by Alan Schulman
While most archtop players and collectors love to wax poetic about the value and sound of their vintage Gibsons, D’Angelicos, and D’Aquistos, few consider those made at the lower end of the archtop spectrum worthy of being called “classics.”
But one such eclectic collectible that no archtop collection should be without is the Joe Pass JP20, sold under the Ibanez name from 1981–1990.
Although famous for producing patent infringement model archtops that very closely imitated (and, in many cases, exceeded the workmanship of some Gibson models made during its Norlin period), Ibanez signed jazz guitar legend Joe Pass as an official endorser in early 1980. The intent was to produce a modestly priced electric archtop, which was actually reverse-engineered from Pass’ D’Aquisto of the same era. Under Ibanez leadership, the guitar would ultimately come to be jointly designed by Joe Pass and UK archtop maven Maurice Summerfield, who was under special contract to Ibanez in 1980.
The JP20 sports a single Venetian (rounded) cutaway on a laminated spruce top with beautiful flame maple back, rim, and neck, beneath a subtle but stunning 2-color autumn-sunburst finish. There are single-bound stylized f-holes, and the guitar’s rich ebony appointments include a 22-fret bound fretboard, ebony bridge and tailpiece, a mother of pearl Ibanez logo on the headstock with JP monogram inlay and JP20 engraved on the two-ply truss-rod cover, as well as mother of pearl block fretboard inlays with abalone wedge. The guitar also featured multi-ply binding on the headstock, top, and back, as well as a refined tortoise-style pickguard closely resembling the D’Aquisto shape pickguards of the 1980s.
Gold-plated hardware includes a humbucking pickup with six pole-pieces (as opposed to a wimpier floating pickup) with simple, yet elegant body-mounted volume and tone controls. The humbucker placement (dead center) on the JP20 proved challenging for fingerpickers and solo fingerstyle guitarists, however, making the JP20 model somewhat limiting in appeal.
In addition to Joe Pass’s name being engraved in the 21st fret inlay, what makes the first 1,000 of these models particularly collectible is the fact that Joe Pass hand signed their inside labels in ballpoint ink—so if you really want a special one, a simple check of the ICW website can help you locate the right serial numbers to track down.
Few guitarists made as big a contribution to jazz guitar tradition and classic sound as did Joe Pass. Yet, despite newer, cheaper Ibanez models that went on to bear his name, this first-issue Ibanez Joe Pass JP20 was a quiet giant that earns high praise among chord melody players and collectors—right alongside the more boast-worthy Gibson, D’Angelico and D’Aquisto archtops in their arsenals.
Alan Schulman, the Eclectic Collector, is a jazz guitarist and collector who resides in Harlem, NYC. He has appeared with such noted jazz artists as Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis, Anita Baker, and Michael Feinstein.