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335 Shootout: Eastman T386 vs Gibson ES-335 – review and demo

In this shootout, we put an Eastman T386 to the test against a Gibson ES-335. The Eastman was upgraded with Porter Smooth/Classic Humbucker pickups, otherwise it’s stock.

Here are some links for more information on each guitar and the Porter Pickups:

Gibson ES-335

Gibson Website (specs)

Bradford’s guitar is the classic ES-335 by Gibson. It’s made in Memphis, TN, and the quality and attention to detail are superb. The 335 has come in many different iterations over the years. Bradford’s 335 is a standard model and has the Burstbucker pickups.

What we love about Bradford’s ES-335:

The look and feel. It’s unmistakeable, and it has no equal really – the Gibson 335 is just a classic electric guitar. It has some serious wow-factor. It feels great as well, and the components and construction are top of the line. The neck on the 335 is bigger than the Eastman, but not quite as wide at the nut. It’s a more traditional feeling neck.

The tone. This, again, is a classic sounding instrument. The bridge pickup has a smooth creamy bite that sounds instantly familiar – it’s 100% Gibson. The Gibson has an overall warmer tone than the Eastman (with the upgraded pickups).

What we don’t love

The price. This is an heirloom kind of guitar – something you pass down from generation to generation. It’s made by hand in the USA. These things cost money.

Eastman T386

Eastman Website (specs)

Porter Smooth/Classic Humbuckers (these are the pickups I put in the Eastman, and the ones in this demo)

What we love about the Eastman T386:

The value and quality. This is a LOT of guitar for the money. It’s made in China, but it is made extremely well. In fact, if you look up the Eastman factory on YouTube, you’ll see luthiers building these guitars by hand. It is a very well made guitar, and for the money is a massive bang for the buck. The Eastman is also equipped with some high end hardware – the bridge is stamped Gotoh Japan. That’s good stuff. It has a bone nut, and the tuners are rock solid – this guitar rarely ever goes out of tune.

The look and feel. When you put the Eastman side-by-side with a Gibson, you can tell that one is the Gibson and one isn’t, but that’s not to say that the Eastman doesn’t look stunning. It is very close to the Gibson – we felt like it was slightly smaller. I think if you saw one on it’s own, most people would assume it was just a 335 – it’s very close. The playability on the Eastman is also excellent. The neck is wider and slightly thinner than the Gibson, which some people may prefer (and some may not). The fretwork in particular is some of the best I’ve ever seen. It is obvious that a person hand finished the frets and made sure they were pretty much perfect.

What we don’t love about the Eastman T386:

The pickups. The pickups on the Eastman are Kent Armstrong designed humbuckers. I personally did not like them all that much. I felt that there wasn’t a lot of tonal variation between the bridge and the neck, and overall they were a bit mushy. I’ve read many accounts of how people love these pickups, and many times this has a lot to do with a player’s specific amp, pedals, and playing style. I opted to upgrade to a set of Porter Smooth/Classic Humbuckers (see the link above), and with those pickups, this guitar is a monster, and it’s exactly what I was looking for in a 335 style guitar.

Conclusion

Bradford and I came to the same conclusion pretty quickly after playing these guitars: If you want a Gibson ES-335, buy a Gibson. If you want a 335 style guitar for considerably less money, the Eastman is one of the best we’ve ever played.

Guitars are very personal instruments. When I find a guitar that I bond with, the more I play it the more I like it. If I had to choose between these two guitars (not considering value) – I’d choose the Eastman. That’s a bold statement, but I just feel more at home and comfortable with it. The playability is awesome, and I love the way the neck feels. Not to mention the Porter Humbuckers – those are great pickups. Bradford would choose his Gibson. For many of the same reasons I would choose the Eastman.

In the end, both guitars are very high-end examples of the classic 335 style guitar.

9 Responses to 335 Shootout: Eastman T386 vs Gibson ES-335 – review and demo

  1. Brendan Feb 10, 2017 at 9:04 am #

    Thanks for this. I think a better comparison would be between the Eastman T185 (a $2200, real maple and mahogany guitar, as opposed to the laminated maple one your reviewed). Please do this comparison if you can! 🙂

    • Brian Mar 15, 2017 at 2:05 am #

      Hi Brendan, The Gibson ES-335 is a laminate guitar and is closest to the Eastman T-386. I think Gibson has guitars similar to an Eastman T-185, but I’m not sure what they are.

  2. Sir Tristesse Mar 10, 2017 at 1:40 pm #

    That wouldn’t be a real comparison as a 335 is laminate too.

  3. Richard Aug 7, 2017 at 4:04 pm #

    Are you really kidding? Eastmans are like toys and you can charge whatever you want and use all kinds of fancy woods and nonsense. I’ve never played one I could take seriously. I have an ’87 335 with Tommy Shaw pickups and there ain’t no Eastman that can sit in the same room.

    If you want a 335 and don’t want to pay thousands for a brand new one, save your money and get a good used one. Even if it needs work, it’s a guitar worth investing in and built well enough to withstand serious work by a serious tech.

    • Brian Oct 20, 2017 at 8:34 pm #

      Hey Richard – sorry you had a bad experience with Eastman, but I’ve played several of them now, and they are top tier in every respect. I’d suggest trying one again if you can get your hands on one. They’re impressive, and can easily hang with Gibson.

  4. Rob Aug 10, 2017 at 11:08 pm #

    I would have liked to hear the Eastman with burstbucker pu s. That would allow the the two guitars to be the same in all regards, except what the manufacturers built. As it is, I am hearing two guitars with different pickups. Is it the pu or the guitar that makes one sound better?

    • Brian Oct 20, 2017 at 8:31 pm #

      Hey Rob – I’m convinced that if you put the same pickups in a T386 as a 335, the tone will be practically identical. At that point, the things that matter would be the feel/playability, and how important the name on the headstock is to you.

  5. Donald F Lessnau Aug 30, 2017 at 11:25 pm #

    Bought a T386 a year ago and it’s still a beauty. My number one guitar for tone, ease of playing and color. It’s like butter. I also own an Eastman AR372CE (which is No. 1 just for tone), a Pelham Blue Gibson Les Paul Studio (No. 1 for color and great tone playing ease) and most recently a Candy Apple Red Fender Telecaster Deluxe Shawbucker. Also very easy to play and color. The Shawbuckers are nice but can’t match the others. BTW. I also switched out the KA humbuckers for some great Seth Duncan jazz humbuckers. Unreal improvement.

    • Brian Oct 20, 2017 at 8:23 pm #

      Hey Donald – that was my experience, too – the T386 is awesome but the pickups weren’t so much.

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