Gibson ES-335 Joe Bonamassa Signature Model
Price: $3,335 (street)
The collaboration of Gibson and blues-rocker Joe Bonamassa began with a limited run of goldtop Les Paul’s in 2009, followed by a more-affordable Studio version and another Custom Shop version, the latter sporting a beautiful flamed-maple top.
Gibson and Bonamassa have teamed up again to debut a tribute to his treasured ’61 ES-335. With his guitar in-hand, the builders at Gibson whipped out their calipers and did their best to mine the magic of Joe’s original.
The Bonamassa ES-335 has the standard maple/poplar/maple three-ply body, but like Joe’s original ’61, sports a center seam like the two-piece maple top on a Les Paul. Additionally, the Vintage Original Spec (VOS) sunburst finish on it was carefully matched to follow that of his original guitar. The neck is mahogany with a nicely streaked rosewood board and a neck that is .050″ smaller than Gibson’s current 1959 profile. The edges of the fretboard have a very nice rolled feel, and the binding throughout is aged cream. The headstock carries tulip-buttoned TonePros tuners, a holly veneer, and a nylon nut. The aged hardware includes an ABR-1 bridge, and Gibson’s deluxe lightweight aluminum stop bar. The volume and tone controls are from CTS, and the accompanying knobs are period-correct gold with silver-top knobs and a single gold “top hat” knob for the neck pickup’s tone control. Like most current production ES guitars, Joe’s features ’57 Classic humbuckers, but with the addition of aged covers. The Joe Bonamassa ES-335 is only available in sunburst and includes both a custom shop case and certificate of authenticity. For our review, we chose a Dr. Z RX ES amp and a Fender Deluxe Reverb.
Picking up the sunburst beauty, we immediately noted the pleasing neck shape of the JB. For those that are Gibson savvy, it is a nice compromise between the larger ’59 profile, and the thin ’60s profile used on Gibson Custom instruments. Another comfort feature is the rolled edges of the fingerboard. Because of this, the frets go to the edge of the board, and there is not the standard binding nibs you see on new Gibson instruments. The action and playability of the instrument were superb with a nice medium/low action that allowed both heavy chording, and extended bending.
Plugged into a vintage Fender Deluxe, the Bonamassa responded with classic tones; fat, clear lows, with bell-like highs on the neck pickup, the characteristic ping of both pickups together, and the strong, vibrant ring of the bridge – all very pleasing to the ears. Though we have heard ’57 Classic pickups from many guitars, they seem sound especially sweet in the JB. Turning the amp up to breakup, the guitar handled all positions well – no squealing, even at high volume – yet it was easy to get controlled, feedback-enhanced once the amp’s Volume contraol moved past 5.
The Volume and Tone knobs have a very nice taper, handy for controlling the amp from the guitar. Kudos to Gibson and Joe for their attention to this often overlooked area. Also, the strings go both through and over the stop bar. This helps create a slinkier feel, though it effects on tone are open to debate. We liked it well enough, but it could certainly be changed with little fuss.
In all, the Joe Bonamassa ES-335 proved a fantastic instrument. Out of the case, the guitar had a broken-in feel and wonderfully round tone. Modern instruments too often fail to deliver clear treble notes without some degree of harshness. But, like a good vintage 335, the Bonamassa proffers clear, round highs. Besides that, this guitar handles superbly, and has both the look and tone that say “Play me.”
This article originally appeared in VG November 2012 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.