Jazz Guitar Beauties: DIY ES-175 Kit – Ken Mathis

Jazz Guitar Life would like to thank Guitarist Ken Mathis for sharing this beautiful “DIY” arch-top with us all! Enjoy


Like most guitarists, I’m always looking for that next guitar.  I had been seriously considering getting a Gibson ES-175.  I’ve seen them for sale for anywhere from $3500 to $7000, used! Then one day I was visiting one of our local music stores, Sixx Gun Music, and it was there that I found out that I could build an ES-175 from a kit, with someone to walk me through the entire process.  So I said “What the heck!”

            I went in on a Thursday morning to begin the process.  My teacher Daniel had already put the neck and body together.  I then began to steel wool the body and the back of the neck. I then rubbed in tongue oil.  I did this three times.  Next, was the soldering the wires to the pots, pickup selector and input jack.  I have soldered in the past, but apparently not correctly.  I soon found out that there is an art to soldering.  Also, found out I wasn’t very good at it.  But Daniel was patient and a great teacher.  I temporarily soldered the pickups to the pots.  Then we plugged it in to see if all was ok.  It was not!  We discovered at least one loose wire.  Then it was time to place the pots, pickup selector and input jack into the guitar.  This was a delicate operation.  The pots have to slide down through the f-hole and then fished through their proper places using wire. Once that was done, it was time to plug it in and make sure everything worked before securing them to the guitar.  Again, it was not successful.  We had to take all the pots out find the loose wire and fish them through again!  This time we had success. 

            Next, I taped down the neck only exposing the frets.  I then systematically filed the frets using finer files each time.  This process took a good hour.  Daniel said I did a fantastic job on the frets and that’s probably the most important thing that needs to be done well.  My confidence needed that boost after the soldering fiascos.  Since we had some setbacks I had to return to finish the job the next morning.

            Last, but not least, was doing the setup.  This was a very informative process for me.  It went very well.  The next evening I had a jazz gig and played my new guitar.  I received many compliments not only on the look and beauty of it, but most importantly the sound. 

            The entire process cost me $1000, and that included Daniel’s time teaching me, upgraded pickups, upgraded tuners and a hard shell case.  It may not be a true Gibson ES-175, but (1) it looks great, (2) it sounds great, (3) I learned so much, and (4) it puts a smile on face when I tell people I built it.  If you have a music store that provides this service, I highly recommend it. 

KEN MATHIS  1/16/22

Ken Mathis is a professional guitarist of more than 40 years. He graduated from Musician’s Institute in 1982. He is now retired from giving private guitar lessons. After leading classic rock bands like Klass Act and the Ken Mathis Band, he is now the leader and sole songwriter for the all original jazz band Osmosis. Ken also invented the Amp Caddy. 

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About Lyle Robinson 353 Articles
Lyle Robinson is the owner/creator/publisher and editor of Jazz Guitar Life, an online magazine dedicated to the Jazz Guitar and its community of fine players worldwide.

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