Gibson L-5 Arch Top Acoustic Guitar (1934)
Gibson L-5 Model Arch Top Acoustic Guitar (1934), made in Kalamazoo, Michigan, serial # 1498-5 (FON), sunburst lacquer finish, maple back and sides, spruce top; maple neck with ebony fingerboard, Hoffe hard shell case. Item # 7628
This 1934 L-5 is a fine playing and great sounding example of the pre-eminent orchestra guitar of its era-the original F-hole archtop guitar. Debuting in 1923-4 the L-5 was the first modern F-hole archtop guitar; at the time this one was built ten years later is was still the top of Gibson's line and generally considered the finest of its type. 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 an early block neck L-5 in 1929 setting the trend for all to follow. In 1934 L-5 still ruled the roost for orchestra guitars, and gave Gibson a dominance in this style of instrument that the company never lost.
That said, these early L-5's 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 45's retailed around $100.00 less). At the height of the depression only top professional users with steady salaries could afford the indulgence of such an instrument. Most 16" 1930's L-5's were used extensively for many years, some owners preferring them to any later guitars…they are still often seen in the hands of recording studio players well into the 1960's. Not long after this one was made, the design was "Advanced" to a 17" instrument and the L-5's character changed dramatically-many players over time have felt not for the better. As working guitars these instruments have often been heavily modified, refitted or refinished…this one has definitely seen an interesting life but remains an absolutely superb instrument with all its original character intact.
This guitar shows typical features for a 1930's 16" L-5; the straight-end side-bound ebony fingerboard has pearl block inlay in place of the dots used up through 1929. The 3-piece laminated curly maple neck has a fairly prominent "V" spine with a medium shallow profile, thinner than 1920's examples. The pearl inlayed flowerpot in the headstock and straight across "Gibson" logo are the hallmarks, as are the gold plated, early pattern riveted individual openback Grover Sta-Tite tuners. The spruce top and maple back and sides carry a beautiful dark sunburst finish. The top, back and headstock are bound in 3-ply celluloid, with a matching heelcap. All hardware is gold plated, including the 1930's pattern "string-through" trapeze tailpiece. The nut is bone (1920's ones were pearl) and the adjustable ebony bridge is still the 1920's style with a "turn-over" saddle for Hawaiian playing. The original label is missing but the serial number is etched into the back side of the pickguard-it and the FON (factory order number) date this guitar to 1934. There is an unusual ink stamp reading "Model L-5" on the inside back in several places-we have not seen this before and it does not appear to be an official Gibson marking. This guitar is an extremely fine playing instrument with quite a powerful sound typical of the best early L-5's; simultaneously warm and incisive with plenty of depth.
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.). This L-5 is well-used but remains in excellent playing condition overall with typical cosmetic wear. There are dings, scratches and scuffs to the finish over the entire guitar, but no major cracks or notable repair work. The frets are newer and there are a few small divots in the fingerboard in the lower positions. The guitar retains all of its original finish and hardware -the gold plating is worn and the original pickguard has some beginning celluloid deterioration visible but remains intact. The sound is all that is expected and the guitar is a joy to play, a straight ticket back to the swing era or really any other musical destination! Excellent - Condition.
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