Gibson L-4C with McCarty Pickup Arch Top Acoustic Guitar (1954)

Gibson  L-4C with McCarty Pickup Arch Top Acoustic Guitar  (1954)
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Item # 12162
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Gibson L-4C with McCarty Pickup Model Arch Top Acoustic Guitar (1954), made in Kalamazoo, Michigan, serial # A-17968, sunburst lacquer finish, maple back and sides, spruce top; mahogany neck with rosewood fingerboard, black tolex hard shell case.

This well-worn mid-1950s example of a Gibson L4-C has an interesting and fairly unusual period addition, a period "McCarty" pickguard/pickup assembly adapted to fit. This is a carved-top guitar with a 16" wide full depth body, midline appointments and the company's distinctive sharp Florentine cutaway, rarely used on acoustic instruments. In essence it is an "unplugged" version of the ever-popular ES-175: the same size, body shape and with similar handling characteristics. The big difference is the L-4C's top is carved spruce instead of pressed maple, giving it a much fuller acoustic sound. It also shares the 175's cosmetics, with a bound fingerboard decorated with double parallelogram inlay, pearl crown headstock inlay, and triple-bound top.

This one has been electrified with an original 1950s "Fingerrest Pickup" as Gibson called this unit; it was subsequently popularly named in honor of company president Ted McCarty. This was Gibson's answer to the DeArmond "guitar mike" pickup popular at the time. Gibson wanted a piece of the action, and one of new president Ted McCarty's first jobs upon arriving at the company was to come up with a solution. This unit was quickly designed and the patent application filed in McCarty's name in November 1948 (and awarded in 1951).

The Gibson unit goes DeArmond one better by actually integrating the pickup, controls and pickguard into one unit, which can be removed to convert the guitar back into an acoustic. The pickup actually sounds very good; with a thin flat coil and slug magnet poles it foreshadows the construction of certain Fender pickups. In practice this design never seriously challenged the DeArmond pickups and Gibson found greater success building dedicated electric guitars.

The sunburst L-4C itself is also surprisingly rare; all of 66 were shipped this year (1954) and less than 800 in the entire decade of the 1950s. Despite a lot of wear and some hardware substitutions this remains a fine player's instrument, suitable for many playing styles with a strong woody tone and plenty of volume acoustically, along with a solid amplified sound. The L-4C one of the better-kept secrets of the Gibson archtop realm and this "real relic" acoustic/electric example is a versatile and friendly guitar.
Overall length is 40 3/4 in. (103.5 cm.), 16 in. (40.6 cm.) wide at lower bout, and 3 3/8 in. (8.6 cm.) in depth, measured at side of rim. Scale length is 24 3/4 in. (629 mm.). Width of nut is 1 11/16 in. (43 mm.).

This just about 70 year old L-4C has seen a lot of use and has not been cared for as well as some, but has no issues as a playing guitar. Overall, the finish shows a lot of wear with heavy dings scratches and scratches mostly to the top, which shows a number of rather random glue (?) marks as well. The rest of then instrument is somewhat cleaner with checking, dings and dents but no really large areas of finish loss. There are a few scattered deeper dinks into the back, upper rim and back of the neck.

The top shows a couple of repaired spruce grain splits, one running forward from the front tip of the upper F-hole and the other running back off the lower ball of the treble side F-hole to the rim. A jack hole has been plugged in the lower side, but there are no other structural repairs. The hardware is quite a mixed bag. The tuners are correct style Kluson repros, replacing previously installed Grovers with the holes in the headstock face visibly filled. The pickguard/pickup is period, there is some carving away of the plastic to fit the fingerboard and an extra hole near the bracket. The mounting bracket itself is recent and the upper knob/pot is a replacement (looking like it is from an old DeArmond!). The tailpiece is a generic period Kluson unit (not generally used on Gibsons) and the bridge is also a generic adjustable rosewood piece mostly associated with Guild guitars. There are multiple small holes in the back of the rim from other tailpieces over the decades.

The frets are later, larger than the originals with some visibly wear but still play well. Despite its many scars this is still a great gigging instrument, light, handy and an excellent player with a surprisingly versatile sound. It lives in a modern HSC. Overall Very Good Condition.