When it comes to traditional hollow body jazz guitars, Gibson’s guitars are the long standing model others are generally compared to. What I call a small jazz guitar, that is a guitar with a lower bout of about 16 inches or less, was the standard size for most acoustic archtops until the need for louder guitars caused companies to make 17″ and wider jazz guitars.
The evolution ofup to the ES-175 which is the model for many electric jazz guitars goes like this:
1912: Gibson introduces the L4 with a 16″ wide body. The guitar, although an archtop, had a round sound hole and a trapeze tailpiece.
1949: The Gibson L4-C was introduced with a Florentine cutaway and 16″ lower bout width. It had double parallelogram position markers and a laminated maple body. It looked like an ES-175 but was fully acoustic (no pickups) and had a carved spruce top.
The same year saw the introduction of the ES-175. It’s specifications (then and now) actually shows a 16 1/4″ body width. The entire body is made from laminated maple. Originally, it came with a single P90 pickup. In 1953 it came with two P90s and in 1957 it finally came with two humbucker pickups as most know it now.
1958: The L4-CES was introduced. This is the electric version of the L4-C and looks similar to an ES-175 but with a carved top and fancier hardware.
Sadly for jazz guitarists and others who still love hollow body archtops, jazz is no longer king and Gibson has not done anything innovative or new in these guitars for a long time. The only new thing Gibson comes out with are re-issue variations on the old. If you think Gibson is a conservative company who doesn’t do much new anywhere you’d be mostly correct. But they have come out with the ES-339 semi-hollow with a smaller body than the ES-335. Epiphone has done even more by taking this guitar and adding a neck pickup for acoustic sounds and USB outputs.
The following small jazz guitars are currently in production from Gibson or it’s subsidiary, Epiphone.
Gibson L4-CES. The current model is officially named the L-4 CES Mahogany. The body is mahogany instead of maple as in the original version of the guitar. It has a tuneamatic bridge instead of wood. The advantage is of course the ability to set the intonation of each string. The disadvantage often mentioned is the increased mass of a metal bridge somewhat negates the acoustic advantage of a carved spruce top. The hardware is gold and the tailpiece is fancier than an ES-175, but first glance you might mistake it for the ES-175. The estimated price is $4600. (See Gibson L4-CES at Sam Ash)
. This is the classic small working jazz guitar. It has an laminated maple body and chrome hardware. It is available in sunburst or natural. The estimated price is $3600. Over recent years, there have been a number of variations at different prices. They are all basically the same (but obviously not quite the same). Beware you may find the Steve Howe model or a custom model for a higher price.
The image below links to Music123 if you want to compare it to other guitars.
Epiphone ES-175. A much lower cost alternative to the genuine Gibson ES-175 is the Epiphone version of the guitar. The top, back and sides are made from laminated maple. The big difference in the wood from the Gibson is this is not flamed maple. The hardware is chromed (nickel plated) as for the Gibson but less expensive versions of everything. The Gibson has a mahogany neck while the Epiphone neck is maple. Like all Gibson and Epiphone listed here, the scale length is 24 3/4″ and the nut with is 1 11/16″. Of course the big difference is price. Estimated price for the Epiphone is currently (April 2012) $400 but does not include a case. Even adding in case, you’ll pay less than about 15% of the price of the Gibson.
Epiphone Joe Pass Emperor II. The last small jazz guitar in the Gibson & Epiphone lineup is the Joe Pass model from Epiphone. This was originally the Emperor II and at some point they added Joe’s name to the guitar as an endorser. Joe Pass played Gibson ES-175 guitars (and others) but I have found no evidence that he actually ever played this guitar.
That said, I’ve always liked the looks of the Joe Pass model and until Epiphone introduced the ES-175 re-issue, the Joe Pass was one of the best values in a small jazz guitar. The major differences from the Epiphone ES-175 are a spruce top with a rosewood bridge for a more acoustic sound; a Venetian cutaway instead of the Florentine cutaway on an ES-175; and gold hardware. The guitar is available in natural or sunburst. The estimated price is $600. No case for that price.