Pros:It's an underpriced jazz box at present, a good deal.
Cons:Not truly vintage like the 60's version.
The Bottom Line: The ES-135, along with the Strat Ultra's, are among the best bargains today and very undervalued. A good buy.
The Gibson ES-135 is an archtop model that has it's roots in the old "student model" ES-125. An extra P-90 pickup was added to the thin body 125, and a sharp cutaway incorporated.
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Which aside from the ES-175, made it one of the coolest, yet decently priced archtops around. It would have remained a pleasant memory except that George Thorogood used one on his "Bad To The Bone" tour, and it's been upgraded and supported since.
First, we do have to back up a bit to the 60's, where we will see why the ES-135 didn't stay a pure hollowbody.
The key thing to remember in any field, genre, or market, is that nothing happens in a vacuum. The key difference in the 135 was the addition of an ES-335 type block in the center of the body. The reason was reduce feedback.
The other reason?
Companies like Guild took the ES-135 shape, gave it a slimmer look and thus began the Starfire series which eventually evolved into a direct competitor the the ES-335.
In other words, everybody else was doing it, and in the guitar business, no one gives up market share to anyone...period. If people clamored for Yellow Submarine ES-175's, Gibson would make 'em. They might be wincing when no one is looking, but they would make 'em.
So, Thorogood uses an ES-135 enroute to owning a pure white ES-175, and the ES-135 line is revived with P-100 pickups instead of 90's, and with a light wood (like balsa) sound block inside. Still a light guitar, and still very cool looking.
The ES-135 has a clean look, it's not ornate like so many jazz guitars are. The implied message, the money went into the guitar, not the ornaments. It has a very sweet, yet still woody tone on the front pickup. It's not warm in the sense of the old P-90, which had a livelier tone, but more like a clearer humbucker (users of 490 series humbuckers take note). Personally, even though I love P-90's, I find the tone of the P-100 neck to my liking, and quite versatile.
The bridge 100 is another story. It's nice and powerful, and loud (it's like 3 ohms more powerful than the neck), but won't have that thick scream that the Who "Live At Leeds" the ultimate P-90 album. It has a more modern sounding tone, in the sense it sounds more 60's and 70's. This isn't a guitar to play Metallica with. More like the Who and Cream.
It has the traditional tunamatic/tailpiece arrangement of the old ES series, and the neck, fretboard and frets are well matched. It's an easy guitar to play and it will pull music out of you.
This particular guitar was discontinued some years back, and a fire sale ensued. From a nice 1600.00 jazzer, it became a 999.00 bargain and that price drop still hasn't recovered yet. It's still the perceived original street price.
The reason for all that was the introduction of the ES-137. Essentially the same guitar, but with a heavy wood core inside and lots of fancy stuff to make it look more expensive. It also became a lot more similar to the ES-335 sound (which some critics called an "improvement") and a much heavier guitar.
I once commented that time can change a guitar's context and value (like in the case of the DeArmonds).
In this case, all of the change has seemed to enhance the ES-135's desirability. These come up rarely on boards like Craigslist, and tend to go quickly. The old rap that it was a laminated maple guitar isn't heard so much anymore.
The reason is simple. It's the closest you're going to get a pure retro archtop that looks like a 175. There's no other look like it, and it's no accident that the number of Gibson models with sharp cutaways is small.
I've been offered custom teles, stat plus's, you name it for my old trusty and cool Ebony ES-135, and it's never been a temptation to deal it. As the years pass, I notice more look for one as opposed to getting a 137.
It may take a while for people to realize it, but for all the effort by companies to create another ES-175, Gibson may have done it by accident with it's ES-135.
It was a clean, no nonsense jazzbox, state of the art for it's time, and reasonably priced. It's look was cool, retro yet modern looking, and people who owned one loved them. Yep, just like the early ES-175's.
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