This month we are celebrating the life, music, and Gibson signature artist model of bebop jazz guitar great Tal Farlow. Born in 1921,
Tal played the mandolin as a child, but turned to the guitar in 1941, having been inspired by the then-earth-shattering Charlie Christian
recordings. Legend has it that Tal learned all Charlie’s solos by ear (something Wes Montgomery was also known to have done). By 1950,
Farlow was considered a fleet and inventive guitarist, worthy of joining forces with powerhouse vibraphonist Red Norvo, in a long-running
if intermittent relationship. Young bassist Charles Mingus completed that first trio. This work brought Tal to early career fame,
and over the next 40 years Farlow enjoyed a quietly celebrated and sporadic career as both leader and sideman. In 1958, Tal moved
to the coastal town of
Tal Farlow was a Gibson es-350 player during the fifties, and was referred to as “The Gibson Boy” as he became better known on the music scene. He had gained enough acclaim, in fact, that in 1960, he was approached by Gibson to be one of the three important jazz performers for whom signature artist models would be designed. This exclusive triumvirate was made up of Johnny Smith, Barney Kessel, and Tal. Tal had a significant hand in the design of the Tal Farlow model. Thankfully, one of his designs was rejected: a pickup that could slide along the pickguard on a track rail, to achieve the tonal variances otherwise made possible by two pickups. (2) [Never one to completely abandon a bad idea, Gibson introduced the sliding pickup concept in 1973 on the Grabber bass, with deservedly poor results.] On the first Tal model, Gibson opted instead for a standard-routed two pickup design, with nickel hardware. Early models can be found with PAF pickups. The Tal model came with two full-size humbuckers, unlike many of the other high-end Gibson archtops (such as the L-5CES, Byrdland, Super 400CES, and Barney Kessel models) that all came from the factory in the early 60’s with the narrower spaced neck pickup.
(1) An excellent solo chord-melody of “Misty”, performed by Tal, can be found on YouTube:
(2) Gibson Electrics, The Classic Years, Hal Leonard Corp., 1994; page 99.