Tested by Terry Buddingh
Prior to the introduction of its first solidbody guitar in 1952, Gibson had secured its esteemed reputation based primarily on its impeccably crafted and sumptuously appointed archtops. To provide the missing link between its classic- and modern-era guitars, Gibson introduced its first semi-hollowbody design in 1958, the ES-335. An alternative to the Les Paul for players who appreciated a solidbody’s benefits, but wanted something more traditional, the ES-335, with its super-thin body and double cutaways, must have created a startling impression. Indeed, Gibson’s more radically shaped Flying V and Explorer were also introduced in 1958, but the “thinline” 335 was truly more innovative and, ultimately, more successful.
It’s a credit to its visionary designers that the 335 has spawned so many variations, and that such a wide variety of players—including B.B. King, Chuck Berry, and Larry Carlton—have adopted semi-hollows as their primary instrument. But while many guitarists have been closely associated with thinline Gibsons, only a few have been honored with their own signature models.
A recent inductee into Gibson’s artist stable is Tom DeLonge, riffmeister for So-Cal alt/punk/ pop trio Blink-182, who joins B.B. King, Trini Lopez, and Paul Jackson Jr., as one of the select players Gibson has chosen to help create a signature semi-hollowbody guitar.
Made in Gibson’s Memphis, Tennessee, factory, the Tom DeLonge Signature evolved from Gibson’s current ES-333 model. The DeLonge features the same mahogany neck, rosewood fretboard, and maple/ poplar/maple-laminate body as the ES-333, but is routed for one pickup. Other differences include a small plastic cover where the neck pickup would normally reside (which conceals the neck tenon/body joint) and a mahogany headstock veneer instead of the ES-333’s black holly veneer. Unlike Gibson’s more upscale thinlines, the ES-333 and DeLonge both feature a large plastic cover-plate on the back that allows easier access to the pots and wiring. If you’ve ever replaced the harness on an ES-335, you know how difficult it is to thread the components into their proper positions with the f-hole as your only means of access (trust me, it’s no picnic). While the access plate makes sense on the ES-333, it’s less needed on the DeLonge, which has only a single volume control. Still, the opening provides welcome access to the guitar’s cavernous interior, which, though divided by a solid maple center block, could be a tempting place for a mad-scientist type to install a synth module, a wireless transmitter, a computer interface, or the guts from a fave effect.
Speaking of guts, DeLonge got Gibson to resurrect the long-extinct Dirty Fingers pickup—a gutsy-sounding, over-wound humbucker used briefly in the early ’80s on the Flying V, Explorer, ES-347, and 335-S. (The pickup is now available separately, as well: $140 retail/$91 street.) DeLonge’s choice of finish is perhaps the guitar’s most radical departure from conventional Gibson aesthetics. While Gibson’s semi-hollows typically sport stunningly beautiful sunburst or natural finishes that highlight their flame-maple tops, the DeLonge has a chocolate-brown satin finish that’s accented by a cream-colored racing stripe. This bowling shoes-inspired color scheme might be an acquired taste, even for young rockers. However, it’s the less-than-crisp lines between paint and wood in the neck-joint area and the rough-looking edges of the f-holes that I find more puzzling on a guitar this expensive.
Playability and Tone
The DeLonge feels solid and sturdy, and it balances nicely on a strap. The deep cutaways provide ample access to the higher frets, and I found the extra room provided by the absent neck pickup allows more freedom of movement when fingerpicking. The locking Sperzel tuners are a nice touch—they’re silky smooth, they speed up the string changing process, and they also help the guitar stay in tune—and the binding over the ends of the lightly polished frets gives the neck a silkier feel than if the ends were exposed. I’ll admit I wasn’t seduced by the DeLonge’s counter-classic paint job, but the guitar’s sound immediately won me over when I plugged it into a cranked Marshall half-stack. The Dirty Fingers pickup is strong and assertive, and its extra output and muscular midrange complement a Marshall’s inherently aggressive nature, making guitars with more vintage-voiced pickups sound somewhat weak in comparison. The single pickup destines the DeLonge to being a bit of a one-trick pony, but this resonant guitar is ideal for the bare-knuckled rhythm style that Tom DeLonge is known for, and should please rockers who love to indulge in forays of controlled, high-volume feedback.
DeLonge and Short of It
Gibson’s ES-335 created quite a stir when it was introduced in 1958, and the DeLonge is further proof of the design’s significance and continued relevance. The DeLonge is irreverently cool, it sounds big and bold, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun to play. Gibson has never made anything quite like it, and there’s no denying this guitar was born to rock.