The world’s most famous jazz musicians aren’t only recognized for their playing skills, technique and sound but also for the guitars they use. Guitarists who want to achieve the same sounds as those produced by their jazz idols often start with getting the same or a similar guitar, then work their way toward becoming the best players they can be.
Here’s a look at three great jazz guitarists and their instruments of choice. We hope this helps you think about your own jazz guitar, whether you’re planning on getting your first or your next.
When you come across the term ‘gypsy jazz,’ one name immediately comes to mind: Django Reinhardt. This Belgian musician redefined the role of the traditional acoustic guitar in jazz music. The way his fingers played across the strings have awed many people – and to think he played with just a thumb and two fingers on his fretting hand!
Reinhardt used acoustic guitars throughout his career, except for one occasion (during a tour with Duke Ellington). His favored guitars, manufactured by Selmer, have a high action and a distinctive oval-shaped soundhole. One of his most famous acoustic guitars is the N°503, which came in his possession in 1940. Reinhardt played it until his death 12 years later.
Wes Montgomery is another musician that jazz players look up to. He is considered one of the best jazz guitarists of all time, a master of the fretboard and a wizard of the guitar solo. He didn’t use a guitar pick when playing, only his thumb, and he wasn’t really all that interested in the technical specs of the guitar he’s playing – he saw it merely as a tool to get the job done. If he drops it, he said, he can always borrow somebody else’s guitar.
Montgomery did, however, stick to one guitar during most of his entire music career. It was a 1963 Gibson L-5 CES (CES stands for Cutaway Electric Spanish). The L-5 model was introduced in 1922 and was the first Gibson guitar to have f-holes.
Montgomery also played a Gibson L-7 in 1959 for recording purposes. He was known to also have used a Gibson L-4, a Gibson ES-125D and Gibson ES-175, which is a favorite among jazz guitarists. Other famous musicians such as B.B. King, Pat Metheny, Herb Ellis, Joe Pass, Jim Hall, Keith Richards and Mark Knopfler have made the Gibson ES-175 their guitar of choice.
Born Joe Passalaqua, Joe Pass is a truly gifted and versatile guitarist. Already doing gigs by the time he was 14 years old, Pass is known for utilizing quick chord progression sequences for articulating melodic lines.
Pass played a number of guitars from different brands. During his time in rehab, he used to play a Fender Jazzmaster, which was the property of the facility as he didn’t have his own guitar. The Jazzmaster has undergone a few changes over the years but it’s still considered to be one of the best jazz guitars on the planet.
Pass also played a Fender Jaguar as well as Gibson ES-175 that he received for his birthday in 1963. In 1970, a D’Aquisto guitar was custom-built for the jazz guitarist. A decade later, Ibanez made a signature model based on this D’Aquisto, the Ibanez JP20. Of the two, Pass seem to have preferred the D’Aquisto more.