ES Artist

This is a 78 and is pretty typical of Most ES-Artists that you’ll find.

It’s the seventies and the traditional electric guitar has been “replaced” by the gimmickry and gadgetry of a more modern era. The guitars that supplied the tonal palette for the best rock music in history are, apparently, no longer adequate, or so the folks at Gibson seemed to believe. The ES-Artist was conceived when active electronics were all the rage back in the 70’s and was released in 79 and ran through around 85. I have actually never played one, at least not plugged in. The body shape is that pinched 70’s look that I don’t like and the back has an access panel like a solid body because the active electronics printed circuit is pretty big and had to be installed through the back since there were no f-holes (and it probably wouldn’t have fit through them anyway). The electronics were developed by Moog, which was, by then, owned by Norlin (beer, concrete) and was a fairly well respected name back in the day. Dr. Moog pretty much invented the analog synthesizer, so he had the proper street cred. “Dr. Bob” left the company in 1977 probably due to the way Norlin was running it. The “active” part of the electronics was an onboard compressor/expander and bright function-stuff better left to pedals if my opinion counts here. Why not go the Vox route and add a fuzz and a palm controlled wah? One of the wonderful

What is that? A flying f-hole? A musical sea horse? A flying musical seahorse? Drugs were popular in the 70’s.

aspects of a 335 is its simplicity. The ES Artist kind of went the other way. Look at the headstock inlay. What is that? A musical sea horse? Flying f-hole?  Whatever it is, it’s bad design and a little dopey. Where the 335 has a simple 3 way and a volume and tone for each pickup, the Artist (at least they didn’t call it the “Artiste”-that would have been just too much) had a master volume and two active tone controls that cut or boosted tone parameters for both pickups when activated. It was, as I understand it, a pot with a center detente and five positions in each direction. The middle position was “neutral” and there were 5 “plus” positions and 5 “minus”. There were 3 two way switches for turning on the active effects and a 3 way which functioned like a traditional pickup selector. They all had the TP-6 fine tune tailpiece, although there could be a Bigsby or two out there. Every Artist I’ve seen has a 3 piece neck and most have the “volute” that was typical of the 70’s and early 80’s. I’ve seen a couple of later ones that had no volute, however. The access panel on the back seems to come in a couple of different sizes as well. The tuners say “Gibson” but look to be Schallers. It has no f-holes (unless you count the flying f-hole inlay in the headstock) and has a center block like a 335.  The guitars were considered high end models with multiple bindings like an ES-355. It also shared the 355’s tortoise guard. Fingerboards are ebony and hardware is gold, so it really does kind of line up with the 355 except that the inlays are offset dots rather than blocks like a 355. It’s clear that Gibson was trying to go upscale here. In keeping with the era during which it was released, the ES Artist has a brass nut. The electronics package was powered by a single 9 volt battery which, apparently, went dead pretty quickly. Artists are mostly sunburst but there are cherrybursts and black ones out there as well. I’ve never seen a  red one but there are a few blondies. There is a rumor afoot that the Moog electronics are “tone suckers” and many have been removed (sound familiar?). The solder joints were pretty awful too and generally need restoration if you get your hands on one that’s still intact. I’m also told that the pickups are rather low impedance and the guitar benefits from a pickup swap if you pull out the active electronics. Feel free to send me one so I can assess it it and make an informed comparison to the more mundane and utilitarian 335/345 and 355s were all used to. All in all, it sounds like a victim of the times both in its design and execution. Perhaps if Norlin wasn’t driving the bus at the time, it might have endured…Nah.

This is what the active electronics circuit looks like. I believe there are two boards stacked in the ES as opposed to the LP and RD that have the boards laid out in a single layer. I guess there’s more room in an ES.

40 Responses to “ES Artist”

  1. RAB says:

    I agree with your comments. This guitar is the epitome of all that was wrong with Gibson/Norlin along with its infamous stablemates including the RD Artist, etc…That era and those guitars only served to increase the interest in vintage instruments and, eventually Gibson getting on the bandwagon with decent quality reissues!

  2. Steve Newman says:

    +2 on the comments and agree this wasn’t one of Gibson’s finest efforts. That being said, there were still some professional players that used this model….one notable guitarist was Steve Howe who used a cherry sunburst model with twin symmetrical pick guards in concert. I know of a highly flamed blonde LEFTY in central MS.

  3. OK Guitars says:

    When I researched the post, Steve Howe’s use came up. He could probably make just about any guitar sound decent.

  4. OK Guitars says:

    Well, maybe not the epitome but certainly a reflection of the times. Gimmickry was everywhere in the late 70s. There were new entrants into the guitar business that went the other way and made guitars that reflected an earlier era. My main player was a Hamer Special that was pretty decent during the era. Two humbuckers and a three way-no onboard toys.

  5. Steve Mackintosh says:

    I have a 1979 Gibson ES Artist. I love this guitar but did not like the tone sucking caused by the Moog electronics . So I replaced the pots with RS Guitar
    Works pots and had it rewired with one tone control with a Luxe Bumblebee
    cap and two volume controls. I also replace the original Humbuckers with Seth
    Lovers by Seymour Duncan. Now I get the tone I was searching for.
    So I am selling the Moog Electronic and the ’79 Humbuckers. If you know anyone that could use them give them my email.

    Thank You

  6. OK Guitars says:

    Anybody need the Moog assembly? Email me and I’ll make it happen.

  7. jstykel says:

    I have the sunburst model from 81. It completely sucked when plugged in until I had the pickups (very good ones, according to the guy that did the work) turned passive and pulled all the moog crap (carefully) out of the back. It was night and day….this guitar has been the envy of some of my player friends who have vintage Gibsons. The guitar IS made with special features not found in the 335 and although it may look different, it truely is an excellent guitar….

  8. genio says:

    Secondo la mia opinione di modesto chitarrista è comunque una gran chitarra ma capisco che ci sono persone che non apprezzano molto questo modello ed evidentemente chi l’ha progettata non ha la geniale taratura cervellotica di queste

  9. OK Guitars says:

    A lot of folks don’t like the active Moog electronics and remove them. I’ve only played one of them and I wasn’t that impressed.

  10. Sven says:

    Are the moog electronics still available?
    I would be interested, could pay by paypal,
    but i would need a shipping to france:)
    Just leave m a message,
    Thanks in advance,

  11. OK Guitars says:

    Sorry, no.

  12. Brock says:

    I have a late 70’s ES Artist. It was a factory second that my mom bought me when I was a teenager. I’d like to modify it and get rid of the Moog electronics. The stock pickups suck and I never used the electronics much. Cool guitar though.

  13. cgelber says:

    Lots of folks do exactly that. Any good guitar tech can do the work.

  14. Brock says:

    Ditched the electronics and put a pair of 57 Classics in, sounds awesome!

  15. bruce says:

    there are microscrews up where the harness enters the cavity in the picture
    there was a round rubber gromet on the control cover..pop that off and adjust things about the compression/expansion/bright.what comes to mind is the decay of the effect..i had a see thru red no volute amazing thin ribbon flame everywhere..wish i still had it…i\t was a work of art as far as fit ,finish…..i could get it to sound good thru my rd 50
    don’t forget to make a face to get to the note….

  16. Gregory says:

    I have one. It plays like butter.

  17. KnowWhatYouSpeakAbout says:

    Haters will hate, I have 100 guitars from everywhere, all vintages, and that’s my best one, ever.

  18. Dorge says:

    In July 1980 I bought one 1979 Gibson ES Artist at Manny’s and I love it – though I am not using the treble boost, Expander & compressor any more.
    Before that I played a Gibson L7C w humbucker playing jazz. And later in the early 70’s I got a gold Les Paul which I used for mainly rock studio work.
    But from 1980 I used ES Artist both for Jazz, Afroguitar, Rock and Blues.

  19. Tomas Escalante says:

    There are comments that mention ES-Artist model 1978. The first ES-Artist took its wayout of the plant by late 1979 (See Gibson Total Shipment book). I’ve had both 1 stock original and 1 after market modded ES-Artist. I can only tell you that both are outstanding guitars. Many reviews mention the expander as useless or ugly sounding but a friend of mine takes it as a very useful tool for his jazz and blues gigs; actually switches among the different possibilities of the stock guitar, from day one he tried it. Also, the one that was converted into passive with a set of Classic ’57 humbuckers from a 1982 Les Paul Custom sounds incredible (think Kalamazoo made ES-347). Nashville made ES-347 for some reason are “dumb” (I tried one marvelous Kalamazoo made and 3 or 4 Nashville made). Wood, I think.

  20. Hans van der Ham says:

    I have a ’79 (December | SN: 73479037) up for sale. Replaced the active electronics and tailpiece. Still have the Moog hardware and original TP-6 fine tuning tailpiece, so guitar can be restored in it’s original state. Comes with original case. Don’t let negative reviews deceive you; this is a excellent guitar. Maybe a little posh, but plays terrific. (I live in the Netherlands).

  21. cgelber says:

    I’d probably pass. Although 70’s 335’s can be quite good, I don’t buy them much and never without playing them first. With the terrible exchange rate, you would do better selling it in Europe.

  22. Steve Mackintosh says:

    I have the original Moog Electronics and Gibson Pickups from a 1980 ES-Artist
    that is for sale. They are in fine working order.
    I had them removed and replaced with Seth Lover pups, new pots and cap.
    If anyone is interested I can be reached at

  23. Andy Bartosh says:

    I own an Es Artist since many years. The guitar itself plays and sounds absolutely great now. Put the moog electronic out. The pickups are a matter of tase. I like it for playing jazz only. So I changed it to seth lover. Very cool guitar now.

  24. Andrew_J says:

    I have a 1980 ES Artist and am looking for the original pickups. Specifically the neck pickup. I see a couple of comments here where there might be the chance to purchase them please email me @ libertylane_records at yahoo dot com

  25. Andrew_J says:

    I am the original owner of a 1980 Es Artist. For me, I can get any sound I need (with a little help sometimes) and the playability… oh my. This guitar makes me sound better than I am. Now my problem. I need the neck pickup. I successfully removed the bridge cover and had the neck cover 3/4 off when a corner of the epoxy broke off and pulled some windings. Ugh. I felt sick to my stomach. So if one of you that switched out pickups in your Artist would be as so kind to sell me your neck pickup, me and my ES Artist would be eternally grateful.

  26. Peter Sarantsev says:

    Can somebody post a wiring diagram for the original pickups with original electronic? I’ve replaced them some years ago and now I want to put it back. Thank you.

  27. Alan says:

    I have had am ES Artist since 1984. I played another guy’s guitar and flipped over the sound and the playability. It still sounds amazing. The tonal range is phenomenal though the cut and boost tone switches don’t add much. The built in compressor is very sweet.
    I need one speed knob with the 5 / 5 numbers on it as I cracked one. If anyone know of one.

    I love this guitar and believe I have on e of the few, maybe the only highly figured maple ones out there. There are other blondes but not like this one.

  28. cgelber says:

    That’s the only one I’ve seen with that kind of figure. Pretty snazzy. I’ve only seen one or two other blondes. I don’t have a knob for it.

  29. GJ says:

    Wow, that blonde is beautiful! Very nice wood, nice visibility by the lack of sunburst. I have one too, the one Hans van der Ham refers to. Hans, again, thank you very much for having the guts to part from this guitar, she is a true piece of excellence. Despite another super Gibson I own (a custom order ES 775), the playability of this ES Artist is second to none. Less than 1,5mm action at the 18th fret suits me very well. I took out the SD Seth Lover and 59N, as I don’t like them. A complete new harness: Gibson pots, a GOLD Switchcraft Angle Toggle Switch (they exist!), a Tone Mojo 0,22mF and the three little switches (now in black, beautiful) operate the 4 conductor 57 Classic at the neck, in/out phase and a jazz switch. This 3rd switch has another 0,22mF cap (Sprague), and enables to achieve a dark but not dull sound. At the flick of a switch, literally. I have never heard a warmer, thicker ES, not even the extraordinary 347 a friend of mine has. Gibson (even Norlin, ’79!) and Hans, thank you! I still hope to find the Series VI low impedance PU’s one day, than the Moog will be built in again, but for now, sheer joy! GJ

  30. SAURY Cedric says:

    Salut. Je possède une ES Artist avec l’electronique qui a été déposée et je souhaiterais la remettre dedans. Quelqu’un aurait des infos (schéma de cablage, fonctionnement … ) ?
    Merci !

  31. cgelber says:

    I don’t have a schematic so I can’t help you with that. Maybe someone else can. I do have an Artist but its in the shop having the electronics repaired. when I get it back, I can take a look at it and maybe help you out.

  32. SAURY Cedric says:

    Merci pour la réponse déjà !
    Ce qui m’intéresse le plus c’est de savoir à quels endroits viennent se connecter les 2 fils de chaque micro.
    Sur l’électronique que je possède (dans un sachet) j’ai deux fils de masse mais un seul point chaud. L’autre est surement connecté directement sur un potentiomètre, un interrupteur ou sur une des 2 cartes…

  33. SAURY Cedric says:

    Someone could help me ?

  34. Greg says:

    I have both an original mint 1980 Es artist and also a 1979 Rd artist. Both have the active electronics and although I would agree some of that would have been better left to foot pedals, I run it wide open with a mesa boogie 100/60 hardwood 1980 stack and the sustain is just never ending. It has truely got Santana like sustain. I want to keep it original as I’m not much on becoming a guitar surgeon. So having said that if anyone have a spare active electronics section for one I would defiantly be interested in having a backup.

  35. SAURY says:

    Hi Greg . It would be wonderfull if you can take many detailed picture and send here. I have too see how it’s wired inside. Could you do that please ?
    Best regards.

  36. Ivan Mariz says:

    Hi there. Sorry but I dont agree with many commens. The Moog device turns tge sound completely different from any other guitar. You can choose not use it by keeping the knobs off positioned. I play this guitar my whole life and many connosseirs said that the sound is absolute incredible. Many guitarrists are fans of my kind of sound. I bought this guitar in London july 1984 when I wad 18 and keep this as treasure till today. I’m from Brazil and many local guitarrists asked this guitar for recording sessions. In fact I am a Blues guitarrists and probably the only Blues guitarrists that use an ES Artist as a sound signature. The range of treeble and bass you can reach with this master piece is unique. No Tele can reach this guitars treebke and no other Gibson gives you the bass tone that ES provides you. Sorry guys, mu experience is totally different from yours…

  37. okguitars says:

    Happy to disagree. I simply couldn’t get any usable sounds out of the Moog effects. I pointed out that I thought the guitar sounding pretty good with the Moog effects turned off. I’m not a blues player and I don’t generally use effects of any kind. Not even reverb. But I have to say that the Moog effects were strident, dissonant and generally pretty terrible. Your ears and my ears are different.

  38. […] Jarles siste gitarkjøp. I sommer fikk han endelig tak i Gibson ES Artist, en modell som ble produsert fra 1979 til 1985. Les mer her: […]

  39. Daryl Hesch says:

    Here is a ES Artist that I’m sure nobody has ever seen. 1977 experimental only 2 were ever made. Go to Vintage guitar and bass and read the article about it. The gutar featured is mine.

  40. okguitars says:

    That’s a new one on me. Is there any model designation on the label? Does it have the Moog electronics? Does it have a center block?
    Thanks for sharing. Very interesting.

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