George Van Eps was born in Plainfield, N.J. on August 7, 1913 and came from a very musical household. His dad was Fred Van Eps who was the most well-known 5 string banjoist of his day. His mother was an exceptional classical and ragtime pianist. George’s first instrument was the banjo which he started to play at the age of 9 after a bout of rheumatic fever had forced him to leave school.
By the time he was 12 he was already a member of the Plainfield Musicians Union. The minimum age for the union was 16 but Van Eps was offered a unique concession due to the fact of his awesome musical skills. At the age of 14, motivated by guitar player Eddie Lang, he changed over to playing the guitar.
George Van Eps played with The Smith Ballew Band from 1929 – 1931 and with The Freddy Martin Band from 1931 – 1933. Joining The Benny Goodman Orchestra was his first huge break which came in 1934. This brought his guitar skills to the attention of jazz fans all over the world. George was also a popular instructor of the jazz guitar.
Among his numerous pupils was Allan Reuss who later took his position in The Benny Goodman Orchestra. In 1936 Van Eps joined The Ray Noble Band, an association that lasted on and off till 1941. During this time in his life he relocated to Hollywood where he turned into one of the busiest guitarists in the Los Angeles movie and live radio business.
During World War II Van Eps left the music business for a brief time to assist his father in operating his recording equipment factory in Plainfield, New Jersey. The factory was an important provider of items essential for the war effort. In 1944 George was once again playing with The Ray Noble Band and associated with all types of recording studio work. He was also prominently featured on many recordings with The Paul Weston Orchestra.
George Van Eps played and recorded since 1938 on a 7 string guitar which was an instrument that he designed in the late 1930s. The Epiphone Guitar Company consented to build him a guitar to his design and in 1938 Van Eps received his very first 7 string guitar from them. From that time on he just played the 7 string guitar which has an extra bass string tuned to a low “A”.
In more recent times he was involved in developing a line of 7 string guitars produced by The Gretsch Guitar Company to his original specs. His continuous promotion of and experimentation with the 7 string guitar has been a fantastic motivation to many other guitar players including Bucky Pizzarelli, Howard Morgen, and Ted Greene. Van Eps likewise designed a string damper which helps to remove feedback. He described his method of solo jazz guitar playing as treating the instrument like a “lap piano”.
For a couple of years George Van Eps retired from the music profession. IN 1955 he opened, together with his spouse, a hobby store which sold models in Glendale, California. This store closed down in 1963 and since that time Van Eps’s involvement with the guitar slowly ended up being more powerful than ever. His highly acclaimed landmark 3 volume series “Harmonic Mechanisms For Guitar” was released by Mel Bay Publications. In more recent years he tape-recorded with 7 string guitarist Howard Alden for the Concord Record Label and toured worldwide providing performances and master classes.
George Van Eps is regarded by the majority of leading guitarists as one of the true “founding fathers” of the modern-day jazz guitar. His harmonies and musical ideas are exciting and inspiring! His approach to guitar, recorded music, teaching capability, as well as his design and promotion of the 7 string guitar are an enduring testament to his special and huge talents. Together they guarantee that George Van Eps will forever be a true legend amongst jazz guitarists. George passed away on November 29, 1998 at the age of 85.