At the height of his career, an Ibanez guitar rep eagerly approached the entertainer. The men’s shoptalk soon turned to an offer for Benson to represent a line of the company’s electric guitars. “Our connection with George Benson has been unbelievably rewarding,” says Bill Reim, president of Hoshino USA, Ibanez’s parent company’s U.S. distribution arm. “It’s a tremendous honor to work with him. He’s an icon.”
“Ibanez incorporated 90 percent of my ideas [in its construction],” Benson remembers with excitement. When the signature guitar was rolled out a year later, Benson became guitar royalty. “It’s a very prestigious honor to have a guitar named after you,” he says. His signature guitars are everywhere: in the hands of headliners like Prince and Joni Mitchell.
In the 70s, when Ibanez was making inroads into the U.S. market, its association with Benson heightened its credibility. Thirty years and ten signature guitars later, the GB30, a 30th anniversary model, celebrates the guitarist’s longtime association with Ibanez. The guitar’s rich surface is covered with exquisite gold leaf custom finish inspired by the ancient Japanese Garahaku art form. The body’s construction remains the same as its predecessors, but only thirty guitars were manufactured and sold so quickly that Benson waited months to receive a second guitar.
A Benson signature guitar is recognizable for its compact size, a feature that significantly lowers the amount of feedback. The smaller size makes it easy to store in overhead bins on airplanes, and its sturdy construction cuts down on repairs on the road. The tailpiece, the hardware at the butt of the guitar body that anchors the strings, is uniquely modified to create a split bridge. The player can adjust the string tension three strings at a time to finely tune the guitar’s overall playing feel.
The jazz giant never stops looking for fresh sounds and phrasing to stretch his music. He oversees a catalog of 400 pieces of music and owns three music publishing companies. Smart instructional guitar technique videos can be found on his website, www.workshoplive.com/georgebenson.
Benson is also hard at work putting the finishing touches on a coffee table book, scheduled for July publication, that celebrates his musical legacy from childhood to the present. And Benson may soon be seen on the big screen—he’s being wooed for a movie role. Catch him if you can.