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WES MONTGOMERY GUITAR

Wes Guitar
The guitar shown here is one of the L5's custom made for Wes and was the one he used exclusively during
his European tour in 1965. He can be seen playing this instrument in the BBC Jazz 625 video as well as in
the Jazz Prisma video and the Hamburg video recording of "West Coast Blues". After Wes' death in 1968, the
guitar was subjected to fire, smoke and water damage and then forgotten about for a long period of time until
it was discovered and then restored (by Gibson). They took over two years to bring it back to the condition
shown here. In an article in the November 1997 Just Jazz Guitar, Gibson are quoted as saying that 'whatever
Wes' fingers touched would remain - the frets, neck, fingerboard and tailpiece'. The bridge, however has been
changed from the original Gibson Tune-o-matic to the rosewood bridge as seen in the photograph. I was
lucky enough to have been just a couple of feet away from this gorgeous instrument and it's incredibly gifted
master in 1965 at Ronnie Scott's Club.

This guitar has now (2001) been offered for sale at a well known New York Guitar Shop. A
description of the work done and some other background information appears in the description and
adds significantly to the history of the instrument. I have made some comments of my own after the
following which I have extracted from the internet description.
.....Its provenance is quite interesting: after being misplaced for nearly three decades it turned up in
Indianapolis in damaged condition. It had been exposed to a great deal of heat (due to being in proximity of a
fire). While it wasnt burned up the finish was, in spots, charred, and, due to an unsuccessful attempt at
stripping with furniture finish remover, most of the remaining finish had been peeled off. The pickup, frets,
electronics, the f-hole bindings and the underlying wood all survived. The person who found it asked if Gibson
would be interested in doing the restoration work - the minimum amount necessary to "bring it back." Gibson
not only agreed to do the work, they said theyd do it for no charge, if they could use the guitar for promotion
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WES MONTGOMERY GUITAR

following completion of repairs. The Gibson Custom Shop performed a miracle - their work is conservative, in
that they did no more than they had to, and it preserves the appearance of the instrument as it was during the
prime of Mr. Montgomery.....
.....Gibson refinished it in a color which replicates what this 1963 L-5C looked like during Wes Montgomerys
prime years, a color which reflects normal aging. No surviving metal parts were replated. They did not plane
the fingerboard - you can still see the areas of wear caused by Mr. Montgomerys fingers.......
......Gibson saved and used the original frets, tuners, humbucking pickup, bridge, potentiometers, L-bracket
which supports the now replaced pick guard, truss rod cover and some of the binding, especially the f-hole
bindings. They made a period-style pick guard which is 4-ply bordered with the outer white. The two gold high
hat knobs were replaced. On the side you can see repaired cracks on either side of the jack, typical of a
working persons instrument, and, under the new finish, dark lines parallel to the binding, which were likely
caused by either heat or perspiration.
Wes Montgomery, who died in 1968, tended to wear the finish on his guitars above the pick guard, and so he
had had inlaid, at the upper treble bout below the cutaway, a large (2" tall) mother-of-pearl heart inlaid in the
upper treble bout below the cutaway, on which the artists name is vertically engraved. This inlaid ornament
survived, and though it had fallen out of the top the component was glued back and remains in excellent
condition. The guitar is accompanied by much documentation including a video tape of Wes Montgomery
playing this very guitar in a televised band performance in Belgium. Theres a photo of Wes playing this guitar
on page 145 of Andre Duchoissoirs book Gibson Electrics. There is a Gibson "Claim Check" for the guitar
when it was brought into the Custom Shop for restoration. The receipt is dated July 13, 1995. Also
accompanying the instrument is a copy of the Gibson "Restoration and Repair Agreement" dated July 19,
1995 in which it was stated that "Gibson agree[d] to repair and restore the Guitar to its original condition and
shall bear all costs of completing such restoration. . . in consideration for [which] Gibson shall be permitted to
video tape the repair and restoration process, to take . . . pictures. . . and to use said . . . pictures in the
promotion of Gibsons business."
An accompanying letter from Walter Carter, dated July 19, 1995 on Gibson stationery, reads: "As Im sure
Brian told you, the guitar was a big hit at the grand opening of the Gibson exhibit at the Country Music Hall of
Fame and Museum. We are looking forward to bringing it back to display quality."
A copy of a FAX, dated May 11, 1998 from Carl Hansen of Gibson states: "[When the guitar came in it] had
extensive damage, both from a fire that the guitar had been through and from a highly caustic furniture
stripper that the antique dealer [who found it in the estate] had used (because of the fire-damaged finish). . . .
We had to build binding by hand, from scratch, to replace pieces of the binding which were melted by the
furniture stripper. I also know that we were able to restore the pickup and CPA through a great deal of
cleaning, polishing, etc. Obviously, we refinished the guitar to as close to original as possible. . . . Gibson did
three Custom L-5s for Wes. We have spoken to Wes family and I know that at least two of these had a spot
on the top which had worn thin just beyond the pick guard where he rested his fingers. One of these had a
mother of pearl heart installed and the other had an onyx diamond-shaped piece installed. Note: neither of
these were in the guitars when they left the Gibson factory."
This instrument was born an L-5C, an acoustic, tone-bar braced jazz axe, and, as indicated by the two tiny
holes remaining in the bottom bass side of the end of the fingerboard we surmise that it was originally
equipped with a Johnny Smith pickup, now long gone. We do not know in which year Mr. Montgomery had
this converted to its present configuration of a built-in single hum-bucking pickup located just under the carat
at the end of the fingerboard.
In a letter which accompanies this guitar the finder of the piece writes: We came to possess the guitar in 1995
when an antique dealer came in to the store with the guitar in a tattered fibreboard case, asking what repairs
would cost. This gentleman had purchased the entire contents of an inner city home from an estate. We do
not know whose estate the guitar was a part of. [It] had been exposed to intense heat, such that the knobs
had melted and the lacquer had liquefied. The heat did not damage the guitar itself. While examining the
guitar, we noticed the outline of a heart in the top [near] the pick-guard. After searching the case we
discovered the mother-of-pearl heart with "Wes Montgomery" inscribed vertically through it. It was then that
we realised just how important a piece this guitar was. Based on the serial number Gibson was able to
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WES MONTGOMERY GUITAR

confirm that they had indeed custom made this guitar at the request of Wes Montgomery in 1963. . . . When
Gibson authenticated the origin of the guitar they offered to restore it for us at no charge in exchange for
allowing them to show it at trade shows and conventions to illustrate their restoration capabilities. We
delivered the guitar to them at the Nashville NAMM Show in 1995 at a press conference. This "Heart" guitar
restoration project inspired Gibson to re-issue a limited edition West Montgomery L-5. Gibson returned the
fully restored guitar to us after the 1998 Winter NAMM Show."
The back and sides of the instrument are comprised of nicely flamed and book matched curly maple and the
neck is five-ply and flame maple in all three of its wide sections. The instrument is set up perfectly and plays
effortlessly. It has superb acoustic sound, as well as electric tone so melodious it nearly makes one weep.......

My comments are these:


In paragraph three it is indicated that the original bridge was used and it now sports a ROSEWOOD
bridge whereas the video and photographic evidence showing Wes actually using this instrument
shows that he always used a "Gibson Tune-O-Matic" bridge on this particular guitar. I can confirm
that this was the case on the occasion that I was able to view it at close range at Ronnie Scott's club.
He also, at some stage, reversed the pickups on both of the Custom Built Guitars so that the
polepieces were further away from the end of the neck. The combination of these factors together
with the unorthodox bracing for an L5 with pickups would certainly bring about dramatic changes in
tone.

The suggestion that the guitar may have started life as an acoutic L5c with fitted "Johnny Smith" style
pickup raises the question whether Gibson took stock L5's and retrofitted the pickups or someone
else fitted the pickups after delivery. Did the same person install the mother of pearl heart? It would
be nice if someone could resolve these questions. Close inspection of photographs and the video
evidence shows that that the decorative point on the end of the finger board appears to have been
removed (flattened), possibly to facilitate the fitting of the JS Pickup.
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WES MONTGOMERY GUITAR

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