1965 Gibson Skylark

 

The bottom of Gibson’s lap steel line for most of the 1950s was held by the venerable BR-9, a relatively plain instrument that nonetheless shared a pickup with several more expensive models. Although not as eye-catching as its siblings, the BR-9 was still the company’s best-selling steel. Gibson attempted to capture even more of the market by introducing an even cheaper model, sometimes referenced in shipping ledgers as the EH-500 but always named in official literature as the Skylark.

This new model was first shipped in mid 1957 with a list price of $64.50, in the same range as the Supro Comet and the Harmony H4. The Skylark’s case listed for $24.00, more than one third the price of the instrument itself. The instrument was built of limba wood, which Gibson called Korina in catalogs; this had previously been used to build the Consolette steel and would become most famous as the material behind the Explorer and Flying V models of 1958. Unlike its more expensive brethren, the Skylark featured the same narrow single-coil pickup as the Melody Maker guitars. This pickup was installed with a slant in a metal plate housing the bridge, controls, output jack and hand rest. The fretboard featured a similar pattern to the BR-9 but recolored in black, with the frets numbered to aid beginners. While the overall construction was noticeably cheaper than even the BR-9, the headstock logo was a new three-dimensional chromed piece that was definitely flashier.

The large majority of Skylarks fit the above description, though there are a few exceptions. 45 Skylark Deluxes were shipped in 1958 with “custom deluxe” stenciled on the headstock and dot markers on the fretboard, which actually made the Deluxes plainer than the standard Skylark. At least one was shipped with a white crinkle finish like the BR-9. However, the basic model remained unchanged until 1965. At that point, Gibson made a number of changes to the Skylark that were never reflected in catalog pictures or descriptions. The body was henceforth made of mahogany and finished in translucent red, much like the revamped Century of the same period. The pickup was no longer angled, and the headstock shape was altered.

The first revamped Skylarks were shipped sometime in the second half of 1965. It has been assumed that the new version continued to be built until Gibson ceased steel production altogether in 1967, in which case more than 120 must have been built. However, the extreme rarity of this variant today suggests that fewer made it out the factory door. Shipping records do not differentiate between the two versions, so it is impossible to be certain. The serial and pot codes on this particular steel suggest early 1965, but the messiness of Gibson serials from this period makes any conclusions hazy at best. This steel remains in remarkably clean, essentially mint and entirely original.

 

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