1941 Gibson EH-125

Gibson’s early steels had a rather unusual construction. Excepting the aluminum E-150, their electric Hawaiian guitars from the 1930s were built with hollow bodies, essentially flat, thinline versions of their electric Spanish models. The EH-150 and EH-100 thus had limited sustain, which was remedied on the EH-185 and EH-250/275 by adding a heavy fretboard made of a metal alloy called Hyblum. However, Gibson must have recognized that this was a rather expensive solution to a fairly simple problem because their cheaper off-brand steel models sold under the Kalamazoo and Mastertone brands had solid mahogany bodies.

Eventually, Gibson had to acknowledge that solidbody design was cheaper to build but advantageous to the instrument’s sound. By late 1940, the cheapest steel model available under the Gibson name, the EH-100, was given the same body as the Kalamazoo and Mastertone models. It was also given a new pickup at the same time, with Alnico magnets but lacking the adjustable poles of the more expensive models. This pickup, essentially a simplified version of the P-13 that appeared on their electric Spanish models, featured a nickel-plated cover with a longitudinal bump in the center.

The redesigned EH-100 didn’t last very long. In mid-1941 it was replaced by a new model, the EH-125. A Hawaiian counterpart to the ES-125, the EH-125 represented an upgrade from the last version of the EH-100 in a few ways. It was given binding on the top edge of the body, a sunburst finish, and a black headstock veneer with pearl inlays. Tonally, nothing changed, but the improved appearance allowed Gibson to raise the price for a steel and amplifier set to $125.

This new model did sell better than its predecessor, and Gibson seems to have quickly recognized the advantages of the updated design. The company’s mid-priced model, the EH-150, was redesigned in a similar fashion not long before both models were discontinued. For a time, the two were distinguished only by the EH-150’s back binding and slightly different fretboard. When production of electric instruments resumed after World War II, Gibson never again attempted to build a lap steel with a hollow body.

The EH-125 was discontinued in late 1943, by which point Gibson was having difficulty obtaining raw materials due to wartime shortages and rationing. However, there are a few variations noted within its short production run. Most notable is the fretboard, which was either metal with silkscreened markers or cheap wood painted black with white markers stenciled on. There were a few variations in the peghead inlay as well: most EH-125s have a fleur de lis, but a few early ones have a crown. This particular instrument is apparently unique in having an abstract art-deco shape similar to the inlays on the TB-12 and TB-18 banjos. It is from the first batch of EH-125s built, and it appears likely that Gibson tried several designs in this batch. This steel shipped from the factory in July, 1941, and is one of the few 7-string variants known to exist.