Gibson ES-300 Arch Top Hollow Body Electric Guitar (1940)
Gibson ES-300 Model Arch Top Hollow Body Electric Guitar (1940), Kalamazoo, Michigan, serial # 96815. Item # 7711
When market leader Gibson unveiled a flashy new deluxe top-of-the-line electric Spanish guitar in 1940, the strumming and picking world was likely expected to have welcomed it with a collective warm embrace. Instead, the guitar playing fraternity took one look and shrugged-or blinked-this first version of the ES-300 into historic oblivion. This initial ES-300 was a well-intentioned if perhaps over engineered solution to the reaction many players of the time had to the electric guitar-that it sounded too different from the acoustic, with an unwelcome twanginess or woofiness to the available amplified tones. Of course, soon enough in the post-WWII era the world happily embraced the character of the electric guitar, but in 1939 it was still controversial and many players-and bandleaders paying guitar players-felt it was too "far out' of the established character of the instrument.
Gibson's first solution was to design a pickup with a wider frequency sweep, so that the bass notes would retain their darker character while the treble remained bright. The application of this theory resulted in a very long coil extending across the entire face of the instrument under the strings, which is totally unique even today. The idea was to pick up the notes in the magnetic field in a comparative harmonic frequency range to where they sounded. The pickup was housed in a tortoise celluloid shell, and provided with adjustment screws at both ends and individually adjustable poles-an idea poached from Epiphone. Unfortunately this unit both looked and sounded odd to players already used to the electric guitar, while utterly failing to convert acoustic purists. Additionally, right at this point Charlie Christian emerged as the most influential player of his generation-using to spectacular effect the older guitars and pickup design Gibson had just summarily abandoned. As a result this version of the ES-300 was replaced after only 6 months or so by a modified model with a shorter version of the same pickup design, mounted by the bridge with a concentrated or twangier tone. This guitar was then discontinued not long after as the advent of US entry into the war stopped all electric guitar development in its tracks.
Apart from its signature pickup, the 1940 ES-300 is a fairly conventional but classy and very high-quality guitar, certainly the finest dedicated electric of its day. The lovely ambered natural finish highlights a carved spruce top and laminated flame maple back and sides. The 3-piece laminated maple neck had a bound rosewood fingerboard with split parallelogram inlay, while the bound headstock carries the pearl logo and "crown" inlay destined to grace many classic postwar Gibson classics. The tuners are early openback Klusons and the adjustable rosewood bridge, "diamond" tailpiece, radio style knobs and bound tortoise celluloid pickguard are all typical Gibson appointments of the time. Despite the heavy pickup and bracing this 25 1/2" long scale guitar has a surprising acoustic resonance, and of course a very unique electric sound. While judged a commercial mis-step at the time, this most unusual of Gibsons is a fascinating historic piece, one of the company's most visionary if ill-fated offerings. Estimates indicate only 50-60 of this first model Es-300 were ever shipped, making it also one of the rarest of all Gibson electric guitars.
Overall length is 42 3/8 in. (107.6 cm.), 17 in. (43.2 cm.) wide at lower bout, and 3 1/2 in. (8.9 cm.) in depth, measured at side of rim. Scale length is 25 1/2 in. (648 mm.). Width of nut is 1 11/16 in. (43 mm.). This guitar remains in spectacular original condition; we can't imagine many 1940 vintage Gibson instruments are better preserved than this one. The guitar is fantastically original; the only alterations are an exact reproduction pickguard-the original is included but suffering from celluloid disintegration and not useable-and an added period strap button at the heel. There are only small wear marks overall-some finish rubbed off the sides of the neck by the fingerboard, small finish spotting on the heel and tiny dings and dents. The instrument plays very well and the sound is not as eccentric as might be expected-the sonic frequency sweep from bass to treble as one plays is noticeable but not distracting. While history has judged this guitar to be one of Gibson's engineering failures, it is still a lovely instrument and a fascinating piece of early electric guitar history. Includes a very well preserved OHSC. Excellent Condition.
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