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When George Benson burst on the scene in the mid ’60s with The New Boss Guitar, he ushered in an era of modern jazz guitar that combined an adventurous harmonic spirit, blinding technique, and a no-nonsense tone that has influenced countless jazzers since. Those oft-imitated tones led to a line of signature Ibanez guitars that endured for more than 30 years.
The newest fruit of this long-standing relationship is the LGB300, which is a subtle update on the more recent GB30TH and GB10. Over the years, Benson has made subtle changes to his signature axes. Benson has always been hands-on with his designs and used some of his commercial artist training to sketch out design ideas. Outside of a few minor tweaks in body shape, neck size and pickups, the essence of the GB remains. The design of the LGB—which stands for “Little George Benson”—is inspired by some of his earliest guitar memories.
Benson wanted to design a guitar for the performing musician rather than something to hang on the wall. And his primary goals were to create a guitar that was solid as a rock, easy to play, and not unruly when volume creeps past coffee shop levels. The build quality of the LGB stands out from the first time you touch it. The heft of the LGB was a bit of a surprise as well, and it seemed slightly heavier than comparable archtops. But Benson expanded the body size to 16.5”, which is a slight increase over the GB10 and explains the added weight and increased resonance. Apart from the added girth and the Florentine cutaway, the basic outline has held its time-tested shape and the guitar is still built around a spruce top with maple back and sides.
The fretwork was immaculate with no sharp edges or gaps between the fretwire and fretboard. Inspired by a Guild Johnny Smith that Benson played as a kid, the 305mm radius neck was incredibly comfortable. A prime example of how a smooth, flat, and fast neck can work for more than just pointy guitar wielding shredders. The 24.75” scale length was also nicked from the Smith model and gives the guitar a feel that is somewhere between a Gibson and a traditional acoustic guitar.
When it comes to the electronics, Benson took a very traditional route with standard volume and tone controls for each pickup. The rubber ring around each knob is a nice touch that gives the controls a professional feel. The medium frets are a bit small for my taste, but with the right string setup, it could be very comfortable for most players.
Punch and resonance are the two descriptors that will come to mind when you plug in the LGB. Running through a Jackson New Castle loaded with a pair of EL84s,the Super 58 alnico neck pickup was warm and smooth as I dug into the flatwounds. And it was relatively easy to dial in the tone from some of Benson’s most famous organ trio albums. The combination of an amp with plenty of clean headroom and a resonant archtop is something to behold. And as the volume increased, I could feel the guitar becoming more responsive. During Benson’s press conference at the most recent NAMM, he made a point that he wanted the LGB to be less feedback prone at higher volumes. This isn’t an axe you would want to use in your Sonic Youth tribute band, but it does handle volume better than most of its hollowbodies. When you’re playing with instruments that occupy the same sonic real estate, it helps to have some added girth and midrange to cut through the mix. And the midrange presence on both pickups is a welcome sound for when you tread through the wake of a B3 pumping a Leslie cab.
Working through some of the greasy bebop licks I spent hours trying to cop from Benson in college, the merits of the wider ebony became more obvious. The 45mm string spacing at the nut is fingerstyle friendly (though much less so for those with smaller hands) and its very comfortable for stretchy chords once you get used to the feel.
The bridge pickup has some obvious added presence, but never became too shrill or percussive. Part of that can be attributed to the fatter sound of the flatwound strings, but credit is also due to the finely tuned pickups. Benson knows his way around both tube and solid state amps and even with the Newcastle chirping at a pretty good level the LGB never gets too trebly. Moving from jazz lines to big ringing open chords, the guitar’s acoustic properties gave each strum a clear ringing tone with each note of the chord sitting comfortably and prominently in the mix. Though after moving back and forth between the pickups a few times, it occurred to me that unlike Benson the player, the LGB can be a bit of a one-trick pony—there’s not a ton of variation in tone. Keep in mind, though that that one trick is a really good one.
When you make your living as a professional musician, you need reliable gear that sounds good and is fun to play. The LGB covers all those bases from a platform that’s simple, elegant, and just plain performs. The Ibanez is worthy update to the ES-175-inspired archtops that have been a mainstay of the harmonically exploratory types for decades and it’s designed with the input of one of the great masters of jazz guitar. And if you are willing to shell out the dough, the LGB has the goods to return on investment for years to come.