It’s difficult to comprehend one guitar player having such a profound influence on any one musical genre, much less one as conspicuously diverse as jazz music. Yet in the span of just a few years in the late 1950s and early 1960s, jazz legend Wes Montgomery was able forge a body of work that is still referred to today as the most important and influential of any music ever recorded by a jazz artist. Montgomery’s mastery of the guitar is well documented, and the enormous impact on his peers is recognized time and time again, from Pat Metheny to George Benson to Joe Satriani, all of whom claim Montgomery as the virtuoso who inspired them to reach new heights. Montgomery began his musical journey at the age of 19, listening to the early recordings of his idol, Charlie Christian, and learning the solos note for note. His approach to playing jazz involved the heavy use of single note lines, block chords and octaves, plucking the strings with the fleshy part of his thumb instead of using a pick. His unique style and technique would eventually become known as the “Naptown Sound.”
Though it all, Montgomery relied on his faithful Gibson L-5CES guitars. His original instruments were typically stock L-5s that came equipped with either Gibson’s single coil P-90 or Alnico pickups. Sometime in the early 1960s, however, as Montgomery’s reputation continued to grow, he ordered a custom L-5 with a rounded cutaway – instead of the sharper Florentine cutaway – and a single humbucker pickup situated at the end of the fingerboard. It is this guitar that Montgomery is most associated with, and the guitar he played almost exclusively on many of his most important recordings of the 1960s, up until his untimely death from a heart attack in 1968.
The Wes Montgomery L-5CES built today by Gibson Custom is built to the same specifications as the instrument used by Montgomery in the 1960s – Gibson also produced it briefly as a production model during the same era. Today’s Wes Montgomery model features a body crafted with a high-grade spruce top, and high-grade maple back and sides. The body is then adorned with multi-ply black and white binding on both the top and back, with single-ply white binding around the f-holes. The gold hardware includes an ABR-1 bridge with a base made from ebony, and Gibson’s period-correct L-5 tailpiece. The 25½-inch scale length neck is a five-piece neck made primarily from high-grade maple, with two streamers made from high-grade walnut, resulting in one of the most stunning neck designs in the history of Gibson Custom. The eye-catching neck is topped by a 20-fret ebony fingerboard with pearl block inlays and multi-ply black and white binding, then hand-fitted with Gibson’s traditional ES-rounded neck profile. The single pickup is Gibson’s legendary ’57 Classic, which faithfully captures the unique and subtle variations between coil windings of the original “Patent Applied For” humbuckers of the late 1950s, and delivers a warm and full tone with a balanced response. Other appointments include Gibson’s traditional flower pot inlay on the headstock, and Schaller M6 tuners. Indeed, Montgomery’s talents have inspired a generation of guitarists, but his guitar and legend lives on in the Wes Montgomery L-5CES from Gibson Custom. The guitar is available in Vintage Sunburst, Wine Red, Natural and Ebony finishes, and come with a Gibson Custom case and a certificate of authenticity.