Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Jesse van Ruller Live in Zandvoort

In the interview I did with Jesse van Ruller a few years ago - one of my biggest Blog hits ever - I stated that Jesse's appearances in a "straight ahead" jazz context are pretty rare these days. I added a compilation of a few standards from a concert he did in 2010 in Zandvoort in the "Jazz in Zandvoort" concert series. This morning an internet friend hipped me to the complete concert being on Youtube. As I am writing this I am viewing it and it showcases Jesse's  marvellous playing on a complete set of standard among which "You're my Everything" "Prelude to a Kiss", "All or Nothing at All", "Stella by Starlight" and "Sandu". His guitar (the ES 150 he has been playing for quite some years now) is well recorded - what a great sound - and the whole thing was professionally filmed. Thanks PM Brown for hipping me to this. Enjoy the concert!


Jazz in Zandvoort. FILMED 3 OCTOBER 2010 in DE KROCHT in Zandvoort, THE NETHERLANDS.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Gibson ES 125

In my previous post I reported on my guitar trip to Amsterdam. I stated that I liked the 1964 Gibson ES 125 best. Sure the 1997 L5 I played was great, and the Byrdland too but ... I tend to relate the attractiveness of a guitar to its price these days. In my view,  if a recent 6k archtop sounds great that is hardly impressive. For, it would be a disgrace if it did not. But if an archtop is AND vintage AND sounds great AND is sub 2k euro, well, than that IS impressive. So a week after my trip I made an offer which was accepted and returned to the String to get that 1964 Gibson ES 125.

Checking out the 125
I have owned a 125 earlier. Actually in 1998, a 1951 ES 125 was my first vintage Gibson archtop. I gave it to my daughter years later and I sold it for her about 10 years ago when she needed some money. She always regretted selling that guitar though  ... so she was happy to accompany me to Amsterdam to get another one.

The ES 125 is the most humble of vintage Gibson archtops. It's not very collectible because so many were produced and so many are still around. After all, it was highly successful model for Gibson from 1941 to 1970. Simply because it was so affordable.  "A student model at best" I read on the vintage guitars info pages. So you won't find in the orthodontist's or lawyer's guitar collection. It has no snob appeal. However, in terms of affordable vintage mojo a 125 is hard to beat. Over here in the Netherlands the instrument has gained popularity ever since chops meister Martijn van Iterson chose it as his preferred instrument in the 90s. There is nobody on the planet that plays a 125 better than he does, trust me. And his sound is always fantastic. Student model at best huh ...

The Gibson ES 125 is a plain looking non cutaway instrument with one P90 pick up in neck position. It has a solid Honduras mahogany neck, an arched slab-cut maple back and top; mahogany sides; solid Brazilian rosewood fingerboard. The hardware includes a P-90 single coil pickup, Kluson Deluxe strip tuners, gold bonnet knobs and a chrome raised diamond trapeze tailpiece. 

The body size at the lower bout is 16". The scale length is 24.9" and the nut width 1 11/16". So in spite of the fact that it has no cutaway it is not a big guitar.

The playability may not be what you find in high end guitars. But make no mistake. It IS a vintage instrument. It is of a much lighter build - so with a thinner top - than current Gibson laminates. An ES 125 will be more resonant than what you would expect. Its acoustic sound is pretty loud. Kind of like what you hear from ES 175s of the late 1940s and 1950s, you know the ones with a single P90 pup. Here's a clip that I recorded with my 125 totally unplugged. The tune is "Angel Eyes."

My 1964 ES 125 is very much like the 1951 one I once had. I kind of like my current one a bit better cosmetically because it has a lighter three tone burst instead of the older two tone burst of the 1950s. But for the rest, pretty much the same guitar. Definitely feels the same but it may sound a bit brighter than the older one I had. I do not know much about the consistency of them over the 30 years they were produced though ... Most of the ones I see on the internet seem to be from the 1950s.

And here's a clip that showcases its electric sound (Kenny Burrell's "Midnight Blue"):

Typically, you can find a vintage 125 for under two grand. I paid 1800 euro for mine. It does have some fret issues high up the neck so I will have to spend some 150 bucks more. Most of the times that will be the case for these guitars. You'd be lucky to get one with new frets that is already in perfect playing condition. Many are pretty battered. I wonder how long the sub 2k prices will remain though. Prices ARE going up for this model.

The ES 125 is not for those that seek a shiny new guitar. The finish on these is thin in vintage style. Heck, most recent guitars will feel like plastic compared to the woody vibe the 125 generates in your hands. I love that feel. I think these old finishes (or rather, the absence thereof) really improve the sound. So if you want an affordable full sized vintage ES guitar, the Gibson ES 125 is your best choice. And your only one probably ...

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Guitar Trip to Amsterdam

The number of vintage archtops on the Dutch market has always been very limited. At any given moment in time, there's probably no more than 10-15 vintage Gibson archtops for sale within the Dutch borders. For more you have to shop abroad. In the Netherlands, it's a slow and painfully small market. Some of the more expensive models take years to sell. I actually know a few that have been for sale since 2010 in a local vintage store (!). Asking prices are often ridiculous (20k for an 1950s ES 5 ... lol ... get real) but sometimes there are a few that spark my interest. Since most of the Dutch vintage guitar stores are in Amsterdam, I took a trip on a train (hey, that's a song) with my wife and we combined some sight seeing with some guitar spotting, not all of them vintage by the way. It was a lovely spring day and Amsterdam was in full swing. What a city ... Go there dudes. It's an experience.

First stop was Diamond guitars, situated in a beautiful stately canal mansion with high ceilings that now accomodates a few businesses and organisations. A truly historic place, for in WW II, it used to be the residence of the "Joodse Raad" (Jewish Council). So those walls must have witnessed some very dramatic scenes. The Council was in fact an instrument for the occupying Germans to facilitate the smooth selection and deportation of Jews. Read all about it here.

Owner of Diamond Guitars , Wil Peters, gave us a warm welcome and I checked out a 1997 Gibson Wes Montgomery he has had for sale for a while. It was already the second Wesmo I played this week (a friend visited me with his 1995 Wesmo earlier this week) and the guitar at Wil's place was pretty similar. Very nice guitar with a deep acoustic voice. It was as clean as a whistle.

He also showed me a Byrdland that he sold earlier for a great price and was back for maintenance. I had my eyes on that one a while ago when he was selling it but I was too late then. To me it felt just like a mini L5. Short scale neck, thin body, not so deep voice. Both guitars were in mint condition and were obviously from the same era. Same finish, same woods, even the same flames in the back and on the neck. No vintage mojo though. I'm still not entirely sure if I am a high end carved top man myself.

Though he sometimes has some very nice jazz guitars in his collection, Wil's core business - and passion - is steel string guitars. He probably has the biggest offering of Lowden flattops in the Netherlands. And then there are his Martins, as well as a number of other brands (Collings, Avalon, Turner etc.) I played both a Martin D18 and a D35 and loved the lush and classic strumming sounds that I know so well from the pop hits from the 70s (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, "Horse with no Name" etc.). The Lowden flattops sounded great too. They are pretty expensive guitars so they should sound fabulous and ... they do. Upon leaving, he showed me a Gibson mandoline from 1914 that was in ... mint condition. Really amazing.

Next stop was Dirk Witte in the Vijzelstraat. We went on foot so we got a good view of the city in between guitar stores. The guitar I wanted to check out was a 1950 Gibson ES 150. The condition was very mediocre, the finish was in pretty bad condition and it had two filled holes in the headstock. The tail piece did not look original to me. It felt and played great though with tons of vintage mojo. But considering the condition, I felt the price was too steep. Nice guitar though.

Then off to The String.  I love that store. It's a small, charmingly untidy but very cozy vintage store at a very nice square and Rienk seems like an easy going guy to deal with.  It was at his place that I bought my first vintage Gibson archtop in 1998: a 1951 Gibson ES 125. I played that guitar for years before I gave it to my daughter. Rienk always has a few ES 125s around and kind of specialises in affordable used and vintage guitars from all kinds of brands. He told me the prices for even the ES 125 were going up though and that it was harder and harder to get affordable ones. I played a 1964 Gibson ES 125, a 60s ES 125t and a George Benson signed Ibanez GB 10 from 2008. Of course in the tone department the ES 125t was no match for the full sized 125. The Benson was nice but, again, I missed the vintage mojo. There is something unexplicably cool about playing old and battered guitars I guess. I am becoming less and less a fan of shiny new ones.

The bottom line. I played a few nice guitars today but the one that really knocked me out in terms of price/quality and pure vintage mojo was undoubtedly the most modest of all, the Gibson ES 125. "A student model at best" it is decribed on some "expert page" on the web. Student model my ass. Listen to anything by Martijn van Iterson. It may not have any snob appeal but it is clearly unbeatable for the money. Heck, at least, they used to be. The one I played was 2.0k ...  Mmmm. Maybe the affordable vintage era is coming to a close too. Anyway, here's a 125 in action: