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Barney Kessel - A Jazz Legend


“The Greatest American Guitarist” as rated by John Lennon, Phil Spector, Pete Townshend and Jimi Hendrix, Barney Kessel brought much needed innovation to jazz in the mid fifties and quality to the exploding sixties pop scene.

Barney Kessel was the “go to” guitarist in his day and can be heard on such classics as the Beach Boys “Pet Sounds” and monster hits such as The Righteous Brothers “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”, Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” and the Monkees’ “I’m A Believer”.

Barney Kessel was known for playing his Gibson hollow body jazz guitar and used it almost exclusively on his own recordings. But when it came to rock, pop, r&b and blues recording sessions with the most popular performers of the early ’60s such as Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke, Connie Francis, T-Bone Walker, Ike & Tina Turner, Phil Spector, Dinah Washington and Bobby Darin, Kessel turned to his Kay Barney Kessel Artist guitar.


Barney Kessel, in 1956, was approached by Kay Musical Instruments (now known as Kay Guitar Company) to endorse a new line of professional level guitars. Who better to call upon than the greatest American guitarist to compete with brands like Gibson who already had players like Les Paul in their lineup.

Kay made 3 signature guitars for Barney Kessel. The Pro, Artist and Jazz Special. All 3 bore his signature engraved in the injection molded Lucite pick guard and came equipped with the now famous Gold “K” Kleenex Box pickups. The Barney Kessel line also gave birth to the unique “full Kelvonator” headstock.

Pictured from left to right: Barney Kessel Signature Models, Kay Reissue K1700V "Pro", K6700V "Artist", K8700V "Jazz Special"

It has been said that Barney never played his signature Kays. On the contrary… Barney Kessel has been photographed in concert with the Kay K8700 Jazz Special on multiple occasions, has made appearances at Waldo’s Jazz Club on the television classic “Johnny Staccato – Television’s Jazz Detective” and has been confirmed by son Dan (who also recorded with the Artist on several famous recordings) to have used the Artist to record countless rock, pop, r&b and blues hits with the most popular performers of the early ‘60s.

Barney Kessel & His Kay Signature Guitar
Video & Photo Gallery

Barney Kessel appears on the hit television show
"Johnny Staccato: Television's Jazz Detective"
playing his signature K8700 Jazz Special guitar.

Barney Kessel in concert, unknown location, 1959
playing his signature K8700 Jazz Special guitar.


"Kessel is as lyrical a guitarist as we have in jazz… a rhythmic natural who can out swing any man in the house." - Jazz Critic, Leonard Feather.

"Kessel is a player who is never just standing still at one level." - Guitarist, Wes Montgomery.

"One of the most extraordinarily consistent and emotionally huge musical improvisers of our era." - Writer, Nat Hentoff.

"Barney Kessel is a unique guitarist. He swings like every member of the rhythm section wishes he could. He is a true artist." - Musician / composer / conductor, Andre Previn.

"I'd listen to Barney Kessel records and my jaw would drop. I was awe-struck by the nature of his ad-libs. I followed Barney Kessel's musical stories like a kid following a fairy tale." - Guitarist, B.B. King.

"Kessel is #1. His style of guitar is copied so much, but never equalled. Barney Kessel is the greatest guitarist in the universe!" - Producer, Phil Spector.

"Barney Kessel is incredible. He's just amazing. I mean it's crazy. Nobody can play guitar like that. What else can you say?" - Guitarist, John Lennon.

"Barney is the greatest." - Drummer, Hal Blaine.

"When I was on the road with Bob Wills, the Texas Playboys and Tommy and Glynn Duncan, often times Barney would come to the country dance halls to visit. His very presence inspired us to play better." - Guitarist, Jimmy Wyble.

"Barney Kessel was a very special man, a good man and a great, great legendary talent." - Bassist, Carol Kaye.

"Kessel is transcendental in his artistry." - Composer, Henry Mancini.

"Barney Kessel is the Sir Laurence Olivier of the guitar." - Actor, Mickey Rooney.

"Barney Kessel is definitely the best guitar player in this world, or any other world." - Guitarist, George Harrison.

"Barney Kessel nailed me to the cross, twelve ways to Sunday." - Pianist, Oscar Peterson.

"Those who have heard my music can sense that I learned a lot from Barney." - Guitarist, Tal Farlow.

"Barney Kessel has become the American jazz icon. He reached the same status as Louis Armstrong." - Guitarist, Mundell Lowe.