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1950s Gibson ES-5 Vintage Archtop Electric Guitar Sunburst w/ Bigsby & Lifton Case


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Up for sale, a circa 1950 Gibson ES-5 in excellent condition and in perfect working order, complete with a Lifton hardshell case. A model first introduced in 1949, this ES-5 is an early example of Gibson's first guitar to feature a triple pickup complement, in this case a trio of P-90 single coils.

Representative of golden age Gibson archtop quality, the ES-5 sat just below the L-5C in Gibson's catalog lineup, tailored for the increasing volume and tonal needs of professional Jazz guitarists, easily achieving those goals with an instrument that's acoustically lively and devastatingly versatile when plugged-in. With a fully hollow, figured 17" wide maple body and full 25 1/2" scale length, the ES-5's control array is a key ingredient in its success, offering individual Volume knobs for each pickup and a Master Tone knob easily accessible on the treble side Venetian cutaway. Glassy, clear, and delivering a balance of articulation and midrange bark, the P-90 trio can be blended to perfection. Need a smoother, broader sound that's still sparkling? Back off that Tone knob to taste. Need more note attack and a touch of aggressive growl? Find that sweet spot between the bridge and middle pickups while coaxing just a hair of extra warmth from the neck. Weighing 7lbs 13oz and professionally setup here at Mike & Mike's Guitar Bar with a fresh set of roundwound 12-54 strings with a plain G, this ES-5 is optimally playable with low action and accurate intonation.

The two-piece flame maple neck has a round baseball bat C-shaped profile carve with generous shoulder, measuring .910" deep at the 1st fret and .995" at the 9th. The neck has dimensional flame maple figuring extending the length of the profile, worn to the smooth, bare wood on the majority of the carve from natural palm wear and silky smooth. The Brazilian rosewood fretboard is a dark cut of this hallowed tonewood, framed by five-ply binding and inlaid with pearloid blocks. The board has been professionally refretted with slender vintage-spec fretwire that shows zero wear with perfectly rounded crowns. The guitar plays easily up the 25 1/2" scale length, and the neck is straight with a responsive truss rod. The nut has been upgraded to a hand-carved piece of bone measuring 1 11/16" in width, ensuring optimal note clarity and sustain. The headstock retains the original Kluson waffle back gold tuning machines with deeply aged transparent keystone buttons, and these tuners still function smoothly and reliably.

The electronics include the original neck and bridge pickups, distinctive for their more rounded covers when compared to later Gibson P-90s, while the middle pickup is a modern P-90 of unknown origin which compliments the original P-90s well and has also been fitted with a genuine early '50s Gibson P-90 cover for a uniform appearance. The two original P-90s were fitted with slightly larger pole pieces in the past, threading into the original baseplates. The original white Gibson oval label is visible through the F hole with an A-prefix serial number, yet the digits of the serial are faded to the point of being illegible, making it unfeasible to provide an exact year of production, yet all features point to an early example circa 1949-52.

Hardware includes the original Brazilian rosewood bridge base, fitted with a '70s Gibson gold patent number ABR-1 bridge. This bridge naturally offers more top end detail and also greater intonation flexibility than the stock static rosewood saddle, and the bridge works in concert with a vintage Bigsby B6 vibrato tailpiece. The vibrato has a very smooth response, adding shimmer and warble to complex chords and lead runs. Aside from the original P-90 covers, plastics include a more recent quartet of ambered speed knobs and a brand new vintage spec wide bevel five-ply pickguard.

The original two-tone Tobacco Sunburst nitro lacquer finish is 100% original with no touchup or overspray, highlighting flame maple figuring on the top of the instrument, and lighter bubble maple figuring on the back. There is very tight, faint lacquer checking across the body, with targeted buckle rash on the back at the waist through the lacquer, and some additional lighter wear extending central to the back. Wear is otherwise limited to some scuffing on top adjacent to the feet of the bridge, and ancillary nicks and scuffs mostly on the back and sides consistent with decades of honest use.

An era-correct '50s Gibson Lifton-made hardshell case is included with functional latches and the original handle. The case has a clean brown exterior, pink interior, and Gibson badge beneath the handle. The original five-page typed instructions for the guitar are also included and this piece of paperwork is rare in its own right.