Gibson ES-5 Electric Archtop Guitar

Description: Gibson ES-5 Electric Archtop and ES5 Switchmaster guitars
Available: 1949 to 1962 (also recently reissued by Gibson)
Case: Brown hardshell case with a pink lining was the top-end Gibson case. The mid-line case was a brown hardshell with a green or brown lining. 1961/1962 models may have a black hardshell case with a yellow lining.
Collectibility Rating: 1955 to 1960 models are the more desirable than 1949-1954 model because of the volume/tone control layout and the switch. 1957 to 1960 models are better still because of the humbucking pickups (though I still like the sounds of the black P-90 pickups used on pre-1957 models). 1961/1962 models with the sharp cutaway are less desirable because of the cutaway, neck size, and more cherry-red sunburst.
Production: 1949-1956 sunburst:577, 1949-1955 natural:331, 1955-1961 switchmaster sunburst:334, 1956-1961 switchmaster natural:167
General Comments: Second fanciest archtop by Gibson, just behind the L-5c. Made as a fully electric version of the L-5c. A maple plywood top was used (instead of solid spruce) to limit feedback. Unfortunately the plywood construction limits collectibility to some degree. A low production guitar. For example, have seen a late 1954 ES-5 switchmater. Body/neck made in 1954 (with a white A17xxx serial number tag) with 3-ply body binding, but with a switch and six knobs (and ES-175 gold tailpiece). Guitar was probably finished in 1955, nearly a year after the body and neck were made.

If you need to figure out the exact year of your Gibson ES5 guitar, use the serial number. This is located inside the body, on a white or orangle label inside the body's bass-side "f" hole. See the Gibson Serial Number Info web page for help determining the exact year.

If you have a vintage Gibson ES-5 guitar for sale, please contact me at

1949 Gibson ES-5 guitar introduction specs:
17" wide, rounded single cutaway, three P-90 pickups, three volume controls, one master tone control on cutaway bout, trapeze tailpiece with pointed ends and three raised parallelagrams (like an gold ES-175 tailpiece), laminiated beveled-edge pickguard, bound F-holes (a few early model with unbound F-holes), pointed-end fingerboard with 5-ply binding, large block fingerboard inlays, single bound peghead, crown peghead inlay, gold plated parts, brown sunburst or natural finish. Three piece neck with two pieces of maple and a thin layer of dark wood between them.
1955 Gibson ES-5 Switchmaster specs:
Six volume/tone knobs (separate volume and tone for each pickup), 4-way slotted switch on cutaway bout with a Telecaster style switch tip (labeled "1,2,3,ALL"), gold tune-o-matic ABR bridge (with no saddle retaining wire) on a rosewood base. Note 4 non-switchmaster ES-5 models were shipped as late as 1956.
1956 Gibson ES-5 Switchmaster guitar specs:
5 ply top and back binding, tubular tailpiece with double-loop design.
1957 Gibson ES-5 Switchmaster guitar specs:
Humbucking pickups replace P-90 pickups.
1961 Gibson ES-5 Switchmaster guitar specs:
pointed sharp cutaway, cherry red sunburst finish standard.
Gibson ES-5 Switchmaster guitar discontinued 1962. Reissued in the late 1990s.

Left: 1952 Gibson ES-5.
Right: 1955 Gibson ES-5 with white 1954 A17xxx serial number (guitar finished in 1955).
Notice the slight difference in the sunburst, where the 1955 model has a bit of red in the finish,
and the 1952 is a pure 2-tone yellow to dark brown sunburst. The 1955 model is of course a
switch master, but with 3-ply body binding (5-ply was used in 1956).

The controls and pickups on the 1952 Gibson ES-5. Notice the four "tall barrel" knobs and rosewood bridge:

The controls and pickups on the 1955 Gibson ES-5. Notice the six "bonnet" knobs and ABR tune-a-matic bridge.
Notice the middle and bridge pickups have a riser spacer, where the 1952 ES-5 only has one on the bridge pickup.

The peghead on the 1955 Gibson ES-5. Note the single ring tulip tuner buttons, gold plating, ribbed-back Kluson tuners:

Notice the original brown case with pink lining.

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