Monday, February 13, 2012

Electric Spanish!

 Happy Monday, friends—time for some Monday Morning Blues. Once each month we’ve been turning our attention to one of the guitar that have contributed significantly to the great blues sound—& today’s instruments are truly exciting.

If you’re a fan of Gibson guitars or just an all-around guitar aficionado, you may well know that “Electric Spanish” is the full term behind the abbreviation Gibson’s renowned ES line.  A venerable line, at that, especially when you’re talking about guitars fitted with a magnetic pick-up—yes, in many ways the ES line, among its many contributions in terms of music & design both, essentially is the granddaddy of the electric guitar.  While the 1936 Gibson ES-150 wasn’t actually the first electric guitar, it was the first one to be a true commercial success.  In addition, the first noteworthy electric guitarist played an ES-150, that being the great jazzman Charlie Christian—in fact, the single coil pick-up used in this guitar is still known as the "Charlie Christian pick-up."

So make no mistake: the Gibson ES line has had an impact far beyond the field of blues. From major jazz guitarists like Barney Kessel, Joe Pass & Grant Green to early rockers like Chuck Berry, Roy Orbison & Scotty Moore & on to such “guitar heroes” as Clapton, Larry Carlton & Alvin Lee, the ES line has been heard loud & clear in many genres of popular music.

From the ES-150 on, this line of guitars has been revolutionary in design. The ES-150, for instance, departed from the typical practice of making an archtop guitar in that the guitar’s interior isn’t carved to match the exterior curve. This was an attempt to cut down on one of the problems with amplifying a guitar with a hollow soundbox: feedback. I played a hollowbody archtop electric as my main guitar for some time, & I can attest to this fact!

Later models in the ES line attacked this problem even more ingeniously. The Gibson ES-335, introduced in 1958, was the first “thinline” archtop electric. Here the “wings” of the guitar’s body are still hollow, but a solid maple block runs up the center of the soundbox, so in essence, the design combines aspects of the hollow body & the solid body—& indeed, the ES-335 & its latter offshoots are known both for their singing tone & for their fierce & powerful sustain. I get excited just writing about them!

In terms of the blues, some of the very biggest names have used Gibson ES guitars; BB King, for instance has used both the ES-335 & the ES-355, which is the famed “Lucille.” Freddie King, of “Hideaway” fame sometimes used an ES-335. Little Milton, “Gatemouth” Brown, & John Lee Hooker both played Gibson ES guitars, tho Hooker finally favored the Epiphone Sheraton, which he characterized as an “out-did 335”—still, by the time Hooker was playing a Sheraton, Epiphone had been purchased by Gibson.  

But I didn’t choose any of those players to feature in the videos, as worthy as they all are. Instead, I decided to feature one of the most influential electric guitar players ever—who has influenced guitarists from BB King to Jimi Hendrix & from Eric Clapton to Stevie Ray Vaughn.  That is the great T-Bone Walker, a man whose work is not as well known to the general listening public as it should be.  Walker mostly played the Gibson ES-175 during his career, tho early on he played an ES-150 & he switched to an ES-335 as his playing career wound down.  He’s playing an ES-175 in this video.

I also chose the standpoint Chicago blues player Otis Rush, who is featured in the second video.  You’ll notice that—like Elizabeth Cotten, who was featured last week in the Any Woman’s Blues series, Rush also is left-handed & plays the guitar “upside-down & backwards.” Rush is playing an ES-335, his standby guitar.

Enjoy that great Gibson sound in the hands of two formidable blues musicians!


Pic of BB King with “Lucille” is by Wiki Common user Roland Godefroy, & is available under the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation. Image links to its source.


  1. Ah! Great line-up for the first thing Monday morning - a little dose of T-Bone's cool, suave sophistication and then on to Otis's rollicking Chicago blues. Now my day looks a little rosier. Thanks, John!

  2. Hi Roy: Glad you liked it! Definitely some good sounds.


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