Gibson Doublenecks

George Gruhn
Guitar Player Rare Bird, 10/82
FOR DECADES THE doubleneck has offered a great leap in versatility--two instruments in one--but at a price. It's quite large, hard to find, usually expensive, and often heavy. Furthermore, some might argue that the two-headed rare bird is, shall we say, less than aesthetically pleasing. Gibson set out in 1958 to build doublenecks in a fashion that would preserve or even enhance the company's considerable prestige, and the result was a pair of remarkable instruments, the first doublenecks ever produced on a commercial basis by a major manufacturer: the EDS-1275 Double Twelve, Gibson's first electric 12-string, and the EMS-1235 Double Mandolin, which wasn't a mandolin at all. They were both innovative and well constructed. While very different, to be sure, the new guitars were Gibsons through and through.

The Double Twelve guitar features an upper-position 12-string guitar neck and a lower-position standard 6-string guitar neck. Both necks have 20 frets, a 24-3/4" scale, the neck/body joint at the 15th fret, four Patent Applied For (PAF) humbucking pickups--two for each neck--and three 3-position toggle switches. Two of the switches function as pickup selectors for the necks, while the third acts as a neck selector (upper, lower, or both).

The Double Mandolin shown here, despite its name, does not have a mandolin neck at all. Instead, it combines a standard 20-fret, 24-1/2"-scale guitar neck in the lower position with an upper-position octave neck: a shortscale guitar neck tuned one octave higher than standard pitch. The octave neck has 24 frets and a 13-3/8" scale, and it joins the body at the 17th fret. This model has three PAF humbuckers--one for the octave neck and two for the guitar neck--and only two 3-position toggle switches. One switch is the pickup selector for the guitar neck, while the other, positioned on the upper part of the body, functions as the neck selector. An unusual feature of the Double Mandolin is the rosewood-footed, height-adjustable bridge for the octave neck. The bridge for the guitar neck on this model and for both necks on the Double Twelve are tune-o-matics. (Note that the Double Mandolin in the photo has the pickup cover removed from the front pickup on the 6-string guitar neck.)

The Double Twelve and Double Mandolin feature one-piece mahogany necks with adjustable truss rods and rosewood fingerboards, 17-1/4"-wide bodies 12-1/4" waists, double Florentine cutaways, and nickelplated hardware. Each semi-hollow body has a two-piece solid spruce top, maple sides, a one-piece maple ply back, and a thickness of 1-7/8" (this was advertised in the catalog as 1-7/8 inches thin) The doublenecks were offered in three color variations: solid white, solid black, and brown sunburst, and came with brown rectangular hardshell cases. The pink plush-lined cases were specially sized for doubleneck instruments only.

The Gibson Double Twelve and Double Mandolin were the first factory-produced electric doublenecks to appear on the market. (Prior to their introduction, Semie Moseley of Mosrite fame had handmade some doubleneck guitars.) Their style of construction was unprecedented in Gibson history, and no other Gibson electric surpassed them in quality. Considering the superb acoustic and playing properties of these guitars, it is rather surprising that no corresponding single-neck body shape or design came out either before or after their production. Priced in 1958 at $475 for the Double Twelve and $435 for the Double Mandolin, the doublenecks were considerably more expensive than most other Gibson models at the time. For example, the Les Paul gold-top listed for $247.50 in 1958, the Flying V at $247.50. and the ES-335T at $282.50.

From their introduction in 1958 until the end of 1961, Gibson sold 46 DoubleTwelves (their 1961 price was $550 plus $90 for the case) and 44 Double Mandolins ($495 plus $90 for case in '61) . In 1962, largely due to the influence of the 1961 SG solidbody model, the shape of the doublenecks was changed, and three new SG-type models were introduced: the EBS-1250, EBSF-1250, and the EBS-1265. These Double Bass models combined an SG standard 6-string guitar neck (24-3/4" scale and 20 frets), and an EB3 bass neck (30-1/2" scale and 20 frets). Some were offered with an onboard fuzztone unit until 1965, at which time the fuzz was removed as a standard feature and, until 1970, was only offered in the catalogs as an option. The 1962 catalog lists and describes the new SG-shaped Double Twelve and Double Mandolin, although no photo is shown.

The SG-inspired Double Mandolin was the shortest lived of the solidbody doubleneck guitar models. Only 17 Double Mandolins were shipped from 1962 through 1967, and the last one of record dates to 1970. The Double Bass models were sold in very small quantities as a catalog item until 1978. Of all the models the Double Twelve was the longest-lived and produced in the greatest numbers: From 1962 until the end of 1967, 64 were sold, and by 1979 the figure had risen to an astounding 1,145. (The late-'70s models had minor hardware changes in the knobs and metal tuning gears.) In 1979, though unadvertised, the Double Twelve reportedly sold more units than in any other year of its production--a total of 466.

The factory stock doublenecks were rare enough, but among them Gibson produced a few singular custom-mades. Next month, we'll take a look at one of these extra rare birds, a one-of-a-kind tenor guitar/mandolin doubleneck.