1937 Gibson-made Recording King M-5 Carved-top Guitar

My customers have been sending some seriously tempting bits to me, lately. Between this puppy and the recent L-4, I'm getting archtop desires stirring deep somewhere inside me. This one was in for a fret level/dress and setup as well as a bit of adjustment to the way the bridge topper was seated/fit to the base. It plays beautifully and has that total "Gibson mwah" in its tone. It's sexy: what else can it be described as?

This M-5 is an oddity in that the headstock pearl-block for the Recording King script was left bare and the fretboard inlay is closer to the M-4 model specs. All Gibsons are odd in one way or another, so it's not surprising to see small differences. The biggest difference, however, is that this guitar has 4" depth to the sides which gives it a fuller, thicker bottom-end sound that I only found with the Gibson FDH Special model (almost the same guitar).

This is a carved-top guitar rather than an "Arco-arched" (ie, pressed-top) instrument. Like other Gibson carved-tops, the top profile is rather mild and slightly thicker on the edges which is, I'm assuming, the main ingredient in the sweet "mwah" that Gibsons have compared to their rivals (Epiphone, namely).

Layman's eyes will notice, however, than unlike the "Gibson" carved-top f-holes which are long and narrow, their "other brand" carved-tops all have the standard Kalamazoo/Cromwell/etc. stylized f-holes. See this Old Kraftsman for reference.

It's fairly easy to spot the difference between a Gibson "pressed-top" model of the Kalamazoo, etc. variations and a carved-top model, as the bracing is different inside. Carved-tops almost always have two tonebars (and that's it) while the pressed-tops have a hybrid tonebar/ladder/fan bracing system to support the same-thickness, pressed-top mold shape. It's not as clear-cut with other makers, though. 

The "pointed" headstock looks great. All the hardware (save the same-period tailpiece) is original to the guitar as well. These tuners are interesting because they have a shrunken shaft at the headstock which makes their effective tuning slightly slower (and thus easier to nail proper pitch) even though the ratio is the same.

Features: bone nut, bound headstock.

I always liked the look of these "shell" motifs. The frets are original, the board is radiused rosewood, and it's bound with a "checker" pattern celluloid binding.

The bound tortoise pickguard is classy as heck...

...and I've always enjoyed these "big foot" Gibson bridges. They seem to emphasize a bit of extra bass, to me, though at the expense of just a tiny bit of snap. I added the intonated B-string slot and reprofiled the bottom of the bridge topper (it'd already been reprofiled before, but not quite exactly right).

A very similar 30s Grover tailpiece was on this when it came in, but the hinge had been soldered in one position and I didn't trust it (I'm assuming because it'd been broken). I swapped the original tailpiece out with this one which is slightly heavier-duty and slightly upscale quality-wise.

Painfully nice trim, huh?

While the top is solid spruce, and the neck is a big hunk of mahogany, the back and sides (of flamed maple) are a question-mark to me. I believe they're laminate (at least the back), but can't be sure as I haven't had to reglue any seams. I'm assuming the fact that the back is one piece confirms that at least it's laminate (usually carved backs have 2 on Gibsons).

The lovely bit about swapping tails is that they had exactly the same footprint.

Here's the Wards label and in the other f-hole on the back is the factory order number which clearly designates this a 1937 model.

Oh, yeah, wondering why it has no cracks and is in stunningly-clean shape? An original arched, hard case came with it. Sheesh! It's in superb condition, too.

1 comment:

Paul Kolderie said...

Hi Jake...wow! what a great guitar...you may recall I told you about my M-4 that has clamshell inlays etc...my understanding is that they made a couple batches with that level of trim and then downgraded the M-4 to small diamond inlays and moved the clamshells to the M-5. This is the only M-5 like this I've ever seen though...