Jazzin’ on the Cheap : Samick / Greg Bennett LaSalle JZ-4

For a good long while, I’d been avoiding the topic of jazz. A lot of it stemmed from the fact that I thought it was a very intimidating style of music that demanded a good deal of chops, both mechanically and theoretically. Some of it was curtailed by a lack of “proper” gear.

However, all that changed around the middle of last year when I began to openly embrace jazz, fusion and bossa nova. In terms of theory, I still lack on the most part. In terms of gear however, I think I found the answer.

Jazz guitar sounds worlds apart from regular guitar in general. Many people see the guitar as a loud and uncouth instrument. In rock music – louder, heavier, harder is always better. For many years, I shaped my sound around this kind of aesthetic, which led me to own quite three Superstrats, a cheap Les Paul, a Flying V and many things in between them. A jazz guitar though, sounds nowhere near how a rock guitar sounds. Jazz in general is smoother, more suave and cultured than rock is. In this sense, the sound of a jazz guitar follows the smoother, more suave and funnily, “cultured” sound. Strangely, I own a Superstrat that actually comes pretty close to that ideal. My Epiphone Pro II had been described by my guitar tech to be “jazzy” – but he told me that around six or seven years back, so at the time, I just had no idea.

 


 

Fast forward to the October of 2018, I stumbled upon a post somewhere on Facebook that Lazer, a pretty well known music store here, was holding a big ass sale, where various pieces of gear can be had for almost half the price. Me having nothing else to do for that evening, drove out to the store with my sister in tow.

There was a bunch of stuff on sale that night, and it was actually the last day of the sale and we arrived about an hour before closing time. Honestly, I was not looking at anything in particular and my eyes were first drawn to some of the Fernandes Flying V’s that I’d been eyeing for years.

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This is a Fernandes Vertex. The only real reason I want it despite already owning a Flying V is because of the smaller body and 24 frets.

I was about to whip out my wallet to get the guitar because I’d always wanted one. My sister thought otherwise because according to her, I already have a Flying V and that it would be pretty moronic for me to own another one, let alone in white as well. There was another one available in black, but I just don’t like black guitars very much.

We looked around the place some more and found more stuff. I turned my eyes towards a Greg Bennett Interceptor IC-30, something that I thought I wanted because, again, 24 frets and a Floyd Rose style tremolo.

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This is the exact same model and finish I saw.

However, my sister countered that I already own quite a bit of shredder oriented stuff.

I was prepared to walk out of the place to head down instead towards a sushi place when my eyes wandered to the right side of the store and saw a couple of Greg Bennett hollow body guitars. I looked at them and saw two models, one with two humbuckers and another one with just one tiny looking humbucker. I thought I’d give the first one a try because I’d never owned a hollow body, and I’d always thought they looked cool, and the model I held was the exact same model that a friend of mine owns.

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That’s me and my friend Johnny at a guitar clinic back in 2014.

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Greg Bennett JZ-2 except the one I had was in a butterscotch-like finish.

I actually didn’t bear in mind how differently it sounds until after I had it in my hand and started noodling with it. My god, that thing had a very unique tone to it and I found myself steadily playing with it. It felt weird because of the huge body and the otherwise unreachable (then) upper frets. I tried on drive, and it gave this raunchy, rocking sound. My sister knew about my gear shopping tendencies, so she left me alone on the most part while she checked out a nearby store. When she came back, I told her I wanted to buy it now and then she said no – it sounds a lot like my other guitars on drive. So I showed her how it was like on clean and she thought it was alright, better sounding than my other guitars.

Then she had me try the other guitar, the one with the tiny humbucker. It was in a brown burst finish and by the looks alone, it spelled out “jazz” all over it.

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This is a Greg Bennett JZ-4.

I looked at it for a minute, and thought “Wait, I cannot rock out on this!”. But then I had it in my hand, and I had nothing else to do really so I started playing with it.

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My jaws dropped with the first few notes. Sure, it wasn’t rockin’ nor twangin’. It wasn’t “fat” as I normally want my guitars to sound like. It was something else, something I have never heard coming from anything I have held previously.

Minutes went by, and I mean long minutes of me noodling around with it in clean mode. I went for whatever the hell kinds of jazz and blues chords and licks that I knew. It felt so perfect for that, and it was almost as if it was built with that purpose in mind.

However much I liked the tone, I thought that I wanted something that could rock out because most of my gigs (up until that point at least) are rooted in hard rock so this had to sound well with distortion.

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I punched the overdrive and cranked to 11 (in my mind) and out came the sound of nightmares visiting small children strapped to a bed with a giant laser gun pointed at their forehead. Well not really, but damn, the feedback was intense. Whilst I like feedback and playing with it, this was the sort that I could not quite control. I rolled back on the gain until it was almost clean, then the feedback stopped. At that point, it was no longer a crunchy kind of sound that I would have liked, but rather a muddy mess. What glory it had while on clean, was gone with the gain.

So I turned off the overdrive, and went back to clean. It sounded heavenly again.

I asked my sister what she thought, and she says that the second guitar sounded the most unique to her. Now, my sister is a big jazz nerd but she didn’t tie the sound of the guitar to the music. I plugged the other guitar in to compare but then I heard the difference – the second guitar was more warm, rounded and smooth. To my sister, it is much more pleasing to the ears and sounded differently than any guitar I owned.

I was then reminded of a man whose music I have always found to be weird, quirky and just outside of my taste but whose chops are just insane.

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Pat Metheny. I grew listening his music at my best friend’s house because his step father (my godfather-in-law) is a big fan.

At the time, I was beginning to be heavily into jazz, fusion and bossa nova and while I didn’t quite plan on getting a full on jazz guitar to get that kind of tone, I have to admit that listening to a lot of Mr. Metheny’s music, especially Letter From Home, have made me realize the beauty of an archtop’s sound.

 

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I believe this is one of the group’s most accessible yet beautiful pieces of work. Not exactly a straight up jazz album though.

I thought about it all for about half an hour because I was still really a little hesitant, although for the price that the guitar was being given to me (about 50% off), it was a huge steal and I figured I can never buy something that cheap again. In case you are wondering why the stuff was so cheap that night, it’s because almost all of the stuff on sale were store displays, meaning they have spent a long time, years probably, being on display and waiting for someone to sweep them up and give them a loving home. I know that for a fact because the Flying V’s I was looking at I’d seen since they arrived new, and it may well have spent at least three years on display.

Being a store display means that it does not look super spanking new. The headstock has what seem to me like watermarks and very light oxidation on the metal parts, but overall it is in very good condition – it still has plastic over the pickguard.

After pacing around the mall, I decided to get it because under normal circumstances, I probably could not afford one. I got an inexpensive padded bag (Lazer’s in-house, also on sale) to store it in for the time being. Unfortunately, I cannot seem to find a hardcase for it due to its size (17in) and most available ones only go up to 16in.

I’d already taken it out on a couple of gigs – once during our office Thanksgiving Party, and once during a guest appearance during a friend’s band tour.

 


 

So far, I’m really digging this guitar. I own three Korean (an Epiphone branded Peerless, my no name brand custom V and another Epiphone branded Samick) made guitars, and I must say that quality wise, this one is still pretty good. Unplugged, it is loud and sounds big although it does not match the volume nor percussive nature of flat top acoustic guitars. Plugged in, its mini humbucker works really well. Its got a floating pickup meaning there is no cut nor extra hole on the body apart from the f-holes. The electronics are very basic and attached to the pickguard. Then again, there’s not much to do with this one since in essence, it is an acoustic guitar that could be plugged in.

Apparently, this is a pretty popular entry level aka cheap ass jazz guitar, or jazz box as many cats would call it. There are a lot of review videos available on Youtube, so if you’re kinda wondering about the sound, you might want to look there.

I’d been using this predominantly due my current love for jazz and bossa. I’d use it more had it a couple more frets and if it doesn’t feedback as much as it does under drive.

I’m definitely looking forward to learning and playing with it in the future.

 

 

 

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