Gibson Guitars ES Series
For many guitar players, the mention of the Gibson ES series of guitars evokes memories of great players who produced great music on early versions of these hollowbody electric guitars. Others will be current users who swear by the feel and sound of this Gibson classic that has also been called a semi-hollowbody by some.
In fact, Gibson reached into the history files to rejuvenate their portion of the electric guitar market by including a reissue “dot-neck version” of the ES-335 in 1981, along with a new Les Paul flametop. Even B.B. King boarded the Gibson train at about this time. His famous Lucille model Gibson guitars are of the ES style. As the years have passed, the ES-175 and ES-335 have joined the list of classic designs, along with the Les Paul, the Explorer, the Flying V and others.
Where did all this ES excitement begin? It might be good to understand just what those two letters signify.
What Does ES Stand For?
The “E” is for electric, a designation that separates this series of guitars from the acoustic instruments Gibson was, and is, known for. The “S” stands for Spanish, a guitar style that covers a lot of ground. Spanish guitar is a style and sound all its own, but when designating the type of instrument, Gibson guitars are “Spanish” primarily because they have six strings and closely resemble the original design of guitars brought to the rest of Europe from Spain centuries ago.
But there is something more that separates the ES series of Gibson guitar from other models. Most think of the early ES models as Gibson arch-top guitar with spruce or maple tops (1936-1946). Newer models of the ES series continue to have maple tops, with a few exceptions, such as some guitars in the L series. These include guitars by masters such as Barney Kessel and others.
The type of pickup on the Gibson vintage instruments varied, from the style associated with jazz great Charlie Christian to the single-blade and others from 1935 through about 1940. The models referred to in this section of Gibson history include the ES-250, the ES-150, the ES-100 and others. The Gibson ES-175, first available in 1949, was a single-cutaway model that started with P90 pickups and moved to PAF pickups in the late 1950s. A mint-condition model ES-175 from that era is probably worth $3,000 or more currently. There is an ES-165 Gibson Herb Ellis model available that retailers note is based on the ES classic used by this guitar great.
For a timeline on the ES series of Gibson guitars, a good place to start is with the ES-100 that eventually became the ES-125. This is a single pickup guitar and may be found in a number of different variations (available through 1970). If you see a T after the number, you are looking at a thinline version of the guitar, according to “The Bluebook of Electric Guitars” by S.P. Fjestad. That model of Gibson vintage eventually also had two pickups, until 1963 in one version. If you have seen George Thorogood and The Destroyers you’ve have probably seen this “bad” cat playing a Gibson ES-125 TDC (thinline, dual pickups, cutaway). Values on the ES-125 models vary from about $1,000 to $2,500.
The Gibson ES guitar series moves on to the 300 level, as we follow the numbers. It’s here that we encounter the fabulously popular ES-335. There is a Gibson ES-335 solid body version, but most would think of models such as the ES-335 T or TD. 1960 versions of this axe can be worth $10,000 in mint condition. This double-cutaway Gibson 335 is well-known for its rounded “ears” and f-holes on a semi-hollow body. Clearly visible is the dot inlay on the fingerboard, hence the common names Gibson ES-335 dot and Gibson dot.
The ES-135 was a semi-hollow body Gibson guitar. A later model had two humbucker pickups (sometimes known as ES3H). The new version in this realm is the ES-137, a model of the classic, with single cutaway, curly-maple body and 490/498 humbuckers. Expect to shell out about $2,000 for this beautiful instrument.
If you read about or hear about these legendary guitars, you will probably hear the names B.B. King, Chuck Berry, and others, mentioned. Berry is well-known for his duck-walk and red ES-335, while King plays clean, selective notes on “Lucille” a custom version of the Gibson ES.-335. There was also an ES-345, a model introduced in 1959 and manufactured until about 1982. Watch closely for the differences!
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