Arlen Roth: The Wonderful "Unsung Hero" Gibson ES-330

Publish date:
Updated on
Image placeholder title

I have had a love affair with various makes and styles of guitars over the years, and lately I’ve been able to become more acquainted with the exceptional, yet simple, ES-330. It possesses a very real and woody tone, plays like a dream, and has graced many more top recordings than people realize. It was Amos Garrett’s choice for “Midnight at the Oasis,” as he borrowed a beautiful tobacco-burst one back in the ‘70s from David Nichtern, the song’s composer, for those classic licks on that recording. I personally had always thought it was played on the Epiphone Sheraton I had seen him play back in Woodstock during that time, but he later told me it was the 330, when we were playing a show together.
The P-90 pickups have a darkness, but also a clarity to them. And as a blues guitar, it seems to break up at just the right volume. The shorter scale neck makes it an easier guitar to bend with, especially when compared with a similarly equipped “tailpiece” model of the more popular ES-335. The fact that it is all hollow-bodied also gives it a Jazzy kind of warmth that we normally associate with bigger-bodied archtop guitars, usually with one or no cutaways.
In any event, it’s an axe well worth checking out, and I find that once I pick it up, it is so comfortable I never want to put it down. It was first produced in 1959, I believe, and at the time, had a “dot marker” fretboard, and a fairly thick ’59 kind of profile to the neck. This was pretty much the story for 1960 as well, and after that, the neck continued to get thinner, bit by bit, until around the ’67 model year, when it seemed to reach its thinnest profile. Gibson still makes this guitar today, with a tremendous amount of consistency in quality.
So, if you’re looking to check out a true classic Gibson that is a kind of unsung hero in the guitar world, I strongly suggest that you get your hands on an ES 330…you’ll be glad you did! —Arlen Roth