8/29/2015

1927 Gibson L-1 Flattop Guitar




Robert Johnson, anyone? Aside from being the mythical model that the selfsame bluesman played, this is just a great guitar in general. Despite the lack of serial number or factory order number, I think I have it pegged as a 1927 model because of its mix of features.

It has a spruce top with A-frame/tonebar bracing and mahogany back and sides. The top is slightly "domed" over the braces and its body shape is a "mini-jumbo" cut, though the 13 1/2" lower bout marks it as "extra-concert" in overall size. This construction yields an interesting sound -- something that crosses between a period "ladder braced" tone, a punchy/gutsy archtop projecting tone, and the lingering, rich sustain I'm mostly used to on fancy flattops. It sounds absurdly good for fingerpicking... which is probably what we want to hear, huh?



The guitar is original save for a fresh refret, new bone saddle, and new ebony pins. There's plenty of playwear and usewear but the only hairline cracks are on the back -- one nearly the whole length of the back and one smaller 4" one on the lower bout. They're both glued-up and I added cleats when I got my hands on it (there were none before).

The biggest job was the refret. The guitar has a dyed-maple fretboard which was very dried-out and extremely prone to chipping. The neck had been reset in the past (a good job) but with an over-done shim-up of the fretboard extension which meant that after I pulled the (too-worn) frets, I had to level the board and refret. With that funky maple (standard on many Gibsons from the time), I had to take great care to keep the board as intact as I could while doing all this. The last person to work on the guitar seemed to have some trouble with it, too, as there were (and still are) any number of chipouts and hairline cracks on it from before.

That said, everything turned out nicely and it plays spot-on (1/16" treble, 3/32" bass action at the 12th fret) with a straight neck.


Oops -- I meant to say: one ferrule looks like a replacement at the tuners. I love the look of the simple "The Gibson" decal, though, and the ebony nut -- which is 1 13/16" width.

The scale length is 24 1/4" which means tension is low and it plays effortlessly.


The board is flat on top and the neck has a fast, slim-ish C/D profile to the back. There's plenty of space on the board for those strings which means that for a country-blues fingerpicker, notes can stay clean and complicated open chords are easy to do. It has pearl dots inlaid.

I have it strung with 50w-11 strings just out of habit for 20s guitars, but I have no doubt it'd be fine for 12s, too.


The frets are a slimmer medium size and, while perfectly new, I also had to lightly level/dress them due to some inaccuracies in the board even after leveling.


I love honest pickwear...! It's practically "washboarded" from play.


The original ebony "pyramid" bridge was in great shape, though the original straight saddle is not good for intonation. I wanted to keep the look, so I simply widened the saddle slot, made a new bone saddle, and compensated the saddle itself to get good intonation.

After dialing that in I also filled/redrilled the pinholes so that the ball-ends would fit snug on the bridge plate (which they do).


I love dark-stained spruce tops...



The body shape is hubba-hubba...


The original tuners work just fine after a lube. The D-string shaft is bent but it operates. I also replaced a couple of missing set-screws for the gears with period bits.



The mahogany is nice stuff.





The bridge is totally elegant.

Did I mention that having original finish on this is a huge plus? So many of these old guys have been oversprayed it's ridiculous.




This is an original Gibson endpin from the times but isn't original to the guitar. I didn't realize the original one was stuffed in the case and so I popped this one in while I was working on it. So -- the next owner will have both to choose from!


The (presumably) original chip case (in good order) comes with the guitar. Fancy that!

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