For those of you that want to go straight to the bottom line, then it’s 5 stars all the way, and at this price, buy one! For those who want a more considered opinion, then read on. . .
I have had this guitar for a week, now, and I deliberately wanted to wait for the honeymoon period to start to subside. When it arrived, I was very, very impressed, and I wanted to ensure that that feeling remained. It has!
First thing I want to mention is how well built this guitar is. The back of the headstock says “Hand Crafted in China”, and if you haven’t done so, I recommend that you YouTube the Epiphone Factory Tour. It is impressive how much hand work goes in to making the production line guitars. I would suggest that many so called hand made guitars (which are often made using CNC routers, for example) receive little or no more hand work than these guitars. Overall, the fit and finish is very impressive. If I were to nit pick, here, then the Thistle emblem on the headstock is marginally lop sided. There is filler in the inlays (but no more than I have seen on many Gibson and other brands), and at a certain angle, you can tell that the volume and tone pots are set slightly at an angle coming out of the body. The pick up height needed to be set, as the rhythm pick up was overpowering the treble unit. There is also a ding that I have literally only just noticed since I started writing this on the veneer on the back of the body. The poly finish has covered it over, making it smooth to the touch, so this must have happened at the factory. This really should have made this guitar a “Second” rather than a good to go!
The maple veneer on the front and back is well applied, and looks nice (if you like that sort of thing). I would have preferred this model in cherry red, but they only have that with dots, and I wanted the small block inlays. The Tea Burst looks more like a Dark Sunburst to me, but I expect individual guitars will vary, slightly. The F holes are reasonably well cut, but are a little rough when you run your finger around them on the inside. You can also see some of the wiring through them. Minor niggles, but at this price, nothing to worry about.
The pick ups sound very good. I am used to high end units from Gibson, Seymour Duncan, Jerry Amalfitano, and others, and these are not far removed from those makers. I am tempted to put either Duncan Seth Lovers, or Gibson Classic ‘57’s in it, but I am not entirely convinced that the money spent would give me a significant upgrade in tone. I might feel differently after half a dozen or so gigs. The tuners are superb - amongst the very best I have had! The Graph-Teq nut and other hardware are all perfectly good for all intents and purposes. I might swap the tail piece for a Faber aluminium item, but that is only because I have a spare one sat unused at present.
I have left the fingerboard and frets until last, as this is the only place where the guitar is let down. The fingerboard is Indian Laurel, and looks really pale and anaemic. I have tried lemon oil and Dunlop 65 oil, but it will not darken, or look “Nice”, or authentic like Rosewood. This is a major cosmetic let down for me, although, it seems reasonably playable. I say reasonably because like most new Epiphones, the board itself feels rough. This will play in after a month or two, so I am not unduly worried, and the same with the frets. Well rounded, finished, and seated, but needed to be cleaned up and wiped down, as they, too, felt rough to begin with. In my opinion, taking this guitar to your favourite luthier for a final fettle would be money well spent. Do keep in mind, though, it is perfectly playable as is.
So, all in all, a great little guitar, and well worth the money. Good looking, well made, and sounds really good. Any complaints I have are minor in the great scheme of things, and if you are in the market for an inexpensive (but not cheap) 335, then this really does deserve a very close look indeed.