Signature BK''s: Two Models for One Man
Over the next several months, I would like to take a look at one of the artist signature guitars Gibson offered in the ‘60s, and more importantly, the work of the artist whose name it bears: Barney Kessel. Both the artist and guitar seem to be given scant attention, especially considering the contributions Barney made to the evolution of jazz guitar performance. Early on in his career, Barney was thought to have been the heir to the throne that Charlie Christian had occupied in the ‘40s. In the ‘50s, no one was as famous on jazz guitar or as prolific as Barney, no one won as many Down Beat artist polls, and no one was more in demand as the preeminent guitar sideman. The number of recordings that bear his name, both as a sideman and a leader, is staggering.
Gibson first approached Barney in 1960, at the zenith of his popularity. Barney’s name had already appeared on several Kay models, but he was eager to attach his name to an instrument he saw as both more worthy and playable. “I don’t play that Kay – it’s a terrible guitar!” Mr. Kessel has been quoted as saying, although it is unclear if Barney was much happier with the new Gibson-made Barney Kessel models. While there are plenty of glamour shots of Barney playing both Custom and Regular models, all of his serious concert and combo recording work was done with a 1940s Gibson ES-350, sporting a Charlie Christian pickup. During Barney’s seemingly turbulent years with Gibson, the headstock logo was often seen covered in tape.
While Barney often indicated a lack of interest in his own signature models, Gibson reached greater synchronicity with other artists, particularly Tal Farlow and Johnny Smith. Both Tal and Johnny showed serious interest in their models, and were rarely seen playing without them. It seems odd then that Barney was one of the few artists given two models, despite his seeming dissatisfaction with Gibson. His involvement with the actual design of the instrument has also come into question, with some suggestion that his signature model was a pre-existing design in search of an artist endorsement. This theory would indicate that Gibson was more eager to associate the guitar with a successful artist’s name than that artists actual input regarding the guitar’s design. Sadly, the ‘60s brought with it the slow death of popular jazz. Gibson – not then seen as a trendsetter – introduced the Barney Kessel model as the tide was beginning to turn toward solidbody electric guitars and rock music, with these changes helping to push jazz to the rear of the pop music bus. The Barney Kessel artist model was introduced in 1961, and actually stayed on the books for a staggering 13 years. The model had a long but unsteady tenure with Gibson, with shipping numbers during its best year – 1968 – totaling only 371 units for both the Regular and Custom models. The model was phased out in 1974 as both Barney’s relationship with Gibson, and the popularity of jazz in general, continued to deteriorate.
From my observation, today’s lack of popularity for the instrument is due, more than anything else, to the double cutaway design. Many of the model’s high end features, such as the Super 400 neck and headstock, tend to get overlooked. Over the last few years the Barney Kessel models have gradually increased in value. Sadly, since the individual parts are still worth more than a complete guitar, one often finds empty BK shells at bargain prices, with the original parts having been reappropriated to guitars deemed to be more worthy. I wonder if the dealers who part out the Barney Kessel guitars have ever listened to his music! Several of the Kessels in my personal collection were purchased as “wood only” and restored exactly as they would have come from the factory. We will know that the BK has arrived as a respectable collector’s guitar when the whole is worth more than the parts as has already happened to other previously less desirable guitars, such as the 1959 ES-175.
Pictured are five BK Custom and Regular guitars, spanning 1961-1965. All original, these models boast ten PAF pickups among them. Next moth we will begin looking closely at this namesake artist himself and his contributions to chordal bebop lines.
A clinician and jazz educator, Jim Bastian is a 10 year veteran of teaching guitar in higher education. Jim holds two masters degrees and has published 6 jazz studies texts, including the best-selling How to Play Chordal Bebop Lines, for Guitar (available from Jamey Aebersold). He actively performs on both guitar and bass on the East Coast. An avid collector and trader in the vintage market, you can visit Jim’s store at premierguitar. (dealer: IslandFunhouse).
Looking for more great gear for the guitar player in your life (yourself included!)? Check out this year's Holiday Gear Finds!
D'Addario XPND Pedalboard
DR-05X Stereo Handheld Recorder
Wampler Pedals Ratsbane
Outlaw Effects introduces their next generation of NOMAD rechargeable battery-powered pedal boards.
Available in two sizes, NOMAD ISO is a compact, versatile tool that offers the convenience of a fully powered board plus the additional freedom of not having to plug into an outlet. NOMAD ISO is ideal for stages with limited outlet availability, quick changeovers, busking outdoors, temporary rehearsal locations, and more.
NOMAD ISO builds upon the legacy of the ultra-convenient and reliable NOMAD rechargeable pedalboard line originally launched in 2018. The brand new NOMAD ISO editions feature eight isolated outputs (1 x 9V DC, and 1 switchable 9V/12V DC) for even more versatility and clean, quiet power. With an integrated lithium-ion battery pack boasting 12800mAh capacity, NOMAD ISO can fuel a wide array of pedals, and will last over 10 hours* on a single charge.
Each NOMAD ISO pedal board includes adhesive hook & loop pedal-mounting tape, eight (8) standard DC connector cables, and one (1) reverse polarity DC cable, giving you everything you need to build your ultimate "off-the-grid" rig. A rugged, road-ready padded gig bag with shoulder strap is also included, to safely protect your gear while you're on the move.
NOMAD ISO S
NOMAD ISO S: MSRP $309 / MAP: $249
Dimensions: 19 ¼" x 5 ¼"
NOMAD ISO M
NOMAD ISO M: MSRP $349 / MAP $279
Dimensions: 19 ¼" x 11"
More info: https://www.outlawguitareffects.com.
Dunable announces new Minotaur model featuring Grover Rotomatic Keystone tuners.
The Minotaur's DNA is rooted in their classic Moonflower model, which Dunable discontinued in 2017. However, they have long since wanted to create a fresh take on a carved top guitar design, and various attempts to rework the Moonflower led them to a brand new concept with the Minotuar.
Dunable's goal is to give the player a guitar that plays fast and smooth, sounds amazing, and gives maximum physical ergonomic comfort. The Minotaur's soft and meticulous contours, simple and effective control layout, and 25.5" scale length are designed to easily meet this criteria.
- 25.5" scale length
- Dual Humbucker
- one volume, one tone, push pull for coil splitting
- Grover Rotomatic Keystone tuners
- Grover Tune O Matic bridge with brass Kluson top-mount tailpiece
- jumbo nickel frets
- 12" fretboard radius
This full-amp-stack-in-a-box pedal brings a new flavor to the Guitar Legend Tone Series of pedals, Missing Link Audio’s flagship product line.
Adding to the company’s line of premium-quality effects pedals, Missing Link Audio has unleashed the new AC/Overdrive pedal. This full-amp-stack-in-a-box pedal – the only Angus & Malcom all-in-one stompbox on the market – brings a new flavor to the Guitar Legend Tone Series of pedals, Missing Link Audio’s flagship product line.
The AC/OD layout has three knobs to control Volume, Gain and Tone. That user-friendly format is perfect for quickly getting your ideal tone, and it also offers a ton of versatility. MLA’s new AC/OD absolutely nails the Angus tone from the days of “High Voltage” to "Back in Black”. You can also easily dial inMalcom with the turn of a knob. The pedal covers a broad range of sonic terrain, from boost to hot overdrive to complete tube-like saturation. The pedal is designed to leave on all the time and is very touch responsive. You can get everything from fat rhythm tones to a perfect lead tone just by using your guitar’s volume knob and your right-hand attack.
- Three knobs to control Volume, Gain and Tone
- Die-cast aluminum cases for gig-worthy durability
- Limited lifetime warranty
- True bypass on/off switch
- 9-volt DC input
- Made in the USA