The Future of Archtop Guitars for Jazz

I recently published a post on Jazz Boxes for the Masses which was about lower cost, big jazz archtops. Since then I’ve been thinking about all those great (and not low cost) guitars from Gibson: the L5-ces, L4-ces, ES-175, the Super 400 and the rest. These are iconic guitars in the jazz world and still very much in demand by jazz guitarists. However, the number of people playing or listening to jazz is declining. Jazz guitars are not big sellers. 

It’s not just jazz guitar that is in trouble. Guitars are not selling the way they did when I was growing up. Guitar Center sales are down. So are Gibson Guitars’s sales. Gibson has come out of bankruptcy while the Guitar Center is still trying to repay loans. 

The good news is the primary reason Gibson went into bankruptcy wasn’t the decline in guitar sales, though that had to have hurt. The reason was the former management of the company attempted to diversify into home audio and ended up with debt from the companies they bought which didn’t perform the way Gibson hoped. Now that the company is out of bankruptcy with new management, they are concentrating on their strengths and coming out with golden-era, historic and modern interpretations of their popular guitars. Good for Gibson. I want the company to survive. My first decent guitar was a Gibson and I’ve owned three Epiphones. But, at least for now, that seems to bad for anyone looking for a hollow-body, archtop guitar by Gibson.

When I took a look at the Gibson website (on 2019-12-19) the only hollow-body archtop I could find was the Chuck Berry 1955 ES-350T. It’s a beautiful guitar with the classic ES350 short scale (about 23.5 inches) and two P90 pickups. The price listed is $1 less than $10,000 and only 50 guitars were made—none in stock from Gibson. 

Happy Birthday Chuck Berry! Gibson is proud to present this first-ever Chuck Berry signature model, a replica of his…

Posted by Gibson Custom on Friday, October 18, 2019

Searching instead at online music retailers, including the Guitar Center, there are no new Gibson L5-ces or ES-175 guitars in stock, only used. Sweetwater.com says they can get the L5 from Gibson but I wonder if they can. If so, it is new old stock because Gibson has abandoned this market (at least for now).

I can’t fault Gibson too much for concentrating their efforts on selling the guitars that are most desired by today’s players. Les Pauls, SGs, other solid body guitars and ES series guitars with a center block are what the young guitarists want. But those iconic jazz boxes don’t seem to be on the short term horizon from Gibson. Instead, a small number of models from Epiphone is the closest you will get to a Gibson archtop hollow-body. Epiphone Joe Pass Emperor II and the Broadway are the main choices. The recent Epiphone version of the ES-175 is out of production.

Which brings me to the same conclusion I stated in my previous post on big archtops. Eastman, Ibanez, Peerless and D’Angelico are covering the moderate price range of archtop guitars. If you want to $10,000 guitar and can’t find a used or new old stock, your best bet is a luthier who can build you your custom guitar. 

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