Review: The Heritage Henry Johnson model guitar
By Wolf Marshall

The Heritage Guitar Company has been making some truly wondrous instruments for the last two decades. In case you haven't heard the news, the luthiers responsible for the most sought-after arch-top jazz guitars in history acquired the original Gibson factory back in 1985, called themselves The Heritage and have been taking some of the genre's timeless designs to new heights. In a sense they've got to-they have quite a legacy to match. And match it they have. In fact they've surpassed themselves with the recently introduced Henry Johnson Signature model.

Henry Johnson needs no introduction to the guitar playing world. His credentials and reputation precede him. But for the uninitiated... Henry came up through the ranks with the likes of Ramsey Lewis and Joe Williams, and currently can be heard at the top of his game on Organic-a current release which features duets with Nancy Wilson and glowing liner notes by George Benson.

About the guitar: At first sight the Heritage HJ takes your breath away. There's no other way to put it. Nostalgia runs rampant as visions and memories of Wes Montgomery's Movin' Wes come flooding back. This was the iconic album cover that turned budding jazz guitarists to mush because ofthat multi-frame sequence of Wes and his gorgeous sunburst L-5. With the HJ you are miraculously transported back to that golden age of the world's greatest jazz guitars.

Like the Heritage Kenny Burrell model (the Super KB), the HJ epitomizes the interaction of artist and artisan. The basic design suggests the next evolutionary step forward of the famed L-5 ofthe mid-sixties. It is a beautifully crafted and exquisitely appointed electric archtop. The 17-inch body features a solid carved spruce top and solid curly maple back and rims with two built-in humbucking pickups. Eye-catching cosmetic touches include gold-plated hardware, multiple binding on the head, neck and body, bound F-holes, and an ebony fingerboard with pearl block inlays and a pointed end-and that iconic Florentine cutaway. Design refinements include moving the three-way pickup selector switch to the top of the guitar, Henry's preferred roller bridge, the proprietary HRW humbuckers and the curly maple pickguard-a work of art in itself. Even with a cursory glance you know this is a serious jazz guitar.

What does it sound like? I was lucky enough to have the HJ in my home studio for a couple of days right after 2005 NAMM, along with her proud daddy. We road tested the HJ strung with Thomastik-Infeld Swing Series JSI13 flat-wounds through an Acoustic-Image Clams 1 amp and a Rich Raezer Raezer's Edge cabinet with a 12-inch speaker as well as a black-face Fender Deluxe-Reverb reissue--and in both instances it delivered pure, although remarkably fat and resonant, arch-top tone heaven. Complex chords like an A13b9 sounded like a string section, octaves were as fat as chords and single notes were so big you'd drive your truck around them. A few thumb-plucked bop lines reinforce the Montgomery sonic connection admirably while strumming some block chords with a pick brought to mind rich tones a la Johnny Smith and Kenny Burrell.

How does it play? The HJ has one of the most playable fingerboards around and the 17 -inch body is comfortable and well-balanced, just slightly thinner than the original. And that's good to know because the HJ is nearly impossible to put down once you've begun to play it. For those of us who wax rhapsodic about the bygone golden era of jazz guitar-making this instrument delivers the goods. Luthier made and sensibly priced the Heritage Henry Johnson is destined to be a contemporary classic.

- Wolf Marshall
Wolf Marshall is internationally acclaimed as both a guitarist and a celebrity educator. He set the standards for modern guitar education in the eighties. Then, his innovative transcription books, audio "licks" releases (on Star Licks, Music Sales, Cherry Lane and Hal Leonard labels), and videos created the basis for an industry which continues to boom today and shows no signs of abating. He is also a highly respected music author, contributing long-running articles and columns to Guitar World, Guitarfor the Practicing Musician (currently re-named Guitar), and Guitar School since 1984. Visit Wolf at