Saturday, October 21, 2017

It seems the Gibson Barney Kessel wasn't designed by Barney after all ...

I have been playing my 1963 Gibson Barney Kessel for over a year now and I still dig it a lot. It's a very resonant guitar with a more complex high end than my other laminate guitars.

In my earlier post on the Gibson Barney Kessel I stated that:
"Though the Kessel obviously is a signature model I am not sure to what extent Barney was really involved in designing this guitar. Some argue the model had been designed already and Barney was only asked to endorse it after that fact."
 It seems that George Gruhn has provided the definitive answer to who really designed this model in an article he wrote for

The article states that in 1960, so two years before the Barney Kessel was introduced on the market, an experimental prototype was bought by a guy named Hines from a store in Nashville. You can see it on the left. The owner of the store told Hines
the guitar was one of a pair, and the other was apparently exactly alike except it was single-cutaway and went to Tal Farlow. Apparently, When Hines obtained the guitar, the tailpiece plaque was blank, so Stone sent it back to have Gibson engrave Hines’ name on it.

Gruhn writes: 

"Walter Carter checked Gibson’s records on this guitar and found it listed as being made for Tal Farlow in October, 1960. He found no record of the other guitar. Since Farlow is now deceased, we are unable to ask his personal recollections, but it’s clear this guitar pre-dates the introduction of instruments made with the Barney Kessel endorsement. It would appear Kessel was shown an instrument of this type and decided to endorse it rather than designing a Barney Kessel model on his own."

Maybe this explains Barney's reluctance to play it. For the article, click here.

I have always found many similarities in the BK and the Tal Farlow model. I played a 64 Farlow a few years ago and it was a very similar instrument sound. It was of a lighter build than the current TF models and more resonant therefore, kind of like my BK. Sure, my own TF reissue has a less hifi/complex sound than my BK but even here there are still many similarities, the most obvious difference being the spruce top (BK) and maple one (TF).

Interestingly, at the time, the BK custom was more expensive than the TF. Even more expensive than a Byrdland. The BK is a class act.


  1. I have a '67' with the "pencil neck". Fabulous tone.

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