12/28/2015

1946 Gibson BR-3 Lap Steel Electric Guitar




Gibson BR-3s (and the later BR-4s) are "in-between" lap steels in that they feature prewar body styling but have the incredible-sounding non-adjustable Alnico pickups that look like oval-shaped P90/Jazzmaster hybrid units and slightly updated styling vs. earlier (and comparable) EH-100s, EH-125s and EH-150s. The body is mahogany and the "fretboard" is screwed-down, stenciled-on stained maple.
 
It's been resprayed, but at least it's an old, old job and has plenty of finish crackle to show for it. It looks like some sort of 50s-style brown sparkle auto paint and that's about when I suspect it was sprayed. One can still see the outline of the Gibson script at the headstock under it, too, and whoever sprayed it removed all the hardware before doing so and so the job isn't too cheesy. I spent a stolen hour in the middle of the night last night cleaning it up, spraying-out the control harness, and swapping-in a new Switchcraft jack. Easy-peasy.
The strings are 50w, 38w, 28w, 20, 17, 13 tuned to GDGBDG on a 22 1/2" scale.


This doesn't have any dating reference (FON or serial number) but this wonderful book let me track it down to 1946 via the specifications. It originally would've had a brown or brownburst finish over the mahogany body, but that's long-gone, now.


Gibsons tend to feature a nice big metal nut and wide string spacing -- which is to my liking.


The screwed-down "fretboard" is painted maple.


The reverse-painted gold plastic covers are super-cool and in good health for their age. The cover is often lost.


Under the hood is the reason these lap steels sound so great: the pickup uses individual polepiece magnets but the construction is otherwise similar to a P90 with metal backplate and thin construction with an enlarged bobbin. This interesting design gives the pickup a sound half-way between a growly P90 tone and a Fender Jazzmaster sort of tone. It sounds impressive in a lap steel as it's got a bit more fire than your average crisp-and-clean vintage lap pup.

To get slightly more "Fendery" tones, one just needs to back off the volume knob 1/4 turn to remove some of the aggressive mids.


The finish shows plenty of use-wear and weather-check.




These are typical Kluson tuners from the era with pinned-in shafts rather than machine-screw-mounted.

Isn't that finish weird? It's like a brown/burned-pink sparkle thing. It's kind-of ugly but I also really like it, to be honest, in the same way I like copper Danelectros.




The necks on these are big but they do have rounded backs. I'm always half-tempted to convert one into a super-short-scale bass as it'd be manageable up to the 12th fret. They sound so awesome as lap steels, though, that it'd be a shame to mod it that far.


I swapped the jack to a new Switchcraft one (the 40s jacks are often wonky) and moved the jack plate a little for better grip. Note the multiple movements of the plate in the past... this was not Gibson's best effort at locating/installing this important piece of equipment.

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