Dating My Gibson ES-175
Updated: Apr 30, 2022
In 1977 I was ready to buy a new guitar. I had been playing my Burns Baby Bison guitar for about 10 years. The Burns was a solid body guitar that had stood me in good stead on the rock stuff that I cut my teeth on in the mid-to-late '60's.
But by 1977, thanks to George Benson crossing over with Breezin' in 1976 I was deep into Jazz. I had all of the CTI stuff Benson played on in the seventies, as well as a lot of the '60's-era stuff on Verve and A&M records. I had discovered Joe Pass in 1976. I was also listening to Wes Montgomery, Pat Martino, Pat Metheny's first album Bright Size Life, Barney Kessel, Herb Ellis and many others.
And those were just the guitar players. I talk about my major influences that are not guitarists in Inbred Guitar Culture.
So I didn't want another solid body guitar, I wanted a jazz-guy guitar!
A friend whose opinion I respected said,
"You should get a 175; that's what Pat Metheny plays."
So a Gibson 175 is what I decided to go for.
There were two music stores in town that had one in stock. One was the biggest store in town which catered to the pro players. It was huge, with high-end instruments locked in climate-controlled rooms. I was well-known by the owner, manager and staff. I'd bought quite a few things from them over the years. In fact, I had worked there for a few months when I was still in high school.
It was that experience that convinced me I was not cut out for retail!
The other store was a much smaller, neighborhood-type store that was in a strip mall storefront. I was also well-known there and had a good relationship with the owner who had only one employee.
I was told by both stores that their respective 175 was new. Both had humbuckers.
I shamelessly played each store against the other and got the price down to $650. Adjusted for inflation that's equal to $2,805.87 in 2019. Neither store would go below that. The manager at the big store told me if the little guy beat that price he was losing money just to make the sale.
"I won't go below $650!" he said.
I decided to help out the little guy and bought the guitar from him for $650.
By 1978 I had made the transition from "jazz guy" to working at least 6 nights a week in a pop band. I was in a band with a house gig for several months in 1978 and after that another band that played regionally from '79 - '81. Both those bands included another guitarist - a "rock guy" guitarist. The second band hired me specifically because I was a "jazz guy" whose skill set involved the knowledge and ability to arrange keyboard, string and horn parts for guitar - and play them; I was hired to replace a keyboard player. I had a stereo setup with two amps and was using all kinds of effects and pedals to get non-guitar textures - all the while using my Gibson 175.
The point is, both these bands had a mechanism in place to compensate for the fact that I had a style and was playing an instrument both of which were not really suitable for rock and pop music. After 1981, I had evolved some techniques to compensate on my own; after some initial difficulty I was able to tap into my pre-jazz self and sound like a "rock guy" even though I was playing a "jazz guy" guitar.
I never quit playing jazz, but the jazz gigs were relegated to off-nights. A Saturday matinee and Sunday as well as occasional Monday nights. I did a solo jazz guitar gig for happy hour (4pm-8pm) Monday through Friday for a while. I would then run from the happy hour gig to a pop or rock dance gig in a club from 9:00-1:00.
Anyway, sometime in 1988 or '89, one of the salesmen at the music store I was renting studio space from at the time, who was much more knowledgeable than me about such things, upon seeing my guitar made the comment,
"Wow, man! That's a nice '60's-era 175!"
"Nah, man" I said, "I bought that new in '77."
"Oh no, bro" he said, "That's a late sixties model; '66 or '67 - somewhere round in there."
"Well, I was told it was new when I bought it!"
So I decided to do some research. Pre-internet that was a little more difficult than it is now.
I don't remember what all I did but I remember the result; based on the serial number I concluded that the guy was right - it was a 1966.
I couldn't believe the store owner I bought it from had deliberately misled me - which meant he really didn't know the guitar was 11 years old. That didn't seem right, but nothing about my previous dealings with him led me to believe that he was a dishonest guy, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt and figured he didn't know.
BTW, both stores are now long gone.
So for almost 30 years, I've told everyone who wanted to know that my 175 was a 1966.
However, now thanks to the internet, I'm fairly certain it's actually early to mid-'70's.
The error has to do with going by the serial number alone (which is what I did in my original research). Turns out, some serial numbers can be from either the sixties or from 1970-1975. Numbers in the 600000's (mine is 600182) were used in both eras. From DATING GIBSON GUITARS BY REFERENCE OF SERIAL NUMBERS:
Then there's this:
So some other factors must be considered when dating:
My guitar has the black and purple triangle label. It also has "MADE IN USA" stamped on the back of the headstock. Both those things indicate it's 1970 or later.
So if my guitar was manufactured in the latter part of the timeframe (1974-75) or even earlier, it's conceivable it was still sitting in a music store and unused in 1977.
That lets the store owner off the hook!
Needless to say, it's a pretty sweet guitar! From Wikipedia,
"The ES-175 with humbuckers is prized for its full, rich tone."
It's high-mileage; it was my main performance guitar from 1977 - 1989. I was playing full-time all during that period; anywhere from 6 to 15 gigs a week.
It has held up remarkably well. After many years the original bridge collapsed; the replacement is indistinguishable from the original.
The white plastic cover on the pickup selector switch broke off. One of my students noticed and made one out of brass and gave it to me. I think it's pretty cool-looking.
Other than those two things it's still all-original; even the volume and tone knobs.
The finish on the back has belt-buckle scrapes, but overall the cosmetics are pretty good. The original whiteish color has mellowed with age and years of exposure to second-hand smoke in bars to a deep yellow.
It continues to play great and I still use it on a gig every once in a while. Usually a traditional Jazz gig with no Blues or Pop. So yeah...not very often.
I'm not real knowledgeable about the value but according to Jazz Guitar Online the price range for my model runs from $2,100 to $12,400. Typically I see them going for between $3,500 and $6,000.
One of the reasons I'm not interested in all that is because what I paid for it in 1977 - $650 - is the equivalent of $2,800 today. So the basic value of the instrument hasn't really escalated as much as it first appears.
However, the 175 was dropped from the Gibson lineup in 2019 after 68 years in continuous production. So maybe the value will escalate. The scarcity trigger will come more and more into play as time elapses - assuming the line doesn't go back into production.
For me, the real value of an instrument comes from what I can do with it - i.e. functionality. Over the 40+ years I've owned my 175 I've used it to make well into six figures for sure. That is the bottom line value of it as far as I'm concerned.
Besides that, I'm emotionally attached!
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