Gibson L-5N Arch Top Acoustic Guitar (1948)

Gibson  L-5N Arch Top Acoustic Guitar  (1948)
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Item # 11540
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Gibson L-5N Model Arch Top Acoustic Guitar (1948), made in Kalamazoo, Michigan, serial # A-1633, natural lacquer finish, Burled maple back, sides and neck, spruce top, rosewood fingerboard, original brown alligator hard shell case.

This lovely just-postwar blonde Gibson is one of only 38 natural finish non-cutaway L-5s shipped in 1948, the period that saw the final flowering of the big band era's elegant carved top acoustic guitars. The workmanship on this guitar is to an extremely high standard, as are the woods. Gibson's focus had not yet shifted heavily to electric instruments and this fully carved acoustic arch-top guitar was still considered the company's flagship professional product. While the guitar shows signs of long use it remains a fantastic instrument able to drive a big band or purr a delicate chord/melody arrangement with equal aplomb. Although the 18" Super 400 was the official Gibson top of the line, many players from the 1930s through today have always preferred the 17" L-5 and it is usually considered the classic Kalamazoo f-hole guitar.

The early 4-digit "Artist" serial number on the white label indicates this L-5N was shipped in early May 1948. It has a combination of features specific to that exact period, a mix of the old, the new and the accidental. The headstock still features the old 1930s thick script logo that had recently been replaced with the then-new, now-familiar block logo. This may simply have been one of the last of the old pre-WWII headstock veneers getting used up! The original tuners were gold-plated Kluson Sealfasts with translucent celluloid "keystone" buttons, this guitar has actually had an older set of the same machines from around 1940 installed. The multi-bound, pearl-block inlaid fingerboard is made of Brazilian rosewood, a feature only seen on L-5s from 1948-9 when Gibson apparently suffered a shortage of ebony.

The multi-bound top is carved from bookmatched tight-grain spruce highlighted by natural finish that has aged nicely to a lovely amber hue. The guitar's back is made from an amazingly grained piece of burled maple that looks almost like bubbles floating in champagne. The sides and medium C-profile neck are made from elaborately flamed maple, and all edges have multiple celluloid bindings. The tailpiece is the original heavy gold-plated piece; the carved bridge is an ebony replacement in a more modern D'Angelico influenced style.

This type of L-5 is generally considered a "swing guitar" but depending on setup can be equally effective in many styles, either acoustically or amplified with a floating pickup. plugged in or not. This one has a low, comfortable action and can be played happily in just about any style with delightful results. A tiny "Made In USA" on the back of the headstock indicates it was originally sold as an export piece.
Overall length is 41 3/4 in. (106 cm.), 17 in. (43.2 cm.) wide at lower bout, and 3 7/16 in. (8.7 cm.) in depth at side, taken at the end block. Scale length is 25 1/2 in. (648 mm.). Width of nut is 1 11/16 in. (43 mm.).

This great playing example of Gibson's all-time classic carved top guitar has been used quite a bit but also well-cared for. There is finish wear from play overall; the top shows a number of small dings, dents and chips but no major pickwear as is sometimes seen on these. The back and sides have some general wear, with some scraping and scuffing to the back into but mostly not through the lacquer. The back of the neck is worn down lightly on the treble side with some random dings and dents but no really heavy wear. The most feelable scrapes are in the area behind the 5th fret area. The headstock veneer shows some scraping and chipping to the surface, and pressure rings from larger tuner bushings once mounted.

There are several repaired spruce grain cracks in the top. Two run forward from the bass side waist about halfway through the upper bout, the other runs forward from the treble side waist; all are well-sealed with the two on the bass side more plainly visible. The only other visible crack on the instrument is a small sealed split on the treble side on the curve of the lower bout below the tailpiece. Unlike many old swing era archtops this one has no visible overspray, just a couple of tiny touchups here and there.

The guitar remains largely original; exceptions are the elegant handmade ebony bridge and a repro correct style pickguard and bracket. The tuners as noted are correct style gold Klusons, but several years older than the ones this guitar originally carried with slightly smaller shafts. The tailpiece is original; the "top buster adjustor" once mounted under the plate has been removed. The tailpiece plating is well worn down. There are no visible scars from previous pickup installations.

The guitar has been neatly refretted with wire somewhat taller than original spec. and is an excellent player. As currently set up with a lower action is a very supple instrument, it can easily be adjusted for straight rhythm playing with a raised action if desired. It happily resides in an original transitional era 1940s hard shell case, with the classic pink plush lining but a gator-pattern outside covering. Overall Very Good + Condition.