Saturday, August 8, 2020

The Gibson ES 350

It's s been a very long time since I posted something on my Blog. As a matter of fact this is the first post of the year. Not sure why that is, it just happened. So I have some catching up to do. I have had this wonderful Gibson ES 350 for half a year and have not even shared that fact here.               


Ever since I first listened to Tal's 1950s trio recordings in the mid 90s I have been in love with this model. Those woody and punchy bebop sounds just blew me away ... The guitar that Tal played at the time was featured prominently on the cover of his album "The Swinging Guitar of ..."and it was a Gibson ES 350. In the early 60s Gibson used the ES 350 as a blue print for his own signature model "The Gibson Tal Farlow", a model I have written on several times earlier. Still, the 350 remained a dream guitar for me for decades. I noticed they were expensive and very rare - especially in Europe - and therefore I settled on a beautiful 1947 Gibson ES 300 a few years ago. I did not think I would ever own a 350 and the 300 was close enough for me.

And of course, only a year later there she was ... After not having seen a 350 in my country for sale for over 20 years - a 300 is rare enough in these parts - I got a message from the owner of the Guitar Company that he was willing to part with his personal guitar, a blonde 1952 ES 350. I knew the guitar because I had already played it when I obtained the ES 300 from him. At that time it was not for sale because it was in his personal collection.

I was generously allowed to try out the 350 for a week and after a lot of thinking I decided to take the plunge and bought it. I have had it for over six months now and have sold the 300 in the meantime. The 350 is a dream come true and ... mine is a blonde to boot!

Let's go back to the model itself. After the war. The ES 300 was Gibson's top model in the ES series. The ES-350 was introduced in 1947 as a cutaway version of the ES-300. When this instrument was made a cutaway was still a novel offering; all of Gibson's (and basically everyone else's) previous electrics were built on non-cutaway bodies. As players figured out that amplification made those notes up the fingerboard more musically useful, the cutaway became a defining feature of a professional guitar in the 1950s. In many ways, this instrument set the standard for the "Gibson look" of that era.

Originally the ES 350 featured a single P-90 pickup and a trapeze tailpiece. It was called the ES 350 Premier. A second P-90 was added in 1948, and a switch to a Tune-o-matic bridge was made in 1956.

Let's have a look at the specs of the 350 over its 10 year career. The model was discontinued in 1956 and was then replaced by the ES 350t.

Body Material: Laminated maple body and top, full-depth 17-inch/21″ long. Neck Material: Two piece maple neck with walnut center strip. Fingerboard Material: Brazilian Rosewood with double parallelogram inlays. It seems a few 350s with spruce tops were made too but these are even rarer.

  1. 1947 ES 350 Premier:1 P-90 pickup, trapeze tailpiece with pointed ends and 3 raised parallelagrams, laminated beveled-edge pickguard, triple bound top and back, single bound peghead and fingerboard, double-parallelagram fingerboard inlays, crown peghead inlay, gold plated parts, sunburst or natural finish.
  2. 1948 ES-350 specs:2 P-90 pickups, 2 volume knobs on lower treble bout, master tone knob on cutaway bout.
  3. 1952 ES-350 specs:standard Gibson 2-PU knob configuration of 2 volume knobs and two tone knobs and a 3-way switch.
  4. 1956 ES-350 specs:Tune-o-matic bridge. 

Mine is a gorgeous blonde1952 with 2 P90 pups and with the master tone knob on the cutaway bout and the 2 volume knobs on the lower bout. 67 blonde ES 350 have left the Gibson factory in 1952 so it's a pretty rare bird.                                                   

I have made quite a few recordings with it over the last months. Below is my latest vid. I ran the 350 through my Mambo 10 amp and added some reverb later. All EQ on both the guitar and the amp were set flat. 

Saturday, December 14, 2019

The Mystery of Wes' Blonde L5 Solved

As you may recall, a few days ago I posted a story about a blonde 1960 L5 associated with Wes Montgomery that I played at the owner's house. And indeed, it was the guitar that was undoubtedly featured on at least one album cover of him, I concluded. If Wes owned it or ever recorded with it I was not sure of and I thought that was to remain a mystery. Not so! A French guitarist reacted to my Blog post with an article that had been written about the guitar in a French guitar magazine and it gave some definitive answers as to what the association of Wes with this particular guitar really was. It even stated the serial number!

So the article was in French but fortunately my French is good enough to be able to read and interpret most of it directly. If you can read French, just click on the article on the left. If not, carry on ...

The bottom line of the article is simple. Wes never owned this guitar and he therefore probably never played it or recorded with it. The guitar was provided by Gibson for a publicity shoot because Wes was under contract with Gibson and he held the guitar during ONE foto session of which the photos were used for at least 3 albums: Full House, Boss Guitar and Wes and Friends. Actually Wes is wearing the same clothes on all of the pics that you see on the different shots from this photo shoot, though the lighting of the pics may suggest otherwise ...

I ran the text trough Google translate and edited it where it screwed up. An interesting detail in the article is a second clue - next to the veins in the pickguard - that gives away the identity of this guitar. On the inlay of the headstock a small motif is missing, to the right of the amphora, probably where some varnish was sprayed over it. Of course the third clue is the definitive one: the serial number in the article is a match with the number on the guitar.

I was kind of puzzled by the last sentence in the article but my French friend told me it was just a joke. So mystery solved. Still, a very cool guitar huh! I played a guitar that was held by Wes indeed. 

Here's the full translation of the article:

                          Rare Bird Gibson L5 CESN Top Model
If an L-5 cannot be, strictly speaking, considered as a rarity, the copy that we present here is a real one. This guitar, ladies and gentlemen, is a “Top Model who posed in the hands of a top guitarist among the top players, Wes Montgomery." Her serial number is A 32991 and she was born in I960. However, this guitar did not belong to Wes, his L5s always being sunburst and not natural. So here's how things must have happened: the photos of the different covers were taken during one and the same session (Wes is dressed in the same way), and this guitar was probably borrowed, because the photos were also to be used as promotion for Gibson, with whom Wes was under contract. This guitar was then sold a first time before being re-purchased by the present owner."And how can you be so sure that this is the same instrument?" This is where we were waiting for you ... Because, dear friend, we have two clues that allow us to authenticate it without a doubt. First, on the inlay of the headstock a small motif is missing, to the right of the amphora. Or rather, it is not missing, it is under the varnish which has not been removed on that spot. Secondly, the veins of the pickguard, like the fingerprints of the thug, do not deceive: we rarely meet identical patterns. This is what allows us to say that you have before you the model held in the prestigious hands of Wes Montgomery. A great destiny for the L5, which, after holding the top of the hill in jazz, would be at the forefront of epic rock in the hands of the equally prestigious Scottv Moore, this before it was unfaithful to the beautiful eyes of a super 400 CESN, her too...

Thursday, December 12, 2019

The Mystery of Wes' Blonde L5

We all know the sunburst "Heart" L5 that Wes used throughout his career. You see that guitar on many pics and in many vids. It's the one you hear on a substantial part of his recorded output and it's the guitar that Wes is mostly associated with. But how about that blonde L5 that is featured on the cover of Wes' classic album "Full House?" And on the cover of "Wes and Friends?" There's actually several photo's of him holding or playing a blonde L5 CES.

Last year an internet acquiantance I have known for a few years told me he had purchased a severely damaged 1960 blonde L5 CES that had a connection with Wes. He was going to have it restored by a luthier and I kind of forgot about it afterwards. A month ago I noticed he had a winered 2007 L5 for sale and I decided to check that one out. Meanwhile the blonde 1960 L5 had been completely restored so he told me. Of course a visit was highly interesting now. I immediately saw an opportunity to write a Blog post on the blonde L5 that Wes might have played! Was it the one featured on the cover of "Full House?" Off to his place!

Considering the damage it had suffered, the guitar proved to be in really great shape now. And it played like a dream. It was of a much lighter build than the winered 2007 L5 and the neck was the most comfortable profile I have ever played on an L5. What a guitar ... The downside was that after playing the 1960 L5 I lost all interest in the 2007, for which I had come originally. The 1960 L5 was almost a different guitar. Lighter, more responsive and with a superior feel overall.

We  discussed the guitar and the owner showed me a picture of the cover of "Wes and Friends" and it was obvious that the pattern on the pickguard of the guitar Wes is holding was identical to the pickguard on the guitar that was lying on his couch. See for yourself:

There is very little doubt that in my mind that this was indeed the guitar Wes is holding on that album cover. Pfff .... exciting stuff. I played the guitar of course and the owner took some shots and videos with my iPhone. Not super quality but you get an idea.
Laminated maple back

nicely flamed neck
So did Wes own this guitar? Did he play it? Record with it? We don't really know. The only thing we know is that this blonde L5 was featured on at least one album cover with Wes holding it. Maybe the guitar was only used for publicity shots, as some have stated. It's all just guess work. If you know something, let us know!

Here's another short clip with the guitar. Since this clip was shot with an iPhone too, sound quality is so so and not really representative of what the guitar sounds like.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Joe's Major Etude Revisited

Over 15 years ago I studied a Joe Pass Etude from his book "On Guitar." I posted a clip of myself playing along the original video recording of Joe here. It was by no means that easy to play in sync with the master. There were some pretty fast passages. What I learned from that etude especially was the use of altered V7 sounds over I chords, thus creating tension and resolution. But that was a long time ago.

Over the years I returned to the etude regularly, sometimes playing entire segments of it over standards. I always wanted to play the whole thing in one take over a standard and look and behold, when I tried it over "Night and Day" it worked like a charm! I did have to tweak the rhythmic placement of the notes a bit here and there to fit in the progression better but I did not change any notes from the etude. Amazing really. Joe's playing is so brilliant you can play an etude designed to be played over a static chord over an entire progression of a jazz standard without it losing its musicality.

The book remains highly recommended for those interested in studying the style of Joe Pass. I used Jens Larsen's backing track of "Night and Day." Love his comping. Thanks Jens!

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Why You Should Study That Lick

Wow dudes. It's been a while. Lately I have been working on Les Wise's book "Bebop Licks for Guitar." So I'd like to say something about licks. Every once in a while I come across someone that proudly states that he does not like studying or playing "licks" from the jazz greats. Usually the argumentation is that that is not a creative thing to do and that you should rather speak with your own voice. Let me tell why I think that is not correct from an educational point of view.

If we liken jazz to a "language" - and a scientific study from 2014 at John Hopkins |University has indeed shown that the brain areas of jazz musicians that are activated during playing are those areas that are active too while speaking - it is obvious that in order for us to learn a language we not only need syntax (grammar) but also words, phrases and sentences (vocabulary) before you can start speaking fluently. Interesting is that the grammar learning thing is completely ignored by most of us. Children are perfectly able to learn a language (and its rules) by simply imitating what they hear. 

If we accept the analogy of learning jazz as learning a language the aural tradition of imitating the sounds you hear around you becomes perfectly clear:
The language analogy also expresses the importance of the aural tradition. Generations of jazz musicians learned directly from other musicians through apprenticeship and recordings. We learn to swing by imitating great musicians, just as children learn to speak by imitating their parents.
So is jazz theory (chords, scales, arpeggios, inversions, substitutions etc.) useless? Should you not just play by ear and reproduce the sounds you hear on recordings? Just like a kid learning to speak while growing up?  That's a tough question. It's perfectly possible to become a great jazz player without knowing what the heck you are doing. You don't have to know any grammar to speak a language. But the exposure to the language would have to be significant. I have seen and heard teenage gypsy kids (and this is also true for the big names in that genre) play great jazz guitar at a very young age without even knowing the name of the chords ... Such is the power of exposure.

If jazz is more of "foreign" language to you a set of rules may come in handy though. Still, running scales and knowing a lot of theory will never make you a competent player. You need words and sentences. You need real language. And that's where licks come in. And longer units such as transcribing and studying complete jazz solos by others. Preferably sing them even:

I have always liked studying licks and complete solos because they represent the real thing way better than a scale for example. Scales are not musical. Licks and solos are because they represent the language as applied by speakers. With these you can develop your own language.  Here's Clark Terry on the subject:

What he is saying is simply this:
1. Imitate: Listen. Learn lines by ear. Transcribe and learn solos and licks. Absorb a player’s feel, articulation, and time.
2. Assimilate. Ingrain these stylistic nuances, harmonic devices and lines that you’ve transcribed into your musical conception. Make them your own. 
3. Innovate: Create a fresh and personal approach to the music.

So what are you waiting for? Study that lick. Transcribe that solo. Steal all you can. And then move on ...

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Bobby Montoya, the story of a local legend

When I was surfing Youtube a few days ago, I literally stumbled upon a very classic sounding guitarist whose playing was so strong that I was kind of amazed that I had never heard of him. Granted, finding a new jazz guitar kid that sounds really good on Youtube is not that rare an occasion but in this case it happened to be a local player that had died 6 years ago. His name was Bobby Montoya. So I did some research to find out who he was and it was a bit of a sad story and one of missed opportunities ... These are more or less his own words. But what a player he was! There are a number of obscure live recordings that showcase his impressive chops. I have selected "Wave" and "There Will Never Be Another You" but for those interested, there's more on Youtube ... Let's start off with "Wave."

Bobby with Howard Roberts and Johnny Smith (background)
Bobby Montoya was born on March 1st 1954. At 8 years old he was given a guitar by his father. His father taught him chords and how to play "twinkle twinkle little star." Before long he surpassed his father.  He studied under jazz great Johnny Smith, who retired to Colorado Springs.  As a kid, he played alongside veteran musicians and at 14, Montoya won the Benny Goodman award for the best young jazz guitarist in the country, beating musicians much older and more experienced. After winning the Benny Goodman award, the world should have opened up for him. But Montoya, for reasons he can’t explain, never stepped through the doors.

“I always answer that I never took the risk. I never took the risk to go out to LA or to go out to Nashville.”
He lived on and off in Denver but always found his way back to Pueblo. There he was a regular in the nightclub scene throughout the 1980s and 1990s. In 1996, Montoya was quoted in a local newspaper article, saying he didn’t want to be in Pueblo anymore twenty years later. However, fifteen years later, he was still there, resigned to the fact that his best chances for greater fame had slipped away. 


Montoya was diagnosed with diabetes in 1988 but he disregarded his doctor’s orders for treatment and medication and a nightlife of touring and playing took its toll. The medication often went ignored. In a last interview he stated:
 “I would like to tell people to go after your dreams. You may find yourself older and you haven’t done what you wanted to do and, in my case, I just don’t have the health to do it.”
Bobby Montoya died january 17 2013 from the effects of diabetes, aged 58, finding great comfort in his religion.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Pasquale Grasso: The Bud Powell of the Guitar

By now I take it all of you guys have heard of Pasquale Grasso. If not, hurry to Youtube and type in his name. What you will hear is, well ... Bud Powell but then on guitar. There is no guitar player that even comes close to his pianistic bebop style and to the heights he has taken solo guitar playing in that particular genre. On guitar that way of playing is unprecedented and though his style is "old school" he is still a ground breaking artist. But also his single line playing is purely pianistic and deeply rooted in the bebop style of Bud Powell. His execution and delivery are pretty unbelievable and he is a guitarist's guitarist in every aspect. Pasquale is playing Trenier guitars.

I came across his latest video in which he is playing a Bud Powell solo with the WDR Big Band. The tune is "Parisian Thorougfare." As a matter of fact, the whole original Bud Powell solo was arranged for big band ...

Here's the original recording:

And here's Pasquale with the WDR Big Band:

Here's some additional info on Paquale from his own web page:
One of the most strikingly unique artists of his generation, Pasquale Grasso has undoubtedly changed the way the world views jazz guitar. Born in Ariano Irpino, Pasquale began playing guitar at a very young age. By the summer of 1997, his parents, who recognized the depth of their young son’s talent, sought out the instruction of jazz innovator, Agostino Di Giorgio. A former pupil of Chuck Wayne, Di Giorgio immediately took interest in Pasquale, whose prodigious aptitude for the instrument flourished as the young guitarist quickly became his closest pupil. From that point, it wouldn’t be long before news of this talent spread.
Barry Harris, the world-renowned jazz educator and bebop piano master, became an extraordinary influence when Pasquale attended his jazz workshop in Switzerland during the summer of 1998. Harris, contemporary of Miles Davis, Sonny Stitt, and Cannonball Adderley, took Pasquale and his brother, Luigi, under his wing. Over the span of the next 5 years, the Grasso brothers became pillars of Harris’ international workshops and were quickly promoted from mere attendees to instructors for the other students. Pasquale was named Harris' guitar teaching assistant and for the last ten years he has conducted workshops in Italy, Switzerland, France, Spain, Holland, and Slovenia.
In 2008, Pasquale pursued classical guitar studies in the Music Conservatory of Bologna under Professor Walter Zanetti. During his time at the conservatory, Grasso developed a new approach to the guitar, combining classical tradition with Chuck Wayne's modern technique ... In 2012, he moved to New York City and quickly made a name for himself in the city's vibrant jazz scene.