The Fender Jazzmaster Adapts to Everything but Jazz

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Leo Fender hit it out of the park in the early 1950s with three innovative solid body instruments that changed music as we know it. They were the Fender Telecaster, Stratocaster and the Precision Bass.
But in 1957, Leo Fender set out to make another big splash. He decided to build a top-of-the-line sibling to the still new Fender Stratocaster. This one would be something completely different than anything ever created.  “The Jazzmaster” was intended to be a solid-body alternative to pricey hollow body arch top guitars that were then the industry standard. But despite its big unveiling at the 1958 NAMM show, it never caught on with jazz players at the time. Today, 55 years after its release, the Jazzmaster has proven to have the ability to adapt to all types of music.

New Design, New Tones
The body of the Jazzmaster is much larger than the Strat or Tele models.  The “offset-waist” was created for playing while seated, as jazz players often do. A completely new floating tremolo system with a tremolo lock contributed to the guitar’s design. The guitar was heavily shielded to eliminate hum from its wide “soapbar” single coil pickups. These coils had magnet pole pieces and flat wound coils that gave the Jazzmaster a warm tone while maintaining single coil clarity. The tailed bridge provided picking behind the bridge for bell tones. The maple finger boards of early Telecasters and Stratocasters were already showing wear and pitting through to the wood. Gibson had demonstrated a long time commitment to Rosewood fingerboards, so Leo Fender followed suit with the Jazzmaster. Standard on Jazzmasters was the rosewood “slab board” fingerboard.

Surfing to Success
The California-based surf music and instrumental rock craze of the late 1950’s and 1960’s gave the Jazzmaster its first real stage.  When Don Wilson of the Ventures played a Jazzmaster, it immediately gained an identity as a surf guitar.  Kids with limited music ability, who hoped a Fender could gift them with skills, were attracted to the Jazzmaster.  At the height of its popularity, Fender’s headquarters were inSouthern California.  Leo Fender himself, was said to been influenced by surf players. His follow up to the Jazzmaster, the Fender Jaguar, was targeted as surf music from the start.

A Dramatic Comeback
Despite being discontinued in 1980, the Jazzmaster’s popularity wouldn’t go away. One reason was Elvis Costello. In the late 70’s, Costello arrived from the UK with a unique image and a Fender Jazzmaster always in-hand. The guitar which had fallen out of fashion came roaring back to life thanks to Costello and Tom Verlaine of the 70’s New York Punk Godfathers, “Television.” Fender created an Elvis Costello Jazzmaster in 2008 which was a replica of the singer’s most famous vintage fender jazzmaster.

Going Grunge
Grunge music and alternative rock provided a musical renaissance in the early 90’s, and the Jazzmaster found its place again.  Sonic Youth, who began in New York in the 1980’s, had major label success in the 1990’s.  The band showcased double endorsers of Jazzmasters, Thurston Moore and Lee Renaldo. These two took art rock to another level, and earned a new appreciation for the Jazzmaster. Fender later created signature versions for each of them.  Both models were highly customized — from pickups to colors to knob/switch variations. Other 90’s endorsers of the Jazzmaster include major label alternative music superstars, J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr., Indie rock hero, Stephen Malkmus of Pavement, and Nels Cline of Wilco. Although his first choices were the Mustang and the Jaguar, Grunge God Kurt Cobain had a Jazzmaster in his surf-guitar arsenal.

Here to Stay
The 1990’s created a new demand for the return of the Jazzmaster, and Fender slowly began to reissue the guitar. It was first reissued in Japan, followed by the US and Mexico, where many variations of the Jazzmaster are currently made.  And the Jazzmaster craze continues today. In 2013 Fender Jazzmasters are more popular than ever, with Fender currently producing 10 variations of the now iconic guitar.

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The Gibson ES-345

Gibson ES-345

The Gibson ES-345 is a unique Gibson model, which was the result of a demand for a Limited Model of the original Gibson ES-335. It was the worlds first thin line arched-top semi-acoustic guitar, and was created in 1958 by the Gibson Guitar company. It was part of the “ES” series, standing for “Electric Spanish.” (EH stood for “Electric Hawaiian) A solid wood block runs through the center of the body, while the side wings are hollow with two f-holes over the winged chambers. Since the Gibson ES 335’s launch, it has become one of the most famous, recognizable shapes in music, having been played by the greatest of the greats in various types of music over the years. The design now comes in many shapes and sizes and it is an extremely significant instrument that is the very first “semi-acoustic” electric ever. It has remained true to its original design by the Gibson Guitar Company. If nothing else, the ES-335 remains a guitar for all players.

Gibson ES-345

In 1958, Gibson Guitars produced a deluxe version of the already popular ES-335, named the ES-345. The key difference is the addition of a multi-position “Varitone” switch located by the volume and tone knobs, which gave the ability to add combinations of “coils” and “capacitors” to the pickups circuits to expand the sounds. This switch has survived the test of time over the years finding a home on models such as the EB-3 Bass, The Ripper Bass, the Bill Lawrence designed L6S, the S-1, the Blueshawk, SG Special and many others. Other limited features on the 345 were a thicker binding, parallelogram inlays, gold-plated hardware and a stereo output jack. The Bigsby Vibrola was an option on the guitar.

The Gibson ES-345 was discontinued in 1981, one year after “The Gibson Lucille” was introduced (also having a varitone switch). It is currently available as a Gibson Reissue and as an Epiphone replica, if you can locate an original, prepare to pay a small fortune, it being an extremely rare vintage gibson guitar.


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The Gibson S-1

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In the 1970s the major American guitar companies were losing money due to sales of the competition, whose sales model was to produce quality instruments at drastically lower production costs. Gibson Guitars has proven over the years that they were always willing to change their approach to guitar creation from decade to decade. This is clearly illustrated throughout their history from the 1950s creation of the Flying V and Explorer, to the GibsonFirebird / Thunderbird line of the 1960s, to some interesting instruments in the 1970s that were created with factors new to Gibson such as bolt on necks and newer woods such as maple and alder.

One of these instruments was the 1975 Gibson S-1, which was an effort to create a single coil-pickup guitar that could sound like a Fender at times while also keeping the ability to create a humbucker Gibson sound by combining coils with a “chicken head” four position rotary switch. The Gibson S-1 was shaped like a Gibson Les Paul with a Gibson Flying V peg head.

The Gibson S-1 is often mistaken for the Gibson Marauder, which had on humbucker and one slanted single coil pick up. While the Gibson S-1 was endorsed by Ron Wood, the Marauder was endorsed by Paul Stanley of Kiss. Either one is an easy way to get in the door of Collecting Vintage Guitars, find one at a vintage guitar shop at around $800-$1000.


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The Gibson Firebird: Still Flying High


Classic cars and vintage guitars: two great things that go even better together.  From Leo Fender’s use of car colors to differentiate his finish options for his guitars to the Beach Boys singing about tooling around in their “Little Deuce Coupe” between surfing sessions, fast cars and loud guitars have an eternal connection.  In the early 1960s Gibson pushed the connection even further when they reached out to a famed car designer to help reinvigorate their guitar production.

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With the introduction of the Les Paul model and its many later variations, Gibson Guitar Corporation could proudly claim to be responsible for perhaps the most iconic electric guitar model ever produced. However as the 1950s pushed into the swinging 1960s Fender’s flagship Stratocaster and Telecaster lines began to eat into Gibson’s dominance. By the early-to-mid 1960s Gibson electric guitars began to develop a reputation among many players of lacking the innovation and affordability of what Fender was producing.  Clearly, Gibson electric guitars were in need of a new competitive edge. Enter famed car designer Ray Deitrich, who was hired by Gibson president, Ted McCarty, to push Gibson into new territories.


Stepping up to the challenge, Deitrich mined the futuristic car designs of the late 1950s and early 1960s, leading him to a wealth of inspiration.  The end result of his labors would become Gibson’s newest model, the Firebird.  Known as “reverse” electric guitars, the original Firebirds were designed “backwards” (at least when compared to Fender’s off-set body offerings such as the Jaguar and Jazzmaster) with the right-hand treble horn of the body longer than the other. Unfortunately for McCarty and Deitrich the unusual reverse-body design unique to Gibson electric guitars was not a marketing success. In 1965 Gibson responded to the lackluster sales by introducing a re-designed “non-reverse” Firebird.

The Firebird had a number of unique features that made it a stand-out. For starters, it was the first of the solid-body Gibson electric guitars to use neck-through construction. Those who know vintage guitars know that the Firebird’s neck extended to the base of the body. Five ply mahogany reinforced by four narrow strips of walnut gave the neck added strength. “Banjo” tuning keys, reverse headstock and mini-humbucking pickups enhanced the early Firebirds. Some models from ’65 featured the single-coil P-90 pickup.


The Firebird line was introduced to the market in mid 1963. Four models were produced, each unique in pickup and tailpiece configurations.  While the Les Paul line had distinguished its models as “Junior, Special, Standard and Custom”, the Firebird Series were distinguished via roman numerals: “I, III, V and VII” .  Fender actually threatened to bring a lawsuit against Gibson with claims that the Firebird headstock copied that of the Stratocaster, and that the body violated Fender’s design patents.   Although no suit was ever filed, disappointing sales not only led Gibson to drop the “non reverse” models but eventually reissue their original “Reverse” body design.

A long list of notable players have chosen the Gibson Firebird. Guitar luminaries such as  Eric Clapton, Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, and Aerosmith’s Joe Perry have all been seen on stage with the iconic Gibson model.  Even today the Firebird is admired and beloved for it’s cool design and unique sound.  This iconic model is still flying high in popularity with collectors of vintage guitars and players alike.

References: Wikipedia


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