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Gibson EH-150 Lap Steel and matching amp, ’37

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Sunburst, Serial # 2796.

The popularity of Hawaiian style music in the early 1900’s created a demand for instruments specially made to accommodate the Hawaiian technique. The top companies, Martin and Gibson, first began supplying separate devices to place on the nut to raise the strings high enough to play in Hawaiian style, but eventually designed specific guitars devoted to Hawaiian playing. Gibson’s earliest Hawaiians were the HG series of 1929, followed by the Roy Smeck 12-fret models of 1934. By the time the Roy Smeck guitars became available, Hawaiian music had already begun to feature a new innovation: an electric guitar made by Rickenbacker. This guitar featured a magnetic “horseshoe” pickup to amplify the strings’ vibrations. This new type of Hawaiian guitar could be heard more easily, with notes and chords sustaining effortlessly. Rickenbacker’s “Frying Pans” went almost unnoticed by Gibson until 1935, when sales shot high enough for Gibson to think it was worthwhile to try one of its own.

 

Gibson’s short-lived first attempt at an electric Hawaiian followed Rickenbacker’s lead and had a metal body. The metal body had tuning issues, and didn’t fit Gibson’s classic look, so by 1936 the EH-150 (the guitar and amp set cost $150) had a maple body and neck finished in Gibson’s traditional dark sunburst.

After initially trying to outsource the pickup design to Chicago’s Lyon & Healy (who did end up making the matching amplifiers), Gibson relied on its own employee Walter Fuller to devise the now renowned Bar Pickup.

 

The 1937 EH-150 set pictured has features consistent with the middle of that year. These include a headstock with a pearl Gibson logo and split diamond inlay (no inlay the previous year), multi-ply top and back binding (from single-ply top binding in 1936), back attached with screws (glued on by 1938), and a bar pickup with multi-ply binding (became a U-magnet pickup in 1938). The amp had rounded corners (replaced the square corners of 1936), two 6L6 power tubes (replacing the earlier 6N6s), and a 12 inch speaker (was a 10 inch the year before). The amp’s power rating was about 15 watts.

 

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