GUITAR
ACQUISITION
SYNDROME

Gibson Century 6 v.3

 

Lap steel guitars played an important part in the establishment of my collection and continue to serve my G.A.S. occasionally. Although I've not added one to the collection in quite some, this month's G.A.S. Attack represents the end of an era for Gibson and the manufacture of lap steel guitar models. At one point my collection contained an example of every Gibson lap steel model, pre and post war, including many variations within a model not to mention the house brands e.g. Kalamazoo, Recording King, Mastertone, etc. (see Post G.A.S. Gallery). I came to my senses and purged the majority of the post war instruments retaining two (2) - a mustard yellow TV finished second version (v.2) of the Royaltone available in 1956-57 and a first version (v.1) Century 6 variant with just two control knobs.

Known as the "golden years", the period of 1948-1966 or Ted McCarty's reign as president of Gibson, brought their most notable products to the market. Lap steel guitars were an important part of Gibson's line which first catered to the hawaiian guitar craze of the 1930-40s. Post war production brought art deco models like the Ultratone and Century 6 as well as utility models with the BR designation (BR-4, 6 & 9). Many had matching small tube amplifiers which utilized the same model designations. The BR-9 was Gibson's "mass market" model with over 12,000 shipped. Two other models, the Royaltone and Skylark EH-500, rounded out their line of lap steel guitars. Of course there were variations within models during their production run including several complete design changes which brings us to this month's G.A.S. Attack, a 1967 Century 6 (v.3).



Introduced in 1948, the Century 6 went through 3 distinct design changes during its 20 year production run. My Century 6 variant is the original version (1948-55) except with just two (2) controls verses the standard three (3). It was actually built for export to Canada as it is stamped, "Made in U.S.A.". I sold my bittersweet (salmon) colored second version (1955-66) a few years back during the "Big Purge". Great sounding P-90 soapbar pickup, it maintained the art deco appearance the model was known for.



By 1966 and with the departure of its long time president, Ted McCarty. quality issues plagued the company as overseas competition increased. Not only was it the end of the "golden era" for Gibson, but their production of lap steel guitar models. The hawaiian craze had waned long ago and country players preferred the pedal steel guitar. Act
ually, Gibson is credited for the first "modern" professional quality pedal steel with its prewar Electraharp but its post war models had limited appeal. As the last lap steel design offered by Gibson, the third and final version of the Century 6 was available from only 1966-68. A scant 60 were shipped making it a rare bird and the only version that hadn't resided in my collection.

Sharing a similar body design with the Skylark EH-500 model, which also ended its production run in 1968, it is the only model to feature the mini humbucker pickup that could be found on their Firebird guitar series. Unlike the Skylark, which had a body made of african limba (Korina) the Century 6 v.3 employed a rich wine red finish. Lots of metal between the large control plate, chrome covered pickup, bridge and bridge cover plus a very cool aluminum logo plate on the peghead. Individual Kluson Deluxe tuners, standard Gibson metal nut and of course 1960s "witch hat" knobs. Weighing in at less than 4.5 lbs and a 22.5" scale length, the guitar exhibits the quality craftsmanship that Gibson is known for during this period.

Overall the guitar is in very good condition with just age consistent play wear. It's not mint or the new phrase, "museum piece", but was played and enjoyed. With only 60 shipped and as the last lap steel guitar model Gibson manufactured, its a true piece of musical instrument history. The original tweed covered hardshell case is pretty tired but has protected the treasure inside rather well.  

Two things make this particular lap steel special in my book. First, the control cavity is stamped "R&D" (Research & Development) which could mean this was a prototype however it sports a 1967 serial # (007327) stamped on the back of the peghead. The other bonus is the little chrome covered mini humbucker that is sweet and responsive. She's an excellent player and I've already started to use her for recording. I thought the mosquito plant reflection looked cool in the chrome so I left it in! 

I started out collecting lap steels and they continue to be represented in my collection but just not in the numbers as in the past. Of the handful of post war lap steels that still reside in my collection, Gibson makes up the majority being both excellent players as well as solid investments.
 

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