I wrote a review of the new Mono M80-JA-BLK Jumbo/17” Sized Gig Bag and posted it over at the Just Jazz Guitar forum, and thought I’d re-post it here:

There have been a bunch of threads over the years where people have been asking for recommendations for gig bags for 17" archtops, and the options are pretty slim (basically Glen Cronkhite and Probag were the main recommendations).

But as I mentioned from in the Winter NAMM 2019 thread, I found out Mono was going to be making a Jumbo/17" Archtop, and I've been waiting for it to become available ever since. They finally "officially" announced it and added the model to their website about a month ago. I happened to have some amazon gift cards piled up, and found the bag on Amazon for $219 (and free shipping with prime) instead of $279 from Mono. Annoyingly, they weren't in stock yet, but I figured I'd get my order in now.

Well, instead of shipping in August or maybe even September as it was indicating, I got an email saying at the beginning of the week that it would arrive by Thursday, which was a pleasant surprise. Of course, they managed to mess it up somehow, and so the thing didn't ship out until midnight on Thursday, and thus arrived Friday, but I'll let it slide. But even a day late was more than a month ahead of schedule....

So, how is the bag? It's great. It's really friggin' great.

I'm personally a really huge fan of the new generation "semi rigid" gig bags, i.e. the Mono M-80 and the Reunion Blues Continental Series. They're way better than the Levy's CM20J bag that I used for about 10 years. It was a solid gig bag when I got it, but the technology and design have come so far since then. I've got two RB Continental Bags (a "Concert" Size which magically fits my 16" ES-150 but is a hair too short to fit my 16" 1932 L-5, and a "Dreadnaught" Size which fits either comfortably, but not my 17" 1939 L-5 (or the 1935 L-12 I used to have)), and I'm really pleased with them. I've used them for basically any non-fly-out gig I've done since I've had them. But of course, RB still hasn't made a bag for a 17" guitar.

I actually hassled both RB and Mono at the 2018 Winter NAMM show about a Jumbo/17" bag, and Mono pulled through.

So, check out the bag:

Backpack straps can be hidden, or used with one or both straps.

Backpack straps can be hidden, or used with one or both straps.

A solid inch of padding all the way around, with a double layer on the bottom, plus a void for the end pin. Also, more than enough room to fit a vintage Epiphone 17” guitar (which were always a bit more than 17 inches in reality).

A solid inch of padding all the way around, with a double layer on the bottom, plus a void for the end pin. Also, more than enough room to fit a vintage Epiphone 17” guitar (which were always a bit more than 17 inches in reality).

Plenty of room all around the headstock.

Plenty of room all around the headstock.

Plenty of room for several sets of strings, a capo, a slide, and your keys.

Plenty of room for several sets of strings, a capo, a slide, and your keys.

Tons of room in the lower pocket, including a cable strap.

Tons of room in the lower pocket, including a cable strap.

Based on the pictures, I think you can see that it would easily fit a 17" vintage Epiphone (which were always a bit more than 17") easily.
The exterior frame has parts that are rigid and reinforced to prevent crushing and to spread out shock. The interior is thoroughly padded and has a nice gap for the end pin. There is a neck block with a velcro locking strap to prevent headstock breakage. There are two well designed pockets, a smaller one near the headstock, and a bigger one over the main part of the body, which comes with a loop for cable storage. The backpack straps can be unlatched at the bottom, and then tucked in - so you can use one, or both, or hide them.

How does it compare to my Reunion Blues Bags? Well, I first have to say that my RB bags are essentially v.1 and v.2 of the Continental line and they're already on to a v.3 (the Continental Voyager), and it looks like they have aped a couple of the features of the Mono bag. So, for now I'll merely compare to what I have on hand, and mention where I think they may have changed.

The first thing is that the RB bag is clearly heavier and bulkier, but that also is because its padding is even thicker. The Mono bag is less heavy, and less bulky, and the padding does look a little bit thinner. That said, I know some have complained about the RB bag's bulk, and the Mono definitely seems more svelte. Having taken the checked it out in persona and even taken the Mono to gig already, I don't really think it's meaningfully less protective. And from what I've read the newest version of the RB bags is a bit less bulky. Lastly, the older RB bags I have don't have a void for the end pin, but the newest version does.

The backpack straps of the Mono have the guitar sit lower on your back than the old RB ones. I recall seeing reviews complaining about the RB bags being so tall on one's back that you might worry about hitting the door frame. I never had quite that problem, but it can be annoying with the hatchback on my car. That said, I think the newer RB bags have addressed that, and importantly, although it sits lower, I don't think the Mono is going to be any better with my particular car/issue. Both bags have very comfortable straps, and both have the ability to hide them, or use one or the other or both.

I think the biggest meaningful difference is the accessory pouches, and here I think the Mono case the clear advantage over the older RB bags. The RB pouches both seem small, and "tight". I'm often concerned about putting much in the pouch that sits over the top of the guitar because I really want to avoid putting any pressure down on the top. The pocket only extends a little bit away from the body, and although it's long and tall, it's not "deep". So, it'll easily fit a file folder of 8.5x11" sheet music, but the 2.5" thick case for my DPA 4099 mic is just too bulky to fit comfortably. Oh, and the neck/headstock pocket is barely able to fit some business cards or some sunglasses.

The Mono pouches are way more useful. The headstock one is quite big, and it's well organized. It would easily fit several packs of strings, along with pens/pencils, capos, slides, and has a lanyard for keys. The body one is similarly tall and wide, but extends farther away from the case.

I have to say, I think both the Mono and the older RB bags I have are both great, and many of the differences come down to personal preference. The RB bags are a bit heavier/bulkier and have a bit more padding/armoring - the Mono bags are just a little bit lighter and leaner, and have way more useful pocket designs. Although I was leaning toward the RB bags, I think the Mono may be the better choice anyway. I'm certainly not going to replace my existing RB bags, but if something happened to one of them, I might look at the Dread-size M80 instead next time.

For now, the new Jumbo/17" sized M80 is a really fantastic gig bag - it's semi-rigid frame, ample padding, neck block and end pin void are going to be able to deal with almost any normal bump or shock. And finally an awesome, non-custom order, reasonably priced option for a 17" guitar!

JAZZLIVES Review for "Pick It and Play It"

Michael Steinman, at his blog JAZZ LIVES (as in both the noun and the verb), is one of the most important voices in traditional jazz and swing. Michael is regular at jazz festivals around the country, where he often documents the proceedings both in video and in words. He has a deep knowledge of the history of pre-bop jazz, and that knowledge allows him to write about what he has seen and heard with not just authority, but the most cogent and insightful references to that history. He’s able to sift through a great performance and separate out the threads of, say, a great tenor soloist, finding the stands of the various constituent elements, whether it’s bits of Ben Webster, or Chu Berry, or even Bud Freeman.

I was delighted when he mentioned that he would be happy to write a review of my solo guitar CD, “Pick It and Play It”, but he warned that he had a stack of CD’s he still had to get through before he would get to mine. Considering I was on some of those CD’s (I believe Keenan McKenzie’s “Forged in Rhythm” and Josh Collazo’s 2nd Candy Jacket Jazz Band CD, “Unstuck in Time”), I certainly couldn’t complain.

Well, I woke up today to his long promised review, and I have to say I was floored. It’s perhaps the nicest things anyway one’s ever said about my work, and coming from someone I respect so highly, it’s doubly meaningful. I’m deeply humbled by his words, and conversely they fill me with pride; if you’re a fan of the television show, The West Wing, you might know what I mean when I say I want to walk around with the review stapled to my face.

Anyway, check out JAZZ LIVES if you haven’t already. Here’s the text of the review:


I can think of no one (except the Venerable Marty Grosz) who is doing what Jonathan Stout does. But the truly important thing is that he IS doing it, and beautifully. And the evidence is all through his lovely solo CD, PICK IT AND PLAY IT.

The guitar has a long history, and what we call “jazz guitar” does also. Before amplification, guitarists — solo or in ensemble — had the same complicated orchestral responsibilities as pianists: keep a melody line going, play the harmonies (implied or stated), do all this while offering a solid rhythmic pulse. If you couldn’t do all three as easily as breathing, talking, and walking, you didn’t get the gig — whether the gig was playing rocking blues in a Mississippi juke joint or supporting a small hot band in Harlem. The masters of this genre — more than two dozen — did it as a matter of course. Anyone who has ever picked up a guitar can learn in under a minute just how complex and intimidatingly difficult their art is. I write this from experience.

Jonathan has mastered the subtle mystical arts of such swing deities as Allan Reuss and George Van Eps, and PICK IT AND PLAY IT presents fifteen delicious sound-paintings that come from the acoustic past but sound fresh, personal, and lively. More than once, while listening, I found myself thinking, “If Dick McDonough had lived, he might have made a session like this.” If you understand my reference, you either already have this disc or you owe it to yourself to have several copies, in case rationing comes back.

If I remember correctly, Van Eps — whose gracious presence is vividly audible here — called this style of guitar playing “lap piano,” and it balances sharply-realized single lines with an overall orchestral approach. Not only does the listener not miss string bass and drums on this CD, but they would be positively intrusive. Stout doesn’t need them: he is his own resonant orchestra, full of shadings and colors, with a nearly relentless quiet swing.

And unlike many guitarists who are entranced by Django and post-Django, he does not seek to impress us by velocity, endurance, or flash. His approach is stately, leisurely, full of melodic and harmonic subtlety: although these performances have the breath of improvisatory life, they are not “Hey, let’s do four choruses on [familiar tune] and go home.” Rather, Stout has a deep compositional sense, so that I arose from each performance refreshed and fulfilled. The CD is dense with music, but it never gets dull. And the sense one comes away with of both Stout and his approach to the genre is not “Hey, look at me! I spent a thousand hours on this piece!” but “How beautiful the guitar is, and listen to what memorable sounds can come from it.”

This CD offers “fifteen arrangements for solo guitar,” with a repertoire that mixes familiar pop classics with rare compositions for the instrument. The latter are wonderful and I think they will be new to all except the most ardent student of this arcane art: Frank Victor’s PICK IT AND PLAY IT; Roy Smeck’s ITCHING FINGERS; and Allan Reuss’s APARTMENT G and PET SHOP. (Many listeners, if they know Reuss at all, know him as the steady sweet resonant pulse in the Benny Goodman orchestra and later small-group sessions, but his compositions are a revelation. And Reuss is Stout’s model, which says a great deal about Jonathan himself.) Stout’s originals — dedicated to his son, not to Charlie Christian — PICKIN’ FOR CHARLIE and CHARLIE’S LULLABYE — are particularly delightful, the latter tender but never soporific.

To the casual listener, the remaining songs might seem familiar, even too much so (although in this century, the people who have heard, say, PENNIES FROM HEAVEN too often are an increasingly smaller group): STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, MOONGLOW, CHEEK TO CHEEK, IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON, SUNDAY, GEORGIA ON MY MIND, AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, SOMEBODY LOVES ME, OVER THE RAINBOW. But this assumption would be completely wrong.

I came to CHEEK TO CHEEK, for one example, with a half-century of associations, expectations, and prized performances in my head. But in the first minute of hearing Stout’s playing, I thought, “Wow, I’ve really never heard that song before.” And it wasn’t that he was being consciously or self-consciously innovative, but his performance had the integrity and wonder that the best musicians bring to even the simplest series of chord changes or melodies.

Two more delights add to the overall pleasure, both provided by people who themselves make splendid music. One is the too-brief but delicious essay by guitarist Nick Rossi: what a pleasure to read uncliched prose that rests on a deep knowledge of the art. The other is the gorgeous recorded sound created by master engineer Bryan Shaw: the guitar sounds like itself, with no “natural flavors” synthesized in the laboratory, with a minimum of string noise that is often distracting on recordings of acoustic guitar.

PICK IT AND PLAY IT is a series of small fulfilling delights — and “small” is not a criticism but a compliment. Even if you’ve never heard of Frank Victor, or perhaps especially if you’ve never heard of Frank Victor, you will be thrilled by Jonathan Stout’s masterful subtle art. [links to the purchase the CD and this website and blog removed]

Of course, thanks again to the great Bryan Shaw for recording the album, and Nick Rossi for his wonderful liner notes. You can pickup the album for CD or Download at as well as CDBaby, Itunes and Amazon.

Modern Gear for the Vintage Player - 2019 Update

"What should I buy?"

I get a lot of emails asking for advice and resources, but the most common question I get, by far, is about what gear somebody should buy because they can’t buy something vintage. And the question is entirely fair, because vintage guitars and amps are not available to or right for everybody, and not all vintage gear is worthwhile or useful.

At this particular time I’ve taken temporary possession of two pieces of gear that are perfect examples of great modern gear (a Loar LH-700 with a DeArmond Reissue 1100 pickup, and a new prototype Vintage 47 amp - essentially a more powerful VA-185G) , so it’s a great time to go through all of it. I first wrote about “Modern Gear for the Vintage Player” five years ago, in 2014. Since then my experimental data has only grown (proving the correctness of some my suggestions), and now there are some better, new options that have become available. All in all, the gear below is so much better suited to making pre-bop jazz than what I was using when we started the Campus Five back in 2002. Lucky you.

Acoustic Archtop Guitar: The Loar LH-600 / LH-700

In the last 5 years, I’ve only increased my appreciation for the Loar LH-600 and LH-700 guitars. They are without question the best bet for a swing player looking for an acoustic archtop guitar. They look appropriately vintage, and they sound right for playing anything from Eddie Lang to Freddie Green to Allan Reuss.

There are a bunch of folks in the swing dance music world playing them, which is a pretty clear endorsement. Jake Sanders plays one with Naomi and her Handsome Devils. Brooks Prumo plays one with Jonathan Doyle, and his own Orchestra. I know I’ve seen photos of one in the Mint Julep Jazz Band. Dave Stuckey and Katie Cavera play them here in Los Angeles. Nirav Sanghani uses one with the Hot Baked Goods and his own band. Annie Erbsen is using one in Asheville. Personally, I’ve borrowed Michael Gamble’s Loar LH-600 for a couple years of Lindy Focus (before I got my own vintage acoustic archtops). Heck, one of my most memorable playing experiences was when my buddy Nick Ross (a wonderful guitarist out of SF) had me sit in on his LH-700 while I jammed with Paul Mehling (of the Hot Club of SF) who was playing his own LH-600.

The LH-600, and the nicer LH-700, are really the only option for a widely available and affordable non-cutaway acoustic archtop. I played a wonderful Eastman AR805 for 10 years, and I can definitely can recommend one if you get a chance - but there have been so few non cutaway Eastmans made, and the company isn’t really making many now, so finding one is challenging. Oh, and they’re 50% more expensive on average. But, there are a lot of LH-600’s around, and Loar is still making both.

Modeled after a circa 1927-1931 dot neck 16” Gibson L-5, the parallel braced construction is a solid choice for all manner of pre-bop guitar playing. Of course are factory-built Asian import guitars, so they are reasonably consistent, but they may require some attention to play their very best. My aforementioned friend Nick Rossi went as far as to replace the tailpiece and bridge tops with higher quality versions, and it definitely makes a substantial difference. But, I’ve still played many stock ones that a good sounding, acoustically responsive guitars. From what I can tell the 700 series are simply nicer all around - better sounding and looking wood, improved quality control and thus better “fit and finish”. Either one makes a great choice, and the LH-600 is still available for under $1000 street price.

Is it comparable to a great vintage guitar? Of course not - there’s no faking 70-80 years of age on wood. But you can find a used LH-600 for less than 1/3 the price of a vintage Epiphone Triumph, and less than 1/20 the price of a 16” Gibson L-5.

Electric Archtop Guitar: A Loar 600 or 700 with a DeArmond Model 1100 Rhythm Chief Pickup


Since the last article, DeArmond (by way of Guild, by way of Fender) is now making a reissue of it’s classic Rhythm Chief pickups in both model 1100 (with adjustable polepieces) and model 1000 (no adjustable polepieces). If you’re looking for pre-bop electric guitar sounds, putting one on a Loar 600 or 700 is definitely the way to go. If you can find a vintage DeArmond, they’re great, but they’ve gotten absurdly expensive and they don’t always work perfectly when you buy one off of eBay. Sadly, they didn’t try to make a reissue of the DeArmond FHC or “Guitar Mic” or “Guitar Mike” which would be the ideal pickup. Still the reissue 1100 is such a great choice to get pre-bop single coil electric tone.

The really cool thing is that you can mount the DeArmond with the neck rod (plus you’ll need a pickguard) in a way that keeps the pickup from touching (and this deadening) the top. Thus, it’s possible to make an ideal “hybrid” guitar - one you could mic with a clip-on lavalier mic for an acoustic rhythm sound, but then also install a DeArmond on the same guitar without ruining the acoustic sound!

At this very moment, I’m in possession of just such a Loar LH-700 with a Model 1100 installed. The aforementioned Nick Rossi had been playing it acoustically, but it started gathering dust once he got a 1934 Epiphone Broadway. I shared his “for sale” post on Facebook, and another friend of mine bought it. They worked it out that Nick would have the pickup and pickguard installed, and then I would deliver it to Seoul when we play there in May, provided I could use it for the gig. Here’s a close up:


Such a hybrid set up does compromise being able to set the guitar up ideally for either acoustic or electric playing. String-wise, you’re probably going to want to use Monel, though the adjustable pole-pieces of the model 1100 means that you should theoretically be able to make Bronze strings work. I’ve never personally adjusted them, but it should be able to dial it in.

While I previously recommended the Loar LH-309, I don’t think that’s still the way to go. I’ve gotten a lot of feedback that they’re kind of junky by comparison to the 600/700 series guitars, and the DeArmond on an acoustic Loar is the much better option anyway.

Electric Amp: Vintage 47 VA-185G

When I first found out about Vintage 47 amps years ago, I thought they were pretty cool. But since then, they’ve become something I’m really passionate about, and that I use consistently even though I have a real vintage model.

Their founder David Barnes, had been making amps based on the old Supro/Valco/National amps of the late 40’s. He was persuaded by my friend Mike Faltesek to take one of his “Ric-Style” models, and modify it to be more like a vintage Gibson EH-185 or 150. Shortly after, he decided to make the circuit a regular model, and put it in a cabinet with cosmetics that were similar to an EH-185. Christened the VA-185G, I picked up one of the first ones, have been using it consistently for almost 5 years now. Along the way, Steve Woolley took over the company, and he and I have done a bit of R&D together. In fact, I’m beta-testing a prototype for a new model right now.

About a year ago, I one modification that I made that really took everything to the next level: replacing the (then stock) Tone Tubby speaker for an Eminence ‘Lil Texas Neodymium speaker. This was the suggestion of the twice aforementioned Nick Rossi. While it might seem odd to replace a very “vintage” speaker with a more modern one, the super efficient modern speaker acted and sounded more like the field-coil speakers that were in the original 1930’s amps. The more “vintage” speaker choice tended to add significant coloration, a bit of breakup, and it kept the headroom down. Now if your goal is to dime the amp for saturation in a blues rock context which is what many of the customers of their Valco/Supro amps were using them for , this would be better to keep the amp from being too loud. But, when going for a Charlie Christian-type sound, the more efficient speaker allowed more volume before it got too fuzzy.

Once I’d replaced the speaker, the amp was even lighter that it had been. The increased volume and decreased weight started causing me to use the VA-185G at almost every gig rather than bring my real Gibson EH-185. It’s a pretty big deal for a vintage nerd like me to enthusiastically take a repro- or replica instead of the real thing, but the tone was “right” and the convenience factor was undeniable.

Steve has since decided to offer the Lil Texas speaker as an option, and apparently most folks are taking my suggestion when they order. Also, now they come with a great looking lacquer over the tweed (which you can see in the previous photo of the Loar with pickup).

The last thing I should say is that the VA-185G is NOT an exact replica of an EH-185. However, the sound is right and it allows me to get the classic “Charlie Christian” sound that I so desire. The only bad news is they aren’t quite as cheap as when I first discovered them, but they’re still available for around $1000 and that’s a steal for something so good.

Also amazing: Nocturne Brain Junior Barnyard Pedal

So, this deserves it own review post, which I am planning on doing soon, but I definitely gotta mention the Junior Barnyard pedal. The Barnyard is designed to mimic the tone of 1930’s-1940’s octal tube-based amps like the Gibson EH-185. It’s name is a pun on Junior Barnard, who played with Bob Wills. While this pedal has the potential for far more gain than I need (take a listen to Wills’ ‘Fat Boy Rag” where Barnard is pretty gainy for the mid 40’s), it does an amazing job of making regular electric guitar amps get that “octal” sound. It can be run in front of an amp to great effect, but I have to say my favorite was running it into the effects return of a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe (one of the most common backline rental amps worldwide). I picked one up last April, but it wasn’t until October on our trip to Budapest that I really got to really play with it and get it dialed in - it was revelatory. I was so stoked to be able to get “my tone” from a generic modern amp. Plus, I was able to get it outrageous volume levels, which is occasionally something that really helps.

They recently added another pedal based on the Barnyard platform, but adding reverb: the El Pescadero.

Nocturne also makes amps, including one, the Moonshine ‘39, that is supposed to be a more exact replica circuit of an EH-185.
If you can’t warrant buying an amp that’s specifically an “octal” tube style, or if you just have to get that sound on a fly out gig with a backline amp, I highly recommend the Junior Barnyard Pedal.

Solo Guitar CD is HERE! "Pick It and Play It"

Design by Chris Wilkinson // Illustration based on a photo by Christopher Bersbach

Design by Chris Wilkinson // Illustration based on a photo by Christopher Bersbach

I’m thrilled to announce that my solo guitar CD is HERE!

“Pick It and Play It” is 15 tracks of solo, acoustic, swing-style chord melody guitar playing that are culmination of all of the work I’ve done (thus far) in decoding and learning the style. It features 4 published historical pieces, 2 original compositions, and 9 original arrangements of classic tunes.

The album was recorded using vintage-style ribbon microphones on my 1932 and 1939 Gibson L-5 guitars. For Roy Smeck’s 1928 composition, “Itching Fingers”, I used a flat-top Waterloo WL-14L (modeled after a 1930’s Kalamazoo KG-14).

Track List

1. Pickin' for Charlie - Jonathan Stout, 2018
2. Stompin' at the Savoy - Goodman/Sampson/Webb, 1936
3. Moonglow - Hudson/DeLange/Mills, 1934
4. Cheek to Cheek - Irving Berlin, 1935
5. Apartment G - Allan Reuss, 1938
6. It's Only a Paper Moon - Harold Arlen, 1933
7. Sunday - Miller/Styne/Cohn/Kreuger, 1926
8. Charlie's Lullabye - Jonathan Stout, 2018
9. Georgia on My Mind - Hoagy Carmichael, 1930
10. Itching Fingers - Roy Smeck, 1928
11. Ain't Misbehavin' - Waller/Brooks/Razaf, 1929
12. Pet Shop - Allan Reuss, 1938
13. Pick It and Play It - Frank Victor, 1936
14. Somebody Loves Me - George Gershwin, 1934
15. Over the Rainbow - Harold Arlen, 1938

The stunning design work was done by Chris Wilkinson (who did the last Campus Five CD), and the brilliant liner notes by my dear friend, Nick Rossi.

A strong argument may be made that no other single musical instrument underwent such a drastic change over the course of the swing era as the guitar. At the start of the 1930s, the instrument was a purely acoustic rhythm section component and an essential part of nearly every dance orchestra. On the relatively rare occasion when the guitar stepped into the spotlight, players favored a chord melody approach which was both pragmatic and unique. This style also kept the momentum of the song moving forward without having to rely on the full drive of the piano, bass, and drums - all of which typically brought down their volume to aid in such showcases. But by the end of the 1940s, most guitarists had adopted a thoroughly modern, electrified single-note approach to both emulate the sound of and compete with the volume of other frontline instruments. The rhythm sections changed as well: rhythm guitarists were left out in the cold and out of work.

For the past 18 years, Jonathan Stout has devoted himself to the swing era traditions of this instrument. And although over the course of his career he has proven himself time and time again to be one of Charlie Christian’s most adept acolytes on the electric guitar, he has also delved deep into the pre-electric techniques fathered by Eddie Lang, pioneered by George Van Eps and Dick McDonough, and developed into a fine art by Carl Kress, Frank Victor, and Allan Reuss. Perhaps more than any of the others, Stout has looked to Reuss as his touchstone. An exceptionally high standard? Perhaps. But Jonathan himself is an exceptional musician whose 6-string skills have consistently garnered both respect and admiration from the swing dance audience as well as his fellow musicians.   

This album of solo, acoustic guitar recordings was cut live over the course of two autumn 2018 sessions in Los Angeles, California. It consists of several jazz standards arranged by Stout, a handful of set pieces originally published as guitar folios in the 1920s and 1930s, and a couple of originals written by Jonathan for the occasion. He utilized his 1932 Gibson L-5 and his 1939 Gibson L-5 in tandem on the recordings: instruments he long labored over in his drive to piece together this very particular playing style. That said, the early history of the plectrum guitar tradition is represented by Roy Smeck’s ITCHING FINGERS from 1928, performed here on a flat-top guitar in the manner of so many early dawn of swing jazz guitarists. Elsewhere, of particular interest are the two 1938 Reuss set pieces, APARTMENT G and PET SHOP, neither of which at the time of this release have been commercially recorded for release. Both performances, along with other examples such as George Gershwin’s SOMEBODY LOVES ME show the extent to which Jonathan has absorbed his primary influence. Taking that influence to its next logical step are Stout’s original compositions, both of which are named for his son Charlie and have the combined effect of exhibiting the wide range of possibilities offered by this approach to jazz guitar. This album represents nearly two decades of guitar technique, revitalized by Jonathan after being largely neglected for far too long. 

Nick Rossi

December 2018

San Francisco, California, U.S.A    

You can pick it up at my bandcamp store:

And check out a 3D tour of the packaging HERE.

Solo Guitar Album Progress

I’m currently weeding through the takes from two days of sessions for my solo guitar album. I’ve got about 4 tunes done so far, but I recorded quite a few more, and we’ll see what fits together best on the album.

I recorded everything at Digital Brothers in Costa Mesa, CA, with Bryan Shaw (who played Trumpet in the Campus Five and Orchestra many times over the years). He set up the multiple mic setup shown here:

That’s FIVE ribbon mics, and one condenser. In our mixes so far, we’re using the pair of Cascade Victor Ribbon Mics for most of the sound. I’m hardly a mic expert, but Bryan described them as having the same kind of sound as classic RCA44, but in a much more reliable, usable package. They are, sadly, discontinued. The Royers (one stereo pair further out for “air” and one close up to catch the “body” of the guitar) and the Oktava (pointed sort of near the 12-14th fret area for string “zing”) were just there to provide options and shading. Yes, phasing was taken into account.

Guitar-wise, I brought four guitars along, my two Gibson L-5 guitars (a 1932 and a 1939), my National Style 1 Tricone, and my 2016 Waterloo WL-14LTR.

2012 National Style 1 Tricone, 1932 Gibson L-5, 2016 Waterloo WL-14LTR, and a 1939 Gibson L-5

2012 National Style 1 Tricone, 1932 Gibson L-5, 2016 Waterloo WL-14LTR, and a 1939 Gibson L-5

I used the 1932 on about 70% of the tunes, and the 1939 on the remainder. The sustain and sweetness of the 1932 were the trick of the slow and medium tunes, while the zing and punch of the 1939 were better on the peppier tunes. In fact, the second day, I only brought back the two Gibsons. Sadly, I ended up not using the National after all, but I made a point to use the Waterloo (which is patterned after a 1930’s Kalamazoo KG-14, but made with Collings consistency and playability, oh and a truss rod) on a Roy Smeck tune, “Itching' Fingers” from 1928. Given that Eddie Lang wasn’t yet playing an L-5 in 1928, I doubted that Roy Smeck was either, and I though a 20’s-30’s flattop was more appropriate, since that was likely what the tune was written on.

Oh, and since I get asked a lot, I had Martin SP 80/20 strings on both L-5’s with a .014 and .018 plain string swapped in for the high E and B, and the Waterloo was strung with Martin Retro Monel 12’s. I used a Bluechip TD40 for everything, though we did experiment with other picks, including an original “AR” Allan Reuss model pick from Fife & Nichols music store in Hollywood from the 1940’s.

I’ve got two original compositions recorded that I’m quite proud of, a medium tempo piece that starts with an Eddie Lang-style noodle-y guitar intro called “Pickin’ for Charlie,” and slow piece called “Charlie’s Lullabye”. Even though I’m a huge Charlie Christian fan, these are actually named for my son, Charlie. Then again, he’s named after Charlie Christian, so perhaps they are in a roundabout way.

I’ve got both tunes transcribed already, and I am planning to release a transcription folio of all of the original arrangements. Considering how far along I am, I think this is pretty doable. I’ll likely self publish it, but I’ll have details soon.

Here’s a little sneak peek:

More soon….

Jonathan Stout Solo Guitar News (CD, Live Sessions, Lessons)

Solo Guitar Album Coming Soon

So, I have a couple pieces of news to share. First, I’ll be recording an album of swing-era, plectrum-style solo guitar in about a week. It will should be available before Christmas. You may heard some of the pieces on my youtube channel, or on my facebook Live porch practice sessions, but I’ve tried to really hone them into something special.

New Facebook Page for Live Sessions

If you’re a fan of the facebook live porch practice sessions, which I occasionally republish to youtube, then you should give my new facebook page a follow: Jonathan Stout, Swing Guitar. I’m going to be moving the Porch Sessions over to my guitar page, as well as other live content.

Here’s one of the latest sessions that I reposted to youtube:

Solo Guitar Album Transcription Book

In addition to putting out the CD, I’m going to look at publishing a folio of transcriptions from the CD as well, but that’ll probably be about 6 months after the CD release.

Lessons via Skype / Facetime / Hangouts

I currently beta-testing offering online lessons. I’m still working out which platform will work the best and how to set up the camera/mic etc. for optimal learning and clarity. I will do another post when everything is ready.

Gear Updates and Reviews

For those of you who follow me on facebook or youtube, you’ve probably already noticed that I picked up a blonde 1939 Gibson L-5 at the end of last year, after I sold of my 1935 Gibson L-12 and 1932 Epiphone Deluxe. As well, I picked an amazing Waterloo WL-14LTR that was lightly used in January. I owe a video to you all on each of those.

But I’ve also got some gear reviews planned that I think will be helpful to other practitioners of the pre-bebop jazz guitar arts. I’ve been a big fan of Hoffee Carbon Fiber Flight Cases for the last several years, as well the Reunion Blues Continental Gig Bag for stuff around town. Lastly, I picked up a Nocturne Brain Jr. Barnyard Pedal a couple months back, though I haven’t yet spent the time experimenting with it that I should’ve. All I know for now is that it’s a great invention for bringing the pre-war, octal-tube flavor to direct outs and later clean amps. But I’m excited to do a full video review of it soon!

Plectrum Guitar Resources: Rob MacKillop

"Plectrum guitar" can refer to a long necked 4-string guitar tuned like a plectrum banjo. However, in this case, "plectrum guitar" refers to the style of a chord-melody pieces played on steel string guitars (often archtops) using a pick and not fingers. While some many of these were "jazzy", many of them weren't really jazz. Essentially they were like classical guitar pieces, but updated for the harmonic vocabulary (i.e. jazz), and equipment (i.e. steel string guitars and picks) of the day. The Mel Bay Book, which I've mentioned before on here, "Masters of the Plectrum Guitar" uses that terminology and is a vital collection of Lang/Kress/McDonough and other similar guitar pieces. 

But another of the best resources of this style is the website of Scottish guitarist Rob MacKillop.

Rob is someone I've come across mostly on the Just Jazz Guitar Board (they still have online forums?! no way!), and he's always been a nice guy and an advocate for the acoustic archtop as instrument worthy of consideration separate from the electric archtop. 

I was browsing the forum a couple months ago, and noticed a video he'd posted of a couple Roy Smeck solo guitar tunes from 1928. This caught my eye because I'd just been working on learning pieces out of the Allan Reuss book, I was primed to explore some of the early "plectrum" guitar pieces of folks like Smeck, Nick Lucas, Eddie Lang, Frank Victor and Harry Volpe.

Once I clicked through to Rob's website,, I was blown away by there being a lot more than just the two Smeck pieces. The blog had posts the included not just videos of Rob expertly playing many, many pieces from this mostly ignored repertoire, but also posting the sheet music. 

For my part, I jumped into learning "Itching Fingers" by Roy Smeck. And it inspired me to go back into the Mel Bay book above, and learning "Pick It and Play It" by Frank Victor. Between those tunes and two Reuss tunes I've learned, that's four vintage plectrum guitar pieces I've placed into my solo guitar repertoire, along with my own chord-melody arrangements. 

Take a look at Rob's site, and consider donating as well. 

The Snark: the best/worst tuner, and how to make it better....

Some people consider electronic tuners a crutch, but in loud environments, or for tuning discreetly, they are practical necessity. When I started playing guitar, electronic tuners where kind of expensive, and unless you sprung for the Boss TU-12, they weren't particularly road worthy. But today, the tuner market is pretty much dominated by pedal board based solutions, and the ubiquitous and inexpensive clip-on tuner. Since I spend most of my time playing acoustic instruments without a pickup or transducer, the clip-on is the solution of choice for me. 

The first generation of low cost clip-on tuners weren't particularly accurate or durable. They always seemed to stop registering signal well after a while. When the Snark line was introduced, they really seemed to improve both the accuracy and durability problems, and at a bargain basement price.  But even improved, they always seemed to eventually stop performing well, but continue to soldier a while before the battery actually died. I assumed the problem was just wear and tear, so that the device no longer made good contact, and stopped being able to detect the vibrations. Wrong.

I finally realized that it was the battery running low that caused the performance drop off. Once the battery got below that point and the performance started to suffer, there was still plenty left to power the tuner for a significant while, just with terrible performance. Once a tuner got a low battery, I would have to remember to swing by a drugstore to pickup a replacement. Buying one or two watch batteries at time at retail is expensive ($3-$5 per battery for a $10-$20 tuner), and I always seemed to find the one drug store that had just run out of that most common of watch batteries, the CR2032. Or I'd forget the number and buy a CR2025 by mistake. 

Then I figured out the lifehack that made living with Snarks so much better: buy the batteries in bulk on Amazon! For the cost of two batteries at a drug store, you can get blister packs of TWENTY ($7.96 for 20, instead of $7 for two at Walgreens).

At that price, I basically take one sleeve of batteries and one snark tuner, and keep a set of both in each guitar case. As soon as one of the Snarks starts to act crappy, I just replace the battery, and they go back to working great. 

Snarks are easy to leave "On" all the time while playing, so just be mindful of turning it off once you're done will go a long way to improving battery life. 


So, I usually go for the SN-8 "Super Tight" Snark, which apparently has better accuracy. I sprung for the more expensive HZ1 Snark tuner, but I didn't find it's performance worth the additional cost, and it's bright white color draws too much attention on stage.

I have also had success with the D'Addario NS Micro Clip-On Tuner. It's super low profile design worked great on the headstock of my 1939 L-5, but didn't really fit well on some of my other guitars. But bear in mind, those use a different battery, the CR2025, but you can get those in blister packs on Amazon as well. 

NEW: Oscar Alemán Play-Along Book - by Greg Ruby

My good friend Greg Ruby has just completed a years-long project to help spread the music and playing of the great Oscar Alemán. Oscar was the oft overlooked contemporary of Django Reinhardt, who's hot jazz playing was mixed with his Creole Argentine roots for a distinctive sound that totally stands toe-to-toe with Django. 

For years, there have been basically no resources for those interested in the playing style of Alemán, and Greg provides a treasury of information that will not only allow a player to learn the style, but to perform it as well. Greg has transcribed not just solos, but also the arrangements, and provided authentic sounding and feeling play-along tracks 

In just a matter of days, the project was successfully Kickstarted, but you can still get it in on it here:

Greg is not only a player I admire, but really good guy. Supporting the project is a win-win-win, all around. 

Guitar String Composition and Swing Guitar - 2018 Update


Because Swing Guitar straddles the worlds of both acoustic and electric instruments, the choice of string has been an open question for since I began playing Swing Guitar. At times I tried to "split the difference" between, but I found it was usually better to treat an instrument as either purely electric or acoustic, since electricifing an archtop so often leads to it loosing the essential acoustic character needed for proper swing rhythm guitar, or Reuss/Van Eps-style chord melody. 

I started researching these questions in earnest in 2013, and in the last four years I have come across a bit more information to help flesh out the picture. The rabbit hole of string archeology leads to some areas that I am still trying to figure out (such as historic gauges and intricacies like core:wrap ratios), but I think we can draw some important conclusions about historic string composition for particular circumstances. 

Strings Today

Electric vs. Acoustic = Nickel vs. Bronze

Today, guitar strings come in an almost endless variety, but most are one of two basic flavors: "acoustic" bronze-wound and "electric" nickel-wound. Almost all strings have the same steel core wire, and the difference is the wire wrapped around it, though there is sometimes variation in the shape or size of the core wire. The plain, unwound strings (usually the high E and B, and on very light sets, the G) on bronze and nickel sets are generally the same. 

While you can technically use either string on either guitar, the use of magnetic pickups on electric guitars require a string that is ferromagnetically responsive, and nickel-wound strings and unwound plain steel strings are much more responsive than bronze strings. Besides bronze wound being very inefficient, the difference in metals causes there to be a staggering volume difference between the plain, unwound strings and the  wound strings. Bronze strings, while not being as magnetically responsive, do sound much louder acoustically. They are both fuller and zing-ier sounding than nickel-wound. 

Nickel and Bronze Varieties

Bronze-wound strings come in two main flavors: 80/20 bronze and Phosphor Bronze. Phosphor Bronze is much newer, having been introduced in the 1970's as a brighter, longer lasting string. Nickel-wound strings come into two main flavors as well: so-called "pure nickel" and nickel-wound (which are nickel-plated steel wrap). Nickel-plated steel strings were introduced in the 60's as nickel prices rose, and the brighter sound of nickel-wounds was desired. 80/20 bronze and "pure-nickel" are generally considered the more "vintage" choice by mainstream guitar culture, though really that only means 1950's or 1960's vintage.

Flat = Jazz?

One other variation worth mentioning at this point is "flat-wound" strings. Flats are the darkest, and mellowest-sounding strings tonally, and because they have a flattened playing surface, they make almost no finger noise. The main varieties of these are what I think of as "true-flats" or "ribbon-wound", where a flattened strip of metal is wound around the core wire, and "ground-wound" where a round string is wrapped and then the outer surface is shaved or ground down to a flat surface. Ribbon-wound strings are the darkest, with ground-wounds being a step brighter, but still mellower than round-wounds. 

Flat wounds are often thought of as "jazz" strings, though in reality that means the "jazz" of the 50's and 60's. As I mentioned in a previous article, legendary studio guitarist Bob Bain related to me that flat wounds were not really used until the mid-50's (I noted he was introduced to them by George Barnes - wow!). La Bella claims to have introduced flats in 1940, but I'm guessing they weren't commonly adopted until the 1950's. Flat wound strings have the distinctive sound of post-bop and hard-bop guitarists like Grant Green, Kenny Burrell, Wes Montgomery, etc., which is something distinctly different than swing-era electric players like Charlie Christian and early Barney Kessel. I don’t recommend flats for swing-era playing. 

Strings Types and Swing Music

So the question remains, “what were they using before 1950, and more importantly what were they using during the swing-era?” That question has been difficult to answer, and I after some research and some theories.

Pre-History of Strings, part 1: "Steel"

As best as I can tell, metal musical instrument strings go back hundreds of years. They came to guitar in the middle of the 19th Century. During this time there was no particular standardization. Originally steel strings were oiled to retard oxidation, and other coatings were tried before plating came into the picture. Gauges were not specified, and you basically had the choice of brands. 

For figuring out the timing of advancements and product introductions, the best resource I found was a collection of manufacturer’s catalogs at, all of which were available for download as PDFs. There were quite a few discussions in various forums asking many the same questions, but this one < > from the Unofficial Martin Guitar Forum was especially helpful. The extensive collection of string packages provided some missing information.

In the 1903 Gibson catalog, the only steel strings were listed as "silver wound."  Just judging from the catalog, it is hard to determine whether these were actually silver-plated, or whether they were "silvered" with some other alloy or method. Many of the string packages shown on the martin guitar forum, however, do specifically say "silver-plated", and judging from the packaging art and lettering, these could easily be from the era the teens and 1930's. Thus, I would bet that "silver wound" meant "silver-plated steel." 

The 1930 Martin catalog only lists "wound steel" (with wound B and G), but with no further description of composition. The 1934 Epiphone catalog also offers no clue to composition beyond "steel."

Monel: The missing link

Before being my research, I had never heard of a metal called "Monel," let alone did I realize that it was probably the dominant guitar string alloy for a period in the 1930's and perhaps into the 40's. According to wikipedia (I'll do some legit metallurgical research eventually), monel is a nickel-copper alloy is commonly used in applications with highly corrosive environments. Monel guitar strings were produced from the 1920’s up until the 1970’s, and new old stocks had mostly run out years ago. 

The 1930-1931 Gibson catalog introduces "Mona-Steel" strings, which was Gibson's name for monel. No other steel-string choices are listed. 

The 1934 Gibson catalog, offers only mona-steels, but does offer the option of "hand polishing." There is some conjecture on various bulletin boards that this is a reference to flat-wound strings, or at least an early "ground-wound" string. I do not think that is the case. Rather, I am guessing that the manufacturing standards of the day may have led the strings to be a bit "fuzzy" and perhaps a bit poorly finished. There are pictures of Mapes brand strings from the 30's that came with a "sepam cloth" to polish the strings. Sepam cloth is something like an emery board. The 1944 Epiphone catalog mentions strings can be "hand-polished" to "reduce swish." Reducing finger noise may also have been a concern. However, I would argue that while "hand-polishing" may have rounded off the gullys between round wrappings ever so slightly, they are not "flats" as we think of them. Also, given how much material would have to be removed to make them flat, I doubt that could really be achieved with something like an emery board or by hand. 

Amazingly, right after drafting this original version of this article in 2013, Martin re-introduced Monel strings under the “Tony Rice Signature” moniker, but in only Tony’s signature gauge. It was so successful the line was broadened to a full range of gauges under the Martin “Retro” moniker. D’addario followed suit with the introduction of their “Nickel-Bronze” line.

In comes Bronze

So far, the earliest reference to "bronze wound strings" that I've come across is in the 1935 Martin catalog. Both Monel and bronze sets are listed, with bronze being listed as being "heavy gauge" and wound on a hexagonal core, and the monel listed as being "medium gauge" and wound on a "piano core," which I'd assume is a round core. Paul Alcantara, who maintains the fantastic site related to me that his 16” Gibson L-5 which was shipped in 1935 was listed in the shipping ledger as have a “thick top, old style” and specifically with “bronze strings”. By 1937, the Gibson catalog also adds bronze-wound to the line up, along with the mona-steels. It isn't until after the impact of the electric guitar that there is any text describing the qualities of monel vs. bronze. 

Electric vs. Acoustic

The 1937 Gibson catalog is also very important because it introduces Gibson's electric line of guitars, banjos, mandolins and hawaiian steel guitars. Gibson's first electric guitar pickup, usually known as a "Charlie Christian" pickup, had an issue with the B string being significantly louder than the rest. By 1938 Gibson added a notch in the pickup under the B string to try to equalize the difference. Finally, in 1939 Gibson introduced a CC pickup with individual pole pieces on the ES-250 to improve string-to-string balance further. In 1937, the Gibson catalog simply directs electric guitar users to use a set of monel strings. But consider that, by that time, the first electric jazz guitar solo had not yet been recorded. (Now, famous Western Swing steel guitarist Leon McAuliffe of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys recorded what is clearly the first modern, Spanish-neck electric guitar solo in 1935, but it seemed to pass without having much of an impact. Eddie Durham’s solos with the Kansas City Six in 1938 are often considered the first electric jazz guitar solos, thought George Barnes electric solos with Big Bill Bronzy were recorded even earlier that year. And of course, Eddie Durham had done a lot of experimentation to amplify the guitar using resonators and microphones previously, but these were not electromagnetically amplified “electric”.)

There was a significant amount of experimentation and innovation in those earliest years of the electric guitar. The next two catalogs in the collection show major changes. The 1942 Gibson catalog finally differentiates electric strings from acoustics. Mona-Steel and Bronze are both offered without reference to "acoustic", but the newest addition is Mona-electric strings. The catalog only says that they are specifically selected gauges of mona-steel. Presumably monel was still used for electrics, but the gauges had been altered to deal with the "hot B string" problem. 

There is a particularly telling paragraph in that 1942 catalog: 
"Our Mona-Steel Strings are noted for their non-tarnishing long wearing qualities, and are better suited for electrics. The bronze strings have that clear tone of soft brilliancy, which is preferred by many especially in orchestra work. Light gauges are more responsive and ideal for light, fast picking; while heave gauges are designed for the orchestra players who need volume and solidity." 

The difference becomes codified

The 1942 Gibson catalog mentions that heavy-gauge bronze strings are standard equipment on Super 400's and L-5's. By the 1944 Epiphone Catalog the split between electric strings and acoustic strings appears to have solidified. It offers  "special bronze wire covered" strings as well as now specifically electric "Electar" strings of "magnetic materials." 

After this my resources dried up. I can't find any catalogs until 1950, when Gibson was offering both generically "Guitar" (presumably monel) and "Bronze Guitar Strings", as well as specifically electric strings. Again, there is a lapse in the resources until 1959, when the Fender Catalog describes their electric guitar strings (as they only made electric instruments then) as "pure nickel-wound." 


Based the catalogs, I would feel comfortable making a couple of inferences. 

  • I would bet that someone like Eddie Lang was using a silver-plated steel string until the introduction of monel and perhaps adopted monel until he died in 1934. So you’ve got a 16” pre-1935 guitar, it probably came with either “silver-plated steel” or Monel, and I think monel particularly suits those early 16" Gibson archtops. 
  • I'm guessing that Monel strings were probably used by the second generation of guys, like Carl Kress, Dick McDonough, George Van Eps, though they may have switched to bronze-wound when they were introduced in around 1935.
  • The post-1935 swing rhythm players (Allan Reuss, Freddie Green, etc.) probably adopted bronze-wound strings because of their greater volume, although it's possible some stuck with monel strings. 
  • Because I can't find any references to specifically electric strings until 1942, I would bet that Charlie Christian probably used monel strings, possibly Gibson Mona-Steel, though there are references to him having used Black Diamond Strings, who made both Monel and as well as Bronze. 


I have used Martin “Retro” Monel strings on several guitars with pleasing results, including on my 1937 ES-150. Those first generation ES-150 guitars were made out of L-50 acoustic guitars and have quite a bit of acoustic volume and character, and the monel strings seemed to allow the guitar to sing a bit more acoustically, and this translated to the electrified sound as well. The string-to-string balance is not perfect, but it mostly good enough that I don’t mind it. I sometimes use D’Addario “Pure Nickel” instead which sound good, though not quite as distinctive sounding. 

On acoustic archtops, Martin “Retro” Monel strings definitely had a distinct sound as compared to either bronze or nickel. They were bright and cutting without being shrill. They seemed to have increased mids and upper mids, with somewhat reduced bass as compared to bronze. When playing solo chord-melody guitar they seem to allow the guitar to sing without being boomy or shrill, and this was helpful on both my 1932 L-5 (16”) and my 1935 L-12 (17” x-braced). My 1939 L-5 has not yet had Martin Retros on it, but given that it was made to be a big band rhythm machine, I think it is probably best suited to bronze. 

I’ve tried the D’Addario Nickel Bronze several times, but given that they often substantially more expensive than the Martin Retro, I haven’t used them often enough to draw strong conclusions.