Take a quick glance at the Gibson Memphis ES-275 and you might think this is a venerable Gibson from decades past – except it’s a brand-new model. Crafted at the guitar maker’s Memphis facility, this hollowbody cleverly merges ideas from the company’s hallowed past into a fresh and interesting thinline animal.
Like the L-5 archtop, this box has a rounded Venetian cutaway, but sports a body that’s just 2″ thick for comfort and fretboard access. The neck has Gibson’s classic 24.75″ scale and a full-feeling and extremely comfortable profile called a Rounded C. The “rolled” fingerboard binding is meant to simulate the edges of a guitar that’s been played for years, while a tubeless Historic truss rod provides added sustain. Most folks will key in on the ES-275’s tone, playability, and (before they even pick it up) looks. That includes the Richlite fingerboard (with 12″ radius) and rich nitro finishes.
Two test models arrived in Gibson’s Faded Cherry and flamed-maple Dark Vintage Natural (there’s also the vintage-looking Montreux Burst).
The ES-275’s truly hollow body is a laminate of maple and poplar with a set mahogany neck that joins the body at the sixteenth fret. The eighteenth fret is reached with ease. The more utilitarian Faded Cherry axe had a black pickguard and knobs with a three-ply binding, nickel hardware, split-parallelogram inlays (like an ES-345), trapeze tailpiece, and a plain black headstock featuring the Gibson crown inlay. The Natural had a tortoiseshell guard, gold vintage knobs, gold hardware, triple binding, and elegant accoutrements more like a Les Paul Custom – notably mother-of-pearl block inlays and fancier headstock details and tailpiece.
For electronics, both boxes featured two MHS humbuckers with Gibson’s standard dual Tone and Volume controls (using CTS 500k pots), and the three-way toggle located on the upper bout. The MHS ’buckers are purported to sound like vintage PAFs and, no doubt, they’re very good. Last, look for a bone nut, Kluson tulip tuners, and titanium saddles fixed to a traditional ABR-1 Tune-O-Matic bridge.
Plugged into tube and solid-state amps, both ES-275s were spry performers. It would be a disservice to say these are merely jazz or blues instruments. Honestly, they could cover most of what you’re probably looking for, from sparkling clean to raunchy honky-tonk guitar. Sure, dial in all sorts of jazz sounds with the tone knob down and neck pickup on – or pop it to the middle or bridge for hot blues, roots-rock, or country pickin’. The guitars arrived set up with lighter strings, making Ted Nugent-meets-Byrdland crunch quite possible as well.
One thing plainly evident was how bright, warm, and clear the MHS humbuckers were. These pickups verily sparkled, making each note pop. Another signal of fine construction and design was how big the high B and E strings sounded, even with the light-gauge strings. Overall, the ES-275s from Gibson Memphis are extremely well built instruments, from tailpin to headstock.
Indeed, the Gibson Memphis ES-275 is a winning combination of past designs forged into a compelling new look. Even if you blink at the expense, the street prices are actually competitive with vintage and more recent Gibson Byrdlands, making the concern moot. You might be able to buy a cheaper thinbody single-cut, but the ES-275 is a real-deal Gibson, full of history, style, craftsmanship, and modernity. That’s something you simply can’t duplicate.
This article originally appeared in VG January 2017 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.