Gibson L-5

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L-5 acoustic.

The Gibson L-5 guitar was first produced in 1922 by Gibson Guitar Corporation, then of Kalamazoo, Michigan, under the direction of master luthier Lloyd Loar, and has been in production ever since. It was considered the premier guitar of the company during the big band era. It was originally offered as an acoustic instrument, with electric models not made available until the 1940s.

World wide the L-5 was the first guitar ever built with f-holes. Then as well as today the construction of the L-5 is similar in construction, carving, bracing and tap tuning as in building a cello. This guitar as well as the cello are similarly designed in order to amplify and project the acoustic vibration of strings throughout carved and tuned woods using f-holes as the projection points. From 1922 to 1934 the L-5 was produced with a 16" lower-bout width. Then in 1934 the lower-bout was increased to 17" - and this width is still used to this day. Also released in 1934 was the one inch larger 18" archtop guitar called the "Super 400". These two master built instruments are Gibson's top-of-the-line carved & highly ornate archtop instruments. Also these guitars can not be constructed quickly, nor can corners be cut... and the price tag does mirror this fact. The time, skilled workmanship and materials used in these builds has been delivered non-stop for the past 70/80 years,. Though there have been several more affordable models introduced to help the budgets of working musicians. [1]

Today the standard model of the L-5 is called L-5 CES - CES stands for Cutaway Electric Spanish (one needs to really study Gibson's history to understand where some of the company model terms come from. This is simply due to the fact that the company has been building stringed instruments for a very long time , and the guitar that we are currently used to & know today was once-upon-a-time not seen as a standard musical instrument.)

From time to time there are variations of the L-5 built, some are more often constructed than others. •One fine example of an L-5 variation is the thin bodied "L-5 CT" (CT stands for Cutaway Thin) which is the same over-all specs except for thickness... The CT model was first constructed for performer George Gobel (he was a man who's size put the need forth for a "not-so-big-of-a-guitar" that he could reach around a bit easier though he still wanted the 17" carved L-5) more on this model later. •Another variation of the L-5 is the Wes Montgomery Model. Wes Montgomery was a major guitarist highly associated with the L-5; Gibson built a custom version for Wes and it is now offered and this L-5 is known as the Wes Montgomery-model. The Wes model has a single "Classic 57" pickup in the neck position as well as having an X brace supporting the top - per earlier braces in the acoustic version (standard and more popular bracing is the slightly brighter sounding "parallel bracing", parallel bracing also projects the sound a bit farther)... These features Wes felt helped achieve and aid in the warm guitar voice which he loved this model guitar for.

Another variation of the L-5 is the 1955 Gibson ByrdLand model. The ByrdLand Guitar is a thin-L-5 body that also has a thinner neck and a 23 & one half inch short-scale nut to saddle - to aid in playing fast and clean! (see Gibson "ByrdLand" for more of this first-call Nashville session musicians Billy Byrd and Hank Garland designed guitar).

The L-5 has for multiple generations been seen in the hands of many-a-talented-star / performer. Much of the RCA fifties recordings of Elvis Presley feature the sound of Scotty Moore's L-5. Nashville session guitarist Hank Garland, who also recorded acclaimed jazz albums before his near-fatal automobile accident, frequently played an L-5. A little known fact - the L-5 is the guitar that Groucho Marx kept by his side throughout his private life, though not widely known Groucho played Guitar and played it well (more on Groucho below). Contemporary guitarists who play and have played an L-5 on great recordings as well as live include Tuck Andress from the Tuck and Patti duo, Melvin Sparks, Lee Ritenour, George Van Eps and Howard Roberts. John Mayer uses one on his cd/DVD Where the Light Is during the main concert and extra features. Eric Clapton used an L-5 to record Reptile and also used one on his cd/DVD One More Car, One More Rider during the songs Reptile, and Somewhere Over The Rainbow.

Early players of the L-5 include Eddie Lang, and Maybelle Carter from The Carter Family, who played her now-famous 1928 model for the majority of her career. Maybelle Carter's L-5 is now kept at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee. Django Reinhardt played an L-5 fitted with a DeArmond pickup during his tour with Duke Ellington November 1946.[2] Groucho Marx is seen playing his L-5 in the 1932 Marx Brothers film Horse Feathers.[3] Clint Eastwood featured an L-5 in the 1982 movie Honkytonk Man. This had a cutaway (introduced in 1939), unlikely in a story during the Great Depression.

L-5 CES electric guitar.

Several different L-5 hollow-body models have appeared over the years, including the L-5 Signature and the L-5 Studio. The ES-5 was the first three pickup electric guitar model built and it was inspired by the L-5, introduced in 1949, later modified as the Gibson ES-5 Switchmaster. Unlike the L5 which had a solid carved spruce top and solid maple sides and back, the ES5 body was constructed of pressed laminated wood because Gibson felt that the best tonewoods were not necessary in an electric model and pressed laminated wood was more affordable to manufacture and thus could offer a more affordable instrument to the musician (which is what many musicians seek and ask for). The L-5CES was a direct electric version of the L5, introduced in 1951. These originally used P-90 pickups, but used humbucker pickups from 1958 on.[1] From 1961 through 1969, most production L-5CES guitars featured a "florentine" (sharp) cutaway, replacing the "venetian" (rounded) cutaway design.

Comedian and singer George Gobel had a special version of the Gibson L-5 archtop guitar built in 1958, the "L-5CT" (cutaway, thin body), featuring diminished dimensions of neck scale (24 3/4") and body depth (2 3/8"), befitting his own small stature; and a cherry red finish (for optimal appearance on Gobel's new color TV show). About 45 L-5CT's were produced from 1958 to 1963, making them one of the rarest Gibson models. Most of these were acoustic guitars, although a few were shipped with pickups. The rarest L5 model was a close relative of the L-5CT. It was called the "Crest"*. It was conceived by Gibson employee Andy Nelson (who helped to design the L-5CT) in 1961. It featured the same thinline body of the L-5CT, but the new-for-1961 "florentine" cutaway shape, Super 400-style fretboard inlays, and a unique knight/shield crest design on the headstock. Only six Crests were produced (all in 1961), and no two were identical. [*Gibson produced another model called a "Crest" in 1969-70, but this was a different type of instrument, similar to an ES-330, but with a rosewood body and floating pickups.]

In the 1970s, Gibson produced the L-5S, which was effectively a solid-body version of the L-5 archtop. It was used by Paul Simon and, from 1973–76, by Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad (he is seen with the guitar in cover photographs on the band's Caught In the Act live album); and a custom-made single-pickup version was made for Ronnie Wood, who loaned it to Keith Richards for his 1988 tour with the X-Pensive Winos.[4][5] A double cutaway version of the L-5 has recently been introduced to the market.


  1. ^ Gruhn's Guide To Vintage Guitars, 2nd Edition, pg. 140
  2. ^ Django by Michael Dregni, Oxford University Press 2004. Tony Romano, who played with jazz violinist, Joe Venuti, also played the L-5. In fact, he played Eddie Lang's L-5, which was the first produced.
  3. ^ Jerry McCulley, The Surprisingly Serious Tale of Comedian Groucho Marx and His Lifelong Quest to Master Guitar.
  4. ^ Carter, Walter. "Adventures in Archives: Trail of Stones Leads to Gibson S-1". Gibson Musical Instruments. Retrieved 2008-02-15. 
  5. ^ Keith Richards & the X-Pensive Winos (1988). Live at the Hollywood Palladium (DVD released 2007). Virgin Records.