REVIEW > EPIPHONE
Nay, Plus Ultra It took no time to get comfortable on the Ultra-339’s 22-fret neck. The guitar came out of the box with an excellent medium- action factory set up. While I generally pre- fer a lower action, the Ultra-339’s D-profile neck, which is comparable in size to the 30/60 neck option on the Gibson ES-339 (the fatter ’ 59 neck profile option is not it might not convince you to ditch your full-bodied steel-string, it certainly is more than useable for the occasional “acoustic” part in a set. It sounds particularly convinc- ing when strumming full open-position chords. Higher up, playing single-note runs, I initially encountered some overly bright and quacky piezo tones, but adjusting the NanoMag’s tone controls makes tempering the quack easy. Where the magic really happens though is in blending in the NanoMag with the conventional pickups, which can yield some very three-dimensional tones that are simultaneously crisp, thick, and full. The effect is enhanced by the harmonic and resonant properties of the semi- hollowbody, and once you get used to the possibilities of the blended sounds, it’s hard to go back to a straight-ahead pickup sound. In musical contexts that depended less on the cutting qualities of the hum- buckers, disengaging the NanoMag and using just the humbuckers, things ounded a little duller. And when you’re in a musical situation that benefits a fuller tone, the sound of the blended pickups ounds are sublime. Gibson. And while you won’t get the deli- cious bite and high-end detail of the ’ 57 Classic pickups, I certainly wouldn’t rush to swap out the Ultra-339’s pickups. It’s worth noting too that the Epiphone does not have the Gibson’s Memphis Tone Circuit, which elps retain high-end content when the vol- ume knob is lowered. Kicking in an overdrive, it was nice to hear how detailed the Ultra could be in higher gain situations. The guitar can easily get into that Carlton/Ford bluezak terri- tory, but it can also go into full-on shred. With the gain set high on the Super-Sonic, the Ultra-339 bloomed with sustain while Once you get used to the possibilities of the blended sounds, it’s hard to go back to a straight-ahead pickup sound.
currently offered by Epiphone) is a delight
to play—with its 12" radius, 24. 75" scale
length, and medium jumbo frets.
Both acoustically and plugged-in, the
Ultra-339 sounds remarkably alive. Playing
through vintage Fender blackface Deluxe
Reverb and Fender Super-Sonic amps and
the guitar’s tone control up relatively high
you can get a nice percussive-but-mellow
Grant Green-style tones. Rolling the tone
knob down further gets you a warmer, less
biting tone perfect for chord melodies.
For comparison, I pulled out my Gibson
ES–339 and A/B’d the two guitars. The
Epiphone’s Alnico II ProBuckers were mel-
lower, a tad warmer and less aggressive than
the Alnico II ’ 57 Classic pickups in the
retaining note clarity. The Ultra’s semi-
hollow construction helped tap into some
beautifully musical feedback that wasn’t
appreciably harder to control than that
which you’d get from a solidbody.
The fact that the Ultra-339, with a street
price of around eight hundred bucks can
hold its own against the Gibson ES-339,
which costs more than twice as much,
speaks volumes about Epiphone’s quality
standards. But the Ultra does more than
work as a budget equivalent of its Gibson
twin—the NanoMag and tone-shaping
options make it an instrument with its own
unique voice and potential.
Pros: Incredible-sounding guitar at a price that’s right. Built-in
NanoMag pickup adds dimension and versatility.
Epiphone, ES-339 Ultra, Street: $799, epiphone.com
Cons: Humbucker output could have more bite.
PREMIER GUITAR APRIL 2012 DR12