Gibson L-1 Flat Top Acoustic Guitar (1930-31)

Gibson  L-1 Flat Top Acoustic Guitar  (1930-31)
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Item # 11732
Prices subject to change without notice.
Gibson L-1 Model Flat Top Acoustic Guitar (1930-31), made in Kalamazoo, Michigan, sunburst top, dark back and sides finish, mahogany back and sides, spruce top; mahogany neck with rosewood fingerboard, black tolex hard shell case.

This is a somewhat worn in but good player's example of a 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 1930-31 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 on large numbers 14-fret L-series guitars throughout the 1930s. The factory order number on the heelblock is too faded to read clearly but the features mark this as a 1930-31 model. It 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 a very comfortable 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 with a huge sound for a small body instrument, 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.).

Overall this is a decently well preserved example of this lightly built instrument, showing some wear and older repair work but a nice player retaining its excellent sound. There is some noticeable play wear and fine checking to the thin top finish, most notable in the area below and behind the soundhole. Overall the instrument shows moderate checking and a collection of scratches, dings and dents but this is the only heavily worn spot besides the back of the neck, worn to the wood over a decent amount of its length. The top finish remains very attractive, with a beautiful very subtle blend in the 'burst.

Many of these early Gibson flat tops have been heavily rebuilt over the last nearly 90 years; this one has a couple of notable alterations, but not affecting the character or playability. The bridge is a correct style repro, very slightly larger then the original but with the correct period look. The very thin maple bridgeplate remains original, with three small patched holes where it looks like screws were run through it. There are two spruce grain splits repaired behind the bridge, one behind the A string running all the way to the edge, another behind the high E about half that length. There are no other cracks in this lightly built guitar, which is fairly rare.

There has been a neatly done neck reset, and it appears the original rosewood fingerboard was replaced with a replica ebony piece some time ago, which left some touch-up marks around the fingerboard extension. While not absolutely authentic this does improve the stability of the neck and arguably the feel; in any case the original dot pattern and look were retained. The frets are somewhat larger than the original thin style wire but still period appropriate and play well. Under the top between the braces below the fingerboard is a piece of cross grain spruce; we would assume this was added but it appears to have been there a very long time.

The top shows some slight arching behind the bridge which is de riguer on these; they were built with a lightly arched to begin with. This one is solid with no ongoing movement or brace distress. One of the forward braces by the soundhole shows a small crack repair. The flat-plate tuners are original and continue to work well. This is a great sounding flat top, superbly light and responsive and a fine pre-war instrument. The early 1930s flat tops represent one of the finest fleeting moments in Gibson's long history, a unique chapter that will never be repeated. This one is not the cleanest we have had but a good gigging example, with all its sonic glory intact. Overall Very Good + Condition.