Guitarists: the earliest Gibson L-5. Swoon.

This probably belongs in the Great Ongoing Guitar Thread, but I was in the mood to start a new thread on this beauty :wink:

Acoustic guitars came of age in the 1920’s - the designs and features established them largely remain the templates for today’s guitars. For Martin, that meant flattops built for steel strings, an option until 1928 until it became their default.

For Gibson, their huge contribution to modern guitar design was the archtop guitar (they copied Martin’s flattop features a few years later in their own guitars). Lloyd Loar was their chief product and marketing guy, and he revamped Gibson’s line, taking f-hole designs used on violins, etc. and adapting them to mandolins and guitars.
The first archtop guitar was the L-5: Gibson L-5 - Wikipedia

It was a big success. Archtops can be very loud - one plays them with tight jazzy chords and a rhythmic “chop” and they cut through the mix and fit into the jazz rhythm sections of the day. Also, the first solo jazz guitar virtuosos emerged in the 20’s - Eddie Lang, Dick McDonough, Carl Kress - and they all played L-5s.

This Wiki entry and to my knowledge, the first L-5’s were produced in 1922. But check this out:

This one is signed and dated by Lloyd Loar in July 1923 and they claim it is the first L-5 ever produced. Carter Vintage is a deeply respected dealer in Nashville - he was at Gruhn Guitars (ground zero for vintage guitars) for decades.

It is listed for $125,000 but if it is what they claim, I would’ve expected it to be priced higher.

To me, the first generation L-5 with minimal bling and a simple dot fingerboard is the most beautiful, sensuous guitar design of all time. Yes, I respect the distilled modern perfection of a Stratocaster’s timeless curves. But an L-5 - so elegant. I wish I could do an L-5 justice - hearing one being played well just blows me away.

I will leave you with an example - Julian Lage playing 233 Butler, solo on his later-20’s L-5 (notice the block inlays on the fboard): Julian Lage Solo Guitar Performance - YouTube

Beautiful! I like the simple, no bling look too. Was the back of the neck intended to look like that or was all the finish worn away? Either way it looks great.

That neck appears to be finished in a sunburst sorta way. They do that on higher end guitars that features a maple neck.

Nice. Makes me kinda-sorta wish I still had my L-37.

Not to be a complainer but the color footage where you can really take the guitar in is all from the same angle, and limited of visibility. He should just let the camera go in front of it, scuffs be damned.

Dude, if I could play like Julien Lage, I wouldn’t worry about camera angles. He wasn’t looking to feature the guitar - although he is a huge gear geek - he was showcasing his brilliant playing.

River Hippie, I thought about posting that clip to your “person alone in a room playing a song” thread but that would be stacking the deck. He’s one of the tippie-top most respected guitarists these days. I love his combo of musicality and virtuosity.

Yep, he’s good! Never heard of him before, thanks.

I have an old Kalamazoo KG-31 archtop in Open G for slide. Great for that, but not the same as being a jazz cat with an L-5 or an ES-175.

I’ve got this theory about the ancestry of guitars. You see, C.F. Martin Sr. was a cabinet maker before he studied under Stouffer to become a guitar builder. He couldn’t work building guitars in his home town because the violinmakers’ guild had the concession from the Baron (or whatever) for building guitars. That’s why Martin left Germany and immigrated to the US, where in 1833 he started his own guitar company.

My theory is that archtops were first built by violin makers and flat tops by cabinet makers. Loar definitely was influenced by violins when he was making his mandolins for Gibson. But then there are the flat topped bowl backed mandolins too. I suspect they were done by lute makers, the original Luthiers. Now, I think all acoustic guitar builders are considered Luthiers.

But what about Italian and Spanish guitars from the age of the lute, such as the ones built by Stradivari? Here is one from 1679:

They are a smaller version of current classical guitars - the design for which was perfected by Antonio Torres in the mid 1800’s…

Yeah, the first L-5 going for only $125K? We should pool our resources, buy the thing, and store it at my house.

Meanwhile, Eddie Van Halen’s first Frankenstrat would be worth, what? 500 trillion?

That was great! I’ve seen lots of players with chops to burn, to the point where technique, by itself, hardly blows my skirt up. But this kid is playing with killer taste and imagination.

First thing tomorrow I’ll be all over his YouTube clips.

Wait’ll you see his jazz work with virtuoso Frank Vignola, his Americana work with bluegrass master Chris “Critter” Eldridge and so on. Lage is truly amazing.

I believe Dave Rawlings plays this exact guitar. Pretty cool story he tells;

He found it in a garage that his friend was cleaning out. No strings, warped neck and filled with mud and looked like someone had used it as a paddle for a boat. He was only 16 at the time and had no idea what he had just acquired. Years later he fixed it up and plays it till this day, and very well I might add.

I play a 73’ J45. Played many Martins in my time but Gibsons just have that low end sound that can’t be beat in my opinion.

This is why I need to win Powerball.

Dave Rawlings plays a '35 Epiphone Olympic. As a guitar, it is a bargain instrument, much more like Pork Rind’s old Gibson L-37 or my Kalamazoo (Gibson cheaper level during the Depression). It’s a VW Bug vs. an L-5 Mercedes. And yeah, Rawlings plays the crap out of it - amazing: Dave Rawlings - Guitar Power Acoustic - YouTube

Yeah, I love a good Gibson - I have a 40’s J-45 and have had a bunch of other old ones. Nice warm thumpy tone.

jerrysmissingfinger - here is a thread I started on Dave’s partner, Gillian Welch, and a vintage Martin she ended up getting: Gillian Welch fans: she bought a guitar...and a messageboard kerfuffle ensues - Cafe Society - Straight Dope Message Board

Right on
I just seen an interview where he talked about his guitar and it looks identical to the one the OP posted so I blindly went with that.
I think I’ m going to start collecting Gibson acoustics.

It’s not unreasonable if you do your research and target the right models. My '38 Kalamazoo KG-31 Archtop, which looks like an extremely cool-but-budget version of an L-5 can be had for around $1,000. To be clear: they sound nothing like an L-5, but have their own thing going on, and it is likely more appealing vs. the pure jazzbox supertool of an L-5 to mortals like you and me.

Also, Kalamazoo KG-11’s (maybe 14’s) are the guitars that Robert Johnson actually played, not the '28 L-1 he is in his famous picture with. They are picking up a bit but can be had for between $1-$2,000 if you look. Perfect little Blues box.

Gibson famously did “Cremona Burst” finishes on their L-5’s in an attempt to replicate the way the finish on old violins aged. But then, just as famously, they adapted the look to flattops which enabled them to mask flaws in the wood.

ETA: simply because I am such a geek, I will also say - for folks who love the look of an old Gibson blues flattop, but are wary of the risks associated with old guitars, there are a LOT of modern replicas. Obviously from Gibson - their J-45 Standard and True Vintage models are great. Also, an Austin maker that is deeply respected, Collings, just introduced their Waterloo line - Waterloo is a play on Kalamazoo, and based on the original name of Austin, TX. I haven’t played one, but the buzz online is that they are wonderful.

Well, I learned something from this thread - namely, that the benefit of the archtop design was more volume. I’m not really knowledgeable about jazz history, but I think it’s interesting that jazz players were using that extra volume to play single string solos even earlier than blues players like Tampa Red and Memphis Minnie were doing the same thing with resonators.

In the early 1980’s, I played an ES-175D. I got it because I was playing in country, rockabilly and prog rock bands, and it was versatile enough for all three, and (more importantly) because STEVE HOWE PLAYED ONE!

To be clear: an archtop was good for “Freddie Green comping” AND for solo lead work. Freddie Green was the guitarist in Count Basie’s orchestra and famously held down the groove with simple, few-note, four-to-the-bar jazz chords.

Youtube lesson I randomly found which illustrates the technique: Weekly Workorkout - Swinging Like Freddie Green - YouTube

When you are playing those fast, sharp downstrokes (hey! kinda like Johnny Ramone!!), an archtop has a big burst of sound when you hit the strings, that is very midrangey and decays fast. So the midrange cuts through in the rhythm mix, and the fast decay means you can play a rapid succession of complex jazz chords and not have them sound clashy.

In a completely different way, an archtop can be very subtle and responsive for solo guitar work. Listen to Pickin’ my Way by Carl Kress and Dick McDonough:

Just fuckin’ brilliant. McD plays gorgeous single-note lead runs (listen to the pingy tone of the guitar), with Kress playing rhythm chords underneath him. THen they switch, and Kress plays chordal melodies, i.e., lead guitar using small partial chords that sounds fast, badass, superhard, and with a slight uke tone. These guys are shredding in their way as much as any modern day guitar gunslinger, but it is wonderfully musical. (I hope I am assigning them correctly - I always mix up who’s playing what…)

In this case, they aren’t playing for volume, they are exploiting the responsive capabilities of a top-tier instrument. The L-5 could do both.

Enjoy the photos on the Kress/McD video - lots of vintage L-5 shots.