Gibson Es-135 Review
By Mike Sichelman

Having owned my Gibson ES-135 for about a month now, and I think itís time for an in-depth review.

Appearance

Excellent! The guitar has that vintage 50s look & vibe in spades. The blueburst finish was near flawless, save for one small piece of dirt in the clear coat, which buffed off with a polishing cloth & wax. The top, back & sides are clear, with no obvious knots or other defects in the wood. There is a slight flame in the middle of the top, between the pickups, and the neck also has some figure that is more pronounced, but still somewhat muted for my taste (itís a bonus, given the specs of this model.)

The guitar arrived with some marks in the clear coat from a buffing wheel, but they were uniform & unobtrusive. It appeared to be buffed robotically, but I could be wrong. These marks actually gave the guitar a nicer appearance than hand buffing would achieve.

There was a small amount of red buffing compound in a few areas where the binding met at corners, but this was easy to remove.

My only misgiving with the appearance was the mother-of-pearl markers-they look like plastic, dull & lifeless. I guess Iíve been spoiled by the Paua shell markers in my USACG Strat.

The fingerboard could be darker, but some lemon oil will do just fine.

Overall, the guitar looks very nice. Kudos to Gibson.

Fit & finish

Very good to excellent. The guitar seems well put-together. No obvious flaws to speak of. Bindings are all in place, no gaps seen. The top & back are correctly set on the sides. The neck joint appears tight, and the clear coat is not cracked. There was a fair amount of sawdust inside the guitar that fell out during shipment.

A vacuum cleaner solved this issue, as well as a good shaking.

The paint on the headstock is flawless. The plated parts are as well.

The frets are sore spot with me. They are smaller than Iíd like, and very ďsquare.Ē The frets are fairly flat on top, which makes sliding difficult for me. A fret crowning is in order. I expected more, to be honest.

Setup / Playability

Average at best. But I also feel this is subjective. Let me explain:

The guitar was delivered with little string tension, as one would expect. Tuned to pitch, I found the relief much higher than I find comfortable. The guitar was very difficult for me to play. Not only did I have to adjust the truss rod (half to three-quarters of a turn) but the bridge had to be lowered as well. After these adjustments were made, the guitar plays much better. Itís still not quite as ďslinkyĒ as I expected, being a shorter scale than a Strat.


A little more time spent with the setup will help, as I am relatively inexperienced with Gibsonís bridge.

The frets have much to do with the difficulty I have in playing this guitar. Having lower action will help as well. I may invest in a professional setup, but I have a feeling Iíll use this guitar as a tool to learn how to do it myself.

Sound

Excellent! The pickups sound great, clean or distorted. The í57 Classics gave me the humbucker sound I was looking for. This guitar has a nice jazzy sound when played quietly. Tyrone Shuz was able to make it scream pretty nicely when played hard. Not quite a heavy metal sound, but good hard rock tone for sure.

This guitar is very versatile-too bad Iím not! As I grow as a musician, I will be able to make better use of the numerous tones that are available.

Case

Average. Kind of cheesy actually. The tolex is glued on the top & bottom, over the pieces that make up the sides, which are wrapped over the edges. Looks funky, and cheap. There was glue in the felt, which was my biggest concern. The hasp for the lock tends to stick some. I think the case has actually flexed seems to be shutting off-center. Time will tell if this gets worse.

Overall impressions

I love the way this guitar looks and sounds, but I have some concerns with how it plays. I need to spend some time with it to see how low I can get the action before I say for sure. I will try a new set of strings soon, hopefully this will make the guitar play a bit easier as well. The Gibson Brite-wires seem to have pretty high string tension.

The guitar, being discontinued, is being sold almost everywhere for $999. Had I paid more, Iíd probably be pretty disappointed. A grand for this guitar is much more realistic than the price advertised while still in production.

I do like the guitar very much.

It just isnít a Strat, ya know?

By Mike Sichelman
(FDP: Bluenote)