Son of Memphis music legend Jim Dickinson, Luther Dickinson has made it his mission to bring North Mississippi Hill Country blues into the 21st Century (see the January 2014 issue of GP). He keeps the music fresh by refusing to be a mere revivalist, instead adding influences from the Allmans to hip-hop, all without losing the music’s primal energy. Similarly, his signature ES-335 combines traditional dot-neck 335 looks with some personal preferences for a novel take on a classic American instrument.
The Luther Dickinson ES-335 retains the classic semi-hollow body with a solid maple center block. Like late-’50s 335s, it features laminated maple top, back, and sides, and traditional f-holes. The glued-in neck is quarter-sawn mahogany, topped by a rosewood fretboard with pearloid dot position markers. Vintage cream binding adorns both body and neck, and the gorgeous, nitrocellulose lacquer “Jim Dickinson Burst” finish matches the tobacco finish on a vintage ES-175 owned by Dickinson’s father. The guitar’s nylon nut is precision cut by the PLEK automated trimming system.
A fan of Gibson ES-330s, Dickinson chose to equip his signature instrument with “dog-ear” cover P-90s instead of an ES-335’s standard humbuckers. Recreations of the vintage versions, these P-90s are constructed with dual Alnico II magnets, custom wound with 42 AWG wire, and left unpotted. For modern convenience, they are reverse-wrap and reverse polarity to provide hum canceling when both pickups are on.
I tested this beauty through a Fender Blues Junior and a Little Walter 50-watt head, using an Alairex HALO pedal for grit. Everything about the guitar screams “vintage,” from the nickel-plated hardware to the darkened pickup screws. It feels old as well: the large C-shaped neck; the perfectly finished, standard-sized frets, and the burnished finish made it seem like it had been played and loved for a long time. Semi-hollow guitars can often feel heavy, but even with the added metal of a Bigsby vibrato, this model rode comfortably on my shoulder. In fact, the vibrato hardware helped to counter-balance the neck, making the playing experience effortless.
The Luther Dickinson sounded like one of those special vintage instruments (admit it— they don’t all sound good): warm and woody, with plenty of acoustic resonance. According to Dickinson, Ry Cooder sings the praises of adding a Bigsby, claiming the more springs the more ring. True or not, this Memphis model was a tone machine, and no matter where my fingers touched down, every note rang out evenly. The P-90s offered plenty of punch, and more high end than many pickups of this ilk with nary a hint of harshness. Depending on amp and/ or volume settings, the neck pickup served up jazzy clean tones or blues grind, and the guitar retained plenty of clarity at high gain settings, yielding controlled feedback on request.
Dickinson modestly restricts his name to the interior orange label, making it easy to create your own musical stamp with his signature model. The Luther Dickinson ES-335 offers all the great looks and tone of a vintage guitar without the collector’s price tag, making it an easy choice for an Editors’ Pick Award.
LUTHER DICKINSON ES -335
PRICE $3,299 Street
NECK Glued-in quarter-sawn mahogany
FRETBOARD Rosewood with pearloid dot position markers
BODY Laminated maple with a solid maple center block
BRIDGE ABR bridge and Bigsby vibrato tailpiece
PICKUPS Gibson P-90s
CONTROLS Two Volume and two Tone controls, 3-way toggle
FACTORYSTRINGS Gibson, .010-.046
WEIGHT 8.10 lbs
KUDOS Terrific vintage look. Warm classic tone.