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  • Christian J. Triola

Guitar Legends #1: Who was Howard Roberts?

Howard Roberts' Impact on the Guitar World Cannot be Overstated.

In this new series, you’ll learn about the people behind the guitar. In this video, I talk about the extraordinary career of guitar giant Howard Roberts.

Howard Roberts was born in Phoenix Arizona October 2, 1929 and frequented many jazz and blues clubs when he was quite young, and ended up playing professionally by the age of 15! He started out as a blues player, and learned a great deal from trumpet player Art Farmer, among many other west coast jazz players including Dexter Gordon and guitar legend George Van Eps.

Throughout his career, he recorded over 5,000 tracks as a sideman, and released over 20 albums as a band leader. He also played bass and mandolin. Even though his albums were popular among jazz fans and guitar fans, it was his other work as a guitar player that you may recognize. In fact, he didn’t just play jazz. Like most guitar players, he interests were varied.

Guitarist Jack Marshall needed someone to play on a TV show called “Deputy” starring Henry Fonda. So he hired Roberts for the job, which started his career in television. He recorded guitar tracks for TV themes such as “The Twilight Zone”, “MASH” and “The Beverly HIllbillies”, “I Love Lucy” “The Munsters” “Gilligan's Island” “Batman” “Andy Griffith” and “Peter Gunn” to name a few. So if you’re a fan of classic TV, you’ve heard this guy’s playing.

He also did a great deal of studio work with other artists, most famously “The Monkees”. In fact, he recorded with them often enough that he is sometimes called “the fifth Monkee”.

Not only was he an in-demand studio musician, he was an active academic. He created a fresh approach to learning guitar, and the curriculum he developed eventually led to the creation of the Guitar Institute of Technology in 1977, which was the first accredited vocational guitar program in the country. In fact, it still exists today under its new name The Musician's Institute.

Three Albums of his that I love include:

The 1966 Capitol Records album “All-Time Great Instrumental Hits”

The 1963 album “Color Him Funky/ H. R. Is a Dirty Guitar Player”

The 1966 album “Whatever’s Fair” by the Howard Roberts Quintet

His Gear:

He mainly played a Gibson ES-150, usually called the Charlie Christian Model. And he actually bought that guitar off of Herb Ellis, another guitar great of the same time period.

For the studio, he often used a heavily modified Gibson L-4, which became his signature guitar for Gibson.

He also worked with Epiphone and Gibson, both of whom released Howard Roberts signature guitars, including the Howard Roberts Fusion III in 1991.

He often used a Gibson GA-50 and later a Benson 300HR with a 15 inch JBL speaker, but he was known for using a variety of amps. These are just a couple of them.

So guitar fans, jazz fans, rock fans, classic TV fans, movie fans, and guitar academia all owe a debt to Howard Roberts.

For more on Howard Roberts, be sure to check out

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