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.
Our personal musical journeys are always filled with twists and turns. So often we start down one road and end up going in a completely different direction. I was talking to Mrs Snarf the other day about that very thing.
I played for years and only played acoustics. Then I bought my first electric. It was a low end, import Parker. I don't remember the model number. I only remember a few things about it. I never really bonded with it. It was a weird Parker because it was an SSH. And I traded it at a guitar shop in a little town several hours away to a shop keeper that just saw Parker and gave me waaaaay to much for it because he thought he had something special (he didn't). I traded it straight up on my first Strat.
Honestly, I got that Strat to impress Mrs Snarf. We weren't even dating at the time, but I thought she needed to see me with a guitar for some reason. I immediately named it after her. It also made it into our engagement pictures. Kind of cheesy if you ask me. But sometimes life is ooey and gooey like that.
Neeways, I started playing that guitar, and I really liked it. It was, in my opinion, a much better guitar than the Parker. Honestly, though, it was probably more that I just didn't know what I was doing when I bought the Parker. But the Strat left an impression on me. When it came time to buy another electric, I bought a second Strat. Heck! At one point, I had 5 Strats. Currently, I only have 4. And, for the time being, that's probably where the count will stay.
Between that first and second Strat, I actually bought a really low end Les Paul. I don't really count it, because I never bonded with it. It was a low end instrument with a LOT of the problems that you would expect from something that was at that price point. The humbuckers in it were...I'll be nice and call them muddy. They didn't sound good. I ended up swapping them out for a pair of Burstbuckers, and it sounded a LOT better, but it still played terribly. So, by and large, it stayed in the closet.
About 10 years ago now, when Epiphone first started making the ES-339, I picked one of those up. I tried to get in on that first run of them, but didn't get one ordered in time. So I put my order in and waited like 6 months for the next shipment of them to come over. Got the guitar, and it almost never went in the case. I liked the way it sounded and the way it played. It made me think I might like humbuckers better than single coils. Then I got my 1962 50th Anniversary Sheraton. Loved the sound of that one! Initially I thought it was the fact that it had humbuckers too (even though it's mini-hums in it). Then, because I have always like the aesthetic of an ES-335, I got one of those. Oddly enough, I LOVED the sound of that one, but I never bonded with it. There was something just not right about it. But I got to wondering, at that point, my 3 favorite guitars were all semi-hollows, so was it the humbuckers or the semi-hollow that I liked.
Fast forward another couple years, and I was trading the 335 off. I picked up that Epiphone Les Paul when I did, and really liked the sound of it. I figured I was just turning into an humbucker kind of guy. But I realized that I still liked the sound of the 339 better than the LP. Then a year later, I picked up the Epi 335. I totally dug the sound of it. So I started doing the A/B thing with some of my guitars, and I realized that I think I have a thing for semi-hollows with humbuckers. That sound just really does it for me.
A few months after that, I had always told myself I wanted a real live Gibson ES-339, preferably made in the area of 2010 when the Custom Shop was making all of them. I had been trolling for a particular color. Found what I thought was a screamin' deal on one on the other side of the Metroplex. So I got it. And it has been my main guitar since. When Mrs Snarf and I were having the conversation the other day, I had realized that the second guitar hanging on the wall since I got the 339 has been either the LP or the 335. And mostly been the 335.
I've kind of done a 180. I started the electric guitar journey with single coils in a solid body. For several years, I thought they were the only pickups that were any good. If you played anything with humbuckers, then you were just letting your tone suffer. Now I pull a Strat out on occasion, but I primarily grab a semi-hollow with humbuckers in it, and I sometimes think that single coils sound kind of anemic. Unless they're P-90s, but those are a whole other animal.
Funny how that happens sometimes.
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.
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.