Gibson Johnny Smith
Walk, don't run !
|| Notes: Johnny Smith was born in Alabama in 1922. His father was a banjo
player, hence his initial interest in music playing and his main influence was Django Reinhardt and Andres Segovia.
Hired by NBC in New York in the late fourties as their staff guitarist he was playing from small settings to full
orchestra. He also formed a quintet featuring Stan Getz and in 1952 the number one album "Moonlight in
Vermont" was released. At that time Johnny Smith won every jazz award: Best Jazz Record, Metronome Poll,
Jazz Critics Award etc...
While he lived in New York he spent a lot of time in the workshop of his dear friend
John D'Angelico from whom he acquired his knowledge of guitar construction. John headed him in the direction of
achieving the sound and playability that he wanted.
In 1955 he has sent his own construction plans to Guild Guitars
N.Y. to build his signature guitar but they have made changes of the inner construction and as a result the
acoustic properties did not meet the high demand of Johnny Smith. Therefore he withdrew from Guild.
In 1961, Ted McCarty President of Gibson visited Johnny Smith and suggested the creation of his own model giving him
free hands for the entire construction and design. At that time this offer was well received. He already retired from
the active musician business and he intended to set up his own music store in Colorado. He defined all the dimensions
the guitar should have and for increased sustain he resurrected the classic X-braced top, a design used by Gibson in
the 30's. Also the top carving and even the binding was designed by himself. Only minor cosmetic modifications -which
did not affect tone nor playability- were changed by Gibson and accepted by Johnny Smith. While some of Smith's
innovations were revolutionary, many more were evolutionary.
Feeling constrained by the standard 1 11/16" nut width, Smith again reached out to the past and he revived
the more generous 1 3/4" fingerboard of the early 30's. Similarly, Smith introduced a 25" scale to
facilitate stretch voicings without sacrificing response and the body depth was slimmed to 3".
Finally, the guitar debuted with the first floating humbucker and many visual appointments were drawn from
Gibson's paramount models. The 17" Venetian cutaway body and deco tailpiece are those of the L-5C, the neck and
peghead are from the Super 400.
The endorsement of Johnny Smith lasted until the late 80's. When Gibson had shut down the Kalamazoo plant in 1986 it was
bought by the remaining Gibson staff who founded the Heritage Company and the Johnny Smith model was then produced under
the Heritage label. Gibson themselves decided to come up with a successor named "Le Grand".
Materials: 17" wide and 3" deep body with handcarved, tap-tuned solid Spruce top, highly figured
solid five-piece flamed Maple neck, highly flamed tiger striped solid Maple back, sides show some nice bird's eye Maple,
straight-end Ebony fretboard, bone nut width approx. 1 23/32", scale lenghth 25" and 14/20 frets, pearl
single and double split-block position markers, split diamond peghead inlay, 7-ply body binding, 5-ply neck, head and
pickguard binding, bound f-holes, solid Ebony bridge and base plate with tie pearl inlays.
Hardware: Original floating humbucker, period correct volume - reflector - knob, vintage correct “Custom“ engraved
truss rod cover, original golden Kluson Sealfast tuners, original Johnny Smith tailpiece.
Facts: Original 60's Johnny Smiths are hard enough to find nowadays and a blonde one is the hardest to get of all.
The serial number 832XXX on the original oval orange label dates it back to 1969. The absence of the i-dot in the
Gibson logo confirms that vintage. No "Made in the USA" stamp on backside of the headstock which started
later in the early 70ties. This stunning example is one of just 20 built in its model year, and a total of only
77 blondes have been produced between 1961 and 1969 (compared with 395 sunburst examples in that period).
Condition: The original natural finish has gracefully matured to a very nice honey blonde and it
shows very little checking. There was a very professional refret at some point and the frets still have plenty of life
left. The entire guitar is in perfect collector's condition. All original except for a replaced pickguard.
The volume pot and the mini-jack were also renewed (original parts are included if desired). The gold plating is still
shiny. The tuners work very smooth.
Playability: Pure joy. Action is buzz-free and very low - approx. 0.070" at the 12th fret - and the neck
profile is a pronounced D. The neck is straight and plays without any effort.
Tone: It is completely open and utterly balanced with superb projection and clarity. Great for sophisticated
soloing with open voicings. Acoustically, it is very resonant and has lots of volume. Plugged in - well, it's a dream
to hear and play.
Case: Original Gibson hardshell case with yellow plush interior. All latches and hinges work fine.
Setup: The guitar is currently strung with round wound strings (.012 - .054). The guitar has been thoroughly
checked and cleaned.
To Summarize: "Walk, don't run!" is the title of a song composed by J. Smith that can be interpreted
in different ways. Nowadays, with its speed of time what else can be more nourishing than playing such a beautiful
instrument and to leave all the haste behind. This instrument is unique in playability, tonal response, and design
aesthetics and it has the vibes that only a vintage instrument can have. Without a doubt, one of the finest archtops
we ever encountered.