1946 Gibson BR-3

Gibson’s electric instruments of the 1930s attempted to combine new technology with the traditional visual appointments for which the brand was known. Even the more revolutionary designs, such as the EH-185’s hyblum-core body, were mostly encased in flamed maple shells and finishes that had been used for a decade or more. Some cosmetic features were downgraded due to materials shortages during World War II until production ceased altogether. But, if the War saw Gibson struggling to maintain tradition, it also provided the company with a useful opportunity to revamp its model lineup. By the time production resumed in 1945, Gibson was already working with the industrial design firm of Barnes & Reinecke on a series of new steel guitars and amps. The initial offerings were something of a stopgap just to ship something from the factory. The most famous products of the partnership were the Ultratone (initially called the BR-1) and the Century, but those high points of post-War design would have to wait several years to make an appearance.

The first instrument to leave the Gibson factory in 1945 was the BR-3 lap steel. Although the model designation derived from Barnes & Reinecke, the bulk of the instrument was simply a continuation of the last generation of EH-150s and EH-125s. These models had adopted solid bodies at the beginning of the 1940s; Gibson updated them with a new pickup, bridge plate and cover to produce the BR-3. Barnes & Reinecke designed the new plastic parts, which some have compared in shape to another product designed by the firm – a toaster. The BR-3 was a low-cost affair, with a silkscreened logo and even dispensing with binding on the body. A few early examples sported a “banner” logo, further proof that they were derived from War-time designs. The model was quickly revealed to be a stopgap, as it was replaced in mid 1946 by the BR-4 (really the same instrument with body binding and slightly different control knobs). The BR-3 never even made it into Gibson sales literature.

If the body was old news, the pickup in the BR-3 was a complete departure from previous Gibson designs. It looked much like a P-90 (which debuted shortly after), but its construction was substantially different. While the coil was essentially unchanged from pre-War pickups, the magnets were now individual Alnico slugs underneath each string. This removed the adjustability of early 1940s units, but it gave the new pickup extra clarity and a boost to the high frequencies. This was a definite boon in the days when amps were still warm and wooly, with attenuated highs compared to modern designs.