GIBSON | BB KING "LUCILLE"

Gibson BB King Custom and Standard

BB Kings signature model, BB King Custom & BB King Standard

BB King on the cover of the 1975 Gibson Thinline catalogue
BB King on the cover of the 1975 Gibson Thinline catalogue playing an ES-355TDSV
BB King Custom Lucille

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in a price list of the ES-355TD SV was 1st January 1982 however, and in many ways the BB King Custom "Lucille" superceded it.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.

Gibson BB King Lucille vs ES-355TD-SV

The precise differences and specifications for these three models are summarised below.

1981 ES-355TD-SV spec sheet
Model: Gibson ES-355TD-SV (1981 model)
Available: 1958-1981
Body: Maple top, back and sides, with f-holes
Neck: Laminated maple, ebony fingerboard, block inlays. 22 frets, 24 3/4" scale. Split-diamond headstock inlay
Hardware: Gold plated: TP6 tailpiece; Gibson humbuckers; 6 position varitone; "Crank" machine heads
Finishes: Antique Sunburst, Wine Red, Walnut
1981 BB King Custom
Model: Gibson BB King Custom
Available: 1981-1985
Body: Maple top, back and sides, without f-holes
Neck: Laminated maple, ebony fingerboard, block inlays. 22 frets, 24 3/4" scale. "Lucille" headstock inlay
Hardware: Gold plated: TP6 tailpiece, positioned further back from the bridge; Gibson humbuckers; 6 position varitone; "Crank" machine heads
Finishes: Ebony, Cherry
1981 BB King Standard
Model: Gibson BB King Standard
Available: 1981-1983
Body: Maple top, back and sides, without f-holes
Neck: Laminated maple, rosewood fingerboard, dot inlays. 22 frets, 24 3/4" scale. "Lucille" headstock inlay
Hardware: Chrome plated: TP6 tailpiece, positioned further back from the bridge; Gibson humbuckers; "Crank" machine heads
Finishes: Ebony, Cherry
1981 Gibson BB King Custom - front 1981 Gibson BB King Custom - back Image Heritage auctions

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.

Gibson BB King Custom and Standard catalogue appearances

1981 Rosetti (UK) Gibson catalogue
The BB King Custom and Standard were shown alongside the ES-355TD-SV in the 1981 Rosetti Gibson catalogue produced for the UK
1983 Gibson guitar and bass catalogue
Only the BB King Custom makes an appearance in the 1983 Gibson catalogue
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