The electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (ESI-MS) behavior of seven Cu(II) complexes with tetradentate ligands has been studied. An unexpected reduction process, in positive ion mode, of the Cu oxidation state was observed, and shown to be due to charge transfer between the metal complex and the solvent molecules in the gas phase. Ion trap collision-induced dissociation experiments and deuterated solvents were used to support the proposed mechanism that is not a common electrochemical redox reaction at the ESI tip, but a gas-phase process. A series of solvents (acetonitrile, methanol, ethanol, propanol and iso-butanol) were tested, and a correlation between ionization energy (IE) and the amount of Cu(I) produced in ESI has been demonstrated for the alcohols, although some other solvent properties should also be taken into account. The electrochemical reduction potential of the complexes in solution is also an important parameter, since complexes more easily reduced in solution are also easier to reduce in the gas phase. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.