What are the most important characteristics when judging a guitar? I’d say tone, followed by feel and then appearance. You might judge these differently. What most guitar players would probably agree is that differences in quantitatively measured characteristics are near the bottom of our list in importance – maybe they aren’t even on the list. I know that but I am a retired scientist and I can’t help myself when it comes to exploring quantitative parameters of guitars – things like nut widths or scale lengths or guitar weights. Which brings me to today’s topic: Weights of Gibson ES-175 guitars.
I recently purchased an Eastman AR371-CE guitar. This guitar is similar in many respects to a Gibson ES-175. The marketing text used by a number of merchants compares the Eastman guitar to the Gibson ES-175s made in the 1950s and 1960s because (among other things) it is built more lightly than current Gibson ES-175 models. I wondered how much of a difference is there in the weights? Thanks to a number online merchants of vintage 1 and new instruments 2 who post the weights of specific guitars they sell, I was able to retrieve weight data and make a comparison.
Before I discuss the above results I want to remind you of some reasons different guitars of the same model may not weigh the same. One simple reason which you might observe in the chart is the hardware is different. Two pickups weigh more than one and humbucker pickups (PAF) are not the same as P90s and shouldn’t be expected to weigh the same. But there might be other factors.
- Environmental: Guitars (wood) that have sat in high humidity will adsorb moisture and weight more than guitars that have been left in dry conditions.
- Construction and finishing details may vary from guitar to guitar. How much glue was used? How thick of a finish was applied?
- Differences among different pieces of lumber that are used in the construction of the guitar. You can sometimes see the grain is tighter or straighter in some guitar tops than others. Although you can’t visually see it, some piecers of wood are denser (heavier) than others.
- Finally, there are changes in design over time. The thickness of the wood or laminated wood used may be different in some model years.
Now for a discussion of the results. First, as a scientist I have to point out that there aren’t enough data points to draw any solid conclusions. The results are interesting and suggestive, but not definitive. Since my audience probably only cares minimally about science (if at all), I won’t let the lack of sufficient data stop me from making some statements:
- The first statement is whatever else you think about the graph, it is fairly clear that the current standard version of the ES-175 (New) weighs considerably more than any of the other variations shown. The caveat is this is based on only three new ES-175 weights.
- A second observation is that there is a lot of overlap between the vintage and reissue versions of the ES-175 and the number and kind of pickup isn’t a perfect predictor of how much the guitar will weigh. For example, there is one dual pickup (PAF) reissue that weighs the same as the two lightest single pickup PAF reissues. The only vintage dual P90 ES-175 listed weighs less than any of the one or 2 PAF pickup reissue models. In other words, much of the weight variation is coming from something other than hardware. I would guess it’s coming from the wood itself.
Now for the hard part. What does it mean? If anything?
Maybe nothing. If you own one of these guitars, regardless of year or any other parameter – if you love it and it sounds wonderful to you then it is wonderful. You can’t argue with that.
Many people believe that more lightly constructed guitars are more resonant. They are more alive acoustically. But I doubt there has been much blindfold A/B testing to prove this translates into something anyone can hear. It might be true – but…
Then there is the issue of whether being acoustically alive is a good thing. If you play your guitar loudly on stage, you know about the feedback problems all hollow body guitars have. A thicker, stiffer top that is not so alive should allow you to play at higher volumes before feedback kicks in. But I also doubt many have done A/B testing of say a new ES-175 with the thicker top and heavier body versus a vintage or reissue model and measured the decibel levels at which feedback begins. Is there a significant difference? How about on your amp settings. Is the volume control several whole numbers higher on a new ES-175 before feedback starts? I don’t know. Do you? It’s a theoretical difference and should translate into something measurable, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a very big difference.
The bottom line is the geek in me enjoys looking at numbers. But guitar weights will never “sell” me on a guitar. It’s all about the sound.
One last thing: If you’ve actually done any A/B tests of vintage vs. new ES-175s, I’d be interested in hearing how you did the test and what the results were. You can inform me and other readers by posting a comment to this post. Thanks.