1940 GIBSON EH-185N 1940

A rare Gibson EH-185N lapsteel from 1940, in very good original and preserved condition.

Introduced in the fall of 1939, the EH-185 model had a very specific aim: to give new impetus to Gibson’s Electric Hawaiian guitars, whose flagship model until then, the EH-150, was struggling to sell. The EH-185 thus has a particular characteristic that distinguishes it from other lapsteels: a metal plate over the entire length of the body. This central section has a reinforcing flange extending down into the neck and is widened to form the headstock of the instrument at its upper end. The result is a heavier instrument than the all-wood EH-150, the metal plate being composed of hyblum, an aluminum-magnesium-silicon alloy developed by Alcoa earlier in the decade.

The likely purpose of this hybrid metal/wood construction was to improve the sustain of the instrument: beyond the cast aluminum instruments produced by Rickenbacker, National, and Gibson’s very first EHGs, other manufacturers had already experimented with lap steels combining wood and metal, but Gibson went further by forming the headstock and central section of the body from a single casting to which the pickup and potentiometers are also attached – only the jack socket is attached to the body . This is made of flamed maple, hollow out like that of an EH-150, finished in a natural cellulose varnish revealing the patterns of the wood underneath. The Gibson logo is hand cut from sheet metal and attached to the headstock.

We also find on the instrument presented here a set of characteristics which are certainly unique to it: on the one hand, it is equipped with an Alnico pickup with individually adjustable poles, a major advance whereas Gibson until now used the pickup dubbed Charlie Christian (CC) which offered no possibility of adjustment – a notable detail, this lapsteel had originally been intended for a CC pickup, but like other instruments unsold in 1940, it was modified at the factory to accommodate the new Alnico pickup (this modification is hidden under the chrome plate surrounding the pickup). On the other hand, the fingerboard of the instrument is made in the exact style of that of an EH-275 model, in ebony decorated with rectangular mother-of-pearl inlays and colored fret markers where the standard style is a rosewood board with dot inlays. Finally, the Natural finish is very uncommon on this model – according to data compiled by André Duchossoir and Lynn Wheelwright from Gibson records, only three instruments were shipped for the year 1940!

At 84 years old, this lapsteel comes to us superbly preserved, with all of its original and unaltered electronics and hardware – a set of Kluson No. 105-N tuners of which we note that the buttons are oriented upwards to facilitate tuning, two Bakelite potentiometer knobs, a chromed tailpiece cover… The Alnico pickup has been rewound with a DC resistance identical to the original, as the original coil was affected by corrosion – the pickup now works perfectly again. Tuned for C6 playing.

Sold in its original Geib tweed case.

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