Many guitarists have been shocked to learn that jazz guitarist Joe Pass performed on Fender solid body guitars on his earlier jazz guitar music albums. Commonly associated with surf and rock and roll performers, the Fender Jazz Master and Fender Jaguar models seem unlikely foils for his advanced bebop style, but Pass made the most of his circumstances. His Fender guitar sound is heard on recordings like 1961′s “Sounds of Synanon”, 1962′s “Something Special” (Groove Holmes) and “Moment of Truth” (Gerald Wilson), and 1963′s “Catch Me”, his initial album as a leader. He also used a Fender Bass VI six string bass guitar for a number of tracks on the latter date. Pass utilized a thinline Gibson ES-355 briefly during 1963. This was heard on his recording sessions as a sideman with Les McCann.
Joe Pass performed on these atypical jazz guitars until a kind and generous person, Mike Peak, provided him a Gibson ES-175D in 1963. This guitar is an archtop electric acoustic with two humbucking pickups, a sunburst finish and a 16 inch laminated body type. The ES-175D created the definitive Joe Pass sound and grew to become his workhorse instrument for a lot of his career. It is heard prominently on such highly sought after recordings as 1964′s “For Django” and “Joy Spring”, 1967′s “Simplicity” and 1963′s “Jazz Concord” (with Herb Ellis).
In the seventies and 1980s, Joe Pass dabbled with a few other jazz archtop guitars, including a custom made James D’Aquisto archtop acoustic with a thinner body and a floating pick up, and an Ibanez JP-20 signature model. He later lent his title to a series of Epiphone Joe Pass Signature guitars in the 1990s. In 1992 Joe took delivery of a specially produced Gibson ES-175. According to jazz guitarist John Pisano, Pass’s longtime friend and frequent musical collaborator, that instrument has a thinner body type, a solitary humbucking pickup, a sunburst finish, gold-plated hardware, and an ebony fingerboard. Pisano additionally talked about that this is the guitar played on Joe’s final record albums, which includes his last: “A Meeting of the Masters: Roy Clark & Joe Pass Play Hank Williams”.
Like a lot of jazz guitarists, Joe Pass used the bass pickup on his ES-175 almost exclusively and adjusted the tone control to produce a lush bassy sound. Joe was supplied with a full custom medium to heavy gauged set of strings from GHS string company. Joe had an strange habit of breaking or biting his guitar picks in half to a smaller size which he thought was much more comfortable. These were initially more compact teardrop shaped picks and right after breaking them he would perform with the pointed end.
In the 1960s, Joe usually performed and recorded with various Fender tube amplifiers. He used several combo and piggyback types which included a Twin Reverb and a white tolex Bandmaster. The latter was seen and heard mated to a Fender Jaguar guitar in a telling 1962 TV performance included on the “Genius of Joe Pass” DVD. Recording session pictures reveal that an Ampeg combo amp was used for the duration of the landmark “For Django” album. By the early 1970s, Pass switched to Polytone solid-state amps and became one of the manufacturer’s leading endorsers. Fortunately for aspiring guitarists, Joe Pass published numerous jazz guitar tab books and instructional DVD programs which teach his single note improvised solos and chord melody solos as well as the pickstyle and fingerstyle guitar techniques he employed to play them.