Gibson L-5 Arch Top Acoustic Guitar (1935)

Gibson  L-5 Arch Top Acoustic Guitar  (1935)
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Item # 8785
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Gibson L-5 Model Arch Top Acoustic Guitar (1935), made in Kalamazoo, Michigan, serial # 92032, Cremona Brown Sunburst finish, curly maple back and sides, spruce top; maple neck with ebony fingerboard, original black hard shell case.

This is a lovely example of the pre-eminent orchestra guitar of its era, the L-5. This was the original f-hole archtop guitar, debuting as a completely new and revolutionary design in 1923-4. At the time this one was built around ten years later, it was still the top of Gibson's line and generally considered the finest carved top guitar made. Every other major guitar maker of this era was trying to copy this instrument, some more successfully than others!

Orchestra and jazz band banjoists had by this time almost universally converted to guitar; the $275.00 L-5 along with Epiphone's competing Deluxe were the choice of nearly all top professional guitar players of the time. Eddie Lang, the era's most influential guitarist, went from a Gibson L-4 to a dot-neck (probably 1927) L-5, then to an early block neck L-5 around 1930, setting the trend for all to follow. In 1934 the L-5 still ruled the roost for orchestra guitars, having given Gibson a dominance in this style of instrument that the company never lost.

That said, these early L-5s are fairly rare guitars today. Retailing at $275.00 (plus case!), the L-5 was extremely expensive (a top-of-the-line Martin pearl-trimmed Style 0M-45 retailed exactly $100.00 less). At the height of the Depression, only top professional users with steady salaries could afford the indulgence of such an instrument. This one carries a factory order number (FON) suggesting assembly in late 1934, and a serial number indicating shipment in early 1935. By later in the year, the L-5 had been totally re-designed as a 17" with "Advanced" model with very different characteristics. All of 70 of these 16" models were shipped out in 1935, the last official year for the model, though some stragglers followed in 1936-7.

Most of these 16" 1930s L-5s were played extensively for many years; even considering the finish work, this example is among the best preserved we have ever seen. Some owners preferred them to any later guitars and they can be seen in the hands of recording studio players well into the 1960s. As working guitars, they have often been heavily modified, refitted, or refinished. Many were reworked more than once; this L-5 has had some old lacquer overspray but no other alterations.

This guitar shows typical features for a 1934-5 L-5; the transition between variants of this model is particularly inexact. The side-line bound, straight-end ebony fingerboard has pearl block inlay in place of the dots used on the earlier versions. The 3-piece laminated curly maple neck has a "V" spine -- this one feels rounder than some -- with a relatively shallow profile. The pearl inlaid flowerpot in the triple-bound headstock and straight across "Gibson" logo are the hallmarks of the early 1930s L-5. This guitar has the second version of the then-new Grover G-98 tuners with metal "butterbean" buttons and gears secured by screws instead of riveted. At the time, these were considered the finest tuning machine available.

The 16 1/8" body is triple-bound back and front. The long triple-bound celluloid pickguard is a good reproduction of the original, screwed to the top by the neck block instead of pinned to the side of the fingerboard as were 1920s examples. The top, back, and sides carry a beautifully blended dark sunburst finish; the back is made of superb curly maple with a fairly wide figure. The tailpiece bar is the later "string through" style which appeared around 1932.

This guitar is has a powerful and very versatile sound typical of the early L-5s; simultaneously warm and incisive with plenty of depth. It plays very well and is extremely responsive for an archtop even sounds lovely fingerstyle! This is an extremely fine instrument; a splendid if later example of one of our all-time favorite guitars.
Overall length is 40 3/4 in. (103.5 cm.), 16 1/8 in. (41 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 3/4 in. (44 mm.).

Overall this is a very clean and beautiful prewar L-5, certainly one of the least worn examples we have ever seen of this often heavily used guitar. The finish looks to have had a clear lacquer overspray over most of the instrument (the headstock face excluded) probably a very long time ago. This is relatively common on these high end archtops, which after all were often mostly originally played in dance bands or orchestras while wearing a tuxedo, or at least a sharp suit! The instrument blacklights cleanly as all vintage nitro lacquer, but careful examination shows signs of a second coat added over the original finish relatively early on. There has been very little play wear since, with just some small dings and scuffs and one small spot through the finish on the back.

Other than the finish work, this is a very nicely original guitar, with all hardware intact except the pickguard which is an accurate reproduction. The ebony bridge is the plainer style more often seen on lower end archtops but appears original to this guitar; we have seen others with this part from this period. The tailpiece shows some light wear to the gold plating, as do the tuners. The top center seam has been cleanly resealed in the area under the tailpiece; there are no other visible repairs. The frets are original and do not show much wear. This is an excellent-playing guitar; a superb example of the final version of the original orchestra guitar, complete in a very nice original case. Excellent Condition.