Released in 1949, the ES-5 model was released as an intended fully electric companion to the companies range topping 17” acoustic archtop, the L-5C. Upon release the ES-5 featured a 17″ cutaway body with multi-ply top binding, bound f-holes a bound fingerboard with pointed end, mother-of-pearl block inlays, a bound headstock with crown inlay and gold-plated hardware. Electronics comprised of a trio of P-90 pickups with a master tone and individual volume controls. By 1955 the model became the ES-5 Switchmaster and incorporated a four-position selector switch, along with a new six-knob configuration, incorporating a volume and a tone knob for each pickup. By 1957 the Switchmaster was brought inline with the rest of the Gibson range and was fitted with a trio of Humbuckers. Aesthetically the body binding was increased to 5-ply and the tailpiece was upgraded to the Byrdland-like loop style trapeze tailpiece with engraved crossbar. The final change to the model was in 1960 the cutaway changed from Venetian to Florentine.
This fantastic example from 2007 features a wonderful Vintage Sunburst finish in remarkably good condition throughout with little to no wear and very little polishing swirls. The 17” body is fully hollow with a laminate Maple top, back and sides. The 3 piece Maple neck is pleasantly figured and constructed like an L-5 with alternating Maple and Walnut laminations. The neck is topped with a bound, dark Rosewood fingerboard with L-5 style pearl block inlays. The bound headstock features a pearl Gibson logo, crown inlay and gold Grover tuners. Electronics are stock with a trio of Gibson ’57 Classic Humbuckers wired to a four way switch with independent volume and tone controls for each pickup. The hardware is in great condition with very little tarnishing to the gold plating and the 3-ply bevel edged pickguard has resisted warping or curling. The knobs are the gold bonnet type historically used during the late 50’s era of production.
Weighing in at 8lbs even the guitar feels well balanced and comfortable in use. The neck has a medium/slim C profile with a nut width of 43.35 and a first fret depth of 20.50mm. The guitar came into us set up on 10-42 strings, admitedly lighter than we would usually fit to a large bodied archtop but thanks to the long 25.5” scale length and nice low playing action we have decided to keep the 10’s. There is room for adjustment should a different gauge be required. The 57 Classic pickups are well balanced in all positions with the combination of 4-way switch and individual volume and tone controls opening up a wide range of tones.
Now a discontinued model the only option for those looking for an ES-5 Switchmaster is the pre-owned and vintage markets. This wonderfully clean example plays, sounds and looks the part and comes complete with its equally clean original Gibson hard case.