Django’s Gibson ES-300

Django’s Gibson ES-300 Archtop

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The Cafe Society Engagement

Due to the efforts of Duke Ellington in October 1946, Django made his 1st and only appearance in the USA & Canada, (Oct 1946 – Dec 1947).  Ellington, who 1st met Reinhardt in 1939, was anxious to have Django return to the States with him then, but the outbreak of War prevented this. It wasn’t until 7 years later that the fabulous Gypsy arrived in NYC. and performed a series of Concerts as a Guest Soloist with the Ellington Orchestra.

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Django rehearsing with what proves to be the Gibson ES-300 and not  a Gibson L5 .  This would eliminate the the Epiphone Story associated with Joe Sinacore a fellow American Guitarist  Not having brought his trusty Selmer Guitar from Europe, Django was obliged to use the Gibson Amplified Guitar reputedly supplied by Duke’s Promoter the William Morris Agency.  Recordings made during a Concert in Chicago reveal Django to be not quite at home with the Instrument, even utilising the sustain power which the Amplified Guitar possesses.  He was clearly unfamiliar with Amplifiers.

Django Reinhardt’s decision to go alone to America would have appeared to have been both ambitious & foolhardy.  Grappelli had moved on with more acceptable Musicians and had effectively resigned from QHCF other than for recording and reunion Tours.  Django expectantly arrived in the USA without his beloved Selmer or any ability to communicate readily as a visiting Jazz Celebrity and equal, either with US Musicians or Duke Ellington himself.  There he was, an illiterate French Musician and completely out of his depth (regardless of his established European reputation) and without an Instrument.  Associations with Dukes Guitarist Fred Guy, contacts by Joe Sinacore, Harry Volpe, Johnny Smith  & Les Paul all failed to provide him with any direct assistance as regards a suitable Guitar rig to play on.   Guy’s Swedish Lewin, Volpe’s Gretsch Synchromatic were provided for the photo opportunities & jams but there was no urgent clamour for Django Guitar sponsorships.  The Epiphone Zephyr offer claimed to be made by Joe Sinacore are not substantiated by any recorded images.   Duke was on the eve of a Major Tour featuring a Solo Guitarist without any prepared music arrangements, supporting Musicians or even a Guitar.  It would appear the problem was passed to the William Morris Agency to resolve and they must have approached Gibson to provide an Archtop Guitar that would be heard in association with and above the formidable output of the Ellington Band in full flight and fill the enormous Auditoriums hall they played at with adequate Sound levels.  The solution was a Gibson ES-300 Archtop with a hybrid experimental Amplifier and 2-3 speaker Cabinet with a suitable Bandstand output.  As providers of a new Instrument and Amplifier they were probably anxious to have the equipment returned post Tour subject to the ensuing promise of commercial success.  Sadly Django‘s Show slot was to place him in isolation with a repertoire of some 4 numbers, no integrated arrangements and merely, occasional Piano Intro or Crescendo provided by Duke’s Men.  The Public were not ready for this strange presentation of a Lone Guitarist placed in front of the silent Ellington Orchestra playing loudly and alone & isolated on an Amplified ‘Gutbox’ in huge Auditoriums – needless to say he was not well received by the Venue Managers, the Critics or the Public.

The subsequent Cafe Society Uptown Residency appearance with the Clarinettist Edmond Hall Orchestra fared little better in the Cabaret atmosphere of a Noisy New York nightspot with Django having no Cabaret Stage Craft or English Patter to command Audience attention.

For recordings & appearances from 1947 through 1950, Django performed intermittently on the Amplified Guitar, opting at times to use his acoustic instrument. It wasn’t until 1951 that he played an Amplified Instrument (the Selmer with a Stimer pickup), using this louder voice to express his “new” ideas & repertoire in the 1950s world of modern-Jazz and small Instrumental Combos.

Django ‘n Duke Live – Honeysuckle Rose With Django on his Amplified Guitar showing that he was still developing his Archtop Technique in this Format but giving new direction to both his rhythm & soloing delivery.  Predicting in his Recordings the future sounds that could be expected from the Amplified Jazz Gguitar.  He may have tried the Gibson L5, E-150 or Epiphone Electar Amplifiers but it was the Gibson ES-300 and not the Epiphone Zephyr Guitar he used on the Ellington Tour.

Big Band Acoustic – Place de Brouckere

Dango’s Amplification in the USA

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This association would suggest that Django Toured not with the claimed Epiphone Zephyr nor the earlier Gibson L5 but with a Gibson ES-300 as the bindings, twin block parallelogram Inlays & Tailpiece are all common in this picture taken at the Pla Mor Ballroom in Lincoln.  Note the small Amplifier or pre-Amp that the jack lead runs to and the open carrying case just in shot – was this device added to a large Amplifier or Speaker Cabinet to raise Django’s Sound to compete with the Orchestral volume.  See the large white box amp in the Syracuse NYC Concert photo.

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The striped case is also common to both Photos and may have held the pre-amp KitGibson P90 Dog-eared Pick-up fitted.

Gibson BR1-112 Combo Amplifier

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Gibson ES-300 Electric Guitar that Django poses with for Paul Whiteman – but with a cigarette and no pick.  The distinctive Trapeze Tailpiece on this Electric Archtop. Significantly – no Pick Guard & split parallelogram block Inlays.  Photo taken at the Cafe Society Uptown.  It now seems clear that Django never Toured the USA with an Epihone Zephyr it is more likely that the William Morris Agency accepted the ‘No Guitar’ problem and approached Gibson for a suitable quality Instrument and a supporting perhaps hybrid Amplification System to enable Django to be heard alongside the Duke Ellington Orchestral Volume and in Large Auditoriums.  The Solution included –
Gibson ES-300 Archtop without Pick-guard
A Large White Speaker Cabinet
A Hybrid or Prototype Amplifier not an ES 150 or a BR1-112 Combo but with a separate pre-Amp or power unit which was housed in a striped Travelling case which was always present on stage.

War-time restrictions of components & hardware forced Gibson to halt Manufacturing of Electric Guitars & Amplifiers during WW2. Gibson began production again in 1946, employing Chicago-based Electronic Design Company Barnes & Reinecke to design a new amplifier line. The new amps included the Ultratone BR-1, BR-3, BR-4, BR-6 & BR-9 Models, with 10 – 18 watts of Power. Volume & Tone controls were featured on all Models, except the smaller BR-6 & BR-9 Amplifiers. The BR Amplifiers were produced until 1954 and were discontinued to take advantage of more popular features & newer Technology.

Power Plug Preamp: These small Boxes appear to plug directly into the endpin jack socket of the Instrument.    A volume control on the top of the Box allows one to adjust  the volume, mute the output, and change Instruments or take a break without pops, hum, or noise. There is a small gain trim Control on the bottom of the Box that allows the pre-amp to be fine tuned to work with any pickup or application. There may be 2 redundant power switches, one on the volume knob, and the other on the output jack. The Power pack may have  been used as a standard volume control for a magnetic pickup as well,

Gibson ES-300 – GibsonES300It appears to be a post-war Gibson ES-300 with original Kluson “f-hole” tailpiece.  Bound peghead with open-back tuners; dark Brazilian Rosewood Fretboard with double-parallelogram Inlays within Frets; 1 piece mahogany Neck; single original P-90 dog ear pick-up;  Nicely flamed maple back & birds-eye sides; original rosewood adjustable Bridge & Base;  Tall gold barrel knobs w/o numerals; and the unusual clef slotted nickel Kluson Tailpiece replacing the normal Trapeze..

In late 1945 Gibson introduced the ES-300 with a straight P-90 Pick-up at the Neck position, with bevelled edged Pick-guard which was not not present on Django’s ES-300.

ES-300, was an experimental model with several variations reflecting Gibson’s ongoing attempt to improve electric guitar design. Because Gibson wanted to be a major player in the sales of the electrified instruments, they required standardization in their production, hence the development of the ES-300 and the subsequent 300 series.  Many of the original ES-300’s aesthetic features became standardised in a wide array of Gibson made products over the decades that followed. Some of these features include bound rosewood fingerboards with double parallelogram inlays, multi-relief diamond trapeze tailpieces, volume and tone controls, rim-mounted jack inputs, single-bound tortoise shell celluloid pickguards, multi-bound carved tops and backs, crown headstock inlays, and adjustable Alnico pickups.

Unfortunately, there was not enough time for this 1st generation ES-300 to catch on commercially. Gibson’s total production for the ES-300 with the long diagonal pickup, offered in sunburst and blonde, was approximately 50 units. The complete ES-300 set with case, cord, and EH-275 amplifier was listed for $300.

Gibson ES-300 (1940-1953)
The Gibson ES-300 Guitar was introduced in mid-1940 as a new upgrade for their Electric Guitars . The Guitar shared much of its features of its predecessor (ES-250) and also had similar style hardware & features of the Gibson L-5 & the L-12 . What made the Gibson ES-300 different from other pre-War Guitars was the electronics and look of its new style P90 pickups . Gibson made 3 versions of basically the same model with 3 different pickup variations ,

the “ES” refers to ‘Electric Spanish’ and is still used as the common Gibson classification today. ‘Spanish‘ refers to the upright placement of the Instrument on your knee: the way most Guitars are played today.

1946 ES-300 specs:
P-90 pickup in Neck position, laminated bevelled-edge Pick-guard, bound Peg-Head and Fingerboard.

The same Sunburst Gibson ES-300 Guitar and a Django Painting and Django’s personal wallet copy

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The photograph of Django in the Hotel Room was taken in New York in 1946 probably when Django was playing at Cafe Society Uptown. The woman is the Gypsy Singer Sonia Dimitrivitch (I have seen several spellings of her surname). Attached a nice quality scan and a copy of the actual photo that Django carried in his Wallet. It was found there after he died and given to Alain Antonietto. – Since Django was in New York during January, 1947, it is possible this photo was actually taken in Jan 1947 rather than 1946. From memory, there are 3 other photos taken at the same time. The Official version is that Sonia was modelling for one of Django’s Paintings (on bed) but the Americans took a very dim view of Django having women in his Hotel Room.  Roger S Baxter

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When Reinhardt concluded his American Tour, the Guitar was returned to Gibson, which in turn, was given to Guitarist George Barnes. Several years later, he sold the Guitar to Barry Galbraith.  Barnes owned a Gibson L-5 that he later sold.  He also owned a D’Angelico that he sold to Bucky Pizzarelli for $125.00!

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BarryGalbraithBarry Galbraith, an influential Jazz Guitarist who, in 1952, had started using a Guitar made by Elmer Stromberg of Boston that featured a 23½” scale. The shortened scale – a full 2 inches shorter than that of a Gibson L-5 – allowed for wider hand stretches and complex new Chord voicings.

Barry Galbraith, 1919 – 1983, remains one of the most admired Jazz Guitarists of all time. As a Studio Musician in the 1950’s and 1960’s he was in such high demand that he left us with one of the richest collections of Jazz Recordings on record, but at the same time one of the most limited, due to the fact that he most commonly appeared as sideman only. His recording Guitar and the Wind was apparently his only recording as Leader. But, due to his excellent musicianship in almost any venue from Dixieland to the experimental there are dozens of examples of Barry Galbraith to listen to and learn from.

DannyCedroneES300Danny Cedrone’s solo on Bill Haley and the Comets’ 1955 hit “Rock Around the Clock” is a jaw-dropper. Cedrone—a Philadelphia session guitarist who used a 1946 Gibson ES-300 and a 1×12 Gibson BR-1 Combo for the legendary track – opens with a furiously picked line, then suddenly works in some tangy half-step bends and slick, Jjazzy phrases, and caps it off with an insanely fast chromatic flurry that encompasses all 6-strings. Cedrone was paid $21 for the Solo, and a little over 2 months later, died after falling down a Staircase. He never knew the impact this Solo had on the world.

Selmer Maccaferri Versus the Gibson Archtop
Django certainly took a risk laying aside his treasured Acoustic Guitar for the heavier Archtops. But his greatness as an Artist can be witnessed in the fact that he did not just play Electric as he would Acoustic but adapted his playing style to electric amplification. Stretched notes and lightning runs in tempo & volume as well as an exploration of the pause and the contrasts of sweet & low on the one hand and the attack & harshness of the loud electric sound on the other.

But by end of the 1953 electric sessions, Django was largely forgotten or more or less ignored as a Musician. When he had a booking or 2-3 weeks at the Ringside, the future Blue Note, he didn’t draw much of a crowd. Some fellow Musicians had even the audacity to say that Django was past it, if not finished. It was Eddie Barclay who convinced him to return to Paris to record. In a bust of pride, Django accepted and plugged in the electric guitar with some top notch friend musicians accompanying him. He turned into an unparalleled soloist playing definitive versions of “Nuages”, “Manoir de mes rêves” and “Brazil” among many others.

Nevertheless, from the sleeve notes of the “Peche à la Mouche” album, Pierre Michelot writes of the reception of this Album: “Django intended to give his own answer to everyone who thought he was over the hill. He was bringing everyone up to date, but nobody could be bothered to look up at the calendar year.”

When Django turned Electric and was ignored by the Audience, somebody should have had the guts to say one word back to the former era loving crowds and fans: Judas!

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Django in Nice with a Gibson L-5 and an Epiphone Electar Amplifier with Challain Ferret

Amplifiers of the day were just as basic as the early Electric Guitars, if not more so. The EH-150 had in fact arrived before the ES-150 Guitar, as partner to Gibson’s EH-150 Lap-steel Guitar (these were actually Gibson’s 1st genuine Electric Guitars, and the Amplifier retained the Lap Steel’s “Electric Hawaiian EH” designation). The EH-150 originally carried a single 10″ Speaker (later a single 12″) and was powered by a truly archaic circuit design, and now-obsolete pre-amp & power tubes, but it was an impressive beast for the mid ’30s. Even when the circuit had evolved a few years later to employ 6L6 output Valves, the Amp still only produced around 15 watts at best, but that 15 watts sounded pretty darn loud next to any acoustic-only rhythm Guitarist hacking away in the Rhythm section, so these Amps were enough to unleash the Guitarist as Soloist on the Big-band stages of the day.

Charlie Christian to Gibson ES-150 Guitar to Gibson EH-150 amplifier … to history. It’s a humble rig by the standards of today’s Electric Guitarists have it to thank for proving what this instrument, and a great player could do.

Paul Vernon Chester – I use my Gibson 175 Archtop, which I haven’t played for years. It’s a 1959 with PAFs – my 1st real Jazz Guitar which my dad bought for me when I was 13. It sounds very Joe Pass and is great for Django numbers. I always think that Django would have loved the 175.