The Gibson Family
I was fascinated by the first "electrified" efforts and since the lap steel guitar was the instrument of choice for early experimentation it fit right in with my insanity. Adolph Rickenbacher, Paul Tutmarc and others all have legitimate claims on the introduction of the first electric pickup and truly Gibson was late to the table. However, their blade pickup, or what has come to be known as the "Charlie Christian", is still considered by many to be the tone of choice for the traditional jazz guitarist. The association of the pickup to jazz guitar legend, Charlie Christian, was due to his use of the ES-150 and later ES-250 electric spanish guitar models.
The Gibson Family became the core of my collection and a representation of my insanity. I didn't start out thinking, "I want to collect all of the original "electrified instrument models made by Gibson" but rather, it just evolved from my lap steel obsession and then became a challenge finding clean examples of each. Unfortunately I fell short unable to acquire an ES-250 (which I was offered after I made the decision to exit the vintage world) and, of course, the ultra rare EB-150. I certainly can lay claim to owning the majority plus the cost to acquire the last 2 pieces would have exceeded the value of the other 8 instruments. How cool would it have been to own all of them? Guess I'll never know since the Gibson Family was sold. The majority of the pieces went to overseas collectors including Canada, Belgium, France and Japan. Tough decision but the right one!
1935 E-150 1936 EH-150
Like many of the other manufacturers Gibson's first commercially released instrument was a metal (aluminum) bodied lap steel in late 1935, the E-150. Less than 100 were produced before they switched to a woodbody model in 1936, the EH-150. That same year they released their first electric guitar, the ES-150, which was basically their L-50 archtop with the addition of the new blade pickup. It didn't take Gibson long to also install a smaller version in a tenor guitar (EST-150), mandolin (EM-150) and tenor banjo (ETB-150). Just a quick note, the tenor banjo is really more like a tenor guitar with a banjo neck since the body is solid maple.
Gibson also produced their first electric bass, the EB-150, using the pickup however only two (2) were built. Their top of the line electric archtop, the ES-250, with its 17" body and high end appointments was introduced in 1939. The ES-300 followed sporting Gibson's new oblong pickup with adjustable pole pieces. Of course there were several additional lap steel models which offered the "Charlie Christian" pickup including the EH-185 and beautiful Console Grande.
The hawaiian guitarist likes to have multiple tunings available so Gibson offered its double neck EH-150D in addition to the Console Grande model. My version had 7 and 8 string necks just like my Console Grand. Other string variations were available as well as one offs/custom builds but overall production was limited.
1939 ES-150 1938 ETG-150
Gibson produced several versions of its early blade pickup - one with two (2) flat bar magnets and another with a compact horseshoe magnet that was used in non-guitar models starting in 1938. Gibson's prewar house brand instruments (Kalamazoo, Cromwell, Recording King, etc.) also made use of a similar blade pickup design except in an oval housing. The photo on the right is a Recording King model.
Even their entry level EH/ES-100 series pickups were of similar design with the primary difference being the # of windings as compared to the actual "Charlie Christian" pickup. It also made use of the flat bar magnets as seen in the photo on the left.
Gibson also introduced a matching amplifier with the same model designation as their lap steel guitar, the EH-150. The amp went through several design changes during its production run including the cabinet shape and size. It is still one of Gibson's most recognized amplifiers with clean examples selling for well over $1K. I'm fortunate to own one of the first (if not the first) amplifiers off the line in 1935. The one page instructions/schematic designates the model as just the E-150. It uses the old Edison style house fuse and the Gibson logo doesn't even appear on the amp. A prized possession, it is still in working condition and was the match to my E-150 metalbody lap steel. I also had an exceptionally clean 1936 version with a standard fuse cap and finally a 1938 when Gibson changed to the rounded cabinet which is the most recognizable version of the amplifier.
1939 EM-150 1938 ETG-150
By 1939 Gibson had added what is referred to as the ES-300 pickup which was used for both lap steel and archtop guitar models e.g. EH-150, EH-185, EH-275 and ES-300. They also released a longer variation of the pickup on the ES-300 archtop guitar. Gibson began to phase out the blade pickup and by 1940 it was replaced with two metal covered designs one with adjustable poles that would become the forerunner of the post war P-90.
The war limited Gibson's instrument production during the mid-1940s so they ended up with a substantial inventory of their new metal pickup. After the war and with the release of their new P-90 design, Gibson sold off their prewar pickup inventory to Kay and Harmony. The pickup is now referred to as the "P-13" and found its way into early post war lap steel and archtop models by both manufacturers.
The P90 became Gibon's pickup for the early to mid-1950s until they released the humbucker later in the decade. A long cry from their early blade pickup, the humbucker maintains its position today as king of their pickup line.
1938 EH-150D 1939 Console Grande
Gibson briefly reintroduced the original blade pickup design with flat bar magnets in 1978-79 releasing the ES-175 CC (Charlie Christian) so it was not actually a reissue of the ES-150. Gibson's custom shop however produced a small quantity of an ES-150 reissue for Guitar Center however it used the odd ES-225/Les Paul tailpiece of the 1950s and not the standard raised diamond. Hey Gibson, when are you guys going to make an actual resissue?
The pickup could also be ordered for any of Gibson's custom shop models. I've noted them in L-5s and other archtops ocassionally. Jason Lollar, Seymour Duncan and others maintain the design today by producing a contemporary version of the pickup.
ES-250 & EB-150
The instruments missing in action from this collection! Only three (3) of the EB-150 are known to exist. One resides in The National Music Museum located at the University of South Dakota, Gruhn owns one and another in the hands of a lucky collector. Note the end pin design to play like a standard upright bass.
Gibson's top of the line prewar electric, the ES-250, with its 17" x-braced body and carved spruce top is another rare bird with only 70 shipped between 1939-41. This became Charlie Christian's intrument of choice by the early 1940s as well as other artists including T-Bone Walker. Very few have been offered for sale and you won'y even find many decent pictures of the instrument. Gruhn has a sunburst ES-250 priced at $28K and includes an EH-185 amp. Needless to say its been on his site for years as it would take a serious case of G.A.S. for anyone to pay his asking price.
Of course after I had finally resigned myself to no longer pursue an ES-250 I receive an email from an individual who was assisting his grandfather with the sale of a blonde no less! He had used the G.A.S. site for information since there is little is out there to reference. Although still quite a chunk of change, the asking price ($19K) was well below Gruhn's standard sunburst example and made me pause. I considered selling a few pieces of my collection to purchase but the pain of that purge made me ultimately pass on the offer. The rule of my collection is if I want an instrument the funds need to come from the sale of a current piece this way the collection is self sustaining.