Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh! What a great way to start my first blog than to write about one of my favorite archtop jazz guitars. This is a Gibson ES 175 archtop guitar from 1956. A perfect example of one of the finest and best sounding Gibson electrics from the classic P 90 pickup years. This particular example is all original and in near mint condition, with virtually no wear. The binding has aged to a perfect golden color in a way that only time can cause, and fine lacquer checking completes its vintage aesthetics.
The Gibson ES 175 started in 1949 and had P 90’s through 1956. In 1956 Gibson added an extra fret to this model, giving you a high C instead of a B. The neck has a full profile, with a chunky feel, as opposed to an early 60’s ES 175 which is slim and tapered. Some people refer to the 60’s neck as fast, and it does appear that way when you play such a guitar for 5 minutes or so. However, the 50’s necks are much more comfortable when you are playing for extended periods of time. Your hand will not tire or cramp when playing on a guitar with a chunkier neck. The chunky neck profile, combined with a 1 11/16″ nut width, a 24 3/4″ scale length and a 16″ lower bout, makes for a comfortable guitar.
The Gibson ES 175 is such a classic model for Gibson that almost every jazz guitarist has played and recorded with one at some point. This blog is discussing the model with P 90’s as it is such a classic sound in jazz history. The great thing about the single coil P 90 pickup is that it has the full frequency range of the instrument. The trebles are thick and the bass is deep. A P 90 ES 175 has a much bigger sound than a 175 with a humbucker. (I have a PAF ES 175 as well and will do a blog on this guitar at a later date.) The P 90 ES 175 has a more raw quality to the sound. It has a broader spectrum sound, although not as warm as that of a humbucker one. This guitar sounds like a tenor saxophone. It has a vocal, edgy sound. By not attenuating any of the frequencies and canceling the hum, the guitar does have a slight hum when plugged into an amplifier. It sounds like a low level buzzing. It is very slight and hardly noticeable when playing with other musicians. When playing solo guitar, on delicate chord melodies, perhaps it might not be the ideal guitar, yet it is still barely noticeable.
I play this guitar in both a jazz duo and trio, as well as other larger ensembles. I plug into a vintage blackface Fender Princeton Reverb for the smaller venues and a Polytone Mini Brute II for the larger ones. Through the blackface, I get the ultimate sound, a sound many of you may have heard on classic jazz recordings. I get a big, fat, edgy sound, with a surprisingly acoustic quality for a laminated guitar. Through the Polytone, the sound differs in that it takes on a slightly more mid-range quality, compared with the broader sound of the blackface Fender.
Jim Hall, Kenny Burrell, Howard Roberts, Herb Ellis, Toots Thielemans are some of the guitar players who have played and recorded on P 90 ES 175’s. Check out some of their early recordings to hear amazing jazz guitar being played on this classic Gibson model.