Gibson ES-330 vs Epiphone Casino

Oh dear. Gibson has released another ES-330 re-issue.

I’ve been waiting for nearly twenty years for Gibson to re-issue what I consider to be the “classic” ES-330 design. But they seem incapable of making a re-issue except for the fringes of the original run designs. I’m not implying these re-issues don’t match a design that came out at some time during the original production years. They just don’t match what the majority of instruments looked like.

The most recent attempt (shown below) is claimed to be reminiscent of a late 1950s model. In fact, it does indeed have a dot neck just like the Gibson ES-330 did when it was introduced. However, the dots were changed to block inlay position markers a few years later and stayed that way for most of the original run.

Gibson Es-330 Electric Guitar Vintage Burst
Newest ES-330 Re-Issue

The newest ES-330 re-issue at least has the neck joined to the body at the 15th fret. The still available ES-330L (L for Long Neck) has the neck join the body like an ES-335 (shown below this paragraph). You may think that’s better. It is on the ES-335. But it’s not how most ES-330s were constructed for most of it’s life. The good news on the ES-330L is that it has the block markers correct.

Gibson Es-330L Electric Guitar Antique Red
ES-330L

Gibson ES-330 History
You can find more details about the Gibson ES-330 from Vintage Guitars Info Guy.

  • Orignially manufactured from 1959 to 1972
  • Fully hollow thinline dual cutaway guitar with P90 single coil pickups.
  • 1959: One or two P90s. Single P90s were mounted half-way between where dual P90s are mounted. Bigsby vibrator was optional. Dot neck (just like the newest re-issue). Neck joins body at 15th fret.
  • 1962: Block inlays instead of dots. Shape of the ears changed so less like Mikey Mouse ears.
  • 1968: Optional long neck (joins body at 19th fret).
  • 1972: End of original production run.

To summarize: The ES-330 had a dot neck for approximately 3 out of 13 years and blocks 10 years. It had a long neck as an option (not standard) for 4 of 13 years. And the Bigsby vibrato was only ever an option, not standard. How hard would it be for Gibson to reproduce that? Apparently very!

Which brings us to the Epiphone Casino. Take a look at the example below. Notice anything? It’s essentially an ES-330 with some small cosmetic differences. It is a completely hollow, thinline guitar with two P90s. The neck joins the body at the 15th fret. The position markers are parallelogram blocks (a small difference from the ES-330). The head and pickguard are styled for Epiphone. But other than the few minor differences, this is a better example of the classic ES-330 than Gibson has made in 20 years or more.

Epiphone Casino Electric Guitar Natural
Epiphone Casino

The Epiphone Casino was originally build in Kalamazoo Michigan in the same factory as the Gibson ES-330. This was soon after Epiohone was purchased by Gibson. The early history of the Casino is therefore quite similar to the ES-330.

Epiphone Casino History
Find more Casino details at the Guitars Info Guy.

  • 1961: Casino production began with a dot neck.
  • 1963: Dots replaced by the parallelogram block inlays. The pickguard was now white.
  • 1970: End of original production.

The history of the ES-335 starts the about the same time as the ES-330. The ES-330 originally sold more that the ES-335. But the ES-335 soon overtook the ES-330 because of its versatility. The 335 had features which made it particularly good for rock and roll. A center block to reduce feedback, humbucker pickups to reduce hum and neck join at the 19th fret all made the guitar better for loud rock than the ES-330 which can suffer from both feedback and 60 cycle hum.

In spite of the above 335 advantages, the Epiphone Casino and Gibson ES-330 are underrated guitars. Single coil pickups have a nice clear tone (described as chimey by many). Yet the coil size of the P90s gives a fatter and sometimes more growly sound than Fender single coils produce. The completely hollow body make the guitar lighter weight as well as more resonate like a hollow jazz guitar. I love these guitars for blues. But they’re not bad for jazz either. Grant Green played a Gibson ES-330 for part of his career.

The thing that saved the Epiphone Casino from the fate of obscurity and bad re-issues was the Beatles. Paul McCartney purchased an Epiphone Casino in 1964. According to an article in Vintage Guitar Magazine, it was the influence of blues man John Mayall that led Paul to consider the hollow Epiphone. John and George later each bought Casinos in 1966. John and George played Casinos as their main instrument during their 1966 tour.

It was actually all the hype about the Beatles and the Casino which kept me from trying the guitar for years. It’s not that I dislike the Beatles, but rather that I lived through the “British Invasion” and learned about blues through the Stones, Yardbirds, John Mayall and others (a sad thing to admit for an American about our native music).

Eventually I tried a Casino and loved it the first time I played it. Soon after that I started to notice how often I found blues guitarists playing an ES-330 at blues concerts I attended. I purchased one of the overseas made Casinos and plan on keeping even as I consider reducing my guitar collection by half.

My final analysis on why Gibson can’t make a ES-330 re-issue like the majority of the early instruments they made is simple and perhaps obvious. It’s all about marketing. The ES-330 never had a huge rock star or a large number of rock stars play the instrument. In attempt to make the re-issues interesting they need to play to the fringes of it’s design history. Bigsby vibratos. Long necks. Something different and unusual.

If you want the best re-issue ES-330 made today, get yourself an Epiphone Casino.

Dan's Epiphone Casino
Dan’s Epiphone Casino [note]I replaced the white Epiphone pickguard with a custom made one more like those on the ES-330.[/note]

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11 comments

  1. Stumbled on this site while searching for the guitar plans for the ES330. I have to say that you failed to mention how, as far as anyone can tell, the recent Gibson ES330 is practically an exact reissue of the axe Grant Green played for part of his career with perhaps slight improvements regardless of whether or not it reflect your preferred run of the model. The neck/fretwork are certainly better than the original ES330. And, aside from the rare Japanese pre-“elitest” model the Epiphone Casino of the past decade is really, on the whole, completely lacking in quality control in terms of wood choice, fretwork, nutwork, and parts quality. The variation is exactly akin to picking up a Gibson 339 and it’s Epiphone 339 counterpart. For the price point the Epi is nice but the differences are still numerous. Sure, a million Epi owners would stick up for their guitar but the fact remains the two have some definite differences. The weight, finish, wood choice, binding and especially this:
    http://www.stewmac.com/tradesecrets/ts0131_bindingnibs.hzml?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=ts0131
    I also have a feeling there are slight differences is angles/thickness/geometry if one were to obtain the exact specs. Gibson tends to change things slightly from it’s more expensive counterpart on almost every Epiphone model. I’m not in here sticking up for Gibson by any stretch of the imagination (everything I’ve read on Juszkiewicz makes me want to puke), just trying to throw out some details that I think are missing here!
    Also, never played one but the Heritage H530 looks superb.

    1. Thank you for your excellent comments.

      Once upon a time I lusted after a Gibson ES-330. My irritation with Gibson has nothing to do with quality. My frustration is that for years they reissued designs that represented a minority of the instruments originally produced and did not reissue the “majority” design.

      The equivalent model of any Epiphone is not going to have the same quality as the Gibson. I can no longer afford a Gibson even if they reissued a 330 design I wanted. I am quite happy with my Korean made Casino. But I am well aware of the many small differences that make any 330 superior to the quality of my Casino. But with many Gibson/Epiphone comparisons the question for a player is whether the difference in quality justifies the difference in price. Professional musicians will likely think it does. The rest of us – it depends on our finances and what we are looking for. My Casino serves me just fine. And the money I saved went to buying other guitars.

      Thank you again for the comments. You definitely added details and considerations that my original post was lacking.

  2. If there is a difference between the Casino and ES330 it would have to be the wood and finish.

    This is when you consider that one can change out everything else. Put on Kluson tuners, change out the pots and electronics, keep the bridge and replace the pickups. I put Lollar classic style pickups with fewer winds on this Chinese made Casino and better electronics. What a difference.

    I ended up with what would cost about $750 dollars including paying the tech and the cost of the pickups and electronics, vs close to $4,000 for a new Gibson ES330 at Sweetwater.

    It is now my go too guitar. I own a American Standard Telecaster, an Epi Sheraton II which has been called an outdid ES 335 by John Lee Hooker, a Takamine 12 string, and a Rickenbacker 12 like Harrison’s. I’ve played a few guitars in my fifty years of playing and found no problem with the action of my Casino.

    To get to the point. Not having an ES 330 to compare it too all I can say is that fit and finish, even the type and selection of wood can be over rated. If there are no major flaws in fit and finish and if the wood has good resonance as Hooker would seem to think with the ES335 then an Epi will do the job as well as any Gibson. One could always have the guitar gone over by a Luthier or do it oneself to correct fret, nut and bridge problems if there were any to begin with on a particular guitar. The original Casinos had five ply birch and maple as dose some of the more expensive Casinos.

    One hears different views on the fit and finish of Korean, Japanese and Chinese Casinos but my Chinese made is impeccable in finish. Maybe I was just lucky. To be honest I don’t know exactly what wood or how many layers the standard Chinese made Casino of ten years back used. I would like to know.

    The test for me was how it sounded without plugging it in. It is so good that I sometimes think I am using one of my acoustics. It is said that if a hollow body resonates well unplugged it will sound as good plugged. The Lollars and electronics have made a stark difference. So that might be a necessary thing to do.

    So to make a long story short, my advice is to quit beating yourself up about whether to by an ES330 or Casino. If you are a musician you want a guitar that sounds and plays well. The Casino is that guitar. It also has a cache that the ES330 could only wish to have. It was the most used guitar by the greatest rock band in history and everyone knows it.

    Oh and some advice about feedback, try a Koch or other brand load box, attenuator in the chain.

    1. I just looked at
      http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/ES30VNNH1?gclid=CLa9kaT82r0CFZNqfgodl6AAAw

      A Gibson rep on Sweetwater demonstrated the Gibson Memphis ES330, an ES330 reissue. He stated that the construction is 3 ply as many of the Casinos are. It is maple, poplar, maple which imitates the original ES330 of the late 50s. I would then assume that the early Casinos were also 3 ply and of maple, poplar, maple. Why would the inferior Epiphone have 5 ply construction.

      This brings up the point of whether John Lenon’s Casino was 3 or 5 ply, and makes one wonder why the Elitist was made with 5 ply. The only thing I can think of is it is not the same guitar but rather a modern upgrade. If that is the case then the standard Casino should do the job with its 3 ply construction. The Elitist my be a way of increasing revenues from the popular Casino market.

      1. Guitar manufacturing and marketing is a balancing act and guessing game. They need to balance the price people are willing to pay for a specific guitar vs. the cost of manufacturing and marketing the guitar. They are guessing on the features that will attract the most buyers at a given price. Whether they build a guitar with 3 ply vs. 5 ply construction is in part whether the buyers will respond most to resonance (3 ply) or feedback suppression (5 ply). The buyer’s choice isn’t always fact based but often is based on impressions. That’s marketing. Personally, I prefer the 3 ply. However, I love my Casino regardless of construction.

        Thanks for your comments. You’ve asked some good questions and added some good observations. I appreciate your input.

  3. Nice article, and clearly you’re a Casino fan. If you haven’t A/Bed the 1959 VOS Historic with a Casino (any Casino), well, do so. My 330 VOS blows away the Casinos I’ve played. It blows away my standard gloss 335 as well. Gibson nailed it. Perhaps don’t ask how many years was a feature extant, but which years had the best features, when designing a reissue.

    Both the cheap Casino, and the Elitist, are dipped in thick polyurethane, which really screws the pooch before it’s even out of the case.

  4. I have compared all versions of the Casinos even the limited 1965 Lennon version side by side with ES 59 vos 330 and although each Casino sounded wonderful the ES 330 just had more snarl when you pulled its tail . The p90s underwound and with the bigger vintage neck without question affect the tone .

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  6. I had a Gibson 330 back in 1978 and sold it in 94. I,m looking at a Casino because of the price. Can you tell me about the neck? Is it the same as a Gibson?

    1. Once upon a time, early in Casino history, the necks would have been the same. Back then the guitars were probably made side by side in Kalamazoo to the same basic specs. Now? WHo knows. They are made in multiple locations at different price points. I liked mine but if I noticed, and so will you, that the finish isn’t nitrocellulose. You’ll have to find one and try it.

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