Gibson, ES-150 “Charlie Christian”, 1939 – Steve Howe


ES-150 “Charlie Christian”
Serial Number: 
The Story Behind

The Gibson Guitar Corporation's ES-150 guitar is generally recognised as the world's first commercially successful Spanish-style electric guitar. The ES stands for Electric Spanish, and it was designated with the number 150 because it was sold for $150, along with an EH-150 amplifier and a cable.

After its introduction in 1936, it immediately became popular in jazz orchestras of the period. Unlike the usual acoustic guitars utilised in jazz, it was loud enough to take a more prominent position in ensembles.

Jazz guitarist Eddie Durham is usually credited with making the first electric guitar solo in 1938 with the ES-150. The most important player of the ES-150, however, was Charlie Christian. Because of his popularisation of the guitar, the instrument's distinctive single-coil pickup is known by his name. His flowing solos and warm sound revolutionised the jazz guitar and, to this day, influence countless players.

Because the instrument was never intended to be played acoustically, there is a notable difference between the ES-150 and other arch-top guitars. The inside of the solid spruce top is not carved to follow the contour of the outside, which renders it unsuitable for transforming fully the strings' energy into sound. This feature minimises the problematic feedback that plagues amplified guitars that are designed more like acoustic guitars.

This guitar was bought by Steve Howe (Yes) in 1989. The guitar is shown and commented on in the book “The Steve Howe Guitar Collection”.

Here are some comments Steve Howe makes about this guitar:

"... But when I plugged it in and played ... yeah! It delivered the lovely old jazz sound.

It has the Charlie Christian pickup, and the two old knobs look great. The way the pickup is built into the E-150 please me - the fact that it has three horrible screws on it isn't all that nice, but that's how they did it.

It really was a collecting guitar, but I wanted to be able to make that original sound. Here was the chance to get the Charlie Christian model under my belt, so to speak, and I do like this guitar.

You almost hear Charlie Christian touching the strings, it has quite a microscopic, accurate sound, very unstylised and raw. It's the basic electric guitar, functional and without trim.”

Steve Howe replaced the original beaten up scratch-plate. He also acquired at the same time a 1936 E-150 amplifier.

The guitar and amp can he heard in this video:

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