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  1. #1

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    Those who have read or listened to Howard Roberts know he's smart. He most definitely had master chops. So why didn't his full sized hollowbody with a round hole take off in the market better?

    I got my first HR decades ago. The model is as easy to play as a L-4 it seems. Acoustically it seems to have a more balanced sound, meaning better low frequencies and less of a mid range emphasis. Amplified it sounds great.

    I'm not saying that the HR design deserves to displace most f holed guitars. But I'm interested in why this true archtop has almost vanished despite being an excellent instrument.

    Why didn't the Howard Roberts guitar design prevail?-200px-gibson_howard_roberts_portrait-jpgWhy didn't the Howard Roberts guitar design prevail?-ded41a210a752ae9483028f68592d-jpg

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    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
     
  3. #2

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    And......I think it's a great looking instrument - but never seen one in person!

  4. #3

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  5. #4

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    Here's a comparison to consider. Neither is better necessarily.



  6. #5

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    I think they were prone to feedback faster than a comparable ES-175.

    And Jazz guitarists tend to play the guitars of their heroes. Howard Alden and Howard Roberts are/were great players, but they were not Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass or Kenny Burrell.

  7. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by Marty Grass
    Wow that's exciting. Glad to see this documentary happening. HR has always been one of my all time favorites. I learned a lot from his books. Used to hang out at GIT in Seattle where he often taught. Sonic shapes!!

  8. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by Stringswinger
    I think they were prone to feedback faster than a comparable ES-175.

    And Jazz guitarists tend to play the guitars of their heroes. Howard Alden and Howard Roberts are/were great players, but they were not Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass or Kenny Burrell.
    I had one once and sold it for the feedback issues on higher volume gigs. Oval hole guitars give a cross between an archtop and flattop sound and you're probably not going to be playing a flattop on a high volume gig, too much bottom end. I do have a custom made oval hole archtop for home playing.

  9. #8

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    Apparently you just can't spell "jazz" without at least one f-hole. Well, maybe if you're Django. I actually thought the later HR Fusion semi-hollow would have done better than it did.

  10. #9

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    I like them, loud acoustic sound and balanced electric tone. The floater keeps it from being boomy. Plays like a Gibson. I haven't played one of the early Epiphones with the solid wood, that would be a interesting comparison

  11. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by Marty Grass
    Those who have read or listened to Howard Roberts know he's smart. He most definitely had master chops. So why didn't his full sized hollowbody with a round hole take off in the market better?
    Because it is a full sized hollowbody with a round hole. Everybody knows that a jazz guitar has f holes. Folk guitars have round holes. Rock guitars have no holes, and curvy bodies. Heavy metal guitars have no holes, and pointy bodies. Walk into a guitar store and you will see hundreds of guitars but only a handful of shapes.

    In the twentieth century, Gibson and other manufacturers created new designs. But the twenty-first century rejected novelty and chose conformity. Most guitars look much the same, based as they are on fifties designs. Gibson no longer makes new guitars, but creates numerous minor changes to old designs, for marketing purposes. Rather than tolerate a guitarist like Howard Roberts, who had ideas about design, Gibson makes signature models for guitarists who will promote the company.

  12. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by Litterick
    Rather than tolerate a guitarist like Howard Roberts, who had ideas about design, Gibson makes signature models for guitarists who will promote the company.

    Agree with everything but this .. Gibson embraced HR, it's the public that rejected his design .. which btw is what you so eloquantly write in before this final statement

  13. #12

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    Rich Severson is a cool and knowledgeable fellow and does a great job demoing all these guitars but on e thing would be for certain : all of them would sound totally different if I were to play them. His touch is so light, the amp volume so low (I always hear the acoustic tone shimmering through) and he amost always picks very high up near the neck, permanently clicking his pick against the pickup....
    Lage Lund played a Gibson HR for quite a long time, and Rotem Sivan still uses his modded HR :


  14. #13

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    I'm likely bias having just bought an ES-165 but to my ears, the Herb has a more punchy tone which I really like. Sounded more like it was being played through a tube amp, where the HR sounded like it was being played through a solid state.
    It just sounded a tad flatter.
    That HR did sound more open though.

  15. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cavalier
    I like them, loud acoustic sound and balanced electric tone. The floater keeps it from being boomy. Plays like a Gibson. I haven't played one of the early Epiphones with the solid wood, that would be a interesting comparison
    I had an early Kalamazoo Epiphone. This was carved spruce and carved maple. That did feedback a lot. I put a temporary sound post in it for gigs. Keep in mind these were blues gigs. I also had a late 1920s L-5 and a Guild AA. All of them were challenging to control feedback. The carved woods and the floating pickups were what I blamed.

    On further reflection, if the purpose of the top is to resonate, this is a setup for feedback, isn't it. The less the top vibrates and the higher the pitch, the less the feedback. But then you end up with a very different sound.

    Now that people mike their amps or plug into a PA system, it may not matter as much.

    It's true that Howard Roberts was not as prominent as Wes, Kenny and Joe. But those three really don't sound that much alike either. Two of them are very well known for their carved top instruments. Joe is less so. If you could ask any of the three to judge Howard's playing, there certainly would be abundant praise for innovation, style, productivity, and versatility.

    I do think that those famous three cemented the archtop as the jazz guitar, just like Hendrix gave the Strat an eternal status in rock.




  16. #15

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    Here's Howard's infamous screen test with Ann-Margret.


  17. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by Flat
    Apparently you just can't spell "jazz" without at least one f-hole. Well, maybe if you're Django. I actually thought the later HR Fusion semi-hollow would have done better than it did.
    +1

    Guitarists in general are pretty conservative, when it comes guitars, and "what they should look like", for the music they are going to be used to play. Many guitar players have very definite notions about a guitars appearance. For instance, for the blues, that means Strats, Les Pauls, ES-335s, and Teles. For heavier rock - Les Pauls, SGs, and Super Strats.......... you get the gist of it. With the exception of some of the more modern jazz players nowadays, who have a maverick streak, and gravitate towards Teles, 335s, and the occasional Strat, for many jazz players, a jazz guitar is fully hollow, with f-holes. Hey, I know where they're coming from - after all I have an Eastman Pisano AR380CE, that can probably trace its DNA back to the ES-175, and that's cool in a way. Still, it excludes from consideration, some wonderful guitars, that don't look look the part, but that are great sounding and playing guitars. IMO, that includes the Howard Roberts Artist & Custom guitars - both the original Epiphone, and the Gibson models. To many players, they don't look and sound right for jazz (too much bass, and not enough mids - I disagree, but then again, I like a relatively bass heavy sound)

    I mentioned a few years ago, on this forum that a Howard Roberts Artist or Custom was an "I want it!!" guitar for me. It was probably one of the only exclusions to my "17" bodied guitars only" rule (which of course fell by the wayside a few weeks ago). I'd still like like to have one of them, but they're way outside of my price range (hmmm I wonder about some of the 70s Japanese Lawsuit versions). There are players though, that are fans of the Howard Roberts Artist and Custom guitars. Mitch Holder has had one for at least a decade (see the first video below - Mitch uses a Howard Roberts to demo a Rivera amp). Rich Severson also likes his 60s Howard Roberts Artist.

    F.Y.I. - Gibson made by far more of the Howard Roberts Customs than Epiphone (who only made 53 of them) - most of the Epiphones are the Artist model (which is good enough for me!).

    Update #1: Bummer! A Rich Severson mentioned in a video in an earlier post, that the Howard Roberts has a thinner neck. You know how I feel about thin necks.

    Update #2: My main gigging guitar for most of the 90s, was a 1980 tobacco sunburst Howard Roberts Fusion. It was a great guitar, that sounded good for rock, and also served as the first guitar I bopped out jazz on. It's only shortcomings - in retrospect, the neck was right at the limit for what I like thickness-wise (something I didn't realize until a few years ago), and it weighed a ton (13 lbs [5.9 kg] as weighed on a calibrated scale)! this was due to the fact that the early versions of the Howard Roberts Fusion had a maple center block the full length of the guitar (which had a much deeper body than an ES-335), instead of the much smaller balsawood block (it was just under the bridge) the later models had. I remember having my left shoulder feel like it was ready to fall off by the end of the 3rd set of a gig. My Howard Roberts Fusion went bye-bye in 2000, after years of use by me. I needed the money, and the guitar needed some work (first and foremost, a re-fret job) on it that I could not afford to have done at the time. I still occasionally miss it.




    Last edited by EllenGtrGrl; 11-27-2021 at 11:03 PM.

  18. #17

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    No worries. The Gibson HR had a fairly beefy neck. I don't recall the early Epiphone version having a thin neck. I never noticed it if it had one. But then there were a lot of things I wasn't paying attention to back then.

  19. #18

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    The early Gibson Epis had a narrow nut width as they were made in the mid to late 60s when all Gibsons save for the Johnny Smith had narrow nut widths.

  20. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by Stringswinger
    I think they were prone to feedback faster than a comparable ES-175.

    And Jazz guitarists tend to play the guitars of their heroes. Howard Alden and Howard Roberts are/were great players, but they were not Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass or Kenny Burrell.
    My thoughts exactly. Had there been hours and hours of great (and popular, or at least popular eneough) music to listen to, the public would have made note.

    Then that same public would have jumped on the bandwagon like people always do.

    OTOH - it's an option. This is why we need 10 or so guitars.

  21. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by Marty Grass
    No worries. The Gibson HR had a fairly beefy neck. I don't recall the early Epiphone version having a thin neck. I never noticed it if it had one. But then there were a lot of things I wasn't paying attention to back then.

    Thanks for the info. I wonder if the 1995 Epiphone reissue has a decently hefty neck. Those are a bit cheaper than the originals.

  22. #21

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    I believe that the reason the H.R. models were not as popular is a simple one. Consumers want to identify with tradition. They want to fit in with the whole romantic side of what makes a jazz guitar a jazz guitar. Its definitely not a performance issue...oval hole vs. F hole. A Gibson Johnny Smith will feed back more easily that a H.R. custom or artist but is used by many. In some ways I like the long scale of an H.R. better than the 24.75" ES175.
    I've made archtops for performing players that just want a great sounding instrument and aren't as concerned with convention, so I might suggest different choices for their build regarding wood selection, Level of binding etc to fit buget. For instance...a gibson L5 sized box with with Black Limba back sides, neck, and very well seasoned Redwood top. No body binding at all. Sounded like a very well broken in nice sounding older guitar. He loves it, but definitely not for everyone.
    I've made some L5 sized archtops with maple back and sides with mahogany necks that sounded really good. I love mahogany as a neck tone wood. Invariably people will ask why it doesn't have a flamed out maple neck. They want to see what is traditional and blingy. Don't get me wrong..I subscribe to traditional and blingy anesthetic too. But not always.

    If you look at the 60s L5 you won't consistently find the highly figured woods found on the modern age Gibsons from their custom shop. Now every modern builder is expected to follow suit. It's the new norm. Funny thing is that most of that highly figured wood commonly used now is western maple...not even the same variety. While it sounds good, it not the same wood. Its actually softer.

  23. #22

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    I had a shot at a Gibson HR once. A guy came up to me at a gig and offered me his for the then-princely sum of $900. I had to pass, as I had just finished paying off the 345. I will alway regret that. Life is funny.

  24. #23

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    I wonder if it's that it looks funny.

    The round hole with the HB pickup strikes me that way. It's not simply the round hole -- the L3 doesn't look funny.

    But, put in that pickup and it does, at least to me. If it was an under the saddle pu I'd feel differently.

  25. #24

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    Why didn't the Howard Roberts guitar design prevail?-50464489428_fa333ae5af_c-jpgWhy didn't the Howard Roberts guitar design prevail?-25344308807_3d89fe2a01_z-jpg

  26. #25

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    Is it really a new design? Or a variation on an existing? I thought it was just a signature model in the end, and with an arch top to do this you have to make it visually obvious. Solid bodies like strats or telescope have a kaleidoscope of colours a few pickup variants and maybe a varied headstock or different body/ neck woods. LPs likewise. Hollow bodies don’t get to play with that many colours or glue on bits, but do get to mix up sound hole shapes, cutaway, PU configs, but at then end of the day it seems the whole unique signature guitar option thing did not exist prior to 1970 or so? Up till that point you were an endorser who may have been lucky enough to get a custom shop on request. Has a signature guitar ever become truly mainstream? Some out there may be able to identify named signature guitar models that existed at volume scale prior to 1970?
    I don’t know if the HR is good or bad- just don’t know of signature guitars that ‘take off’ the same way a stock model design does
    m