Guitars & Gear
The favored gear of our lady of jazz guitar.
All the information available related to what she played and preferred in equipment .
Emily recorded at a time in the music industry where not as much emphasis was placed on providing the names of gear and instruments that artists preferred, as it so prevalent with today’s sponsorship agenda. All the inserts of her cd’s casually list her as just playing on : Guitar.
But there are mentions of her favorite brands from time to time in articles and interviews and definitely lots of photos of what she constantly had in her hands, and with that we will cover what we know, what we see and hopefully provide a perspective about her gear that you will find nowhere else.
Her passion for the Gibson ES-330 is very well documented. It’s not hard to find out that her brother’s 330 is the instrument she started playing on. You will notice it in pictures throughout her career,
it’s a marvelous cherry red model but of note Emily’s guitar was modified with humbucking pickups which would today be a very rare modification on this particular vintage instrument.
Emily’s 330 was also fitted with a Gibson Lyre Vibrola tremolo system that is engraved with a Lyre (a harp-like instrument) and the Gibson logo. The engraving and chrome finish are largely worn away and tarnished but can just be made out on the cover photo of her Transitions album. One can also tell the tremolo arm has been removed.
From the photo and video evidence we have it’s clear that around the late 80′s Emily removed the metal bar that attached to the tremolo arm and was designed to rock this very simple tremolo system and fitted a Gibson-style Stop Bar Tailpiece.
After this modification the tarnished and now defunct Lyre Vibrola tailpiece was left on the guitar and this often causes confusion to those trying to identify Emily’s guitar as an authentic vintage 330. At this same time it appears that the original Gibson tuners were replaced by what seem to be Grover tuners. Emily once remarked in an interview that she thought her 330 was a 1962 model but she wasn’t sure. Those serious in owning one will find them periodically on auction sites.
The Gibson ES-330 was intended to be a student instrument when first released. It was in fact referred to as the “poor man’s dot marker” because so many owners were able to buy and customize the 330 to the specs of the top line 335′s at the time, for far less the price. It was never as ornamented, missing the crown motif on the headstock, used single coil P90 pick ups instead of humbuckers, and had the fretboard join the body at the 16th fret not the normal 19th, which caused a repositioning of the bridge, but being labeled a student guitar didn’t effect it’s sound quality or expert build. The 330′s superb performance proved to be appealing beyond the novice player. And in the end, aren’t we all perpetual students when it comes to learning and music anyway? The biggest change from the well established ES-335 to the thinline 330 was the absence of the wooden center block that enabled a deep, full sound from the guitar that was more commonly associated with the bigger bodied acoustic/electric models. The tailpieces of the early releases were not exactly elegant, but the rich tone it imparted, the comfortable size, fretboard dimensions and accessibility made it a dream to play.
She tried the Gibson ES-175 early on but reported that:
” It was too fat and restricted my right arm in such a way that my picking, which is my strongest point, would get tired. The 330 has a nice thin body, so I don’t have the problem.”
Emily’s 330 is showcased on her very first two albums, Firefly and Take Two, and again later you will see it in the promo photos for Transitions and is pictured in the inserts for This Is Me, so she never traded it in, from the beginning to the end, the 330 was clearly one of her favorites.
The first we see of the Ovation acoustic was around the mid 80′s. Emily was gearing up for her recording with Larry Coryell in Charlottesville, Virginia and Ed Deasy took several black and white photo’s showing her in trance with a 1984 Collectors Series Ovation (some of my absolute favorite images of her). Indeed, the credits for the album, Together, lists Larry playing a ’67 circa Gibson Super 400 electric and Ovation Adamas acoustic and Emily playing the Ovation Adamas acoustic and Borys B120 electric. She also used that Ovation for the 3 standout solo performances captured on The Guitar Show JazzMasters series.
It’s a gorgeous, dark walnut finish guitar with a leaf motif around the soundholes. ADAMAS II Models were introduced in 1981 with the standard Ovation neck and bridge, and was available as acoustic electric only. The Collectors Series followed in 1982 with the wood-top Adamas prototypes named Elite, and labels that were marked with N-19-82WTSL ( the WTSL for Wood Top Super Legend).
2,637 were made for that year and if you are patient, you can still find them up for sale now and again. The collectors series was a super shallow body, spruce top with an ebony fretboard, inlaid at the 12th fret with hard maple and the year 1984 contrastingly set into that.
It has a beautiful acoustic sound plugged in, with the classic ovation overtones and the super low action coupled with wide frets gives it an electric fretboard feel.
She really played it to all it’s perfections in the JazzMasters show. You can check a few of those solos out on the Em-cast page.
Korocusci Classical Guitar
If you ever heard Emily playing some of her Brazilian style jazz (and it’s very apparent on her version of Afro Blue) and thought hey, that sounds like a nylon string guitar, it was. This is the least searchable of all her guitars but she does talk about it in a few articles around ’80 – ’81 , where she says:
” I recently bought a new Japanese classical guitar called a Korocusci. I got it because I do a lot of work with Astrud Gilberto, and she does a lot of bossa nova tunes. So the classical guitar is a necessity. I used to borrow one every time I worked with her, but because we were going into the Brecker Brothers’ club, Seventh Ave. South, I wanted a new guitar for the job. ”
It appears to be a virtually unknown guitar model name or manufacturer so I have no further info to offer, but if you know this guitar or have pictures, feel free to use the contact page and share your knowledge.
Could this be a picture of the elusive Korocusci ??
Peroria, Illinois, 1981 Emily, Monty Alexander & Paul Berner
Early on, Emily leaned toward being a traditional player with a straight ahead, hard bebop style and no desire to alter those pure tones. She had a great respect for the music she was trying to convey from such Masters as Clifford Brown, Sonny Rollins, Wes Montgomery and Bobby Timmons, and felt it would be wrong to “wash” the delivery of their songs with any guitar or amplifier effects. But near the end of her career, as she was establishing her own style and playing with the new technology of the times, she did begin to venture into the electronic side of jazz music and her instrument of choice was the Casio PG-380 Synth Guitar. The only commercial album that featured her Casio was her last, This Is Me, and is so prominently displayed on the song, Simplicidaje, but you will immediately notice that the entire album has a different feel and attitude from her previous releases, due in part from the inclusion of her new found special effects.
It’s too bad for us that most of her playing and experimenting with this guitar’s limitless sounds was done in her home studio without the benefit of a recorder but some of her friends remember enjoying many jams and soloing out of the Casio that we will unfortunately never know.
Initially released in 1987, this series of synth guitars were based on a “Strat” style Ibanez design and featured an easy transition from normal electric vocals to well over
60 preset sounds.
Casio introduced five MIDI guitar models in ’87: The MG-500 and MG-510, and the PG-300, PG-310, and PG-380 that were part of their second generation of professional instruments (which also included the VZ-series synthesizers and the FZ-series samplers).
The guitars themselves were produced under contract for Casio by Fuji Gen Gakki, who also built the Roland and Ibanez MIDI guitars.
The PG-380 was Casio’s top of the line guitar listing for about $1500 and sported an Alder body longer than a Strat’s and without the tummy cut and armrest contouring of a Strat, due to the numerous cavities routed in the body to accommodate the electronics. The neck and bridge pickups were both a single-coil humbucker splittable by a push-pull switch on the tone control and a Gotoh Floyd Rose-style locking vibrato. The neck was made of maple with a 22-fret ebony fingerboard and locking nut.
It gets very good reviews from current owners and is one of those guitars that will pop up from time to time on auction sites for less than half of it’s original price.
The beloved B120 HollowBody Electric was maybe her favorite choice toward the end of the 80′s. It appears in many of the pictures you can find of her, and most notably on her two excellent lesson videos, Bebop & Swing Guitar and Advanced Latin & Jazz Improvisation. It is also mentioned as her electric choice for the Together album with Coryell and you can see in Ed Deasy’s photo’s of the Charlottesville sessions, it was already her guitar of choice before recording the duo album.
Even without seeing the inlaid name in the head stock, you will always know a Borys by the unusually thin and angular pick guard (Emily’s was made of a dark wood, either walnut or one of the tropicals, but this was probably an extra option). He began building guitars in 1974 in Burlington, Vermont, eventually evolving to a series of guitars with jazz musicians in mind. Ken Armstrong developed a special pick up just for them, that induced a rich tone from the trebles while retaining a crisp edge in the bass. They came with ebony pickguards and knobs, mother of pearl markers and one of the finer adjustments was the ability to change string tension by raising or lowering the solid brass tail piece. It’s a beautiful guitar and the tone speaks for itself.
Borys apprenticed with Jimmy D’Aquisto and made laminated body plates for Jimmy’s jazz electric guitars ( the Jim Hall – D’Aquisto guitar) into the 1990′s. The BG series was designed in collaboration with Jimmy D’Aquisto and Barry Galbraith, hence the “BG” in the name.
I understand Roger Borys is still building (with limited production) and repairing guitars but has moved his operation from northern Vermont to Hoboken, New Jersey. After all this time they are still made by hand, one at a time. Visit his website - RogerBorys.com for more information. Good luck in finding a used model at vintage guitar sites or ebay and if you do, expect to open your wallet a little wider than normal.
see the special collections page for more vintage Borys brochures and literature.
Of interest, in one interview Emily spoke of owning an Ibanez GB-10 (early on in her New Orleans experience ) , a signature series George Benson model, which is a little like the Gibson ES-175, Here’s what she had to about it.
It was good because it was thin enough, but I found that it was good only if you wanted to sound like George Benson. the top strings were very chinky and trebly, the low strings were warm and bassy, but they didn’t sustain at all. It got a very percussive sound, like the way George plays. It was perfect for me in some ways, but I wanted a guitar that I could use for rock work, and it was terrible for that.
On the list of amps Emily is known to have liked are: Roland Chorus, Walter Woods, Music Man, Polytone and Fender. Besides of course the tone, one of her biggest considerations for an amp was related to the weight. When you schlep your own gear, how much you have to lug is a factor.
” I owned a Polytone, which is kind of like a Fender Twin Reverb, except the Twin is much too heavy for me. I can’t pick one up, so I use the Polytone. I’d much rather use a tube amp, though. I buy amps that i can pick up, otherwise I have to get strange men from the street to help me take it out of the car.”
Of note, she was a proud owner of a VW Rabbit, Volkswagen of America headquarters was located on the industrial side of her hometown, Englewood. Try stuffing a Twintube into the back of that!
The only strings I’ve ran across her endorsing were D’Addario Half Rounds of which she said she wasn’t fussy about the exact gauge and would use .011 gauge for the top but didn’t care what the rest of the strings were. The advertisement below says it best. She also mentions later to leaning toward D’Addario Jazz Lights and loved them because they were free.
Half round guitar strings are round wound with 430 stainless steel, then precision ground, leaving the outer surface semi-smooth. They retain the flexibility and tonal characteristics of round wound strings, but provide a smoother feel.
Right Down To The Pick
As her fans know Emily played a majority of her style without a pick, thus the comparison to Wes Montgomery for the use of her thumb. She was masterful with it. But when she wanted to accent a lead she would grab a pick she had been holding between her teeth and casually use it for a few minutes, then store it again.
Emily was especially annoyed at a prominent critic who had objected (in print) to her habit of intermittently holding the guitar pick in her mouth whenever she switched to bare-finger playing. The critic confessed that he preferred to look away whenever she was doing this, to which Emily testily replied:
Good ! I wish he’d look away the whole time and picture me as John Coltrane !
The only pick she ever mentioned using was the Fender Extra Heavy 1.21mm and before that she states, ” I used bits of Tupperware and pieces of wood…”.