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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...

    Gibson L-50-gibson-l-50-jpg


    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
  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.

  4. #3

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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.

  5. #4

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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.

  6. #5

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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.

  7. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by kamlapati
    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.

  8. #7

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    Epi Triumphs are roughly equivalent to an L-7. Order of magnitude nicer than an L-50.

  9. #8

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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.

  10. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by dallasblues
    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, 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.

  11. #10

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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

  12. #11

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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.

  13. #12

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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. :-)

  14. #13

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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.

  15. #14

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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.

  16. #15

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    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.

  17. #16

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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.


  18. #17

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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.

  19. #18

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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!

  20. #19

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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.

  21. #20

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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.

  22. #21

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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.

  23. #22

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    If you saw my listing for my vintage 47 amp in the for sale section you may have noticed an interesting guitar. It's a Gibson L-50 Black Special. I've been getting questions about it, so I figured I should do a NGD post. Yes there's a pickup in it. No it's not original. I saw it listed on Carter Vintage at a good price and I knew I was planning to mod it. I was kinda thinking of putting a CC Pickup in it, like Fred Archtop's Black Slaman, but I already did that to a sunburst L-50. I decided to go with another classic pickup - the Paul Bigsby cast iron pickup. This one was made by TK Smith.

    Here are some pics.

    Gibson L-50-img_2089-jpgGibson L-50-img_2137-jpg

    And some notes about the pickup. It's a sweet pillowy, squishy, chewy pickup. I don't know exactly how else to describe it. Especially plugged into my Elektra 185, I feel like I'm picking a soft, bouncy cloud-thing rather than a guitar. I hope that's descriptive enough. The tone is naturally rolled off quite a bit, so I recalibrate my technique and amp settings a bit when I play this guitar. That said, the pickup (and the guitar) is really sensitive to these adjustments, I can get a lot of variety in tone from just a neck pickup by picking closer to the bridge, picking harder, palm muting, etc. I figured a Brazilian classical piece would be good material to demo this piece of gear with. It's a perfect match with my EH 185 clone by Elektra amps.

    I posted a clip of it on youtube and instagram, enjoy. I stopped using fancy mics to record because I don't have the time/patience needed to achieve professional quality audio, so this is just with a Shure MV88; absolutely zero postprocessing (aside from lossy compression courtesy of youtube and instagram).

    juan hernandez on Instagram: “Speaking of Dilermando Reis, here’s a tune for @jimcampilongo. Guitar outfitted with a @tksmithguitar CAR pickup by Geoff at @sfguitarworks…”
    Last edited by omphalopsychos; 10-01-2019 at 10:13 PM.

  24. #23

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    Here, catch..
    That was really nice Omph. I enjoyed it.
    What you did was bring an old girl into the modern era. I think it’s really cool.
    Thanks for sharing your experiment and your wonderful playing.
    Very cool.
    Joe D

  25. #24

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    You didn't desecrate that guitar at all, at least not in my opinion.

    If a guy were to electrify a guitar like that back in the 40's, that's the kind of thing that would've been done.

    I've always wanted to try one of those TK Smith pickups - I love CC pickups and Dynasonics, there's something special about big bobbin single coils... I'm not a humbucker guy at all.

  26. #25

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    entresz gets it.

    For reference, look at what some nut did to his D’Angelico.

    Gibson L-50-493dd6f8-c24d-47fc-8ec7-0995c187dafd-jpeg

  27. #26

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    just as long as Chet didn't stick that big ole cigar under a headstock string.....

  28. #27

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    Sounds good to me! Pickup is cool too.

  29. #28

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    Guitars should be played, not stuck in museums. You are now part of that guitar's history.

    Pity your patience ran out when it came to recording its sound, as it deserves better, I think. Always love hearing you play, though!

  30. #29

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    I think it looks badass.

    L50s are ripe for this sort of conversion no? I mean they are nice instruments but not the best acoustic guitars?

  31. #30

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    Totally applauding you! You have the skills to do that guitar justice in the upgrade. The guitar deserves a stylin’ pickup that gives it a second life.

    My 1954 L50 is destined for a Brit made CC pickup. I’m just studying how to do it—yes, it’s crazy but I want to do it myself. I”m a slow-going, methodical, one-step, measure 5 times then cut once kind of guy. I want to do it, but I’m studying it obsessively until I get the process.

    We’ll have to introduce our pimped out L50’s some time when mine is done!

    Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk

  32. #31

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    I grew up around an L-48, dad gave it to my sister who pawned it. That still burns me.

  33. #32

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    Quote Originally Posted by geogio
    I grew up around an L-48, dad gave it to my sister who pawned it. That still burns me.
    I have an L-48, which I treasure. It helped through some tough times. I also have a sister, and a brother and I treasure them as well.

  34. #33

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    Quote Originally Posted by Roget
    My 1937 L50 has the elevated fingerboard.
    Yes. I found many of the prior posts interesting. Gibson's production varied quite a bit over the years.

    I just finished restoring a 1935 Gibson L-50 for a client. It had the usual structural damage and came apart. The resulting instrument sounded excellent. Contrary to popular belief, top crack repairs have little effect on the sound. This was a Honduran Mahogany guitar with carved spruce top, 15' radius back. Aside from the typical structural damage, this guitar was original an owned by a professional musician since it was new. These were hot hide glue construction with the exception of the lining, where were installed with casein glue (an off-white glue made with milk protein).

    We see a fair bit of pre-war archtops that come through the shop. Glad to answer any questions if I am able. Photos of this particular 1935 L-50 can be seen here: Repair & Restoration - Morelli GuitarsMorelli Guitars


  35. #34

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    there is this L-50 for sale in a local shop (closed for now) and, I am thinking of grabbing it, but have some questions regarding the dating of the instrument. I also want to verify that it is an L-50 and not a L-48

    Shop has it listed as a '39 - which would have a solid wood back/sides, but the FON has red pencil at the end, supposedly the mark or a wartime instrument, looking at the FON lists i could find it seems like this could be a mid-late 40's model - but the back appears to be 2 pieces; i think that is an indicator of it being solid and not ply/laminate/veneer

    FON is 2210-xx

    anyone care to weigh in?

    here is the listing
    1939 Gibson L-50 Sunburst - Thunder Road Guitars Seattle

  36. #35

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    Vintage Guitars Info - Gibson collecting vintage gibson guitars

    I've always found this site to be helpful......

    I'd sure try to find a letter preceding the FON, if there is one. But yes I'd bet that back is 2 piece and solid......

    Good luck.....

  37. #36

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    Circa 1939 looks about right to me, based on the appearance and the FON. The headstock inlay looks right for that period and not right for mid-‘40s. The tuners are not original, by the way.

    For comparison, here is the headstock of a ‘36 L-50 followed by a ‘43.

  38. #37

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    I have a Gibson L50 I've wanted to amplify. The strings are too close to the body for a floater, humbucker, or P90. Today I was sorting through a box of guitar junk and found this:

    Gibson L-50-img_5484-jpg

    Gibson L-50-img_5485-jpg

    It's essentially a super-cheap Fender style single coil pickup, but it's got a mounting ring that allows it to be mounted recessed. The hole in the top need only be large enough to get the pickup in, the mounting plate sits on top.

    With a quality Fender Tele/Strat single coil pickup, this would leave good space between the pickup and strings. I am wondering if this could be a solution to putting magnetic pickups on these old archtops that don't have much clearance between the strings and the body.

    Obviously one has to be willing to cut the hole in the top, which would eliminate a lot of guitars and a lot of people, for obvious reasons. On the other hand, if one was looking for a way to get a single-coil pickup near the end of the fingerboard on something like an L50, I see no physical barrier. I the the opening would be narrow enough to avoid shaving the bracing, as well.

    Obviously (2) the big question would be sound. How much difference is there between a Telecaster style neck pickup and a P90 when either one is on an archtop. I see P90's on solid bodies, why not Tele/Strat pickups on hollow bodies?

  39. #38

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    1. The polepieces will necessarily be very close to the strings. Stratitis on a Gibson? I predict that it will be very bright. There are far better options. But it's your guitar, so do to it whatever you will.

  40. #39

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    I think it would work.
    Why not slip in a P90-ish pickup if you want one:
    Tele-90 Neck – Lundgren Pickups

    Had one in a Tele many years ago. Very nice dark, but clear, tone.

  41. #40

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    Quote Originally Posted by sgosnell
    1. The polepieces will necessarily be very close to the strings. Stratitis on a Gibson? I predict that it will be very bright. There are far better options. But it's your guitar, so do to it whatever you will.
    Actually the pole pieces won't be close. From the top to the bottom of the strings is about .33." the space from the bottom of the mounting plate to the top of the pole pieces can be as little as .12"

    Gibson L-50-img_5486-jpg

    I do realize now, though, that the opening would need to be wider than I initially thought and might involve the braces unless I back off from the end of the fingerboard a bit.

  42. #41

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    If you're gonna cut the top I'd use a CC pickup.

  43. #42

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    Agreed CC pickup. Resale will,still be good.

  44. #43

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    My first guitar was a 64 L50. I had the cheaper of the two D'Armond models - the one with only a volume control. It doesn't require any mods to the guitar. You can't push it all the way up to the neck though. It sounded fine, but the rig generated feedback pretty easily.

    Strat pickup all the way to the fingerboard vs D'Armond a few inches further towards the bridge? Hard to say which would be brighter.

    I wouldn't cut the top for that.

    Another point this brought to mind. The idea behind putting the pickup next to the fingerboard is that the sound is mellower. Ideally,as I understand it, you would want the pickup under the node at the hypothetical 24th fret. And, you'd pick right over it. It seems to me that approach works best for an open string. But, if you're playing around the 5-9th frets a lot of the time, why wouldn't the sound be mellower further down? What am I missing?
    Last edited by rpjazzguitar; 04-24-2020 at 03:51 PM.

  45. #44

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    Not sure about the Strat pickup but another idea might be an old McCarty pickup. It's about 11 mm thick (0.43 inch)

  46. #45

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    Have you ever heard of Krivo pickups? They’re very thin and they’re designed for the L50. No need to cut a hole in your guitar.

    Jason, the owner, is very nice and very helpful.


    No affiliation whatsoever.

  47. #46

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    Unfortunately, a solid look at the inside of my L50 shows that no opening could be cut for a pickup that would not require cutting at least one brace, probably two. I guess I'm back to looking at stick-on options, which I just don't like.

    Gibson L-50-img_5496-jpg

  48. #47

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    I'm in the "Don't cut it" camp as well, but do as you will.

    Sent from my SM-G960U using Tapatalk

  49. #48

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    The DeArmond Rhythm Chief, and other floating pickups, can be mounted using BluTack, which gives almost the same effect as being a set pickup, because it's coupled to the top. I have one on my Wu, and I love the sound. I don't know how close you can get one to the neck of your L50, but you can put it further toward the bridge as necessary. The stick isn't necessary, just BluTack it in place, and move it if you want. It does take a millimeter or two of extra height for the thickness of the BluTack, but that's about the same as you need for the stick mount. Whit Smith does this with his Gibsons. In his latest videos, he hasn't bothered to remove all the residual BluTack, it's still easy to see, but it's not that hard to take it all off. I think this is the ideal way to install a pickup, because it's entirely reversible, and sounds as good as a pickup mounted in a hole in the top.

  50. #49

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    In case you want a floater attached to the neck, Krivo does also have an option.

    Micro-Stealth PAF-Style Pickup for Archtop Jazz Guitar

    Again, no affiliation.

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk Pro

  51. #50

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    Try the Krivo first would be my advice. That way you don’t have to do any guitar surgery if you like it.