GIBSON ES-345 STEREO REISSUE GUITAR
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The original Gibson ES-345 was available from 1959 to 1982. The original ES-345 was a fabulous guitar, and it was the model that blues great B.B. King favored, prior to his switching to the Gibson ES-355. The current incarnation of the ES-345 is a very close reproduction of the original, and it incorporates some of the best attributes of the original models that were available from 1959 to 1982, as well as an additional feature or two.
The forerunner of the ES-345 was the ES-335, which debuted in 1958. The ES-335 was a very innovative guitar when it was first introduced. It combined the best attributes of Gibsons solid body Les Paul guitar, and a hollow body jazz guitar like an L-5, and its thin body profile made it easier to handle than a traditional hollow body guitar. The original ES-345 was introduced in 1959, and it represented an attempt by Gibson to both make an upgrade to the ES-335, as well as offering some new innovations, like the Varitone Switch and Stereo capability, in addition to an optional Vibrato. The Gibson Company hoped that these additional upgrades would increase sales, and ultimately its share of the electric guitar market at the time. As it turned out, these very innovations, namely the Varitone Switch, Stereo capability, and Vibrato, actually hurt the sales of the ES-345. But, enough of the history lesson, its time to discuss the current incarnation of the ES-345.
The current incarnation of the Gibson ES-345 is based primarily on the ES 345TDC which was manufactured by Gibson around 1964, although there are some differences. The body of the ES-345 is a slim 1.75 inches thick, and it is a semi-hollow archtop guitar with two cutaways. The ES-345 has a single piece of solid Maple running through the core of its body, which the pickups, bridge, tailpiece and neck are attached to. The ES-345 is made of a combination of woods. The top of the guitar is a Maple/Poplar/Maple laminate, as are the back and side rims of the guitar. However, as stated earlier, running through the center of the guitar is a solid Maple one-piece center block, and that is in good part where the punch, bite, and sustain of this guitar comes from. The neck of the guitar is made of Mahogany, with a Rosewood Fingerboard. This innovative combination of tonewoods and construction design enables this guitar to have a rich bass, pronounced midrange, sweet sustain, and a stinging bite. This enables the ES-345 to be able to have sound characteristics similar to the power of a solid body Les Paul, as well as a smooth mellow jazz tone reminiscent of a large hollow body guitar like a Gibson L-5.
The 22-fret neck of the ES-345 is solid Mahogany with a Rosewood fingerboard, and joins the neck at the 19th fret. The neck on the current incarnation of the ES-345 is thinner and faster than the neck found on the original ES-345 from 1959, and is a slim tapered 1960s style neck, with a soft C shape. The original 1959 model had a long neck tenon, which added to the sustain of the guitar, while the current ES-345 has a shorter, more conventional neck tenon, similar to the neck tenon on a modern ES-335. The binding on the neck is single ply, as is the binding on the back of the body of the guitar. However, the binding is a distinctive multiply on the top or front of the guitar. Adding to the beautiful look of this guitar are Split Parallelogram Pearloid Block Inlays on the fingerboard. The tuning pegs are vintage looking Green Key Tuners. The bridge is a Tune-O-Matic, and the tailpiece is a Stopbar. All of the hardware on the guitar is gold plated. The ES-345 is currently available in the following finishes: Faded Cherry, Trans Brown, Tri-Burst, and Vintage Sunburst.
And now on to the electronics. Like most two pickup Gibsons, the ES-345 has two Volume controls and two Tone controls, as well as a three-way toggle switch. However, the ES-345 also has six-position Varitone (sometimes spelled as Vari-Tone) switch as well. This Varitone switch is what is commonly referred to as a Notch Filter. A Notch Filter is a device that passes the frequencies of the notes being played through different capacitors that reduce or remove a specific assigned set of frequencies. The specific set of frequencies effected by the Varitone are set along a notched narrow bandwidth, and certain specific frequencies are cut off or rolled off at each specific point, just as you might find on the equalizer section of a recording console, a good home stereo equalizer, or a high quality pre-amp section on a home stereo amplifier.
By turning the Varitone to higher numbers, one cuts out more and more of the low end frequencies. Position # 1 of the Varitone is a simple bypass that does not effect the sound of the guitar. However, the higher you turn the Varitone, the more specific fundamental low frequencies are effected. Position # 2 is reported to have been B.B. Kings favorite when he played an ES-345. Position # 3 and # 4 can make the ES-345 sound somewhat like a guitar with single coil pickups. Position # 5 and Position # 6 are a bit thin to my ear for playing most leads or for soloing. However, these positions are good for laying down overdubs or backing tracks because they can cut through the mix without muddying up or conflicting with the other tracks. The following are the frequencies that are effected by use of the Varitone on the ES-345:
Position # 1: Bypass, no effect.
Position # 2: -8.5dB at 1875 Hz.
Position # 3: -12dB at 1090 Hz.
Position # 4: -15dB at 650 Hz.
Position # 5: -16dB at 350 Hz.
Position # 6: -20db at 130 Hz.
Adding to the sound and tonal possibilities of the ES-345 is the capability of playing in Stereo. Unlike the original ES345, which had only one stereo output jack, and required a stereo jack to engage both pickups, the current incarnation of the ES-345 has two output jacks, one is labeled Mono and one is labeled Stereo. Output jack # 1 is the Mono Jack, and when this is used alone, both pickups are fed through this output, just like any other conventionally wired guitar. However, if you want to play in Stereo, you must connect one standard guitar cord to Output Jack # 1, which is labeled Mono, and another standard guitar cord must be connected to Output Jack # 2, which is labeled Stereo. With this setup, Output Jack # 1 carries the signal from the neck pickup, and Output Jack # 2 carries the signal from the bridge pickup. Think of the sonic possibilities for live performance. You might have one pickup going to an amp, with completely different settings and/or effects one the right side of the stage, and have the other pickup going to a different amp, also with different settings and/or effects on the left side of the stage. With the flip of the toggle switch, you could have your lead coming from the right side, then the left side of the stage, with a radically different sound from each, and even have both pickups driving two different amps at once with the toggle switch in the center position. Think of the sonic possibilities of having different effects hooked up to each pickup, and simultaneously having two radically different sounds coming from two sides of the stage at once. The sonic possibilities are limitless for the creative musician.
The ES-345 also has two great sounding Gibson 1957 Classic PAF Humbucking pickups. Just like a finely tuned race car relies on the performance of its engine, the sound engine of any good electric guitar is its pickups. The first humbucking pickup was invented by a Gibson employee named Seth Lover in the mid 1950's, and it debuted in 1957. These pickups came to be called PAF pickups because on the back of the original pickups was a small decal that read Patent Applied For, accompanied by a number. Because of the radical design of these pickups, Gibson was able to apply for, and received a patent on the design.
The new versions of the 1957 Classic PAF pickups are made with special Alnico II magnets. The Alnico II magnet technology is quite old, and Alnico II magnets are somewhat less powerful than some modern day magnets, such as are used in Bill Lawrence's Samarium Cobalt Magnet Pickups or Gibson's Hot Ceramic Magnet Pickups. But that does not mean they do not sound powerful, or that they do not sound good. Remember it was the Alnico II magnetic pickup that defined the sound of the early recordings of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Peter Green who used Gibson guitars equipped with PAF's in the early to late 1960s. The new version of the Gibson 1957 Classic PAF pickups deliver a sound that can range from a warm and silky jazz sound, to a snarling bite, depending on the volume and tone settings that are used. Although there may be more powerful pickups on the market, to my ear, no humbucking pickup made today sounds as good for so many different types of music, and is as versatile as the Gibson PAF.
In conclusion, with all of the other electronic features I have already noted earlier in this review, there are very few guitars ever produced than can offer the integrity and tonal variety that is found on the current incarnation of the Gibson ES-345. There are very few guitars that you will ever encounter that have this degree of craftsmanship and attention to detail. It plays like a dream, sounds great, and looks spectacular. This is simply a magnificent guitar.
Thank you for taking the time to read my review. But now, I must get back to my practicing, lately, I seem to really need it.
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