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  1. #1
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    Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    Presently suffering from a bad case of GAS, I am considering the Gibson Johnny A (based on seeing him, the tone in his CDs, and comments on this board), and also a PRS HB II with Piezo (based on playing it). Unfortunately, I can't find any dealers with the Johnny A locally (central CT). I was hoping someone who has played either or both might be able to give a comparison of the two guitars -- tone, neck feel, playability, versatility, etc.

    Thanks.

    FiveG

  2. #2
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    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    The Johnny A is a great guitar. Make sure you get one with a Bigsby.

    There's a Johnny A guitar register site somewhere that can give you a lot more info.

    Meantime, think of a small archtop tone with typical Gibson neck design and humbucking PUs. Quite unique in its' way.

    The PRS? It's just another PRS. Some like 'em.

    The final choice is probably between a unique or a somewhat generic guitar.

  3. #3
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    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    Quote Originally Posted by Desertdawg
    with typical Gibson neck design and humbucking PUs.

    The jonny a has a fender scale length though, right?

  4. #4
    Les Paul Forum Member CR9's Avatar
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    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    Yes the Johnny A. has a 25 1/2 scale. I prefer the Johnny A. over PRS. The JA seems to me to be a hand made guitar while the PRS is a cookie cutter machine made one. I have seen the JA's being made in person but only seen videos of the PRS. Probably the PRS would have better quality control as the machines are more uniform. More info:

    Gibson JA specs

    Johnny A. Guitar Registry

    JA forum

  5. #5
    Les Paul Forum Member professor's Avatar
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    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    Quote Originally Posted by Cloud9
    Yes the Johnny A. has a 25 1/2 scale. I prefer the Johnny A. over PRS. The JA seems to me to be a hand made guitar while the PRS is a cookie cutter machine made one.
    That's a bit of a stretch, on both counts.
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  6. #6
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    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    Quote Originally Posted by professor
    That's a bit of a stretch, on both counts.
    How so?

    FiveG

  7. #7
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    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    The three Johnny A's I tried were perfect "out of the box." Yes, it has the longer scale just like the Super 400 and L5 archtops.

  8. #8
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    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    Waaaaah!!!! Here I was all prepared to go with the PRS HB II, but now you guys have made me second guess!

    Perhaps those who have tried the Johnny A can help here: what is the neck shape like? The PRS HB II neck was called a "wide fat," which felt to me much thicker than my 97 LP Standard or my '81 ES347. If anyone can compare the Johnny A neck shape with other guitars -- even a PRS Wide thin -- I'd appreciate it.

    FiveG

  9. #9
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    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    Hi. I own a Johnny A. I can't really compare it to the PRS HB because I've not played that PRS model in many moons and never played one plugged in. It's very tough to choose between guitars at this price level without having played them -and of course I don't know what your personal taste are - so I'll just share my own experience with the Johnny A.

    The Johnny A's neck feels to me to be a tad wider than a typical Les Paul neck (but not a lot wider). I find its thickness to be almost perfect and a great blend with the width of the neck. It produces a unique feel - but neck feel is very subjective. It reminds me a bit of a modern strat neck but thicker - and it's not unlike some regular PRS solidbody necks I've played - except that I find it more comfortable (perhaps its not quite so wide).

    I bought my JA from Saul at Centre City in San Diego without a chance to play it as they are hard to locate in stores. The JA is a truly unique and great instrument. I finally played "out" with it about 2 weeks ago and it cooked!

    If you are used to humbuckers, be aware that the Johnny A is a much spankier / twangier guitar than your typical Gibson (or PRS for that matter) due to its neck scale and ebony fretboard. In my opinion, it fuses classic Gibson / Fender tones very successfully and comes close to being a one-guitar does all instrument.

    Happy hunting.
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  10. #10
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    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    One last thought - Johnny A did NOT use or have a Johnny A signature guitar for use on his first album (Sometime Tuesday Morning) - its only on his second album that it is used.
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  11. #11
    Les Paul Forum Member CR9's Avatar
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    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    I did own a Johnny A. but had to sell it for a financial crisis. I am planning on getting another JA soon. I agree with vibro and what he says about the neck. I have played well over a dozen of the JA's but only 2 or 3 PRS HB's. Not all of the JA's have the same profile as each neck is profiled by hand. A few extra seconds on the sander and that neck becomes smaller. I have watched the Gibson Custom Shop build JA's and have seen every step involved so I am more fond of the JA. I am biased towards the JA, but would also like to own a PRS HB2.

    If you do not have a chance to play both of them in an A/B setting, you must trust forum information or a dealer. I would make a few phone calls to dealers that sell both models. Especially dealers that you know and have worked with. I trust everything that Steve and Bruce from Wildwood or John and Barry from Guitarsale.com (Music123) tell me. Both stores have given me precision details for some of my choices. If you do buy by phone, make sure the store has a return policy just in case. They both are fantastic guitars and ultimately it will be how it feels in you hands.

  12. #12
    Les Paul Forum Member kingsleyd's Avatar
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    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    Hey, FiveG, it's me again...

    ...as you know, I own a JA. I also own a PRS HBI; the I is actually closer to the JA than the HBII inasmuch as it has a mahogany back and flame maple top. (the HBII is all maple, and I for one think that's a bad thing, tone-wise)

    At any rate, I am intimately familiar with both guitars.

    Let me weigh in on a couple of the elements you asked about:

    NECK
    The PRS wide-fat is smaller than, say, an Historic Les Paul. Not by much, but noticeably so. It's more like the real 50s LP necks, actually. It's a really nice shape. But if you're used to something more like Gibson's slim taper necks, it might feel big.
    The JA has a neck more like an early-60s ES-335. It's not quite as small (front to back) as the modern slim tapers. It's 1 11/16" wide, so it's more or less standard Gibson width.

    SOUND
    The JA has a MUCH more distinctive tone than the PRS, which sounds somewhat generic by comparison. There are several factors at play here:
    --scale length: the JA has a 25.5" scale length, like Fenders and L-5CESs, whereas the PRS has a 25" scale length. This and the ebony fretboard combine to make the JA brighter and spankier. The JA could pass for a Tele with the amp set right and the right playing approach. Not a chance you could do that with the PRS.
    --pickups: the PRS pickups are lower in output than the Classic 57s in the JA. With the JA, you can do passable "Les Paul crunch." Not so with the PRS.
    --finish: the PRS has a poly finish, whereas the JA has nitro. This and the pickups are the reason for the more "generic" (ie, less woody) tone of the PRS. IMO, of course.

    BUILD QUALITY
    Maybe it's the finish again, but while both are clearly high-quality instruments, the JA *feels* more like a guitar built by a few people who care. I think that Gibson is more selective about the wood for the JAs, although my HBI is an "Artist Package" which supposedly has better quality mahogany in addition to the flamier top.

    VERSATILITY
    The JA wins, hands down, for its range of electric tones. OK, the PRS does have that piezo thing, which is one of those things I think I should have, but frankly I almost never use it, and I probably wouldn't miss it if it was gone. I do like how the PRS looks (it's a little more understated than the JA) and it really is a very nice guitar. It's just that the JA is a VERY nice guitar.

    About the only caveat I would offer about the JA is that, as vibro mentioned, it can be a little bright/twangy compared to, say, an ES-335. Even so, I've used mine on a couple of straight ahead jazz gigs and it fit right in, sound-wise.

  13. #13
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    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    Nice review, Kingsleyd.

    The way I'd put it is - I'd love to have 2 Johnny A's if I could afford them.
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  14. #14
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    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    Thanks, all. If I only hit the bloody lottery, this would be easy! The only thing that's sort of hindering the decision right now is one other factor: I have a 1981 ES347, which has an ebony neck, HBs, etc. Is the sound of the Johnny A anywhere near that guitar, because I'm certainly not looking to replicate the sound of a guitar I already have. I suspect not given (a) the fact that the JA is hollowbody throughout and (b) given the brass parts in the 347, but I thought I'd ask.

    FiveG

  15. #15
    Les Paul Forum Member kingsleyd's Avatar
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    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    Quote Originally Posted by FiveG
    Thanks, all. If I only hit the bloody lottery, this would be easy! The only thing that's sort of hindering the decision right now is one other factor: I have a 1981 ES347, which has an ebony neck, HBs, etc. Is the sound of the Johnny A anywhere near that guitar, because I'm certainly not looking to replicate the sound of a guitar I already have. I suspect not given (a) the fact that the JA is hollowbody throughout and (b) given the brass parts in the 347, but I thought I'd ask.
    Yeah, that 347 does muddy the water somewhat. But the body is basically a 335, right? That means it has the plywood top and back and the center block. Plus it probably has the 24 5/8 in. scale length. Those differences will make the 347 sound pretty different from the JA, which has a smaller body and is closer to fully hollow, along with the 25.5" scale. (on the JA there's only a post under the bridge, same basic idea as the '59 and Brian Setzer Gretsch 6120s, and the HB for that matter)

    I'll tell you what, just drive up to Dover NH tomorrow night. I'm playing at Dover Soul (www.doversoul.com) and will probably have both the HB and the JA there, so if you bring the 347 we can check 'em all out.

  16. #16
    Les Paul Forum Member CR9's Avatar
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    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    The JA is more "hollow" or open than most of the other Gibsons. This is what the JA body chambers look like.

  17. #17
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    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    Quote Originally Posted by kingsleyd
    Yeah, that 347 does muddy the water somewhat. But the body is basically a 335, right? That means it has the plywood top and back and the center block. Plus it probably has the 24 5/8 in. scale length. Those differences will make the 347 sound pretty different from the JA, which has a smaller body and is closer to fully hollow, along with the 25.5" scale.
    Not sure on scale length on the 347 -- it's a longer neck than on my LP Standard, but I haven't measured it. I didn't realize, however, that the JA had a smaller body than do the 335-style guitars.

    Thanks for info.

    FiveG

  18. #18
    Les Paul Forum Member kingsleyd's Avatar
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    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    Quote Originally Posted by vibro
    Nice review, Kingsleyd.

    The way I'd put it is - I'd love to have 2 Johnny A's if I could afford them.
    OK, just shut up... now... Wildwood has the JA with the next serial no. after mine, and it's quilted with a Bigsby. I'm very tempted. VERY tempted.

  19. #19
    Les Paul Forum Member CR9's Avatar
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    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    I love #350 that Wildwood has for sale. Sure would be nice if one of you wealthy guys would buy it as a gift for me......

  20. #20
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    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    Quote Originally Posted by Cloud9
    I love #350 that Wildwood has for sale. Sure would be nice if one of you wealthy guys would buy it as a gift for me......
    No problem -- right after I hit the Lottery that lets me buy the PRS HBII --and -- the Johnny A, I'll get one for you too.

    FiveG

  21. #21
    Les Paul Forum Member CR9's Avatar
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    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    I bet most of us on this forum are too smart (read that cheap) to buy lottery tickets. Well, OK, once in a great while I'll buy one....

  22. #22
    Les Paul Forum Member Gitfiddler's Avatar
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    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    Before falling in lust with my first JA, I played a PRS HB II 'Artist Grade' (killer rootbeer flametop!) for hours at a local store. Great feeling neck, as described above. Very nice tone and high quality build. I almost pulled the trigger, but the asking price was just out of range at the time.

    A year later, the JA's hit the market and reviews started rolling in here at the LP Forum. I HAD to get one. Found a flamey stoptail at a forum dealer and had her shipped. Worst case, I could always sell it if it did not make the cut. The reviews in this thread are dead on. They failed to mention one other fact about JA's. They are extremely lightweight and well balanced!

    Long story short, it made the cut...BIG TIME...and I ended up later scoring a Bigsby JA to keep the stoptail company. NO regrets about not buying the PRS. This is the best instrument I've ever played...period. Yes, they are expensive, but as a player it is second to none. And I've never seen a JA that wasn't drop dead gorgeous.

    Good luck with your search.
    Gitfiddler

  23. #23
    Les Paul Forum Member turk's Avatar
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    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    Quote Originally Posted by Cloud9
    I love #350 that Wildwood has for sale. Sure would be nice if one of you wealthy guys would buy it as a gift for me......
    This baby will soon be on it's way to her new Daddy .... ME!! Man when I saw this guitar my heart started to race ... and then again when you posted this today ... fearing I might be too late. Anyway, here's a pic of it. Thanks for fueling my GAS!!


  24. #24
    Les Paul Forum Member clayville's Avatar
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    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    Wow... now that's a looker! Congrats, and... Enjoy!

  25. #25
    Les Paul Forum Member Gitfiddler's Avatar
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    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    "...Man when I saw this guitar my heart started to race..."

    Turk: Hyperventilation is a common side effect to viewing Johnny A. Signatures with quilt tops.

    Congratulations on that gorgeous JA!
    Gitfiddler

  26. #26
    Les Paul Forum Member kingsleyd's Avatar
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    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    Quote Originally Posted by turk
    This baby will soon be on it's way to her new Daddy .... ME!! Man when I saw this guitar my heart started to race ... and then again when you posted this today ... fearing I might be too late. Anyway, here's a pic of it. Thanks for fueling my GAS!!

    Well, well, well... #350 is the one with the serial # that's adjacent to my #349. I came THAT close to closing the deal with Steve last Friday, then decided to sleep on it over the weekend. Guess I don't have a decision to make any more.

    Enjoy it, Mike!

  27. #27
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    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    Rats!!! I was trying to get the info from Wildwood on that one!!!
    Now I have to keep searching.

    FiveG

  28. #28
    Les Paul Forum Member turk's Avatar
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    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    Sorry kingsleyd and FiveG.

  29. #29
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    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    Is that considered a Quilt or a flame version, out of curiousity?

    FiveG

  30. #30
    Les Paul Forum Member turk's Avatar
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    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    Quote Originally Posted by FiveG
    Is that considered a Quilt or a flame version, out of curiousity?

    FiveG
    Quilt I think. It looks like it's on fire to me.

  31. #31
    Les Paul Forum Member kingsleyd's Avatar
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    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    Quote Originally Posted by turk
    Sorry kingsleyd and FiveG.
    No need to be sorry on my account, Mike. I've been around enough to know that, when it comes to guitars as beautiful as JA 350, he who snoozes loses.

    Besides, if I find myself in need of a guitar with a Bigsby, this one doesn't suck: http://www.lilypix.com/photos/showpi...=480&pid=53543

    No quilt, but with that great Gretsch orange, who needs it?

  32. #32
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    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    Maybe I'll just be petulant and get an ES175 instead. Humph.

    FiveG

  33. #33
    Les Paul Forum Member Gitfiddler's Avatar
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    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    Quote Originally Posted by FiveG
    Maybe I'll just be petulant and get an ES175 instead. Humph.

    FiveG
    Have you checked out the Johnny A. Guitar Registry? They list JA's for sale (including the now sold #350). http://www.jaguitar.org/sale.htm

    Also you might check with the guys at Wildwood, Willcutt and others for non-advertised JA's that they get or will be getting in.
    Gitfiddler

  34. #34
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    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    Quote Originally Posted by Gitfiddler
    Have you checked out the Johnny A. Guitar Registry? They list JA's for sale (including the now sold #350). http://www.jaguitar.org/sale.htm

    Also you might check with the guys at Wildwood, Willcutt and others for non-advertised JA's that they get or will be getting in.
    Thanks -- believe me, I have.

    FiveG

  35. #35
    Les Paul Forum Member bignote's Avatar
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    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    I got JA #75........Fuggedaboutit! I was a big PRS fan (hence the word was). The JA is a very unique guitar. This may be the one I never sell.

  36. #36
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    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    Quote Originally Posted by bignote
    I got JA #75........Fuggedaboutit! I was a big PRS fan (hence the word was). The JA is a very unique guitar. This may be the one I never sell.
    But Dougie, you've said that before...
    A smile relieves a heart that grieves.

  37. #37
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    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    Youse guyz have done a pretty good job convincing me to go with the JA as opposed to the PRS HB, I have to admit. The only issue that was/is outstanding is whether it's sufficiently different from my 347 -- although from what I'm hearing, tonally and size-wise, that's the case. If it isn't, then I was actually giving serious thought to an ES175 (there's a couple of 1970s around, I notice) to have a totally different tone. Sounds like, however, the JA gets a good hollow hollowbody sound so that you can get near the 175's neighborhood.

    FiveG

  38. #38
    Les Paul Forum Member Gitfiddler's Avatar
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    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    This is why I kicked the PRS HB II to the curb and never looked back:

    Gitfiddler

  39. #39
    Les Paul Forum Member turk's Avatar
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    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    So my new JA arrived today safe and sound.

    My first impressions is that I totally agree with the comparison to a Tele; it has a great bite on the bridge pickup! Much more than I expected from a Gibson. The Tele has been my main guitar for a couple of years so this is good for me ... it sounded great with my Tonebender box and I was able to get it to howl nicely. I'm really looking forward to getting to know this new guitar!

  40. #40

    Re: Gibson Johnny A vs. PRS HB II

    I Have JA096......Just remember

    1] Tone trumps everything....I've had 3 PRS' [all solidbodies]. While they are very well built guitars, they always become wanting with respect to tone, after the honeymoon period. The JA tone is amazing. It is the most versatile guitar I own.

    2] JA production is limited. I suspect it will appreciate, or at least hold, it's value.
    Last edited by quackattack; 04-27-06 at 11:31 PM.

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