Gibson’s ES-5 is a legend, but it’s also a bit idiosyncratic thanks to funky out-of-phase pickups and a non-intuitive control setup. Plus, originals are now so pricey that few gig with them. Enter King Snake’s Three Bone. The Japanese maker’s guitar builds on the legend and fine-tunes several features.
Similar to the original, the 17″-wide, 3.35″-deep body is five-ply maple on the top and back, with three-ply sides. The top is thinner than an ES-5, backed by parallel bracing and a block under the bridge; King Snake says this combo creates a more-bluesy sound while reducing feedback and the bass stagnation of a deep body. The stunning vintage-look amber nitrocellulose lacquer highlights the wood’s robust tiger striping.
The 12″-radius/25.5″-scale maple neck is capped with a rosewood fretboard and 111/16″ nut. Neck feel is smooth, sleek, and fast, with larger modern frets.
The bridge is pinned, which remedies the all-too-common problem of having it shift while changing strings or playing hard. The tune-o-matic may not be vintage-correct, but certainly aids intonation. The tailpiece is made of heavy brass, which King Snakes says contributes to thicker-sounding string vibration.
Beyond the all-round vibe and quality craftsmanship, it’s the pickups that make the Three Bone sing. Packing it with three potent P-90-like single-coils, King Snake’s not trying to replicate the original’s wide range of voices, from sleepy, underwater sounds to trebly highlights. Instead, they know what you’re after: a range of bluesy, jazzy, and rockabilly tonal glory. And these pickups shoot straight for the heart.
One of the major upgrades is the control setup. A three-way toggle switches between pickups. The top pot controls volume, while the lower two dial in tone – one for the neck pickup, the other for the middle and bridge. It’s an interesting, handy arrangement.
That neck pickup is practically all you need. Supremely sonorous, it ranges from deep and throaty to smooth and clear, with a lovely growl. The others offer further fine-tuned options, and after a while we stuck with the hard-rocking bridge unit. A five-way (better yet, six-way) pickup selector would be handy for other combined-pickup tones, and other quibbles include the tailpiece, where a vintage design would be more fitting. Also, better tuners would enhance the overall experience.
Still, the Three Bone is a great option for home or stage. It’s also available with one or two pickups and as a 21/4″ thin-body, with several finish options.
This article originally appeared in VG’s June 2022 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.