Electric guitars come in so many shapes and flavors that it’s hard to even remember them all. Yeah, it’s a piece of wood with some strings stretched over a set of pickups, but every detail of the guitar matters.
Every element has an impact on the sound of the guitar, or its playability. That’s why there are numerous different versions of this instrument on the market. One of the most interesting kind of electric guitars are the semi-hollow models. They combine the best of the electric and acoustic world, resulting in an amazing sound that takes finesse to notice.
Gibson is one of the rare companies that creates these guitars full time. You will find a lot of small luthier shops building custom made semi-hollow guitars, but nothing beats the experience and capability of a giant such as Gibson.
Not so long ago they rolled out the Memphis ES339, and everyone fell silent for a moment. This instrument is beautiful on so many levels, from its aesthetic to its sound. Today we are going to take a closer look at this guitar, and see what makes it so impressive. Stay tuned.
The whole story behind the ES339 starts all the way back in 1958. During that year, Gibson revealed their ES 335 electric guitar that completely took the industry by surprise. Just to be clear, semi-hollow and hollow electric guitars were nothing new at the time.
Other manufacturers like Gretsch were also building similar instruments, however this Gibson was special. Until then, no guitar had the performance that could even come close to ES339. It combined the great sustain ability of a solid body, with a deep and warm tone of a hollow body guitar.
Over the years ES-335 became the favorite of many popular musicians and guitarists in general. It has held its ground for decades, and is one of the most wanted tools by those who play jazz and blues.
Several years ago, this legend has received a successor who is not only capable of taking over the torch from the ES-335, but also improves on the sound of this already impressive guitar. We are, of course talking about the Gibson Memphis ES-339.
In terms of aesthetics, not much has changed in comparison to the ES-335. Gibson decided to keep that iconic shape and finish that made this instrument so memorable in the first place.
You still get two cutaways, a “studio” body shape with legendary f-holes, and a very slim waist. If you ever had the chance to play the ES-335, you probably know just how comfortable that guitar is to play. Well, ES-339 brings that same playability to the table.
The main thing that stands out on this guitar is the curved body shape that comes in a beautiful caramel bust finish. It’s a laminate maple design that really pulls out that fat sound.
The shape is something that takes getting used to, but once you become familiar with the balance of this guitar, and how it sits, you won’t want to play anything else. It’s just that good.
The neck is on a completely different playing field compared to standard stuff we see today. It’s a vintage mahogany design that is thinner compared to modern neck profiles, and is just a blast to play. Out of the box, this thing is tuned, had perfect intonation, and is ready to be plugged into an amp.
As you take this thing out of the case/box, and prepare to plug it in, you will involuntarily grin from ear to ear. That’s the kind of effect this guitar has on people. It transcends the limitations of an electric guitar in its most basic sense, and goes into a completely different plane of sonic existence.
What gives this ES339 the tone we fell in love with as soon as the first note was played, is the set of very balanced and proven humbuckers. We’re talking Gibson’s ’57 Classic Pickups that they fit on a select number of guitars.
Everything about these two humbuckers screams vintage. We compared it to some other Gibson models that have similar or same pickups, but it’s just not the same. The combination of semi-hollow body design and these classic magnets produces a very unique sound that is hard to compare to anything else out there.
What defines the ’57 Classic Pickups is the fact that they were made using the same blueprints and specs as the original series were made back in the ’50s. That means a very clear tone that can go fuzzy on command. There’s warmth everywhere, and the response is great throughout the frequency range.
Enough about technical stuff, let’s talk about how this baby plays. One word to describe it would be ‘smooth’. The thin vintage neck profile combined with a semi-hollow body really gives you all the speed and balance you need to lose yourself in all kinds of blues licks.
You just don’t feel like you’re hauling a block of wood around. Gibson ES339 sits very naturally. We messed around with different tone shapes, and found out that you can go pretty far when it comes to sounds you can get from this guitar. From hard rock to that blues tone with a pinch of overdrive. this Gibson does it all, and with style.
What we like
To give you a short answer, we like every little thing about this guitar. It brings back that legendary ES-335 shape and comfort that made it legendary. The tone is just the right kind of dirty that will keep you coming back for more. Gibson ES-339 is so unique, yet so attractive that we feel like every guitar player in the world should be able to enjoy this thing every day.
What we don’t like
This is one of the rare instances where we just can’t find a single flaw on a guitar we’re reviewing. Everything sits right on the ES-339, from the fit and finish, to the way she plays and sounds. It’s just a well built instrument all around.
The truth is that Gibson Memphis ES339 is something that you just don’t see everyday. It’s a completely different category of electric guitar from what we are usually used to. The tone is different and the whole instrument just has a specific dynamic.
It’s not too versatile when it comes to the type of music you can play on it. But it was never meant to. For all intents and purposes, this guitar is a scalpel specifically designed for blues, jazz, and classic rock.
Gibson did a great job at revamping an iconic guitar and bringing it back in a fresh form that is full of life. If you can, we absolutely suggest that you get one of these. It’s a tool that every guitar player should have in their toolbox.
You probably won’t use it much too often if you play more aggressive genres of music, but it’s the kind of guitar that will give you endless hours of joy either on stage, or at home. That is how good this Gibson really is. You just have to have one.