In 1936 Gibson launched the ES-150 model on the market, and thus the ES Gibson series was born more than ¾ of a century ago, it’s probably the reason why Gibson means what it does today, and by the way, it is likely the series that brings together the most beautiful electric guitars ever created.
Those initials, ES, stand for Electric Spanish. The brand had to differentiate these new models of the Lap Steel from their EH ‘Electric Hawaiian’ series, which were much more popular guitars in the USA in the 30s. The name they gave the experiment wasn’t quite that accurate but we cannot deny that it didn’t turn out badly. To show that success we can tell you that the Gibson ES-175, launched in the 40s and would be the favourite of artists like Wes Montgomery in the following decade, nowadays it is still the most manufactured model, which makes it the model out in the market for the longest period of time.
But the most successful of the whole series would appear almost 10 years later, in 1958, when the American company introduced to the 6-string world the first semi-hollow guitar in history, the Gibson ES-335, and its older sisters the ES-345 and the ES-355. It was one of the biggest hits in the brand’s history and probably the most instantaneous because, as we’ve already mentioned in the article about the year ‘58, with this model. Gibson managed to eliminate the feedback problems with the hollow bodies, keeping a big part of their tone and the attacking sound of a solid guitar such as the Gibson Les Paul.
As we have told you the ES prefix meant Electric Spanish, but we’re dying to tell you that the 3 numbers that follow this prefix don’t mean anything other than the price these guitars were fetching on the market. There’s no technical reason behind it, just simply a dollar figure. Hence through your infalible sense of deduction is now causing you to flip out that the ES-175 cost $175 in 1949 and the 335, put out in ‘58, cost $335, ten less than the 345 and 20 less than the 355. Later these figures would lose this economic meaning as you can imagine; the ES-339, a smaller version of the 335, did not hit the market at $339 exactly...
As for the variations between the different models of the series, you can imagine are infinite; from the only simple pickup of the ES-150 to the 2 mini humbuckers of the ES-325 from 1972, and on to the legendary PAF that were fitted on the first ES-335s and the P90 from the iconic Gibson ES-295 used by Scotty Moore.
We also found considerable differences in the sizes of its body, in the necks and even in the curvatures of its ‘cutaway’ differing in style from the ‘Florentine’ on the ES-135. for example, and the less pointed look of the ES-335 called the ‘Venetian’. Even the F features on almost all of the ES series, in some cases like the ES Lucille, were just painted on the body by the explicit demands of the artist who inspired this very model.
In short, among the ES Gibson guitar series, we can find hollow guitars, semi-hollow ones, and even solid bodies, all kinds of pickups, predominantly the hallmark humbuckers, open bodies, closed bodies, all kinds of colours, with or without Bigsbys... the sound possibilities and aesthetics are endless, but the most important thing is that when producing music with them, and bringing its sound in all kinds of styles, the options are endless as well. It could be said that the best jazz, the best blues, and the best primitive rock and roll was created on a Gibson ES series, and its legacy continues to this day making them the most coveted objects of art for all the guitarists in the world in the 21st century.
From the first guitar hero of the series, Charlie Christian, to the most recent indie through B.B.King, Scotty Moore and Clapton to almost any band and style you can think of, they have all tried the wonderful sound that these wonderful Gibson guitars have offered us since 1936...it’s a shame to adjust the original number between name and price we have to add a 0 to those 3 original digits.