Larry Carlton Says Gibson ES-335 Guitars Are ’Inconsistent,’ Explains Switch to Affordable Sire Guitars

Jazz fusion master Larry Carlton recently sat down with Guitar World to share a few details behind his Sire signature guitar models. Not that long ago, he partnered with the company for yet another signature model, the L7V single-cut.

However, Carlton was, and still is, known as one of the most prominent Gibson ES-335 users. And not only that — he used to have a signature 335 model with the company. Asked how he switched from Gibson to Sire, he 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.”

Larry Carlton Demos His Signature Sire L7V Electric Guitar

“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.”

As of this moment, apart from the L7V, Carlton also has S-style and T-style guitars with Sire. And, of course, his product lineup also includes a double-cut semi-hollo-body H7 which is directly inspired by his old late-1960s Gibson ES-335.

Further on, Carlton was asked about how Sire went about recreating the magic of this instrument in their H7 to which he replied:

“In order to get the Sire guitars close to my Gibson, I sent Sire my ’69 to model the new line after. And they did their homework, creating what I feel is an incredible line of guitars.

Larry Carlton Sire H7 & H7v Demo

“For instance, there’s a B-flat chord stretch from the sixth fret on the low E string to the first fret on F with a specific feel. If I can’t make that chord happen, the guitar isn’t for me. With the Sire guitars, I can make that chord happen. That’s how great of a job Sire did with these.”

He also added:

“Until recently, Sire had been using ebony fingerboards. And the early models of my signature guitars did have those. But I had always used rosewood, and I liked ebony, but they’re a little softer and a bit brighter. So, I preferred rosewood, so we’ve worked out within the last year or so to have all my guitars produced with rosewood fingerboards.”

Mr. 335 Larry Carlton playing a 1962 Gibson ES-335 at Norman's Rare Guitars

Elsewhere in the interview, Carlton went on to share his thoughts on transitioning to Sire from Gibson, explaining that he, ultimately, wanted to help people get great guitars at reasonable prices:

“Honestly, there wasn’t any adjustment at all for me. These guitars are high-quality, and I think that I’m out on tour with them proves that. Beyond that, I’m at a point in my career where I want to give back. I’ve been fortunate enough in my career to have access to the best instruments, but not all those who play guitar are so lucky.”

“To be able to do this for people, I’m excited. I can’t tell you how cool all of this is. Sire has come a long way. Their quality control is top-notch, and they have their own production. There’s no changing of hands and having other people finish the job.

the guitar everyone wanted to see! Sire Larry Carlton T7 Deep Dive

As he explains, only Sire was able to pull this perfect combo of affordability and quality in their instruments:

“I’ve heard about other companies doing things like this with artists, and the result was an instrument that doesn’t sound good. Or not good enough, at least. Sire took this just as seriously as I did. That’s why this worked.”

Discussing the matter further, Larry also recalled playing Gibson guitars that weren’t exactly good. He said:

“Here’s the truth. I’ve played Gibson guitars from the ’70s that sounded like shit. I had buddies who knew I played a 335, and they’d come to me and say, ‘Hey, come check out my 335; I think it sounds great.’ And I’d play the thing, and it wasn’t anything special. And it was still expensive.”

Gibson ES-335 TD 70s Limited Edition presented by Vintage Guitar Oldenburg and Tobias Hoffmann

 “All I can say is that ever since I got my Sire H7V or my T3, I haven’t taken any vintage guitars on the road. Truthfully, there has been no need. Those guitars have served me well for decades, and now it’s time for my Sire guitars to do the same. Sire made these guitars based on what I like, which shows.”

“I believe my Sire line is probably better than anything Fender’s Squier line is now producing. I didn’t put my name on a line of guitars just to make money. I did this because I wanted to provide something for people and stand by it.”

“These are great guitars, and I believe in them. From the start, there was no comprise, and there still isn’t. That’s why they’re out on the road with me today.”

Photos: Sweetwater (YouTube screenshot), Federico Gallerani (Gibson ES-335 sunburst)


  • 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, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor.