The Gibson ES Series: A Timeline

Now nearing its eightieth year of continuous production, the Gibson ES or Electric Spanish Series carries a staying power rarely seen in the guitar market. Its wide array of classic models deliver a coveted warm, full-bodied tone that's become the signature sound of countless jazz, blues and even rock musicians.

ES series has continued to evolve over the decades with new models entering the lineup and older ones reaching the end of their run. Here are some innovative, iconic, and perhaps even a little off-beat ES guitars that capture the progression.

Introduced 1936

One of the first Spanish-style electric guitars (hence the "Electric Spanish" or "ES" prefix), the ES-150 gave guitarists of the big-band era the volume they needed to step out of their rhythm section roles into the spotlight. This first generation electric guitar featured modest appointments including single-ply binding on its 16-inch archtop-style body and a blade-style single-coil pickup.

The large, heavy pickup (weighing nearly two pounds) was primitive, but is to this day heralded for its smooth, jazzy tone. Championed by Charlie Christian of the Benny Goodman Sextet, the ES-150 played a major role in making the guitar a "lead" instrument.

The pictured example is from 1948 and features a P-90 pickup instead of the blade pickup. This was introduced when the model was overhauled in 1947.

ES-5 Switchmaster
Introduced 1949

After World War II, Gibson’s electric guitar offerings became more diverse, offering models in several price brackets. At the top of this range was the ES-5, the electric counterpart to Gibson’s L-5 acoustic archtop. The 17-inch archtop included premier cosmetic appointments such as multi-ply binding and parallelogram fretboard inlays.

It also featured three P-90 pickups paving the way for later three-pickup Gibsons like the "Black Beauty" Les Paul Custom. With individual volume and tone controls for each pickup, it was designed to provide unparalleled versatility to performing and recording jazz musicians in the booming post-war period, when electric guitars were rapidly gaining popularity.

The above example is from 1957 when, just like the Les Paul, Gibson replaced the P-90s with PAF Humbuckers.

Introduced 1952

Featuring cream appointments, a distinctive "trapeze" wraparound tailpiece and a flashy gold finish similar to its solid-body counterpart, the Les Paul Model, the ES-295 helped usher in a new era of mainstream music in the hands of Scotty Moore. Moore, the guitarist behind Elvis Presley, used this archtop to lay down the simple and highly memorable rhythms of early rock n' roll.

The gold finish and floral-design pickguard were a significant departure from Gibson’s standard cosmetic motif, which were at the time almost exclusively centered on sunburst.

Much like the Les Paul model that was introduced the same year, the ES-295 was part of Gibson’s effort to expand into the new, more competitive electric guitar market of the '50s.

ES-335, ES-345, ES-355
Introduced 1958-1959

Left to Right: ES-335, ES-355, ES-345

Though radical in its design compared to its fully-hollow ES series cousins, the thin, double-cutaway ES-335 and its upscale counterparts, the ES-345 and ES-355, have enjoyed the longest continuous production run of any ES model.

With two humbucker pickups and a solid maple center block, the semi-hollow ES-335 and its siblings have delivered some of the most famous blues and rock riffs in guitar history, from "Johnny B. Goode" by Chuck Berry to "The Thrill is Gone" by B.B. King.

In this era, Gibson also launched the ES-330 which had a similar body shape as the 335, but used P-90 pickups and a fully hollow body cavity. This model was adapted for the Epiphone brand as the Casino.

Introduced 1972

Though similar in appearance to the more popular ES-335, the Norlin-era ES-325 featured very different specifications. Its fully-hollow double-cutaway body, similar to that of the ES-330, housed two mini-humbucker pickups with covered pole pieces and pickguard-mounted electronics.

Similar to other new models of the 1970s like the Les Paul Recording, it was created as a streamlined update of one of Gibson’s classic designs to appeal to a new generation of guitarists. Though it was not particularly well received and production of the model ceased in 1979, the ES-325's use by Kings of Leon guitarist Caleb Followill has sparked some renewed interest.

Introduced 1991

Similar in style to the classic ES-175, the ES-135 is a contemporary single-cutaway ES with a thin, 335-like body depth. Not to be confused with the short-lived 135 of the late-'50s, the newer ES-135 originally came stock with P-90s, but was given dual humbuckers as an option starting in 1999. The 135 was discontinued in 2005, but there's been a renewed interest from players lately who recognize this model as a great value in a jazz-ready Gibson.

Introduced 2007

The ES-339 is one of the newest additions to the ES series, and features many of the ES-335's popular features, but with an overall smaller body size.

This model is produced by the Gibson Custom Shop and can be purchased with a variety of specifications such as a "59" or "30/60" (.030 inches thicker than the typical 1960s neck) profile. Its classic features such as humbucker pickups and single-ply binding follow in the tradition of its ES series predecessors while still meeting the needs of modern players. This is about as close to a Les Paul as you'll get in an ES guitar.

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