1937 Gibson EH-150

The Gibson EH-150 is one of the most iconic steel guitar models ever produced. It was not the most expensive or the most widely produced model, either within the Gibson lineup or among its competition, but it was one of the most highly visible electric instruments of the 1930s. True, it lacked the sustain of Rickenbacker’s aluminum or Bakelite steels, and its first pickup was particularly susceptible to hum, but its clear and refined tone could be heard emanating from countless concert halls and Victrola horns.

As with several other companies in the mid 1930s, Gibson’s first electric lap steel had a cast aluminum body. The original 1935 design of the E-150 was produced in very small numbers before Gibson changed to wood, but it already featured the “Charlie Christian” pickup that would grace the model until the end of the decade. The switch to wood made production cheaper and easier, and it also gave the instrument a more traditional appearance that players associated with the brand. As with many 1930s Gibson models, the name reflected the price; the steel and case plus a matching amplifier and cord catalogued for $150, though the 7th string cost $5 extra.

A number of minor changes occurred in 1936, including the re-naming of the model as the EH-150 (by this point there were several Gibson electric instruments available at the same price, so the addition of “Hawaiian” was necessary). Several iterations of fret markers were used as well, but they had been settled by the time my steel was built in 1937. Shortly after mine was built, the headstock and pickup cover were given additional ornamentation. In 1940, the pickup was changed to a slanted Alnico unit like the one used on my EH-185, and by 1942 the EH-150 was completely redesigned with a solid mahogany body and P-13 pickup. Few were built in this configuration, as material shortages during World War II limited production of electric instruments. The first wooden EH-150s were available with 6 or 7 strings, though late ‘30s examples were built with 8, 10 or even 13 strings. The majority were still built with 6 strings, though.

Another major change occurred in 1938 when the back was glued on instead of screwed on. This strengthened the instrument (which was essentially a hollowbody with no bracing) but also required replacing the pickup’s long bar magnets with a stubby horseshoe magnet that could fit through the rout in the top of the body. My 1937 example has the screwed-on back and bar magnets. The steel’s hollow construction limits sustain, but it creates an open, airy tone and results in an instrument that’s easy on the knees. This particular steel has replacement tuners, but otherwise it’s all original.

For a thorough source on the history of the EH-150 (and early Gibson instruments in general), check out this website.