In the '30s, Gibson was the first company to manufacture a commercially viable hollowbody electric guitar. Famously played by Charlie Christian, the ES-150 was highly influential on the further development of the electric guitar. When you consider where the electric guitar went in the following decades, the ES or "Electric Spanish" guitar has greatly overshadowed the other two electric guitars pioneered by Gibson during the '30s. Even though they didn't catch on in the same way, the EH-100 Hawaiian electric and EST-150 electric tenor are both fascinating prewar artifacts. They're also great-playing instruments constructed during the golden years of Kalamazoo Gibson.
Released in 1937—just a few months behind the ES-150—the Gibson EST-150 is almost identical to the ES-150, except it sports a four-string neck and appropriate 23" scale. It features the same 16-1/4" wide body, constructed with a carved Spruce top that is x-braced and a flat Maple back. It has the same slender f-holes, the same sunburst top and single-ply binding appointments. The EST-150 even sports the same curious tailpiece-mounted input jack and of course the famous Charlie Christian blade pickup. In many ways, the eye-catching Charlie Christian pickup is perhaps what makes the ES-150 most famous, and the rich, deep tones it produces set the standard for the electric archtop sound.
This 1939 Gibson EST-150 has been beautifully preserved over the years, and it is currently set up for low g tuning like an octave mandolin. While it shows the heavy weather checking and the expected wear of 80+ years, this old tenor is in nice cosmetic condition. There is a small repaired crack on the bass f-hole, but it is otherwise free of breaks, structural repairs, or other issues. The electronics are original and function like they should. The bridge has been replaced with a high-quality ebony bridge that is adjustable, and the pickguard is missing, but otherwise all the parts are original.
As for playability, the Brazilian Rosewood fingerboard appears to have been refretted in the past. It plays clean with low action, but there's not a ton of fret wire to work with for future adjustment. Fortunately, there are no deep gouges or divots, so it plays well at present. The nut may have been replaced at some point early in the guitar's life, or it may be that the original nut has been reworked and re-glued at some point along the way.
When you plug it in, this '39 EST-150 sings with a deep, wooly low-end presence you won't expect from a Tenor. Add a little Reverb or delay, and it's easy to get inspired and lost in the wide-open tenor sound. It includes its original case, but—be forewarned—you'll need be careful because the original handle is on its last leg. This EST-150 is an incredible piece of prewar Gibson ephemera, but it's also a playable tenor with inspiring tone.