Wolf Marshall with the Black Guitar.


HOWARD ROBERTS: "The Black Guitar"

Originally a pre-war Gibson ES-150, this one-of-a-kind arch-top acoustic-electric guitar is the highly modified and much prized historical instrument jazz guitarist -studio legend Howard Roberts used on countless recordings in the early 1960s through the 1970s.




Howard Roberts acquired this guitar from jazz guitarist Herb Ellis. The interior sticker still reads "H.E. 1959." The instrument has gone through many modifications. The body has been reshaped, resized in depth, and refinished. The neck has been replaced and fitted with a longer scale, dot-inlay ebony fingerboard. Much of the work is reputed to have been performed by the legendary Los Angeles guitar repairman Jack Willock. Willock relocated to Los Angeles from Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he was one of the leading craftsmen in Gibson’s employ.

A 1950s P-90 pickup has replaced the original "Charlie Christian" bar pickup. The three mounting holes from the earlier pickup are plainly visible and have not been filled. A photo from a late1960s recording session reveals that HR had mounted a bridge pickup on the guitar at one point. Selector switches were mounted below the pickup at that time. The original ES-150 button tuning keys have been replaced with deluxe Grover Imperial tuners. Curiously, they are not all the same style. HR had a thin shaft nickelplated type on the high E, while the remaining five are the wide shaft chrome-plated type. There are no strap buttons and no serial number on this guitar.


Color Him Funky and H.R. Is A Dirty Guitar Player (both 1963 Capitol recordings) are Howard Roberts’ most famous jazz guitar albums made as a leader with "The Black Guitar". Both albums are currently reissued as the double-CD set Dirty ‘N’ Funky (EMI-Capitol). HR also used this guitar on the Magic Band recordings: Howard Roberts: The Magic Band, Live At Donte’s (June 1968) and Howard Roberts: The Magic Band II (May 1968). "The Black Guitar" is explicitly pictured in the accompanying liner notes of all these records.

HR continued to use "The Black Guitar" regularly throughout his career despite the fact that Epiphone marketed the Howard Roberts model in the mid 1960s and that Gibson later offered their own Howard Roberts models in the 1970s.

"The Black Guitar" is also featured on the covers of The Howard Roberts’ Guitar Book (1971) and Howard Roberts Guitar Manual Chord Melody (1972).


"The Black Guitar" is owned by guitarist-author-musicologist Wolf Marshall. Marshall purchased it, and its matching heavy black-leather gig bag, in Seattle, Washington, from Howard Roberts’ wife, Patty Roberts, on March 2, 1999.