Have you ever wondered what the designation “ES” stands for? Are you confused by the many different ES-XXX Gibson models? This little blog post is a great read if you are interested in clearing up some confusion or learning more about some of the greatest and most innovative guitars ever built!
First of all, the “ES” designation stands for Electric Spanish. It was used to differentiate these new guitars from the “EH” or Electric Hawaiian” lap steel guitars. Some models, like the 150, had both Hawaiian and Spanish models.
The set of 3 numbers after the “ES”, was originally related to the retail price of the guitar, but this trend soon wore off and there are no other known reasons as to why future sets of 3 numbers were chosen.
We’ve left out some of the higher end Artist models, such as the Byrdland and the Barney Kessel – definitely take a peek at these on the internet too!
The ES-150 was the world’s first widely commercially successful electric guitar. It was introduced in 1936, and the “150” designation was the actual retail price of the guitar! Early models followed this same pattern but this trend did not continue into the “new generation” of Gibson electric archtops, beginning in the late 40s.
This guitar was endorsed by and also known as the “Charlie Christian” model. Even the specific bar style pickup came to be known as the Charlie Christian pickup. These were some of the first pickups to use copper wire wrapped around a plastic bobbin.
The ES-150 was popular with jazz orchestras and ensembles as it had a louder, more authoritative voice than other acoustic instruments during this time period.
The ES-150 featured a solid spruce top and solid maple back and sides, a mahogany set neck, and a 24.75″ scale. It had an adjustable ebony bridge and trapeze style tailpiece. A recipe for success that has been endlessly duplicated!
The ES-250 is quite the rare beast. It was introduced in 1939 and was very short lived. Essentially, this is an ES-150 with several cosmetic and structural upgrades. The body was 3/4 inches longer, 17 inches wide as opposed to 16 1/4″. It had a snazzy looking tailpiece, headstock, and tuners, and the Charlie Christian pickup had adjustable pole pieces for each string! The guitar was built with better quality, more refined woods – flamed maple was used for the back and sides!
ES-100 / ES-125 (This picture is ours!)
The ES-100 was introduced in 1938, and was the “entry level” Gibson electric archtop. It was renamed the ES-125 in 1941. The prewar models had a smaller 14.5″ wide body, although they later re-introduced the 16.25″ body size. This guitar, along with the ES-150 models beginning in 1946, were the first guitars to use P-90 pickups.
These full body archtops were sold with several different options, from the “thinline” ES-125T, to the double pickup, cutaway ES-125CD. (C for cutaway, T for thinline, and D for double pickup.)
The Gibson ES-5 was introduced in 1949 and although not the most recognizable model, it offered several innovative features! This guitar was intended to be the electrified version of the L-5 archtop. It was the first electric guitar to offer 3 pickups, each with separate volume knobs and a master volume – no switches, so the player had more control over their sound. The original models used P-90 pickups, but after 1957 they came with PAF humbuckers.
The ES-175 was Gibson’s mid level electric archtop. You may recognize this model, as it is one of the most popular Gibson archtops ever. It was built with all laminate construction for a lower cost to consumers, but it also had practical uses, as laminate woods were less prone to warping and feedback at high volumes.
The ES-175’s retail price was $175. It was the first Gibson to use the stylish Florentine cutaway. Early models used a single P-90, but the dawn of the PAF in 1957 turned the ES-175 into a whole different animal. This pickup and guitar combination became one of the most recognizable sounds in jazz and is often replicated.
The ES-175 was also one of the first electric archtops to use the Tune-O-Matic bridge, which provided more precise intonation than the older wooden adjustable bridges.
The ES-135 was one of the first “semi-hollow” electric guitars. It featured a thinline, laminated maple body, and a solid maple center block that acted as a feedback suppressor. The original models only lasted a couple of years, from 1956 to 1958, and then were reissued in 1991.
The ES-135 had a Florentine cutaway, 2 P-90 pickups, and a trapeze style tailpiece. It had a similar sound to the thinline ES-125, although the tone was not at thick, as it was not a full hollow body guitar. On the other hand, you could play it louder and with a bit more grit than the full hollow models.
The ES-137 is a newer Gibson design that is essentially a nicely appointed ES-175. It is a bit of a hybird, as the body shape is nearly identical to the ES-175, although it has the center block, like the ES-135 and ES-335. The ES-137 is built with laminated flamed maple, and full binding for a higher end appeal, and was loaded with 400 series humbuckers.
We have a used one of these in stock right now!
I’m sure you’ll recognize this one. The ES-335 was the worlds first widely available semi-hollow body electric guitar. Like the ES-135, it was built with a maple center block and hollow “wings” with F-hole cutouts. They were designed to attempt to find a middle ground between bright, aggressive solid body guitar tones and feedback prone, loose, hollowbody tones, and they were quite successful, as this model is still in production to this day.
These guitars used PAF humbuckers and featured a Tune-O-Matic bridge and tailpiece, mahogany neck with rosewood fretboard, and a standard 24.75″ Gibson scale.
The ES-335 was so popular that many signature artist models were derived from the original design. You may recognize the Trini Lopez model, and the BB King Lucille, which is technically a modified ES-355, the higher end ES-335 model.
The ES-339 is another newer offering from Gibson. It builds on the huge success of the ES-335, and features a smaller Les Paul style body, with 335 cosmetics. It has a laminated maple body with center block, PAF Style ’57 Classic humbuckers, and 335 cosmetics . These guitars are also available with a ’59 style fat neck, or a 30/60 neck, a slimmer profile.
We have these in stock too!
So there you have it – these are most popular and most important Gibson Electric Spanish models. Stop by the Mill and you can play most of them and find out which one suits you best!