I accidentally bought a guitar, and ended up with an unexpected bargain

Guitars & Gear

I’ve noticed a few decent-looking guitars going for sale on eBay recently. In the past, I’ve picked up a few great instruments and amps, including the Strat which was my main touring guitar for a decade, as well as two Fender Mustang floor units, which I use for live work most of the time nowadays. However, buying something online, especially a musical instrument you haven’t played, or even held, can be a risky business. I therefore try to set an ‘absolute maximum’ price which I won’t go over. This is price is normally quite low, meaning I should be able to at least earn a small profit on any guitars I decide to move on – but it does mean I’m not usually the ‘winning bidder’ when interesting pieces catch my attention.

That is, until I saw this gem…

What is it?

This guitar is modeled on the Gibson non-reverse Firebird III, one of Gibson’s early forays into the offset market, only flipping the body to be a mirror image of the shape in the above picture, hence the term reverse. From 1965 to 1969, Gibson offered a non-reverse version, in a much more Jazzmaster style shape. The ‘III’ in the name is a reference to the guitar having three P90 pickups, unlike the two mini humbuckers on previous Firebird models. Because these non-reverse bodied, three pickup guitars were only available for around four years, they are considered highly collectible and even ones in poor condition go for thousands of pounds.

However, I knew from the price I paid for it alone that this guitar was not a real Gibson. Once it had been delivered, it was clear that the ‘Gibson’ logo on the headstock is actually a decal, added after the original purchase (although some of these copies were actually supplied with stickers such as this, or alternative truss rod covers that read ‘Gibson’, so perhaps it came with the instrument). An original Gibson of this style from the mid to late sixties would have looked slightly different, too – chrome hardware, black pickup covers and probably a Firebird decal somewhere on the pickguard. But I have to say, I quite like the gold hardware, and I’ve always preferred cream/aged white pickup covers, especially on retro-styled guitars such as these.

So who made it?

In my initial research, the Japanese manufacturer Tokai looked the most likely suspect. Tokai, along with Ibanez, were famous for their ‘lawsuit guitars’ in the seventies; the lawsuit occurred because they were making better Les Pauls than Gibson were (the 70s saw huge reductions in quality from both Gibson and Fender guitars, making the Japanese rip-offs much more appealing, and better value). Tokai have certainly released their own take on the Firebird design, but after a little more digging, I believe this model to be made by the almost completely unknown Gould brand; seemingly British-based, but put together in China, probably in the early 2000s.

Is it any good?

Heck, yes. It sounds amazing, and reinforces my belief that sometimes, one is merely paying extra money for the right name on the headstock. This guitar plays really well, hangs nicely on a strap and has a good vintage-feel neck (i.e., it’s thicker than many modern guitars). The guitar’s budget P90 pickups sound as good as any other I have played, and the unique control layout of three way switch (neckb/ neck & bridge / bridge), shared volume for neck & bridge pickup, plus a separate volume control for the middle P90, allows for seven different pickup configurations, all of which can be tweaked by how you decide to blend pickups together. The master tone control appears to taper smoothly as well – rare for what is clearly a budget guitar. P90s sit somewhere between humbuckers and single-coil pickups in terms of output and ‘beefiness’, and I certainly get a ‘Strat on steroids’ vibe from this guitar. I love the sound of this guitar played clean, through a Fender Deluxe or Twin Reverb style amp as well as a more retro-styled dirty sound – a Fender Bass man plus a vintage tremelo effect sounded wonderfully evocative…

Could this instrument become my main guitar for soul work, replacing my main all-rounder, my vintage-voiced blonde Stratocaster?

There was one slight fault. The frets don’t seem to be the best quality, and a few were coming away slightly, causing bends to choke at certain points on the neck. I noticed the same issue might be happening in a few other places, so I sent the guitar off to my tech guy for a partial refret, which thankfully didn’t cost too much. Upon it’s return, the notes all sing beautifully, especially with those P90s…

Three great sounding P90s, giving seven different pickup combinations – and just look at that gorgeous sunburst finish…

Pros and cons

Pros

  • Great build quality
  • Amazing triple P90 sound
  • Gorgeous sunburst finish (and general retro styling)
  • A really classy twist on the classic Jazzmaster shape
  • Great copy of an otherwise unattainable guitar

Neutrals

  • Neck might be too chunky for some (but just right for me)

Cons

  • Needed a partial refret
  • Resale value won’t be that high if I decide to sell it on

All in all, I think I’ve grabbed a bargain! Especially from a random purchase on eBay. At least it’ll give me a new toy to play with while I wait for my new custom guitar to be completed (more on that later this year…)

Great Guitarists #9: Grant Green

Great Guitarists

Welcome back to the Great Guitarists series. We’re continuing along a jazz theme for now, with a sometimes underrated master of understated single line guitar soloing…

Grant Green

Green was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1935, and died in 1979, aged just 43. In his all-too-short career, he played on hundreds of records, including numerous solo titles – almost thirty cuts for Blue Note Records alone. Many of these were played as part of an organ trio (organ, guitar, drums) in a style known as Soul Jazz. This style was sometimes sniffed at by jazz purists, but has since gone on to be something of a cherished gem, and ripe pickings for sampling, especially in hip ho and acid jazz (Read Jorge Cervera’s defence of Grant Green and soul jazz here).

Although less well known than some of his contemporaries, such as Wes Montgomery, his friend George Benson and his main guitar influence Charlie Christian, Green nonetheless possessed a highly recognisable guitar sound, which can be heard in the playing of many guitarists today, myself included. Indeed, his mix of blues, soul and hard bop licks over a funky back beat has become the quintessential sound of upbeat jazz guitar playing.

Equipment and guitar sound

Green most famously used a Gibson ES-330, which is essentially the same shape as the brand’s better-known 335, but with P90 single coil pickups (not unlike an Epiphone Casino). Later on in his career, he played a Gibson L7, Epiphone Emperor and custom-made D’Aquisto guitars, all of which featured similar P90 style pickups. This type of pickup was one of the first kinds added to hollowbody guitars, and Green obviously enjoyed the full, clear sound they provided.

Interestingly, for a guitar player known for his fluid single line style, Green was known to roll the treble and bass entirely off on his amplifiers, to better emphasise the midrange for more bite and attack in his tone – try it with a P90 neck pickup, and see if you can recreate Green’s sound!

Essential listening

Idle Moments (1963) is a great place to start. It’s a slow, contemplative masterclass in cool jazz guitar,and one of my favourite jazz guitar records, along with Midnight Blue by Kenny Burrell (more about that here).

There’s a couple of good options for live cuts, but the recently released collection Funk in France, From Paris to Antibes (1969-1970) (2018, Resonance) captures Green at his best. A few of the tracks see the trio lineup complimented by none other than the legendary Barney Kessel, which makes it essential listening for me!

It’s also worth seeking out some of Greenvs funkier efforts, such as… He also made an interesting album of Latin music (The Latin Bit from 1963, on Blue Note again), in which the main theme (the ‘heads’) were played in the usual samba or bossa nova style, but the solos are swung – give it a listen and make of it what you will!

As a sideman, he played on hundreds of recording sessions. Among my personal favourites are Herbie Hancock’s My Point Of View (1963, Blue Note) and Art Blakey’s Hold On I’m Coming (1966, Limelight). However, each record in Green’s expansive discography features great playing and lead lines that we guitarists would benefit from adding to our repertoire!

Just as Green (and countless other great jazz guitarists) did with Charlie Christian’s recordings, listen, learn, then find a way of making it your own…