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Johnny Smith - The Gibson Johnny Smith Guitar

Johnny Smith

Aside from  his position as New York’s most revered jazz guitarist during the 1950s, Johnny Smith was also a significant figure in the development of archtop guitar design. After years of experimentation with Epiphone, Guild and master luthier John D’Angelico, Johnny’s conclusions for archtop guitar design were realized in the pinnacle of archtop guitars - the Gibson Johnny Smith.

Johnny’s goal was to create the perfect acoustic archtop guitar and then to amplify it faithfully. The Gibson Johnny Smith was most notable for its cross-braced top, 25” scale length, 1 ¾” nut, 20 frets, a neck which continued beneath the full length of the fingerboard, and a single floating pick-up which enabled the sound-top to vibrate unhindered.

The Gibson Johnny Smith was the first electric archtop guitar that was also truly viable as an acoustic instrument. With a greater balance of tone and sustain across the entire range of the fingerboard, it was capable of use as a rhythm and a lead instrument. It was also deliciously playable.

The Gibson Johnny Smith was a top-of-the-range guitar and came with a price to match. As such, many were bought by wealthy collectors who did little more than admire them. Consequently, those that appear for sale today are often in fine condition.

In 1989, Johnny transferred his endorsement and his design to Gibson’s former employees at Heritage Guitar Inc. The result was the Heritage Johnny Smith Rose. Gibson produced an altered design thereafter as the LeGrand.

In his quest to amplify the acoustic archtop guitar faithfully, Johnny Smith was also a significant figure in the development of amplifier design. He sought and achieved a pureness of tone from a flat frequency response at a time when most manufacturers were producing units which boosted the treble and bass ranges at the expense of the middle range.

Johnny’s collaboration with Ampeg resulted in the production of the legendary upwards-facing Fountain of Sound amplifier in the 1950s, and his work with Gibson a decade later resulted in the GA-75L amplifier.

Production of the Gibson Johnny Smith guitar began in 1961. In due course, the manufacturer introduced an alternative model with a second floating pick-up and with additional controls mounted on the pickguard.

Gibson Johnny Smith Catalog 1