'm afraid I'm going to hit the plug and crack the face of the guitar or break the jack. I've never done that and probably never will, but it's always in the back of my mind.
From a parts standpoint, they're not really that different of guitars (and I'm not talking about the the Gibson vs Epi difference, this is the 335 vs 339 difference). They both have the same control setup. Both have 2 vol/2 tone setups with the pup selector down by the knobs. They both have a stop tail bridge. They both have humbuckers for pups. There's the jack location, but, other than that, they're similar.
Tones from both are very nice. They both have that nice semi-hollow sound. The longer I play, the more I really like that airy sound that you get from a semi-hollow like a 335 or 339. The difference is that the 339 can get into those Les Paul-ish kind of darker sounds that a 335 can't do. I imagine that's because the wings of the 339 are smaller so it's as close to a solid body as it is to a semi-hollow. The 335 is the standard for a semi-hollow, in my opinion, the semi by which all others are measured. The 339 does an adequate job in that semi-hollow arena, but it also can get into the LP territory. The 339 is a good balance between the two.
Once I understood that what I was hearing was a semi-hollow sound, I've liked the 335 and played one at least as often as I played my Strats. I've always wanted to like a good Les Paul, but have just never bonded with one. Since I started to migrate from primarily playing an acoustic to playing an electric, I have always been drawn to my Strats. However, about a year ago, I pulled my 339 out of the closet, set it up really well, and have been playing it almost exclusively since then. It's just a great guitar that covers a lot of area.
The 335 vs the 339. Both are great guitars that are very similar. If you like the humbucker sound, give them a shot.
And, yes, I've ripped those from the interwebs at some point. Don't remember where so I can't give credit like I should.
Snarf is a wannabe musician who currently resides in the great state of Texas. His wife is his favorite. He believes chocolate milk made from milk that is anything less than whole milk is basically water and deserves to be dumped down the sink so nobody has to suffer through it. He hates having to shop for clothes. But he has a thing for really cool bags, and, consequently, has more gig bags than guitars and a closet full of messenger bags and backpacks. He still misses his dog who was taken by cancer 5 years ago. Check out his Reverb shop and see if he has any gear he's trying to get rid of.