My first guitar was a Gibson. Well, actually my very first guitar, the one I learned to play on in 1966, was a masonite Sears model. But as soon as I figured out how to play the chord changes to "Louie, Louie," my parents bought me a bright, shiny Gibson SG Special. Man, I was the envy of all my guitar playing friends guys who were destroying their fingers trying to play strange-looking instruments like those from Kent, Teisco and Goya.
As far back as I can recall, Gibson Guitars were the benchmark of quality against which all the other brands were measured and for good reason. It's no wonder that vintage guitars like 1950s and 60s Les Paul Standards have skyrocketed in price to the point where only millionaires can comfortably consider owning
In April of this year I was at Sweetwater shooting pictures of some of the great guitars they have in stock, and I was amazed at just how wonderful some of these new Gibsons felt in my hands. From a Les Paul Classic Premium Plus (with a gorgeous flame maple top) to a vintage sunburst ES335 Reissue, these were guitars that any serious player would love to own and play. Over the last 30 years, I've personally owned many Gibsons (a few of which I still have, many more that I was foolish enough to sell or trade), so I can tell you from my own observations and experience that the craftmanship at Gibson is apparent at every level, from the deep, glossy finishes down to the tiny details like fingerboard inlays.
Obviously, when anyone mentions the name Gibson, it's hard not to picture a Les Paul. If the company had never built any other guitar, that one model alone would have been enough to assure them of a lofty place in guitar history. That amazing combination of the Les Paul's mahogany back and neck, maple top and hum-bucking pickups produced the ultra fat, warm and buttery distortion that we automatically associate with the 1960s rock and blues revolution.
Of course, even back then Les Pauls were highly prized and out of reach of most young guitar players. But these days, almost every serious player can afford a Les Paul. Prices start at just $1439 (that's retail) for the Les Paul Studio and go upwards, all the way to the impressive Les Paul Classic Premium Plus with its stunningly figured maple top at $5099 list. In between there are several models to pick from, so there's a Les Paul to fit literally every pocketbook. There's even a brand new Double Cutaway (DC) version that's worth a look, particularly at the low list price of $1279.
But while Les Pauls are still the most recognizable Gibsons around, my personal taste has always run towards the semi-hollow body ES335. At a list price of $3299, the current version of this classic is actually a beautifully crafted reissue of the treasured 1960 dot-neck version (the one with the shorter pick guard). Eric Clapton played one on the Blind Faith album, then more recently on his "From The Cradle" album. Studio legends like Larry Carlton and Lee Rittenour regularly relied on the 335 for its ability to go from clean warm tones through to smoking distortion. It's available in either vintage cherry or (my favorite) a deep vintage sunburst.
B.B. King has always favored the sweet sound of a 335-style guitar (actually the upscale ES355 which had Gibson's Vari-Tone rotary switch, but is now out of production), though he was upgraded by Gibson some years ago to his own Signature model, the B.B. King Lucille ($2756 list) with an ebony or cherry finish,
Other gorgeous Gibsons include the single cutaway, semi-hollow body Howard Roberts Fusion II (which sports gold hardware and dual humbucking pickups, $2199 list), and the full hollow body ES175 ($3839 list) whose colorful history began in 1949 and includes such diverse players as Joe Pass, Steve Howe (of Yes fame) and even Ted Nugent.
If you prefer a solid body with a super fast neck, I'd suggest taking a good look at the classic SG Standard ($1599 list). This is the uptown version of my first guitar and it comes with a great-looking mahogany body in cherry or ebony, with dual humbuckers and a slim neck that you have to play to believe. Also in stock right now is the All American SG, a superb player with a modest retail price of just $839. An interesting historical sidenote is the fact that the SG body shape actually replaced the original Les Paul design in 1961 in fact, it was even called the Les Paul for a short time until getting the SG designation in about 1963. It has been said that Mr. Paul was not overly fond of the SG's double cutaway body. The "real" LP was back in production in 1968.
It's worth noting here that while I've been concentrating on Gibson electrics, the company's heritage was actually built on the superb quality of their acoustic guitars (plus mandolins and banjos). Space prevents me from giving you a complete rundown of all the models in stock, but I know that lovers of really awesome acoustics will drool at the photo below of the Gibson CL50 acoustic ($3999 list) with its stunning abalone inlays and flawless finish.
There's also the J200 ($3300 list), one of the most popular acoustics of all time. It features a "jumbo-style" body with select solid Sitka spruce top, maple back, sides and neck, an ebony finger-board and that marvelous, trademark "moustache" bridge.
If your budget just happens to be a little tighter, you might want to go with a J45 ($1799 list), a dead-on recreation of the original 1940s "dread-nought" design with period-accurate vintage headstock and Kluson-style tuners.
If the sky's the limit and I haven't made you grab for the phone (and your wallet) yet, you can always commission one of the hand built instruments that are produced lovingly, one at a time in Gibson's acclaimed Custom Shop. Rock stars please take note of this and call us!
I'm almost out of space, but I can't forget to mention an important detail: Gibson guitars are among the best selling instruments on the planet, which means they can arrive in the Sweetwater warehouse one day and be shipped to lucky guitar players around the world the very next day. So you need to keep in mind that not all the Gibson guitars we've talked about will be in stock at all times.
So for current availablility, additional information and your special pricing on the Gibson you've always dreamed of, call your friendly, knowledgeable Sweetwater Sales Engineer immediately. Jim Miller