Jazz Guitar Life would like to thank Jazz Guitarist Greg Skaff for sharing his beautiful 1959 Gibson ES 330 with us all! Enjoy 🙂
The Gibson ES-330 is a singular design that is often overlooked by players looking for a semi-hollowbody guitar. It is, in fact, a hollowbody design. There’s no center block to minimize feedback, which is one reason it’s not as popular as semi-hollows, and it has a trapeze tailpiece which is not convertible to the much-preferred stop tailpiece.
However, there are a couple factors that make it preferrable to some of us. Because there is no center block the 330 is significantly lighter than most 335s, etc. In addition, it has the lovely sounding P-90 pickups. But since P-90s are single-coil pickups they can be noisy in certain situations.
My own familiarity with the Gibson ES-330 began when I saw the cover photo of the Grant Green record Feelin’ The Spirit. It’s a beautiful shot of him in action playing what I initially mistook for an ES-335, but on closer inspection, noting the P-90 pickups, figured out that it was an ES-330, which was somewhat of a departure for a jazz guitarist at the time.
In the early aughts I remember hearing guitarist John Leventhal live playing an ES-330, but have noticed few other instances of them being used, especially in a jazz context.
For me, the combination of a slim body, P-90s, and no center block, is a winner. It’s easy to hold around your neck for hours on a gig. And P-90s are my favorite pickup of all time. There’s a certain vocal quality that’s hard to describe.
In 2011 a friend of mine mentioned that they knew someone who was selling a lot of old guitars. I was only peripherally interested because I figured I wouldn’t be able to afford anything old but I said I would like to see what was being offered for sale, so a meeting was arranged. In retrospect, I realize that I must have had some hopes because I brought my check book. After being overwhelmed by unaffordable (at least to me) vintage guitars the seller brought out a 1959 ES-330, which, surprisingly, he was a little dismissive of. He actually lowered the price by a couple of hundred dollars, which indicated that he wanted to sell something and not just show off his collection. I played it for a few minutes and honestly wasn’t sure whether I should buy it, but I did. It was the only guitar there that I could afford to buy and a bit of a stretch at that. Since that time, I’ve come to realize how fortunate I was.
The guitar has had only one modification, that being a strap button that was added to the heel of the neck, and I had that done immediately after I bought it. Other than that, it’s all original.
An interesting thing about ES-330s is that, even though the scale length is the same as on ES-335s, ES-345s, etc., the neck is joined to the body farther in at the 16th fret, thereby allowing the joint to be stronger. The bridge is moved further towards the butt end of the guitar, which is how the scale length remains the same as on those semi-hollows.
I knew very little about the history of ES-330s when I bought this guitar. I even didn’t know that 1959 was the first year of production. I’ve read that 270 sunburst models were made in 1959.
But however rare it may be, I’m of the belief that instruments like this should be played, and not stored away somewhere. I play it on gigs, and I travel with it as well. It has acquired a few dings since I bought it but it’s still in excellent shape.
How does it sound? It sounds like bacon! No, I didn’t make that up. I think Bonnie Raitt said it about her Strat. But I think if you (or she) heard this guitar you would agree.
Here’s me playing an old Harold Arlen song, “Ill Wind” on it.
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