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The Gibson ES-125 – Sleeper Guitar Alert!

by vaughn skow July 23, 2016 3 min read

1958 Gibson ES125TD

Several months back I “accidentally” acquired a 1958 Gibson ES-125TD, I had no plan to purchase it … it came and found me; I have grown to flat-out LOVE that ol girl, and I just gotta gush!

First a (very) quick bit of history.  The hollow-body P-90 equipped ES-125 was considered by Gibson to be a “beginner” electric guitar, think of it sort of as their version of a Fender Musicmaster/Mustang/Duosonic, etc.  The guitar was first introduced in 1941but none were made from late 1942-1945 due to WWII.  From there, the guitar stayed in continuous production until 1970/71 … yep, that makes a huge 30-year run!

Along the way, the guitar had several notable options added.  There was the ES-125-T or “thin” model, the ES-125D “dual-pickup” model, and the ES-125-C or “cut-away” model.  And yes, they could be combined in every imaginable way; for instance, an ES-125TDC was a thin body model with two pickups and a cut-away.  My 1958 model, the ES-125TD is thin body with two pickups and no cut-away.

Okay, so why do I consider these guitars to be “sleepers”, well, let’s talk about that!

First I MUST say this, not all ES-125 models are anywhere near equal to each other.  These are really guitars that you will want to actually physically play prior to purchase, unless the seller offers a generous return policy! Why?

Well, think about that 30-year span.  Why, the 41/42 “pre-war” models were during the absolute infancy of the electric guitar.  They were really made as beginner level f-hole acoustic guitars with a primitive pickup thrown on.  These guitars are really best at only one thing: being an authentic blues box.  On the other end, the last three years of production occurred during the dreadful years of Norlin ownership of Gibson.  The guitars from this era often have sketchy materials and workmanship.  Ha, but what about those models made during Gibsons “Golden Era”, the 1950’s.  This is where it gets good … really good!  Now mind you, guitars with more than a few decades on the odometer have undoubtedly lived extremely varied lives … and this will greatly affect weather they have aged gracefully or terribly … so again, it’s best to actually play before you buy!

1958, the year my 125 was made, is considered by most to be right in the pinnacle years for Gibson.  Les Paul models from this era are priced waaaaaay out of the reach of ordinary folks like me.  Now, my 125 was made from the same stash of Brizillian rosewood as a ’58 Paul, most likely the same hands made both guitars, and they have aged for precisely the same amount of time.  My guitar has two P-90 pickups of the same build as those used on ‘50s Pauls … but my 125 cost about 1/50th to 1/100th of what a Les Paul from 1958 generally brings these days. See, sleeper!

A couple of important observations where the ES-125 is concerned.  First, if you plan to play with a lot of gain and/or loud, be sure to get a thin body model;  I’ve played both, and the fat bodies howl outta control when ya crank em up.  Second, unless you are specifically looking for a blues or jazz guitar, get one with dual pickups.  It’s amazing how truly versatile the dual pickup ES-125 is.  Man, on that bridge pickup I can pull off surf-rock, AC/DC and Bakersfield Tele, the neck will go anywhere from straight-up jazz and blues to SRV, and with the dual volume and tone controls, the in-between position is like a chameleon that can go from Scotty Moore to Contemporary Christian chime and everywhere in-between. 

Seriously, the thin body dual pickup ES125 is a truly versatile guitar that holds its ground against all contenders.  I kinda wish mine had the cut-away for easier access to the highest frets … but like I said, I didn’t come looking for her, she came to me, and I love her just the way she is!

There are a lot of famous ES-125 players out there and you can google up all kinds more info if I’ve wetted your appetite, but here is, I believe a must-read blog if you want to learn more about this fine “sleeper guitar”:

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