Vintage Vault: 1959 Gibson ES-5 Switchmaster
Six years after the ES-5’s debut, Gibson upgraded the model with improved switching and a trio of PAFs.

One of the finest electric archtops inspired by the L-5.

By the late 1940s, after the factory slowdowns of World War II, Gibson was once again expanding its electric guitar line. The ES-5 was introduced in 1949 as “the supreme electronic version of the famed Gibson L-5.” While the ES-5 shared the L-5’s dimensions and block fingerboard inlays, it was constructed with a laminated top, back and sides, like other Gibson electric guitars available at the time. Not until the introduction of the Super 400CES and L-5CES in 1951 would solid carved-wood archtop electrics be available as regular models.

The existing ES-300 and ES-350 models had been recently upgraded to two P-90 pickups, but the upscale ES-5 had three. Individual volume controls for each pickup let players dial in their desired blend.

Falling sales after 1952 prompted Gibson to upgrade the ES-5’s switching. The ES-5 Switchmaster was launched at the July 1955 NAMM show.

Falling sales after 1952 prompted Gibson to upgrade the ES-5’s switching. The ES-5 Switchmaster was launched at the July 1955 NAMM show. By 1958 the guitar was improved once again, this time with three “Patent Applied For” humbuckers replacing the P-90s.

The March 1959 Gibson catalog describes the features: “Arched top and back of highly figured, curly maple with matching curly maple rims – alternate black and white ivoroid binding – modern cutaway design – three-piece curly maple neck with Gibson Adjustable Truss Rod – bound rosewood fingerboard with block pearly inlays – Tune-O-Matic bridge – three powerful, humbucking pickups with individually adjustable pole pieces – separate tone and volume controls which can be preset – four-way toggle switch to activate each of the three pickups separately, in combination of any two, or all three simultaneously – gold-plated metal parts – exclusive new tailpiece design – laminated pickguard with attractive border – individual machine heads with deluxe buttons.”


An enhanced pickup selector let players choose individual pickups, or use all three simultaneously.

This pristine 1959 Switchmaster matches the original catalog description except for its Grover Rotomatic tuners, which replaced the Kluson Super tuners seen in previous years. The 1959 list price was $450. A plush-lined No. 600 Faultless case was available for an additional $52.50. The current value for this all-original-condition guitar is $12,500.

Sources for this article include Gibson Electrics: The Classic Years by A.R. Duchossoir, and the March 1959 Gibson Electric Catalog.

Rig Rundown: Adam Shoenfeld

Whether in the studio or on solo gigs, the Nashville session-guitar star holds a lotta cards, with guitars and amps for everything he’s dealt.

Adam Shoenfeld has helped shape the tone of modern country guitar. How? Well, the Nashville-based session star, producer, and frontman has played on hundreds of albums and 45 No. 1 country hits, starting with Jason Aldean’s “Hicktown,” since 2005. Plus, he’s found time for several bands of his own as well as the first studio album under his own name, All the Birds Sing, which drops January 28.

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Diatonic sequences are powerful tools. Here’s how to use them wisely.

Advanced

Beginner

• Understand how to map out the neck in seven positions.
• Learn to combine legato and picking to create long phrases.
• Develop a smooth attack—even at high speeds.

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Knowing how to function in different keys is crucial to improvising in any context. One path to fretboard mastery is learning how to move through positions across the neck. Even something as simple as a three-note-per-string major scale can offer loads of options when it’s time to step up and rip. I’m going to outline seven technical sequences, each one focusing on a position of a diatonic major scale. This should provide a fun workout for the fingers and hopefully inspire a few licks of your own.
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