2017 Epiphone 339 Review: Is It The Right Guitar For You?
The Eiphone 339 is one of my favorite guitars. I like it because even though it’s a budget guitar (and the price is right!), it still has a professional sound that I never get tired of.
This review contains an overview of the different versions of the 339 and a comparison to similar guitars, so you can discover which one fits your particular playing needs.
Before we get started:
And now without further ado, let’s go deep into the world of the 339 semi-hollows and find out exactly what makes these guitars so different, or not so different, from each other.
Table of Contents
- Click Here for a Great Deal from Amazon on the Epiphone 339
- Background: A Brief History of the ES-series Semi-Hollows.
- A Closer Look at the ES-339 Pro
- Epiphone 339 Pro vs Ultra 339
- Epiphone 339 Vs 335
- Epiphone ES-339 Pro Vs Epiphone Dot
- Epiphone ES-339 Pro Vs Casino
- Epiphone 339 Vs Gibson 339
Background: A Brief History of the ES-series Semi-Hollows.
Find out why the first 339’s were produced and how Epiphone’s 339’s have deep ties to music history.
So a bit of history here. The Epiphone ES-339 was first introduced in 2011 as a way of going back to the guitar designs that Gibson/Epiphone famously produced at their iconic factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan during the 1950’s – 1960’s. This is where the ES (this stands for “Electric Spanish”) series was first developed, most notably through the Gibson ES-335.
So to understand both the sound and the “raison d’être” of the ES-339, we have to take a good look at the Gibson ES-335. This was the first commercially produced semi-hollow guitar with an arched top and the now legendary violin style f-shaped holes over the hollow part of the body. What’s the non-hollow part of the body? The good people at Gibson had the brilliant idea of placing, or leaving, a wooden block on the center of the body. Thus the term “semi”.
As you have probably witnessed with your own eyes and ears, this guitar grew very popular, very quickly, due to its standing as a “middle ground” between hollow-body guitars and solid-body. In other words, you get the best of both worlds. Hollow bodied guitars, even today, tend to cause sever feedback when amplified loudly. Solid Bodied guitars like the Les Paul were a response to that, but lacked the warmer tone of hollow bodies and their unamplified volume. That last part certainly comes in handy when jamming with yourself at night without upsetting any neighbors.
And thus, the semi-hollow guitar was born and quickly adopted by jazz men, blues players and rock & rollers alike. But going back to the Epiphone ES-339, this guitar was the response to a need for smaller bodies, but the same aesthetics on both sound and look that the ES-335 offered.
“But what about the Epiphone ES-335” you say? We’ll get to that in a bit. Today, the ES-339 is a much widely available model, with several incarnations to choose from at very modest prices. So let’s take a look at some of its basic features and how it compares to other similar guitars.
A Closer Look at the ES-339 Pro
Very versatile guitar that offers a notably good price/quality relation. A strong option to consider if you’re looking for a budget semi-hollow.
As said before, the ES-339 Pro features a reduced-size maple body that makes it a bit more comfortable to play and hold while standing up than any 335, Gibson or Epiphone. It has a Mahogany neck with 22 jumbo frets and 12’’ radius neck. That’s a pretty slim neck for a semi-hollow guitar. It pretty much means that you won’t ever feel like you’re playing an acoustic. The fretboard is only available as Rosewood and it’s completed with Mother of Pearl inlays. (In case you’re not a woodwork aficionado, “mother of pearl” refers to the technique for inserting those beautiful looking pearl details to the fretboard.)
The ES-339 Pro is available on Cherry, Ebony, Natural and Vintage Sunburst finishes, much like all modern Epiphone semi-hollows. It’s also packed with its own set of Alnico Classic Pro Humbucker Pickups. These were designed specifically for the new Epiphone semi-hollows and are aimed at providing a very varied spectre of tones. It’s also set up with a 3-way pickup selector with a push/pull coil tap. This allows you to switch between hard single coil sounds and the warmer tone of the humbucker.
This last bit is one of the key features of the ES-339’s. They are often described as extremely versatile, which means that no matter if you’re into indie-rock, blues, rockabilly, or even a bit of jazz, this guitar will simply…work. It may not be outstanding at one particular thing, depending on the kind of sound you’re going for, but few guitars are able to function on such a wide variety of genres for this kind of money.
I’ve had the opportunity to play this guitar a couple of times. I’ve always found that by playing around with the pickup selector, one can severely alter the color of the sound. It can either sound quite opaque, or very bright depending on the position. Even with distortion, thanks to the smaller body size, it delivers. It may lack a bit of sustain, but that’s a regular comment whenever Epiphones are compared to Gibsons.
In case you’re skimming through, here’s a brief technical overview of the ES-339 Pro before we go into comparisons with other similar guitars.
Epiphone’s own Classic Alnico Pickups.
Push/Pull Coil Tapping and 3-way Pickup Selector
ES Series Semi-Hollow Maple Body, smaller than the 335, a bit wider than a Les Paul.
12’’ radius Mahogany neck
Rosewood fretboard with Mother of Pearl Inlays
Available in Cherry, Ebony, Natural and Vintage Sunburst finishes.
Slim Neck for a semi-hollow
Lightweight to carry
Epiphone’s Lock-Tone Tune-o-matic bridge
Packed with D’Addario Strings, 10, 13, 17, 26, 36, 46
Extreme variety thanks to the push/pull coil tap feature.
Very vivid in midrange and high frequencies
Not so strong on the low end due to the reduced body
Take an actual look and listen
Epiphone 339 Pro vs Ultra 339
The Ultra-339 is an ES-339 Pro spiked with cutting edge guitar technology in terms of pick-ups and electronics. But do you really need those things?
Imagining that you came here looking for a solid comparison between the ES-339 Pro and the Ultra 339, I’ll save you some time. The Ultra is no longer available at most of the major online music shops. So that may help in your decision. It can still be found, new and used, through Ebay and I imagine that some physical stores or independent sellers may carry them. So if you really want to explore that option, let’s go ahead and compare the two.
I’ve found that comparing the Pro to the Ultra is a bit like comparing a recent car with its deluxe version. If you’ve been at an auto dealer in the recent years, you’ve probably found that the same car is available with modest technology, and then there’s the same version with a bunch of features. Say, all-electric controllers, a better stereo, smart computer, bluetooth connectivity, all in the same chassis, steering wheel and 4 wheels as the basic version.
With these two guitars, it’s exactly the same thing. The Ultra 339 has the same maple body, Mahogany neck and Rosewood fingerboard as the Pro. It also has the same hardware and number of frets. When it comes to technology though, it’s packed with a jaw-opening amount of surprises. For $799 (new on Ebay) vs. the $469 the Pro costs, it better have some surprises right?
First of all are the pickups. The Ultra doesn’t use those versatile Alnico pickups but is instead packed with two different pickup systems, ProBuckers and Nanomag. The first are Humbucking pickups that are Epiphone’s version of the famous BurstBuckers that you can find in Gibsons. They are famous for that “airy” tone that is often associated with classic Rock & Roll. Then there’s the NanoMag. This is a Pickup system aimed at capturing the acoustic sound of a semi-hollow. It is designed by German pickup company Shadow and featured in the Ultra to provide more tonal capabilities.
The outputs is where the Ultra truly takes one-guitar-versatility to another level. It has three of them. Yep, you read right. Three. One output for each pickup system, which means you can send each one to a different amp and then choose which one to use through an A/B switch (which is integrated into the volume knob). You can also combine both tones for an extremely colorful sound. Some driven crunch with acoustic sensitivities, anyone? The third output is a USB that actually lets you plug the damn thing directly to your computer.
If that wasn’t enough, the Ultra also packs its own chromatic tuner. Yes, it actually does. An ON/OFF button mutes the guitar while you watch the eleven color-coded LED’s to figure out if you’re tuning it right.
With all this technology, the extra $330 USD that you would pay for the Ultra instead of the Pro may be accounted for. But do you really need all this stuff? If you’re a seasoned musician that would spend $799 on an Epiphone, you probably already have a tuner in your pedal board and a USB interface to connect, not only your guitar but whatever you damn-well please to your computer.
There is the difference in pickups though. However, not many users have reported serious tone differences between the two models. Since your final guitar sound is a combination of your guitar, pickups, strings, what you’re playing it with (be it open hand, your pick of choice, or maybe a power drill) and your amp; some people just prefer to get the modestly-priced ES-339 Pro and then replace the pickups.
In the end, all you need is a great sounding guitar and then your fingers can do the rest. Maybe that’s why so many major sellers have stopped carrying the Ultra. But what do I know, let’s move on to the 335.
*If you’re still curious about actually seeing all the tricks the Ultra can do in terms of technology, here’s this video review:
Epiphone 339 Vs 335
The Ltd. Ed. ES-335 Pro is based on the classic Gibson ES-335. Epiphone’s version is slightly bigger than the ES-339 and thus has subtle differences.
As promised, I’ll also put the 339 and the 335 side by side for a comparison. As I mentioned at the beginning of this guide, the Gibson ES-335 was the first commercially produced semi-hollow with an arched top. The Epiphone 335 is Gibson’s way of bringing the 335’s legacy to a more modestly priced guitar that features the Alnico pickups that you find on the 339 Pro as well.
The main difference relies within the reason the 339 was created; a smaller size and a more aggressive tone. If you remember, the 339 is simply a re-iteration of the 335, but adjusted to the needs of players that were probably accustomed to the size and weight of the Les Paul. The smaller body results in a sharper tone, but probably less volume when unplugged.
So in reality, the differences here are very subtle. The Epiphone ES-335 Pro that you can find in stores today though, is a limited edition. This means that only a certain number of items were produced, while the 339 is produced according to demand. This means that the Epiphone 335’s value will probably increase over time. Maybe not much, but more than the 339 Pro anyway.
If that’s not important to you though, it’s hard to determine which one of this will be better suited to your needs. You tell me, a slightly bigger box for around $485 USD? It’s only slightly more expensive than the 339. But on to another guitar now…
Epiphone ES-339 Pro Vs Epiphone Dot
The Dot is Epiphone’s budget semi-hollow by excellence. Find out why the ES-339 is only slightly pricier.
The Dot is probably the cheapest Epiphone Semi-Hollow you can get at store prices. This guitar is also modeled after the 335, so its body is a bit bigger than the 339. Thus it can provide fatter tones. The main difference from the 339 is in the pickups though. Most Dots feature Alnico Classic pickups. These are different from the ones on the 339 and also lack the switch selector with push/pull coil tap that makes the 339 so versatile.
This explains the price drop. Most Dots are somewhere around $429, with an ES-335 Dot Studio even available at $329. If you don’t mind the slightly bigger body and less tonal capabilities, there’s a bargain for you.
Material-wise, the Dots also have a body made out of laminated Maple, a Rosewood fingerboard and a Mahogany Neck. However, they feature slightly more modest Grover tuners and no Mother Of Pearl inlays on the fretboard. The neck is also a bit wider, so this combined with the difference in Pickups makes the Dots subtly more modest guitars than the 339 Pro.
If you’re looking at one of the $429 Dot models, I’d recommend going with the 339. But there are always more options.
Epiphone ES-339 Pro Vs Casino
As one of the most acclaimed models Epiphone has ever produced, the Casino is a very different thing compared to the ES – 339 Pro.
Oh! The Casino! Truly one of Epiphone’s greatest contributions to music (their words not mine) and one of the most famous guitars you can get for under $500. It’s a bit off as a comparison to the 339 though, but I’ve simply seen many people asking “339 vs. Casino” type of questions as to skip it on this guide.
First of all, the Casino is a hollow body guitar, which means that even though the body is not that bigger nor thick than the 339’s, it lacks the center wood block piece that makes the 339 a semi-hollow. You probably remember that this deliberate practice of keeping a block of wood at the center of a guitar came from the feedback problem that we mentioned before with hollow bodies.
Some people love that hollow body sound though, even with the feedback, or in some cases because of the feedback. Again, every player has different needs, but the Casino does have an impressive list of notable users. If that’s important to you, an equipboard search reveals some of the pro’s that use the guitar. Among the most star-struck-inducing names that I’ll…err…name here, are Keith Richards, Noel Gallagher, Nick Valensi, Josh Homme and yes, every Beatle except for Ringo.
While the 339 has no such list of notable users, it’s really not all that fair to compare the two guitars given what I explained above. One thing to note though is that while all Epiphone 339’s and 335’s are Epiphone’s versions of Gibson’s originals, the Casino is pretty much an instrument of its own. It was first produced in 1961 after Epiphone’s merger with Gibson, mainly as an effort of crafting a modern hollow-bodied guitar that would depart from the large hollow-bodied archtops that the latter company was making back then.
The result, as you can see in the video below was a hollow body that sort of looks like a 335, but retains the tone characteristics that hollow body maniacs crave so much:
To this day of course, there is no such thing as a Gibson Casino.
Furthermore, the pickups on the Casino are different from the ES-339 Pro of course. Most Casinos feature single-coil P-90 pickups that, while not as versatile as the Alnico’s, they have a unique jangly sound that is very much sought-after. These are actually the same kind of Pickups that you can find in yet another edition of the ES-339, the Limited Edition ES-339 P90 PRO. That’s pretty much an ES-339 Pro with these pickups, a bit more rare than the basic one.
Epiphone 339 Vs Gibson 339
Gibson’s version of the ES-339 is 5 times more expensive than the Epiphone. Is it really worth the money? The differences between the two guitars are subtle to the eye, but quite profound.
And being that we got into the Epiphone vs. Gibson subject, I’ll finish of the comparison section of this guide by taking a look at the 339 from both companies. I mean, as you probably know, even the cheapest Gibson 339 is at least four figures. The store price for a Gibson ES-339 Studio is $1,999. Taking a look around Ebay, they all oscillate around that figure. Some are even $3,149.
The reason behind the much higher price is probably easy to imagine. There are simply better materials and better craftsmanship overall put into Gibson guitars. They are not as intended for mass production as most Epiphones.
This side-by-side video comparison of both guitars does a pretty good job at highlighting such details:
At a glance, the guitars may not seem so different. They’re both maple body, mahogany neck and rosewood fretboard. There’s just, as with anything, different degrees of quality for each material. The details of that are not particularly shared across the web. But just by looking and hearing each instrument, you can understand that there is a lot more effort put into the Gibson.
Not to take away from an Epiphone. When it comes to value for money, you’re definitely getting a decent sounding, nice-looking instrument for a guitar that is almost 5 times cheaper than its Gibson counterpart. In the end, as I said before, your fingers should do the main difference.
Can you really have a flat-out verdict when comparing several guitars? When you got so many good quality guitars produced and designed by almost the same people, it doesn’t really make sense. As I’ve stressed before, choosing the best guitar for you is a very personal thing. It should be based not on what someone else says, but on what your particular playing needs are.
Like, how loud do you play? What kind of music do you make? What will you use this guitar for? Where will you be taking it? Perhaps taking a 4-figure-priced Gibson to twice-a-week garage rehearsals and a van-tour is not the best idea. If it’s just for a studio setting, then that’s a different thing as well. Also, will this be your only guitar for a while or only part of your collection?
So many variables, and so much information. Let me congratulate you though. If you made it this far, I believe you now have a pretty complete view of the Epiphone 339 and how it compares to other similar guitars. You definitely won’t be making an un-informed decision, so kudos for that.
My opinion? Even if I was purchasing an Epiphone semi-hollow or hollow guitar as my only axe, I would probably go with the Casino. I just like the idea of a guitar owning a unique aura in terms of sound and look. With mostly all Epiphone 339’s, even if they’re super-packed with technology like the Ultra, what you’re getting is a mass-produced, watered-down version of something else, which is the Gibson 339 in this case.
For me, the Casino has a very interesting thing going on; with a body that looks like a 335 but is actually hollow and lightweight. I also dig the jangly, bright sound of it. And the feedback? Personally I don’t really play that loud and in most cases you can solve feedback issues by choosing a good position for your amp in relation to where you’ll be standing. I’m also fond of some feedback once in awhile when it comes to guitar.
But hey! That’s just me. My two cents on it at least. You’re playing needs are probably different, and thus I’d advise you to take all this information and use it to decide whatever you think it’s best for your particular self and situation.
Good luck! And feel welcome to comment any questions or opinions on this. I’d be honored.