The Gibson S1 debuted in 1975, the last of a number of models designed by Bill Lawrence, and one that really highlighted the realities of running a guitar business at the time. In the 1970s Norlin-owned Gibson dabbled in some new approaches to guitar building. Some ideas were truly innovative (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, poplar 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 (or poplar?) bodied with a bolt-on maple neck. Nothing like the solid mahogany set necked SGs, Les Pauls and EB basses that were Gibson's solid-body mainstays.
Sales were good in 1975, and a further two models in the same vein 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
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 pricelist 7/1/1980
10) Gibson News, June 1980
11) Special Sale pricelist, February 15th 1982
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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