You wouldn’t know it from listening to today’s jazz music, or for that matter, the bulk of modern guitar music. But jazz and guitars work surprisingly well together, and more than a few musicians have blended them with remarkable results. Although many would argue that it’s more about the skill than the instrument, it can’t be denied that jazz has a distinct sound that can’t be achieved with just any set of strings—at least not if you’re after an authentic sound.
Jazz guitars are a fairly new term, as there aren’t many that are specifically made for the genre. In jazz, guitars tend to have a clean, dry sound with little to no reverb, and often no other effects. The charm comes from the clear sound that allows you to pick up every detail, from the plucking to the vibration of every string.
The best instruments for jazz are hollow-body semi-acoustic guitars, although you’ll find more than a few that break away from the rule. One of the most famous jazz guitars is the Gibson ES150, probably best known to jazz enthusiasts as Charlie Christian’s signature instrument. Its famous warm, mellow tone is made possible by a single-coil pickup at the neck, and the f-holes in the acoustic-style body.
Two other Gibson guitars are considered jazz classics: the L5 and the ES175. The L5 has been around for decades and hasn’t changed much from its original design, which includes a large body offering excellent resonance. The ES175 is largely recognizable from its uncharacteristic Florentine design, but offers the same sound quality and personality as the rest of the line.
If you want a real classic, of course, the Fender Telecaster is your best choice. Arguably the most famous guitar in the market in any genre, it has a sweet, mellow tone that goes just as well in jazz as in country music, where it’s better known. What’s great about it is that you can experiment with styles, given its versatility. Indeed, you probably wouldn’t want to use it solely for jazz, as you’ll be missing out on creative opportunities.
The Gretsch Country Gentleman, although obviously more a country guitar, also lends itself very well to jazz playing. This is made possible with the various controls that allow you to change the tone, and the proprietary pickups that give it a unique sound. A similar model, the Nashville, offers the same features with a slightly different look.