The Archtop Neck Pickup 

Both Regular and Custom models always have a narrow-spaced pickup in the neck position. (In all the

BK’s I have purchased, I have only one time seen a regular-spaced pickup in the neck and that was a

1963 BK Regular. Was that a factory ‘mistake’?) An es-175 is one of the few archtops with regular size

pickups in both positions. Every other Super 400, L-5, Byrdland and Barney Kessel I have seen from

this era will have a narrow-spaced pickup in the neck position. The BK Regular is the only Gibson guitar

I know of that generates a nickel-covered narrow-spaced PAF….so if you find one, it could only have

come out of the Barney! The narrow-spaced pickup is mistakenly referred to as a “Byrdland” pickup….it

is more aptly named an “archtop neck pickup” since it is present in most of the higher-end archtop

electrics.  M-69 rings with arched bottoms are standard on these early 60’s models. A "Narrow-spaced"

pickup has pole spacing that is closer together by about 1/8th of an inch, as compared to a 'normal' sized

pickup. Narrow-spaced neck pickups are found with both PAF or Patent Number stickers.


Many people judge a PAF by how it sounds when it "breaks up" under high volume or distortion. Most

jazz players, by contrast, would be solely interested in how it sounds when clean (and in the neck position).

In my experience, genuine PAF's (on their original harnesses) are some of the warmest, woodiest jazz

pickups I have heard. The absolute best sounding PAF pickups I have installed are those that have not

been removed from their original harness….does this mean there is a special magnetic / energy field that

is created by the total sum of the parts? How much difference do the original pots, caps, and wiring make?


Below is a very typical 1963 Barney Kessel Regular pickup harness, with Patent Number stickers and

nickel covers. Note the large dust covers on the pots; the ground wire is always soldered onto the bridge

pickup wire.

Below:  Barney playing his Custom model. There are surprisingly few pics of Barney

  playing his own signature models. He seemed to prefer a more traditional Gibson archtop  
  and is often seen with a customized 1947 es-350 which had a 1939 Charlie Christian pickup added, as well as an ebony/dot fingerboard.  (Maurice Summerfield)
       (picture is  from Julius Bellson’s history of Gibson -  “The Gibson Story”, 1973).

  Following are various famous poses of our champion, Barney Kessel. Barney might be considered

  the heir to the Charlie Christian bebop guitar throne, as he had performed with Charlie Parker

  and Lester Young in the 40’s and single-handedly made the guitar-bass-drums trio a household

  item. Who needs a piano anyway!? If Christian was the founding father of electric jazz guitar –

  moving the guitar out of the rhythm section and into the spotlight with the playing of horn-like

  lines – then Barney is the heir-apparent to the throne, moving the guitar-bass-drums trio to the

  next level of sophistication matched heretofore only by the piano trio.


   Note that two of the pics show Barney playing the es-350 with the Charlie Christian bar pickup.

    Other pics show Barney with BK Regular or BK Custom.


Below:  1961 ad. Barney and BK Custom.


   What player wouldn't want a BK model, after reading a Gibson ad about 


 "The sudden chord changes, distinctive tones, and the dramatically varied harmonics..."

The Gibson Barney Kessel Pages (Part 4)   
          part 1    part 2    part 3    part 4     part 5     part 6                     HOME




Below:  Playing a BK Regular…someone changed the tuners to Grover Imperials!

Below:  One of the few existing pictures of Orville Gibson, circa 1902. He is the first to

apply violin-making principles in the building of an archtop guitar.....without which there

would be no Barney Kessel model as we know it!  (Photo: The Gibson Story, Julius Bellson, 1973).

BELOW: circa 1958, Barney endorses the KAY Barney Kessel model.  Barney is reported to have commented that the Kays did not play well.
In 1968 Barney wrote a 211 page hardback book, all about the guitar....entitled "The Guitar".  It's scope goes all the way from how to select your first guitar through sight-transposing and improvising in chords (!). I found the book to be interesting historically but of little real academic value.  The book is extremely rare.
Later in life, Barney produced a more relevant body of educational materials in his set of three videos, targeting intermediate-level jazz guitarists.