17-Inch Electric L-5s

Introduced in December 1936, the ES-150 was Gibson’s first dedicated electric Spanish guitar (as opposed to an electric Hawaiian guitar). With its 16 ¼ inch wide body, the model was essentially an L-50 archtop, factory fitted with a bar pickup, master tone and volume controls and a top reinforced to accommodate the bulky pickup assembly. Appointments were relatively basic, with a single layer of celluloid binding around the body and fingerboard, a flat back and an unbound headstock.

The success of the ES-150 (504 units were shipped in 1937) prompted Gibson to develop an upmarket alternative, the ES-250, which was unveiled in September 1939. This new model boasted a 17-inch wide ‘Advanced’ body with an arched back, multiple binding, distinctive ‘stairstep’ headstock design,  ‘open book’ fingerboard inlays and a large Y-shaped tailpiece.

Prior to the introduction of the ES-250 however, the company had shipped a number of custom built L-5s (and other 17-inch archtop models) that were factory fitted with bar pickups. A feature by André Duchossoir and Lynn Wheelwright that appeared in the May 2013 edition of Vintage Guitar Magazine (vintageguitar.com) lists four of these.

The earliest (Serial Number 95423) was shipped in May 1938. This example is not listed in Gibson ledgers as an electric guitar and may have been converted to an electric at the request of Les Paul, who was in possession of it for several months. Other electric L-5s were delivered to guitarists Roy Smeck and Allan Reuss.

Despite the introduction of the ES-250, Gibson continued to produce a small number of electric L-5s on a custom-order basis until the production of electric instruments was halted by the outbreak of World War II.

For more on Gibson’s 17-inch Pre-war electrics, see the May 2013 edition of Vintage Guitar Magazine, which contains an in-depth feature by André Duchossoir and Lynn Wheelwright.