Gibson L-4 Arch Top Acoustic Guitar (1948)

Gibson  L-4 Arch Top Acoustic Guitar  (1948)
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Item # 9357
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Gibson L-4 Model Arch Top Acoustic Guitar (1948), made in Kalamazoo, Michigan, serial # A-1980, sunburst lacquer finish, maple back and sides, spruce top; mahogany neck with rosewood fingerboard, original brown hard shell case.

This 1948 Gibson L4 is a carved-top guitar with a 16" body and midline appointments, by this point the company's top quality F-hole instrument available in this body size. The L-50 and L-48 were considered strictly student models, making the L-4 the only professional-grade choice of its type. The next model up, the L-7 was a full 17" body instrument. The serial number on this guitar's old-style white oval label dates to August 1948, shipped out just as Gibson was getting back to full production after the lengthy disruptions of WWII.

Despite its mid-line status the L-4 has a carved solid spruce top, giving it a much fuller acoustic sound than many plywood alternatives of the time. It shares cosmetic features with many other period Gibsons in its price class, including a bound fingerboard decorated with double parallelogram inlay, pearl crown headstock inlay and a triple-bound top. The tailpiece is the heavy cast piece shared with the L-7 and a number of period electrics, and the adjustable rosewood bridge and laminated celluloid pickguard are standard fittings as well.

The one oddity on this example concerns the tuners, which are the earliest versions of the familiar Kluson Deluxe machines used on many 1950's guitars. This instrument appears to have gone back to the factory to have these fitted not long after completion. There is a factory overspray on the back of the neck and headstock covering the marks left by the original larger-plate open back Klusons typically fitted in 1948, which can still be seen on close examination. The Kluson Deluxe machines now in place have no "exit" hole for the gear shaft on the inside edge of the housing; this version was only used up through around 1951-2 so this refit likely happened before then! This would have been considered an upgrade at the time, and may have been done after one of the original tuners broke or was judged faulty by the customer or dealer.

Other than this early service the guitar appears undisturbed and indeed not much used. This sunburst post-war L-4 is also surprisingly rare; all of 125 were shipped this year (1948) and less than 1000 total in the 1940's and 1950s. This is not only a very attractive old Gibson archtop but a very fine player's instrument, suitable for many styles with a strong woody tone and plenty of volume. While not as flashy as many "professional" grade archtops the L-4 is one of the better-kept secrets of the Gibson realm, a very versatile and just plain cool acoustic archtop 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-post WWII guitar is very clean overall and does not show signs of much use over the past 70+ years. Aside from the factory refit noted above it remains original, with all hardware complete and intact. There are some small dings, scrapes and dents to the finish, but generally the lacquer has only some fairly minor checking to show its age and a lovely patina. The factory overspray to the back of the neck makes the finish there just a bit heavier than on the rest of the instrument.

Structurally this is an exceptionally well preserved guitar, showing no cracks or repairs anywhere. The neck angle is excellent, the action comfortable and the original full-height bridge saddle has room to adjust either way. This is simply a fine 16" carved top guitar, far from top of the line but still a superb player's instrument, with an excellent sound and feel and a joy to play. The original green felt-lined brown HSC is extremely well preserved and adds some considerable value in itself. Excellent Condition.