Sunday, January 19, 2014

1977 Ibanez Johnny Smith

1977 Ibanez Johnny Smith (model 2461)

My first quality archtop I bought in 1998, when I turned 40. It was an Ibanez Johnny Smith (model 2461), signed by Ibanez master luthier Sugihara. It was a very beautiful instrument, with a good acoustic sound. It looked exactly like a Gibson Johnny Smith. The Ibanez Johnny Smith and Ibanez L5 models of the early and late 1970s are often advertised as being "from the golden age of Japanese guitar building" and as "lawsuit" models (because Gibson sued Ibanez for building replicas of their models in the late 70s). And in just about every ad for a guitar like this comes the statement "better than the original." That is bullshit really. To start with, both the Ibanez Johnny Smith and the Ibanez L5 model from that era carry laminate tops, whereas the Gibson originals have carved ones. So we are talking about different beasts really. The Ibanez JS and L5 models look like the originals but they hardly sound like them. That does not mean they are bad guitars, they are fine instruments, but if you really want an L5 or JS sound, you'd better look for the real thing.

I was always a bit uncomfortable with the electric sound of my Ibanez Johnny Smith. The floating pups (mmm ... what's the point of a floating pup on a laminate top anyway) sounded tinny and the the guitar did not produce the fat and darker ES 175 humbucker sound I was looking for. But at the time I simply was not aware yet of the fact that I preferred the classic sound of routed in humbuckers. So I never used it as much as I should have really. In the end, about 7 years later, I traded in the guitar against a Gibson 175 in a guitar store, which I liked much better sound wise. I got 1700 euro for the JS on the ES 175.

Later on I saw the store's price tag for the Ibanez on the internet and nearly fainted: 3500 euro!!!!! The store cashed in big time on the mythical status of these lawsuit archtops guitars of course. Golden era or not, that is way too much.  I recenly purchased a 1983 Ibanez FG 100 that I like much better than the JS sound wise.

I must admit that I once played a 70s Ibanez L5 that I really liked a lot. But no way it sounded like a real L5. But a great guitar in its own right. And the Ibanez JS is that probably too if you prefer a more trebly, acoustic sounding guitar. But do not believe the "better than the original" hype.

1970s Ibanez L5 (model 2460)

For the gear freaks here are some specs for the 1977 Ibanez Johnny Smith:

Materials: Three-piece solid maple neck with adjustable truss rod; bookmatched arched spruce top; figured maple back and sides; solid ebony fingerboard and compensated bridge; mother of pearl block fingerboard inlay and peghead inlay; 5-ply body, headstock and pickguard binding, triple bound fingerboard, bound f-holes

Hardware: hardware includes art-deco gold-plated tailpiece and tuners, original ebony adjustable compensated bridge with inlaid feet, bound tortoise pickguard with twin floating mini-humbucking pickups, with 3 way rotary pickup selector and independent volume and tone controls, mini-jack output under pickguard.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Meeting Jimmy Raney

Back in “82 Jimmy Raney gave a masterclass at the Rotterdam conservatory where I studied at the time. I came in late and everybody was grinning because I carried my guitar with me. Everyone had done their best to hide theirs under the tables."

The guitar teachers played great with Jimmy and then it was the turn of the students to play. “Who wants to play with Jimmy?” Everybody took one step back, leaving me and my guitar up front with a feeling I had volunteered for some dark mission in the foreign legion.

“What ... do you ... want to play?” he asked with a dark, slowly paced voice. “Have you met Miss Jones” I said. “Oookaaay” he said. “In what key?” “The original key!” I replied. “Oookaaay….what is…. the original key?” “F” I said. I just wanted to play and get it over with. “Do you …..want to play the melody ……or shall I ……play the melody?” “No, please, you play the melody” (silence) “What tempo…….. do you want to play it in?” I snapped my fingers in a tempo I could manage to solo in. I was getting a little bit nervous because he was talking so slowly I thought the whole thing was going to take too long. Just when I counted in he stopped me and he asked in that same slow voice “ Do you ……want to play the first chorus ………..or shallI I play the first one?” (Oooh come on) I thought chorus meant playing one chorus so I replied like a gentleman: ”No, please ... you take the first chorus” (mmmm .... not very clever) He played six choruses and after that I thought: ""Well, that story was told ... What can I possibly add to something already said so beautifully?" I squeezed out two choruses (listen).

After this all students relaxed a bit. “Mr Raney why don’t you bend strings like a rock guitarist?” a student asked. Jimmy looked at the student emotionless. “I’m afraid ... they’ll break ...” he replied.

Herbie Guldenaar



Sunday, January 12, 2014

Meeting Joe Pass

Joe and Bob
Many years ago, when I was still in the service teaching guitar at the Armed Forces School of Music in Virginia Beach, VA, I had the opportunity to meet and jam with Joe Pass. There was a local music store where I liked to hang out and I found out they were bringing Joe there for a private in-store concert. They had not made any arrangements to pick him up, so I volunteered my services.
I picked Joe up from the Norfolk International Airport and drove him to his hotel where he checked and asked the girl if she recognized his name. Of course she did not, so he told her he was a bikini salesman. He said he was tired and wanted to take a nap and he would call me later. I went home and paced. Finally he called, and when I got there he said he wanted to go to a grocery store. While there he told me he was teaching me how to go on the road when I got out of the service. He brought back a kiwi for the girl at the desk.

Somehow he knew I wanted to play from the first moment he saw me, even though I did not have a guitar with me at the time. When he called me back he said to bring my guitar, so after the short shopping trip, we went up to his room. Joe rolled up his pant legs and wandered around the room like an old grandfather, checking pockets for stuff and just kind of muddling around. He finally grabbed his guitar gig bag and put it on the bed and began rummaging through the various pockets finally coming up with some picks. He used the small teardrop ones, but he cut off the top a bit leaving not much more than the point.

Ibanez Joe Pass
Then he opened the gig bag and grabbed what I think was the proto-type for the Ibanez Joe Pass model and he handed it to me and said “play something”. As I recall, the strings were heavy flat wound and the action was high and I was scared to death. I played a few things for him, chord solo type things and he would nod and mumble a few times, but when I played ‘round Midnight he grabbed the guitar and said “I play it like this” and proceeded to play it very close to the way he played it on his virtuoso album (listen).
After that, he said “get your guitar”, and we sat next to the wall AC unit across from each other with a table in between and played for a good hour, just standard tunes. He would solo for a while and then say “go” and when he felt like it, he just jumped back in soloing. We were both exhausted at the end but what an experience.
I left Joe a Jazz chord book I had written hoping he would look at it and maybe give it an endorsement and I asked him if I could videotape the concert later that night at the music store. He said he would think about it and let me know later when I picked him up for the gig. In the end, he let me videotape him, a tape I still treasure, and he eventually endorsed my Chord Book as well, although it came in the mail several months later.

We had him over to the house the next day before he had to fly out and my wife made lasagna. I also invited two of my guitar buds to join us. We wanted Joe to play something so I gave him my guitar which was a Gibson 347. He joked “you need to get a real guitar”, meaning a hollow body, but he played it anyway. The lasagna must have been fine because when he left he thanked my wife and then kissed her on both cheeks. Not too long after that visit I ordered my Ibanez Joe Pass model which was played many years later by George Benson but that is another story.

Bob Roetker