Is a $700 ES-335 Copy Better Than Original Gibson? Session Guitar Legend Tim Pierce Weighs In

Tim Pierce, a legendary session guitarist with an impressive body of work, recently published a video on his YouTube channel where he tried to answer a popular question among guitar players — how do cheap Gibson copies compare to the real deal? The two guitars that he had on him were Gibson ES-335 Joe Bonamassa ’61 reissue and Sire Larry Carlton H7. Now, the first one was a run done back in 2012 and is a recreation of Joe’s 1961 Gibson that he has in his collection. Larry Carlton’s signature model Sire H7 is a much more affordable alternative to the ES-335 and is getting more attention recently.

In his video analysis, Tim Pierce compared the two instruments while playing through his vintage Marshall Super PA head, a 4×12 cabinet, and no additional effects units. He went through all three of the pickup combinations and analyzed them from cleans, to “break up” overdriven territories, and all the way to higher-gain settings. You can check out the comparison in the embedded video below from about 00:30 to 4:10.

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After showcasing what these two guitars are capable of, Tim then shared his opinion on the matter, explaining what makes these guitars so different. He offered (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs):

“Both of these guitars are great. As a studio musician… We learn to value the tool that’s [a little] expensive just as much as the tool that’s [much more] expensive. They’re all tools that you can use at different times for different reasons.”

“It’s just great that you can get something that sounds this good for this price. Sires are made in Indonesia and because of the association with Larry Carlton, and on the bass side Marcus Miller, I think the quality is superb on these.”

Sire Larry Carlton H7 Semi-hollow Electric Guitar Demo

Going more into some of the advantages that the Gibson model had, Tim explained:

“Now, this guitar [Gibson] is lighter. Weight is an issue with a lower-priced guitar. I don’t mind the weight of this one [Sire H7] but the weight of the Gibson is a little more pleasurable, it’s a little bit lighter.”

“Also, I don’t know if you noticed this but my impression was that Gibson was a little smoother in the top end. Now, that can be adjusted by changing the amp. You could also change out the pickups on [Sire] someday if you want to do an experiment and make it probably a little smoother on the top end.”

2012 Gibson ES-335 Joe Bonamassa Signature Limited Edition

But what about the price difference? As of this moment, you can find the Bonamassa 335 used for about $7,000 or more. Whereas the Sire H7 is around $700. Pierce continued:

“Certainly, this guitar [Gibsobn] is many times more expensive. But the fact that this is a good value and only $700 in no way diminishes the value of the expensive guitar. That’s how I feel. Everything has its place, everything is a tool. They’re both worth it if it’s something that gives you value and that sounds good in your hands.”

Of course, Pierce also pointed out that the price of the Gibson ES-335 in his video is currently so high because it’s a one-time reissue run from over a decade ago. You can still find great ES-335 guitars at a much lower price. He explains:

“Now, right now, the only reason this guitar is $7,000 is because it’s from 2012. It’s a special signature model, and the value went up. Now, if you wanted to get a good Gibson [ES-]335, you could probably find one in the mid-twos or the mid-threes. So that’s really the value of a good Gibson 335. So it’s not 10 times the value of [Sire] if you want a good 335.”

Joe Bonamassa - The 1961 Gibson ES-335

So in conclusion, Pierce claims that both of these instruments are great in their own way and are worth the price if you know how to use them and if you know what you’re looking for. He also said:

“So they’re both great tools. I could hear the difference. [Gibson is] a little smoother on the top end. And as I said, it’s a little lighter. So having it in your hands is a little more pleasurable.”

In a recent interview, Larry Carlton himself discussed his signature line of models which, apart from H7 also includes a single-cut LP-style L7V, as well as S-style and T-style guitars. Reflecting on why he ended up leaving Gibson and switching to Sire, Carlton said:

“In short, my contract with Gibson was up. And the truth is, the ES-335 model by Gibson is pretty inconsistent. You have to be careful about them. They’re very different than my ’69, which was frustrating. I remember going to Europe and playing versions by other companies, which inspired the idea with Sire.”

Is a Sire Larry Carlton H7 As Good as a REAL Gibson ES335? [No, but it's pretty good!]

“Long story short. Sire approached me, and it seemed like the perfect time for me to make a move. The beauty of the whole thing with Sire is the greater attention to detail. When they approached me, they gave me seven guitars made in Korea for me to evaluate before we met, and I have to say, the quality was just unbelievable. Ultimately, I wanted to provide a guitar to people at a reasonable price to match the larger brands’ quality.”

Photo: YouTube screenshot

  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at Ultimate-Guitar.com, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor and brands like Sam Ash.

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