Written by Guitar Chalk Editorial
We're looking at some of the best pickups for an ES-335 upgrade, which you might want to consider for a couple of reasons: Either to improve quality or to adjust your tone to a specific style or sound.
Because there are two different versions of the ES-335, with very different pickups:
- The Epiphone version
- The Gibson version
The Epiphone version costs between $550 and $600 and comes with stock Epiphone pickups, which are a great candidate to be replaced for something nicer. With the Epiphone ES-335, the issue is quality, unless you just want to live with the stock pickups from Epiphone.
On the Gibson ES-335, the issue isn't one of quality as much as style.
Hovering between $3000 and $3700, the T-Type humbuckers that ship with the Gibson ES-335 are decent pickups, though we'd prefer to see something like the Gibson-branded Burstbucker, like in the picture below:
Even then, if you want to put in your own humbucker to be more accommodating of your own style, the ES-335 is a great candidate for a pickup swap, regardless of the Epiphone/Gibson distinction. You might just be swapping them for different reasons.
In this article, I'll make recommendations of humbucker sets for an ES-335 pickup swap, highlighted in the table below.
Best Pickups for an ES-335: Top Replacements
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Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates Set
Seymour Duncan Seth Lover Signature Set
Fishman Fluence Classic (active set)
Seymour Duncan Saturday Night Special
EMG Dual Mode 57/66 Humbucker Set
Seymour Duncan Custom Shop High Voltage
Pickups We've Used and/or Tested
We've either used or tested all of the pickups recommended in the above table. And we like them for the ES-335 - either the Epiphone or Gibson version - because of their high overall quality, and because of how well they respond in hollowbody electric guitars with a warmer tone.
Clean tones will sound big and punchy, while distortion will sound smooth, full and saturating.
We just want to be clear that if we've left something out, it's because we just haven't been able to verify it first hand. Our picks are derived from gear that we've actually used and tested ourselves.
That's where you come in.
If you've tried a pickup or humbucker set with the ES-335 that we didn't mention here, share your story in the comments section below.
Active or passive?
We've recommended both active and passive pickups in this article, but which one is better for you?
Both can be great, depending on what you like. Active pickups have their own power source - a 9V battery connected inside the guitar, which makes them hotter and tend to produce a higher output.
They also tend to have a smoother, more modern tone to them.
We often like to recommend active pickups to players that use a lot of distortion.
Passive humbuckers don't require a battery, and are usually a bit grittier and more natural sounding. For the ES-335, both can work, and it's just a matter of what kind of tone you prefer.
For what it's worth, the Fishman Fluence pickups are said to embody a lot of the qualities of both active and passive pickups with their stacked coil technology. If you can't decide, it might be worthwhile to give those a try so you can have the best of both worlds.
Distortion VS Clean
How will these pickups respond to distorted and clean tones?
When testing and analyzing pickups, we tend to focus on a base clean tone more so than distortion. Because if you get clean tones right, the distortion will usually sound good as well.
However, we have also used these pickups with modest amounts of gain from distortion pedals and dirty amplifier channels.
For testing, we used Fender Tube amps and a Mesa Boogie Rectoverb, giving us a vintage overdrive and modern distortion to work with. With the ES-335, we think it sounds best clean, or with just a slight amount of bluesy breakup. Thus, we'd recommend the following:
- Played cleaned with ES-335 volume and tone knob wide open
- Cleaned with a slight gain boost and breakup from an amp channel or overdrive pedal
What pickups does the Gibson ES-335 come with?
If you buy direct from a company like Sweetwater - assuming you're buying brand new - the Gibson version of the ES-335 comes with the following pickups (both are humbuckers) at the bridge and neck positions:
- Calibrated T-Type Lead Humbucker
- Calibrated T-Type Rhythm Humbucker
Of the listed options, which pickup replacement is the best?
We'd go with the Fishman Fluence humbucker set, either the classic or modern versions, since they're the nicest on the list and give you a good bright and warm tone profile.
For installation you'll need a two humbucker, two volume, two tone, and three-way switch wiring diagram. We'd recommend starting with this one:
Do I need a soldering gun for installing the pickups?
Unless the pickup manufacturer states otherwise (some pickups have unique connection systems), you will need to use a soldering gun to solder the wires into place. You can find these at hardware stores or online at most major retailers. They're also not terribly expensive.
Should I still upgrade if I like the out-of-the-box tone?
If you're happy with the tone - as it sounds with the included pickups either from Gibson or Epiphone - we probably wouldn't recommend upgrading unless you have a really specific style in mind.
For example, if you wanted it to sound a little more modern and edgy, go with the Fishman Fluence pickups.
Or if you want it to sound warmer and more vintage, go with the Seymour Duncan Saturday Night Special or Pearly Gates set.
Don't change pickups just for the sake of changing. If you like the ES-335 as-is (regardless of brand) there's nothing wrong with keeping it that way.
Do you have additional questions about pickups for your ES-335? If so, drop them in the comments section below and we'll do our best to help out. It's easy to communicate there and it makes additional questions available to future readers so we can continue to expand on this article.
As a reminder, if you've used a different pickup with the ES-335 than what we've mentioned here, let us know how it went.
Maybe you just stuck with the stock pickups and you were happy with it?
Either way, we'll chat about it.
See you there.