Gibson ES-100

Hard to believe another month has gone by and the first half of 2008 is behind us! It has been an exciting year with some very special instruments added to my ever evolving collection. Last month I stepped outside my "elitist" collecting box with an Airline (Kay) Barney Kessel however it didn’t take long for me to go back to my old ways.......

My focus on prewar "electrified" instruments manufactured by Gibson has become the core of my collection (see The G.A.S. Gallery). I’ve attempted to acquire an example of the instruments which used their original blade pickup or what has become known as the "Charlie Christian". As Gibson’s first commercial pickup, it was initially released in their metal bodied E-150 lap steel guitar in late 1935. Using their L-50 acoustic archtop with the addition of a blade pickup, they released the ES-150 in December of 1936. By 1940 Gibson added a diagonally mounted tortoise shell covered pickup (photo on right) on their ES-300 guitar and lap steel models. Two (2) metal covered models followed one with poles and one without which became the postwar P13 found in early Kay and Harmony models. Gibson sold off their prewar pickup inventory to the Chicago music house giants and introduced the famous P90 pickup in 1945.

This month’s G.A.S. Attack, a 1940 ES-100, was Gibson’s entry level electric guitar model and renamed the ES-125 in 1941. The ES-125 continued its production run until 1970. Introduced in 1938, the ES-100 also used a blade style pickup that was similar in design to the Charlie Christian utilizing two flat bar magnets. With the release of their new pickup models in 1940, Gibson now had two adjustable pole piece designs which ultimately established the path to the post war P90 and ultimately the humbucker in 1956. The pole less design (P13) was used in their final EH-100, EH-125, EH-150 lap steel models as well as their house (Kalamazoo) and commercial brand (Recording King, Cromwell, etc.) production.

The body size is a scant 14 ¼" making it even smaller than their L-00 flat top. Its big brother, the ES-150, comes in at a full 2" larger (16 ¼"). The spruce top is carved (not pressed) and is X-braced. The back is flat which was common on their low end models such as the L-30 acoustic archtop. The guitar also has two (2) sound posts which itself is rare even within the model. As an entry level instrument, the body is bound (top & bottom) however the neck is unbound and the peghead has a simple silkscreened Gibson logo. The single ply tortoise shell pickguard has survived which in itself is impressive since many crystallize and fall to pieces. The adjustable rosewood bridge is slightly smaller than Gibson’s standard archtop and the tailpiece is also a departure from their standard raised diamond. I’ve always liked Gibson’s use of one black and one brown control knob during this period. The Kluson open back tuners are very clean however the buttons have crumbled with age so replacements are forthcoming.

The guitar is not without a few issues and not quite as clean as I like 'em but it was a vintage bargain at less than half of low end book value ($1100-1500 - Vintage Guitar Price Guide 2008). The guitar was definitely played as evidenced by the pick wear and general condition of the top. One tuner ferrule (bushing) is missing and the aforementioned buttons need to be replaced. The treble side of the upper bout has a deep scrape and there is a clean crack that extends 2.5" from the top of the f-hole but fortunately it’s under the pickguard. Of course there are plenty of little nicks however the back and sides are very clean as compared to the front. Kinda strange actually! Everything considered she’s still in good shape and makes up for her cosmetic shortcomings in rarity being 1 of only 137 shipped with this pickup design. I’ll cleat the crack and drop a bit of lacquer into the scrape so with a polish, she’ll look pretty darn good!

I normally don’t put a picture of just an instrument’s case but this one deserved a small spotlight. A musician friend of my youngest daughter came over the other day to take a peek at my collection. One of the first things he noted was all of the guitars were in original cases. I’ve always felt the case was part of the complete package and the ES-100 was no exception. The case itself is worth $$$s being a top of the line hardshell GEIB and in very good condition to boot. The original owner must have paid quite a bit extra and I’m glad they did. Unfortunately there was no "case candy" but also no funky smells either!

The action is super low and the neck feels really good. Not a V but a C profile and 1 11/16" at the nut. Unlike their house brand and commercial production, the ES-100 has a truss rod. The pickup is still strong and a departure from the Charlie Christian. The idea behind the adjustable pole pieces was to ensure an even tone across all of the strings and became a standard in pickup design. Personally I prefer a good blade pickup whether a Charlie Christian or contemporary versions that I use in my CBGs and custom guitars. They tend to be over wound for a higher output and provide a distinct crunchy tone. Work great with active tone circuits too!

I previously owned a 1941 ES-150 with the same metal covered pickup however the guitar was "cosmetically challenged" and subsequently sold. With my ongoing prewar insanity I felt the need to have a representative model for each pickup design. I didn’t go out of my way to find this example but glad that I stumbled upon her. lthough several EH-100 lap steels have passed through my hands this is the first ES-100. Cool little guitar and another piece of Gibson’s early "electrified" musical instrument history!

Although the ES-100 is certainly not a highly regarded guitar as compared to its prewar siblings, the ES-150 and 250, it allowed Gibson to create an entry level market for their new line "electrified instruments" in the mid to late 1930s. Along with its house (Kalamazoo) and commercial brands (Recording King, Cromwell, etc.), Gibson quickly dominated the market until a guy name Leo Fender released the first solidbody electric guitar, the Broadcaster aka Telecatser, in 1950. Gibson followed suit in 1952 with the release of their first solidbody model, the Les Paul. The rest is history!

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