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Jazz Boxes for the masses

It’s difficult to try to learn Wes Montgomery licks without thinking about his Gibson L5-ces. I’ve been listening to a lot of Wes recently. If you’ve read my posts about guitar size you’ll have discovered I’m a fan of smaller sized guitars with lower bouts of 16 inches or less. A Gibson L5 has a 17-inch lower bout. What are the advantages of a bigger guitar? The L5 is made from all solid wood with a carved top. The guitars was designed as an acoustic instrument from the start and added a cutaway and pickups only later. The spruce top and large size produce a sound many associate with jazz, but maybe that’s because so many great jazz guitarists played an L5.

New L5s sell for over $10,000. Even used ones are over $5000. That’s great if you can afford one, but I don’t have that kind of money. What are the options for a hobbyist guitar player who wants an affordable alternative to the L5?

One of the best deals in a 17-inch jazz guitar is the Epiphone Broadway which is currently $799.

The Broadway has a spruce top but it isn’t carved (and might not even be solid). It currently is only available in natural (or vintage natural). But users like it and some famous guitarists have played one (e.g., Duke Rollibard).

Another nice looking 17-inch jazz box is the D’Angelico EXL-1. Like all guitars in this price range, it is made overseas. It might be inspired by the great luthiers designs but it is no D’Angelico original. It has a single floating Seymour Duncan Johnny Smith mini-humbucker pickup and costs almost twice as much as the Epiphone Broadway.

There are other big jazz guitars for less than $1500, many for under $1000, but here’s another idea.

Choose a smaller guitar!

I’ll admit I’m biased towards the smaller guitars. But I came across the description of Lee Ritenour’s custom Gibson L5ces. The L5 didn’t grow to 17-inches until later. It started as a 16-inch guitar. Lee Ritenour had Gibson make him an L5 that was about 16″ and only 2.5 inches deep.

The Epiphone Joe Pass Emperor II has been updated with better pickups and other minor improvements. It’s a narrower guitar though still 3″ deep at the side. It’s always been rated as a good value in an under $1000 jazz guitar. It’s worth considering.

The other interesting thing that is happening is that many great values in hollow body jazz guitars are n longer on the market. The Epiphone ES-175 is no longer available new. For that matter, the Gibson ES-175 doesn’t seem to be in production.

The largest selection of inexpensive jazz box type guitars is still probably Ibanez. Guild, Gretsch, Godin, and others have few in the affordable price range and if you want a better quality at under $3000, Eastman Guitars had a good selection. Peerless have nice looking guitars but are only available from a few US dealers. Also, their scale length is listed as 24.6 inches, slightly less than a Gibson ES-175 24.75 inch scale. That’s weird. Eastman and Peerless both have 17″ and 16″ body width guitars.

As for me, after contemplating the pros and cons of a larger guitar I’ve decided I’m just fine with my Eastman AR371CE which is similar to an ES-175 but in some ways better.

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