Late last year, Matt Walsham (a talented guitarist based in Auckland who manages imports for New Zealand’s largest music goods retail chain, ‘The Rockshop’) called me and said ‘man, have I got a guitar for you to try out’. Knowing how much I loved playing jazz and how important tone, control of sound, build quality and appearance were to me, (aren’t all guitarists vain…?!) – Matt lined up a ‘Godin 5th Avenue Jazz’ for me to put through its paces.
I immediately loved it, after playing it for only a few moments in the shop. I’d been given the natural flame finish to vet and thought ‘this is seriously good looking’. On close inspection one can see immaculate binding and finishing as you might expect from a top of the line jazz guitar. In my opinion this guitar is of a very high build quality throughout, certainly in terms of its design, materials and fittings. I also liked the look of the fingerboard, with the smaller off-set position dots creating a more subtle effect – those less experienced in how harmony sits on a guitar neck might find this disconcerting (as in ‘what-the-heck-note-am-I-playing…?) which I tend to not have to rely so much on; so found it no problem.
I would say that overall it is a guitar given more to subtlety and ‘cool’ than any overt ‘look at me’ status or vibe, arguably in alignment with the style of music most suited to it, which I personally dig!
What I love most about this guitar is the incredible acoustic tone – ‘springy’ and bright off the sound board, without any ‘boxiness’ where the low mids can sometimes cloud out your sound (particularly as volumes increase at a live gig) common to some of the bigger jazz-box style guitars. This is one of the most live sounding jazz guitars I’ve ever played; there is a distinct and likeable difference between this and other similar models at the top end of competitive brands.
Plugged in – well seriously, it just gets better the more you turn it up. Whatever the secret ingredient inside the custom built mini-hummy is; they got it right. And I really mean that – first run outside of my studio was at a small roomed rehearsal with a vocalist, so I plugged it into the amp (of no particularly great quality) that came with the room and then mixed in a little of the amp tone with the (very cool looking and feeling ebony) volume knob. And voila – brilliant control of tone and a smooth ‘warmth’ as the volume increased. Perfect for smaller, more intimate gigs. When we did that same rehearsed tune at a 100-seater concert hall; the guitar performed brilliantly at around 75- 100% electric volume through an amp; no feedback – great tone.
I found the shape and design of the neck and fingerboard (ebony ‘Ergocut’) highly playable, instantly – where I would normally need a good week to get stuck into a brand new guitar, playing a few hours each day etc – this baby played great, literally straight out of the case.
The body, similar in size and shape to say a GB10 (perhaps a little bigger but no deeper, from my memory) was a comfortable fit also. To a certain degree I think we adapt through experience, to new sounds, feels, looks etc – but this guitar needs little of that ‘adaptation’ – a process which can sometimes create too much ‘work’ to do to get a sound or that annoying ‘why am I not happy with this’ indefinable kind of niggling feeling. None of that happened here!
I think that while it is hard to use the term ‘innovative’ when speculating about a traditional jazz guitar which essentially is built to perform a musical style that is over 80 years old, perhaps you just tweak rather than innovate – and to that end, Godin has used a few different ideas and materials very effectively with the 5th Avenue Jazz Guitar.
Instantly playable, great sound acoustic, electric and anywhere in between, great look.
The only ‘con’ (if you can call it that) is that it is a bit of a one trick pony – it plays jazz, and perhaps associated styles or sub-genres (Manouche, trad, Latin, swing etc) very, very well, but there is no back pick up so you can’t switch it back, put on a tubescreamer and sound like Scofield, but for those who love that jazz-box sound (and something a little more hip and modern) this is pretty close to the ultimate gat for you.
SPECS – from the Godin Website (http://www.godinguitars.com/godin5thavenuejazzp.htm)
5th Avenue Jazz
This very elegant instrument was made with the jazz player in mind. This upper echelon 5th Avenue Jazz features arched back as well as arched top and comes in two all high-gloss custom polished finishes, including Piano Black HG and Natural Flame HG. The Piano Black model consists of Canadian wild cherry top, back & sides and the Natural Flame model features flame maple top, back & sides with Canadian wild cherry core.
Other features include a smooth sounding floating Godin Mini- humbucker jazz pickup in the neck, ebony fingerboard, ebony volume and tone knobs, classic multi-layered binding, high-ratio open geared nickel tuners, engraved floating pickguard, custom tailpiece and adjustable Tusq bridge by Graphtech.
*Includes revolutionary 5th Avenue archtop TRIC case.
Canadian Wild Cherry archtop or flame maple archtop with canadian wild cherry core (on flame model).
Canadian Wild cherry back & sides or flame maple back & sides (on flame model).
Silver Leaf maple neck or flame maple neck (on flame model). Contoured high-gloss headstock.
High-ratio open geared nickel tuners.
High-gloss Custom Polished Finish.
Ebony Ergocut Fingerboard.
Adjustable Tusq Bridge by Graphtech.
Engraved floating pickguard.
1x floating Godin Mini-humbucker jazz pickup. 1x Volume, 1x Tone (ebony knobs).
16″ (406 mm) fingerboard radius.
24.84″ (630 mm) Scale.
1.72″ (43,7 mm) nut width.
Colors: Piano Black HG and Natural Flame HG