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An extremely rare Gibson EH-185 custom 10-string lapsteel, made in Kalamazoo circa 1938.

Here is an instrument that we could describe without exaggeration as a unicorn: in the world of Hawaiian electric guitars produced by Gibson before the Second World War, there are the standard 6-string models that every enlightened aficionado knows by heart: the EH-150, EH-100, EH-185 which populate period catalogs and mark the manufacturer’s definitive entry into the era of amplified music. There are other 7-string instruments that serious fans of Hawaiian music will immediately  find familiar and useful. And then there are instruments such as this one, produced on express request to meet a customer’s particular need: a specific tuning or configuration that would not be permitted by the basic models (as evidenced by a few lines from the catalog Gibson stipulating that “8, 9 and 10 String instruments are made on special order – add $5.00 for each string“) – in fact, the number of these custom-order instruments can practically be counted on the fingers of both hands. In this case, the guitar offered here could well be a unique piece of its kind, its Factory Order Number including the ranking number 1 – of 1?

Astute readers will probably at this point wonder why the instrument is presented under the name EH-185 when it features the wooden body of the EH-150. In all likelihood, this is a transitional model as it was manufactured during 1938, at a time when Gibson was desperately looking for solutions that would revive the flagging sales of the EH-150. The first element to be reformed was the headstock, with the transition from a solid headstock to an slotted headstock with tuners oriented upwards “for easier tuning and for keeping the guitar from getting out of tune when put in or taken our of case” (sic). During 1939, a much more radical revision was implemented with the addition of a large metal insert made of Hyblum, screwed to the body and onto which the pickup, electronics assembly, fretboard and tuners were mounted. It is under this form that Gibson will unveil its new model of Hawaiian electric guitar, the EH-185, in the 1939 catalog.

Thus, the guitar presented here straddles the characteristics of the two models 150 and 185 – the fact that it is a custom instrument further blurs the possibilities of a certain denomination. In any case, it has all the qualities of the high-end models as produced by Gibson in the pre-war period: body entirely made of a magnificent figured maple, rosewood fingerboard decorated with dot-style position markers, a single coil pickup commonly referred to as a Charlie Christian pickup since it also appears on the Gibson ES-150, a guitar forever associated with the American jazzman, volume and tone controls, and a large slotted headstock equipped with the original Grover G-98 tuners and featuring the script-style Gibson logo inlaid in pearl above a geometric design. The instrument remains to this day in a magnificent state of conservation, and we only note a replacement of the shielded wiring connecting the potentiometers to the jack and the pickup – the electronic components and of course the pickup are perfectly original. Prepared and set-up for playing in our workshop, the guitar is currently fitted with strings for C6 playing.

Soft case included.

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