Gibson EH-275

......and then there were 3!
I started out in the vintage world collecting lap steel guitars because they were inexpensive and offered comparable variety to their guitar cousins. My early interest in Gibson, and subsequent G.A.S. attacks, produced a collection of their lap steels that featured every model both pre and post war. For the most part, only the pre war models have survived with my focus on the original blade or "Charlie Christian" pickup. The EH-275 became an early "holy grail"  since only 25 were shipped making them one of the rarest pre war lap steel models. Per Gruhn's Guide, the first 6 were designated as the EH-250 and 3 out of the 25 were designated as Roy Smeck like the white EH-150 model which also bears his name.

What is refered to as the ES-300 pickup first appeared in the electric archtop model of the same name however it was also released in their EH-150 and EH-185 lap steel models. Gibson introduced their top of the line EH-275 in September 1940 with the only reference found in the Catalog AA supplement for October of that year. The natural maple finish, heavy tortiseshell binding and colored fret markers set it apart from the EH-185 model. A matching amplifier with a maple cabinet was also offered which was the only model, with the exception of the aforementioned Roy Smeck, without their prewar aeroplane cloth covering. I have yet to even see an actual example of the amplifier.

I purchased my first EH-275 (#3 on the right) in 2004 from Gruhn Guitars in Nashville. The stars must have been aligned as I just happened to be on their website checking his inventory when there it was. A phone call to "Billy" and my search for the "holy grail" had ended victoriously!  However, when the guitar arrived I called Billy and questioned the originality of the tuners. He checked with George who assured that they were original to the instrument. The guitar has some interesting history in that it was part of the Akira Tsumura collection. It can be found across from the book's forward, hanging in a case with other beautiful lap steels and also page 163 in his book - Guitars The Tsumura Collection.  Gruhn, of course, provided this provenance and I immediately purchased a copy of the book. Now talk about an amazing collection! If you are a serious collector his book should appear on your shelf along with Chinery's. BTW a drool bucket is not included so purchase one before opening! 

My next EH-275 (#4 on the left) was also acquired in 2004 as an eBay purchase. I had to win this one the hard way and outbid quite a few other collectors.  Why was this one so important when I already owned one? It was the very next  FON (Factory Order Number) # associated with the model. inda cool to own 2 in a row I thought! This one is also in very good condition and the tuners were the same as the EH-185 (individual Grover slotted peghead) which brought me right back to questioning the tuners on my first 275.  Certainly not a show stopper for an instrument that only has 24 siblings (if all have survived) and so I got past it.

Enter my third EH-275 (#14 center) and the G.A.S. Attack of the Month for March. As a member of the Steel Guitar Forum (
) I was called upon to confirm the identity of another member's lap steel. He wasn't sure if it was a natural 185 or actually a 275. Pictures and the FON (Factory Order Number) followed which confirmed it was one of the 25! I inquired if, by chance, it was for sale and sure enough a deal was struck. Although not as clean as my other 2, as it was well played, but truly just character marks for an instrument this rare. 

Now the question is, why would I want to own 3 of them? Well first I now own 12% of the total number shipped which in itself is quite an accomplishment with some bragging rights. Second, the model holds a special meaning in my early G.A.S. episodes and finally, I have 3 children which means each could potentially inherit one to pass down to future generations. Perhaps it sounds a bit hokie but think about it? Of course there could always be that generation that needs $$$$s so it ends up on the auction block! Perhaps they will just each be a very nice vacation for the wife and I one day in the future!

Anyway, back to a bit about the steel itself. I've always enjoyed the ES-300 tone and it was the next step in evolution towards the post war P-90 pickup. Trading a blade for adjustable pole pieces and smaller magnet, the pickup was mounted diagonally and topped off with a piece of tortiseshell material.  Gibson also briefly released a longer variation in the ES-300 guitar model. Prior to the war they changed to a metal covered pickup design, both with and without pole pieces, in both their guitar and lap steels models. 

The 275 is a cosmetically upgraded version of their 185 model. The 185 was initially equipped with the "Charlie Christian" blade pickup but by 1940 it too offered the new ES-300 pickup.  Also available in a natural finish, the models can ocassionally be confused. Tortiseshell binding is one feature found only on the 275. Quite wide and thick but prone to crystalization just like a pickguard. Probably not the best choice for binding material but it really does accent the steel's beautiful natural curly maple. Also, the 275 used colored fret markers with large rectangular pearl inlays instead of dots. Apparently there are a few examples however, with EH-185 fretboards. What sets the 185 and 275 apart from all of Gibson's other steel models is the one piece metal plate that runs the length of the guitar (peghead to bridge). A wood neck actually bolts into the metal! Both the neck and back have non-slip diamonds to make sure is doesn't take a tumble. Truly a stunning steel and weighs a ton even with the hollow body.

So what does i
t sound like? I've always felt tone is subjective, personal preference and of course, instrument specific. I find myself questioning reviews that make extremely bold statements about an instrument's tone. Isn't that the reviewer's ears and not mine<our's>? Perhaps some general comments but to each his own I say! Anyway, I also own the ES-300 archtop electric so I have been able to compare the pickup in both a guitar and lap steel. It really is a departure from their original blade pickup ("Charlie Christian") with its adjustable pole pieces. The tone is definitely headed towards P-90 yet it still retains the warmth of the early design. Age isn't kind to the magnets so what I am hearing is not what came off the bench in 1940 anyway but they still sure are sweet.......IMHO (in my humble opinion)

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