The Tal Farlow is one guitar in a quartet of full-depth Gibson Artists models first cataloged in the early 1960s. Introduced in ’62, it was based on the ES-350 – the guitar Farlow used with Red Norvo and his own trio in the mid ’50s. A truly professional instrument, built in the tradition of ’50s Gibson electric archtops, the Tal Farlow met with only mild success, perhaps not only because Farlow had retired from active playing almost six years previously, but because the era of full-depth archtops was coming to a close.
Though top-line guitars like the L-5CES, the Johnny Smith, and the modestly priced ES-175 sold well, the real action in Gibson’s stable was the semi-solid thinlines, the pinnacle of the company’s electric-guitar development in reality, if not catalog prestige.
Like the ES-250 and the ES-350 Farlow played in the ’40s and ’50s, the Tal Farlow is 17” wide, full depth (at 3”, not the usual 3 3/8”), and constructed of laminated maple. The woods usually have figure ranging from a subtle quilt to gorgeous tiger stripes. The Venetian cutaway used a strip of binding materail on top to give the cutaway a scroll effect. The four-point pickguard is cut to follow the line of the cutaway and accent the scroll. The other distinguishing appointments are less ambitious; position markers are J-200-style crests inlaid upside-down on the rosewood fingerboard, and the headstock ornament is two crowns in mirror image. Hardware is standard Gibson for the period. The tailpiece is the heavy trapeze type, again hinting at its ES-350 heritage, and this has a wood insert with the model name engraved on a plaque. The humbucking pickups were mounted into the top and wired in the classic two-Volume/two-Tone/toggle-switch harness. Tune-O-Matic bridge and Kluson Sealfast tuners completed the package. Originally, hardware was nickel-plated, then chrome-plating appeared in 1965. The only finish listed in the catalog was Viceroy Brown.
Today, the Tal Farlow is the rarest of the ’60s archtop Artist models. Peak production was in ’65, when 77 guitars were shipped. In contrast, Gibson shipped 1,750 ES-335s that year. Though it wasn’t officially discontinued until 1971, no Tal Farlows were shipped after ’67. Total production was 215 units. Gibson reissued the Tal Farlow in 1993.
This article originally appeared in VG Classics #01 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.