Pros: Timeless design, quality construction, mellow sound, excellent playability
Cons: None to speak of
The Gibson ES-135 is a part of Gibson's Electric-Spanish Collection, a line of guitars that the company began manufacturing almost fifty years ago. You know that when a particular guitar model has been around for that long, someone's doing something right, and the "proof is in the puddin'", so to speak--the ES-135 has consistently been a mainstay of the Gibson Guitar Company. I've owned a couple in my time, and after trying out a new model at my favorite music hangout, the memories flooded back, and I'd like to tell you about my impressions of this wonderful instrument.
The ES-135 is a thinline electric archtop guitar with a pointed cutaway at the treble bout. The back, sides and top are made of laminated maple, with a chromyte block centerpiece, while the rounded neck is maple, with a rosewood fingerboard and simple dot inlays. The top and back come with single-ply white binding, and the Gibson standard tune-o-matic bridge is complimented by a trapeze tailpiece. All of the hardware on this instrument is chrome, and it comes in three finishes--vintage sunburst, cherry, and ebony. It has two stacked P-100 humbucking pickups and two volume and two tone controls. The three-way toggle switch is located on the bass bout of the guitar.
Materials And Construction
Gibson didn't splurge on the materials used in making this guitar--the laminated maple woods and the chrome hardware are obviously not the most expensive materials available, while the single-ply binding and the spartan dot inlays are about as simple as it gets. These materials aren't inferior, just inexpensive, and the ES-135 was built from these materials for the purpose of being affordable.
The construction is solid--all joints and binding were clean and devoid of the glue blobs that is a sure tip-off that there's sloppy craftsmanship in play. The volume and tone controls were tight, and the three-way toggle switch was solid with little or no looseness. Overall, there were no rattles and hums that would accompany a poorly built guitar, just that good total vibration you get when you play an archtop electric guitar unplugged that's been well and carefully constructed. (There's a difference in the vibration I'm talking about, and the rattle and hum of a cheap instrument--I guess the word I'm searching for is "resonance", the trademark of a good archtop electric guitar.)
How do you describe a classic? Well, I'd first point out that the f-holes on either side of the body give the ES-135 a retro look, but I wouldn't forget the thinline body and the nicely curved top. Really, this guitar is an exercise in simplicity, with the single-ply binding and plain dot inlays. In my day, I've owned a vintage sunburst model (about 1968), and an ebony model (somewhere around 1973), and the guitar that I played recently had the cherry finish. All are beautiful, because there's just something about the design of the ES-135 that would make a color like swamp green look good.
This guitar isn't as flashy as some of the newer guitars being marketed today, but it has a real appeal to the purist, of which I am one.
The ES-135 is representative of the entire Electric-Spanish Collection--the two P-100 humbuckers combine with the hollow body to create a sound that's mellow, perfect for jazz, blues and similar genres. This guitar has enough bite to be useful playing rock 'n roll and rockabilly, but the hollow body makes it subject to feedback if the volume is jacked way up. I think the design of the ES-135 lends itself to laid back applications, both as an instrument for soloing and rhythm playing--I can imagine some of the old masters like Tal Farlow, Barney Kessel, and yes, even Les Paul strapping on one of these gems and making it talk.
The ES-135 is a pleasure to handle--the rounded maple neck is comfortable, and the treble cutaway allows for the adventuresome guitarist to roam the fretboard. All of my ES-135 experiences have been pleasurable, but the one that I "test drove" had a perfect factory setup, and the action was as smooth as silk. No effort was required to play this guitar, and you won't find many like that.
What I Think
This is what I think--you can't go wrong in spending around $1,000.00 for one of these beauties. You'll get quality Gibson construction, and a piece of guitar history to boot. And that's before you'll experience the mellow sound and the effortless playability of the ES-135. This is one that you can pass down to your kids or grandchildren--it's just that timeless.
Thanks for reading.