1950s Lee Gibbs Concertone Jumbo Flattop Guitar

Update: I've used this guitar for a few gigs and a lot of jams, now, and added a K&K "Big Twin" pickup internally and through the old jack-hole on the lower-bout side. Sounds great and plays great! This guitar has really warmed-up since the original blog post and now supports an increasingly throbby, Guild-ish sort of x-braced tone that gets warmer every day of play I've been putting into it. It's a nice hybrid sound. Quality of build is right there with Gibsons from this time and the feel is almost identical to a 50s Gib in terms of neck profile and scale.

This is a full 17" jumbo flattop that, at first glance, looks like a J-200. It's x-braced, has maple back and sides, a spruce top, Gibson-ish 24 7/8" scale (well, more like Martin's short 24.9" I suppose), and a 40s/50s-ish Epiphone-style just-above 1 5/8" nut width and medium-C neck shape. The trim is very "Gibson" in looks and the shape is certainly J-200 or "big archtop Epiphone" in profile... but the back is "Guild-y" or "Epi-ish" as it's made from heat-pressed laminate maple and arched. It's a weird mixmash of building techniques and ideas. Of course I like it!

It's not for everyone, though, because one expects that sort of wide, breathy J-200 sound coming out of this... or maybe a big, throbby sound like from an old Epi-made Texan. In truth, what it sounds most like is a good 30s Gibson carved-top archtop guitar that's been crossed with a decent carved-top 40s Epiphone archtop and then blended with the sort of bottom-end "cluck" or flattop "dig" of an LG-1 or something similar. It's not at all like what's expected! What I mean by this is that it's most suited to backing-up music in vintage chop-chord or 3-note-chord styles like you'd hear quite often... when it was made. It's a compressed, punchy sound. Cowboy chords work more on the order of a flattop vs. an archtop but are more raucous and fiery than they are languid and mellow. This is like an "archtop guitar player's flattop" more than a "flattop with extra mids."

This guitar has been kicking around in the Northeast for a while, now, in various shops and on eBay, and it came to me via a customer who picked it up to fix up for himself. I'm going to now spit-out what the last owner figured out per the make, which I find the most accurate information available.

This info being: it was made by United Guitar Corp in New Jersey (who also made the Sorkin-sold Premier brand famous for the Bantam) and branded "Lee Gibbs Concertone" which was a trade name used for Montgomery Wards catalog instruments. The vast majority of Gibbs seem to have been Kay-made, but some weren't... like this fellow. There's not a speck of "Kay" on this thing and overall it's a much higher-quality build... similar to something like an early Guild or lower-rung 50s Gibson in feel and construction. Apparently United was housed in the old Oscar Schmidt building. Anyone know if that's correct?

While there's a stamp inside that reads "H8-54," we simply can't assume that means anything. Regardless, it's definitely a 50s build and probably mid-late in the decade.

Everything but the bridge pins and strings are original on this guitar. The plastic bits have all aged and outgassed a bit, including the now slate-grey truss-rod cover. Yup, the truss works fine. It's got a bone nut and 1 5/8" nut width.

My own work on this guitar included filling/cleating a couple top cracks, a fret level/dress, saddle adjustment/compensation, much cleaning, one brace repair (one of the main x-braces had a tiny hairline in it), and fixing-up of a weird patched area on the top.

The Brazilian rosewood fretboard is inlaid with pearl dots and lightly-radiused. I added side dots while I was doing the work. The neck is straight and the joint is in perfect health.

The Gibson-style pickguard is original, too, and has "ghosting" over its entire interior, though the outer edges are "clean." This is typical for much plastic from the time.

The rosewood bridge is nice, huh? I added cream plastic pins to replace some junky old black plastic ones. At the same time I fixed the worn slots behind the saddle (and elongated them to make "string ramps") and compensated the bone saddle, too.

Check out the awesome "curved" bookmatch to the spruce grain right above the bridge.

This diamond-shaped area is rough because some dope decided to "fix" a small impact/hairline crack by gluing not only a diamond-shaped "patch" of 1/8" plywood to the top... but also a postcard-sized patch of the same to the rear of the top! I removed the top part and cleaned-up/rubbed-in some finish and it's mostly not-obvious from a few feet back.

I then removed the bulk of the "patch" on the back...

...though 1-ply of the patch (about 3x3") on the underside of the top remained in place during removal. I didn't want to chance mucking the top up too much with more strong-arming and so left it... as it acts like a "cleat" anyhow. I really needed to remove the bulk of the back-patch, though, as it added a lot of weight/stiffness to the treble side of the board.

There can be no doubt that this really hurt the tone... and when this came in the sound was OK but stifled. It's like it had a cold. It's now bigger, fuller, and more powerful as a result of fixing these wrongs. No wonder the guitar was swapping hands so often!

One can't argue with that curvaceous body, eh?

The side depth is around 3 1/2" with a "bloom" of another 1/2" or so via the back arching.

While the top is "natural" and has aged-in to a buttery color, the back and sides are sunburst. This back is laminate flamed maple and heat-pressed to an arched shape.

The sides, however, are solid maple -- and I was first clued into that by the fact that the builders added "side strapping" to aid against hairline cracks spreading.

These are all period tuners but one was replaced by the last owner. I've lubed them all and they're good to go.

I've always found this heel style (very Gibson-ish) is most comfortable for me to get past the 14th fret on. It doesn't interrupt my hand as much as a "V" heel.

I forgot to photo it directly, but there's an empty jack-hole on the treble-side side lower bout area (usual jack place). You can just see it at the bottom of the above pic. Update: This is now filled with a jack for the K&K "Big Twin" pickup under the hood.

The original aluminum endpin is in place.

I think it's pretty obvious that this guitar has a lot of use-wear and play-wear and, as far as I'm concerned, that's "all plus." It gives this a historical life of its own. It's (thankfully) avoided any real serious damage and the important bits -- playability, and sturctural stability -- are all preserved.

Did I mention it plays spot-on? 3/32" bass and 1/16" treble at the 12th fret and sporting 12s. Happy, happy.

A newer flat-topped hard case came with it.


Paul K said...

nice work Jake!

Michael Mulkern said...

Love the curves on this one. Very sexy!