Gibson BR-1 Ultratone Lap Steel Electric Guitar, c. 1946

Gibson  BR-1 Ultratone Lap Steel Electric Guitar,  c. 1946

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Item # 8334
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Gibson BR-1 Ultratone Model Lap Steel Electric Guitar, c. 1946, Kalamazoo, Michigan.

One of Gibson's most whimsical 1940s moderne creations, the abstractly shaped and uber-stylish Ultratone Steel Guitar features an oblong asymmetrical body with backpainted Lucite accents. The instrument's visual character was the work of the design firm Barnes & Reinicke, hired by Gibson at the end of WWII to add some new flavor to the company's recipe -- and boy, did they! This is the earliest version of the model and features a blonde lacquer finish on the maple body, with silver and coral pink (!) accents on the plastic hardware.

A single early pre-P-90 single coil pickup with individual alnico magnet polepieces is hidden under the decorative cover and provides the tonal muscle to back up the outrageous looks! It is controlled by an unusual dual-tone-knob circuit, for an added range of sound. The Ultratone in this form was short-lived (the design was modified in 1950), but remains one of Gibson's most unique and visually striking instruments.
Overall length is 32 1/2 in. (82.6 cm.), 8 1/8 in. (20.6 cm.) wide at lower bout, and 1 7/8 in. (4.8 cm.) in depth, measured at side of rim. Scale length is 22 1/2 in. (572 mm.). Width of nut is 2 1/8 in. (54 mm.).

This early Ultratone has seen some heavy use over the past decades but still looks and sounds pretty much unique. There is wear to the finish overall with some chips, dings, and areas of finish worn away. There have been some hardware modifications, but the pickup and electronics are completely original, leaving the sound unchanged.

The original riveted Kluson tuners with their outrageous rectangular coral plastic buttons are completely intact, as is the fragile hinged cover on the headstock. The clear back-painted Lucite fingerboard has had extra markers added at four positions, augmenting the original dots. This was done by cutting out the plastic from behind and filling the cavity with gold glitter material, a creatively effective method. The top surface of the fingerboard shows rubs and light stains that look like finger marks in glue, possibly related to this work.

The previously hinged pickup and bridge cover is now held in place by a central screw, with a section of black plastic inset into the center that has subsequently cracked. The jackplate on the rear of the body is now brass, and the hinge mechanism is completely gone. There are a couple of holes underneath the body from legs or a stand attachment.

This is not a collector-grade Ultratone, but a cool player's example of one of the coolest and most forward-looking electric guitars in Gibson's storied history. It still sounds great and rests in its original brown oblong case, with a nifty opaque plastic handle. Very Good Condition.