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Classic gear: Gibson CF-100E

Gibson CF-100E
(Image credit: Future)

Something of a hidden gem on the vintage market, the CF-100E has attracted the attention of several prominent musicians over the years including Jackson Browne and Bob Dylan, while, more recently, J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr was snapped with a CF-100E when we caught up with him on tour last year following his Elastic Days release. 

The Evolution of the Gibson CF-100E

1942 LG-2 released (same 141/8-inch  body width)  
1950 CF-100 released (c. 325 shipped)  
1951 CF-100E released; 19-fret neck  
1952 Peak production (c.250 shipped)  
1953 c.165 shipped  
1955 20-fret neck; c.100 shipped  
1959 Discontinued (c.55 shipped)  
1994 Centennial Collection 1950 CF-100E (limited run of 100)  2007 Custom Shop CF-100E (maple body)  
2014 Custom Shop Tamio  Okuda CF-100E (Japan)

“Gibson made them in the 50s. It’s the same neck as a Goldtop – that’s why I got into them,” J told us. “When Gibson did their [Centennial Collection] anniversary series, they had a different acoustic every month for a year and I got a [1994 Gibson 1950 CF-100E]. That was the first one I got. 

“Now I have five altogether, with that newer one. Two are CF-100s and the others are CF-100Es… Most of the [Gibson CF-100E] guitars are in Japan and they’re expensive over there. [Japanese singer-songwriter Tamio Okuda] plays one. He’s got a signature model with Gibson.” 

The CF-100 cutaway flat-top appeared in 1950, shortly before the release of its electrified sibling, the CF-100E, the following year. The main difference between the two, aside from electronics, is that the soundhole of the CF-100E is positioned sightly further away from the neck to make room for its P-90 single-coil pickup.

The basic specs of both are very similar to Gibson’s inaugural LG-series small-bodied flat-top, the LG-2 (released earlier in 1942) namely: a 14 1/8-inch wide solid spruce top with X-bracing and a sunburst finish; a solid Honduras mahogany back and rim; a one-piece, 24¾-inch scale length mahogany neck with a 14th-fret body join; and a Brazilian rosewood fretboard.

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Gibson CF-100E

(Image credit: Future)
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Gibson CF-100E

(Image credit: Future)
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Gibson CF-100E

(Image credit: Future)

While the CF-100/E guitars evolved directly from the LG series instruments, their trademark Florentine/sharp cutaway is inherited from the perennially popular ES-175 and its acoustic equivalent, the L-4C – both of which were released slightly earlier, in 1949.

This was the beginning of Ted McCarty’s golden era when virtually all of Gibson’s classic electric designs appeared. It was a time of great innovation facilitated by engineers and musicians alike.

“It’s alleged that the idea for the ES-175’s sharp cutaway was suggested [to Gibson] when a young Kenny Burrell took one of his guitars – an early blonde L-5 that had been modified with a Charlie Christian pickup – to Gibson and asked for a deeper cutaway,” Adrian Ingram, author of The Gibson 175 – Its History And Its Players (Centerstream), told us.

Mention the CF-100E to most Gibson aficionados and they’ll probably tell you it was ahead of its time, much like the original Les Paul Standard, Flying V and Explorer

Unlike the ES-175, the CF-100E is not one of Gibson’s most renowned guitars, but it certainly helped pave the way for the cutaway electro-acoustic flat-top design format that remains hugely popular today.

Although such guitar designs are now ubiquitous in the world of acoustics, CF-100Es were (and still are) relatively scarce, with around 1,250 being shipped in total between 1951 and 1959, when it was discontinued due to poor sales.

Mention the CF-100E to most Gibson aficionados and they’ll probably tell you it was ahead of its time, much like the original Les Paul Standard, Flying V and Explorer models were. However, despite its significance as Gibson’s first cutaway electric flat-top, the CF-100E has remained in the shadows of guitar history.