1/19/2013

c.1941 Gibson ES-150 Archtop Electric Guitar




Update: I've taken some new photos and updated the information.

This grand old Gibson specs out as a 1941 ES-150. This is the same model that Charlie Christian made famous, though this version of it is the next iteration of the same guitar. Instead of the "Charlie Christian" blade pickup in the neck position, this guitar has a P-13 pickup in the bridge position. This gives the guitar more clarity and bite which really helped it to cut through a lot better than the originals, especially played through vintage (warmer, muddier) equipment.

The P-13 is essentially an early, hand-made P-90 and it's wound quite hot (8k) for the time which gives it great output for a single coil. The deco-looking nickel-plated steel cover and direct-to-top mounting gives it a more microphonic tonality to it compared to soapbars or regular dogear P-90s and this in turn means that it "sounds" more like the guitar. Straight from the output jack, one hears much of the sweet extra harmonics and warm resonances of the top, which makes this a very rich pickup suited to early jazz, blues, and rockabilly styles where you may want more nuance in your sound.

Personally, I think this is one of the best-sounding electrics I've had through the shop. It's very addicting once you get it in your hands and immediately evokes the 40s-50s early electric sounds heard all over recordings of the day: western swing, blues, jazz, you name it.

My work on this guitar included a fret level/dress, cleaning, installing a replacement pickguard (styled just like the original), some seam repairs to the back, setup, and "buttoning up" the pickup and its housing via resoldering the leads and removing rattles. This thing plays buttery-fast and has a neck that feels more like a '50s Gibson rather than the v-shaped, thicker '30s Gibsons that are this guitar's heritage.


The finish is all original, though there's much small scratching and scuffing all over the guitar. Still, it looks absolutely wonderful -- especially that gorgeous burst!

The top is solid, carved spruce, just like the acoustic archtops. The difference is that it was left slightly thicker in the middle and the tonebar braces have a small gap right around the pickup. Acoustically, this is actually a fairly loud guitar for something intended to be an electric. I've played this at gigs acoustically and it did very well for singing with and playing rhythm in a duo/trio environment. It's not as forward-loud as a "true" acoustic Gibson archtop of this period and same style, but it does have that lovely carved-top jazz tone -- thick, full, warm and balanced with a beautiful high and creamy low. It records especially easily, too.


The chunky "Gibson" in the headstock is pearl. The original bone nut and truss cover are still there! ...and yes, the rod works just fine.


Radiused, bound rosewood fretboard with pearl dots. I've only seen a few bound-neck ES-150s and it certainly adds an extra layer of class to this guitar! The frets are lower and smaller, just like other period Gibsons, and they feel great and slick.


One adjustable polepiece is a replacement and one of the mounting screws for the pickup is a replacement, but otherwise it's all original, here. Note the nice compensated rosewood bridge.


The tailpiece is nice and simple, but has just the right amount of deco touches on its hanger.


I love the original bakelite radio-style knobs.


This has the typical 16" Gibson archtop sizes: 3 1/4" depth sides, 16" lower bout, 24 3/4" scale length with 1 11/16" nut.



The back and sides are solid birdseye and lightly-flamed maple, though it's harder to see it in photos with the dark-brown finish.



The neck is one piece of mahogany and looks and feels great.



Here you can see some of that nice maple used on the back! The back is carved, just like the top, and enormously beautiful when you can see it up close.


One tuner is replaced, though the rest are correct. StewMac actually makes repros of this type of tuner, now, though these all work just fine and have been lubed.


The neck set is perfect on this guy. Isn't that wood something? Note the normal scratches/use-wear on the back.




This endpin is an ebony replacement.


From what I've seen on some other ES-150s, these jack plates appear to be original parts. Some have them and some don't, but the ones I've seen that have had them were made of exactly the same material. Curious, huh?

On the inside the whole area is reinforced with a strip of glued-on canvas. Under this jack plate there are a few tiny hairline cracks that must have happened when someone bumped the jack, though they're already "cleated" and stabilized by that canvas backing on the inside, so aren't a worry.


This guitar comes with a beat-up but functional hard case.



Oh! And yes, all the wiring is original and in good shape. No crackles, here, and original caps and pots and whatnot.

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