The 1960s saw Gibson produce several full-bodied artist archtop models. The Byrdland had been around since 1955, with the Tal Farlow, Barney Kessel, Trini Lopez and Johnny Smith all debuting in 1961. These were all finely constructed jazz guitars, with price tags to match.
Barney Kessel had already had signature guitars produced by Kay in the 1950s, though he was not particularly enamoured by them. The Gibson models were certainly a step up with respect to quality.
A fine example of the Gibson Barney Kessel Custom
The Gibson Barney Kessel came in two variations, the mahogany-necked Regular and the maple-necked Custom, both available from 1961 until 1973. The Custom was a deluxe instrument; ornate 'bow-tie' inlays, inlaid 'note' headstock design and gold plating throughout, whilst the regular had nickel (later chrome) hardware and split-parallelogram inlays. Naturally the Custom was placed at a significantly higher price point than the Regular, $560 and $395 respectively (1/9/61 Gibson price list). Both models were were produced at Gibson's legendary Kalamazoo plant, in Michigan, USA.
The following description is taken from the 1970 Gibson electric acoustics catalog
BARNEY KESSEL-C - Artist Model Designed for the musician who requires beauty and ultimate performance. A special magnetic field in the bridge pickup emphasizes the treble frequencies and produces unusual tones throughout the entire range.
FEATURES: Carved spruce top. Carved maple back, slim, fast, low -action neck joins body at 15th fret. Five-piece curly maple neck, adjustable truss rod, rosewood fingerboard with "bow-tie" pearl inlays. Gold-plated adjustable Tune-O-Matic bridge. Twin humbucking pickups. Separate tone and volume control. Three-position toggle switch. Gold-plated metal parts. 17" wide, 21" long, 3" deep; 25 ½ " scale, 20 frets.
BK-C - Custom Model - Cherry Sunburst finish
BK-R - Regular Model - Cherry Sunburst finish - Mahogany neck with pearl inlaid peghead, rosewood fingerboard with rectangular pearl inlays, rosewood bridge, chrome-plated metal parts.
607 - Faultless plush-lined case
Another famous user, other than Barney Kessel himself, was bluesman T Bone Walker who posed with his Barney Kessel Regular on the cover of his 1969 album, "Everyday I Have the Blues"
1117 Regular models, and 740 Customs were produced in the twelve years of production, most in the mid 1960s. Sales in the early seventies account for a tiny proportion of the total.
Both Regular and Custom models were included in Gibson price lists until the end of 1971, and were discontinued, along with the Trini Lopez shortly afterwards. The last Barney Kessel guitars left the Gibson plant in 1973.
The table below compares prices (in October 1966) of the Barney Kessel models with other archtops, and representative thinlines and solid-bodies.
|Johnny Smith D||$1025|
|Trini Lopez Deluxe||$695|
|Barney Kessel Custom||$675|
|Barney Kessel Regular||$525|
A Gibson guitar designed by the great jazz guitarist himself, with musical capability to match his tremendous technique, and vital inventive playing. It offers the purest tone over the entire range, with a special magnetic field in the bridge pickup to emphasize the highs
Electric guitar advertisements originally published from 1962 onwards. Click on the images for larger copies. Check out other vintage Gibson advertisements
Gibson Barney Kessel Custom - Barney Kessel Guitar (1962)
This early sixties advert for the new Barney Kessel guitars shows Barney playing the Barney Kessel Custom. That is the maple-necked version of this guitar. The Barney Kessel Regular has a neck made...
Gibson Barney Kessel Custom - Three of a Kind (1965)
Advert for three Gibson Artist Acoustics; each being played by the jazz musician that gave it its name. Johnny Smith, Tal Farlow and Barney Kessel
Each of these famous guitarists served as...
Gibson Barney Kessel - Gibson, the workingman's guitar (Barney Kessel) (1967)
Gibson advert featuring Gibson artist Barney Kessel, playing his signature model, the Barney Kessel Regular
Barney Kessel and Gibson at work for Contemporary records
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