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  1. #1

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    FedEx delivered the guitar today, packed very well I must admit, despite being in a gig bag. First thing I did was strip everything off and scrub it with Virtuoso cleaner. Looks pretty good. It's a 1934 serial number with a late 1933 FON. Stupid Blue Book "professional" appraisal got the serial number wrong and the year wrong.

    Gibson L-12-9162927706_882b2c3e3d-jpgGibson L-12-9162930456_5d784caf3f-jpg
    Gibson L-12-9162932616_27b95a8e0d-jpgGibson L-12-9160709185_f6f427f2f9-jpg

    There are no cracks. Two of the tuner bushings are gone, so I have to figure out how to replace them. I think the holes are 5/16". And of course, the top/back separation issue is certainly there and needs to be repaired. I'm not sure if the back needs to come off to do it correctly. My repairman will advise on that.

    I set it up anyway (how could I not?). Way too much relief, and was nervous turning the truss rod but it did go without much resistance. Left it at half a turn and accepted it for now. Action is still too high on the bass side. I had to remove the thumbwheel to get it down enough. Hopefully my guy will rectify that too. Actually, when you squeeze the top and back together at the separation area, the top moves down, the bridge moves down, and the action improves. So all of these things are inter-related. Also, the tone changes. You can hear/feel it pump out the f-holes whereas some of it gets lost through the open gap otherwise. So I can't wait to get it fixed.

    It's true what they say - when old guitars aren't played, they go to sleep. It's stiff and tight and reluctant. Even after an hour I feel the guitar moving and relaxing a bit. So strange how that is... but it's true. Hasn't been played in at least 5 years, probably a lot more.

    She looks quite nice!

    Gibson L-12-9160712847_823df24484-jpgGibson L-12-9162929332_42e982464e-jpg


    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
  3. #2

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    Regardless of the lineage, what a gorgeous instrument!

  4. #3

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    What a beautiful guitar AND slice of history. Hope she goes back together into as great a player as she is a looker.

  5. #4

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    from the separation pics I saw you probably wont need to back off.
    Inspection mirror will tell you but even with loose braces (you didn't mention it..) you can usually avoid taking the back off.

    Looks nice.. never been a fan of picture frames but everything else looks pretty sweet (again, regardless of the backstory)


  6. #5

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    I'm going to post some photos of the separation soon for you guys to scrutinize. It's hard to describe. But I looked inside the guitar, and the kerfing near the tailblock is separated in one spot. It is glued to the back, then it's broken where the rim buckles and from there it's glued to the rim. Main issue is that the rim is buckled outward, and it all needs to be straightened.

    One cool anecdote of my research about the Otis Redding connection is that I exchanged a couple of really nice emails with Steve Cropper. He apologized for taking a few days to reply. He actually contacted the brother of Redding's manager first to check with him! I was very appreciative. But he doesn't recall Otis ever playing an archtop. He promised to tell me a story about Jimmy King's guitars when he gets some time - he was in between dates on tour. Jimmy was the 18 year old Bar-Kays guitarist who also tragically died on that plane.

  7. #6

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    Beautiful guitar and fantastic story behind it. Kudos to you for bringing it back to life. I am looking forward to reading more about it (and Steve's stories of course!).

  8. #7

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    I seriously doubt that it was submerged in H20 save for the area that separated. it just would have way more damage.
    this looks like a guitar in nice shape overall that was found in a basement sitting vertically in it's case and got water damage @ the butt end.

    even after you get it fixed you'll still be into very righteously and you can decide then if it's a keeper....

  9. #8

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    Roger.....what an excellent find.....congratulations!

    I owned one very much like yours for several years, but had to let it and a bunch of others go to pay for some unforseen expenses. I had always thought it was a '33 but the new Spann guide seems to place its manufacturing date as early '34.
    Had a great sound.....and the most pronounced V neck I've ever encountered.

    I still have the original L-12 came off this very guitar but I'd removed it as it began to show small signs of deterioration. I've seen what a crumbling, off gassing pickguard can do to a guitars finish and hardware.
    The replacement was a good one and went with the guitar. The single bound pickguards for 16" Gibsons of this period were smaller than those for the advanced 17" models.
    If you need a tracing and measurements to make yours, I'll be happy to provide.
    Last edited by zizala; 06-29-2013 at 07:50 AM.

  10. #9

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    I wonder if you have the serial number? Mine is 90927, FON 1033.

    Thanks for the pickguard tracing offer!

    I had a Tonerite on the guitar overnight and it definitely livened up the tone and response already. I can tell its going to sound very fine. But I have to get the structural issues sorted out. I just also noticed a small side crack and the wood there flexes in an undesirable way.

    I was going to bring this to a trusted local person, but I am thinking I might haul over to Mandolin Brothers and entrust it to their busy repair department. I'll probably have to wait a while, but they should be able to do whatever it takes, like steam the back and binding off without damage.

  11. #10

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    Mine was 90735, FON 999.

    The Spann guide has 999 as an L-5 or batch of L-5's in '34.
    As helpful as that guide has been in correcting some misconceptions with Gibson's chronology,
    some things will not be entirely understood when it comes to depression era Gibson it seems!

    Let me know an address and I'll send the pickguard information.


  12. #11

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    I had the L4 version a long time back. Before I was smart enough to keep it. You'll love her when she's all set straight Roger. Enjoy!

  13. #12

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    Well I went to Mandolin Brothers today. I had first intended to bring the L-12 to the local luthier who did a great refret on my L-5C. But my wife and kids were all spoken for today, giving me a bunch of hours to make the trek out to Mando. They have an in demand repair department and have seen just about everything, so I figured I'd at least get an assessment.

    It's going to be a bit more challenging than I'd hoped. The damage was done so long ago that the rim is essentially permanently buckled outward, and won't mate with the top and back under simple pressure and glue. The kerfing is also split inside as I had referred to, making it impossible to join everything without first mending that.

    All is not lost; Stan Jay gave me the name of a shop in Ohio, Lay's Guitars, where a fellow named Dan Shinn "has the technology" (to quote The Bionic Man). He will need to remove the back and part of the rim, re-form it, and reconstruct. It will be major surgery akin to a partial rebuild (with original materials). Cost will likely exceed $1k. Stan was very encouraging that I should do it for the guitar's sake, since it is a rare and desirable model.

    So faced with that news, I proceeded to play a few Martins I'd been interested in, before wandering into the Expensive Room. And there I got into trouble. God help me. They had a guitar in a rack with a note on it saying Not For Sale (Yet). I asked Stan and he said it was just cleared for sale that morning, so I should go ahead and remove that note. Okay. Can I play it? Sure!

    it was a 1928 L-5. (Yes, technically 1931 by the new Spann serial number dating, but that's academic.) I played it for 90 minutes. It had bad strings and hadn't been prepped for the showroom yet. But good grief, the neck was a dream just like Internet lore tells us. It's going to be refretted, and needs til September/October in the shop, says Stan. For just $100, you can have the right of first refusal. So, now I do...

    i have to sell a serious bunch of guitars if I'm going to follow through. I've got a little time to plan. But this is one of those holy grails, and Stan has a long waiting list for it if I bail. In the meantime, I'm getting on the phone to that guy in Ohio to get the L-12 work underway.

    Moral: Sometimes it's cheaper to just stay home.

  14. #13

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    "that the rim is essentially permanently buckled outward, and won't mate with the top and back under simple pressure and glue"

    Roger like i mentioned in the other thread; i am pretty sure, a similar remark was in the ebay item description too when i saw it. Later during the auction it was removed from the item description.

    and I loved your L5 demo on the Mandolin bros website.... I have an Epi Broadway just like that....
    Last edited by fws6; 06-30-2013 at 05:15 AM.

  15. #14

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    Sometimes things just happen like that.....not when you're looking, but when you least expect it.

    Good luck on both.....the L-12 restoration is well worth going after and the L-5, well of course you've got to try!
    Maybe you need a good reshuffling of the deck anyway. Focus is good.


  16. #15

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    Frank, you did mention something like that. Ugh. Well, he never made any promises about it being fixable. He just told me that once he bought the clamps and glue to attempt it but wimped out. Assuming all goes well, I'll still be financially okay - I paid low enough to cover a good amount of spend.

    You discovered the Mando video! I didn't want to broadcast it here. The playing was kind of lame and I didn't really know what progression he was playing so there are clams. Stan was enthusiastic to capture our noodling so of course we indulged. The guitar was not showing itself well due to strings and dirt. But like a supermodel late in the day after a bit of personal neglect, you know she'll be smoking hot when she cleans up to go out later.

    I just have to sell about half a dozen nice guitars. Reshuffling is good, actually. I often rue having 20+ guitars (no kidding, I'm not being insincere about that).

    Anyway, you can indeed see the '28 L-5 photos on Mando's site.

  17. #16

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    You could decide to save some money for the L-5 by bugging out on the L-12. You've checked it out. It's old, it's rare. It's odd (personally, I never warmed to the picture-window thang). You've pretty much eliminated any Otis Redding ownership -- you're not going to get a better source that Mister Steve Cropper! Even if you manage to prove it to the Bar-Kays, that's not a connection which would add to the value (in the way that an Otis Redding connection might have).

    I'm also a little suspicious of the back-story -- not of you, Roger, but the story your got told. If I tried to sell you a guitar that floated up form a plane that crashed in the lake . . . but only part of it has water damage, you might say, "That's really hard to figure."

    Most of all it's a very spendy project. Even more expensive if you are going to source vintage 30s parts. But you could probably get your money out of it as-is on EBay if you don't spend another buck.

    + + +

    The thing is, you have played THIS L-5 at MandoBros. You know, first-hand, what you're getting. That is a tremendous advantage (and incentive).

    Just because it gets said all the time doesn't make it less true: A fine guitar is not a fungible item. It's not "a 1928 L-5." It is this particular 1928 L-5. You could travel the country and find four others, but it's entirely possible that none of them would light you up like this one.

    Good luck, and I'm not the only one who's looking forward to hearing about it.

  18. #17

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    These are all reasonable points, it's hard to deny! The story of how the guitar ended up in Madison, Wisconsin Police custody for "years" is forever lost to history. I think you should hear it, though. It's opening up as I play it a bit each day. I'm going to give the fellow that Stan Jay recommended a call tomorrow and see what he says. On one hand I wish I didn't have it to deal with, but I don't think I could just launch it back on Ebay (especially after all of this discussion here!).

    I don't have to replace any rare parts, though. It's all a wood construction project at this point. In excellent shape it's worth around $4.5-$5K according to the book they looked in at Mando. I'm into it $1400. At even twice that I may either get a sweet guitar back to play, or to sell and make a profit eventually. If it turns out to be a total disaster once he looks at it, then I'll list it for no reserve and with an honest "as is" story.

    If I have the money when the '28 L-5 is ready in the Fall, I will go down there with my Super 400 (to compare) and ask myself if I really, really want to be its next custodian.

    BTW thanks to all for humoring my self-indulgence on this topic the last few days.

  19. #18

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    I have the opportunity to try out and then, if I like it, purchase a 1941 Gibson L-12. The guitar is in exceptionally good condition, sunburst with 'blister' birdseye back, no pickup, no extra screw holes etc. Headstock has the old 'curly' Gibson logo, but the modern crown inlay not the art deco one. Pickguard is possibly repro, but very good, and binding and neck joint and finish all original and sound. Original brass tailpiece.
    I've looked at RPs youtube of his 1935 L-12, and if it sounds similar I shall be very pleased. Is this a realistic expectation, did construction/bracing change between these two dates?
    Any comments, advice from L-12 owners/players would be much appreciated.
    I'm currently playing in a trio doing 30s/40s songs acoustically with doghouse bass and flat-top rhythm guitar and this would be used for leads, fills and rhythm as well.
    I do have the beginnings of arthritis in my hands, and my acoustics are all set up with 11-50 gauge strings, would these drive the top enough for the intended use?
    Last edited by bananafist; 12-29-2013 at 08:03 AM. Reason: Put wrong date for guitar!

  20. #19

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    RP's was X braced; a 47 will be parrallel braced. So they will sound different indeed. The 47 will be (a bit) less warm and midrangy , but have a bit more punch / power / presence usually.

    011 would be fine Id say and an L12 is an exceptionally fine guitar. It is an L5 with a little less binding.

  21. #20

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    fws6 - Thanks for your rapid reply. I typed in the wrong year for the guitar, its 1941 not 1947. Would this still be lateral bracing? Thanks for your other comments, especially about the string gauges.

  22. #21

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    X braced until mid '39 I believe

  23. #22

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    Hi Banana,

    '41 is parallel braced as the other gents mentioned, but don't let that deter you. It's wartime era and I believe they were still built less heavily in that period than the post-war models. It's all conjecture because each guitar is unique. Go play her! (which you will)

    I believe your strings will be fine. I'm not a heavy handed player at all. I use 12-53 80/20 on my acoustics. I find that lighter strings move the air in the box just as well. They might not "crunch" as much as heavies, but clearly there are advantages to both ends of the gauge spectrum.

    I don't own that '35 any longer, but I now own a '33 that's got the 16" body. It's parallel braced and a real sweetie.

    Hope to see photos of the one you're trying out.
    Last edited by rpguitar; 12-29-2013 at 04:22 PM.

  24. #23

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    Pics of the L-12 in question. Comes with original tweed case or reduced price without - which to go for?

    Gibson L-12-1941-l12-3-jpg

    Gibson L-12-1941-l12-2-jpg

    Gibson L-12-1941-l12-4-jpg

    Gibson L-12-1941-l-12-1-jpg

  25. #24

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    Stunning! And, if it were me I'd get the original case as well.

  26. #25

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    guard is a repro as you thought.
    the Kluson tuners are from a little later and came on higher end guitars like the L-5 and Super 400.
    owners sometimes swapped out the original open back tuners for these Klusons
    definitely take the orig case

  27. #26

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    Oh my, I would jump on that guitar. Take it! When will you get another opportunity like that? And the case, absolutely. Don't separate those good friends after so many years.

  28. #27

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    Oh yeah thats nice. Original finish ? Looks amazingly clean , a beauty

  29. #28

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    Oooo! Very nice! Like the others said, keep the original case with this guitar. You can always get a recent HSC for carrying the guitar around or a flight case for travels.

  30. #29

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    Run, don't walk, to buy that L-12!

    I didn't realize the L-12's were akin to L5's without the extra binding. I thought the L7's were L5's without the extra binding. I assume the L-12's preceded the L7's?

    It's hard to believe that L-12 isn't restored.

  31. #30

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    L-12 is #2 in the lineup, in between the 5 and the 7. It's more like a fancy L-7 than a dressed down L-5 to me, but that's splitting hairs. They're all similar. There's also the rare L-10.

  32. #31

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    Owner swears its the original finish, but admits the pickguard may be repro. I didn't know about the tuners. How to tell if refinish or overspray - smell and look for haziness?
    There is some neck wear, middle of neck, see photo's, which suggests it hasn't been refinished.
    Thanks for the advice and comments, I'm hoping to see it next week, can't make it this week.

    Gibson L-12-1941-l12-5-jpg

    Gibson L-12-1941-l12-6-jpg

  33. #32

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    Quote Originally Posted by rpguitar
    L-12 is #2 in the lineup, in between the 5 and the 7. It's more like a fancy L-7 than a dressed down L-5 to me, but that's splitting hairs. They're all similar. There's also the rare L-10.
    I have always been curious about Gibson's rationale for the numbering of these models. Is there some logic here that I'm missing? why is the L5 more ornate than the L7, which is less ornate than the L12?

  34. #33

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    In the world of "Advanced" 17" Gibson acoustic archtop guitars:

    Postwar until 1955:
    L-7 & variants
    L-12 & variants
    L-5 & variants

    After 1955
    L-7 & variants
    L-5 & variants

    As a '41, your L-12 alreasy has a mix of visible features, already mentioned.
    The only way to confirm some of the non-visible features is through an in hand inspection, but that doesn't change the attractiveness of this instrument.
    - it could be x-braced or parallel braced
    - it could have a shorter scale or a longer scale
    I'd grab it regardless - it certainly looks like a wonderful instrument.
    Last edited by Hammertone; 12-29-2013 at 09:24 PM.

  35. #34

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    Wonderful find. I love the old curly script logo. I love the blister back. I love the bound headstock and I love the original Art Deco tailpiece. And I love the original Aeroplane tweed case. Count them loves.

    Lovely. Lovely. Lovely.

  36. #35

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    Late to the admiration party (as usual) looks magnificent!

    I've had two 16" L-12's......'33 and '34, a '37 X-braced L-7 and still play some "humble" wartime and post-war L-7's.
    I've always found a lot to love about each one.

    I'm pretty sure this one would have straight braces and a long scale being a '41.
    I have an extra original 17" L-12 or L-5 pickguard from the mid 30's that I don't need anymore, but it screws into the top rather than being pinned to the neck extension as yours appears to be. But the repro on your example has the right proportions and looks good.

    So go ahead and get it, with case and all. Wake it up!


  37. #36

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    So, we sold our old house, we did a bit better than expected, and I managed to convince my wife to let me use a portion of the bonus proceeds to "invest" in a serious guitar. I've been looking at getting a pre-war L5 or Epiphone because those tend to have been the most standout acoustic archtops I've ever played. But I wasn't sure if I wanted a 16" or 17", or parallel or x-braced, and even in Los Angeles there really aren't many quality examples lying around to be taken for a test drive.

    I've basically been stalking every pre-war guitar on the internet for the last couple of weeks, and was pretty pissed when I saw a great looking 16" L5 get sold in a matter a couple days after listing from a music store in Kansas, and every other 16" L5 was either refinished, renecked, or had a replacement fingerboard, or was a signed Lloyd Loar and this absurdly expensive. Now, while a guitar with major work, or a refin, or whatever could still be awesome sound if done right, but since I couldn't play it first, I was reluctant to drop $8k-$10k even if there was a trial period. I even found a local walnut-backed Broadway, but it would've needed at least a refret, if not a full neck reset. Although it was comparably affordable, I was worried about the guitar being a money pit.

    Gibson L-12-1935-gibson-l-12-jpg

    Then, the other day I saw the auction for this 1935 L-12 with no reserve and super low starting bid, and it caught my attention.

    I kept tabs on it as time ticked away. Reading the description and checking the pictures, I could see the significant play wear on the back of the neck, and that told me that there was a good chance this guitar was good. I ended up watching the auction tick down it's final seconds while we were at dinner, and I ended up bidding manually with just enough time to rebid once. I ended up getting it for just under $3100. I immediately regretted the decision, but I decided the 24 trial period offered by the seller was protection enough, and that if I really hated it or felt I'd been had, I would just be out the shipping.

    Well, it arrived today, and the first thing I noticed was how light the package was. Turns out the play wear was only one of the telltale signs of a great acoustic archtop, this guitar was super light too. Awesome. I was so excited I un-boxed in my mailbox place. I put the bridge on, and slowly brought the strings up to tension, and was immediately pleasantly surprised. I brought it home, futzed with the bridge placement slightly, and was greated by an amazingly open, resonant, singing guitar - every bit what a pre-war, X-braced 17" archtop should be.

    I was taking a webcam video to show a friend, and just decided to a full review and playing demo on it. So check it out.

  38. #37

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    I can't think of a more deserving player on this forum for a guitar like that. Now you and RP can hang out in the L12 club. Enjoy it in good health.

  39. #38

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    Congratulations - it's nice to see your excitement regarding what appears to be a fine instrument.
    You mention the future comparison between the sound of a short-scale, x-braced 17" like your new Gibson L-12 with, for instance, an Epiphone from the same era, say an Epiphone Masterbuilt Triumph or Broadway, which are long-scale, parallel-braced 17 1/2" instruments. My personal experience is that there is no better fun that that comparison.

    You also mention the mahogany neck on the L-7 and the L-12 (and L-10 as well), and the maple neck on the L-5. During this period, Gibson produced the L-12 with maple necks as well - mine has a maple neck. You might want to take a closer look at yours. As always, such threads are useless without pix, so here are two '38s:

    Last edited by Hammertone; 05-02-2015 at 11:34 PM.

  40. #39

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    So is this a maple neck after all?

    Gibson L-12-img_0989-jpg

  41. #40

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    Looks like it to me - a well-played one!

    In addition to what the wood looks like, in my own experience I have observed that the mahogany-necked archtops have pointed heels, while the maple-necked versions have rounded heels. Perhaps some other members could chime in here with their observations regarding the pre-war Advanced archtops they have handled.
    Last edited by Hammertone; 05-02-2015 at 04:37 AM.

  42. #41

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    That neck looks like Honduran hog to me. But, it's hard to tell for sure from the photo.

  43. #42

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    A bit harder to see when the finish is still on it, heh:
    Attached Images Attached Images Gibson L-12-gib-l12-neck-jpg 

  44. #43

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    It's a rounded heel.

  45. #44

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    A great story. Congratulations on a fine guitar. If this L12 could talk, what stories would it tell? What gauge and make of strings would you be using on your L12, Jonathan?

    Here's a link to photos of a 16" L12 with a mahogany neck and pointed heel: 1934 Gibson L-12
    Last edited by Jabberwocky; 05-02-2015 at 02:04 AM.

  46. #45

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    Oh man thats great. I placed bid on that, and it didnt meet reserve. Then the seller relisted it, and it sold at a price lower than my bid in the earlier auction... ah well, too bad for me but GREAT for you.

    you are right that these are warm and full but not barky when compared to other Gibsons and Epiphones, as your guitar is x braced and not parrallel. That was only so for a short period around the mid - late 30s. Gibsons that were made earlier or later will have the parralel and indeed have more projection especially in a band context. All Epiphones are Parallel too , they never made an x braced guitar.

    after archtop dot com has given you a 350 quote to make a guard, also drop me a line and Ill make you one at $79

  47. #46

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    Oh, superb! Excellent guitar, and thankfully in the right hands. The world has turned to a balanced state. We can all relax now Seriously, it makes me happy to hear you play this guitar, Jonathan.

  48. #47

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    Nice axe! I owned a 1935 L-12 for a while. Mine had a mahogany neck for sure, 24.75" scale. It had a wonderful tone but the only thing I didn't like was the fingerboard radius. It was tighter than any Gibson I've ever played. I had it measured by a luthier who was examining it to see if it could be changed, and he came up with a compound radius with 6" as the smallest measurement!

    Nevertheless, it was a true beauty and one of the best sounding archtops I've owned. Notice the tailpiece difference between ours - yours has the late 16" L-5 tailpiece, while mine had one unique to the L-12 model (and for just a short time).


    Gibson L-12-l12web4-jpgGibson L-12-l12web5-jpg

  49. #48

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    Just love listening to you play. Congrats on both the sale of your home and the fantastic guitar!

  50. #49

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    Quote Originally Posted by fws6
    Oh man thats great. I placed bid on that, and it didnt meet reserve. Then the seller relisted it, and it sold at a price lower than my bid in the earlier auction... ah well, too bad for me but GREAT for you.

    after archtop dot com has given you a 350 quote to make a guard, also drop me a line and Ill make you one at $79
    Hey man, given your stable of beautiful instruments, I feel slightly less bad about getting this one out from under you. Ha!

    I'll message you about the pickguard too. Joe's made two pickguards for me, and they worked out perfectly, but yeah, they ain't cheap.

  51. #50

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    Gibson L-12-gibson1947l12-5-jpgGibson L-12-gibson1947l12-1-jpg

    Not to steal the thunder away from Jonathan's lovely 1935 L12; this is my 1947 L12 as taken under the lighting of the shop.