Gibson J-160E, ’55
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Sunburst, Serial # 172722.
While Gibson had been making electric arch-top and steel guitars since the 1930’s, it wasn’t until the early ‘50s that a flat-top was electrified. The first electric flat-top produced by Gibson was the CF-100E debuting in 1951. This guitar was based on the small 14 and 1/8” cutaway flat-top introduced the year before. Although cutaway flat-top electrics would become popular decades later, this innovative guitar was discontinued in by 1959, due in part to the more impressive sales figures of its descendant the J-160E.
The J-160E was introduced in 1954 and had the more conventional look of the popular J-45 and Southern Jumbo guitars. To function as a usable electric guitar, the J-160E had to be very different structurally from a regular flat-top. While the J-45 (or even the CF-100E) had a solid spruce X-braced top, J-160E needed a 3-ply laminated spruce top with ladder bracing to make it more rigid and less prone to feedback. The neck joined the body at the 15th fret (instead of the 14th) to allow room for a P-90 pickup between the end of the fingerboard and the sound-hole.
This early J-160E can be distinguished from later versions by its odd looking adjustable bridge. The bridge could be adjusted up or down by turning the large screws on either side of the bridge (replaced with more conventional looking smaller adjustment screws by the late 1950’s). It also has straight sided “speed knobs” for volume and tone controls (replaced by “bonnet knobs’ in 1956).