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  1. #1

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    Earlier this year, I found a really nice 74 Gibson Johnny Smith. I got it at a realistic, fair price. It had been well maintained by the two previous owners. Its a wonderful guitar on many different levels. Every time I play it, which is usually daily, I think how lucky I am to have acquired.

    So recently, I had the opportunity to play a 1977 Gibson Johnny Smith. What a different experience! It had been pretty well maintained with all the normal issues of a guitar of that age. The pickguard was gassing out as I looked at it; the frets needed worked. It needed an overall cleaning. The tailpiece and pickguard showed a bit of tarnishing. The original jack and pickup seemed to work fine.

    But, it had a very different neck than mine - maybe a bit thinner. But compared to mine, it felt much lighter. Mine was built like a battleship - solid, like my L5 Wes Mo. The 77 was noticeably lighter and certainly didn't feel like a GJS. The back of the headstock had what I call a stinger - the pointed black design. But it was unlike any Gibson stinger that I have ever seen. It almost looked like it was an add on. The back of the headstock had the serial number, with Gibson Johnny Smith, Made in USA emblazed. But when I looked on the inside to compare the serial number with the sticker, there was NO sticker. I have heard that sometimes these things came off and were never reglued. I have several Gibsons dating from the late 1960s and have never had this problem.

    So the bottom line is it looked liked a GJS, but didn't feel like one. And it didn't sound like one. Acoustically, it was a bit on the light, thin side, though the flatwound strings could have contributed to that. The frets were very different than mine - they were larger, very much larger (and also in need of a lot of work).

    So my questions for the wisdom of this group: I have heard that Johnny Smiths varied considerably with regards to necks, but the differences between these two guitars were pretty significant. How is it possible for these kinds of variances? Could the 77 have been a factory 2nd? Could it have been a fake, though I have never heard of fake Johnny Smiths (lawsuit, yes, fakes, no?) I am really curious about how two guitars relatively close in age could be so different. Maybe the 77 was the product of a Monday hangover or some disgruntled technician? Any thoughts?

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  3. #2

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    With regards to the neck - I know that in the 70s, many Gibson hollow, and semi-hollow guitars had what is known as a Speed Neck. I had a mid or late 70s Les Paul Signature (basically a '335 with a Les Paul lower cutaway, a phasing switch, Varitone circuitry, and low impedance pickups), when I was in college in the 80s, that had a Speed Neck. Those necks are narrower than normal, and quite thin. Did the neck on the '77 Johnny Smith seem to be like that? Gibson did change specs on their guitars quite a bit during the 70s. It could explain the weight difference between your '74, and the '77.

    As for the NO sticker - that almost sounds like a factory second, or an employee special (guitar made by an employee for their own personal use).

    Ellen
    Last edited by EllenGtrGrl; 11-30-2019 at 02:38 PM.

  4. #3

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    Some Gibson Johnny Smith guitars I’ve handled during the 76’- 77’ time period did not have interior labels. Instead , the model name and serial numbers were put on the back of the headstock. Many people assume the labels became unglued - but that’s not the case.

    This pic is from a 1976 Gibson Johnny Smith

  5. #4

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    That is really helpful. Definitely a thinner neck on the 77 which as you suggest might account for the weight difference. Thanks.

  6. #5

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    Yep, that is what this 77 looked like! Good to know that some from that period did not have labels. Thanks

  7. #6

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    I know it sounds crazy, But look on the underside of the pickguard bracket. They put a serial number there.
    That matched the serial number on the headstock. For what it’s worth..
    Joe D
    Last edited by Max405; 11-30-2019 at 06:37 PM.

  8. #7

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    Johnny Smith got pretty irritated at the QC of his guitars. He mentions in a article in guitar player magazine many years ago about the situation. He said guys would bring him his guitars to have work or set up ( J. Smith was a first class guitar repairmen) and he noticed differences in the neck. He even called Gibson and complained. I believe if I remember correctly they ended up re-measuring his D'angelico to get it correct. The D'a was the template except for the GJS I assume with some general modifications.

    GJS guitars are all over on the weight. It would be cool to see a picture of the guitar then could get a better answer. Weight of the guitar has much to do with the neck and the end blocks. It is possible to but the weight down quite a bit by reducing the end blocks and neck heel area. Just because an acoustic archtop is light is not a complete statement that it sounds better. Some acoustic archtops are a heavier and sound great the real sound is how the top is vibrating and carved. Naturally no need to make the guitar heavier than needs to be so all in all light with a solid build is better. I wonder how much Gibson changed stuff on the inside of the guitar and we never see unless we start going around with mirrors.

    I have played GJS that are great and some are just not so acoustic. I played Johnny personal one too and it was a blond one probably early 70's. It was nice but JS turned the amp up if he needed to be heard.
    specializing in repair and setup, does your guitar play like it should?

  9. #8

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    to expect any two guitars to ever be the exact same is wishful thinking...they are all beautifully unique

    even the most cnc modern machine made guitar.cut to mm exacting spec..varies as per the exact wood specimen used...thankfully!!!

    there are generalizations of course, but there are also many exceptions...always were, and hopefully always will be!!

    then, add set up into the equation..and the variables multiply

    ah, the joys of guitar...enjoy

    cheers

  10. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by deacon Mark View Post
    Johnny Smith got pretty irritated at the QC of his guitars. He mentions in a article in guitar player magazine many years ago about the situation. He said guys would bring him his guitars to have work or set up ( J. Smith was a first class guitar repairmen) and he noticed differences in the neck. He even called Gibson and complained.
    In one interview he stated "I could have done better with a jackknife." He stopped his endorsement over it.
    Beauty is as close to terror as we can well endure. -Rainer Maria Rilke

  11. #10

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    You are absolutely right Cunamara. He said for 20 years, Gibson never tooled up for the neck carving. Every neck on the JS guitar was different.
    That’s a shame. The guitar along with the Super 400 was the flagship model.
    They should have done better for my guy.
    To the OP, it’s not out of the question that you found a JS, that was BS.
    When Gibson got it right, there was no better. I still believe that.

  12. #11

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    johnny walked out of his signature model deal with guild..cause they wouldnt cut the top the way he wanted...ala d'angelico!!...he tolerated no shortcuts!!

    also later, he was at war with d'angelico and jimmy D, when he instructed gibson on how to make his sig guitar..and d'angelico thought he was passing his secrets out

    nodody ever said perfection was gonna be easy!!! haha


    cheers

  13. #12

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    Yes, Joe. I think this one was a dog. While I agree that each guitar is different, this one was too different. The comments made by others about the neck differences impacting the weight makes sense to me. I have a few older Gibson archtops dating from the 60s to the recent years and the quality is top knotch. But having said that, I have played others over the years that I would Not want to own. This JS falls into that category.

  14. #13

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    So did Heritage finally get it right for him? Or did they disappoint too?

  15. #14

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    I owned a GJS made in '65 -66. I got great deal on it, and thought I conquered the world. I loved the neck and I loved practicing on it. But the tone! It just didn't have any warmth, little musicality.
    I was studying chord melody then, and was into George Benson's playing too. But that guitar just did not inspire at all! Many less expensive and lower quality guitars I played surpassed it.

  16. #15

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    Johnny Smith played his D'Angelico's and later his signature Gibson model for most of his professional life. He never played the 50's Guild signature model because (as Neotomic pointed out in an earlier post), Guild did not build it the way he liked. In retirement he mostly played a Benedetto (built by Bob). He moved his endorsement to Heritage as he became unhappy with Gibson's quality control and later moved his endorsement to Guild when they were owned by Fender and in collaboration with Bob Benedetto. I have played a few Gibson Johnny Smiths and Heritage Johnny Smiths and one Guild-Benedetto Johnny Smith Award. None sounded as good as Max405's Norlin era Gibson Johnny Smith.

    Maybe it was simply Max405's playing
    _____________________________________________
    "When the chord changes, you should change" Joe Pass

  17. #16

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    Bro, Thanks buddy. But Tiny Tim could have made that guitar sound good. You would have won a Grammy if you had that guitar..
    I've said it before and I will say it again. I've never heard this before come from anyone else, but one of the keys to the Gibson Johnny Smith sound is the original cable that came with the guitar. I noticed one day, being able to hear my fingers rubbing acrossed the cable through my headphones. The cable itself picked up string vibrations and other acoustic sounds which gave the overall sound a tremendous depth of sound that I have not heard in any other guitar. Most people disconnect the Pickgaurd mini Jack and toss the original thin cable and think thats a mistake because it alters the original amplified sound altogether.
    I guess I got lucky with my Gibson Johnny Smith. Part of the credit has to be given to QAman, who really knows how to pick em.
    JD

  18. #17

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    The original cable with my GJS did not help it. It was uncomfortable to deal with as well since it always wanted to coil up and felt like it wanted to jump out of the jack. If it had the mojo that yours had I might have had a better experience with the instrument.

  19. #18

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    Strange Gibson Johnny Smith Experience-gjs-stinger-jpg
    If this is the stinger you talk about it's very typical in all years Johnny Smith models. I have seen a half in half with this stinger and the faded black. As you found out the neck shapes, and the acoustic properties are all over the place with this model. That said, they usually sound really good plugged in as an electric guitar. They also usually have outstanding playablily. Gibson has alway been a little on a "mix and match" mentality when building but the Johnny Smith model seemed to be much more so. For whatever reason they didn't seem to have a solid plan to build by. As noted by other posters this was a complaint from Johnny Smith. Although most of Johnny Smiths album were recorded on his Dangelico, I'm pretty sure he did record the last few albums on a Gibson, Kaleidoscope and phase 2.
    Quote Originally Posted by FredH View Post
    Earlier this year, I found a really nice 74 Gibson Johnny Smith. I got it at a realistic, fair price. It had been well maintained by the two previous owners. Its a wonderful guitar on many different levels. Every time I play it, which is usually daily, I think how lucky I am to have acquired.

    So recently, I had the opportunity to play a 1977 Gibson Johnny Smith. What a different experience! It had been pretty well maintained with all the normal issues of a guitar of that age. The pickguard was gassing out as I looked at it; the frets needed worked. It needed an overall cleaning. The tailpiece and pickguard showed a bit of tarnishing. The original jack and pickup seemed to work fine.

    But, it had a very different neck than mine - maybe a bit thinner. But compared to mine, it felt much lighter. Mine was built like a battleship - solid, like my L5 Wes Mo. The 77 was noticeably lighter and certainly didn't feel like a GJS. The back of the headstock had what I call a stinger - the pointed black design. But it was unlike any Gibson stinger that I have ever seen. It almost looked like it was an add on. The back of the headstock had the serial number, with Gibson Johnny Smith, Made in USA emblazed. But when I looked on the inside to compare the serial number with the sticker, there was NO sticker. I have heard that sometimes these things came off and were never reglued. I have several Gibsons dating from the late 1960s and have never had this problem.

    So the bottom line is it looked liked a GJS, but didn't feel like one. And it didn't sound like one. Acoustically, it was a bit on the light, thin side, though the flatwound strings could have contributed to that. The frets were very different than mine - they were larger, very much larger (and also in need of a lot of work).

    So my questions for the wisdom of this group: I have heard that Johnny Smiths varied considerably with regards to necks, but the differences between these two guitars were pretty significant. How is it possible for these kinds of variances? Could the 77 have been a factory 2nd? Could it have been a fake, though I have never heard of fake Johnny Smiths (lawsuit, yes, fakes, no?) I am really curious about how two guitars relatively close in age could be so different. Maybe the 77 was the product of a Monday hangover or some disgruntled technician? Any thoughts?

  20. #19

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    The way I’ve always understood it?
    Those Heritage JS “Rose” guitars were perfect.
    Ive heard that model get called “perfect” more than once.
    Ive never had one myself, but I have never heard a bad thing about them..ever.

    Now how do I explain Johnny going with Guild/Benedetto??

    LOL

    ..you just never knew with Johnny

  21. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by FredH View Post
    Yes, Joe. I think this one was a dog. While I agree that each guitar is different, this one was too different. The comments made by others about the neck differences impacting the weight makes sense to me. I have a few older Gibson archtops dating from the 60s to the recent years and the quality is top knotch. But having said that, I have played others over the years that I would Not want to own. This JS falls into that category.
    Ever since I started playing Gibsons in the early 80s, I've always made it a point to play any Gibsons I was interested in having before buying them, due to the fact that for me at least, for every 70s and 80s Gibson I ever owned, there were 2 or 3 other Gibsons I'd played (before I chose the guitar I bought) that within 2 or 3 minutes of playing them (sometimes after only playing the guitar for 30 seconds or so), that made me say "next!" and reach for another guitar to try out. There has been a lot of variation in specs, and to an extent level of quality for the 60s, 70s, and 80s Gibsons I played, and a 1986/87 Gibson Q-4000 I owned, fully illustrates that.

    If I hadn't gotten a killer deal on the Q-4000 (in retrospect, the guitar was gathering dust, and they just wanted to get rid of it), I never would have bought it (and in retrospect, I shouldn't have - I found out in 2010, that the Les Paul Signature that I had traded towards the Q-4000 ended up being worth some serious money, due to the fact that it had a tobacco sunburst finish, and Gibson only made 64 Les Paul Signatures with that finish). At the time I bought the Gibson Q-4000 (in May 1987), I was on the verge of graduating college, and wanted a more shredder-worthy guitar (back then I was into shredding - by 1989, I grew bored with that form of guitar playing) as a graduation present to myself, and that meant a Superstrat, which was de rigeur for shredders at the time. I couldn't afford a Jackson or a PRS, but the shop I went to, was willing to do a trade of my Gibson Les Paul Signature, plus $200 for a Gibson Q-4000 (the Q-4000 was a Gibson Custom Shop guitar, that was their take on a Superstrat [it was a pre-production prototype - only about 10-20 were made, which I didn't know until about 2008]). The neck was OK, but the electronics were a mess - the volume control didn't work properly, and the pickups were so horribly microphonic, that not only could you talk through them, but they squealed like a pig at anything other than very low volumes. I ended up having the have all 3 original pickups replaced under warranty, and unfortunately, the Gibson replacement pickups were dead sounding, resulting in me spending another $300-$400 in pickups, to find a set of pickups that would would sound decent in the guitar.

    Yep, Gibson quality and specs sure varied a lot back in the day - and that even holds for the '67 ES-335 I was interested in buying back in 1990, that had awful pickups, and a neck that was nothing to write home about.

    Ellen