Ventura Barney Kessel Copy

This is a late 60’s/early 70’s Ventura copy of Gibson’s Barney Kessel model belonging to Mike Ball. He’d acquired this guitar years ago on the cheap but it had some rather serious problems. Mike ended up replacing the fretboard, installing a new truss rod, and making some top-notch modifications while he was at it.

Mike asked me to do whatever I thought necessary. After a thorough inspection, I realized that the neck had a few peaks and valleys, so to speak, and ideally I’d be removing the frets and planing the fretboard. I also wanted to keep things cost effective (and Mike was really itching to play) so I opted to instead level the frets. Also, there was quite a “shelf” where the finish on the back of the neck had been stripped; combined with a few deep gouges and a slightly uncomfortable heavily pronounced D-shape, this neck begged for attention!

After performing some fretboard magic, I started sanding the back of the neck with coarse-grit sandpaper, taking my time in order to create a natural taper while doing so. I then moved on to some synthetic steel wool, which I find a bit too harsh to use for final polishing. It does, however, make a perfect step between sandpaper and fine steel wool. Lastly, I used steel wool impregnated with lemon oil to slightly raise the wood grain so I could really buff out any remaining scuffs and scrapes. Sadly, a few of them were just too deep to completely erase, so I did the best I could.

Surprise! One slice of flamey maple...

I’m really happy with how this instrument turned out, and you can’t even feel the transition between the finish and bare wood.

On a completely subjective note, this guitar really surprised me. I know this Ventura isn’t exactly a big-ticket item. These models may sell for only a small fraction of what the actual Gibson costs, but this thing played and sounded better than any “copy” I’ve ever tested. I haven’t had my hands on the real-deal Kessel, but I couldn’t believe I was playing a sub-$1000 guitar. It’s got a slinky feel, a super responsive Bigsby and tone for days! I won’t lie: I’m keeping an eye out for these on Ebay!

Mike added push/pull coil taps for each pickup as well as a Varitone, allowing the player to coax a broad range of tonal colors. Really cool!

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