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On this page, we take a look at some projects to restore L-5s and other similar archtop guitars.
“Way back before I started building archtop guitars, I did quite a few restorations of old Gibsons and among them were the 1939 and 1956 L-5s pictured here,” says Mark.
“When I got the non-cutaway 1939 L-5 it looked as if someone had redone the sunburst with brown and black aerosol can spray paint," he continues. "It had been fitted with an ES-175 type chrome tailpiece but fortunately the original tailpiece was in the case.
"The hinge was broken and the engraving was almost gone. I had it repaired, the engraving redone and finally had the tailpiece re-plated. As for the guitar itself, it required no structural repair. I stripped and refinished it, and also - perhaps unwisely, but I didn't know better at the time - I converted it to a Florentine cutaway guitar, also added a floating pickup.”
Luthier Mark Campellone tells us about a couple of Gibson L-5s that he worked on back in the early 1990s.
1939 L-5 prior to restoration
After, now with a Florentine cutaway
1956 L-5 C
Mark continues: “Someone had butchered this 1956 L-5 C by installing three pickups and corresponding controls. In addition, the top was cracked down the centre so that it was beyond salvaging. I ended up making and fitting a new top, and matching the finish to the rest of the guitar, which was in very good shape. It ended up a real honey of a guitar!”
Mark Campellone says: “I used an interesting approach when replacing the top. Normally the binding is detached to expose the seam between the top and the rim kerfing then, once the new top is installed you replace the bindings, and most likely do some finish touch up on the rims. The finish on the rest of the guitar was in excellent shape so I removed the top by cutting just inside the kerfing, thereby leaving the original binding intact. I then carefully routed out the remains of the top just up to the purfling. This exposed the kerfing providing a 'ledge' on which to the new top would sit. As you can imagine, this was an incredibly tedious job, but it turned out well, and allowed me to avoid doing any finish overspray on the rims.”
1956 L-5 C before restoration
1956 L-5 C – top removed from guitar. “Top mounted pickups were installed on the guitar, so there was no routing for the pickups, but you can clearly see the holes drilled for the wires and controls,” says Mark.
Here’s the underside of the guitar’s original top.
Above, the new carved top has been installed.
Right, the 1956 L-5 C after restoration.
Guitarmaker and Restorer Cris Mirabella describes the restoration of a 1935 L-5, Serial Number 91522.
Near the entrance of the Mirabella work shop there is a large rack that holds twelve guitars. It is regularly filled with D'Angelicos and D'Aquistos that are in for restoration from all over the world.
Often however, there are a few notable Gibsons as well, an L-5 or Super 400 that will interrupt the consecutive line of DA headstocks. And these are not just the average L-5 or Super 400, but Premier models, Crest and Gobles, the Prewars and Loars...
"The 1935 L-5 pictured here was recently auctioned and was in need of a bit of help," says Cris. "The guitar was sent straight to me from the auction house as the new owner wanted to receive it fully restored and in good playing condition. After accessing the work that would be need to be done, the restoration was underway.
"The guitar had been fitted with large tuners and extra holes marked the backplate of the headstock. Small grafts were made to restore the faceplate from the crushing effects of the larger tuners and the backplate was treated to a similar process in order to hide the extra holes that had been drilled. Care was taken to retain the original finish and blending was done only where needed."
"Next we tackled the fingerboard, which was horribly twisted. Once this had been corrected and the board refretted, the guitar played perfectly.
"Its voice was beautiful, but even more power and response was gained when the bridge was properly refitted to the top."
"A notched strap button on the heel was the next to be addressed. Again, great care was taken to avoid damaging the original finish. A patch of period woods made then blended so that is was all but invisible.
"Once the pickguard was refitted and a new nut made, the guitar was given a final set up. Now this wonderful piece of history was ready to be played and enjoyed once again!"
This guitar can be viewed in the Type Three Gallery, prior to its restoration
Pictures and text supplied by Cris Mirabella http://www.mirabellaguitars.com/
The restoration of a 1939 L-5, Serial Number EA-5168 by Prochazka Custom Guitars
“Gibson L-5 serial number EA-5168 was purchased from the US and shipped in to the Czech Republic," says the guitar's owner Marek Rejhon.
“All of its original hardware was missing and it had been brush finished in red furniture lacquer! As it arrived, the guitar was virtually unplayable. A luthier friend of described it as “a piece of crap that is beyond repair.”
“We started by carefully stripping the red lacquer taking care not to damage the wood. After that we opened the body only to find that there were dozens of cleats all of which were strangely stamped and penciled with crosses – a real piece of naive folk art! A treble side tone brace had been re-glued in the wrong position and in several places the wood had been thinned so much that it was translucent!"
“The repair work was carefully considered before we started to work. Existing cleats were inspected and some were replaced. Others were thinned and new cleats were added to strengthen the top of the guitar. The translucent areas were built up with small layers of spruce and a new treble side brace was made from a beautiful piece of resonant spruce. Finally, the top, back and braces were carefully tap-tuned."
"The rest of the guitar was in relatively good shape. It needed refretting and some other minor work was done . After that a period correct sunburst was applied and repro hardware was fitted. The tuners are recent Kluson replicas."
"The restoration took a year of spare time in our Prague based lutherie shop but the end result is a fine player’s grade instrument that plays well and sounds great! All of the work was done by our team: Petr Prochazka (chief of Prochazka Custom Guitars www.guitar-makers.com ), Petr Grotzbach and myself – Marek Rejhon .”