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The Anatomy Of The L-5
The tapered headstock (middle image) was a feature of the 16-Inch L-5 from the first production batch of L-5s that were signed and dated by Lloyd Loar on the 31st of March 1924. The only L-5 known to have been shipped in 1923 (left hand image) had a different headstock shape. The headstock on the right is wider at the top. Though it first appeared on the L-5 with the introduction of the 17-Inch ‘Advanced’ model in August 1935, all other Gibson guitars had switched to this style of headstock in 1927.
Prior to WWII, Gibson did not cut or inlay its own mother of pearl. Between 1903 and 1930, Aumann Brothers Pearl of Detroit, MI was Gibson’s main source of pearl inlays while Union Pearl Works of Brooklyn, NY appears to have become Gibson’s major pearl vendor through the first half of the 1930s.
For an in depth list of Gibson’s pre-WWII suppliers see Spann’s Guide To Gibson 1902-1941 by Joe Spann, published by Centerstream ISBN 978-1-57424-267-6.
Flowerpot headstock inlay
The ‘flowerpot’ motif that adorns the headstock of most L-5s was also a feature of the F-5 Master Model mandolin, the launch of which predates the introduction of the L-5 by several months. Earlier still, Gibson F-4 mandolins (built prior to the addition of an adjustable truss rod in 1922) had boasted a full-length version of the flowerpot inlay (sometimes referred to as a ‘double flowerpot’) that extended down into the area later concealed by the truss rod cover.
At some point in the late 1920s an ‘epsilon’ engraving was added to the main body of the vase together with a small indent on its upper right hand side. Though the ‘epsilon’ engraving usually faced down (see L-5s serial numbers 84677 and 85296, both shipped in 1929), L-5 serial number 84471 has an upwards-facing epsilon.
Bearing in mind that the above-described pearl inlays were cut by hand, no two examples are identical and there are numerous small differences that can help determine the period at which a specific guitar was constructed.
Top row, left to right: 1. Silver-plated Waverly three-on-a-strip tuners, 2. Gold-plated Waverly three-on-a-strip tuners, 3. Backward facing Grover 'pancake' banjo style tuners. Middle row: 1. Individual Gold-plated Grover 98G or ‘Sta-tite’ tuners, 2. Gold-plated Kluson Sealfast tuners. Bottom row: 1. Gold-plated Kluson Sealfast tuners with Catalin buttons, 2. Gold-plated Grover Imperials
From left to right: silver-plated wrapover tailpiece (serial number 76699 shipped 1924); silver-plated wrapover tailpiece showing patent number; gold-plated wrapover tailpiece (serial number 84471 shipped 1929).
Gold plated wrapover tailpiece showing patent number; conventional gold plated trapeze tailpiece.
Regular gold-plated trapeze tailpiece (serial number 91774 shipped 1935) Flat tailpiece with L-5 legend (serial number 93281 shipped 1936); Hinged tailpiece with silver centre insert and three engraved diamonds (serial number 95865 shipped 1939)
All Loar -igned L-5s have a silver-plated wrap-over tailpiece.
Many Type Two L-5s also have a gold-plated wrap-over tailpiece (the last example on our site with the gold-plated wrap-over tailpiece is serial number 87887 which was shipped in 1931). Some Type Three L-5s also have this style of tailpiece – the earliest example on our site serial number 85758, shipped in 1930 and the latest example is 89354, which was shipped in 1933.
Regular trapeze tailpiece, gold-plated
The first example on our site with a regular trapeze tailpiece is Type Two L-5 serial number 85296, which was shipped in 1929.
All 1934 and later Type Three L-5s have a regular trapeze tailpiece with the exception of serial number 91930 (shipped in 1935), which has the later flat-plate tailpiece.
Early 17-inch Advanced L-5s were fitted with the flat-plate tailpiece (the earliest on our site is serial number 92230, which was shipped in 1935). At least one 16-inch appears to have been fitted with this style of tailpiece (serial number 91930, which was shipped in 1935). The flat-plate tailpiece continued to be fitted to Advanced L-5s through the 1930s with examples from 1935, 1936 and 1937 on our site.
The earliest example of the Hinged Tailpiece that we have on the site is serial number 93206, which was shipped in 1936. The Hinged Tailpiece continued to be fitted to Advanced L-5s with examples from 1937, 1938, 1939, and 1943 on the site.
The earliest example on the site with a Varitone tailpiece is Advanced L-5 serial number 95253, which was shipped in 1938. This style of tailpiece continued to be fitted through the 30s and into the 40s. All Premier L-5s on site have the Varitone tailpiece
Short Pickguards from serial number 86842 and serial number 87993;
Long Pickguard from serial number 88786
Serial number 86939
The introduction of a long pickguard that extended to the 14th fret *, appears to have taken place around the same time as the switch from dot to block fingerboard inlays. Note that the pickguard was now screwed directly to the top of the guitar.
All Type Three L-5s have the long pickguard (the earliest example on our site is serial number 85568, shipped 1930).
All 17-inch ‘Advanced’ L-5s were fitted with a pickguard that had five-ply binding and reached to the 15th fret *. In the late 1930s, some L-5s were shipped with a pickguard cut from white pearloid (see serial number 95253, shipped 1938).
As a result of their cutaway, the pickguard fitted to the Premier L-5 ends somewhere between the 18th and the 19th frets *.
* This varies to some degree depending on how the pickguard was fitted.
20-fret dot fingerboard - pointed end
Most Loar-signed L-5s and Type Two 16-inch L-5s have a 20-fret fingerboard with a pointed end.
Block fingerboard – pointed end
The earliest block inlaid fingerboards that we have come across have a 20-fret fingerboard with a pointed end (the earliest example on our website is serial number 85758, which was shipped in 1930).
Though this style of fingerboard continues through to the mid 1930s (the latest example on our website is serial number 93121, which was shipped in 1936) a number of Type Three L-5s were also shipped with a 19-fret block fingerboard with a pointed end (the earliest example on our website is serial number 86949, which was shipped in 1931 and the latest is serial number 91917, which was shipped in 1935).
Block fingerboard – square end
A third style of fingerboard was available over the same time period and this had a 19-fret block fingerboard with a square end (the earliest example on our website is serial number 85568, which was shipped in 1930 and the latest is serial number 91930, which was shipped in 1935).
L-5 serial number 93121 has a 20-fret fingerboard with narrow block inlays from the first fret and a pointed end. 92033 has an identical fingerboard and 91930 has a 19-fret fingerboard with a square end - but with similar narrow block inlays from the first fret. While it’s possible these guitars were returned to the factory to be fitted with new fingerboards, Gibson may have been fitting new-style necks to existing old stock 16-inch bodies. In other words, could L-5 serial number 93121 be a 1934 body that was completed with a later neck prior to being shipped in 1936?
All Advanced (17-inch) L-5s had a fingerboard with a pointed end. While most had a 20-fret fingerboard, a few early examples were built with a 19-fret fingerboard (serial number 92230, shipped in 1935).
Some L-5s and other Gibson Archtops were factory fitted with a Vibrato Tailpiece. Two types were in use during the Pre-War period.
The Vib-Rola tailpiece that appeared in Gibson’s 1934 catalogue W was invented by Clayton ‘Doc’ Kauffman and patented in 1932 (patent application was filed on August 19th, 1929 and granted January 5th, 1932). The device worked in a sideways manner with the help of an adjustable vibrato arm. Both nickel and gold-plated versions were available, priced respectively at $8.50 and $12.50.
Gibson’s 1937 catalogue Y offered a cheaper alternative in the Vibra-Rest, which was priced at just $6.00. This simple device worked by depressing a bar that passed directly over the strings.
André Duchossoir adds: “Gibson factory shipping ledgers show that some Vib-Rolas were actually factory-fitted when the instrument was new. Whether one is a retrofit or a factory mount has to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.”
Gibson’s 1934 catalogue W lists the Vib-Rola tailpiece as item 903, nickel-plated, price $8.50 and 904, gold-plated, price $12.50 (above).
Gibson’s 1937 catalogue Y lists the Vibra-Rest as item 902, nickel-plated, price $6.00 (left).
Guitarist Ralph Mazza pictured in Gibson's 1938 Catalog Z, holding a 16-Inch Type Three L-5 fitted with a Kauffman Vib-Rola.
Image courtesy of Paul Fox (fox-guitars.com).
The Vibra-Rest retro-fitted to a 1934 Gibson L-12 (for more pictures of this guitar, see the Rivals and Revivals page). Image courtesy of Joe Vinikow (archtop.com).
Gibson Plant Manager Thaddeus ‘Ted’ McHugh and Gibson General Manager, L.A. (Lew) Williams co-invented the height-adjustable bridge. Application for patent was filed on May 28th 1920 and granted on January 18th 1921.
Stamped on the base of the bridge, the patent date
reads Jan., 18,1921.
Original Patent Drawing
Adjustable Truss Rod
The patent for Gibson’s adjustable truss rod was filed on April 5th 1921 and issued on February 27th, 1923. Invented by Plant Manager, Thaddeus ‘Ted’ McHugh and fitted to the L-5 from its introduction, the device is today a feature of virtually all steel string acoustic and electric guitars. Ted McHugh was also responsible for the double-coordinator rod for banjos and the height-adjustable bridge, which he co-invented with Gibson General Manager, L.A. (Lew) Williams.
Left: Individual gold-plated Grover 98G or ‘Sta-tite’ tuners. This illustration is from Gibson's 1933 pocket catalog, the first to show the Grovers (‘New individual tuning pegs’ mentioned in catalogue U of 1932).
Right - New Kluson "Sealfast" Individual Machine Head from Gibson's 1939 Catalog AA.
Image, left, courtesy of Paul Fox (fox-guitars.com).
Right - This 1946 brochure was the first to feature the L-5P by itself, since the model was not pictured in Catalog BB of 1942 and no war-time catalogues were issued. Close inspection reveals a marbled celluloid pickguard similar to that occassionally fitted to the Super 400 (see picture above from Gibson's 1942 Catalog BB) .
Images courtesy of Paul Fox www.fox-guitars.com
The early pickguards fitted to the early L-5 Premiere (picture below left) guitars are slightly different than those fitted to later cutaway L-5s (picture below right).
From 1940 to 1963-64 the ‘guards then follow a template and remain more or less the same. After this the L-5 guard becomes notably smaller and this remains the template that Gibson uses as its model. The Super 400 follows the same changes to it's pickguard.
It’s interesting to note that the ‘long guards’ fitted to the early ES 335, 345 and 355 models were also cut from the 1940- 1960s L-5 template. Thanks to Cris Mirabella for this information (http://www.mirabellaguitars.com/).
The Loar models and L-5s through to 1929 had the early design two-foot bridge. During 1930, the feet were altered so that the bridge was almost solid on the base, with just a very small cut-out. From the early 1930s until well after World War II, the bridges had a solid base.
The 16-inch model L-5s have ebony bridges, whereas the Brazilian rosewood bridges were introduced with the 17-inch Advanced L-5 and Super 400 models (with thanks to George Gruhn for this information gruhn.com).
This is an example of the two-footed bridge as fitted to Loar models and L-5s through to 1929. Picture courtesy of Nino Fazio (realvintage.it)
This Brazilian rosewood bridge with a solid base was introduced with the 17-inch Advanced L-5 and Super 400 models. Picture courtesy of Nino Fazio (realvintage.it)
Left to right: L-5 serial number 73718, shipped 1923; L-5 serial number 81273, shipped 1927; L-5 serial number 93281, shipped 1936.
Diagonal ‘The Gibson’ logo
All Loar signed L-5s and many Type Two L-5s (dot neck) have a pearl ‘The Gibson’ logo that is positioned diagonally on the headstock. The last example with the diagonal logo that we have
encountered is a Type Two L-5, serial number 82506, which was shipped in 1928 (this guitar is listed on our database).
Horizontal 'The Gibson' logo
The earliest example on our website with a horizontal ‘The Gibson’ logo is serial number 84471, a Type Two L-5 that was shipped in 1929. Gibson continued to use this style of logo for several years on both Type Two (dot neck) and Type Three (block neck) L-5s. The last example on our site with a horizontal ‘The Gibson’ logo is serial number 93121, a Type Three L-5 that was shipped in 1936.
Script ‘Gibson’ logo
The earliest L-5 on our website with a script ‘Gibson’ logo (no ‘The’) is serial number 85568, a Type Three L-5 that was shipped in 1930. All 17-inch prewar L-5s (Advanced and Premier) have a script ‘Gibson’ logo (no ‘The’).
Detail of pearl button from gold plated three-on-a-strip tuner (left) and gold plated Grover 98G tuners
Silver-plated three-on-a-strip tuners
All Loar-signed L-5s have silver-plated three-on-a-strip tuners with the cog positioned above the worm gear. Manufactured by the Waverly Musical Products Company of Long Island City, New York, these have an engraved base plate and pearl buttons.
Gold-plated three-on-a-strip tuners
Many Type Two L-5s from the mid 1920s through to the early 1930s were fitted with gold-plated three-on-a-strip tuners, manufactured by the Waverly Musical Products Company of Long Island City, New York. The earliest example on our site being serial number 81273, which was shipped in 1927 and the latest, serial number 87708, which was shipped in 1931.
A number of early Type Three L-5s were also fitted with gold-plated three-on-a-strip tuners (the earliest example on our site is serial number 85758, which was shipped in 1930 and the latest is 87991, which was shipped in 1931).
In the late 1920s/early 1930s some Type Two L-5s were fitted with backwards facing Grover No. 90 'Professional' model tuners (sometimes called 'pancake' tuners). See serial number 81629, which was shipped 1927 and serial number 85437, which was shipped 1930.
Individual Gold-plated Grover 98G or ‘Sta-tite’ Tuners
From the early 1930s some Type Three L-5s were fitted with individual gold-plated Grover 98G or ‘Sta-tite’ tuners (the earliest example on our site is serial number 85568, which was shipped in 1930).
Some Type Two L-5s were also fitted with these tuners (see serial numbers 87993 and 87887, both of which were shipped in 1931).
Tuners – Advanced L-5s
Early Advanced L-5s were equipped with individual Gold-plated Grover G-98 tuners (see serial number 92230 shipped in 1935) and these can still found as late as 1938 (see serial number 95253).
Gold-plated Kluson Sealfast Tuners
By 1938 some Advanced L-5s were fitted with gold-plated Kluson Sealfast tuners (the earliest example on our site is serial number 95454, which was shipped in 1938). These are also found on Premier L-5s (see serial number FA-5172, shipped in 1940). While some Kluson Sealfast Tuners had amber coloured Catalin buttons, others had metal buttons (see serial number EA-5231, shipped in 1939).
Gold-plated Grover Imperials
From the late 1930s some Advanced L-5s were also fitted with gold-plated Grover Imperials (the earliest example on our site is serial number 95122, which was shipped in 1938)
Tuners – 16-inch L-5s
Dots from the 5th fret
All Loar signed L-5s have dot inlays from the 5th fret with double dots at the 12th fret.
Dots from the 3rd fret
In 1930 and 1931, some Type Two L-5s were shipped with dots from the 3rd fret.
Double dots 12th and 17th
L-5 serial number 80264 (signed and dated by Lloyd Loar on December 1st 1924 and shipped in 1926) has double dots at both the 12th and 17th frets. There are also a number of L-5s on our site that were shipped in 1927 and one shipped in 1929 that have this feature (most 1929 L-5s on the site have no dot at the 17th fret).
16-inch L-5s with wide blocks from fret three:
The earliest L-5 on our site with wide blocks from fret three was shipped in 1930 (serial number 85568).
16-inch L-5s with wide blocks from fret one:
L-5s with wide blocks from fret one appear around the same time (serial numbers 87990 and 88439, which were shipped in 1931 and 1932 respectively) and both styles run concurrently.
16-inch L-5s with narrow blocks from the first fret:
Following the introduction of the Advanced 17-inch L-5 in 1935 a number of 16-inch L-5s were shipped with narrow block fingerboard inlays from the first fret (see serial numbers 91930, 92033 both shipped in 1935) and serial number 93121 (shipped in 1936).
17-inch Wide blocks:
Some early Advanced L-5s have wide block inlays like the 16-inch L-5s that preceded them (see serial numbers 92230 and 92284, both of which were shipped in 1935).
17-inch Narrow blocks:
L-5 serial number 92605 (shipped in 1935) and all later Advanced L-5s have narrow block inlay.
Left to right: 1. 1915 F-4 mandolin 2. 1922 F-5 Mandolin 3. 1924 Type One L-5 4. 1927 Type Two L-5 5. 1929 Type Two L-5 (up facing epsilon) 6. 1929 Type Two L-5 (down facing epsilon) 7. 1936 Advanced L-5
All Loar-signed L-5s have a diagonal ‘The Gibson’ logo. Many Type Two L-5s also have the diagonal ‘The Gibson’ logo but by 1929 this had been replaced by a horizontal ‘The Gibson’ logo, which continued in use for several years.
The horizontal logo overlaps with the script ‘Gibson’ logo; the earliest example of the latter that we have encountered was shipped in 1930.
The horizontal ‘The Gibson’ logo is found on both Type Two and Type Three L-5s; we have not come across any Type Three L-5s with the diagonal ‘The Gibson’ logo.
All Loar-signed L-5s have silver-plated three-on-a-strip tuners with an engraved base plate and pearl buttons. Many Type Two L-5s from the mid 1920s through to the early 1930s were fitted with gold-plated three-on-a-strip tuners, as were some early Type Three L-5s. In the late 1920s/early 1930s some Type Two L-5s were fitted with backwards facing banjo tuners.
From the early 1930s some Type Two and Type Three L-5s and early Advanced L-5s were fitted with individual gold-plated plated Grover 98G or ‘Sta-tite’ tuners.
By 1938 some Advanced L-5s were equipped with Kluson Sealfast tuners. These were also found on Premier L-5s. While some Kluson Sealfast Tuners had amber coloured Catalin buttons, others had metal buttons.
From the late 1930s some Advanced L-5s were also fitted with gold-plated Grover Imperials.
All dot inlaid 16-inch L-5s have a 20-fret fingerboard with a pointed end.
Type Three 16-inch L-5s can be found with:
A 20-fret block fingerboard with a pointed end
A 19-fret block fingerboard with a pointed end
A 19-fret block fingerboard with a square end
All three styles appear to have run concurrently
Advanced L-5s had a fingerboard with a pointed end. A few early examples had a 19-fret fingerboard.
All Type One and Type Two L-5s were fitted with a short triple bound pickguard that extended to the 16th fret * (serial number 86873, shipped 1931, has a long pickguard but this may not be original.) The last example on our site with a short pickguard is serial number 87993, which was shipped in 1931.
The short pickguards were pinned to the side of the neck and attached at the rim of the body by means of an adjustable metal rod and riser block.
Pickguard from Loar-signed L-5
All Loar signed L-5s and Type Two L-5s (dot necks) have a short pickguard.
All Type Three L-5s (block necks) have a long pickguard.
All 17-inch ‘Advanced’ L-5s were fitted with a short pickguard with five-ply binding.
As a result of their cutaway, Premier L-5s were fitted with a pickguard that ended somewhere between the 18th and the 19th frets.