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The Gibson ES-150 – electric guitar

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Introduced for the first time in mid 1936, the Gibson ES-150 was the first Spanish-style electric guitar to achieve commercial success. It cost US$150, along with the accompanying amplifier and cable. Most of the sales came from professional musicians.

Based on the low-end Gibson L-50 arch-top guitar, it originally featured a 16″ wide hollow-body with carved spruce top. Its pickup was much more elegant than the previously existing big horse-shoe shaped Rickenbacker pickup. Instead of wrapping the strings, this pickup was composed two long bar magnets with a coil, and placed under the strings.

The pickup design was soon slightly modified, and a notch was introduced in the blade under the 2nd string to help balance the volume produced by the different strings.

The Gibson ES 150   electric guitar

The very concept of an electric guitar was still criticized at this time. Although electric amplification provided the higher volume level demanded by professional musicians, the pure acoustic character of the tone was lost. However, guitarists soon appreciated the possibilities of new electric tone in itself.

When Charlie Christian joined the Benny Goodman band in 1939, he did not just popularize the electric guitar in general and the ES-150 in particular, but he helped to transform the traditional role of the guitarists as rhythm players into a full-value soloist status.

Gibson introduced an upgrade model in 1939, the ES-250. Its pickup had one magnet pole per string. Charlie Christian adopted them from 1940 to his death in 1942.

The original pickup is still nowadays considered a great pickup for jazz, although it suffered from significant hum problems. It became associated to Charlie Christian in such degree, that it is still commonly called the “Charlie Christian pickup.” It is offered in some Gibson Custom Shop and Historic Collection models.

Post-WWII models included some modifications. They featured a bigger 17″ body with laminated top, as well as a different pickup, the P-90. This version of the ES-150 was discontinued in the mid 1950s.

Gibson introduced the ES-150DC in the late 1960s, a guitar quite different from the original model. It featured a double-cutaway full hollow-body design, similar in shape to the ES-335, and humbucker pickups. This model never achieved much popularity and was discontinued in the mid 1970s.