I received my Gibson ES 175 as a gift three years ago. I had owned and played many guitars – dozens – up to that time, but I don’t think I ever fell in love so quickly with an instrument.
To my eyes, it recalls generations of the finest jazz musicians to hold a guitar. In my hands, it feels solid, stalwart. Like it has something to say. And to my ears, it produces some of the most remarkably beautiful sounds I have ever heard.
It is enough, sometimes, to play a single note, or sustain a single chord. Music seems to fall out of it effortlessly, as if I had nothing to do with it. There is a reason that the ES 175 is an icon, the workhorse of jazz guitar.
I have performed with it many times in the last three years, and have recorded an album with it, and it has never failed me. It has never failed to impress. It has never failed to make playing the music I play that much easier, and that much more joyful.
There are more expensive archtop guitars, and there are less expensive archtop guitars, but – when I want to play in a certain way, when I want to achieve a certain sound – there is no guitar I would rather have in my hands than my Gibson ES 175.
Gibson ES-175 Review | How It Sounds
The sound of the Gibson ES 175 is iconic.
It is the sound of many of the great jazz players. Joe Pass played a 175, and Pat Metheny’s early work was all recorded on a 175.
Jazz legend Joe Pass plays his ES 175
The tone is warm and round, but never dull. It is rather bell-like. It sounds clean and articulate, but also has an indefinable airy quality. When I want to play jazz, there is no better guitar to deliver the sound I’m looking for than the 175.
But the ES 175 is more than just a jazz box. It works well for fusion, blues, and rock as well. While traditionally played unaffected, the addition of stomp boxes can do some very interesting things to the sound of the guitar.
It can take distortion, overdrive, or compression rather well, and when pushed a little, it has a distinct sound – completely unlike solid-body guitars.
Because of its laminate construction, the ES 175 is better at taking distortion than most archtops (see the Dot Archtop as an example), and so it has been the choice of more than one rock guitarist.
Generally, people play the 175 with the tone and volume rolled back a little, giving it a warm, clean sound. But I often push it a little – maxing out both its volume and tone – which produces a sound that is, while less traditional, wonderful to my ears.
What I don’t like about my Gibson ES 175
There are very few things I don’t like about my ES 175, but here are a few for your consideration:
- The acoustic tone of the ES-175 leaves something to be desired. Both because it has a laminate top and because its pickups are set into its body (rather than floating), the unplugged sound of the instrument is rather dull and lifeless. Some other archtops can be played acoustic as well as plugged in, but that isn’t the case with the ES 175.
- Because it is a hollow-body guitar, the ES 175 has feedback issues. When played at high volumes, and especially when overdriven, it feeds back quite easily. This can be mitigated by careful use of a volume pedal, but it can be a minor pain nonetheless. That said, its feedback problems are not as severe as many other hollow-body guitars due to its laminate top.
- The ES 175 is slightly more ‘electric’ sounding than other archtops, probably due to its construction. In other words, it sounds less natural, less woody, than some other guitars. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – the sound of this guitar is recognizable and quite desirable – but sometimes, when I’m looking for a very natural sound, it is hard to dial in with the 175.
Gibson ES 175 vs Epiphone ES 175
There is an Epiphone version of the ES 175 that is much less expensive than Gibson’s offering. It is a quite impressive instrument, featuring essentially the same construction as the Gibson model. There are, however, some areas in which it is predictably inferior:
- The hardware on the Epiphone is less sturdy, and in general not of the same quality as the hardware on the Gibson. This may not be a major issue for a lot of people, but it affects the overall consistency and tone of the instrument.
- The wood is of slightly lower quality on the Epiphone. Again, the principle issue here is one of tone – inferior wood means a sound that is slightly less rich, less complex, less nuanced. That isn’t to say the the Epiphone ES 175 is incapable of producing truly great tones, just that it may be harder to dial in just what you’re looking for.
- The pickups on the Epiphone are slightly different, meaning the sound will be a bit different, and perhaps a little less recognizable. Once again, this doesn’t mean that the sound of the Epiphone is worse, only that it is a little bit different.
- Overall, the Epiphone ES 175 is a great guitar, and very similar to the Gibson model. There something intangible is missing from it, however. And that’s what you buy when you buy Gibson – something intangible: quality that only comes from over a century of making high-quality archtop guitars.
Conclusion | Gibson ES 175 Review
The bottom line is that the Gibson ES 175 is iconic for a reason.
It is a gorgeous, beautiful sounding instrument that, at least to my hands, feels like it plays itself. It is maybe the most well known jazz guitar, and is impressively adept at working as a blues, rock, or fusion guitar as well.
If I lost my 175, I would feel as though I needed to replace it as soon as possible.