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1968 Gibson Barney Kessel Stereo Varitone
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Serial #: 895243, orange oval label
Body size at lower bout: 17" Scale length: 25 1/2" Nut Width: 1 19/32" Neck depth: .80/.99, 1st/12th frets
Materials: Solid Honduras mahogany neck; arched figured maple body; solid Brazilian rosewood fingerboard with trapezoid fingerboard inlays; triple bound body, bound neck; original nut.
Hardware: Original gold hardware includes Gibson Patent Sticker humbucking pickups, diamond crossbar trapeze tailpiece, beveled 5-ply pickguard, reflector cap volume and tone knobs, 3 way pickup selector switch, Varitone rotary tone selector switch and choke, volume and tone pots with shielding cans and caps, stereo wiring harness, gold reflector cap knobs, 'Stereo' truss rod cover, rosewood bridge with ABR-1 Tuneomatic saddle. Vintage correct aged Kluson Deluxe tuners, Barney Kessel engraved tailpiece nameplate.
Notes: Just when you think you've seen it all, Gibson throws you a curve ball, right over the plate.
Guitar legend Barney Kessel began his career as an acolyte of his fellow Oklahoman, electric pioneer Charlie Christian. With a career that spanned from Artie Shaw and Charlie Barnet to Charlie Parker and Oscar Peterson, Kessel's resume spanned the most formative years of the contemporary jazz guitar. After a short-lived endorsement deal with Kay, Kessel became a Gibson artist, and his namesake model made its debut in 1961, remaining available until 1973.
A 17" long scale twin pickup jazz box in the tradition of the ES-350, the Gibson Barney Kessel was the firm's first full-depth double cutaway archtop, a design intended to facilitate access to the uppermost frets. The model ordinarily comes in two flavors: the 'Regular' and the 'Custom', which are otherwise identical except for cosmetic appointments. And then this one showed up.
Was it a custom order? A one-off prototype? We'll never know for sure, but what's certain is that we've never seen another one, and we're betting you haven't either. On what would otherwise be a standard 'Regular' Kessel body, the guitar is factory fitted with Gibson 'Varitone' 6-way tone selector, normally seen only on the upscale ES-345 and 355 thinlines. Wiring is complete with the 'chicken head' rotary switch, 'choke' inductor bar, and stereo harness and jack. Not to mention the all-gold hardware and reflector cap knobs, just for kicks. Finally, a pair of sound posts have been installed underneath the bridge as well, giving the instrument enhanced resistance to feedback.
Carefully maintained, she's remarkably free of pick, thumb, buckle or fingerboard wear, and shows gleaming cherry sunburst finish, with some typical scattered checking to vouch for its originality. Both pickups retain their patent stickers, and the original shielding cans for each of the four control pots are intact and unopened. (Pickups read 7.27K and 7.74K at the neck and bridge respectively.) All binding is original and tight to the body, with fine original black beveled 5-ply pickguard. Completing the package is a set of vintage correct, hand aged gold Kluson Deluxe double ring tuners, and an engraved BK tailpiece badge, from an original template. Apart from a small finish crack near the neck pickup, the instrument shows notably few signs of age otherwise.
The neck has the slim, elegant light D profile of the era, with fine original medium jumbo frets, and smooth low action over a fresh high-precision setup. (With a shorter neck tenon than earlier versions, these later Kessels improve access to the upper fingerboard as well.) The tone is 60's at its finest: fat, warm and sweet, with excellent clarity and balance across the range. All enhanced by the sonic versatility of the Varitone selector, providing a rainbow of tone colors at the touch of the switch. The guitar is also supplied with a 1/4" stereo-to-mono adapter, making the guitar fully compatible with any standard guitar cable or amp. Just plug and play, in either mono or stereo: your choice.
Over its dozen years of production, Gibson shipped some 1117 examples of the popular Barney Kessel Regular. And as far as we know, a grand total of one Barney Kessel Stereo Varitone. (If you've seen another, please call collect: we'll accept the charges.) Be the first, and only, on your block: just be our first lucky caller.
Setup: This instrument is strung with medium gauge nickel roundwound strings. The guitar will accommodate lighter or heavier gauge strings, according to preference. String action is set at 4/64" to 5/64" at the 12th fret, with light neck relief. The action may be lowered or raised to your requirements with the adjustable bridge.
Case: Period black hardshell case with gold plush lining.