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  1. #1

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    Can anyone give me their thoughts on the Gibson L-50? To my knowledge, they're a 16", solid top, entry-level acoustic archtop. How's the tone or feel of these guitars? Because I'll likely never be the owner of an L-5, L-12, L-10 or maybe even an L-7, these are priced more within my grasp.

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  3. #2

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    They're all over the map, in my experience. I've played a few that were well taken care of that were quite nice, others that were really difficult to play and needed some big time setup/neck reset action.

    In good shape, they're decent sounding, IMHO...kinda quiet, nothing like a good L5 or L7...


    The "poor man's L5" is the Loar 600/700, if you ask me. Blasphemous perhaps, but a much better sounding guitar than the L-50.
    Jeff Matz, Jazz Guitar:
    http://www.youtube.com/user/jeffreymatz

    "Jazz is like life...it goes on longer than you think, and as soon as you're like 'oh, I get it,' it ends."

    --The Ghost of Duke Ellington

  4. #3

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    Check out the Loar 600/700 in person or by mail-order through a shop with no-fuss your-money-back returns (not store credit).

  5. #4

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    My main gripe with the L-50 is that unlike the L-5/L-7/L-10 the fingerboard is not elevated over the body. That results in a different neck angle, bridge height, totally different feel. If I wanted a lower cost vintage instrument, I'd look at the Epi's. My Epi Blackstone is awesome.

    Also, will second what Jeff and Jabber said. I like the Loars too.
    Find your voice, and tell a story!

    Circle 'Round the Sun

  6. #5

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    I searched a long time for a good acoustic archtop. I tried out L-48s, L-50s, and Loars whenever I could. I eventually picked up a '51 Epiphone Zenith in good, but not perfect, condition for $700 that runs circles around either Gibson or the Loars. It was the cheap student model in its day, but they were built like tanks and they sound great.

  7. #6

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    I wouldn't count out the L-50 right away... there are some nice ones out there and you can still find a real bargain on one every now and then. Entry level was the all laminate L-48. The next step up was the same size L-50 with a solid top neck binding and flowerpot inlays (and a much nicer tone IMO). As Jeff says they can vary a lot. Condition is important since some of the survivors are pretty beat, but I've played a few I liked and one I loved. The 16" body made it a little more comfortable for me than my 17" and that particular one sounded great. Classic archtop rhythm sound, slightly less bass and volume but a really nice tone. The necks also vary... the early 50s one I let get away was 1 11/16ths but carved thinner than my ES-125 of similar vintage.

    I think the majority of L-50s have the fretboard flat to the body so there are limited (but some good) choices for a floater if you ever want one.

    Good luck... I hope you get to play before you buy.
    Some days it's not even worth chewing through the restraints...

  8. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by kamlapati View Post
    My main gripe with the L-50 is that unlike the L-5/L-7/L-10 the fingerboard is not elevated over the body. That results in a different neck angle, bridge height, totally different feel. If I wanted a lower cost vintage instrument, I'd look at the Epi's. My Epi Blackstone is awesome.

    Also, will second what Jeff and Jabber said. I like the Loars too.
    I'm glad you mentioned Epiphone. How would an Epi Triumph compare to the L-50? It appears similar but I don't know the specs.

  9. #8

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    Epi Triumphs are roughly equivalent to an L-7. Order of magnitude nicer than an L-50.
    Find your voice, and tell a story!

    Circle 'Round the Sun

  10. #9

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    The Epi Zenith may be closer to the L 50. Laminate back and sides, solid top, 16" body, 25 1/2" scale. And it has a raised fingerboard.

  11. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by dallasblues View Post
    I'm glad you mentioned Epiphone. How would an Epi Triumph compare to the L-50? It appears similar but I don't know the specs.
    Very different... the Triumph is a larger, 'full size' 17+", fully carved, long scale pro-level instrument, the same specs as the Broadway & Deluxe but with simpler appointments, I'd expect to pay around 1k more than for a Triumph than an L-50.

    Chazmo mentioned the Epi Zenith and these are great guitars. I had a 15" Olympic I never should have sold (I have a buy-back clause with the buyer LOL). According to Joe V. at archtop.com, when Gibson was using laminates for the b&s and some tops (L-48) of their 'student' models the Epis were still carved. That and the longer scale gives even the smaller bodied vintage Epiphones a nice bark.
    Last edited by AlohaJoe; 05-21-2014 at 07:24 PM.
    Some days it's not even worth chewing through the restraints...

  12. #11

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    I find the non-elevated fingerboard on my L-4 makes the guitar seem slimmer and I like the feel but you correct there is not much room under the strings for the de Armond. Sometimes you can find a deal on an L-4, especially a well used one with no cutaway.
    Thanks John

  13. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by kamlapati View Post
    My main gripe with the L-50 is that unlike the L-5/L-7/L-10 the fingerboard is not elevated over the body.That results in a different neck angle, bridge height, totally different feel.
    ? How so?
    Patrick2 . . Heritage representative (now former)

  14. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by Patrick2 View Post
    ? How so?
    It is a different feel, hard to explain. I had both. At times one feels more "streamlined" or "compact" than the other, but at other times it might be the opposite. I think it depends on what kind of playing you're doing, your posture, etc.

    ESPECIALLY when playing up near the heel and past.

  15. #14

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    I have played a bunch of L50s and for about 40+ years I have owned one. L50s vary with vintage. The earliest--early-30s--are 15-inch, flat-back guitars. They are built like a Gibson flat-top guitar, but feature a carved spruce top. Otherwise, they have a flat mahogany back and mahogany sides. They are nice playing and sounding, but are kind of quaint. The '37 vintage L50 through the wartime models are 16" guitars with carved spruce tops, carved maple backs, and maple sides. They are all solid woods. The necks are mahogany. The neck is non-elevated, like on early L4 guitars. (Elevated necks over the body for Gibson didn't show up on the 17" guitars until about '38 or '39.) After the war, Gibson changed the L50 and went to parallelogram fret markers instead of dots. The body materials gradually shifted to arched, from carved wood--a cost consideration. By the 60s the L50 was pretty low end.

    In terms of playability and sound, the '37-'40 Gibson L50 is a lot like the small-bodied L-5 of the late-20s and early-30s, only less ornate. The woods are the same and are carved, just not selected for fancy grain. Playing a '28 L-5 and my '38 L50 side-by-side, the sound is remarkably similar. Both guitars have an incredible treble that shimmers and exhibits a natural reverb. The guitars compare very favorably with similar period flat top guitars of good design and build--Martins or Gibson SJ.

    Neither the L-5 nor the L50 sounds much like a 17" L-5 (advanced body) of, say, '38, or an 18" Super 400. The big Gibsons have a low end chunk that is different than the crisp, pianistic 16" body Gibson sound. If you can find a post-'35, pre-war L50, it is a superior bargain in an excellent sounding and playing archtop. I play one daily.

  16. #15

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    Epi Triumph vs L50? Been there. You really cannot make a blanket statement. Again, it is a matter of vintages. Early Epiphones are quite good. My mentor, when I was learning, had a huge collection of Epiphone acoustic archtops. The pre-war examples were sensational. Later on, it was all over the map. Quality suffered after the war. The Triumph is LOUD but not subtle. An early, but not pre-'35 L50 is subtle, with a beautiful high end and natural reverb--just like the 16" L7 and L4, or early L5--all made from exactly the same woods.

    I would take almost any 16" carved Gibson from the pre-war over a Triumph of any period, for solo guitar playing. In a band with horns in which I intended to play an acoustic guitar, on the other hand, I would take the Triumph and sacrifice tone in favor of volume. I say this having played an improbable number of vintage, acoustic Epiphones and Gibsons.

    Now, if someone offered me a swap of, say, a non-cutaway Epi Deluxe for a '37 or '38 L50 I would unhesitatingly jump at the Epi and offer some of the Brooklyn Bridge as well. :-)

  17. #16

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    Good write-up by Greentone. Thank you for your valuable input. I learnt from you.

    That's the "issue" I have with the L50. Spans a long era and the wide variations out there. It is a guitar for the initiated and one who enjoys the hunt. Not quite one's My First Archtop for playing. I feel that the L50 requires a fair bit of knowledge to look for a good one with no issues.
    Last edited by Jabberwocky; 05-22-2014 at 11:22 PM.

  18. #17

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    Wow, lots off misinformation here on the L-50.

    1st off it's acoustic, so who cares about if there is room for a pick up? A pickup is for electric sound and the L-50 is all about it's acoustic sound. Use a microphone to get it's wonderful tone if you want to record or play it amplified.

    2nd, the post war to late 1950s L-50 were well made and excellent if well cared for. There were some blonde models but most were a tobacco sunburst. Mid 1950s models I have owned had laminated maple backs, Maple sides and a spruce top, mahogany neck and a bound rosewood finger board. The set angle of the neck is the same as other Gibson archies, but the fingerboard extension does not sit over the fingerboard, it is glued onto it instead. Because there is no cut away, you can't reach the higher frets, so it makes no difference.

    The mahogany neck is very stable compared to maple necks; the L-50 stays in tune much better and does not react as much as maple does when the weather changes.

    If you are trying to use flat wound strings on this guitar, like any other guitar, flat wounds will kill off a bunch of volume, tone and sustain. My L-50 sounds fantastic when using Martin Marquis 12s.

    My 1954 L-50 has crown inlays. It really began to wake up about 15 years ago when it turned 50 years old, although it has always sounded great, it just keeps getting better.

    You cannot compare an L-50 to any of the 17 inch and bigger bodied guitars, that is apples and oranges. A good L-50 will beat the pants off of any Korean or Chinese 16 inch archtop. There is no replacement for aged quality wood, real hide glue, and a real nitro-cellulose finish. Put simply, the import guitars use soft rubbery glue (titebond) and soft finishes (polyurethane) which kill off tone.

    Nobody mentioned that unlike all the imports, the Gibson L-50 has capped frets with nibs on the edge binding for a velvet smooth feel on the neck. All imports have the fret ends sitting over the top of the edge binding and so the ends of the frets are sharp and you can feel them when sliding up and down the neck. The frets on the L-50s are a smaller gauge than most archtops too, they are a medium wire, not the jumbo wire that is more popular. The thinner fret wire gives crisper intonation with improved volume and sustain.

    So you can about $400 to $1600 for an acoustic archtop, but your best value will be a good L-50 as it is a real Gibson and it will only increase in value, tone and collectability with time. An asian guitar will only hold it's value, and due to the finishes and glue they use which does not allow the wood to breath, they do not get better with age.

    All that said, you can find a real dog L-50 that is beat, or one that just does not sound very good, but this is true of all makes of guitars. Conversely, you can also find a mass produced Asian guitar that is a lucky mistake ( they accidentally made a good one!) which plays and sounds great , but they are the exception, not the rule and very hard to find.

    The L-50 is an excellent value and a good one makes a wonderful acoustic guitar. If you want a Jazz guitar with a pick-up, then buy one that came that way in the first place.

  19. #18

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    Jaymen,

    Good post. I own an 81 year-old L-50 that I've had for nearly 50 years. It's my main acoustic guitar.

    Like you, I've never been miffed that the fretboard isn't elevated. It's an acoustic guitar, for me. I don't care if the guitar won't accept a pickup.

    My guitar has a carved top, carved back, and solid maple sides. It says so in the '37 Gibson Catalog, and I've actually inspected the top, sides, and back of my guitar--glue came undone near the end block at the back.

    The guitar stays in tune essentially forever. Before I acquired the guitar from a friend of my father's, my father tuned the guitar for the friend. That guy moved the guitar all around the world for five years. When I went to buy the guitar, the owner said that my dad was the last guy to tune it--it was still in tune, although the strings were old, at that point.

    The guitar sounds to die for. I have played some great 16" Gibsons, including '20s L5 instruments. My L50 doesn't lack much in comparison to these guitars.

    The L50 is a fine acoustic guitar.

  20. #19

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    Is that greentone like Freddy Green? Cool name if so. I heard he played 14s to get his chunky signature sound.

    Interestingly, my L-50 came with the hang tags, booklet and a little orange cardboard box marked Gibson with a set of Gibson bronze flat wound strings. The guitar also had bronze flat wounds on it. It looked to have hardly been played, and I assume the strings were original, so they were available in 1954. My serial number begins with an X dating it to '54. The flat wound strings were pretty dead, even the new ones, so I use round wounds. Just by how you play and where you pick, you can sound like Ma Carter, Charlie Christian, Bucky Pizzarelli, or Scotty Moore, so it is quite diverse. Every time I play it out, people always comment on the tone; some are amazed it does not have a pick-up and amplifier. I have noticed they are steadily going up in price; good ones are over $1K up to $2500. I thought $700 was al lot to pay back in 1988, but now realize that was a bargain. I sold my L-48 to but this L-50, best swap I ever did.

    Jay

  21. #20

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    That's it...greentone as in Freddie Green.

  22. #21

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    Love that, Freddie is my rhythm inspiration, and so few have ever heard of him.

    Did he have a Stromberg?

    Jay

  23. #22

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    Freddie Green played an Epiphone, a Stromberg, and for years a Gretsch.

    Greentone also refers to Grant Green. Both artists had big impacts on my appreciation of jazz guitar.

  24. #23

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    So few have heard of Freddie Green? Seriously?

  25. #24

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    Quote Originally Posted by jaymen View Post
    Is that greentone like Freddy Green? Cool name if so. I heard he played 14s to get his chunky signature sound.

    Jay
    Freddie Green was quite secretive about his technique and setup - as were many musicians of his generation. For them giving trade secrets away could pave the way for another man in his chair which in turn could mean loss of income and social deroute.

    Jim Hall once asked Freddie Green if he had a "fathery advice" he could share. Green answered: "Oh yes, pack your suitcase the night before you go and pack your band uniform on top." When Hall asked if he could try out Greens guitar, the answer was a straight plain "No". At other times, Green let obvious amateurs, who wasn't likely to be competitors, try his guitar and when they gave up due to the high action, he would smile prankish and suggest some woodshedding.

    What we do know - from photos and video - is that he had his guitar set up with a murderishly high action (between 1/4 and 1/2" at the 12th fret) and that he had a personal and ideosyncratic technique. For all I know, nobody has ever been able to decode his secrets though many guesses has been made. Some have suggested he "half muted" some strings while letting others ring (often only one). If so, the high action may have helped to get some kind of muffled pitched sound from the "half muted" strings.

    Check this out: Photos of Guitars Owned by Freddie Green



    Sendt fra min SM-G935F med Tapatalk
    Last edited by oldane; 07-16-2019 at 07:44 AM.
    "But if they all play like me, then who am I?" (Lester Young)

  26. #25

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    James Chirillo has done a great video where he is explaining Freddie's style and the "secrets" he has unveiled himself.



    On the same site mentioned by Oldane, there is a page where scores and chord charts can be seen.

    Freddie Green Woodshed Master Class, by Michael Pettersen

    There is also a video by John Pizzarelli where he is demoing Freddie's style, especially the so-called "one note - chord" concept but I can't put the hand on it.

    Cheers.
    Archtop YT Channel: www.youtube.com/+FredArchtop

  27. #26

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fred Archtop View Post
    James Chirillo has done a great video where he is explaining Freddie's style and the "secrets" he has unveiled himself.



    On the same site mentioned by Oldane, there is a page where scores and chord charts can be seen.

    Freddie Green Woodshed Master Class, by Michael Pettersen

    There is also a video by John Pizzarelli where he is demoing Freddie's style, especially the so-called "one note - chord" concept but I can't put the hand on it.

    Cheers.
    Especially the "one note chords" have been hard for others to emulate. Often there is just one note fretted and ringing, but there is also something else in addition to that which makes the sound fuller. That's where the speculations about the "half sounding notes" comes in. The high action makes it easier to depress the strings enough to give a muted sound with some resemblence of a pitch but without actually fretting the string, thus it will not ring fully. Other strings were just fully muted so they only emitted a pitchless percussive sound when struck by the pick. But I think only Freddie Green himself knew exactly what he was doing - and as said he didn't gladly give away his trade secrets.

    Addition:
    Many search for guitar picks which doesn't emit as little "pick click" as possible. For acoustic rhythm guitar one should go the opposite way: Go for a clicking, percussive attack of the notes which makes the instrument easier heard with other instruments. Freddie Green himself saw his guitar as kind of part of the drum set - "like a hihat in Bb or a snare drum in G" as he put it. Often his guitar can be hard to hear detailed but on those recordings where it's heard clearly, one hears a sound which is not mellow but metallic and piercing. FWIW, Green started out as a banjo player and switched when archtop guitars replaced banjos in jazz bands in the beginning of the 1930s.
    Last edited by oldane; 07-18-2019 at 01:08 PM.
    "But if they all play like me, then who am I?" (Lester Young)

  28. #27

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    Warms my heart to hear about L-50's.

    Thanks for this, everyone.

    Love my 1935!

    I'm a lucky dog.

  29. #28

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    Greentone sums it up well.
    I've had one L-50, a '37 with carved back, and the elevated fingerboard. I've had numerous vintage Epis, pre-war and post war.
    The Gibson was a good guitar, short scale, kerfed tonebar bracing, wide string spacing(1-3/4" nut). It was a softer sound than the Epis, comped decently, also good for strumming and bluesy fingerpicking.
    However: all vintage Epis have carved tonebars, and a long scale(25-1/4"). IMO, that gives them a distinctive bark, or bite, especially for single note leads. For my use, in a band, the Epis(16-3/8": Spartan/Blackstone/Zenith, etc), or my Ritz(15-3/8") just cut right though for lead playing...and rhythm and comping: works better than the L-50 did. My current favorite is a '47 Blackstone: they can be had for the same(or less) money, often, than an L-50. This postwar Blackstone(and a '47 Spartan I previously owned) have been the best all-round archtops I've owned.
    I did like my L-50, wish I hadn't sold it!

  30. #29

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    Quote Originally Posted by Greentone View Post
    That's it...greentone as in Freddie Green.
    ...and all this time I thought it was Greentone as in Grant Green (because of your picture)
    Keith

  31. #30

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    It's absolutely both Greens. On acoustic archtop it's Freddie. On electric, I go for Grant's Blue Note sounds.

  32. #31

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    My '38 Triumph is as excellent a guitar for fingerpicking, or quiet playing with a pick, as it is for hard rhythm playing. The fact that it's a great swing rhythm guitar doesn't take away from its other, highly versatile qualities.

    As far as post-war L-50 and L-4 guitars (same guitar, different trim level) go, one can fit a Dearmond easily enough - it simply won't slide all the way up to the typical neck position - it will usually end up in the "middle" pickup position. These post-war, carved top/laminated back versions can sound lovely. The last L-4 I owned was not particularly loud, but had a great, sweet tone to it.

    Pre-war versions are different guitars.
    Last edited by Hammertone; 07-23-2019 at 08:22 AM.
    "Somebody get me out of this chair." - BOB WILLS
    Hammertone is a registered Hofnerologist.

  33. #32

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    My 1937 L50 has the elevated fingerboard.It has a lovely acoustic tone, and a good amplified Jazz sound with the Kent Armstrong pickup I installed.
    Lately, I have been thinking of trying a different pickup that could bring out the acoustic nature of the guitar a bit more more.Any suggestions?
    Attached Images Attached Images Gibson L-50-l50-jpg 
    Last edited by Roget; 07-23-2019 at 10:16 PM.

  34. #33

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    DeArmond Rhythm Chief, either the 1000 or the 1100. If you don't want to put holes in the bass side of the neck to attach it, BluTack will do the job with no permanent alterations.