Roy Sainsbury’s Guitars

Roy Sainsbury’s – Guitars

Gibson ES-175


Roy has played with many of the finest jazz players, including Scott Hamilton, Peanuts Hucko, Tommy Whittle and Don Lusher, and done has done several engagements with the “British Kings of Swing,” consisting of Digby Fairweather on trumpet, Roy Williams on trombone, Alan Barnes on all of the saxophones, and clarinet, Neil Bullock on drums and Tom Hill, a wonderful bass player from the USA. During his residency at the Westmoreland Hotel, Roy took delivery of a custom-made guitar by the revered English Luthier Dick Knight. It was a large-bodied archtop aptly named the Knight Imperial. He has fond memories of the 1st night he used that guitar  when they performed to a full-house.

His first memory of playing a really good-quality jazz guitar was when he had a residency with a quartet in Bristol. Frank Evans, one of Britain’s finest guitarists, was at the hotel one night and he asked Roy if he would like to use his Gibson ES-175, which he did.  In comparison to his own Abbot Victor guitar, the quality of the ES-175 was amazing. Years later he realizes that it was a particularly good one, as none of those he has subsequently played have ever sounded as good.

Gibson Johnny Smith

jsmith66Roy heard that Ivor Mairants was selling his Gibson Johnny Smith. Ivor had used it during the many years when he was recording and broadcasting with the Mantovani Orchestra.

He brought it to Bristol from London and Roy bought it for £400.   By  today’s prices that sounds pretty cheap, but it was about the correct price at that time, and bearing in mind that Ivor Mairants was one of the best known guitar players in Britain and also owned the mecca of guitar emporia in Rathbone Place, London. It wouldn’t have been sold at a bargain price.

Roy used that instrument for a number of years, and sometime later he got a very good job playing 6 nights a week with a 12-piece dance band at the Locarno Ballroom in Bristol. The Gibson Johnny Smith wasn’t really suitable, as they needed to play all types of music from pop to strict tempo dance music and he sold it and replaced with a cherry-red Gibson ES-335

Gibson ES-335

In 1958 Gibson introduced a guitar with a wood block that was glued to the top and back of the body which ran through the guitars’ centre leaving the sides empty , the guitar was called the Gibson ES-335 , the 1st semi-hollow body guitar.  The wood block not only made the ES-335 guitar more solid but it also enhanced its woodiness, warm sound and sustain. Its ingenious body design structure plays a major role in Gibson’ history and paved the way for many Gibson legendary guitars to come.  Cherished by many artists such as BB-King , Eric Clapton, Chuck Berry,  just to name a few.  The ES-335 is coined by many as the best all around guitar in the world because of its versatility In 1958 when Gibson 1st launched the ES-335 at a list price of approximately $270 the guitar became an instant success and continued its historical journey until this very day .


The 1st year in production the ES-335 had a Brazilian rosewood fingerboard with dot inlays, 2 humbuckers, Bigsby vibrato or stop tailpiece, bound top and back, neck joins the body at the 19th fret, 4 knobs (2-vol 2-tone) , tuneomatic bridge, pickguard extends below the bridge, large fat neck, and were made in sunburst or natural finishes . (this model is highly desirable and sought after by collectors)

1965 Gibson ES-335 guitar specs:
Trapeze tailpiece replaces stop tailpiece (Bigsby vibrato is also still available), chrome parts replace nickel parts, neck nut width decreases from the standard 1 11/16″ to 1 5/8″ or 1 9/16″ (known as the “small” neck, and this subtle 1/16″ to 1/8″ change is very noticeable to anyone familiar with these guitars). These changed transitioned in during 1965, so a 1965 model could still have a stop tail, nickel parts, and a 1 11/16″ neck (or have chrome parts, trapeze, and a 1 9/16″ neck).

The  was an important part of the 6-string landscape by the time Gibson’s engineers gave the instrument its 1st major renovation in 1963, creating the prototypes of the Custom Shop’s 1963 ES-335 Block Reissue. Just 5 years earlier the ES-335’s semi-hollow body design was a remarkable innovation and became the perfect guitar for players seeking the gorgeous, round, mellow tones associated with hollow bodies – ideal for jazz and blues – complimented by the edge and sustain of a full-blooded solid body. Sales absolutely spiked in 1963 following the 2 refinements represented in the 1963 ES-335 Block Reissue. The 1st was cosmetic. The dots on the fingerboard of the ES-335 were replaced with block inlays, introduced for easier visibility and an extra touch of eye-catching class. The neck was tapered to the thinner profile that was standard for Gibsons in the ’60s. The result was the classic instrument now honoured by the Gibson Custom Shop’s exacting reproduction.

Gibson ES-150

GibsonES150Roy had carried an elusive jazz guitar sound in his head for many years, but until he finally found his 1937 Gibson ES-150, he had never quite attained it, The history of this 70-year-old guitar has been lost in the mists of time. However, it came about that a friend of his, Tom James, buys and sells guitars, and he had seen this old ES-150 advertised on Ebay.  Tom contacted the advertiser, who lived in New York. The vendor said that his business was house clearance and he had been clearing out the attic of an apartment when he came across this dusty old guitar total forsaken and neglected.  Where had it come from?  Who had played it during its long lifetime? Oh if only it could talk!  Tom expressed interest in buying the instrument and the seller informed Tom that it was in extremely poor condition. He must have known something about guitars because he mentioned that it sounded very nice. Tom won the bid for it and needed to arrange delivery from. New York to England. The seller asked if by chance he lived anywhere near Bourton on the Water in the Cotswolds, because he would be visiting there on holiday the very next week. So 1 week later and after only a20-minute drive from his home, Tom had the guitar in his hands. Roy subsequently received telephone call from Tom who told him that he had guitar that he thought had the sort of sound Roy was looking for, so Roy made the journey to Tom’s house in Gloucestershire.  When he first set eyes on the guitar he wondered why Tom had bothered to ask him down.  It was in appalling condition, with the neck worn down to the bare wood It was cracked in several places, the neck was very rough under the fingers and the frets were dreadful. It was fitted with the original bar pickup, later known as the Charlie Christian pick-up, which was the one without the notch under the 2nd string, but as soon as he picked it up and plugged it in he said “Yes”!  It sounded sweet, with tremendous clarity and a certain beautiful mellowness about it. It was exactly the sound that he’d been looking for.  Roy told me how difficult it is to describe a sound, but jazz players will know what he means.


Roy traded in some pickups that he had, and with the trade and a cash adjustment, the guitar cost him about £1,800. Roy then took it to Gordon Wells, Dick Knight’s son-in-law, who had taken over the manufacturing and repairing of guitars. He worked or Roy’s guitar for many hours and repaired the cracks which are still there but are almost invisible. He re-fretted it, refinished the neck and parts of the body and brought it up to standard.

After spending a fair amount of money on the instrument it looked more presentable, played like a dream and precisely the sound that Roy had in his mind.

The guitar is fitted with a string damper made by guitarist Pat Farrand, which is an improvement on the original George Van Eps damper. It takes up less space, making it easier to play in the first position; also the pressure on the strings can be varied by the lock to increase or decrease the degree of damping, and the open strings can still be played and they still sound good.

Roy Sainsbury