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  1. #1

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    For a variety of reasons, I decided to sell my 1952 Gibson l-7C archtop last summer. It was the right thing to do at the time - the binding needed replacing in a few areas, and it was a year or two away from needing a neck reset, according to my luthier. The bridge was down as far as it could go, and the truss rod was as tight as it could go. The action was sill fine, but there was no more downward adjustment of the action available if it did change. So, for those reasons, plus a need for cash to pay for a move to a new house, I sold the guitar.


    I knew a would miss having an archtop, but I never realized how much. So I started to hunt for a replacement a few weeks ago. I wanted a Gibson, and since I don’t like volutes or 9/16th nut widths, I was looking for something either pre-’64 or post early-’80s. To be honest, I was leaning heavily towards the older vintage models - maybe another ’50s L-7C if I could find it. Given that my budget is really only around $3500 or so, I knew it might be a bit of a search. However, if one is patient and perseveres, it is possible to find L-7s, L-4s, and 175s from that era within that price range.


    However, last week I stopped into a boutique guitar shop to see some of their high-end and vintage models. They didn’t have anything vintage within my price range, but they did have something that caught my eye - a 2016 Gibson ES-275 in Montreaux Burst with god hardware. I plugged it in and was really impressed. Playing through an older Fender Deluxe on the neck pickup with the tone rolled back a bit, I was able to get a pretty good ‘thunk’ - I play I a big band, so that’s important. And the playability was amazing! Playing this guitar was effortless. I was smitten. I tried it through a few more amps - including a Fender Excelsior which I liked so much I immediately purchased it - and the 275 continued to impress.


    Of course, there was always that dreaded elephant in the room - the Richlite fingerboard. I know that in order to have vintage guitar street cred, I must loudly bemoan the use of Richlite as an abomination upon guitar making in general, if not humanity as a whole. Well, here was my experience: I honestly couldn’t tell from looking at it that it wasn’t ordinary wood; I couldn’t tell from touching it that it wasn’t ordinary wood; and most fortunately, I guess my ears are just not refined or sensitive enough for me to tell from listening that it wasn’t ordinary wood. It just sounded like a good guitar.


    It was a very tempting guitar, so I had to decide what to do. On the one hand, I could get a nice old vintage guitar, made by hand, and using solid woods, but, if it was within my price range, it would probably be a bit beat up, needing some work, if not restoration, and most likely would be missing some original hardware. For $3500, I wouldn’t be buying a collectors guitar, just a players guitar. And from the perspective of a players guitar, the 275 is a winner - as I said: it plays great, it sounds great, and is in mint condition.


    I think this might be a good comparison: Let’s say you wanted to buy a Porsche, but only had, say, $20,000. It is possible to buy an old vintage Porsche for that price - but not one in good shape, if it’s even running and drivable. You can also buy a modern used Boxster for that price. Now, if the question is “Which car is cooler?” then obviously the answer is the vintage Porsche. It’s way cooler. But if you’re also hoping to use your car to get you to work on time dependably, you’re not going to buy the vintage Porsche. Maybe the Boxster isn’t as cool (perhaps ‘liquid-cooled’ is to ‘air-cooled’ as ‘Richlite’ is to ‘Rosewood/Ebony’), but it’s the Porsche I’d buy if those were my options. It’s the same with the guitars, I think. At least it is for me. What’s cooler - a 1950s L-7C, or a modern ES-275, I lean towards the former - I love vintage guitars. But I can’t afford an issue-free vintage Gibson in good condition, and even if I could, I doubt I’d ever play it out. On the other hand, I can afford a beat up old Gibson, or a pristine new Gibson. Since I need a guitar I can play, and not just admire the coolness of, I decided on the ES-275. At the end of the day, I compared in my mind the playability of the ES-275 versus the playability of my former L-7C, and the 275 was the easy victor.


    They wanted $3500, but I talked them down to $3300 (buying the Excelsior probably helped sweeten the deal from their end). I put a deposit down on it and will be picking the guitar up in a few weeks. I will be swapping the tune-a-matic bridge for a rosewood bridge (if I can find an accurate replacement - no one currently makes them as far as I can see and the prices for vintage ones are crazy high). Here’s a pic of the guitar.
    My archtop search might be over. Warning: controversial opinions within-2015-gibson-es275f-prototype-1-scaled-e1575574068100-jpgMy archtop search might be over. Warning: controversial opinions within-2015-gibson-es275f-prototype-2-scaled-e1575574032858-jpgMy archtop search might be over. Warning: controversial opinions within-2015-gibson-es275f-prototype-3-scaled-jpg

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  3. #2

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    May the 275 inspire your playing for many years to come and may the cork sniffers among us forgive your faint praise of richlite.

  4. #3
    Buy it with no regrets. Talk about controversial, there's a lot of "Ebony" out there and there's a lot of wonky lesser quality "pure" wood that I would never build with in my own guitars. You're playing it, it sounds and feels good and reports so far on synthetics are good.
    As far as the fingerboard specifically, the reservations you have are in your mind.
    What you want as a player is what's in your hands and in your ear. In that, get the guitar, be inspired, become the best player you imagined you can be and see if the music you creates cares about the pedigree of the material you're playing on.
    Right?
    PS Knowing the markup on those, I would've brought in 3K in cash in crispy C notes, laid them out on the counter in front of the manager's nose and said "Do we have a deal?"

  5. #4

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    Congratulations! That's a beautiful guitar; if you like how it plays and how it sounds, then that's a winner. Being a guitar snob only adds to the out-of-pocket expenses, not necessarily to the musical experience.

  6. #5

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    that’s beautiful man ....
    nice story
    nice guitar

  7. #6

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    that's cool and congratulations, I have the same axe from 2018 in ebony with gold hardware (when they were still fully hollow) I like it but never have been able to get that deep woody jazz tone I want from it. Probably operator error though since everyone I talk to loves this guitar. Mine has ebony fingerboard, and is supposedly from the custom shop.

  8. #7

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    Keep in mind that the rosewood saddle swap may be a little trickier than expected. If I remember correctly, the bridge is pinned in these. They are pretty sweet guitars though. Congrats!

  9. #8

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    Congrats! Gorgeous guitar! And besides looking good, ES-275 is a great guitar to play and listen!

    If You are hearing higher vibrations that You would desire to, remember that ES-275 has Titanium saddles in its bridge. Ask some luthier to make an ebony bridge instead and the guitar will be closer to classic sounds.

  10. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by ThatRhythmMan View Post
    Keep in mind that the rosewood saddle swap may be a little trickier than expected. If I remember correctly, the bridge is pinned in these. They are pretty sweet guitars though. Congrats!

    the saddle consists of two parts, a Luthier should be able to carve the upper part from rosewood.

    with a correct intonation to the existing titanium saddle part before, the Luthier has a perfect template to work with.




    congrats to the OP, I love all the headstock bling, that your 275 has, my ( now sold ) ES-275 with Rosewood fingerboard and P90's didn't have any.

    I bought a '47 ES-125 instead.



  11. #10

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    Glad you found a good guitar! Those 275s look great. I only see one flaw in your sports car analogy - the Boxster is one of the all-time coolest Porsches, and one of the most effortless to drive!

  12. #11

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    Looks great.

    Richlite is a great material, sustainable, super stable, and unless you hold your face 2 inches away from it, you'd swear it's ebony.

  13. #12

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    I don't think it's at all controversial. I've never heard a single bad comment about the 275 and a lot of good (including by at least one really serious high level pro). As for Richlite, it may lack tradition but it will give you way better stability than ebony. Good choice.

  14. #13

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    Nice guitar! Thanks for sharing the story, too.

    I like ES-275s - I have two of the rosewood board models!

  15. #14

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    I have a Martin D16 with Richlite. The guitar is almost 15 years old and I have no problem at all with it, and I think it looks great. Although I appreciate Taylor Guitar’s use of striped ebony, I’d rather have the Richlite. I just personally think it looks better.

    That’s a beautiful guitar you have. I wish you many years of enjoyment with that guitar.

  16. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Soloway View Post
    I don't think it's at all controversial. I've never heard a single bad comment about the 275 and a lot of good (including by at least one really serious high level pro). As for Richlite, it may lack tradition but it will give you way better stability than ebony. Good choice.
    Over the years, any builder has heard horror stories of what passes as ebony as the world's supply of luthier grade wood decreases. Do the math. Look at how many Asian guitars alone, throughout Japan, China, Korea, Indonesia claim to have ebony fingerboards on their mid-lines on up.
    Now look at ebony. It takes 60-200 years to grow a tree to a trunk width of a foot, of which only the heartwood is harvested. They don't grow in groves, they're solitary trees. You cut one down and it's not coming back tomorrow. Try 100 years, to regrow a tree that the world's guitars are harvesting.
    So horror stories. Stabilizing is a process of taking weak, compromised, worm riddled and crumbling stumps and impregnating them with plastics to "stabilize" them. Dying another type of wood to "ebonize" it is also a practice used widely. Finally with the cost of good ebony going way up as the supply dwindles to accommodate cheap Chinese guitars, how does the quality control of a company like Gibson construct guitars to the world market?
    They find something that works just as well, even better, is readily available, looks great and plays like ebony, and they make it acceptable by using it.
    Want to talk about controversial? How about selling cheap substitutes and "reenforced" wood stocks for the sake of prestige?
    As a luthier, material like Richlite is a godsend. You don't play the fingerboard as a sound wood. You build a good guitar with richlite, it's not going to effect the task of making great music...not one bit. (As for collectors. Well, you find the pure blood guitars and take that market.)

  17. #16

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    Beautiful guitar! You made the right choice!

    Where can you find a lightly used Boxster in good shape for $20K?? I think your analogy is more like a modern Miata vs a vintage Porsche...or Porsche of any kind.

    (A Z4 is also a better bargain than a Porsche. I got mine for $15K a few years ago. Then I got a new Miata. Don't miss the Z4 anymore or wish I had a Porsche.)

  18. #17

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    Great story! Congratulations, and play it in good health!
    PS Richlite is a fine material for fretboards.

  19. #18

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    The guitar looks fabulous. If it feels good and sounds good, that's all there is to it.

    But, I want to comment on the idea of "coolness". I understand it,I think we all do, even if we define it differently.

    For me, the very bottom line is how well you play. Not just your fingers, but everything from your chair to the air moving in front of the speaker.

    If you play great, it's cool.

    Quick story. A local guitar store had a concert series. They had an elevated window display that they turned into a stage and packed 50 or 60 folding chairs. They had state of the art sound reproduction and good acoustics. Nice place to play.

    My octet played there. I brought a Yamaha Pacifica 012, the cheapest Strat type Yamaha sells. I had never heard of the woods in this guitar. I think one is agathis.

    The store owner and staff were there and made some remark to the band leader about my guitar. The band leader told me later that all he said was "how did he sound?", which stopped that conversational thread. Later, I spoke with them and they brought it up in a nice way. I pointed out that my guitar had a characteristic that no guitar hanging in the store had to the same degree. They had no idea what it was. It's the smallest neck in every dimension except scale length, which is Fender scale 25.5. I explained that I have arthritis and this guitar is the easiest guitar to play that I've ever played. I preferred that to sounding worse on a "cooler" guitar.

  20. #19

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    That’s a beautiful guitar!
    If I was playing out again and I had to standup, and my Ibanez GB100 was taken away from me, I would buy and use your guitar in a heartbeat.
    The color is remarkably beautiful.
    Enjoy it.
    Joe D

  21. #20

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    Did you put flatwounds on yours?

  22. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fat Fingers View Post
    Did you put flatwounds on yours?
    I will once I pick it up in a few weeks - that and a rosewood bridge.

  23. #22

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    Enjoy! It reminds me a lot of my ES 350T which sadly i had to sell.
    I restored and daily drove a Porsche ‘90 944 S2 cab. Put 200,000 miles on her. Got tired of $1000 oil changes and 2,000 clutch jobs. I have a 2010 Miata. Soooo much more fun than the P Car. ONE service visit in ten years.

    jk

  24. #23

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    I too was sceptical of richlite when I bought my last 2 Martins. Once I had the guitars in my hands I couldn't see, feel or hear any difference. So it's good for me.
    Enjoy your 275

  25. #24

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    Richlite: I only know one negative from experience. I had a beautiful Gibson BB King model, something I wanted for years, and it came with a Richlite fretboard. It looked great, but had one problem for a Blues guitar, especially so when you consider BB's playing: it made bending notes harder, big bends I mean, minor and major third intervals. Now, jazz players tend not to bend much, and few would consider such big bends, and acoustic players likewise, so in 90% of cases Richlite is a safe bet. I ended of returning the guitar after a few days.

    That said, I'd be perfectly happy with it on this 275, as I'd be playing that in a different way from what I wanted to do with Lucille. Your 275 looks gorgeous, and I know you've made the right decision.

  26. #25
    Quote Originally Posted by Rob MacKillop View Post
    Richlite: I only know one negative from experience. I had a beautiful Gibson BB King model, something I wanted for years, and it came with a Richlite fretboard. It looked great, but had one problem for a Blues guitar, especially so when you consider BB's playing: it made bending notes harder, big bends I mean, minor and major third intervals. Now, jazz players tend not to bend much, and few would consider such big bends, and acoustic players likewise, so in 90% of cases Richlite is a safe bet. I ended of returning the guitar after a few days.

    That said, I'd be perfectly happy with it on this 275, as I'd be playing that in a different way from what I wanted to do with Lucille. Your 275 looks gorgeous, and I know you've made the right decision.
    The surface of a Richlite fingerboard isn't inherently tacky, and it most certainly be crafted, cut, routed, smoothed, polished and buffed to a glasslike tactile feel. It's hard enough to be polished to a mirror like surface if you wanted (anybody could even polish a pine fence post to a glasslike surface if they wanted, it just wouldn't last. Richlite has a hardness that can be brought up if they wanted).
    Did you try polishing your fretboard with a polishing kit? I do that after fretwork. I have a kit that goes 80-3000. I think I can get a fingerboard to be plenty slippery slidey even for a big bender. It's worth a try anyway. Sorry I couldn't get to yours before you gave up on it.
    You can change the tactile characteristics of any wood or material through the way it's finished. It'd be worthwhile to explore what can be done with synthetics. It may be different enough to warrant finding ways to optimize the tooling and treatment of this new material. Certainly worth the effort; I think it's going to be around for a while.