Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Blast from the Past

Over the years I have owned, sold and traded in a number of jazz guitars. Some were cheap, others not so cheap. I always bought them used. Never bought a new one. Guitars came and went. I no longer own any of the guitars listed below but it's kind of fun to look back on what I used to own for a while ... The order in which I present these guitars is not strictly chronological. The playing in the vids is pretty old so not always representative of where I am now (hopefully). All of these models (except the Gibson ES 335 of course) are out of production nowadays. A guitar blast from the past!

early 1990s Aria Pro II Fa 70

I remember buying my first used archtop in the early 1990s. I don't have a picture of it anymore but, after some research, I think it must have been an Aria Pro II FA 70. I found this pic on the internet and it is the exact guitar I once owned, even in the same finish. It had an ugly pointy headstock but was a nice enough guitar. I played it for a couple of years and took my first jazz guitar lessons on it.

Action ES 175 copy

A few years later I came across an ES 175 copy with the brand name "Action" on the headstock. It was cheap so I bought it and replaced the neck pup with a Gibson humbucker. I had the headstock oversprayed because I did not want to be seen with a guitar under the obscure "Action" brand name :)

My first "quality" jazz instrument was a 1977 Ibanez Johnny Smith (model 2461 BS). I bought it for my 40th birthday back in 1998. It was a very beautiful and well built guitar. I  was never comfortable with the tinny sound of the floating pups though. Like the 70s Ibanez L5 guitar (model 2471 NT) , the Ibanez Johnny Smith has a laminate top. You still see guys selling these "golden age" Ibanez clones as "better than the original" but you have to take that with a grain of salt. I mean, we are talking about laminate copies of carved Gibson guitars so do not expect them to sound like the original. Still, the JS was a remarkable instrument with a pretty big acoustic tone. I traded it on on a Gibson ES 175 in the mid 2000s. Later I noticed it was sold in that same store at a price that was higher than that of the 175 I had traded it in on and at over twice (!) my trade in value. It seems these 1970s lawsuit Ibanez archtops have mythical qualities to some but I think they may be overrated just a bit ...

1977 Ibanez Johnny Smith (2461 BS)

I think I got this Cort ES 335 in the late 90s. Anyway, it was my first thinline archtop. Not sure when I  sold it again ... It was ok I guess but I don't think it made that strong an impression on me.

Cort ES 335

The early 80s Yamaha AE 2000 that I purchased in the late 90s was my first high end guitar with a carved top. It was Yamaha's top of the line jazz archtop from 1978 onwards until well in the 1990s and pretty expensive. Excellent guitar, modelled after the Gibson L5. I liked it so much that I bought another one a few years later. In the first pic you can see the first one. I had to replace the pickguard on that one. The second pic shows the AE 2000 that I bought a few years later. Joe Beck, Martin Taylor and Bireli Lagrene all played the AE 2000 for a while. Later in the 1980s, Yamaha started producing this model as laminates under different model names. My AE 2000s were outstanding guitars, both of them, but in the end I preferred the classic sound of Gibson laminate guitars and I sold them or traded them in.

early 80s Yamaha AE 2000

late 1980s Yamaha AE 2000

Here's Bireli playing a similar Yamaha:

And here's a sound sample of me playing it. At the time I must have been studying Joe Pass for there are quite a few Pass licks in it.

The next pic is of a Samick L5 style (model HJ 650) that I bought just because it was inexpensive. A really nice El Cheapo jazzbox. I liked the tobacco brown finish a lot and the sound was more than decent. Great value for money.

Samick HJ 650

Here's a lengthy "Stolen Moments"that I recorded long ago on the Samick Hj 650. Noodling alert! The things you find on your hard drive ...

I remember trading an acoustic guitar for this 1970s Aria Pro II PE 180 guitar. It proved to be a very enjoyable instrument. It had a big fat chunky neck but a very decent sound. And it looked like a million bucks! I think Robert Conti endorsed one of these equipped with a Charlie Christian pup for a while somewhere in his career.

Late 1970s Aria Pro II PE 180

Here's an old clip of me playing this guitar years ago. The tune is "I cover the Waterfront." Recorded with a cheap webcam because that's how I recorded back then. Not sure I should have sold this one though ...

And here's Robert Conti playing his in 1986:

Next guitar. I think I purchased this Gibson ES 335 somewhere in the mid 2000s. It was a 1987 model. Very comfortable to play and sounding good for bebop. It did not own it for a very long time but did use it for a few gigs and a number of videos. Later on I traded it in on a Gibson ES 350t that sounded a big "bigger" to my ears. But it was a nice guitar.

1987 Gibson ES 335

Here's a clip of the ES 335 "Triste":

In 1998 I purchased my first vintage Gibson archtop. It was a 1951 ES 125. I always enjoyed that one and I recorded many vids with it. I think it had the best sound of all the guitars that had owned until that time. Well, most of you guys will know this model anyway. I think this guitar paved the way to me finally settling down to the classic Gibson sounds of the ES 175, the ES 350 and the Tal Farlow in the mid 2000s. I probably would have kept it but at some time I simply did not want to own more than 3 guitars anymore.

1951 Gibson ES 125

And, to conclude, here's a take on "Tangerine" with the 125:


  1. A very enjoyable retrospective, Dick.

    Particularly like the sound you get from the Aria PE180 and the Gibson ES175.

  2. Dick, curious as to why you didn't want to own more than three jazz guitars at one time?Personally I believe that is one of the most intelligent things that you could have done! You spend the time in playing the instruments rather than getting into the 'collecting' thing..........jim in Maine

  3. Amazing to read about your evolution. Your ability to sell the guitar of the day and move on to a new one is admirable. I am the opposite. I tend to keep every guitar I ever own. In fact, it takes me about 5 years to acquire a new guitar, because I have to save up--I can't get any cash for my old guitar because I'm not selling it. Right now I have seven guitars, and man what a chore! So much work. When it gets really dry in this New York City apartment during the winter, I find myself adding water to those in-case humidifiers two times every week. Which means pulling the cases out of closets and out from under beds. And really, I only play one guitar, my ES 175. Why do I keep all these damn things? Because I LOVE THEM. The guitars I don't much play anymore include a '56 ES-225 and a 90's Tele made in California, and a Martin acoustic from 1983. My favorite recordings of myself with bands I really loved are on those guitars. How can I sell them?! And I promise I'm not a hoarder. I own two pairs of shoes and 5 shirts. But oh, guitars are different. Anyway, I applaud you. When you say you don't want more than 3 guitars I totally get it. It's kind of like how I don't want a guitar with more than one pickup and two knobs. You have to set your boundaries.

  4. Fabulous retrospective, I really enjoyed your comments about all those guitars you have owned. And I really like the way we can hear getting a better player (well, are these videos in a chronological order? ). I used to have an '58 Es125, I can't for forgive myself stupidly selling it a couple of years ago. . What a bad decision, I regret it so much!
    I still have an '81 Ibanez As200 and I'll never let it go for sure, I'm in love with it (same one exactly as John Scofield' s, one of my favorites guitar player).
    I'm searching for an Es175 type guitar, but unfornatly the Gibsons are way to expensive for me, and I just can't admit putting that kind of money regarding my rather amateur playing skills :-)
    Forgive if i've made some mistakes, I'm from France. Best regards

  5. Man, your tone on that PE180 is great! Love your blog and playing DB! I think your blog is one of the best, and most honest, there is!

  6. Wow, your post here is very informative and your YouTube videos are really inspiring. Your musicianship is certainly of a high calibre and I enjoyed listening to every one of them. In fact, I'm on a new journey myself having just got hold of a Yamaha AE1200s III. It's a beauty.

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