Saturday, December 14, 2019

The Mystery of Wes' Blonde L5 Solved

As you may recall, a few days ago I posted a story about a blonde 1960 L5 associated with Wes Montgomery that I played at the owner's house. And indeed, it was the guitar that was undoubtedly featured on at least one album cover of him, I concluded. If Wes owned it or ever recorded with it I was not sure of and I thought that was to remain a mystery. Not so! A French guitarist reacted to my Blog post with an article that had been written about the guitar in a French guitar magazine and it gave some definitive answers as to what the association of Wes with this particular guitar really was. It even stated the serial number!

So the article was in French but fortunately my French is good enough to be able to read and interpret most of it directly. If you can read French, just click on the article on the left. If not, carry on ...

The bottom line of the article is simple. Wes never owned this guitar and he therefore probably never played it or recorded with it. The guitar was provided by Gibson for a publicity shoot because Wes was under contract with Gibson and he held the guitar during ONE foto session of which the photos were used for at least 3 albums: Full House, Boss Guitar and Wes and Friends. Actually Wes is wearing the same clothes on all of the pics that you see on the different shots from this photo shoot, though the lighting of the pics may suggest otherwise ...

I ran the text trough Google translate and edited it where it screwed up. An interesting detail in the article is a second clue - next to the veins in the pickguard - that gives away the identity of this guitar. On the inlay of the headstock a small motif is missing, to the right of the amphora, probably where some varnish was sprayed over it. Of course the third clue is the definitive one: the serial number in the article is a match with the number on the guitar.

I was kind of puzzled by the last sentence in the article but my French friend told me it was just a joke. So mystery solved. Still, a very cool guitar huh! I played a guitar that was held by Wes indeed. 

Here's the full translation of the article:

                          Rare Bird Gibson L5 CESN Top Model
If an L-5 cannot be, strictly speaking, considered as a rarity, the copy that we present here is a real one. This guitar, ladies and gentlemen, is a “Top Model who posed in the hands of a top guitarist among the top players, Wes Montgomery." Her serial number is A 32991 and she was born in I960. However, this guitar did not belong to Wes, his L5s always being sunburst and not natural. So here's how things must have happened: the photos of the different covers were taken during one and the same session (Wes is dressed in the same way), and this guitar was probably borrowed, because the photos were also to be used as promotion for Gibson, with whom Wes was under contract. This guitar was then sold a first time before being re-purchased by the present owner."And how can you be so sure that this is the same instrument?" This is where we were waiting for you ... Because, dear friend, we have two clues that allow us to authenticate it without a doubt. First, on the inlay of the headstock a small motif is missing, to the right of the amphora. Or rather, it is not missing, it is under the varnish which has not been removed on that spot. Secondly, the veins of the pickguard, like the fingerprints of the thug, do not deceive: we rarely meet identical patterns. This is what allows us to say that you have before you the model held in the prestigious hands of Wes Montgomery. A great destiny for the L5, which, after holding the top of the hill in jazz, would be at the forefront of epic rock in the hands of the equally prestigious Scottv Moore, this before it was unfaithful to the beautiful eyes of a super 400 CESN, her too...

Thursday, December 12, 2019

The Mystery of Wes' Blonde L5

We all know the sunburst "Heart" L5 that Wes used throughout his career. You see that guitar on many pics and in many vids. It's the one you hear on a substantial part of his recorded output and it's the guitar that Wes is mostly associated with. But how about that blonde L5 that is featured on the cover of Wes' classic album "Full House?" And on the cover of "Wes and Friends?" There's actually several photo's of him holding or playing a blonde L5 CES.

Last year an internet acquiantance I have known for a few years told me he had purchased a severely damaged 1960 blonde L5 CES that had a connection with Wes. He was going to have it restored by a luthier and I kind of forgot about it afterwards. A month ago I noticed he had a winered 2007 L5 for sale and I decided to check that one out. Meanwhile the blonde 1960 L5 had been completely restored so he told me. Of course a visit was highly interesting now. I immediately saw an opportunity to write a Blog post on the blonde L5 that Wes might have played! Was it the one featured on the cover of "Full House?" Off to his place!

Considering the damage it had suffered, the guitar proved to be in really great shape now. And it played like a dream. It was of a much lighter build than the winered 2007 L5 and the neck was the most comfortable profile I have ever played on an L5. What a guitar ... The downside was that after playing the 1960 L5 I lost all interest in the 2007, for which I had come originally. The 1960 L5 was almost a different guitar. Lighter, more responsive and with a superior feel overall.

We  discussed the guitar and the owner showed me a picture of the cover of "Wes and Friends" and it was obvious that the pattern on the pickguard of the guitar Wes is holding was identical to the pickguard on the guitar that was lying on his couch. See for yourself:

There is very little doubt that in my mind that this was indeed the guitar Wes is holding on that album cover. Pfff .... exciting stuff. I played the guitar of course and the owner took some shots and videos with my iPhone. Not super quality but you get an idea.
Laminated maple back

nicely flamed neck
So did Wes own this guitar? Did he play it? Record with it? We don't really know. The only thing we know is that this blonde L5 was featured on at least one album cover with Wes holding it. Maybe the guitar was only used for publicity shots, as some have stated. It's all just guess work. If you know something, let us know!

Here's another short clip with the guitar. Since this clip was shot with an iPhone too, sound quality is so so and not really representative of what the guitar sounds like.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Joe's Major Etude Revisited

Over 15 years ago I studied a Joe Pass Etude from his book "On Guitar." I posted a clip of myself playing along the original video recording of Joe here. It was by no means that easy to play in sync with the master. There were some pretty fast passages. What I learned from that etude especially was the use of altered V7 sounds over I chords, thus creating tension and resolution. But that was a long time ago.

Over the years I returned to the etude regularly, sometimes playing entire segments of it over standards. I always wanted to play the whole thing in one take over a standard and look and behold, when I tried it over "Night and Day" it worked like a charm! I did have to tweak the rhythmic placement of the notes a bit here and there to fit in the progression better but I did not change any notes from the etude. Amazing really. Joe's playing is so brilliant you can play an etude designed to be played over a static chord over an entire progression of a jazz standard without it losing its musicality.

The book remains highly recommended for those interested in studying the style of Joe Pass. I used Jens Larsen's backing track of "Night and Day." Love his comping. Thanks Jens!

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Why You Should Study That Lick

Wow dudes. It's been a while. Lately I have been working on Les Wise's book "Bebop Licks for Guitar." So I'd like to say something about licks. Every once in a while I come across someone that proudly states that he does not like studying or playing "licks" from the jazz greats. Usually the argumentation is that that is not a creative thing to do and that you should rather speak with your own voice. Let me tell why I think that is not correct from an educational point of view.

If we liken jazz to a "language" - and a scientific study from 2014 at John Hopkins |University has indeed shown that the brain areas of jazz musicians that are activated during playing are those areas that are active too while speaking - it is obvious that in order for us to learn a language we not only need syntax (grammar) but also words, phrases and sentences (vocabulary) before you can start speaking fluently. Interesting is that the grammar learning thing is completely ignored by most of us. Children are perfectly able to learn a language (and its rules) by simply imitating what they hear. 

If we accept the analogy of learning jazz as learning a language the aural tradition of imitating the sounds you hear around you becomes perfectly clear:
The language analogy also expresses the importance of the aural tradition. Generations of jazz musicians learned directly from other musicians through apprenticeship and recordings. We learn to swing by imitating great musicians, just as children learn to speak by imitating their parents.
So is jazz theory (chords, scales, arpeggios, inversions, substitutions etc.) useless? Should you not just play by ear and reproduce the sounds you hear on recordings? Just like a kid learning to speak while growing up?  That's a tough question. It's perfectly possible to become a great jazz player without knowing what the heck you are doing. You don't have to know any grammar to speak a language. But the exposure to the language would have to be significant. I have seen and heard teenage gypsy kids (and this is also true for the big names in that genre) play great jazz guitar at a very young age without even knowing the name of the chords ... Such is the power of exposure.

If jazz is more of "foreign" language to you a set of rules may come in handy though. Still, running scales and knowing a lot of theory will never make you a competent player. You need words and sentences. You need real language. And that's where licks come in. And longer units such as transcribing and studying complete jazz solos by others. Preferably sing them even:

I have always liked studying licks and complete solos because they represent the real thing way better than a scale for example. Scales are not musical. Licks and solos are because they represent the language as applied by speakers. With these you can develop your own language.  Here's Clark Terry on the subject:

What he is saying is simply this:
1. Imitate: Listen. Learn lines by ear. Transcribe and learn solos and licks. Absorb a player’s feel, articulation, and time.
2. Assimilate. Ingrain these stylistic nuances, harmonic devices and lines that you’ve transcribed into your musical conception. Make them your own. 
3. Innovate: Create a fresh and personal approach to the music.

So what are you waiting for? Study that lick. Transcribe that solo. Steal all you can. And then move on ...

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Bobby Montoya, the story of a local legend

When I was surfing Youtube a few days ago, I literally stumbled upon a very classic sounding guitarist whose playing was so strong that I was kind of amazed that I had never heard of him. Granted, finding a new jazz guitar kid that sounds really good on Youtube is not that rare an occasion but in this case it happened to be a local player that had died 6 years ago. His name was Bobby Montoya. So I did some research to find out who he was and it was a bit of a sad story and one of missed opportunities ... These are more or less his own words. But what a player he was! There are a number of obscure live recordings that showcase his impressive chops. I have selected "Wave" and "There Will Never Be Another You" but for those interested, there's more on Youtube ... Let's start off with "Wave."

Bobby with Howard Roberts and Johnny Smith (background)
Bobby Montoya was born on March 1st 1954. At 8 years old he was given a guitar by his father. His father taught him chords and how to play "twinkle twinkle little star." Before long he surpassed his father.  He studied under jazz great Johnny Smith, who retired to Colorado Springs.  As a kid, he played alongside veteran musicians and at 14, Montoya won the Benny Goodman award for the best young jazz guitarist in the country, beating musicians much older and more experienced. After winning the Benny Goodman award, the world should have opened up for him. But Montoya, for reasons he can’t explain, never stepped through the doors.

“I always answer that I never took the risk. I never took the risk to go out to LA or to go out to Nashville.”
He lived on and off in Denver but always found his way back to Pueblo. There he was a regular in the nightclub scene throughout the 1980s and 1990s. In 1996, Montoya was quoted in a local newspaper article, saying he didn’t want to be in Pueblo anymore twenty years later. However, fifteen years later, he was still there, resigned to the fact that his best chances for greater fame had slipped away. 


Montoya was diagnosed with diabetes in 1988 but he disregarded his doctor’s orders for treatment and medication and a nightlife of touring and playing took its toll. The medication often went ignored. In a last interview he stated:
 “I would like to tell people to go after your dreams. You may find yourself older and you haven’t done what you wanted to do and, in my case, I just don’t have the health to do it.”
Bobby Montoya died january 17 2013 from the effects of diabetes, aged 58, finding great comfort in his religion.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Pasquale Grasso: The Bud Powell of the Guitar

By now I take it all of you guys have heard of Pasquale Grasso. If not, hurry to Youtube and type in his name. What you will hear is, well ... Bud Powell but then on guitar. There is no guitar player that even comes close to his pianistic bebop style and to the heights he has taken solo guitar playing in that particular genre. On guitar that way of playing is unprecedented and though his style is "old school" he is still a ground breaking artist. But also his single line playing is purely pianistic and deeply rooted in the bebop style of Bud Powell. His execution and delivery are pretty unbelievable and he is a guitarist's guitarist in every aspect. Pasquale is playing Trenier guitars.

I came across his latest video in which he is playing a Bud Powell solo with the WDR Big Band. The tune is "Parisian Thorougfare." As a matter of fact, the whole original Bud Powell solo was arranged for big band ...

Here's the original recording:

And here's Pasquale with the WDR Big Band:

Here's some additional info on Paquale from his own web page:
One of the most strikingly unique artists of his generation, Pasquale Grasso has undoubtedly changed the way the world views jazz guitar. Born in Ariano Irpino, Pasquale began playing guitar at a very young age. By the summer of 1997, his parents, who recognized the depth of their young son’s talent, sought out the instruction of jazz innovator, Agostino Di Giorgio. A former pupil of Chuck Wayne, Di Giorgio immediately took interest in Pasquale, whose prodigious aptitude for the instrument flourished as the young guitarist quickly became his closest pupil. From that point, it wouldn’t be long before news of this talent spread.
Barry Harris, the world-renowned jazz educator and bebop piano master, became an extraordinary influence when Pasquale attended his jazz workshop in Switzerland during the summer of 1998. Harris, contemporary of Miles Davis, Sonny Stitt, and Cannonball Adderley, took Pasquale and his brother, Luigi, under his wing. Over the span of the next 5 years, the Grasso brothers became pillars of Harris’ international workshops and were quickly promoted from mere attendees to instructors for the other students. Pasquale was named Harris' guitar teaching assistant and for the last ten years he has conducted workshops in Italy, Switzerland, France, Spain, Holland, and Slovenia.
In 2008, Pasquale pursued classical guitar studies in the Music Conservatory of Bologna under Professor Walter Zanetti. During his time at the conservatory, Grasso developed a new approach to the guitar, combining classical tradition with Chuck Wayne's modern technique ... In 2012, he moved to New York City and quickly made a name for himself in the city's vibrant jazz scene.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Art Tube MP Studio V3

Guys often ask how I record my vids and how I get my sound. Well, I think the secret to a good recorded sound is going direct. It's as simple as that. No mike. No amp. I tried that often and the results are invariably inferior to my direct recordings. Of course you can use an amp modeller - I have used an old Digitech RP 300 for many years - but there's a simpler and purer way even. A good tube preamp will do trick even better! 
About two years ago I bought a valve preamp that sounds great. It's an ART Studio V3 preamp. Let's have a look at some info: 
The Tube MP Studio V3 delivers warmth and fatness to any audio source while maintaining an exceptionally low-noise signal path. While its primary function is as a microphone preamp with +48V phantom power, variable gain and phase reverse switching, the Tube MP is also an exceptionally versatile tube driven direct box for any instrument source. The Tube MP Studio V3 uses ARV3™ presets were created and fine-tuned by some of the industry’s top studio and live-sound engineers and allow instant access to a multitude of preamp settings designed for guitars (electric and acoustic), keyboards, bass guitars, drums, vocals and more. Additionally, the Tube MP Studio V3 employs OPL™ (Output Protection Limiting) technology to protect the next component in your signal path from clipping and overloads.T’s proven V3™ (Variable Valve Voicing) Technology to instantly contour the tone to any source ...
OK, there's obviously a sales pitch going on in the above text but the bottom line is that the thing really sounds great. What you hear in the video is what it sounds like. I only added some reverb but for the rest the sound from the guitar has NOT been processed whatsoever. Best listen to the clip on a real hifi set to get an idea ...

Of course you need some other tools too to be recording and you have to know how to handle recording software. I have written on that earlier here. But I kind of simplified my recording setup last week and the signal chain is now as follows:

Guitar > Tube preamp (Art Studio V3 Tube MP) > Mixer (Behringer Xenyx QX1202) > USB Audio interface (Scarlett Focusrite 2i2) > Laptop and camera (Software: Sonar X2 Producer, Cyberlink Power Director). My camera is a Sony HDR-MVI, which was especially designed for recording music.

But at the centre of my recording setup there's just this little valve preamp. No microphone or amp needed. And, like the rest of my recording gear, it's pretty inexpensive.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Oscar Peterson On Guitar

In the mid 2000s I came across a video of a young guy playing over an insanely fast Oscar Peterson solo. It was really an extraordinary feat and I was surprised to find out it was a countryman of mine named Wim den Herder. This solo generated quite some publicity for him. Over the years I kind of lost touch with his career but when I did recently, I found a few astonishing videos and info on him. When he was just 13 years old, he won the Dutch National Guitar Awards and in 2003 he began his jazz studies at the Amsterdam Conservatory, from which he graduated in 2008. In 2009 Wim founded The Guitar Academy, a guitar training school. Upon revisiting the spectacular Oscar Peterson solos once gain - there were a few more than I thought - I decided to ask him about his motives to tackle such hard stuff on guitar. Dudes, if this won't blow you away in terms of dedication and practise regime, I'm not sure what will ....

How did you get the idea to play Ocar Peterson on guitar? 

When I heard this solo (Just Friends) I immediately thought that it would be impossible to reproduce it on guitar. But I had tried this earlier with a solo when I was 16. You decide to stick firmly until you can do it. That decision and the discipline is extremely motivating. Either you fail or you become a better player.

How long did it take you to get the first Peterson solo under your fingers?

It went faster than I had expected. It took me 16 hours to figure out the 60 seconds of the solo and another 8 hours to record it. So after 3 days I had it on Google video and later Youtube.

What happened then?

It was the best thing that had happened to me. I got mails from Paul Reed Smith and Oscar Peterson's daughter. Later Jennifer Batten even recognised me backstage. When I invite guitarists over to Amsterdam, I always send them the vid first. A video like that that going viral  opens all kinds of doors. Its impact is hard to measure but of course it made me a better player.

I noticed a video of a live performance of that solo. What's the story on that?

When I was to play that same solo live on stage, I studied it at 115% speed, because live your level of playing always goes down a bit. This way I had the feeling that I could do more than was required. This took me another week of studying, about 25 hours.
By the way, many people think when they see a number like that "oh, that's not too bad" but try focusing on ONE solo like that for 25 hours. It feels like a very long time.

What other Oscar Peterson solos did you study later?

I recorded another three solos. Sweet Georgia Brown, The Boogie Woogie and one of which I do not know the name. I called it "Tribute to Oscar Peterson."

 Sweet Georgia Brown


Boogie Woogie

Tribute to Oscar Peterson

Pfff ... Totally insane stuff. On your Youtube page I came across a Rhythm Changes etude. How about that one?

What you do every day will grow over time. It was a bit like going on holiday and sorting out what to take with you ... By this I mean that the list becomes longer and longer but by sheer force of repetition you are able to remember all the items. I composed a new chorus every year. It eventually grew into a 5 minute lick with 3000 notes. I think improvisation is not completely free. You learn all kinds of stuff by composing and then putting it all together live on stage. Just like an expert in a talkshow who has gained knowledge over the years. Every day you can compose a perfect solo and live you use the material available. Live improvisation is about 10% freedom and about 90% preparation.

How did your career go after that?

It was much more subtle than just the attention the videos generated. I was able to play better lines and I got better at jam sessions. I had all these licks under my fingers. Also, in excersises like that you often you end at the third and then you have to think of something new. One of the best ways to learn how to improvise is to play transcribed solos!

You are not the typical archtop guitarist. Most of the times you are playing an acoustic guitar. Why is that? 

I prefer the sound of Maton guitars: open, lots of clarity and with more expression. In addition, I like styles that are guitar oriented like metal, blues, fingerstyle and gypsy jazz. In jazz, guitarists often try to sound like horn players and roll off the treble and leave out vibrato. I think that diminishes the sound of the guitar itself. Probably just a a matter of taste.

What are you up to these days?

I'll be demonstrating "Wimpicking" at Troy Grady's Youtube channel shortly. Wimpicking is a technique which allows you to play multiple guitar parts simultaneously with only one pick. It becomes even possible to strum and play a bass line at the same time with a pick, three to four, like this:

Or you can play a power chord and a melody like this:

The secret is that you can do this if you break it up into small parts (usually 4 notes) and then if you practise real slow, eventually you can do it. Over time you'll be able to do it fast with 2560 notes! Just take your time.

Thanks for the interview Wim!

Friday, March 15, 2019

The Gibson ES 300

Many of you will have seen and heard my latest acquisition, a 1947 Gibson ES 300. I had to trade in my 1963 Barney Kessel though. She did not come cheap and I am not a collector ... But what a stunner she is. 72 years old and still in mint condition. Truly a closet queen. Even the original frets show little to no wear. She spent decades in her case in a collection. No longer so! This baby deserves to be heard! For, she's the Godmother of the laminate Gibson ES guitars as we know them!

highly figured top, back and sides
Some specs first. My new blonde beauty showcases a 17”-wide body with highly flamed maple top, back, and sides; a 1-piece mahogany neck; a 20-fret bound 25 1/2” scale rosewood fretboard with split parallelogram inlays; a bound headstock with a pearl crown inlay; P 90 pup in neck position, multi ply pickguard.  She still carries the old Gibson script logo. Gibson introduced the new block logo in the same year. The blondes are very rare.  I did not find any production numbers on the ES 300 apart from the fact that only 83 ES-300 examples in natural finish were built in 1948. On the current vintage market, the blondes are considered more desirable and therefore more expensive than the ones that have a sunburst finish. 

old script logo

But let's have a look at some guitar history see to find out where the ES 300 stands in the Gibson lineage.
1936 ES 150

The first ever Electric Spanish (ES) guitar introduced by Gibson was the ES 150. The year was 1936. It was a 16" archtop that was fitted with a CC pickup.. The smaller ES 100 appeared in 1937 and the more ornate 17" ES 250 after 1938.

1940 ES 300
In 1940, the ES-250 was replaced by the ES-300. It featured the same 17”-wide maple body and carved spruce top as its predecessor, but now a new long diagonal pickup was added. The market did not like it much and in 1941 a shorter but still diagonal pickup debuted in 1941. Because of the outbreak of World War II in december of that year production of electric guitars gradually ground to a halt.

After the war, a line of Electric Spanish guitars was reintroduced during 1946. It included a modified version of the older 1940 ES-300. The new edition was made from laminated maple and a mahogany neck. Gibson figured that carved solid spruce was not necessary for an electric guitar, for, string vibrations were amplified by a pickup anyway. The ES 300 was equipped with one of the newly designed P-90 pickups in the neck position. Later, in 1949, the ES-300 got a second bridge pickup. Vintage Guitar Magazine states that early post war models were highly transitional. Some had P90 pups with adjustable poles, others with no poles at all. Also, some were constructed with highly figured woods whereas other examples were constructed mostly using mahogany, sometimes for all of the body. I remember playing such an all mahogany ES 300 a few years ago. The modern block logo was introduced during 1947-48 and the multi ply pickguard replaced the bound one in the same year.

For a few years, the ES-300 stood as the fanciest electric archtop in Gibson’s lineup. It was the guitar that Django Reinhardt used during his US tour with Duke Ellington.

Gypsyjazz UK writes:"Django arrived in the U.S on 29th October 1946 to tour with the Duke Ellington Orchestra as a guest soloist; the tour would transit the East coast and would include 2 concerts at Carnegie Hall in New York ... Django arrived in New York without a Guitar but the William Morris Agency acquired a Gibson ES-300 with a hybrid amplifier just before their 1st Concert on 4th November." 

Listen to the recording above. Don't be fooled by the pics. Django is playing a Gibson ES 300 here. Wow, and how great and modern he sounds on it. Note that lick at 0.47  Joe Pass has stolen from him later and that you hear often in Joe's playing. You can also hear that Django lick in a Joe Pass etude from his "On Guitar" book here. And that flurry of notes at 2.09 is incredible for that era. It is so bebop ... Note the applause of the audience after it. They recognize the greatness of what they are hearing.

The reign of the ES-300 ended in ’47, when a new model The ES-350, a cutaway version of the 300, became the new top electric model. By the time the ES-5, yet another electric archtop king, appeared in ’49, the writing was on the wall. Few pros were using non-cutaway electrics and the 300 was discontinued in ’52.

By the way, one of the most famous solos in rock and roll history was played on a Gibson ES 300. Yeah, I am talking about Danny Cerone's  solo in Bill Haley's "Rock around the Clock."

Enough history now. How does it sound? Well, pretty darned good.
I have always preferred Gibson ES guitars and, like I said earlier,  this is the Godmother of them. The sound is unmistakably vintage ES. Woody, rich and very classic. This guitar breathes bebop!

Here's "Body and Soul"on the ES 300.

And here's "Round Midnight." 

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Interview with Erwin van Waardenburg from the Guitar Company

A few weeks ago I purchased a stunningly beautiful 1947 Gibson ES 300 at The Guitar Company. Of course that was a great opportunity to ask Erwin, the owner, some questions. So here we go ...

You started to collect vintage guitars at a pretty young age. How did that go about?

I was quite young when I began collecting and studying vintage guitars. It all started when I was about 10 years old. My brother and sister already played guitar and my father asked me if that was something I would like too. I liked ACDC and Led Zeppelin a lot so it seemed like a good idea. Together with my parents I bought my first guitar at Dijkman in Breda. It was a Silvertone SG model.

When I was 14, I once went shopping with my parents im Antwerp. There was a small store where I saw and fell in love with a Gibson Les Paul double cut. I started saving and checked the store regularly if the guitar was still there. Finally I could buy it and though I paid too much for it, at 14, I was the proud owner of a Gibson guitar.

My first real vintage guitar I bought when I was 15. At the time I was already infected with the vintage virus and I borrowed money from my parents to buy a 1971 Gibson SG special. I was only allowed to play it after I had repaid my debt.

What music do you play yourself?

My first project was a Surf band. After that I played in a rock and blues band. But my real love was rockabilly and country music so I was soon in a band that played that type of music. Right now I would like to start a bluegrass band.

You have a passion for Gibson hollow bodies. Why is that?

I have a passion for Americana. Bluegrass, western swing, jump blues, country, rockabilly. I used to listen to Brian Setzer a lot. On holiday in Germany I bought my first Gretsch. After that I owned several non vintage Gretsch guitars, White Falcons, Black Falcons, 6120’s, Country Classics, Country Gentlemans, Duo Jets, Firebirds etc. I could not afford a collection so it was a matter of buying and trading in. I must have tried out all of the Gretsch models. Then I came across a Gibson ES-225T from 1956 and I was hooked on vintage guitars. Now that was a guitar with mojo. The neck only had 50% of the original finish and it felt and looked great. I sold all the Gretsches and started to collect vintage Gibson hollow bodies. I once even sold my car to be able to afford a guitar.

You own what is probably my dream guitar, a 1950s ES 350. How did you acquire that one?

That’s a nice story. I have always thought the ES 350 was the ultimate Gibson hollow body. I had been looking for one in Europe but to no avail. So I placed an ad and forgot about it over time. One night an older gentleman called me and told me he had one. Let’s call him Frank. Frank had seen the guitar being played by Lloyd Davis on his European tour with Willis Jackson. Apparently Davis died in Antwerp during that tour and the guitar went back to the USA. However, via a befriended trader, Frank was able to purchase it in 1980.
When I visited Frank to buy the guitar I had to audition. At first he did not like what I was playing but when I played some jazz on it, he changed his mind and we agreed on a price. It has been my favorite guitar ever since. It turned out to be that the guitar I had been looking for so long was just half an hour’s drive away.

What are other favorites from your collection?

I have owned many great guitars over the years. Many ES models from the 40s and 50s and 1950s Les Pauls. A highlight was last year when I found a Les Paul from 1959 in the Netherlands.
Right now I have a 1961 Gibson ES 335 for sale. An insanely resonant guitar.

What was your worst buy?

A 1956 Gretsch Firebird. It had all kinds of issues – a screw was drilled in the neck pocket - and I had it restored for a lot of money. Later I had trouble selling it and had to let it go for way under my asking price.

Why did you start The Guitar Company?
I am crazy about vintage guitars. I read about them every day. Much to my girl friend’s annoyance haha. When I was still very young I was buying and trading in guitars all the time. I met many people and built up some kind of network. Sometimes I made a profit. 
After my studies (art academy with specialization online marketing) I started a design agency. So I already knew how to market a product and when I noticed the average offering of local stores I thought I could do a better job.
With the Guitar Company I want to focus on quality vintage guitars. I rather have 30 good guitars than 100 medicocre ones in my collection. It’s the only way to stand out in the market.

Where do you get your guitars?

Many clients think I buy from the USA. But the truth is that I get most of my guitars from my personal network.

Do you have any tips for buying a vintage guitar?

Knowledge is power. Focus on the guitar you want. Many great books on vintage guitars exist so be sure to study your literature. Do not buy from Ebay just like that. It takes experience to see if a guitar is original or if any repairs were done on it or are needed. A bad purchase can cost you a lot of money. For your first vintage guitar you had better seek out a vintage specialist.
And another thing. A vintage guitar is not a good guitar by definition. It is important to ask yourself if the guitar is really going to make you happy or if it is a worthwhile asset to your collection.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

The Guitar Company

Last  year I paid The Guitar Company in Breda a visit to check out some guitars. I promised the owner, Erwin van Waardenburg, that I would return later to check out his new location in Etten-Leur.

Last week I noticed an ad for a 1947 Gibson ES 300 and it happened to be a guitar that was for sale at the Guitar Company. The guitar looked so gorgeous that I was very interested and quickly made an appointment to check out that blonde beauty. Erwin promised me to bring his own 1952 ES 350, a model that I had never played and was very eager to hear! Together with Eva (my daughter) we made the trip on a sunny sunday.

Of course the ES 300 was great in all respect. Mint condition, no issues at all and even the original frets showed little sign of wear. A closet queen! I could hardly believe my eyes when I first saw her. Such an old guitar in such a great condition. And she sounded like you'd expect from a P90 equipped vintage Gibson. Classic bebop sounds. Like a real lady, she was not cheap so I had to leave my beloved 63 Barney Kessel behind to be able to afford her but I quickly knew she going with me. I'll do a separate Blog entry on the ES 300 with plenty of specs on this model later so I'll move on to the other guitars that I played. 

The second guitar I played was a blonde 1952 Gibson ES 350, the cutaway version of the ES 300 What a great axe. It had a super comfortable neck with plenty of wear - I always like that - and it was equipped with two P90 pups and, like the ES 300, simply oozed bebop. Apparently it once belonged to Lloyd Davis, who recorded with Stanley Turrentine and Willis Jackson a.o. In the market for vintage ES jazz boxes, this is probably the most desirable guitar money can buy. But with prices ranging from 8-10 k on the market, they are not very affordable instruments ... If you can live without the cutaway, the ES 300 is probably just as great. The big difference with the ES 300 is the neck. The 300 has a mahogany neck and the 350 a maple one, thus making the 350 an all maple guitar.

The next guitar was a bit of surprise to me. Erwin handed me a 1958 ES 225 and it took me only a few seconds to realise just how great it sounded. I mean, I am not used to playing thinlines that sound so huge. I am familiar with the ES 125t but the ES 225 is really a big step up from that model. It hardly sounded like a thinline and was more in vein with the 300 and 350 that I had just played. Big fat boppy sounds. And that from a thinline ...

Next was a 1952 Gibson ES 295. The quintessential rock and roll guitar. I had actually never played one earlier. Basically it's a 175 with some fancy appointments, like gold finish, different tailpiece, ivory colored pup covers and a pickguard with gold floral design. To me, it just sounded like a regular 50s ES 175. Fine sounding vintage guitar but you have to be willing to pay a hefty premium for the 50s rockabilly mystique ...

The last guitar I checked out was a 1961 Gibson ES 335. At 22k, by far the most expensive one in the house. Though I once owned an 80s 335, my experience with vintage ES 335s is limited. This one is probably kick ass but I simply prefer hollow bodies. It did sound pretty big for a 335, so much I noticed.  

For a short impression watch the vid below. However the lofi sound hardly does the guitars justice. And my playing is not very focused ...

We drank coffee, talked guitars, jammed some and then ....I went home with a beautiful 72 year old lady! Thanks Erwin (The Guitar Company) and thanks Eva for driving me and taking the pics!

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Why the ES 125 is the best vintage Gibson buy

I came across and old blues comping video that I made in 2006. The guitar I was playing was one I no longer have, a 1951 Gibson ES 125. So I did a guitar nerdy thing yesterday and I played two etudes in straight eights over the old vid with my current 125, so some 13 years later. The first 2 choruses are Joe Pass, the last chorus Warren Nunes. A duet with my younger self ... You can find the Pass etude with tabs here and the Nunes etude here.

1951 Gibson ES 125
So I've had two Gibson ES 125 guitars over the years. The first one, the 1951 model, I purchsed in 1998. I had seen Martijn van Iterson play one many times and his sound and playing blew me away. I paid about 1200 euros (2500 pre euro Dutch guilders) for it at the time and it was my first "vintage" instrument. It was very light, very responsive and it sounded great. Unlike my other, more modern laminate guitars, you could actually play it unamped and it would still sound good. Years later, in the mid 2000s. I gave it to my daughter who sold it later fo fund a foreign trip  - and still regrets it to this very day! I always missed that guitar and to set things right I purchased a 1964 model in 2017. My daughter drove me to Amsterdam and we both felt it was the right thing to do. The price had gone up though. I had to pay 1800 bucks for it and |I knew it needed some fretwork and some other other maitenance. But it sounded too good to leave behind.

1964 Gibson ES 125
My new 1964 ES 125 was in fact very much like the 1951 one. Light, responsive and IMHO even better sounding. So I kind of liked it even better than the earlier 1951 model but of course a comparison only exists in my mind because I cannot play them side by side anymore. Still, the 1964 one certainly rings all the right bells with me and the lighter, early 1960s sunburst of the top I like definitely better than the very dark burst you see on early 1950s models.

In the meantime I have had my guitar tech do a complate overhaul of the guitar and I play it with great satisfaction. I have some fine guitars but the 125 certainly holds its own

So why do I think the 125 is the best vintage Gibson buy? That's easy. It's very much like a 1950s P90 equipped Gibson ES 175 but at half the price. The 125 was an entry level archtop at the time but the differences with the more expensive 175 are largely cosmetic. No cutaway, no fretboard inlays, fewer bindings etc. Last year, I compared my 125 with an early 1950s 175 side by side and thought it sounded pretty similar. Sure, a P90  175 is a fancier guitar but that's about it.

The bottom line is that the 125 is the best vintage Gibson ES buy these days. Though prices have gone up over the years (in Europe, expect to pay over 2000-2500  bucks these days), it is still a reasonable price among all the insane vintage pricing that I see all over the place for Gibson ES guitars like the the ES 175, 300 and the 350. And you do get the same 50s bop sound and vintage looks!

To read more about the 125 click here.