Gibson L-5CESN Arch Top Hollow Body Electric Guitar (1955)

Gibson  L-5CESN Arch Top Hollow Body Electric Guitar  (1955)

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Item # 8266
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Gibson L-5CESN Model Arch Top Hollow Body Electric Guitar (1955), made in Kalamazoo, Michigan, serial # A-21606, natural lacquer finish, curly maple body and neck; spruce top, ebony fingerboard, original brown hard shell case.

In Scotty Moore's hands, they called the L-5CESN "the Guitar that changed the World". This guitar may not have changed the world, but alongside its 18" sister the Super 400CES, this was Gibson's flagship instrument in the 1950s. Both models represented the fanciest, most deluxe electric guitars available. Just before the advent of solid body electric guitars, when introduced in 1951 this was the most advanced amplified 6-string in the world.

Built with all solid wood including a fully carved top and back, these two models were aimed squarely at the top of the market. With all the features of the acoustic L-5C and two built in pickups, the L-5CES was a guitar worthy of Gibson's top endorsers, the biggest name jazz, Country & Western, and pop players of this pre-rock era.

The laminated electrics Gibson and Epiphone offered by 1950 were big and fancy, but still didn't have quite the cachet of the fully carved acoustics, and the L-5 CES ("Cutaway electric Spanish") was meant to fill that niche. The gleaming natural finish on this guitar was an extra-cost feature, although it proved quite popular anyway. While the L-5CES cost a bit less than the Super 400CES, many players preferred the 17" body and this was to many the defacto top of the line Gibson.

The features on this instrument are based on the contemporary L-5CN, including multi-bound body, fingerboard, and headstock; bound f-holes; pearl block inlay in the ebony fingerboard; and a pearl "flowerpot" inlay on the headstock. The electrical appointments are specific to this era.

The two pickups are the high-end "staple pole" units used by Gibson only in the 1954-57 period, before the humbucking unit was designed. Compared to the earlier P-90 pickups these put out a fairly bright snappy sound (not unlike the DeArmonds they resemble) and have a sharper attack. These are controlled with the "standard" Gibson rig of four knobs, and a selector switch on the cutaway. This model actually introduced the now-standard wiring rig to the world in 1951.

The hardware is typical of the era; the tailpiece is the same one used on acoustic L-5-s incorporating the Vari-Tone setter, otherwise known as the "top buster adjustor". The bridge is the then brand-new Tune-O-Matic, gold plated on a rosewood base. The pickguard is multi-bound tortoise celluloid with a gold-plated bracket, even the switch is gold-plated with an amber plastic tip. The tuners are the heavy enclosed Kluson "Sealfast" individual units with translucent plastic keystone buttons.

This particular shipped out in November 1955, one of only 31 sold that year. This was just about a year later than Scotty Moore's and it is practically identical, though a bit more played-in! Less than 100 total L-5CESN models with this instrument's specific features were built between 1954 and 1958, when humbucking pickups were substituted for these earlier ones.

We don't know who originally bought this guitar in 1955-6, but anyone purchasing an L-5CESN was almost certainly a serious player and could absolutely afford the best! Scotty himself said "the workmanship was so much better on the L-5" compared to the plywood ES-295 he traded in for it.

This IS a spectacular-sounding guitar, with a unique tonality for a large-body Gibson due to the combination of the solid wood construction and fairly rare alnico staple-magnet pickups. It perfectly re-creates the early Elvis RCA sounds, and a host of others besides. As one customer said immediately when it came out of the case: "That's a REAL guitar!"
Overall length is 42 1/4 in. (107.3 cm.), 16 15/16 in. (43 cm.) wide at lower bout, and 3 1/4 in. (8.2 cm.) in depth, measured at side of rim. Scale length is 25 1/4 in. (641 mm.). Width of nut is 1 9/16 in. (40 mm.).

This beautiful guitar shows some wear -- this was definitely someone's gigging guitar at one point. That said, it remains all original and shows no major damage, just marks from play and handling over 60+ years. The finish has checked lightly, mostly on the top and back.

There are a number of small scuffs, scratches, and a couple of deep dings into the spruce top. The only spot with a lot of wear into the wood is just around the upper volume control -- someone used to adjust their level a lot! The original gold plating on the L-5 tailpiece and no-wire ABR-1 bridge shows some fairly heavy wear.

The guitar does show some typical maintenance repairs; there are no cracks except one very small one through the jack area, solid but typical of these rim-mounted jacks. The neck has been reset, with overspray to the back of the neck down to around the heel area. This is a very good job; this is not an easy neckset to perform by any means, and the resulting angle is excellent. The ancillary finish work is also well done and is only really noticeable under a blacklight inspection.

The frets appear original except possibly the first three and have been neatly recrowned; there is plenty of material left and the guitar plays extremely well. The instrument is still housed in the original brown case, which has some fairly heavy wear but is still serviceable. Overall this is a wonderful-playing example of one of Gibson's proudest creations: "The Apogee of the amplified guitar" in the words of A.R. Duchossoir. Excellent - Condition.