Heritage got its start when some former senior employees of Gibson wanted to continue making handcrafted guitars in Kalamazoo, Michigan, following the company’s move to Nashville in 1984. They leased space at the iconic guitar factory located at 225 Parsons Street, along with much of the original guitar-making equipment, and the first Heritage guitar, the H-140 solidbody, was introduced at the 1985 NAMM show in New Orleans. After building a variety of instruments over the ensuing years, Heritage now focuses exclusively on hollow, semi-hollow, and solidbody electric guitars in both its standard and custom lines.
The H-535 reviewed here is a standard production model that follows the design specs of one of Gibson’s most popular electrics, the ES-335. As such, it features a top and back of laminated curly maple and a rim of solid curly maple. The solid center block is one of the key elements of this “thinline” design, allowing a solid mount for the hardware that enhances sustain and makes it possible to play at much higher volumes without the uncontrollable feedback issues that plague typical archtop guitars.
The H-535 carries a set mahogany neck and a 24.74-inch-scale rosewood fretboard with a comfortable 12-inch radius. The cosmetics on our Cherry review model (other colors are Antique Natural, Original Sunburst and Ebony) consist of cream binding on the body and neck, pearl dots on the fretboard, and a “The Heritage” decal on the gloss-black headstock facing. The five-ply pickguard has a Gibson-style support bracket, and all of the finish work is top notch.
The hardware package includes Grover tuners and a Tune-o-matic bridge and stop tailpiece with locking screws. Two Duncan Seth Lover humbuckers with nickel-plated covers feed dual volume and tone controls and a three-way switch. Heritage ups the ante in the wiring department via the use of CTS 500kΩ pots, Vishay .022uF caps, a Switchcraft toggle switch and a Pure Tone jack.
The H-535 feels easy under the fingers thanks to a just-about-perfect neck shape (neither too slim nor too chunky) and a spot-on factory setup that, besides providing excellent intonation and low action, includes a smoothly worked Corian nut that blends almost seamlessly into the neck. The semi-hollow construction makes for a resonant acoustic sound with good sustain, and these qualities showed through when tested with a Fender ’65 Deluxe Reverb reissue (with hand-wired circuitry by George Alessandro) and a new Magnatone Super Fifteen 1x12 combo. The H-535 sounded superbly balanced, delivering sweet highs and enough fullness and warmth to be a bona fide jazz box. The Seth Lover pickups are clear and articulate, and, with the output of a PAF or thereabouts, they’ll push an amp into overdrive and clean up when you back off the guitar volume. The neck position is superb for blues and jazz, and I dug the bridge setting’s focused bite for everything from country to hard rock.
A multitude of textures are on hand when both pickups are on — a nice aspect of having dual volume controls — and the tone pots are voiced to be useable throughout their range, as they don’t muddy the sound even when turned all the way down. As is the case with the workhorse ES-335, the H-535 is a versatile guitar that can cover, and likely excel at, pretty much anything you throw at it. I love how controllable the feedback is when playing loud, and although the stock action is a bit low for bottlenecking, it sounds cool on any pickup setting if given a light touch with a glass or aluminum slide.
With its excellent build quality and superb performance, the H-535 can hold its own with any Gibson I’ve played, Custom Shop model or otherwise. And the fact that it’s built in the original Gibson factory is just one more reason to make the H-535 a serious consideration if you’re looking to own one of these classics from the Ted McCarty era of Kalamazoo-made electrics.
PRICE $2,799 retail
NUT WIDTH 1.65"
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 24.75" scale, 12" radius
TUNERS Grover, nickel plated
BODY Laminated curly maple sides and back, solid curly maple rim
BRIDGE Tune-o-matic bridge and stop tailpiece, nickel plated
PICKUPS Duncan Seth Lover humbuckers
CONTROLS Two volume, two tone, 3-way selector
FACTORY STRINGS GHS Boomers .010–.046
WEIGHT 7.5 lbs
KUDOS Superb rendition of a Gibson classic. Plays well and sounds excellent