When it was first introduced in 1949, the ES-5 was meant for the Jazz player who needed a wider variety in pickup options, and the Switchmaster offered just that with a flick of the switch. The Switchmaster has volume and tone controls for each ’57 Classic humbucker, with an option to use all three pickups at once.
The retail list price for a new instrument runs about $6,000. In the 1950s, the original models sold for around $500.
Gary’s Classic Guitars has an original 1955 ES-5 Switchmaster up for sale at just under $14,000.
I suppose if I bought a new one now and held it for 55 years, it might be worth $170,000 if it compounds at the same rate as the original 1955 model. I wonder if Lorraine would consider such a purchase an investment? Probably not.
Gibson shares some history of the guitar here:
The Gibson ES-5 Switchmaster was truly a guitar ahead of its time. First introduced in 1949, the ES-5 Switchmaster was the first ES guitar to be fitted with three pickups, and was initially intended solely for jazz players. It was dubbed the “supreme electronic version” of Gibson”™s L-5 and offered a unique four-knob control circuitry that allowed players to manage pickup selection by adjusting the volume of each pickup, thus eliminating the pickup selector switch. Yet despite its pioneering circuitry and three-pickup layout, the ES-5 Switchmaster was not immediately embraced by jazz players while competing guitar manufacturers rushed to introduce their own similar models, including the Epiphone Zephyr Emperor of the early 1950s and the Fender Stratocaster in 1954.