Bluesman BB King had been endorsing Gibson guitars throughout the 1960s and 70s, but it was not until 1981 that his signature "Lucille" model was finally available. In fact King had been playing the existing top-of-the-range thinline, the ES-355TDSV for quite some time (he talks about the stereo 355 here) but would stuff paper into the f-holes to reduce feedback. The BB King Standard and BB King Custom had no f-hole.
The first mention of a signature model appears in an article about BB from the Gibson '79 promotional magazine:
One name is always associated with him, though. It's Lucille. From the beginning, B.B. King has played Gibsons. He has made the Gibson ES-3S5 famous. He now plays a custom model that Gibson made specially for him, it is called Lucille and is one of a kind. As he did more than 30 years ago, B.B. King helps make the Gibson name great.
The BB King Custom and Standard were first included in price lists in April 1981, alongside the ES-355TDSV. The list price of the Custom was $1789, followed by the ES-355TDSV at $1599, finally the BB King Standard at $1389. The first two had gold-plated hardware, block inlays, and ebony fingerboard and a varitone control, the latter was simpler, with chrome hardware and dot inlays. The the final inclusion in a price list of the ES-355TD SV was 1st January 1982 however, and in many ways the BB King Custom "Lucille" superceded it. These were expensive guitars, but were produced to a very high standard at the legendary Gibson Kalamazoo plant, in Michigan, USA.
The precise differences and specifications for these three models are summarised below.
The following description of the BB King Custom comes from the 1983 Gibson catalog:
BB King Custom "Lucille" Body Arched maple top and back with matching rims • Double venetian cutaway • Top and back bound in multiple black/white binding • Gold plated TP-6 fine-tuning tailpiece • Full maple center block for additional sustain and high frequency response • Adjustable gold-plated Tune-O-Matic bridge, solidly mounted on two 5/8" brass studs ("Sustain Sisters") for added sustain and high frequency response • Multiple bound shell-type finger rest • Two gold plated "Pat. Appl. For" humbucking pickups with individual volume and tone controls • Three position pickup selector switch (individual or both pickups simultaneously) • Stereo wiring with dual output jacks. (Both jacks for stereo, rear jack only for standard monophonic operation) • Six position varitone control for additional tonal capabilities • "Posi-lok" strap buttons. Body size length 18 5/16", Width 16", depth 1 3/4"
Nick Maple neck construction • SP-2 peg head with mother of pearl inlaid Lucille head veneer • Solid brass fingerboard nut • Width at first fret 1 11/16" • Ebony fingerboard with pearl block inlays and corresponding side dots • Bound peghead and fingerboard • Deluxe gold-plated Gibson "crank" fast string winding machine heads • Gibson truss rod with polished brass "B.B. King" inscribed bell-shaped truss rod cover. 22 frets • 24 3/4" scale length
Once the BB King Standard was dropped from the line in 1984, the price of the Custom was slashed to just $1499, but still a hefty price for the early 1980s.
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