Gibson Memphis ES-275 Figured
By Phil O'Keefe |
Gibson Memphis ES-275 Figured
Is this the next great Gibson hollowbody model?
by Phil O'Keefe
When you mention Gibson (in the interests of full disclosure, Harmony Central is an independent division of Gibson Brands), the first thing that comes to mind for many guitarists is their SG and Les Paul models; being two of the most popular guitar designs in history, this isn't surprising. But Gibson's electric guitar legacy goes further than just their solidbody guitars, and in fact their semi-hollowbody and hollowbody models have been and remain very popular with musicians in a wide variety of styles. Let's take a look at one of the more recent hollowbody designs to come out of Memphis, the Gibson ES-275 Figured.
- The ES-275 is a new model from Gibson Memphis and like all of their hollowbody models, it's made not in Nashville, but a bit further southwest in Memphis. It is hand built in the USA.
- The ES-275 is a true archtop guitar and features a full hollowbody with a single rounded Venetian cutaway and two unbound f-holes. The inspiration for the ES-275's flowing lines lies in Gibson's classic L-5, which was the first f-hole guitar ever made. The body of the ES-275 retains the basic shape of a modern L-5 CES, but it is about 10% smaller in length and width. It measures just a bit over 15" wide across the lower bout, which is less than the 17" body on an L-5 CES, and really noticeable when you hold it.
- The body is also fairly shallow compared to an L-5, measuring only 2" thick. Gibson calls it a mid-depth body.
- The wood used for the body is a three-ply laminate of maple, poplar and maple, with AAA figured maple used on the exterior. Inside, mahogany is used for the head and tail blocks, and the bracing is similar to what you'll find in a Gibson ES-175.
- The top has a seven-ply white/black binding, while a three-ply binding is used for the back.
- The review unit is finished in what Gibson calls Dark Vintage Natural, but it's also available in Montreux Burst, which is similar to a dark two-tone tobacco sunburst. Regardless of the color you pick, the finish is gloss nitrocellulose lacquer.
- A bound faux tortoise shell pickguard comes pre-mounted on the guitar. The pickguard binding is stark white, in contrast to the rest of the binding, which is more yellowed.
- Being a true hollowbody, the ES-275 Figured is a light guitar, weighing in and just a hair under seven pounds.
- The 24.75" scale set neck is one piece mahogany, which is stained a dark cherry color and finished with nitrocellulose lacquer. It joins the body at the 16th fret, giving excellent access to the upper frets. The neck profile is a rounded C shape that is very comfortable. The thickness measures 0.850" at the first fret according to my digital calipers, and at 1.690" wide at the (bone) nut it's not too wide or narrow either.
- The neck uses Gibson's historic truss rod, and the truss rod cover is the usual "bell" shape, with a F-hole lightly engraved into it. The nut is bone.
- Visually the neck reminds me of a Les Paul Custom neck; with genuine mother of pearl block position markers and MOP split diamond and Gibson logo headstock inlays, it's very classy looking. The headstock has a 17 degree angle, and is surrounded by five ply binding.
- The fingerboard has a 12" radius and is Richlite, which is a composite made from recycled paper and phenolic resin. I had been playing the guitar for a good two weeks before I noticed, and it was only on close inspection that I could tell it wasn't ebony like I originally thought. The sound and playing feel are nearly indistinguishable. Richlite also has other benefits, such as being renewable and having increased stability and resistance to warping, cracking or chipping when it's refretted. Of course, with 22 cryogenically treated medium jumbo frets that resist wear, you probably won't need to have this guitar refretted any time soon.
- The fingerboard is bound, with black dot side markers. The fingerboard binding is rolled, which gives the neck a comfortable, broken-in feel. The gold plated tuning machines are smooth and precise Grover Rotomatics with an 18:1 ratio.
- At the other end the strings are anchored in a gold plated zig-zag trapeze tailpiece, and a gold plated ABR-1 bridge with titanium saddles and rosewood base allows for full intonation adjustability.
- The guitar is set up with the PLEK system, so the nut slots and fret dressing and height are outstanding, as is the intonation. The action on the review unit was perfectly set too, which contributes to the ES-275 Figured's great playability.
- The electronics package in the ES-275 Figured consists of two top mounted, full-sized MHS humbuckers with gold covers. These are scatter-wound PAF style pickups. They're slightly under-wound, with unbalanced coils. The neck pickup has 4,900 wraps on the screw side coil, and 5,100 on the slug side, while the bridge pickup is wound a bit hotter with 5,200 / 5,400 wraps. DC resistance is 7.5kOhm for the neck and 8kOhm for the bridge unit. The bridge pickup uses AlNiCo II magnets while AlNiCo III is used in the neck pickup.
- Full-sized 500k CTS linear pots are used all around for the individual volume and tone controls for each pickup, as well as orange drop (.02mF bridge, .015mF neck) capacitors. There's also a three-way pickup selector switch mounted in a rubber grommet on the upper bout. The knobs are gold "top hats" and have the more modern (read: pain-free) rounded dial pointers. The 1/4" output jack is mounted on the side of the guitar.
- Each Gibson Memphis ES-275 Figured comes with a signed Certificate of Authenticity and a hardshell case.
- When I first opened it up, the interior of the case was liberally littered with sawdust and tiny wood fragments.
- There is a slight bit of bleed from the red aniline neck dye on the binding in a couple of places on the bass side of the headstock and neck. This is minor, and it is not uncommon to see a bit of this on vintage Gibsons from the 1950s too.
Love the Gibson L-5? Who doesn't? It's a legendary guitar with a reputation that is rivaled by few others… but it's not ideal for everyone, especially if you're looking for a somewhat more compact and comfortable instrument to play or want extended note range and upper fret access. Enter the Gibson Memphis ES-275 Figured. It retains the same basic shape as the L-5 and a lot of the upscale style but with a body that's slightly smaller and thinner, it's a much more pleasant instrument to play. Coupled with the extended range, 22-fret neck, it also offers better upper fret access and note range than most jazz guitars do too.
While it's considerably less expensive than an L-5 CES, you certainly aren't giving up anything in the looks department. The figuring on the ES-275's wood is alive with flame and vibe, and it's not just the top - the entire body is equally flamed, and the dark vintage natural-lacquer finish really makes it pop. The gold-plated hardware against the natural finish works really well too, while the zig-zag trapeze tailpiece adds a dash of art deco whimsy.
The MHS humbuckers have a nice clear, yet warm sound to them, and while there's plenty of level, they're not overly hot in output, as is fitting for a guitar of this type. The ES-275 Figured is great for jazz, but it's a more versatile-sounding guitar than you might think - while most people aren't going to view this as a rock guitar, it does better than I expected it would at medium gain tones, and resisted feedback better than I initially assumed it would.
The Richlite fingerboard is the only area of the guitar that I suspect will be controversial for some players, but having been fooled by it for two weeks and playing it for considerably longer, I'm now convinced - it looks, sounds and feels very similar to ebony. The liberal sprinkling of wood debris inside the case was a bummer initially, but in five years you'll still be playing and loving this guitar and will probably have long forgotten the five minutes you had to spend vacuuming out the case when you first got it. Still, this is something that Gibson Memphis is aware of and I'm told they've taken steps to alleviate the issues, so hopefully you won't have to deal with it at all.
One personal note. While I was at the 2017 Winter NAMM Show I ran into my friend (and former editor) Mitch Gallagher at the Gibson booth. Mitch is a Grammy award winner, a highly talented guitarist, and is currently the editorial director at Sweetwater - so he gets to check out a lot of gear. While we were chatting about what we liked at the show I asked him which guitar he'd pick if he could take home any guitar that was on display in the booth. Without hesitation he said the ES-275 Figured. It was apparent from our conversation that he was as impressed with the guitar as I am. Shortly after NAMM I heard that he had in fact purchased one. That says a lot about this guitar. If you're looking for an upscale hollow body electric guitar, the impressive ES-275 Figured should be on your audition short list too. Like Mitch, you might find yourself taking one of these classy-sounding, great-playing guitars home. -HC-
Gibson Memphis ES-275 Figured ($4,249.00 MSRP, $4,099.00 "street")
Gibson's product web page
You can purchase the Gibson Custom ES-275 Figured from:
The Gibson Memphis ES-275 Figured in this video is the one that Mitch ended up purchasing.
Have questions about this review? Want to discuss the Gibson Memphis ES-275 Figured? Then head over to this thread in the Electric Guitar forum right here on Harmony Central.
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.