Review: Epiphone Ultra-339
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Nearly perfect since its introduction in 1958, the semihollow ES-335 is one of the most versatile electric guitars ever developed. With its new Ultra-339 model, Epiphone has improved the classic semihollow guitar design by using a smaller body and adding updates, like a NanoMag pickup system and a USB output. As a result, the Ultra-339 provides greater playing comfort, a variety of acoustic-electric and classic electric tones and the ability to plug into a computer to control amp and effect emulation software without an external I/O device, all without sacrificing the sexy looks, awesome sound and exceptional playability that have made the ES-style semihollow electric a timeless instrument.
While the width of an ES-335 can make it a bit unwieldy to play, the Ultra-339 features a compact body that’s about the size of a Les Paul but proportionately faithful to the 335’s sexy curves. Epiphone ProBucker humbucking pickups are mounted in the standard neck and bridge positions, and the surround for the bridge pickup houses a built-in tuner featuring LEDs that let players know if the magnetic, NanoMag or both pickup systems are engaged. A Shadow NanoMag pickup is installed at the end of the fretboard, and gain, treble and bass controls for the NanoMag pickup are mounted on the rear control cover.
The Ultra-339 also functions as a modern “virtual guitar rig” controller thanks to its built-in USB digital output that provides a direct link to amp and effect emulation software and allows players to record performances directly to digital recording software. There are side-mounted outputs for USB; stereo, which passes the humbucking signal; and mono, which passes a blend of the humbucking and NanoMag signals, or just the NanoMag signal when the mono output is used in conjunction with the stereo jack.
The guitar’s slightly smaller body makes the Ultra-339 as compact and comfortable to play as a solidbody electric, and its cavities enhance midrange honk, giving the guitar an assertive voice with archtop-like resonance but without uncontrollable feedback. Whereas a standard 335 has more low-end woof, the Ultra-339 delivers singing midrange bark and stinging treble bite with no bass mud, which is perfect for crystal-clear blues, rock and jazz solos. The ProBucker pickups and semihollow construction combine to deliver a compelling blend of sustain, bite and warmth. The NanoMag pickup produces its best acoustic tones when using the stereo outputs and sending the signal to a separate acoustic guitar amplifier or PA system. Humbucking, NanoMag or both pickups are selected quickly and seamlessly by pressing down on the master tone control.
List Price $1,332
Manufacturer Epiphone Guitar Corp., epiphone.com
A NanoMag pickup with active electronics provides acoustic-electric tones in addition to classic semihollow electric sounds.
The Ultra-339 connects directly to a computer and amp/effect emulation software via a USB digital audio output mounted to guitar’s side next to the standard outputs.
The Bottom Line
The Ultra-339 is a great sounding and comfortable semihollow guitar, and with the addition of a NanoMag pickup system, built-in tuner and USB output, it offers the best of modern utility and classic appeal.