Lets build something that looks like an ES-335

Freeman Keller

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I realize that this is the telecaster guitar forum but lately there has been a lot of interest in Gibson ES-335 and similar guitars. There is a long running thread asking why they are so expensive - I have built two in that style and posted a couple of pictures of the insides - within a few days there were 50 likes so I know there is some interest in that.

I'm not currently building one but I did take a lot of pictures of the two that I have built and can easily put together a build thread showing what goes on inside, at least when an amateur tries to duplicate it. Normally I would do a build thread at the DIY subforum but it seems to fit the Other Guitar category, lets see what happens.

First, my disclaimer. I am an hobby guitar builder working in my garage. I am not a "luthier", I have too much respect for the people who I think have earned that title, call me a "luthier in training". I don't sell guitars, I make them for myself, friends and family. Mostly I build acoustics but I enjoy exploring new and different instruments, I rarely build the same thing twice. Even the two 335's are different, I might go into that if I remember.

Second part of the disclaimer is that I am not trying to clone a Gibson ES335(tm). These were built "in the style" of a Gibson guitar but for a variety of reasons there will be differences. Some because of the way I work, some because I intentionally change things (head shape, inlays, stuff like that) so its obviously NOT a Gibson. So please do not take this as an explanation of how Gibson builds their guitars.
 

nojazzhere

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I realize that this is the telecaster guitar forum but lately there has been a lot of interest in Gibson ES-335 and similar guitars. There is a long running thread asking why they are so expensive - I have built two in that style and posted a couple of pictures of the insides - within a few days there were 50 likes so I know there is some interest in that.

I'm not currently building one but I did take a lot of pictures of the two that I have built and can easily put together a build thread showing what goes on inside, at least when an amateur tries to duplicate it. Normally I would do a build thread at the DIY subforum but it seems to fit the Other Guitar category, lets see what happens.

First, my disclaimer. I am an hobby guitar builder working in my garage. I am not a "luthier", I have too much respect for the people who I think have earned that title, call me a "luthier in training". I don't sell guitars, I make them for myself, friends and family. Mostly I build acoustics but I enjoy exploring new and different instruments, I rarely build the same thing twice. Even the two 335's are different, I might go into that if I remember.

Second part of the disclaimer is that I am not trying to clone a Gibson ES335(tm). These were built "in the style" of a Gibson guitar but for a variety of reasons there will be differences. Some because of the way I work, some because I intentionally change things (head shape, inlays, stuff like that) so its obviously NOT a Gibson. So please do not take this as an explanation of how Gibson builds their guitars.
I'd enjoy seeing a 335-style build thread.....or even just some pics of ones you've made. The 335 is a guitar I absolutely LOVE the look of, but find them less comfortable than a smaller, solid body to play and perform with. After trying one, I always go back to a Telecaster or PRS SE One (like a LP Jr) And yet, when I look over my shoulder at my Cherry Red Grote 335-style, I just get a tingle in my loins.....I don't think there's ever been a more beautiful electric guitar ever made. ;)
 

Freeman Keller

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With that out of the way, a little background. Many of you know far more that I ever will about Gibson guitars, all the different models and when they were built and who played what. The ES-335 is truly iconic - it has been played by so many great guitarists on some much great music. Gibson seemed to be constantly changing it - the size and shape of the "ears", size of the body, even which fret was the neck joint. 335's have trapeze and stop bars, different versions of the tune-o-matic bridge, different inlays and pickups, many different colors. Some have vibratos of different configurations, some have a switch that changes the capacitance value to change the tone. There are dozens of different model numbers. This is a pretty amazing look at the history of Gibson ES-335's


https://www.tdpri.com/threads/the-gibson-es-335-a-short-history.1057549/


The important thing about the ES-335 and most of its brothers and sisters is the way it is made, this not only makes it more expensive than many similar guitars (including something like a Les Paul) but makes it very difficult for someone like me to duplicate. The ES in the name means “Electric Spanish” – like all of the ES guitars this is meant to be played plugged into an amp and played in the Spanish position (as opposed to the Hawaiian lap position). Almost all of the ES guitars that I am familiar with have beautifully arched tops following Gibson’s history of carved archtops, but they are made out of laminated veneers pressed into the arched shape. They are bent plywood.


I found this picture somewhere – it is supposed to be the hydraulic press that Gibson uses (used?) to make ES tops and backs.

tour4.jpg


Most of us who build a few guitar don’t happen to have one of those in our garage. But there is another way to make those bend plywood backs and tops – you can make a mold and vacuum laminate the plies. The problem with that is that it is a heck of a lot of work to go through for one or two guitars. I’m sure not going to do that.

But wait, there is one more possibility. A few people have gone thru the trouble of making the molds and then amortize the effort by selling tops and backs. Bingo! I was lucky enough to find such a person, in fact he was closing his business and I bought is remaining inventory – two double cutaway maple sets and one single cut spruce and maple set. The double cut sets look like this

IMG_2389.JPG


IMG_2390.JPG


Here is the top showing the flame and the recurve

_MG_8499-DC27A.jpg




OK, I’ll admit, its cheating. You can stop reading right here if you want to.
 
Last edited:

stnmtthw

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With that out of the way, a little background. Many of you know far more that I ever will about Gibson guitars, all the different models and when they were built and who played what. The ES-335 is truly iconic - it has been played by so many great guitarists on some much great music. Gibson seemed to be constantly changing it - the size and shape of the "ears", size of the body, even which fret was the neck joint. 335's have trapeze and stop bars, different versions of the tune-o-matic bridge, different inlays and pickups, many different colors. Some have vibratos of different configurations, some have a switch that changes the capacitance value to change the tone. There are dozens of different model numbers. This is a pretty amazing look at the history of Gibson ES-335's


https://www.tdpri.com/threads/the-gibson-es-335-a-short-history.1057549/


The important thing about the ES-335 and most of its brothers and sisters is the way it is made, this not only makes it more expensive than many similar guitars (including something like a Les Paul) but makes it very difficult for someone like me to duplicate. The ES in the name means “Electric Spanish” – like all of the ES guitars this is meant to be played plugged into an amp and played in the Spanish position (as opposed to the Hawaiian lap position). Almost all of the ES guitars that I am familiar with have beautifully arched tops following Gibson’s history of carved archtops, but they are made out of laminated veneers pressed into the arched shape. They are bent plywood.


I found this picture somewhere – it is supposed to be the hydraulic press that Gibson uses (used?) to make ES tops and backs.

View attachment 798915

Most of us who build a few guitar don’t happen to have one of those in our garage. But there is another way to make those bend plywood backs and tops – you can make a mold and vacuum laminate the plies. The problem with that is that it is a heck of a lot of work to go through for one or two guitars. I’m sure not going to do that.

But wait, there is one more possibility. A few people have gone thru the trouble of making the molds and then amortize the effort by selling tops and backs. Bingo! I was lucky enough to find such a person, in fact he was closing his business and I bought is remaining inventory – two double cutaway maple sets and one single cut spruce and maple set. The double cut sets look like this

View attachment 798916

View attachment 798917


OK, I’ll admit, its cheating. You can stop reading right here if you want to.

That's not cheating. It's smart. No need to invest in that equipment for a couple of guitars.

I'm really interested in this thread.
 

Freeman Keller

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If you are still along for the ride, lets build a guitar or two out of these. I start every build with a set of plans that at least gives me starting point for the important stuff like geometry. My plans came from Jamie Unden and are copyrighted in 2004. They are called “ES-335 Clone” but there are a number of things that are different from the true Gibson guitar. I build one staying close to the plans, the second closer to the Gibson way. I’ll show the second (Gibson) version in this thread.


The plans give the scale length as “24-9/16 compensated to 24-3/4”. I’ll use a commercial fretboard slotted for 24.5625 inch scale. The neck to body joint is at the 19th fret, the neck angle on the drawing is 88 (2) degrees. There is no overstand. The fret plane strikes the bridge 1/2 inch off the top – I think that is too low for the bridge I want to use, I’ll have to increase the neck angle.


First thing to make with every build is the body mold. Make a few copies of the plans, stick one to some 3/4 inch MDF and cut it out on the band saw. I cut two pieces at the same time, flip one over and hook them together at the ends


IMG_2373.JPG



Here is one side in the mold


IMG_2374.JPG



The sides are a bit taller than 3 inches, the sides on a 335 are 1/2 so I just saw one down the middle and I have both. Put them in the mold and glue in an end block


IMG_2388.JPG


One thing that is a bit funky about this is that the top and back are so severely arched that I have to space the mold off my work bench. You'll see that later (I hope)
 

hamerfan

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I was on a way like you. The arched back and top are a big problem and also the neck fit with or without a support under the bridge tailpiece. This support vastly influences the overall sound.
In the end I chickened out, bought a Tokai ES clone and build thinline Telecasters.
 

Freeman Keller

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Fitted a spruce center block to the sides - a bit of a hassle but its nice and tight against the tail block. Glued in some kerfed lining. Don't know where I'll want the strap button so I put a little backing block inside the bass horn

IMG_3205.JPG


Sand the rim and center block nice and flat
 

Freeman Keller

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Gibson has a totally ingenious way to fit the center block to the inside arch of the top and the back - they use kerfed blocks. I'm not totally sure how they make them - probably a duplicarver or some clever jigs, here is how I made mine.

First I cut two pieces to be the filler blocks and ran them across my table saw cutting about half way through. The wood will flex from side to side. Then I screwed two pieces of scrap together and fitted them to the inside of the top

IMG_3209.JPG


Then I screwed and clamped them to the kerfed blocks, essentially making a little router sled and carefully routed the curve (remembering that there were a couple of screws lurking down there

IMG_3210.JPG


Some planing and fitting them to the top

IMG_3212.JPG


And it looks like this (upside down)

IMG_3213.JPG


Glued them to the top and the back

IMG_3214.JPG


Now are we starting to understand why 335's are so expensive?
 

Freeman Keller

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Glued the block to the other plate

IMG_3215.JPG


Took the sides out of the mold and clamped the top (or back, I haven't decided yet) to the mold upside down. The plate is slightly larger than the plantilla right now and the recurve sits on the mold. Then I clamped two pieces of 3/4 MDF along side the kerfed block to make another router sled. Set the depth to exactly 3/4 and made a few passes - the kerfed block is now exactly level with the edges

IMG_3217.JPG


Here are the three sub assemblies

IMG_3218.JPG


I can't believe that I didn't take a picture of the glue up but I can't find one. Oh well, here is the top glued to the rim

IMG_3220.JPG
 

Freeman Keller

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Time to start on the neck. Gibson, like Martin and a lot of others, saw their necks out of one piece of mahogany. That is not only wasteful of wood, it creates a weak neck right at the nut - the wood is cut across the grain and that is where they fracture when they get dropped on their head. Having a big fat hole routed out there for the truss rod nut makes it even worse. I made a couple of sawn necks early in my building days but now I exclusively make multi piece necks with scarfed joined heads. I can get the entire neck out of a 1 by 3 board with almost no waste. Start by sawing the 16 degree head angle

IMG_4877.JPG


IMG_4878.JPG


Clean up the gluing surfaces and stick them together. The angled pieces want to squirt away from the clamping pressure, I've got two little tooth picks holding them in alignment. They should be outside the finished head, but I like using wood rather than metal on things that I'm going to saw and route later. You can just see them in front of the block of wood, one has broken but still keeps things aligned

IMG_4879.JPG


Build the heel thickness with a cut off piece of the mahogany

IMG_2457.JPG


Let the glue dry
 

Freeman Keller

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One thing I learned building necks is there is a definite sequence of operations that makes it much easier. I square up one side and the top and try to do as many operations that require a flat square surface as possible

IMG_2462.JPG

IMG_2463.JPG


Route the truss rod channel

IMG_2464.JPG


IMG_2465.JPG


Lay out the tenon

IMG_3224.JPG


Cut as much of it on the band saw as I can

IMG_3227.JPG
 

Freeman Keller

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i beautifully documented build, thank you for sharing it with us

That is so well documented, thank you for taking the time to share it with us.

Thank you and I hope you are enjoying it. By the time we are finished maybe we will have answered the question of why they are so expensive.
 

Freeman Keller

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Back to the body. Now that we have a tenon to work with its time to make the pocket. For the bridge I want to use a neck angle of 3-1/2 degrees and no overstand will put the fret plane right at the top of the saddles with the bridge at its lowest adjustment - that will give good playable action with lots of adjustment. I just screw my template into the neck pocket area

IMG_3228.JPG


Drill out most of the waste with a Forstner bit and route out the pocket

IMG_3229.JPG


The neck is sitting just a hair proud of the top, it will be slowly brought down until the angle is perfect

IMG_3230.JPG


And before anyone says anything, yes that is router rash and yes I am very ashamed of it. That should never happen, routers are big powerful tools that don't care if they are cutting wood or flesh and they need to be respected. The damage will be hidden, but it shouldn't be there in the first place.

Taking stock, here is the body and neck

IMG_3236.JPG
 

songofthewind

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Thank you for sharing your skills, you are a talented craftsman!

I had a nice 1964 335 stop tail. I can still remember the serial number. Sold it. What an idiot..

Having said that, I also recall seeing the Sutherland Brothers and Quiver at the City Halls, Candleriggs, in Glasgow about 1976. Iain Sutherland was playing a blonde, deep-bodied 335, looked to me to be about twice as deep as a regular one. Your uncut sides reminded me of this guitar. Does anyone here know anything about this deep body version?
 




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