Gibson S-1 Guitar

Solid body three-pickup electric guitar

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Description and chronology | Controls & Publicity

The June 1975 Gibson price list
The Gibson S-1 was first announced in the June 1975 price list

In the 1970s Norlin-owned Gibson dabbled in some new approaches to guitar building. Some ideas were truly inovative (such as the circuitry in the RD Artist guitar and bass) whilst others were just new to Gibson. Guitar manufacturers in the USA were having problems. The oil-crisis, Viet Nam War, cheap imports from the far east and deep recession were all taking their toll. All the big American guitar companies were losing sales to new cheaper competitors; production costs had to be reduced for certain entry level instruments. Techniques that had long been resisted, such as the use of bolt-on necks, scratchplate mounted controls, and the use of woods such as alder and maple, were finally acceptable. After all Fender had now been using them for close on two decades, and were doing very well.

In late 1974 Gibson launched the Marauder M-1 guitar and Grabber G-1 bass. They were alder bodied with a bolt-on maple neck. Nothing like the solid mahogany set necked SGs, Les Pauls and EB basses that were Gibsons solid-body mainstays.

1978 Gibson S-1Gibson S-1 guitars in Ebony and Tobacco Sunburst finishes
Model: Gibson S-1
Available: 1975-1980
Body: Woods varied to some extent; though broadly maple (1976 - 79) or mahogany (1978-79). Early examples from 1975 may also have used alder.
Neck: Bolt-on. 24 3/4" scale, 22 frets. Laminate maple, with rosewood fingerboard (1975-early '78), or maple fingerboard (1976-1979)
Pickups: 3 high frequency Gibson "special design" adjustable pickups, with a "bright/low" tonality. These were single coil units, each with one Alnico magnet and no adjustable polepieces. Part numbers 13660 (front), 13661 (middle), 13662 (back).
Dimensions: 13" wide, 17 1/4" long, 1 3/4" deep

Sales were good in 1975, and a further two models in the same veign were unveiled; the S-1 guitar and companion G-3 Grabber bass. The interesting thing about these instruments were the pickup configurations designed by Bill Lawrence, who was working at Gibson at the time. The S-1 had three single coil pickups, more akin to a Fender Stratocaster than anything ever produced by Gibson previously and a four-way switch that "allows you to form your own humbucking or non-humbucking combinations". The G-1 and M-1 had initially been alder bodied and this was changed to maple soon afterwards. It is unclear whether any alder-bodied S-1 instruments were manufactured, though quite possible. They were certainly produced with a maple body, and eventually mahogany was also (optionally) available as a body material too.

One of the great features of the S-1 was the bypass toggle switch. Most guitarists familiar with Gibson control layouts will naturally assume this to be a three-way pickup selector switch, but this is not the case. In fact it is just a two-way switch, allowing normal function in the up-position, i.e. a combination of two or more pickups in humbucking mode (depending on the position of the four-way chicken head switch) OR a simple "biting" lead setting in the down position; the bridge pickup alone.

But there were two variations in the S-1 wiring. In the Adventures in Archives articles from November 1997, Gibson historian Walter Carter explains

I also came across a schematic for the "S-1, Second Series," made in 1978 and after I was talking with Customer Relations head Wayne Green about it when a voice behind me said, "I drew that schematic." The voice came from Pat Murphy, who recently rejoined Gibson after working here from 1975-78 in final assembly and quality control. According to Pat, the S-1 was supposed to be Gibson's version of the Fender Stratocaster, but the original design didn't let the player select "the Hendrix sound" - the neck pickup alone. Pat was the one who rewired the S-1 to fix that problem

An explanation of all controls (of the series 1 S-1) can be seen in the 1978 S-1 Description of Controls sheet

Gibson S-1 chronology
  • 1975 Launched mid 1975. Finishes: Natural Satin ($399), Ebony ($449), Sunburst ($479)[1]. Total sales 1064[2]
  • 1976 New finish - Natural Maple Gloss. Maple fingerboard, unlike rosewood used on all other finishes. Prices: Natural Satin ($439), Ebony ($479), Maple Gloss ($479), Sunburst ($509)[3]
  • 1977 Prices: Natural Satin ($499), Ebony, Maple Gloss, Sunburst ($539)[4]
  • 1978 This was the peak year for the S-1. Maple fingerboards became standard, electronics redesigned [5], bodies optionally mahogany. New finishes were Natural Mahogany, Wine Red and Walnut. The Natural Satin finish was now identical to the Natural Maple Gloss finish, so that name was dropped. It cost $519, and all other finishes were $559. [6] Total sales were 1158. Not great for a peak year.[2]
  • 1979 Maple bodied S-1s were listed as an option as late as June 1979[7], however the final appearance of the S-1 in Gibson literature in late September '79 lists only one wood/finish combination; mahogany body, maple neck and a Satin Walnut finish. $459[8].
  • 1979 Maple bodied S-1s were listed as an option as late as June 1979[7], however the final appearance of the S-1 in Gibson literature in late September '79 lists only one wood/finish combination; mahogany body, maple neck and a Satin Walnut finish. $459[8].
  • 1980 Gibson announce the discontinuation of the S-1 in dealers newsletter Gibson News.[8].

1) Gibson pricelist 20/6/1975
2) Gibson Shipment Totals 1937-79 by Larry Meiners
3) Gibson pricelist 1/6/1976
4) Gibson pricelist 1/1/1977
5) Gibson Adventures in Archives November 1997

6) Gibson pricelist 15/5/1978
7) Gibson pricelist 1/6/1979
8) Gibson pricelist 30/9/1979 9) Gibson News, June 1980

The Gibson S-1 stayed in the Gibson line throughout the 1970s, with production ending in 1979, a few guitars of left-over parts still being shipped into the early 1980s. Gibson continued creating guitars to compete with Fender's Stratocaster (in vain, admittedly), the next being the rather fine Victory MVX guitar, which, arguably, was a far superior guitar than the Fender, yet still never broke through in terms of sales.

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1979 Gibson S-1

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JOE W Comment left 23rd March 2014 13:01:45 reply
I cant find any info on my Gibson S-1 serial # 01550710 Can you help? Its a solid body walnut finish blk scratch pad light oke fret board Sure wish i could get some data on it. Thanks J.W
Vintage Guitar and Bass Comment left 23rd March 2014 13:01:36 reply
This serial number does not make sense - is it definitely correct?
Frank Comment left 23rd July 2013 19:07:47 reply
hi, I bought an S1 back in 78 or 79(?). I have not played it in 20 years or more. I have it stored at my family's home in the US. I don't have the serial number but it is a "natural" walnut(?) body / maple neck. It looks very similar to the one seen here in top picture but mine is lighter in color. Can you give me any idea what the value might be? I would say it is "good" condition with no major damage. I understand it is hard to say sight unseen so any "ballpark" figures would be ok. Thanks
vintage guitar and bass Comment left 25th March 2014 23:11:11 reply
Good condition S-1s are typically going anywhere between $450-$800 at the moment (2014) - they come up surprisingly infrequently (despite not being especially rare) which prevents the stability in price you see in more abundant 70s Gibsons.
Robert Comment left 9th January 2013 21:09:09 reply
Hello, I have a Gibson all maple S-1 that I got in 1977. I bought it at the music store so I'm the original owner. I have since changed all the hardware to suit my taste of playing. I still have all the original hardware. I cannot seem to find the value of it anywhere, the serial number is 00175934. From what I gather it was made in Kalamazoo in Jan of 75 and it was the 934th guitar for that run. Am I correct? And can you help me to put a price on it? Thanks for your time and help.
vintage guitar and bass Comment left 9th January 2013 21:09:55 reply
Hi Robert, I assume your serial number is a decal? These decal 8 digit serial numbers were used between 1975 and 1977, and do not use the same system as the 8 digit stamped serials that followed them. On your S1, the first two digits 00 tell us the year; 1976 in this case. The following six digits have no information encoded within them. 934 means nothing whatsoever i'm afraid, although it would have meant something on a later guitar. However you are correct in saying your guitar was produced at the Gibson Kalamazoo plant. Value will be mid to high $xxx depending on the usual criteria of condition and completeness.
Rob Keefe Comment left 13th January 2013 15:03:50 reply
Hey thanks for the info and the help! I appreciate you taking the time to answer. Regards, Rob