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 back the end of April I finally did it. For the last couple of years, I've been trolling the interwebs looking for a really good deal on a specific guitar. I bought my Epi ES-339 back in like 2012 or whenever it is that they started making them. I missed the first run of them the previous fall (although I had my order in at that point), so I got mine the following spring when production on them really ramped up. Although it hasn't been on the stand the entire time, it's a guitar that I have continually gone back to. Also, I pulled it out of the closet in 2017 for a blues jam I was going to, and it only went back into the closet when I did this thing.
I've really liked the size of the 339. Not as big as a 335 and not as heavy as an LP. When it's clean, it can get that airy sound of a 335, but can growl like an LP. When you play it, it's pretty obviously not either of those, but it can give a reasonable facsimile of either. It leans closer to the LP though. It can get that jazz vibe and still be rock and roll. Or it can be a total blues machine. The more I played that Epi, the more I liked it, and the more I wanted an really nice one.
So I started looking for one. I was looking mostly at Gibsons, but I had seen a couple of Collings that were that size that were really nice. The Collings would've been my first choice, but they are/were just soooo expensive. More than I could really rationalize paying anyways. If I ended up going for a Collings, I didn't care what the aesthetic or year would be. If I got the Gibson, I really wanted a light caramel version that was pre-Memphis factory closing. Also, if I got a Gibson, I wanted a real 339 and not one of the Studio models. That was mostly because I had gotten a 335 Studio (not the 2-knob version) and it just never did it for me.
Anyways, I had narrowed it down to those two models, and had just been looking for one that was a price that I was willing to pay. Being as selective as I was being, no matter how you sliced it, it wasn't going to be a cheap guitar. I had a couple pop up on my Reverb feed over the course of those couple of years that would've met my hopeful price range, but they went extremely quickly.
One afternoon, one showed up that fit the bill all the way around. And it was on the other side of the Metroplex and not somewhere across the country. I wouldn't call it a screamin' deal, but the price was actually the lowest I had seen for one like I wanted. Looking at the listing, it had been posted only an hour before. So I emailed the store.
Surprisingly, they immediately responded, and the sales person told me that I probably wanted to call on the guitar because it had already generated more than usual interest. I gave them a call and talked about the guitar. They asked if I wanted it, and I explained that, if I did, I was going to want to do some trading to get the cost down so I'd have to call him back. He told me, "I promise I'm not trying to pressure you on this one, but do whatever thinking you need to do quickly." Talked it over with Mrs Snarf, looked at a couple of guitars I had in the closet, and called them back. Told him I wanted it and asked if he could hold it until I could get over to the store the next day. He said he could only hold it with a deposit, and he wouldn't recommend on just hoping it would be there the next day. So I put down a 10% deposit.
Since I put the deposit down, I actually waited a couple of days to drive across the Metroplex to finish working out the deal. Got to the store, played on it for a couple of minutes, and then got my trade guitars out of the truck. We got the deal worked out and got the cash out of pocket down to about half of what they were asking. I paid the man and started to put it back in the case to bring it home.
That's when the sales guy told me this. He said that he really wasn't trying to do the sales pressure thing on me with the guitar. He said as he saw my email come in asking about it, a guy came into the store and picked it up. The guy plugged it in and sat down and started playing it. He sat there playing it the entire time (probably 20 minutes) that he and I were going back and forth with phone calls. He said that he could tell the guy was actually interested in the guitar and not somebody that was just killing time by playing it. After he hung up from the call where I put down the deposit, he said he walked over to the guy to tell him it had just sold on the phone. As he got up to the guy to tell him, the customer looked up and said, "I'm really liking this guitar. I think I'm going to take it." So the salesman had to tell him that he had just missed out. According to the salesman, if I'd drug my feet just a minute or two longer, he would've been telling that to me.
I don't know if that was him giving me a good sales story to make me feel better about buying it, but I felt like he wasn't feeding me a line with it. And if that's the case, I guess I got lucky with it. The guitar I had been wanting at a lower price than I had been seeing other places. So I present to you, my new-to-me 2007 Gibson ES-339. I know I've only had it a couple of months, but it is absolutely without question the best electric I own. There's a LOT to be said about Gibson's QC issues the last few years (the ES-335 I bought was a case in point for that), but when they built this 339, the got it right.
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.