c.1940 Gibson L-30 Archtop Guitar

Update May 2014: I've been using this as a daily player since fixing this up. It's been nice and stable in service and even sports a K&K Big Twin ($68) pickup under the hood and a good hard tweed case ($75) these days. I've used it for a few shows and I really love the way those things sound in archtops... so natural! I've also added StewMac repro-style "Golden Age" tuners which are a huge improvement over the originals which were at the end of their useful life. No doubt about it, this guitar has been around the block... but it's got that Gibson archtop sound in spades, is super loud, and will suit someone into "mojo." Note that in the soundclip you're hearing semi-flattened strings for that more dark, chunky 40s sound that suits chord chop work. This is bright, bold, and brutally loud with roundwound 12s. I used this for half the tracks on my album "Magic Beans."

Back to the original post...

Well, here's your egg-hunting revival story, folks.

This one started as a pretty cracked egg but I had it finished for this morning's jam. I'm really happy I did, too. It's got that big band thump and snap that I really like in these old 16" Gibsons and despite the plethora of cracks, that carved top is dishing it out even with the pretty light gauge strings I have on it. In person this looks just as beat as it looks on the blog, but the feeling one gets from it is "been through the wars" but not "wounded soldier."

During the wartime years, many Gibson products were made from lesser-fancy wood and I'm sure the black finish on this instrument covers up the rather plain-Jane spruce and maple used throughout. Note the cleated, repaired hairlines in the top... I tried to get a little bit of glare on them so you can see them all. Everything is sound and good to travel but they're there.

All the hardware is fairly original but the tailpiece is a same-era replacement and I recently replaced the tuners.

Update: Truss cover added from my parts bin...

Truss-rodded neck with bone nut. The Gibson inlay is pearl which looks spiffy. 

Radiused rosewood board with pearl dots. This neck feels just like later 50s necks -- quick and fast but not as tiny as the 60s necks. I like a neck like this for chord work up and down and around.

Update: Along with the crack repairs and whatnot I also leveled and dressed these frets and did a lot of clean-up (hah, I know) and setup throughout on this guitar when I first worked on it. I haven't added any fretwear to it, really, since the initial work. I have a pretty light touch. It plays beautifully with 3/32" bass-side action at the 12th fret and 1/16" at the treble. I have a mixed set of 50w-22w basses and 16/12 trebles. I go back and forth between regular 54w-12 lights in roundwound form and this (current) semi-flattened mixed set which suits 30s/40s jazz chording better.

The original rosewood bridge is the final design that Gibson settled on for all their archtops after WWII.

This rusty old tailpiece fit the mounting holes at the endblock and is period, but from my parts bin. the original one would have been slightly nicer but this works just fine and looks the part.

That binding has all turned a sickly yellow that's vaguely satisfying.

Yep, there are some repaired side cracks, too. Some were old, some were fixed by me (the more cleanly-done ones, of course, heh heh).

Update: These are newly-made StewMac repro tuners. These are tight, won't slacken up during a show, and feel great. They're roughly similar to what was originally on here.

The filled holes are all leavings of a weird "strapping" bit of metal that was ridiculously screwed-down across the heel and back. As a result there was a big enough hole at the bottom of the heel to install the original endpin at the heel, here, when I installed the K&K endpin jack at the other end. 

Note the big old split through the heel... it's been 100% stable since before I had this guitar. The old reglue job isn't beautiful but it does work. I mean, heck, not much is beautiful here, but it's still a grand old gal.

...and there's that chipping-off finish and K&K endpin jack!


Sound cips & inventory...

For those of you asking about new soundclips and an inventory update, it's all set. There's a lot of new stuff and more will be available pretty soon.


c.1950 Stjepan Gilg Brac

I don't have a lot of tamburitza instruments through the shop but I do hunt for them. They're lovely and interesting and I think, if people caught on to them, would have great use in music outside of the Bulgarian, Serbian, Croatian, etc. folk traditions they're associated with. This one was made (I'm guessing) in the 50s or latest the 60s by Stjepan Gilg, a maker in Yugoslavia. That said, there are a number of extant US-made instruments that are similar to this style and used within the folk music over on "this side of the pond."

This instrument in the tamburitza family is known as a "brac" and is usually tuned EADG low to high an octave above the low EADG strings of a guitar (at least, I think so!). I've got this one setup with a set of strings that can get into this traditional tuning but also do really well for "Chicago style" DGBE and "tenor guitar" CGDA tunings. It also does a beautiful open CGCE tuning with this set as well. I'm sure it could do a nice GDAE tuning, too, but I tend to find the voice of these guys prettier for the slightly-higher tunings.

This instrument is essentially the same size and shape as a 1930s tenor guitar and has a 21 3/4" scale length. What sets it apart from a tenor guitar is the excellent fret access (17 frets clear), bridge high on the body and floating (which gives this a strident, projecting tone), and of course the doubled high course of strings which gives a somewhat different voice and imparts a lot of zing to solos and melodies played up high. It also gives it more of that "Celtic bouzouki" feel especially with full-strummed chords and crosspicking combined with the expanded fret access.

The front-mounted engraved tuner plate is very cool. The tuners work just fine, too.

The fretboard is rosewood and has cream clay dots in its face. Frets are nickel-silver and smallish like old-style frets. I leveled and dressed these guys which removed a hair of relief that was in the neck. Action is quick and fast with 1/16" height at the 12th fret (spot on). The neck itself is a good sturdy hunk of maple and has a deep D shape to it. I find this a very comfortable feel as it provides plenty of support to your hand while chording, but it may not be for everyone. I find it suits melody playing and sliding chord shapes especially well.

The inlaid, pearloid pickguard is way too cool! The top and soundhole are also bound in thick plastic binding. Note the plethora of apparent "hairline cracks" in the top. Strangely enough, this appears to be just the grain opening up a bit in the top. None of this stuff goes through the wood as seen with a mirror from the back. Still, I prematurely cleated under the longest/biggest looking one to the left of the bridge, just to be sure.

The top is solid spruce while the sides and back are maple. I'm pretty sure the back is laminate but the sides look solid.

The 6-hub tailpiece will take ball or loop-end strings. Don't you love that cool dot/brown purfling?

As usual for these instruments, the back is stained a medium dark crimson color that really pops over the maple.

The finish on the back shows plenty of scuffing from playwear, but hey, that's what we like to see!

Obviously, with a label like this, it was intended for export.

c.1958 Gibson L-48 Archtop Guitar

This clean L-48 dates to 1958 though I'd had it pegged down to between '55 and '60 before I found the factory order number inked just above the treble f-hole on the back. I just finished a light setup of the guitar and it's now being consigned through the shop by a friend of mine.

Because it's post-1954, it has a laminated mahogany top, mahogany sides, and a laminated maple back. This means that it's got a pressed, rather than carved, top. From a player's point of view this isn't always a bad or less desirable thing: pressed tops tend to be more stable and have more consistent tone and as long as the guitar is made well they can sound pretty darn good (as this one does). With the current strings on it (they feel like 56w-12 phosphor bronze) it's got more than enough volume to cut through and a good, rumbly bass.

This guitar is all-original except for the tailpiece hanger and endpin. The finish is also in fantastic shape save for the (very typical) weather-checking that you find on almost any old guitar. The sunburst is nice and subdued yet glows richly.

Please excuse a bit of dust on the headstock.

This guitar seems to have not been played all that much and stored safely away in a case which is the reason it's so clean. The frets have only the most minor wear and don't even need a leveling or dressing after all these years.

Faux-pearl dots in a rosewood board. The neck profile on this is similar to other late 50s and early to mid 60s Gibsons I've played, meaning: fast! Folks who like slick, speedy necks will enjoy the feel of this one.

The original, adjustable rosewood bridge is all intact as well. Note the slight scuffing of the finish under the feet: someone dabbed a little glue to keep the bridge in one place a long time ago. Unfortunately they had it in the wrong spot for proper intonation, so when I moved it the outline of the glue dabs creeps out from the front edge of the bridge.

This has that typical 16" Gibson archtop shape and feel with the 3" depth sides. I love the way these sit in the lap -- it's like playing a much smaller guitar but with the benefit of the big wide lower bout and power of a full-size guitar.

The original Kluson Deluxe tuners work just fine.

There are a couple scratches here at the endpin area and then a "buckle rash" on the lower bout rear, but otherwise the guitar is super clean. Note the replacement hanger for the trapeze tailpiece: the original is in the case but it's long since snapped.

This comes with a good hard Gator case, too!

Workshop: Wartime Woes!

This is a wartime Gibson L-30 that I picked up from all-around-cool-fella Anders Parker on Wednesday. I've been chipping away at it since then in my spare time (hah!) because I'm thinking of this for myself possibly and I'm hoping it makes a full recovery by the end of the weekend.

He brought it in as-found with its "historic modifications" which included a 60s Japanese archtop pickup assembly bolted to the front, an early (and peculiar) whammy bar added, 8 relatively major hairline crackes wide open on the top, a cobbled-together bracket that was bolted to the neck and around the back in several places, and a clever screw that went right through the back into the endblock. Needless to say, the sides were also sprung out all over the place from the back.

Here you can see some of those nice big screw holes which were added liberally. The clamps you're seeing on the top right now are the third set that have been on. It looked a bit like a forest of clamps Wednesday night. They're all adding cleats to those hairlines.

Ok... so the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 holes left by screws and the unsightly "glued-back-together" heel bits are certainly not my work, but that funky bolt and threaded rod is...

I made use of the hole through the heel to send a threaded rod right through the middle of the guitar and out the endpin. In this fashion I've managed to tighten the endblock back up to a point where it's more or less matched-up with the back of the guitar. This has allowed me to forgo making an obnoxious and tedious jig to put everything back in alignment.

Here I'm using a seam separator with some adhesive sandpaper stuck to it to prep the kerfing and back to accept glue. The wooden end of a screwdriver can be seen just below the threaded rod tensioning up the body... that's simply in there to wedge open the seam so I can work on it.

And voila!

Now that all those seams are clamping up, in the evening tomorrow I can pull all that stuff off, begin drop-filling all of the hairline cracks and holes with some filler and black ink, reglue all the binding back into place, give it a fret level/dress, and then set it up Saturday morning just in time for the jam.

It'll still look like hell from a collector's point of view (and pocket), but perhaps not the inner ring of it!