Saturday, April 19, 2014

1959 Gibson ES 175 VOS versus 1982 ES 175

2013 Gibson ES 175 VOS and 1982 Gibson ES 175 
Always wanted to try out an ES 175 of the VOS series. VOS stands for Vintage Original Specifications. That simply means that the ES 175 guitars of this line are made according to the exact specs of a 1959 ES 175. I noticed somebody had one for sale in a small village next to mine (amazing ... another 175 in this rural area, who would have guessed  ...)  so I drove to the seller's place with my own 1982 ES175 to check it out and compare it to mine. I have written about my 175 (called "Joe") earlier here. And here's a clip with it:

I must admit I am not that big a fan of recent ES 175s or even the ones made in the last decades. The new ones look too fancy for me with all the flames and shiny finish. Besides, I played a few that really did not rock my boat tone wise. I do like my 1982 ES 175  a lot though. So I was curious how it would compare to the new VOS 175. 

The VOS 175 was a natural one with one pup. It's supposed to be historically accurate specifications wise. On the left you will see the original 1959 specs.

The guitar looked and felt gorgeous. It was lighter than my 175 and more resonant. The tone was brighter though. That is not suprising, my 1982 ES 175 has a mahogany back and in my experience the mahogany ES 175s sound slightly warmer and darker than the "normal" maple ES 175 guitars. Unfortunately the VOS 175 was factory strung with roundwounds (it was basically new) so that it felt different from what I am used to (flatwounds). I noticed the body of the VOS 175 was slightly thicker than on mine. We measured it and yes, the body of the VOS was about 2 mm thicker. 

For a brand new guitar the VOS sounded and felt great. Much nicer than any modern 175 that I have played in a store. The VOS neck was a bit chunkier than on my 175 by the way. It was also made out of one piece, unlike mine. The maple woods on the VOS are very plain though and hardly a match for the gorgeous mahogany on mine. 

Is the VOS a better guitar than Joe? Not really. I have always thought Joe to be an especially fine specimen of a 175 due to the mahogany back and sides and quite frankly, I liked the darker, dryer and mellower tone of Joe a bit better. Also, I think the VOS 175 will feedback sooner. Due to its lighter construction with thinner plywoods it resonates better and sounds a bit louder unamped. But some will see that as a serious advantage of course! Still, the electric tone proved to be of a similar nature, only brighter and a bit more open. Sorry, no sound clips.

I certainly would prefer a 175 of the VOS series to any other new ES 175 currently available and to the offering since the 90s even. It really does have a vintage vibe, both in looks and sound. It is more resonant and sounds a bit more open, just like older 175s often do.That it was brighter is no surprise to me, the mahogany ES 175s of the 1980s are especially mellow tone wise. I wonder about feedback issues for the VOS series though. 

Do I like VOS 175? Yes, very much so! Hardly the marketing trick I had expected it to be. The guitar really has a vintage vibe to it ... And looks and sounds just fine. However, the price tag is so hefty that you can almost get "the real thing" for it, so a real 50s or 60s one and there it goes wrong for me. For that kind of money I'd get a real vintage one probably.

Here are some specs of the Gibson ES 175 VOS:

Gibson 1959 ES-175 VOS VB 1PU jazz guitar, laminated maple body, exact 1959 replica bracing, rim stays and rim thomann liner, 1-pcs mahogany neck,1959 taper, rosewood fretboard rounded, holly headstock veneer, 20 frets, scale 628mm, original style aged split paralellogramm inlyas, 1 x 57 classic humbucker with PAF covers, 1959 wiring (088mfd Bumble Bee Capacitors), rosewood bridge compensated, solid brass zig zag thomann tailpiece, vintage amber top hat knops, vintage style pickguard, kluson tulip button keys tuners, all Vintage Original Specification, finish vintage sunburst, incl. case, made in USA


  1. Nice review Dutchbopper!
    BTW guitars do not get names, unless you are B.B. King, of course!

  2. Hi, thanks for the review.

    Could you please let me know something more about the neck?

    I mean, is it much chunkier? How does it feel, compared to the standard 175 neck? Thanks

  3. It's okay to name a guitar. My 1976 Guild X-500 has a truss rod cover engraved "Dorothy" for my deceased mother-in-law who helped fund it's purchase as a "thank you" for work done in order to get her house ready for the real estate market. I think of her when I gig with it and especially when playing one of her favorite songs, "Fly Me to the Moon".

  4. My 1953 Gibson ES-175 is named Tex.

    Tex is in amazing shape and sounds better than any instrument I've ever played. I can't believe I own this perfect instrument. I don't see myself ever being happier with anything else. Tex beats my 2006 Benedetto Bravo hands down, no contest, even though the Benedetto is exquisitely crafted and plays like a dream. But Tex just has that magical thing. Tex is very open, very woody and natural sounding. Tex can be mellow and rich, or just a little bit punchy depending on how I feel like playing. Tex is not state-of-the-art 21st century luthiery like the Benedetto, but Tex is still incredibly comfortable and easy to play. Like an old friend you meet again for the first time after many years. Sadly, somewhere in Tex's 63 year lifespan somebody took what looks like black tar and covered up the serial number on the Gibson label inside. So apparently Tex was stolen, and pawned or resold at some point. Luckily there is a manufacturer's number stamped on the inside as well, which allowed the instrument to be dated and appraised by the team at Retrofret Guitars here in Brooklyn, NY. Why the name Tex? Because the numbers and letters TEX 1362087 are meticulously carved into the back of the head stock. They are tiny. At first it looks like they are letters cut by machine or printed with a stamp. On closer inspection you can tell they are written by hand, with a very sharp pen knife. It must have taken hours if not days to carve those letters and numbers so perfectly. The people who sold me the guitar thought this string of numbers and letters must be a car license plate number from the state of Texas. I imagine them to be a prisoner's ID number. Some poor guy locked up in a remote prison somewhere on the vast desert plains of West Texas, and every few days he is allowed to have his guitar for a few hours of recreation. He spends some of that time carving his ID into the headstock. Maybe it takes years. I can only imagine the kind of music that was made during these guitar visits. Anyway, I have never named a guitar before, and I never thought I would. And I always assumed that if somehow I did, I would give my guitar a female name. But this guitar is Tex. That's just how it happened. I couldn't be happier.