The Gibson ES-175 is a classic jazz guitar. With a 16″ body it’s the benchmark for what I regard as a small jazz guitar. But with a price in the range around $4000, it’s not inexpensive. If you want the solid top model with upscale hardware – the L4CES, then you’d better set aside more than $10,000. Here are four alternatives in the mid-price range – which for today’s definition is about $700 to $1200 when you include a hardshell case.
The first alternative I suggest is the Eastman AR372CE. Its current list price is about $1200 but I’ve seen it offered for under $900 in stores. Of the four guitars I am suggesting, this is the closest to the genuine ES-175 specifications. It has the same 16″ body, laminated maple top, back and sides and Florentine (sharp point) cutaway. There is also a single pickup model, the AR371CE. Eastman Guitars have an excellent reputation and it would be difficult to do better if you want an ES-175 design but can’t afford the Gibson price. The bad news is Eastman guitars aren’t widely distributed. None of the big-name web stores carry it. There are two local shops in my area (greater Boston) that are authorized dealers. That means you’ll either have to travel to find the guitar or order from a small shop with online sales.
One feature I like about this guitar and most Eastman guitars is they have a 1 3/4 inch nut width. This is just slightly larger than the more typical 1 11/16 inch widths of most Gibson guitars. It’s not much but it gives your fingers more room on the fingerboard.
Godin 5th Avenue Jazz
Godin introduced the 5th Avenue line of archtop electrics some years ago and they quickly earned top reviews. Most of the earlier models came with P90 pickups in a rather plain package. Nothing wrong with that. If you wanted the single coil P90 sound in an archtop that seemed to suggest student/working musician Gibson models of years ago, they were great. Checkout the Kingpin models of the 5th Avenue line. The 5th Avenue Jazz has the same shape but is quite a bit different. These are made in Canada. This model has flamed maple top, back and sides but the back and sides are a laminate with Canadian cherry wood as the core. The body width is 16″, the same as an ES-175. The fingerboard is Ebony. It only comes with a single floating mini-humbucker pickup. It’s clearly not an ES-175 but it may be just what you need. Suggested price is about $1200.
Epiphone Joe Pass Emperor II
Joe Pass often played a Gibson ES-175. The Epiphone model named for him shares some similarities to that guitar. The current model also has some differences. Instead of a laminated maple it has a spruce top (I presume it is laminated since it doesn’t specify that it is a solid top). It is also a lot less expensive than a Gibson ES-175 or even the Eastman and Godin models above. With hard case the price is about $700.
Ibanez makes a number of hollow-body archtop guitars that could be alternatives to the Gibson ES-175. For example, the AG-75 is smaller but is made from all laminated maple just like the ES-175. But I’ve decided to feature the AFJ95. The body width is 15 3/4 – closer to the Gibson or Epiphone. The top is spruce, which makes this more an alternative to the Joe Pass model above – which is still an alternative to the ES-175. The price is also similar to the Epiphone at about $700 when you include a hard shell case. This model has Ibanez Super 58 humbucker pickups which are the Ibanez answer to Gibson PAF pickups.
If you love 7-string jazz guitarists and guitars then you’ll love the 7 string model of this guitar, the AFJ957. It is the lowest price production model 7 string archtop, hollow body jazz guitar I know of. A great value if you want to explore the styles of George Van Epps, Bucky Pizzarelli or Howard Alden.