This guitar has just emerged from the workship, having been brought back to life by none other than Leroy Aiello, himself. It needed a bunch of things, but all have been taken care of and now this the piece is available and deliriously wonderful. Just about anybody who sees this fantastic relic of the early '60s can envisition themselves owning a 1961 blonde Gibson “Patent Applied For” humbucking pickup ES-5 Switchmaster.
The Gibson ES-5 is a legendary three-pickup electric archtop guitar that was made from June 1949 until 1955. Starting late 1955 (some say continuing until 1962 – although there is no record of shipments in 1962), the model was renamed and reconfigured as the “ES-5 Switchmaster” because it had gained a 4-position toggle on the upper treble bout (where the cutaway resides). From the middle of 1957 until (most likely) the end of 1961 this model was made with vaunted “Patent Applied For” sticker humbuckers, each original pickup enjoying approximately the same status as good old Inti and the Virachcha Family held to the Incas. This model is quite uncommon as Gibson made 268 of them in sunburst but in the natural finish, as is this one, Gibson shipped 30 guitars (including some non-humbucking ones) in 1957, 34 in 1958, 33 in 1959, 20 in 1960 and 11 in 1961. This totals 128 made in natural. We should note that 1956 saw the introduction of the “tubular” style tailpiece, popular among surfers. Late in 1960 Gibson changed the design of some of their higher end electric archtops to include the Florentine (or sharp) cutaway, for which Scotty Moore is the most famous proponent with his ultra-famous sharp cutaway Super 400.
This guitar shows normal signs of use and wear – it has, as one would expect, finish checking (crazing lines) on nearly every square inch of its top, sides, back and neck. It shows the usual collection of dings, scratches, mars and scuffs, chips around its various edges, on and under the neck, on the binding, headstock and elsewhere. When we received it, there was is a small vertical crack in the heel of the neck and a split on the treble side by the neck heel, however our favorite consulting repairperson, Leroy Aiello, has “taken care of” these deficiencies. They are now invisible. When it comes to professional repairs, he is “The Man.” As somebody intensely famous once said in an interview ". . . but I brought it to Mandolin Brothers and they 'set it straight.'" This Switchmaster was shipped to us without a bridge and so we provided a replica replacement, fitted precisely to the top.
The binding on the treble side of the neck and headstock (just that side) was replaced and color-matched by Mr. Aiello. Somebody in the past apparently tried to reglue the binding and left a messy front surface on the upper treble corner of the headstock. Check. There have, as well, been glue drips on the back of the headstock (or tears on my pillow). The back of the headstock and the neck heel were finished in black by Gibson, as was the fashion on the higher end archtop guitars in 1961. Mr. A. has restored the black finish to the heel of the neck, and so - bye-bye aberrations. The neck heel finish may appear a bit shiny, but just play the guitar and it'll age in like a veteran. He replaced the missing toggle cap in kind. The pickups are, in fact, all “Patent Applied For” humbuckers whose covers are oxidized and missing gold. The twin f-holes are bound in single ply crème, top and back are bound in crème, the pearl block inlaid fingerboard, which comes to a carat at the bottom side, is bound in a lighter shade of crème, with white-black-white purfling on each side of the front of the ebony board. Each humbucker has a black plastic surround with oxidized screws; the elevated black plastic pickguard is white-black-white laminated, both the top and back are bordered in four-plies of crème and black purfling. The headstock was partially obscured, when we got it, in its upper treble corner, by glue, which covered part of the “Gibson” logo, but not any more. Our repairer has cleaned the electronics, and performed a neck reset and refret (Whew!). Now that this work is complete, it looks like a guitar that's nearly 100% original and it plays like melted butter. The formerly brown leatherette hard shell case was, regrettably, painted black. Perhaps some talented individual can, on behalf of the next owner, be hired by the guitar’s purchaser to chip off the black covering, to reveal its tender pink underside.
There were few cracks in both directions around the input jack on the lower treble side - but these have been tightened and brightened. At one time a high-hat control knob was missing its gold top insert; it once was lost but is now replaced by a non-matching gold high-hat. Its tuners are the original Grover Rotomatic set that were once gold-plated, with “Pat. Pend. USA” on their back plates, however due to playing time and, well, uninhibited enthusiasm, there is little or no gold plating left on the tuners, their buttons, or the pickup covers. This is pretty standard stuff. There is, however, plenty of gold plating remaining on the charming and elegant tubular tailpiece but somebody in the past, when the guitar was used as the house guitar in the patients’ lounge at the late Rococo yet run down County Home for the Criminally Insane up way there on Vampire Bat Mountain, tried to scratch out the engraved legend “ES-5” from the crosspiece on the tailpiece. Mr. Aiello has polished the 'piece and to a great extent restored the "ES-5" legend, as you can see in the enclosed photos. (Ain't they great photos, ladies and gentlemen!?) There is a black vertical line on the bottom side, we know not from what – just another sign of use, and there are small indentations on the back of the neck, possibly from the one-time use of a capo. We cannot fault this guitar for its foibles. It is all the type of wear that comes from a life well-played. This is a guitar that any electric player will want to own, and so, dear reader, might you.