The Gibson Barney Kessel Pages (Part 6)
Other Artist Models during the Era of the Barney Kessel
Pictured below: 1964 Gibson Tal Farlow, one of the famous jazz
signature models of the 60's. The Barney Kessel was a more expensive model: in 1966 the Tal would cost you 650.00 and the Barney
Kessel Custom 675.00! Jazzers Johnny Smith and Tal Farlow each represented one artist model, while Barney Kessel had his own mini
line of two models.
The model pictured below was constructed without the typical Tal Farlow scroll in the cutaway horn,
and is rare for that reason.
A few years after Barney and Tal were awarded signature models, folk singer Trini Lopez was awarded his own mini line of
two artist models (one of which was based on the BK design and the other essentially a semi-hollow body, based on the es-335 design). In
the later 60's, the Trini model "Standard" (based on the es-335) easily outsold all the jazz models. No Gibson signature
artist had ever put his name on two models as disparate in design as the two Lopez models.
In the early 1960s, as Les Paul was leaving Gibson's artist roster, the company recruited three of the most respected jazz guitarists
to put their signatures on new "artist" model electrics. With Johnny Smith, Tal Farlow, and Barney Kessel (plus the Everly Brothers
in the acoustic line and Howard Roberts as an Epiphone artist), Gibson had more signature-model clout than all other guitar makers
combined. The most successful Gibson signature artist of that decade, however, was not a jazz player, and not even a virtuoso guitarist.
But he was more popular with radio audiences and record buyers than any of Gibson's jazz giants, and in some years his Gibsons outsold
all other signature models.
He was a young Mexican-American from Dallas named Trinidad "Trini" Lopez III.
A Trini Lopez Deluxe (example shown has rare reverse headstock). The Trini Lopez Deluxe, even with its nickel hardware, cost
645.00 in 1964....20.00 more than a Barney Kessel Custom.
A heritage of 3-chord folk music...a Firebird/Fender-ish
headstock...the body of a
jazz guitar....a collection of odd lines....the strange additon of an extra "kill switch"....will this "artist
model" have enduring appeal? Or does Trini's short two-year stint as a "Gibson artist" reveal something that is telling?
LEFT: One of the few jazz albums that shows Barney with his namesake model (presumably a 1961 BK Custom, since that is the
year of the recording).
Right: Here's Barney Kessel "Swinging Easy" on 8-track tape. Swinging Easy is Barney at his best, playing On a Clear Day,
You're the One for Me, I Will Wait for You, Autumn leaves, The Look of Love, et al. Really hip.
LEFT: Barney wrote this series of etudes and educational guides....now a very rare collection.
RIGHT: a rare photo of Barney, published in Japan.
BELOW: Early BK models were advertised among the ES (electric
Spanish) "thin body models". 1961 brochure.
LEFT: The Barney Kessel video "Rare Performances" has a number of up tempo black and white videos that show him at his best
in his early mid career.
RIGHT: a candid club shot with fellow jazzer Herb Ellis.
The End of an Era
RIGHT: In May 2011, Barney's own Ibanez signature prototype was advertised at auction on ebay. The
guitar, which had no serial number and was made specifically for Barney by Ibanez, was sold by son Dan Kessel, in Beverly
Hills, CA. The guitar, sold with a COA, was descibed as being "...owned and played professionally by the legendary
Barney Kessel." The guitar sold for a not-so-legendary price of 2357.00.
A little earlier in the year, Barney's own
1966 BK Regular and Kay Barney Kessel were also sold, drawing less than impressive prices.