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  1. Routing Carved Top for CC Pickup

    Hey Archtop Gurus!

    I originally posted this last night in the Guitar & Gear section, a few members informed me this is probably the better spot!

    I'm currently facing a little conundrum with routing my '41 L7 for a Lollar CC (Charlie Christian) pickup, hope one of you guys who's more knowledgeable than me might have some input... First off, some background on the guitar:

    The guitar is very clean, non cutaway, I believe I'm actually only the second owner and have the original case and bill of sale. If anyone is wondering, the guitar originally sold for ~$120 in 1941... I wish I paid anything close!

    The guitar currently is equipped with a handwound Kent Armstrong floater attached to the neck, a la johnny smith. It is one of the only quality floaters that will fit the relatively low (~0.5") clearance between top and strings.

    I also purchased a repro McCarty pickguard unit from Lollar that looks and I'm sure would sound great, however said clearance was just a bit too short to fit it without a pretty severe neck reset. I don't want to do this because the guitar has a very healthy neck angle, has never had a reset, and the action is great with lots of room to come down. My (credible) local guitar repair shop says I'm probably good for at least 20 years. Thus, I'm saving the pickup for some other guitar (that I can't afford of course) far down the road...

    At the end of the day, I don't like floating pickups. Jazz guitar is what I do for a living, and when I'm playing a loud club with a quintet or organ trio... They just don't hang! I don't own guitars as a collector, or just to play around the house, I really need them to work for me nightly as the tools of my trade.

    So... Long story short, I'm set on routing the guitar. I'm not going to sell it, and it's of very limited use to me right now as is. It isn't a 400 or L5, and the L7 has historically been the "working man's" carved archtop. Of course, it's gotta be a 3 bolt Charlie Christian pickup to be period correct! If I routed it for a humbucker I could never see a time I would choose to play it over my #1 Benedetto Americana.

    My question to you is, does anyone here know how Gibson used to retrofit parallel-braced guitars for a 3 bolt Charlie Christian? Did they just cut the brace, or did they actually take the guitar apart and move them? If cut, did they add a transverse brace to reinforce the top and prevent sinkage?

    I am 99% sure there is not enough clearance between braces to install the pickup in the correct spot... I also know that this didn't seem to be a problem in the 40s-60s when you could send your L7/L5/400 back to Gibson and have them install a Charlie Christian pickup. Do any of you have such a retrofitted guitar? If so, have you examined how the bracing was altered to fit the pickup? Is there any evidence of top sinkage?

    Any insight, other than don't rout the guitar, is greatly appreciated! I'm trying to make a "poor man's" ES-250 over here guys!

  2. #2
    Mount to the pickguard. I’ll say it.... don’t route it. Reason being is not too far off from being 100 years old and routing the body is irreversible. Let’s compare... would you take a Gullwing Mercedes and chop the top, make it a suicide door car with a Chevy 350 motor and hydraulics?! Hell no!!! Regardless if you won’t sell it or not, no reason to take a router to it when somebody else out there will respect the Guitars heritage and history rather than making a hack job out of it. I have a Harmony Archtop I’ll trade you straight across and you can cut that up.

  3. #3
    But if you must.... it appears the 3 bolt Charlie conversion had a lot to do with removing either the front or the rear plate and fitting in the conversion. That being said, routing wood that old would just about destroy the finish. Put the Guitar at a decent humidity for a week or so before you heat the binding to remove the plate you plan on working on (in my experience the rear is the best bet).

    Or better yet, have a qualified luthier do it so the Guitar is still playable when it’s done. (Hence why I bought a Harmony, it was cheap and I’ve done a lot of work to it that I would come across when I go for a full restoration with the next project).

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2016
    Hill Country
    As I said in the other thread, buy the guit that gets you there. Another "no" to routing this.

    OFC it's your own guitar and you can do what you want yadda yadda.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 2012
    I have to concur with the other posters.
    It's an acoustic archtop- I would leave it as that. There's really little need to route guitars like this anymore with the range of good floating pickups out there.

    I have a floating CC made by Pete Biltoft, I asked him to wind it with 38 gauge wire so it was voiced more like an original CC. Having actually compared it to the 'real' thing - it's seriously close. It has that 'stringy' kind of sound I hear when listening to Barney Kessel for example, and through the right amp it really gets some of the Charlie Christian 'honk' happening.

    Another non-invasive 'period-correct' option would be a Guild Reissue Dearmond 1100. Would be authentic in term of looks and sound.

    While the L-7 is the 'working mans' archtop it's still a very special instrument. Nobody really makes guitars like that any more.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    'Tis safer under the bridge...
    Ed Cherry with his L7, modified with a 3-point mount CC and a Flo cutaway.

    Great Deals with Great Folks: max52 (Guild-Benedetto Artist Award); prickards (Ribbecke GC Halfling); Cincy2 (Comins Concert)

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    'Tis safer under the bridge...
    I recall a thread a few years ago where Chet Atkins modified D'Angelico New Yorker was discussed. Back then, the thrust of it was: nothing is sacrosanct, not even a D'Angelico. Guitar players modify guitars to serve their needs. They are instruments, tools.

    Now I read in the other thread, Bromando being chided for daring to modify his L-7. Maybe folk just enjoy being contrarian...
    Great Deals with Great Folks: max52 (Guild-Benedetto Artist Award); prickards (Ribbecke GC Halfling); Cincy2 (Comins Concert)

  8. #8

    L7 routing

    Bromando, something to consider if you haven't begun your project: I have a '36 ES150 w/CC pickup and it is X-braced with two of the three pickup screws going through a 1/2" brace and the third going through the apex. With your parallel-braced L7 you won't have that option. Instead you'll be screwing into the comparatively thin top plate with all three as the screws appear closer together than the parallel braces in my L5 of about the same vintage. Hope this helps.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Feb 2011
    Twin Cities
    Didn't we deja this vu already?

    The short answer for the question about Gibson's retrofits is that they would have taken the back off the guitar, cut the holes and moved/replaced the braces. Anything else would result in the ultimate failure of the guitar under the string tension (string gauges in those days were typically heavier than now). Not that Gibson was always smart about this (look up "kerfed braces").

    If you're going to do it, do it right or you'll likely end up with expensive firewood. Gibson's electric tops are carved thicker than their acoustic tops, so not only will you need to brace the top properly but you should also have support added for the three mounting holes to prevent cracking (this is not a light pickup). The acoustic tone will suffer, but if you want to emulate the ES-250 that is not your primary interest.
    Beauty is as close to terror as we can well endure. -Rainer Maria Rilke

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