Hear from jazz innovator Charlie Christian who brings the electric guitar to the forefront of music

One of the most sensational jazz guitarists of his day, Charlie Christian greatly influenced the evolution of the electric guitar, and particularly the sound of jazz guitar.

In 1937, while playing the piano in Oklahoma City, he met Count Basie guitarist Eddie Durham, himself considered one of the first to record with an amplified guitar.

Durham convinced Christian to get a hollowbody electric Gibson ES-150, which was 16 inches wide and had a 24 ¾ inch scale mahogany neck, solid mahogany back and sides with a mahogany top. solid spruce top and a single blade pickup (later dubbed the Pickup Charlie Christian).

Portishead guitarist Adrian Utley's Gibson ES-150

Portishead guitarist Adrian Utley’s Gibson ES-150 pictured in his Bristol studio. Note the “Charlie Christian” hex pickup. (Image credit: future)

Priced at $150, the guitar comes with a matching tube amplifierthe EH-150, which had a single 10-inch speaker and developed 15 watts via (in the ’36/’37 Style 2 version) two 6F6 power tubes, a 5Z4 rectifier, a 6C5 triode, and a 6N7 preamp.

Armed with this platform, Christian quickly developed his unique saxophone-style playing approach.

Among those who saw him perform during this time was jazz guitarist Mary Osborne, who was particularly impressed with his sound, which she compared to a “distorted saxophone”.

Photograph of, from left, Sam Hughes, Charlie Christian, Leslie Sheffield and Dick Wilson having a musical jam session at Ruby's Grill, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, early 1940s

Charlie Christian playing a natural finish Gibson ES-250 (Image credit: Oklahoma Historical Society/Getty Images)

In 1939, on the advice of jazz/blues producer John Hammond, Christian was invited to audition for swing clarinetist Benny Goodman, who wanted to add electric guitar to his band.

Goodman hired Christian and the guitarist quickly made jazz history with his skillful soloing on songs like “Airmail Special”, “Honeysuckle Rose”, and most importantly, “Solo Flight”.

Christian’s association with Goodman made him one of the biggest names in the swing era.

Although he also played a Gibson ES-250 guitar and an EH-185 amp, he always preferred the ES-150, which led directly to Gibson ES-175 from 1949 (a twin-pickup version debuted in 1953) and is still hugely popular in jazz guitar circles some 73 years later.

Charlie Christian circa 1940

Charles Henry Christian (1916-1942) photographed with a Gibson ES-250 (Image credit: JP Jazz Archive/Redferns)

Captured on March 4, 1941 in New York with Benny Goodman and his orchestra, this excellent recording sees the young musical innovator at the height of his prowess.

Sadly, Christian died of tuberculosis at just 25, almost exactly one year later, on March 2, 1942.

To have Solo flight: the genius of Charlie Christian here.

Solo flight: the genius of Charlie Christian

(Image credit: Columbia)


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