When you sit down with a Jazz Master like guitarist George Benson the one question that runs through your head is “Where does the jazz come from?” As you watch him just noodle or riff or see his fingers dance across the strings of the guitar it sounds amazing, but you ask yourself what is he thinking about. On a Wednesday afternoon in early March, from his home office, the 10-time Grammy Award winner shared his thoughts on music creation and celebrity guitars while holding a prized D’Aquisto guitar that he is auctioning with Heritage Auctions. He wistfully explained “The guitar in general is a fascinating instrument. It can take you to places – wherever it is you want to go you can go there. The sounds remind you of some memories or things you just made up.”
In his home office he can put together ideas for the future with complete freedom. If he makes a mistake, so what? Nobody is going to hear it until he perfects it. Benson talked about his love for the sound of the guitar. Anything on the guitar just makes him happy, and then he began to just play. He wrapped up the impromptu jam session with a flourish and then said, “I don’t even know what made me do that. The guitar makes me think of all kinds of things.”
It is obvious he is happy when he plays. He explained, “I am not begrudgingly playing the guitar to beat it into shape or to make it do what he wants it to do. The guitar music takes me to some nice places I hasn’t been to before and I am just going along for the ride, heading out on a musical adventure of exploration.” The NEA recognized Jazz Master talks about how different instruments make you think differently. They seem to have a personality. He thinks it goes back to the design or the way they were made and when you start playing them you begin to fall into that design. Benson starts playing again and waxing poetically about how “maybe this is what the luthier (guitar maker) meant for this guitar to do.”
In addition to playing Benson has designed guitars with Ibanez for four decades. He even asked his long-time guitar manufacture to make him an eight-string experimental guitar. They made two and Benson is offering one for sale so someone else can join in the fun of creating new music.
The idea with the eight-string guitar was to feed the jazz guitarist’s curiosity. He explained he is always getting ideas and the advantage is now Ibanez can figure them out and get instruments made. They are encouraging Benson to challenge them with new ideas and Benson is letting his creative mind run free.
When Benson was explaining the design of the eight-string guitar to Ibanez he asked them to “move some strings around, beef up the inside of the guitar and give it some new harmonics. I didn’t get exactly what I was looking for but we are well on the way.” The jazz guitarist and designer said he ultimately needed to see the prototype in person because you can’t always work everything out in your head. You need reality. Once the eight-string guitar arrived in his hands he thought this could go someplace. He didn’t know when the idea would be perfected or even worked on again but the first step in the process was in a word: “Fantastic!”
George Benson’s Guitars Up for Auction in our May 25th Vintage Guitars & Musical Instruments Signature Auction:
5. 2001 Nelson Palen Natural Archtop Electric/Acoustic Guitar From the George Benson Collection, Serial #0010
6. 2015 Ibanez George Benson GB100-BS Prototype Sunburst Semi-Hollow Body Electric Guitar, Serial #SS15050002
9. George Benson’s 1989 Gibson Chet Atkins Country Gentleman Orange Semi-Hollow Body Electric Guitar, Serial #82419552
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