1935 Gibson E-150

Despite Gibson’s propensity for flashy advertisements, the company’s first foray into electric instruments went largely unannounced. Although their electric Hawaiian guitar was about to be released, an October, 1935 flyer on the company’s new models spoke only about the Super 400 and other acoustic archtops. In fact, Gibson’s first electric was never even listed in a catalogue; when it appeared on a price list in February, 1936, it must have been an enigma.

The E-150 was first shipped to dealers on November 14, 1935. A few sample instruments had been sent to sales reps over the last month, but Gibson did not seem to be in a hurry to market their electric steel. Indeed, it appears they were never completely happy with it. The problems mostly stemmed from the cast-aluminum body: it caused unstable tuning under hot stage lights, it had to be sourced from an outside company, and many castings were received with flaws. More subjectively, the cold, silver appearance conflicted with Gibson’s preference for figured woods and sunburst finishes. Even before 1935 was over, Gibson decided to replace it with a maple body.

Gibson also found that its new product was not a hit with players or retailers. Many aluminum E-150s were returned, some due to quality problems with the castings, but some because retailers could not (or would not) find buyers. Records indicate that some instruments were shipped two or even three times from the Gibson factory, and that some bodies were never completed and sold. Although production of the aluminum instruments nominally stopped in early 1936, some stragglers were shipped into 1937. As a result, it is difficult to determine the total number of aluminum E-150s built. One source estimates no fewer than 115 even though the range of serial numbers is closer to 200.

Aside from the body – which was shaped a bit differently from the later maple bodies – the E-150 has similar features to its successor. The pickup has the early, thick magnets that would be used until 1937, and multi-slotted poles that were intended to improve string balance. The pickup was attached to the back plate, with springs that provided height adjustment at each corner. The E-150 sported a tone control right from the beginning, a feature requested by musician Alvino Rey. The 22.5” scale would be used by Gibson on many steel models over the next 30 years.

This particular steel has been restored. It has been sanded, painted, and most recently stripped back to bare aluminum, which unfortunately required re-painting of the logo. However, all the parts and hardware are original except for a handful of screws in the tuners, and the wiring is just as it was when the steel left Kalamazoo.