Gibson EDS-1275

It’s said that less is more, but sometimes more really is more. That’s what you get with the Gibson EDS-1275. With the extended, deluxe 40th Anniversary reissue of Rush’s stupendous A Farewell To Kings album, Alex Lifeson’s Gibson ED-1275 takes center-stage in the studio and live. Prog fans the world over will again be dreaming of owning what is truly one of the most iconic instruments of all time. But don’t overlook the EDS-1275 because it’s not just for prog...

Double Trouble

Gibson’s building of double-neck guitars actually goes as far back as the 1930s, with 1937’s ESH-150 being something of a first. Notably, it was actually the first solidbody Gibson ever built; however, as it was a 6-string/8-string mandolin type affair, it was of limited appeal. As it was 1937, the dawn of rock’n’roll was still far from happening.

The first Gibsons named EDS-1275, started in the late 1950s, were actually hollow bodied, with carved spruce tops and no sound holes. They had two 6-string necks (one being a short-scale neck tuned to a higher octave). The “1275” has nothing to do with “12 string.” Variations/modifications had come and gone before the debut of the 6/12-string EDS-1275, and by then we’re up to 1962. That’s why some players will forever know the classic EDS-1275 as an “SG doubleneck,” as that was very much its design/build template. In truth, the 1275 has never been called an “SG,” though the body shape and all-mahogany body echoes that of Gibson’s prime electric solidbody of the day. Single-cut Les Pauls weren’t even in production in 1963. But from then on, the ED-1275 gradually crept into everyone’s minds as a guitar that, if nothing else, simply looked unbelievable.

Gibson Players

The Players

Jimmy Page famously wielded a 1275 for his none-more-epic renditions of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven,” beginning in 1970. Regular production, however, for the 1275 had stopped in 1968.

“I knew Gibson had made a doubleneck, and I was sort of aware of its presence,” Page later recalled. “After having recorded the fourth album, which had ‘Stairway,’ which was definitely going to have to be played live, and was recorded with 12-string acoustic and electric, I needed something that would affect the pacing of that, you know, while still using the electric 12-string and electric 6-string neck. So that was it. The doubleneck was the one instrument that was going to fulfil it. The Gibson doubleneck became sort of iconic, you know? I had to use the doubleneck to play ‘Stairway’ live, and then it started to take shape.… The doubleneck was tailor-made for that.” It wasn’t just “Stairway...” though; Page also played his 1275 in “Rain Song”, “Celebration Day,” and “The Song Remains The Same.”

Gibson EDS-1275

Page wasn’t the first member of Brit Rock royalty to use one, however. The Who’s Pete Townshend used a 1275 in 1967 for live versions of “Substitute” - it also needs that 12-string chime, right? - but “pugilist Pete” even managed to smash his. Go to history books and see a pic from London’s Saville Theatre in 1967 where the necks of PT’s 1275 aren’t even parallel – it’s clearly been broken and rebuilt/re-glued with minimal care! Still, Townshend did care enough to eventually buy another: a 1275 is in posters for solo album … Chinese Eyes, and was used on that album.

Also back in the late ‘60s, Chicago blues champ Earl Hooker was another prodigy who used a 1275 (see the covers of 2 Bugs and a Roach and A Moon Is Rising). Hooker tragically died from tuberculosis in 1970, at age 40, he never got the spotlight he deserved during his lifetime.

As the 1970s went on, many others turned to the 1275 to solve that tricky problem of how to play multi-track songs live. The Eagles’ Don Felder recalls that he recorded 16 different guitar tracks for the original song “Hotel California,” and the EDS-1275 was the only viable option for both arpeggio’d 12-string intro and dualling lead guitar outro when it came to the stage. Like Page’s EDS-1275, it became indelibly linked to a single song. (Still, when the songs in question are “Stairway To Heaven” and “Hotel California,” that’s an OK problem to have.)

And it also proved invaluable for overdubbing multi-tracking prog wizard Alex Lifeson, who acquired his own (like Felder’s) white ED-1275 just as Rush was about to go stellar. Rush had just toured 2112 and their music was getting even more complex, the live shows more ambitious. “I acquired this (white) one in 1976, along with a cherry one, which I later gave to Eric Johnson,” Lifeson told Gibson. “It’s been with me ever since, playing a constant role in the Farewell To Kings tour, between 1977 and 1983, then again from 1991-1996, primarily for the song ‘Xanadu.’ It was used to record the songs ‘Xanadu’, ‘Something for Nothing,’ and ‘Vapor Trails.’ Also on others for accent... but I can’t recall them all!”

Gibson EDS-1275

Others who’ve famously grabbed a 1275 include John McLaughlin (early 1970s Mahavishnu Orchestra), Steve Clark of Def Leppard (on the Hysteria  tour in 1987/88), Steve Miller in the mid ‘70s, and Ace Frehley and Eddie Van Halen have at least one in their own collections. Slash is another fan: he has a few, but tends to rely on a (refinished) black ES-1275 to play “Only Women Bleed” / “Knockin’ On Heavens Door” and “Patience” - he’s used his from the Use Your Illusion tour in 1991 through Velvet Revolver up to the Not In This Lifetime tour of the last two years. Wayne Coyne from The Flaming Lips has used one, as has Mark Ronson when he performed “Valerie” with Amy Winehouse at the 2008 BRIT Awards – we’re calling it that the guitar’s looks were as important as anything on that occasion.

But there’s no doubt the EDS-1275 is truly a guitar that snares people’s affections. Just watch Alex Lifeson talk about the Gibson Custom replication of his own EDS-1275...

The EDS-1275 is still available from Gibson Custom, in the classic white, ebony and cherry finish options. Its specs are also in line with the classic models of yesteryear. The precisely aged Alex Lifeson replica was also built, and you may still find one for sale still, though that had a strictly limited run of 100.