Gibson’s Custom Shop isn’t so fixated on producing new Les Pauls that look as though they’ve spent 50 years on the road that it can’t occasionally turn out something a bit different. The ES-359 in Pelham Blue proves the point, rounding out the series of smaller-bodied semi-acoustics that Gibson have had a lot of success with over the last few years. The guitar is really a ‘Custom’ version of an ES-339, featuring an Ebony fingerboard and split diamond inlays on the bound headstock.
Pelham Blue was always a problem colour for Gibson. It was undoubtedly their answer to Fender’s Lake Placid Blue – without the metallic flake – but nevertheless a departure from the ubiquitous and popular Sunburst and Cherry Red guitars that Gibson made in great numbers in the sixties. The Cadillac inspired finish – available between ’63 and ’69 – was mostly applied to Firebirds and some Melody Makers, as well as the occasional SG and ES-335, but original guitars were minuscule in number and now appear more of a green than blue colour, the ravages of sunlight having played havoc with the acrylic composition of the lacquer.
Unlike the ES-339 which offers two neck options, the ES-359 comes with a ‘Lucille’- (B.B King’s ES-355) profile neck, which is fatter at the 12th fret than the ES-339. This particular review guitar is from a short run of Pelham Blue guitars and features chrome hardware throughout, whereas the regular Sunburst version has gold parts. The guitar also features the ‘Memphis Tone Circuit’, which uses a logarithmic system to analyse the way the volume controls affect tone. Custom Shop engineers developed a special 500K audio taper pot to preserve the high-end as the volume decreases, and Gibson claim that this gives the guitar a ‘sweeter, brighter and punchier’ tone.
Pick-ups are the ever popular Classic ’57s and you can’t really argue that they’re perfect on this guitar, producing everything from a credible jazz mellowness to wiry country through to full-on blues/rock fatness. That’s the beauty of these types of instruments – they can cover just about all the angles. The guitar feels right straightaway, well balanced and less unwieldy than a full-size ES-335, but with a more extensive tonal spectrum than a Les Paul. The front pick-up is a joy, and through my Engl Classic test amp set clean produced some complex and very sweet guitar sounds, at the same time offering a very easy neck to get around on. There’s something about ebony fingerboards that definitely adds a brightness and clarity that you don’t get with rosewood and this guitar takes full advantage if you let it. With a medium overdrive on the amp you’re in Ford/Carlton territory – with a pure, fat tone emanating from the speakers that’s going to put a rather large smile on your face.
Love the colour or hate it, this guitar sure has individuality. It’s a limited run, so the collectability factor has to be taken into consideration when justifying the expense of owning the Gibson ES-359. Run through a top-flight amp, the tones that this little semi can produce are world-class and it will be a fine addition to anyone’s guitar collection.