Only a handful of guitarists receive the honor of a Gibson Signature Model, and even fewer are as intimately involved in the creation of the instrument that bears their name as six-string hero Johnny A.

We recently asked the Boston-based instrumental virtuoso to tell us the story of the creation of the Johnny A. Signature Model.

“I wanted a small-bodied guitar that would capture the classic Gibson hollow body tone,” he recounts. “I wanted to get close to my ES-295, yet have the versatility of a Les Paul, so I could play a beautiful ballad like ‘Wichita Lineman’ and still retain that jazzy hollow body quality, and then kick into a loud high energy rocker like ‘Jimi Jam’ ” — captured on Johnny’s new live DVD/CD One November Night — without switching guitars. I wanted one guitar that I could use all night, but I wanted to feel like I had five or six guitars at my fingertips.”

Although Johnny’s Signature Model debuted in 2003, he traces the guitar’s beginnings to 1994, when he began a relationship with the Gibson Custom Shop. Johnny was bandleader for ex-J. Geils Band frontman Peter Wolf at the time, and was smitten with the ’57 reissue Gold Top and flame top Les Pauls he’d recently acquired.

He called the Custom Shop and, in short order, acquired several Les Pauls, ES-335s and Firebirds. “I asked them to make me a Firebird VII, the Brian Jones model, and it became the inspiration for the Custom Shop’s historic reissue,” says Johnny.

After he finished his tenure with Wolf in 1999, Johnny began looking for a different sound for the instrumental music he was beginning to compose. His Gibson ES-295 became essential to his new, warmer sonic vocabulary.

“It’s all gold with P-90 pickups — the model Scotty Moore used with Elvis,” Johnny notes. The guitar inspired him to begin his debut solo recording, Sometime Tuesday Morning. “About 70-percent of the album was recorded with the ES-295 with flat wound strings, and the rest was with Les Pauls, ES-335s, and a lap steel,” he adds.

When Johnny started playing live to support the album, he employed three guitars: the ES-295, a Les Paul and an ES-335. Next, he asked the Custom Shop to make him a ’59 reissue Les Paul with a Bigsby vibrato arm. “As the band got more dynamic live, the ES-295 was feeding back at louder volumes, so the Les Paul with the Bigsby was a response to that,” he says.

But switching between ES-335s and Les Pauls wasn’t ideal. The differences in body dimensions and neck construction were “ergonomic issues that were playing havoc with my concentration on stage,” Johnny says.

The guitarist was using his Custom Shop Les Pauls exclusively in concert when he and a member of the Custom Shop staff had a conversation about their performance at the 2002 NAMM show in Nashville.

“I told him, ‘You can’t go wrong with a Les Paul,’” Johnny recounts. “‘They’re one of the greatest guitars on the planet, but I’m missing a quality I can’t get, and that’s the hollow body tone.’ He replied that he’d be interested in my ideas about developing a signature model. I was floored by the prospect, and immediately started thinking about it.”

“My goal was to get the tone of my ES-295 in a compact body design with the stability of a Les Paul, but with humbuckers instead of P-90s. I also liked the neck-set angle of a Les Paul,” he explains. “I liked the feel of the ES-295 with the 24 ¾-inch scale, rosewood fingerboard and maple body. Its notes have a more percussive attack than a Les Paul with a warm bloom around the note that’s very clear for chords. But the P-90s are prone to interference, and I wanted a very quiet instrument.

“The challenge,” he continues, “was to make a hollow-body guitar that resisted feedback at high volume and had the articulation of an ES-295, but the quietness of a humbucking pickup.”

Johnny, working with the Custom Shop, decided to try an ebony fretboard on a guitar with a 25 1/2-inch scale neck — “a traditional jazz scale,” Johnny notes, “like the Gibson L-5. Typically jazz guitars like the L-5 have that percussive attack and bloom.” They added humbuckers, placing the bridge pickup closer to the neck than usual to fatten the treble sound, and chose the headstock angle and front and back dish shape of a vintage Les Paul in flame top maple.

“The rest of the design” – double Florentine horns, distinctive f-holes, singular inlays, the sweeping pickguard and glowing classic bust style finish — “was for aesthetics,” Johnny says. “I wanted my guitar to be a piece of playable art, with the feel, look and sound of a classic model that Gibson might have made between 1959 and 1961.” The design also hides the screws that hold the pickguard in place, for a more elite appearance. The last distinctive touch was installing the pickup selector directly beneath the bridge for super-easy access while playing.

Johnny used the first two production models for the bulk of his 2004 Get Inside album. Today his “number one” guitar — on glorious display through all of One November Night — is a singular instrument with a quilt maple top. “The quilt maple has a bit more of a compressed sound,” he explains. Its glossy black see-through finish is accented by gold hardware. But it’s the blend of Gibson’s engineering and Johnny’s taste, demanding tonal interests and exceptional melodicism, that really makes it sing.