Gibson’s big-bodied archtop the ES-250 is forever associated with jazz great Charlie Christian – an inspirational improviser and a guitarist who had an essential role in the development of jazz and electric guitar playing as now know it.
In September of this year, contemporary jazz guitar icon Julian Lage got the opportunity to play live using Christian’s own ES-250 and took the chance to perform one of the great’s standards, Seven Come Eleven.
Fortunately, for all of us, the footage – featuring double bassist Scott Colley and drummer Dave King – was captured professionally and has since been shared on Lage’s social channels.
“It was an absolute honor to perform Seven Come Eleven with this beautiful Gibson ES-250 owned by Charlie Christian,” explains Lage, in the text accompanying the clip.
“This has to be the coolest guitar ever… completely modern and historical at the same time. Charlie Christian played this guitar on Solo Flight and many other songs during his time with Benny Goodman.
“Thank you to Lynn Wheelwright and all of our friends at Musical Instrument Museum - MIM in Phoenix, AZ for making this happen during our time there back in September. Thank you to Scott Colley and Dave King for the gift of sharing this experience together.”
The results are spell-binding. Initially, we see Lage feeling his way in on the instrument, a smile growing across his face, as he seems to open up the fretboard. Then, around the three-and-a-half minute mark he works his way into Christian’s iconic Seven Come Eleven, much to the delight of his rhythm section, who don’t miss a beat in picking up the tune.
It is astonishing work by any marker, but we think YouTube guitar personality RJ Ronquilo puts it best in his comment (opens in new tab): “This is 8 minutes and 23 seconds of the finest guitar playing I've ever heard/seen. Flawless.”
Gibson’s ES-250 was launched in 1939/40 as a follow-up to the popular ES-150 (released in 1936), which was also popularised by Christian. The ES stood for ‘electric Spanish’ and the 150 reportedly was chosen as the price was $150. The ‘250’ designation reflected the ES-250’s role as the revamped upgrade.
The instruments were so associated with the jazz icon that the installed bar-style single coils were dubbed the ‘Charlie Christian pickup’. The breezy, warm tone would, for many players, become the sound of jazz guitar for decades to come.
Meanwhile, Lage recently released and continues to tour in support of his second album with legendary jazz label Blue Note, View With a Room.