Saturday, September 15, 2018

Joe's Guitars

I have always considered Joe's guitar tone in the mid and late sixties to be the best recorded archtop sound ever. I have written about that earlier. I am talking about the sound that you hear on records such as "For Django", "Joy Spring", "Simplicity" and "Intercontinental." Surely, this is a subjective statement, however, I do know that many agree with me on this. On these records Joe is playing a Gibson ES 175. For much of Pass' early recordings he employed the ES175 that was given to him as a gift right after he got out of drug rehab, when a wealthy real estate jazz fan discovered that Pass didn't own his own guitar, but was using a Synanon-owned solid body Fender. A solid body? Yes, while Joe Pass was at Synanon (drug rehab clinic) to kick his habit, Joe recorded his first album album as a leader  and used a Fender Jaguar because he did not own a guitar at the time. Somehow he managed to sound absolutely great on it. Amazing how fully developed his single line playing already was at the time, after a mostly wasted and drug ridden decade in the 50s ... In this post I'd like to have a look at the other guitars he used too throughout his career. 

But let's first go back to the ES 175. Joe used that guitar on all his classic recordings in the 1960s and continued to play it well into the 70s. I'm pretty sure he used it on the seminal "Virtuoso" albums and of course his duos with Ella feature this guitar. Anyway, a good example of the classic 175 tone that I dig so much is (of course) "Joy Spring." I have written about the 60s Joe Pass here.

In the 1970s Joe had James D'Aquisto build him a guitar with a single pickup installed. This guitar made it onto several recordings. Here's a solo recording on the D'Aquisto.

In the 80s Joe played the Ibanez Joe Pass signature JP-20 model guitar that Ibanez made for him. Much has been written about whether Pass did or didn't like this guitar, but he was faithful in using it over the life of the endorsement deal. I'm not that impressed by the sound of this particular guitar, neither by my own experience with it, nor by Joe's recordings that he made with it. Compared with his earlier sound on the 175 it always sounds tinny and trebly. Many argue the pick-up placement is wrong on that guitar but the following observation found on a guitar forum may be a more accurate assessment:
The problem is actually that Ibanez added two frets - gratuitously - to the fretboard. Pass didn't even realize this, nor did he use those frets. You can tell this when he wanders up there in his first Hot Licks instructional disk (in 1986 it was actually a videotape). He was surprised to discover that the JP20 went to "D." The extra two frets pushed the relative position of the pickup beyond the node of the 24th fret.

So the bottom line is that the 175 is 20-fret guitar, whereas the Ibanez JP20 is a 22-fret guitar with the pick-up in a position further removed from the neckYou can hear Joe on the Ibanez on many recordings and live performances of the 80s and on the left you can see and hear it in action. Of course it should be noted that Joe would sound great on any guitar but hey ... this is a nerdy place to begin with so we have our preferences :)

Sometimes Joe played an acoustic guitar. I read somewhere that he recorded "Summer Winds" and "Appassionato" with a 1942 Epiphone Deluxe owned by John Pisano that originally belonged to John's father.

Joe finally went back to a Gibson ES 175 when Gibson built him a custom model in 1992. This particular model had the pick-up placed closer to the neck and it was slightly thinner than a regular ES 175. It was one of a kind. And it sounded great. IMHO, Joe was back to the guitar that has best fit him over the years. Listen to the warm and lush 175 sounds here:

He also used it on my favourite later recording, "In Hamburg" that he recorded in 1992 with the NDR Big Band.

It's a darned shame that Gibson never marketed this particular custom made ES 175 model as a Joe Pass Signature Model. Over the years they have had a Tal Farlow, a Barney Kessel and a Herb Ellis model and not a Joe Pass model? Why a Steve Howe and not a Joe Pass 175? Incomprehensible. For many people Joe's sound on the 175 has become the archetypal jazz guitar sound to begin with. The perhaps greatest of them all had to forego his own Gibson Signature ES 175 ...

1 comment:

  1. Interesting article, many people want the signature guitar and some times it can work out. In to days recording environment its fairly easy to get the tone you want from almost any guitar. In the 1960s apart from Luthier built guitars the choice for many was either Fender or Gibson because they made acceptable instruments. To day we live in better times and have a vast choice of really great instruments. Indonesia China and Korea all produce some really excellent guitars far better than was available in the 1960s. They also produce some clunkers but so do Fender and Gibson. In my opinion guitar snobs often kill off aspiring musicians ie wont let them in the band unless they have all the accepted gear.