A lot of people think that “Epiphone is just the cheap version of Gibson.” However, that is not the case, and there was a time when Epiphone matched and even exceeded anything made by Gibson, the 1960’s Casino, compared with the Gibson 330, for example. Yet, today the two are intertwined, and for nearly every Gibson model, there is an Epiphone equivalent.
Case in point, this Gibson ES-335 vs. Epiphone Dot showdown we are about to witness. But before we get to the main event, we need a backstory.
- 1 A Little History
- 2 Gibson ES-335 vs. Epiphone Dot – Overview
- 3 Gibson ES-335 – The First of Its Kind
- 4 Epiphone Dot – A Chip Off the Old Block
- 5 Looking for the Guitar that’s Right for You?
- 6 Gibson ES-335 vs. Epiphone Dot – Final Thoughts
A Little History
The first fun fact about these two companies is that Gibson was founded in 1902 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Epiphone was founded in 1908 in New York City. However, technically, Epiphone was founded in 1873 in Smyrna, Greece, under a different name.
Both companies have long and legendary histories. Each is credited with guitar innovations and inventions. And they were major competitors throughout from late 1920 until Gibson bought Epiphone in 1957.
The House of Stathopoulo
Epiphone’s Greek patriarch, Anastasios Stathopoulos, made fiddles, lutes, and mandolins when the company started in New York. After his death in 1915, his sons took over the business. One of the sons was Epaminondas, and his nickname was “Epi.”
He named the company The House of Stathopoulo and soon after added banjos to the product line. After that, the name changed again to the Epiphone Banjo Company. And then the trademark name Epiphone.
It was with banjos and that Epiphone made its mark. In 1923, Epiphone phased out mandolins and introduced the Recording Line of banjos. By 1928, Epiphone banjos were all the rage in NYC as well the most popular instrument in America post WWI.
The House of Stathopoulo showroom was filled with the best musicians from the Big Apple and beyond throughout the 1920s and on into the early jazz scene of the 1930s.
The Start of a Rivalry
In 1928, Epiphone introduced their first acoustic guitars as part of the Recording Series. However, they were not very successful. So, in 1930, Epiphone rolled out their Masterbuilt line of arch-top acoustic guitars. These were a direct rival to the L-5 guitars Gibson was producing.
By the mid-1930s, Epiphone was making some of the best guitars in the world. Ironically, one of the earliest endorsers of Epiphone guitars was none other than Les Paul. He is quoted as saying, “Epiphone always made a good guitar.”
A decade or more before he became the name associated with Gibson, Les Paul was frequently found in the Epiphone showroom plying his skills. Therefore, it was no surprise that it was Les Paul who urged the owners of Gibson to contact Epiphone about acquiring the company.
After the merger
While the Stathopoulo family were now out from the company they founded, Epiphone continued to find success after Gibson took over. Here are some notable Epiphone models.
The Casino, a double-cutaway semi-hollow body electric. The Bard, a 12-string used by Roy Orbison on “Pretty Woman.” The Emperor, which was the electric flagship model. And the Sheraton, one of the first thinline semi-hollow body electric guitars ever produced and still inspires awe today.
While Epiphone gets unfairly labeled as the “poor man’s Gibson,” their guitars are leaps and bounds above many of the other guitar manufacturers globally. They should know what they are doing; they practically started the industry.
Why talk about the history?
Context, of course. And to dispel any preconceived notions about the maker of either guitar. American poet and folk singer Utah Phillips once said, “The past didn’t go anywhere.” His example was to go to a river and pick up a stone, which is far older than the oldest thing you’ve known, and drop it on your foot. The past didn’t go anywhere, did it?
Gibson ES-335 vs. Epiphone Dot – Overview
|Gibson ES-335||Epiphone Dot|
|Top||3-ply Maple/Poplar/Maple||Layered Maple|
|Back||3-ply Maple/Poplar/Maple||Layered Maple|
|Neck Profile||Rounded “C”||1960 SlimTaper D-shape|
|Bridge||ABR-1 Tune-O-Matic||Epiphone LockTone Tune-O-Matic|
|Tailpiece||Aluminum Stop Bar||Epiphone LockTone StopBar|
|Tuning Machines||Vintage Deluxe with Keystone Buttons||Grover Rotomatic (18:1)|
|Neck Pickup||Calibrated T-Type, Rhythm||Epiphone Alnico Classic Humbucker|
|Bridge Pickup||Calibrated T-Type, Lead||Epiphone Alnico Classic Plus Humbucker|
As you can see, there are minor differences between the two guitars. Most notably in the hardware department. With so many similarities, we are left with a rather perplexing question, “Why does the Gibson ES-335 cost six times more than the Epiphone Dot?” We’ll see if we can answer that, but don’t hold your breath.
Gibson ES-335 – The First of Its Kind
As a matter of fact, this guitar is the first semi-hollow body electric guitar ever produced , way long ago in 1958. As a result, it has maintained its position as one of Gibson’s flagship models . A truly remarkable guitar when it debuted.
While the design of the guitar was intended for jazz and blues, it helped launch rock n’ roll as a new genre. From Eric Clapton to BB King, and Oasis to the Original King of Rock n Roll, Chuck Berry. The Gibson 335 has profoundly impacted our understanding of what music can be.
“Seriously!” as my boss will often say. Once you start looking for who’s picked up that instrument and gone “whoa,” you’ll find an endless supply. Just so you know, there are still a lot of 335s from the 60s around today, and they sound incredible. A testament to what could have been.
Right away, you can see the rounded ‘C’ mahogany neck with rosewood fingerboard. This harkens back to the original model. Delivering smooth action, strength, stability, and warmth.
The triple-ply Maple/Poplar/Maple body gives the sound a low richness while also delivering some twangy crispness. Additionally, the Spruce bracing offers excellent sustain, strength, and stability. As well as providing balanced resonance. Likewise, the Maple centerblock adds depth and dynamics to the tone and sound.
Here we find one of the main advantages of the ES-335. Two hand-wired calibrated T-Type humbucker pickups that deliver a quintessential ES tone. The more you crank these humbuckers, the brighter they get.
That is kind of odd for humbuckers, but certainly a standout quality. It makes the guitar quite versatile. It is not limited to the mellow tone of most jazz guitars. Rather it can rip up and hang with many solid-body electric guitars. That said, using the tone control knobs, you can dial it back for some seriously low-key warmth for any jazz or blues riff.
You will get precise and stable tuning thanks to the Vintage Deluxe tuners. Along with a StopBar tailpiece and lightweight aluminum ABR-1 bridge, intonation is well-assured.
A legendary guitar with a legendary sound.
Epiphone Dot – A Chip Off the Old Block
Even a Noel Gallagher signature edition of the Dot sells for less than a new 335. Disgraceful, that’s all I can say. Every time you sing along to Champagne Supernova, you’re singing along with an Epiphone Dot.
Considering the Epiphone Dot is a recreation of the Gibson ES-335, it’s difficult to wrap your head around the price difference. But there are some reasons for the chasm.
Here we can see a significant difference. The Epi Dot uses layered Maple, and the 335 uses Maple/Poplar/Maple for the body. Therefore, the ES-335 body requires more effort to construct. And it does have a slightly brighter tone and longer sustain . But the difference is mostly subtle.
Furthermore, we find layered maple for the bracing in the Epi Dot. In comparison to the Spruce bracing in the 335, this is another area where “cheaper” materials are used. Yet again, this does not make the Epi Dot a cheap guitar.
Likewise, the choice of Mahogany for the centerblock also makes a difference in the tone. The ES-335 may have a brighter and wider tone due to the Maple centerblock, but the Dot’s Mahogany centerblock adds more sustain and greater warmth generally.
We also see a difference in the neck. The Epi Dot features a SlimTaper D-shape neck as opposed to the rounded ‘C’ on the Gibson. However, this difference will be more of a personal thing than a sonic one. Some people just don’t like tapered necks, and others love them.
The Dot features Epiphone’s Alnico Classic Humbuckers. These are awesome pickups in their own right, delivering vintage sounds and a thick, well-rounded tone. That said, these humbuckers don’t offer the same brightness as the T-Type ones on the ES-335 when pushed to their limits. But that doesn’t make these pickups “less than,” simply different.
Here we find a distinct advantage for the Dot. First of all, are the Grover Tuners. These are of a higher quality than the Vintage Deluxe tuners on the Gibson.
Additionally, the ToneLock Tune-O-Matic bridge and ToneLock StopBar tailpiece are both legends on their own. Patented and trademarked, these have been long-favored bits of hardware on hollow-body and semi-hollow body guitars for decades.
The Epiphone Dot is a terrific recreation of the Gibson ES-335 . And in my opinion, a great option for those without money to burn.
Looking for the Guitar that’s Right for You?
We can help you with that. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Jazz Guitars , the Best Blues Guitars , the Best Hollow And Semi-Hollow Guitars , the Best Resonator Guitar , the Best Acoustic Guitars Under $300 , as well as the Best Classical Guitars you can buy in 2021.
Also, take a look at our detailed Epiphone ETCNCHNH1 Hollow-Body Electric Guitar Review , our Epiphone Limited Edition ES-335 PRO Review , our Epiphone Les Paul Standard Review , our Oscar Schmidt OE30CH Classic Semi-Hollowbody Cutaway Review , our Gretsch G5420T Review , and our Ibanez AG75BS Review for more awesome guitars currently on the market.
Gibson ES-335 vs. Epiphone Dot – Final Thoughts
In a head-to-head matchup, these two guitars are nearly identical. The only real differences are ones that will be noticed by professionals, guitar aficionados, and guitarists who listen with their wallets, not their ears.
That said, an area that one slightly edges over the other is hardware (tailpiece, bridge, and tuners). Epiphone’s inclusion of a proprietary LockTone bridge and tailpiece gives the Epi Dot a distinct advantage. After all, one of the motivations behind Gibson’s acquisition was to make money off trademarked Epiphone hardware designs. These components haven’t lasted this long without good reason.
Yet, the hardware on the 335 is no slouch. Simply not as refined.
Conversely, using a Poplar layer in the Gibson gives it more twang than the Epi, especially when played unplugged. But again, this distinction only matters to a select few. For most, these guitars will be played through an amp. Meaning that those subtle differences will no longer be apparent. Aside from those with an ear for that sort of thing.
In the end, it will all come down to money. Is the Gibson ES-335 worth nearly eight times as much as the Epiphone Dot? Unfortunately, only you can answer that question, but for most guitarists, it simply isn’t.
Until next time, let your music play.