Looking for something vintage, but don’t have the thousands of dollars to buy a Gibson ES-335? In this Epiphone Dot Review we’re going to take a look at the much more cost effective Epiphone model of the ES-335. At a fraction of the price, is the Dot a viable alternative? Let’s find out.
Overview of Epiphone Dot
The Epiphone Dot is a replica of the Gibson ES-335, but it’s about $1,500 cheaper! Of course there are differences between the Gibson and Epiphone, but we’ll come onto those later.
For the uninitiated the Dot is a semi-hollow body archtop guitar. The Archtop design was first patented for mandolins, but the design started to migrate to guitars in the 1930’s. The Gibson ES-150 was considered the first successful model with the Archtop design, released in 1936. It was instantly popular with Jazz musicians.
Archtop guitars have a slightly rounded top and sometimes back and distinctive “F-holes” on the body. A solid block runs down the center of the body from the neck to house the pickups and bridge, but the remainder of the body is hollow, hence the term “semi-hollow body”.
Archtops were phenomenally popular in the late 1950’s. Epiphone started to reissue modern Archtop guitars in the late 1990’s. Modern Archtop guitars are often very light yet retain the distinctive design of the classic guitars of the 1950’s.
The Epiphone Dot has the same body shape as the Gibson ES-335 but is made from layered maple. The limited edition model pictured is made from flame maple veneer, giving it a distinctive finish with the grain of the wood visible. The body is is topped off with a gloss finish. The body has white binding at the edges for extra vintage style points.
A mahogany center block houses the electronics and anchors the bridge in place. The neck, which is glued into the body, is also made from mahogany. Usually mahogany would make the guitar rather heavy, but this is offset by the semi-hollow body. As a result the Dot is remarkably light.
The fingerboard is made from Pau Ferro, which has similar tonal characteristics to Rosewood, yet feels smoother like Ebony. Pau Ferro is also much more sustainable than Rosewood.
The Dot is full scale at 24.75″. The neck is a slim taper profile, modeled on the neck profile of guitars of the 1960’s. It’s quite a lot thinner than the Gibson ES-335, which has a 50’s neck profile. I prefer a thinner neck because, in my opinion, it makes the guitar easier to play.
The fingerboard has 22 medium jumbo frets, great for Jazz and Blues musicians who like to slide and bend strings. The fingerboard radius is 12″ making it nice and flat at the higher register, great for lead work and soloing.
Pearloid dot inlays mark out the key frets, a departure from the normal block inlays. The inlays are actually the reason for the guitar’s name. Yep, something as trivial as the design of the inlays proved to be the inspiration for the name of the guitar.
The neck has a gloss finish, which can make it feel a little sticky. I much prefer satin finishes for better playability. Stickiness tends to be an issue if your hands are a bit sweaty. A lot of decent guitars have gloss finishes to the neck, but it’s something practical to consider.
The nut material is also a bit of a concern. For a $500 guitar I’d expect something a little better than plastic. Even something like synthetic bone would have been better. Plastic really doesn’t help the resonance and although forgivable in a $200-300 guitar, it’s disappointing to find it on the Dot.
Moving up the guitar we finnd the sloped dove wing designed headstock. A mis-shapen diamond and the Epiphone logo are inlayed with pearloid. A bell shaped truss rod cover houses the truss rod, which is stamped with the model name “Dot”.
On the back of the headstock we find Grover Rotomatic 18:1 tuning machines. These not only add to the vintage appeal of the guitar but also provide tuning stability and reliability.
At the other end of the guitar is a LockTone Tune-O-Matic bridge and stop bar tail piece. The Tune-O-Matic bridge is found in many Epiphone guitars. It’s reliable and suits the style of the guitar. The guitar comes with a set of .010’s, which you might want to swap out for your favored brand and gauge.
The Dot is made in Indonesia, but the QA at the factory is usually very good so you shouldn’t find any blemishes and the set up should be pretty good out of the box. Perhaps that’s one of the things that make Epiphone guitars so good, superior QA to other guitars made in Indonesia.
There are two humbucking pickups, one located at the bridge and the other at the neck. The bridge pickup is an Alnico Classic Plus humbucker, which is quite hot. The other is an Alnico Classic Humbucker, which is more mild.
There’s a 3-way pickup switch, which allows you to select either the bridge or neck pickup, or a combination of both at the middle position. The pickups are nickel plated, which matches the finish on the bridge and tail piece.
There are 4 control knobs. Two control the output on each pickup whilst the other two serve as master tone and master volume. The control knobs are distinctive with their amber colored “top hat” design.
The neck pickup is very warm, great for bluesy styles. The middle position is still warm but just a little bit sweeter. Great for Jazz, Blues and even some funk. The bridge pickup runs pretty hot and can provide dirty tones. great for classic rock or more accentuated lead work. It’ll even handle a little more gain for harder styles, but I wouldn’t expect a shred machine. The Dot isn’t the choice if you want to rip out high gain solos.
Overall we find the pickups to be great for vintage tones being predominantly warm and sweet with a bit of dirt thrown in at the bridge for good measure.
Comparison to Gibson ES-335
It’s not really fair to compare the Dot to the ES-335. Unless you have an unlimited budget then you’re not going to be choosing between the two. If you are choosing between the two, go for the Gibson! The Gibson has a sweeter, punchier sound, which is down to the better quality pickups.
The finish on the Gibson is also a little better and will contribute to the tone of the guitar as it ages, whereas the polyurethane finish on the Dot won’t add any character as the guitar ages. You’ll also get a proper nut material, but then you’d expect that when you’re paying thousands of dollars right!?
The Epiphone Dot is a pretty good diet version of the ES-335. However if you’re looking for an Archtop guitar on a budget I’d be more inclined to go with the Epiphone Wildkat. The Wildkat has P90 single coil pickups, but they’re wired for high output. If you’re playing jazzy or bluesy styles, the single coils might just be enough.
I dislike the plastic nut on this guitar, but you could swap that out without spending too much. I just find my self asking why I should do that when I’m paying almost $500 for a guitar? I really like the neck profile, which is really comfortable. But again I find my myself feeling a little let down with the gloss finish to the neck. I know it’s a vintage feature, but I find satin finishes much easier to work with.
If you’re looking for a Gibson ES-335 for a fraction of the price then you’re still getting decent guitar. I think you’d have to be set on the ES-335 shape to want to buy the Dot. A Player Telecaster would set you back a $100 more, but you’d be getting a better guitar.
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