Gibson L-1 Flat Top Acoustic Guitar (1931)

Gibson  L-1 Flat Top Acoustic Guitar  (1931)
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Item # 11160
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Gibson L-1 Model Flat Top Acoustic Guitar (1931), made in Kalamazoo, Michigan, serial # 9920, sunburst top, dark back and sides finish, mahogany back and sides, spruce top; mahogany neck with rosewood fingerboard, black hard shell case.

This is a beautiful and very well preserved example of a particularly rare and wonderful Gibson flat-top, the 1929-31 L-1. This larger bodied version of the model with a 12 fret neck was only produced for that brief period before being modified to a 14-fret design. This 1931 L-1 mixes features from earlier and later eras into a unique package, with the elegant look of the 1920s Gibsons on the 14 3/4" wide body of a more "modern" 1930s flat-top guitar.

The nearly 15" wide, less round-bottomed mahogany body shape used on this guitar was introduced in 1929 replacing an earlier, smaller design derived from Gibson's 1910's L-1 archtop pattern. The X-braced spruce top was also a new addition, first employed around 1928-9 on this model. These features would continue to be used on large numbers 14-fret L-series guitars throughout the 1930s. This 1931 model retains the beautiful older-style hand-rubbed Cremona brown sunburst finish on the top and small script "The Gibson" logo on the headstock, both of which were gone by 1932.

These 12-fret L-1s feature exceptionally light construction, even compared to other pre-war Gibsons like the far more common mid-1930s examples. The X bracing under the top is very delicate, with thinner braces than even Martin used at the time. The neck is very comfortable and amazingly slim for the period with a shallow round "C" profile, worlds away from the heavy "V" that Gibson inexplicably adopted for the 1933-39 L-series flat tops. The strings have more taper towards the bridge than many similar instruments making this model an ideal fingerpicking guitar.

We are partial to all pre-WWII Gibson flat-tops, but do find L-1's from this period to be a particularly attractive-looking and always great-sounding guitars. These delicately built 12-fret 14 3/4" L-1s were made in fairly limited numbers, and few survive in as fine original condition as this one. At $50 list price they were fairly expensive for the time, and Gibson sales were blighted anyway by the deepening Depression. Every survivor we have found has proved a gem, especially when in fine original condition like this one. The guitar has a huge sound for a small body instrument, and is a delight to play in any style.
Overall length is 38 1/2 in. (97.8 cm.), 14 3/4 in. (37.5 cm.) wide at lower bout, and 4 1/4 in. (10.8 cm.) in depth at side, taken at the end block. Scale length is 24 3/4 in. (629 mm.). Width of nut is 1 11/16 in. (43 mm.).

This is a very well-preserved example of this extremely lightly built instrument, one of the nicest we have had. There is some light top wear through the finish, mostly to the common spots below the strings between the bridge and soundhole. The very thin lacquer shows fine checking overall, with a number of small scrapes, dings and dents. There are a few deeper dings in the top but overall the finish remains very attractive, with a beautiful almost 3-D blend of shaded in the Cremona 'burst.

There are no notable alterations to the instrument, just some very clean and subtle maintenance work none of which detracts from its character. Many of these delicate early '30s Gibsons have been heavily rebuilt over the last nearly 90 years. The neck has been neatly reset, the original bridge was lowered just slightly at the front edge. The small maple bridge plate is original, the string holes have had neat round maple patches inserted to repair wear. The original thin wire frets have had a light grind and polish. The flat-plate Waverly tuners are original and still look almost new.

The top shows just some minor arching which is de rigeur on these; they were built with a slight arch to begin with. This one is completely solid with no ongoing movement or brace distress, as can be found on some of them. This is a truly great sounding playing flat top, superbly light and responsive and an exceptionally fine pre-war instrument. These early L-1's represent one of the finest fleeting moments in Gibson's long flat top history, a unique chapter that will never be repeated. Overall Excellent Condition.