Friday, March 15, 2019

The Gibson ES 300

Many of you will have seen and heard my latest acquisition, a 1947 Gibson ES 300. I had to trade in my 1963 Barney Kessel though. She did not come cheap and I am not a collector ... But what a stunner she is. 72 years old and still in mint condition. Truly a closet queen. Even the original frets show little to no wear. She spent decades in her case in a collection. No longer so! This baby deserves to be heard! For, she's the Godmother of the laminate Gibson ES guitars as we know them!

highly figured top, back and sides
Some specs first. My new blonde beauty showcases a 17”-wide body with highly flamed maple top, back, and sides; a 1-piece mahogany neck; a 20-fret bound 25 1/2” scale rosewood fretboard with split parallelogram inlays; a bound headstock with a pearl crown inlay; P 90 pup in neck position, multi ply pickguard.  She still carries the old Gibson script logo. Gibson introduced the new block logo in the same year. The blondes are very rare.  I did not find any production numbers on the ES 300 apart from the fact that only 83 ES-300 examples in natural finish were built in 1948. On the current vintage market, the blondes are considered more desirable and therefore more expensive than the ones that have a sunburst finish. 

old script logo

But let's have a look at some guitar history see to find out where the ES 300 stands in the Gibson lineage.
1936 ES 150

The first ever Electric Spanish (ES) guitar introduced by Gibson was the ES 150. The year was 1936. It was a 16" archtop that was fitted with a CC pickup.. The smaller ES 100 appeared in 1937 and the more ornate 17" ES 250 after 1938.

1940 ES 300
In 1940, the ES-250 was replaced by the ES-300. It featured the same 17”-wide maple body and carved spruce top as its predecessor, but now a new long diagonal pickup was added. The market did not like it much and in 1941 a shorter but still diagonal pickup debuted in 1941. Because of the outbreak of World War II in december of that year production of electric guitars gradually ground to a halt.

After the war, a line of Electric Spanish guitars was reintroduced during 1946. It included a modified version of the older 1940 ES-300. The new edition was made from laminated maple and a mahogany neck. Gibson figured that carved solid spruce was not necessary for an electric guitar, for, string vibrations were amplified by a pickup anyway. The ES 300 was equipped with one of the newly designed P-90 pickups in the neck position. Later, in 1949, the ES-300 got a second bridge pickup. Vintage Guitar Magazine states that early post war models were highly transitional. Some had P90 pups with adjustable poles, others with no poles at all. Also, some were constructed with highly figured woods whereas other examples were constructed mostly using mahogany, sometimes for all of the body. I remember playing such an all mahogany ES 300 a few years ago. The modern block logo was introduced during 1947-48 and the multi ply pickguard replaced the bound one in the same year.

For a few years, the ES-300 stood as the fanciest electric archtop in Gibson’s lineup. It was the guitar that Django Reinhardt used during his US tour with Duke Ellington.

Gypsyjazz UK writes:"Django arrived in the U.S on 29th October 1946 to tour with the Duke Ellington Orchestra as a guest soloist; the tour would transit the East coast and would include 2 concerts at Carnegie Hall in New York ... Django arrived in New York without a Guitar but the William Morris Agency acquired a Gibson ES-300 with a hybrid amplifier just before their 1st Concert on 4th November." 

Listen to the recording above. Don't be fooled by the pics. Django is playing a Gibson ES 300 here. Wow, and how great and modern he sounds on it. Note that lick at 0.47  Joe Pass has stolen from him later and that you hear often in Joe's playing. You can also hear that Django lick in a Joe Pass etude from his "On Guitar" book here. And that flurry of notes at 2.09 is incredible for that era. It is so bebop ... Note the applause of the audience after it. They recognize the greatness of what they are hearing.

The reign of the ES-300 ended in ’47, when a new model The ES-350, a cutaway version of the 300, became the new top electric model. By the time the ES-5, yet another electric archtop king, appeared in ’49, the writing was on the wall. Few pros were using non-cutaway electrics and the 300 was discontinued in ’52.

By the way, one of the most famous solos in rock and roll history was played on a Gibson ES 300. Yeah, I am talking about Danny Cerone's  solo in Bill Haley's "Rock around the Clock."

Enough history now. How does it sound? Well, pretty darned good.
I have always preferred Gibson ES guitars and, like I said earlier,  this is the Godmother of them. The sound is unmistakably vintage ES. Woody, rich and very classic. This guitar breathes bebop!

Here's "Body and Soul"on the ES 300.

And here's "Round Midnight." 


  1. What a beauty! Sounds great, very natural and harmonic... and fantastic chops mate, I've enjoyed your playing. This guitar really deserves to be played to an audience...