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.
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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.