August 17, 2015


Thanks for having me back for more exciting adventures in Guitar Safari. Today we have a find from 1940: a Gibson ES-150 guitar with accompanying lap-steel and amplifier. My trusted guitar tech, Mike Hickey, found this trio in Vermont on one of his twice-monthly guitar store crawls.

One of the many interesting things about this set is the very transitional pickup used on this model. Many people look at it and think, “Well it must have been modified.” Not so. It actually is 100-percent stock, but was only made for maybe two years. I have learned that with Gibson, there never is an absolute start or finish date on any model. Gibson had no idea that these would be collectible, nor did they care.

Another thing that struck me when I received it was how complete the “case candy” was. The “Radio and Stage” stenciling on the case is folk art in itself, but I mean everything you needed to do a gig was still in the case, at the ready, whenever its loving owner decided it was show time. Looking in the 60-year-old Sucrets tin I found tortoise picks, and the case also contained vintage capos, slides, and two sets of strings—one for the guitar and one for the steel. It was like a time capsule that I opened after 75 years of dormancy.

It really drives home the purpose of collecting. It is more than, “What is it worth?” It’s certainly way more than, “What celebrity owned it?” It is about preserving American history. Every screw, wire, tube, string, etc., was made in America. (Well, maybe not the turtle…) You can’t say that about anything these days. Even American cars have parts made abroad. It definitely struck me that what I was looking at was evidence of a bygone era for this country.

So how does it sound? It sounds great! The combo has as much gain as a Dual Rectifier, and the guitar and steel flourish through any amp. It helps that the pickup placement on the guitar is toward the rear: really twangy and great for slide. It was a budget guitar then, and it still is now in the grand scheme of things. To me, though, it is priceless because of its rich history and frozen-in-time cool factor.