Gibson L-1 Flat Top Acoustic Guitar (1931)

Gibson  L-1 Flat Top Acoustic Guitar  (1931)
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Item # 9290
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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 rigid foam case.

This is an extremely well preserved example of a particularly rare and wonderful Gibson flat-top, the 1929-31 L-1. This 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 larger body of a more "modern" 1930s flat-top guitar.

The nearly 15" wide, less round-bottomed mahogany body on this guitar was introduced in 1929 replacing an earlier, smaller design built on Gibson's 1910's L-1 archtop pattern. The X-braced spruce top was also a new addition, first employed around 1928 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 is quite delicate, with thinner main braces than even Martin used at the time. The neck is very comfortable, fairly slim with a 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.

While we are partial to all pre-WWII Gibson flat-tops, we find the 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 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 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 colors in the 'burst on the top.

There are no notable alterations but there is some very clean and subtle maintenance work on this guitar, none of which detracts from its character at all. Many of these have been heavily rebuilt over the last nearly 90 years. A very thin French polish overfinish was done to the back of the neck between the nut and seventh frets, mostly smoothing out a number of small dings and dents. Aside from this the finish is all original. The neck has been neatly reset, the original bridge was once lowered just slightly at the front edge and a bit of compensation has been added to the treble side of the saddle. The frets are the original thin style wire with a recent light grind and polish. The flat-plate Waverly tuners are original and still work well.

The original small rosewood bridge does not appear to have ever lifted or been reglued (which is a minor miracle on these) and the very thin maple bridgeplate remains original with just a bit of wear to the string holes. The rest of the interior is nice and original as well, with the only apparent work being a small finger brace either replaced or added in the yoke of the X just below the soundhole and what may be a very thin re-inforcement of the lower forward arm of the X. The top shows some arching which is de riguer 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 these.

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. Excellent Condition.