It’s hard to find a good quality semi-hollow body guitar at a low price, but the ES-339 PRO and Sheraton II hold their ground. The slim neck may feel foreign to many players of more classic models, but it has its own fans.
The ES-339 PRO has a smaller body than a more traditional ES-335, but the guitar still sounds rich and has a nice warm midrange as well as coil taps that allow you to get some spanky single coil tone out of this guitar.
The biggest weakness with Epiphone guitars is often the lack of attention to fretwork—so if you buy one of these (or have any Epiphone guitars where the frets look hazy or almost appear rusted) pick up some Homax Grade #0000 steel wool and lightly polish each fret on the instrument with it. You should immediately notice a brighter mirror-like finish on the frets that will make bending strings much more easy, and in some cases, make your guitar sound just a little brighter and more articulate as well.
Though the “Studio” version of an ES-335 might not look as fancy as some of the other offerings from Gibson, this guitar is a real studio workhorse. Featuring a rather uncharacteristic maple neck and torrefied maple fretboard with a maple body, this guitar is a bright semi-hollow instrument that sounds just as good as some of the Gibson Memphis guitars that cost $5000+. It is a slightly more rock-focused instrument that might be too bright for jazz and more smooth guitar recordings, but it is a great sounding instrument with a nice open character.
Alternatively, the D’Angelico EX-DC is a great playing and sonically versatile semi-hollow machine that tends to lie on the brighter side of the guitar spectrum. The guitar features a slim neck with a flat profile, Kent Armstrong humbuckers, and stunning gold hardware.
Though you’re probably used to seeing D’Angelico guitars primarily in the hands of jazz players, these modern instruments are now being played by guitarists on stage with Bebe Rexha, Aerosmith, Cody Simpson, Conan O’Brien, The Late Late Show with James Corden, and Lauryn Hill.
Best: Gibson 1964 ES-345TD ($4499) or Used ES-335 (Approx. $1,200 to $12,500)
If I were to buy an ES-335 today, I would probably look to Ebay or 30th Street Guitars as I think Gibson is charging a bit too much to justify spending for their latest Custom Shop models.
Purchased new, the latest Memphis and custom shop models run about $3,349 and up, but deals can be found on eBay and elsewhere. Ideally, you would want to try the guitar before buying, so check out your local music store’s used or vintage section if you are in the market for an ES-335.
If money’s no object, the 1964 ES-345TD (ranging between $4,499 for a modern copy and $15,000 for an original) with varitone switch is an exceptionally versatile guitar that will act like a magnet for nearly every guitar player that walks through your studio.
Summing it Up
Well, that’s it for our list of the top 5 most essential electric guitars for the studio. With a collection of these, you can realize 90% or more of the classic tones heard on the guitar-driven records that we all grew up listening to.
Even now, these are the models that are still dominating the pop charts, with Teles and Les Pauls finding their way onto Maroon 5 records and Tim Pierce, one of LA’s most popular session guitarists, still using a variety of Fender and Gibson instruments on records for Selena Gomez, Mylie Cyrus, Demi Lovato, David Cook and Adam Lambert. It’s no surprise these are showing up on a new generation of chart-topping tracks. These are the classic guitars we heard on records we loved as kids, and have thus been ingrained into our memories as an essential ingredient in creating a great-sounding record.
Did we miss any of your favorites? Tell us about them in the comments below, and stay tuned for our next roundup of some of the most interesting alternate and unusual guitar flavors for the studio.
Matthew Wang is a guitarist, songwriter, and jingle-writer from New York City. He is actively gigging, recording, posting guitar-related videos on his YouTube Channel, and studying music production at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at NYU.