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  1. #1

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    After reading all the post raving about the greatness of Gibson L5s, I finally was able to play one this afternoon.

    I stopped into Artisan Guitars (Franklin, TN) to demo some Carr amps. As usually, the great staff inquires on my style pf playing so they can grab a guitar for me to use. When I mentioned a semi or hollow body I was expecting them to grab one of the mid-priced used arch tops in the store, but the staff grabbed a very fine Gibson L5 CT that they have on consignment.

    Needless to say... Wow! The finish was spectacular. The feel of the neck and fret size was just perfect for my hands. The thinner body width 2 1/2 deep was extremely comfortable! Everything was great.

    If anyone is looking for a spectacular Gibson L5 CT, give Artisan guitars a call and make an offer. I purchased a fabulous Golden Eagle Custom (consignment) from Artisan a couple years ago. I made an offer, they called the owner for approval and sold. I really do wish I still had that guitar


    The Venerable Gibson L-5-_57-jpg
    Last edited by Steve Z; 07-22-2015 at 05:32 PM.

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  3. #2

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    I'm glad you got to play an L5. That's great. I hope (and I'm sure) you loved it. Its a gorgeous guitar.

    But...

    You were there trying out an amp and they put a consignee's L5 in your hands to demo the amp?

    This is why I'll NEVER give my guitar to a shop for consignment. Never.


    Joe D

  4. #3
    I would bet most of the used guitars there are consignment. The shop maintains very tight control on all their instruments.., staff needs to pull from displays, all instruments get wiped down after playing... and the fact the I have purchased thousands from them doesn't hurt. Definitely an upscale operation. Definitely not a GC type store where anyone can grab a guitar off the wall and jam.

    Think of Artisan like a Porsche dealership... Very classy high end products... And yes, you can test drive anything they have in stock - just remove anything that might scratch the leather, or in this case the finish

    Besides, allowing me to play the L5 has me really racking my brain on if I could, should I consider buying it... and, I liked the guitar and the experience so much that I posted it so now many others who would not have know about the guitar now know about it. Seems like a win.

    Cheers.
    Last edited by Steve Z; 07-22-2015 at 06:35 PM.

  5. #4

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    Steve, sounds like a great experience for you.
    If you do buy the L5, you will be spoiled for life. The experience goes beyond playing it. You walk past it and stop, admire it, and say damn I can't believe I own one of these.
    very cool.
    Joe D

  6. #5
    I'd be lying if I said I wasn't mentally moving gear and money... Just a bridge (or several thousand) too far. Definitely a guitar for the bucket list!

    I am happy to have played the CT as it did cement the fact that my older shoulders prefer narrower bodies.

  7. #6

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    One of the first guitars I ever held was a L5. My cousin Eddy had one. That was before I could actually play, so it was like... Well, it was like many other firsts in life: I was too ignorant to enjoy it.

    But Artisan... Damn the guitars. Just go in there if you want to hang with some great people.

  8. #7
    So, is it normal for owners of high end Gibson guitars to leave the Gibson sticker on the pick guard? The subject L5 CT still has the Gibson sticker on the pick guard. My guess is that the owner was more of a collector than a player. I just find it a bit odd... like people with baseball caps but leave the little sticker on the brim.

  9. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Z
    So, is it normal for owners of high end Gibson guitars to leave the Gibson sticker on the pick guard? The subject L5 CT still has the Gibson sticker on the pick guard. My guess is that the owner was more of a collector than a player. I just find it a bit odd... like people with baseball caps but leave the little sticker on the brim.
    some people just like brand new, shiny things. Me , I like a guitar covered in check marks that's been well played. The only thing that bothers me is if it's got cigarette odor.

  10. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by jzucker
    some people just like brand new, shiny things. Me , I like a guitar covered in check marks that's been well played. The only thing that bothers me is if it's got cigarette odor.
    This is actually a pretty wise move.


    You always have to be careful when buying things that are in mint condition. I means they were never really used. There is a small chance it was bought by someone who played it rarely and it was never taken out of the house/closet.

    however there is a bigger chance it was a stinker from the start. If you find an old beat up fender amp, there is a good chance someone played the sh@t out of it because it sounded amazing.

  11. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Z
    So, is it normal for owners of high end Gibson guitars to leave the Gibson sticker on the pick guard? The subject L5 CT still has the Gibson sticker on the pick guard. My guess is that the owner was more of a collector than a player. I just find it a bit odd... like people with baseball caps but leave the little sticker on the brim.

    Some of the " used" high end Gibsons on the market now are actually new old stock

    By listing them as used the stores can advertise at a lower price without breaking their dealership agreements ...

    Artisan doesn't appear to be a Gibson dealer .... so this one may really be used ...

    or they may have worked a deal with a Gibson dealer that needed to move it

  12. #11

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    A friend of mine has a Gibson L5 Wes Montgomery, but the rarer version with the pearl heart inlay near the pickguard. It was absolutely wonderful to play and sounded incredible. One day I hope to be able to own a guitar of that calibre- but I have a feeling I'll be drifting more in the direction of a pre war Epiphone Emperor should I have the funds.

  13. #12

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    I still remember when I got my first one, a 1930 model, $3500-my very first vintage guitar and a lot of money at the time.
    been through a number of them since then and have a soft spot for those little guitars.
    they have a quick response and a wonderful sound, you can play any style of music on them.
    it's rare to play a dud, they're much more consistently good sounding than later 17" models.
    along w/the early DA's they're really the only guitars w/a short scale that I like.
    I'll play other archtops for awhile but always come back to the little L-5.

    Gibson really had beautiful sunbursts back then. though there are later sunbursts that are nice, for me they were the best in the 20's and got progressively more "factory" looking as the yrs passed.
    Gibson also had a nice selection of flat sawn Michigan curly maple back then, you'll rarely see a mildly figured L-5 from this period.

    unlike a lot of other archtops they seem to increase in value every year.
    I like the 20s dot necks best...

  14. #13

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    I hope the skewed bridge on the reissue is the result of an unfortunate bump and not the actual position. Still a lovely guitar, but I have to agree about the older 'bursts. And those elegant f-holes! L-5s have always exemplified a level of visual beauty that accurately reflects their musical potential. I'm a fan (from a distance, so far).

  15. #14

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    "You can play any style of music on them."

    I think this is a unique aspect of Gibson's original f-hole archtop, before they started making them bigger and (arguably) louder. I've made the point here before about how Loar's creation was quickly set aside in lieu of different, changing technology in the mid to late 1930s, somehow being made obsolete before its impact could be thoroughly developed. The amplified ES-150 changed that vector of history forever.

    But if you play one today, you'll realize that it is as viable a general purpose acoustic guitar as a Martin 000, for example. It is not as much of a pigeonholed "jazz guitar" as a later Gibson acoustic archtop, such as the 17" L-5, is. Of course I tend to play old style plectrum guitar classics such as April Kisses on mine, but I strum cowboy chords on it all the time, too.

  16. #15

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    Yup, there's a special magic to 16" L-5's. In the last couple of months, I've played 7 different small body L-5's, and all of them sounded really good, with a couple sounding superb. Two of the 7 were set up terribly, but you could still hear the tonal quality just waiting to sing.

    I definitely want to mention the issue with kerfed bracing, because it really does make a big difference. One of the big reasons dot neck '27-'29 L-5's are even more desireable than the '29-'34 block necks is because of the change from solid braces (meticulously carved to perfectly fit the inside of arch of the top), to kerfed braces (where slits were cut into the braces allowing them to be bent into the inside archtop of the top). Now, there are some block-neck L-5's with solid braces that were made during this period, and those are worth seeking out. Those would probably be the best value, since you get the '28 sound with a '32 price (which in my case was about 22% cheaper).

    About the reissues, besides the inaccurate sunburst, the thing that really bugs me is that they are x-braced, unlike the parallel braced originals. Just ain't the same thing at all. I haven't played a reissue in probably 10 years, so I'm not going to say they can't sound good, but it's gonna be different - and not just the new vs. 80-year old issue.

  17. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by campusfive
    About the reissues, besides the inaccurate sunburst, the thing that really bugs me is that they are x-braced, unlike the parallel braced originals.
    Hmm... I had one for a while, and I sure don't recall that being the case. I'm sure I poked my fingers inside those f-holes and fondled parallel braces... Now I'll have to look it up. I mean, they modeled the '34 RI on a specific L-5 guitar (it's pictured in Ingram's L-5 book). Why would they copy a guitar and change the bracing? The truss rod cover, sure, etc. - but the bracing?

    I know the Bozeman L-7C is X-braced, which never existed (not in cutaway form, only in non-cut). Maybe that's what you're thinking about?

    My '33 L-12 is also 16" and has kerfed braces, while my '28 L-5 has carved ones. There are numerous other differences of course, but the L-5 has a more refined, precise, and deeper/richer sound. The L-12 is still real sweet though.

  18. #17

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    It's interesting that a very small subset of the board comments on these 16" vintage Gibson threads. Is it just that these instruments are a bit rare and costly, or maybe they're perceived as a guitar with limited application? They are certainly acoustic only, and that alone makes them unappealing to the boppers in the crowd. I dunno.

    Guys and gals, you owe it to yourselves to experience these in your lifetime... they are our history, man... Everything with an f-hole exists today due to these Gibsons from the 1920s and 1930s.
    Last edited by rpguitar; 10-29-2015 at 08:24 PM.

  19. #18

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    I'm thinking it's a rarity/cost issue Roger. I'd venture to say that a lot of folks have never even had the opportunity to play one, let alone buy. much like D'Angelico's
    I'm pretty sure the majority of folks around here would love to own one, but life and reality gets in the way sometime.

  20. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by rpguitar
    Hmm... I had one for a while, and I sure don't recall that being the case. I'm sure I poked my fingers inside those f-holes and fondled parallel braces... Now I'll have to look it up. I mean, they modeled the '34 RI on a specific L-5 guitar (it's pictured in Ingram's L-5 book). Why would they copy a guitar and change the bracing? The truss rod cover, sure, etc. - but the bracing?

    I know the Bozeman L-7C is X-braced, which never existed (not in cutaway form, only in non-cut). Maybe that's what you're thinking about?

    My '33 L-12 is also 16" and has kerfed braces, while my '28 L-5 has carved ones. There are numerous other differences of course, but the L-5 has a more refined, precise, and deeper/richer sound. The L-12 is still real sweet though.
    Everything I've ever read was that the '34 RI had x-bracing. I've never owned one, but perhaps someone who has one currently provide some first-hand evidence. I wasn't personally mistaking it for the L-7C, but I'm aware that one is x-braced.

    Yeah, as far as the kerfed guitars, I think that's a good way of describing the difference. When I was comparing the 4 L-5's in the store when I bought mine, the kerfed ones were definitely sweet and really sung. But the non-kerfed ones were even deeper and richer and more refined and precise - exactly as you said.

    I also think the magic of the kerfed ones is the ability of it to be both rich and balanced, but also have outstanding projection. Once I had both the '35 L-12 (advanced) and the '32 Epi Deluxe, I felt that the two characteristics must be mutually exclusive. Each guitar was so specifically good at either side that I figured it must be apples or oranges. But, after playing a couple D'A's and then the bevy of L-5's, I found that they don't have to be mutually exclusive, it just must be hard to make something has both, and part of what makes those guitars so storied is that magical combination.
    Last edited by campusfive; 10-29-2015 at 10:49 PM.

  21. #20

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    I have a friend who has a 28 L-5. It is probably the best sounding acoustic archtop that I have ever played...and that includes D'Angelicos and Benedettos (Though some of the DA's that I have played, including the two that I own are right up there). The same guy also had a 34 L-5. That 16 inch L-5 was different. It had a not very comfortable neck and was a bit harsh. Another friend had a 32 L-5. Same lousy neck and also a harsh sounding guitar. After playing these three, my conclusion is that the dot neck 16 inch L-5's are a holy grail guitar, right up there with the best D'Angelicos. And like the DA's, you get what you pay for. Good stuff is never cheap.

    Another friend had one of the 16 inch L-5 reissues. It was a very nice sounding guitar, but lacked good volume. The neck on it was superb. But it ain't a vintage dot neck 16 inch L-5. Yep, you get what you pay for.

  22. #21

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    My first guitar teacher had an old L-5 that had "THE GIBSON" written on the headstock.
    Did that have any significance regarding the year of construction, model, etc...

    The 1935 "Snakehead' model D'A I own sounded a lot better than that particular guitar, even though it was modeled after the L-5s.

  23. #22

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    The neck on the 28 is quite modern and comfortable. I have read that 28 is the only year with the modern neck profile.

  24. #23

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    Quote Originally Posted by Stringswinger
    The neck on the 28 is quite modern and comfortable. I have read that 28 is the only year with the modern neck profile.

    '27 as well

  25. #24

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    Quote Originally Posted by Stringswinger
    The neck on the 28 is quite modern and comfortable. I have read that 28 is the only year with the modern neck profile.
    My '24 was pretty chunky. But not as bad as my Style O Scroll. No truss rod, huge neck. But still straight as an arrow.

  26. #25

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    Also, and I really don't know if it's a year-of-production thing or just a run of specific guitars, but there are a batch of 1928 L-5s with one piece flamed maple necks. Mine is one of them, and I've seen a couple others. Really quite stunning and part of the mojo for that year.

  27. #26

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    And as always, there are lots of discrepancies and variation in everything that Gibson did in these early years. Gruhn currently has a 1933 L5 with the one-piece, rounded "C" profile neck as you describe on your '28:

    AR4455 Gibson L-5 1933

    I wonder if there is any chance of it also having solid, non-kerfed tone bars. I haven't asked - I don't need that temptation!
    Last edited by backdrifter; 11-02-2015 at 05:25 PM.

  28. #27

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    There is no lacquer on that neck at all, so maybe it got re-profiled ?

  29. #28

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    It's certainly possible, but Gruhn is usually pretty good about mentioning things like that. AND, it's still a one-piece neck, which as Roger points out, is rare. I don't believe I've seen a one-piece V-shaped neck on a 16" L-5 (not to say that it doesn't exist somewhere).
    Last edited by backdrifter; 11-02-2015 at 05:36 PM.

  30. #29

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    He are some old pics of mine, for your enjoyment. Pics 1, 5, & especially 6 will give you some idea of the neck's big v-girth.

    The Venerable Gibson L-5-l5-1-jpgThe Venerable Gibson L-5-l5-2-jpgThe Venerable Gibson L-5-l5-3-jpgThe Venerable Gibson L-5-l5-4-jpgThe Venerable Gibson L-5-l5-5-jpgThe Venerable Gibson L-5-l5-6-jpgThe Venerable Gibson L-5-l5-7-jpg
    Last edited by Woody Sound; 11-03-2015 at 09:05 PM.

  31. #30

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    Woody - that's a beautiful guitar. I'll bet the sound is as rich and lustrous as that beautiful burst! Congrats!

  32. #31

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    Quote Originally Posted by citizenk74
    Woody - that's a beautiful guitar. I'll bet the sound is as rich and lustrous as that beautiful burst! Congrats!
    Thanks, but it's long gone to someone else. I was entering married life and homeownership in the 80's before the rage of the internet. Sold it through a dealer. Would fetch a LOT more now. I do miss it.

    ps - Notice the plain birch back but fancy maple sides on the early models.
    Last edited by Woody Sound; 11-03-2015 at 09:15 PM.

  33. #32

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    Just what I was working on today:

  34. #33

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    Very nice Jonathan

    now I have to get one, too :-(

  35. #34

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    the reason the L-5 is so conspicuous among jazz guitars is:

    the notes you play on it last (they sustain) better than on other archtop guitars

    2 moments after you've played a little chord, or a melody note - 2 moments later its still there - and almost as strong as it was the moment you made it.

    so if you do want to do anything with it - if you want to let it keep singing, then you can, and it will.

    even 4 moments later the note is still there - though not quite as strong as when you made it.

    solid bodies generate similar or even greater sustain (i'm told) - and i bet that makes e.g. teles great to play jazz on. but the original sound or attack lacks a certain complexity - or something.

    anway - the idea is just that what makes L5s magic is something very easy to identify. they produce such a 'full' or 'thick' sound because - if the player holds down the strings in the right way, then the sound is almost as full just after he produces it as it as when he produces it.

    it makes the guitar feel totally distinctive (and gorgeous) to play - of course. and it makes me realize how little i know how to really let the instrument 'sing'. i choke off my notes in a rush to get to the next one and it produces an unmusical over-staccato effect.

    so part of the point of saying this is this - if you've got an archtop that has great sustain (and a nice original attack - so to speak) then you've got what is necessary. you have to be able to choose to let the note sing, to let it last. then its much easier to sound good on the guitar.
    Last edited by Groyniad; 12-31-2015 at 11:39 AM.

  36. #35

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    I don't quite know, if the sustain is the secret of the L5. In fact I don't know the secret. But every time I have had the chance to play one - "Zing, went the strings of my heart."


  37. #36

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    2 things an L-5CES has are a thick top top and usually a tune o matic bridge as opposed to a wooden one. For me I enjoy those attributes very much. But I do find a lot of std. L-5CES to be rather dull acoustically, not all.

  38. #37

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    Tony Mottola, Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, Grant Geissman, Tuck Andress. Each guy has a different take on jazz guitar; each guy plays a Gibson L-5CES. Every one of them sounds outstanding. The tone of each guy's instrument is amazing.

    The Gibson L-5CES is a tremendous jazz guitar. IMO, it is THE jazz guitar. You have the L-5 and you have all of the other jazz guitars. You basically compare jazz guitars against the L-5.

    I am not sure that a better tone exists than the early-60s recordings that Kenny Burrell made with his L-5.

  39. #38

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    I've always thought long sustain was not necessarily desirable in a jazz guitar....

  40. #39

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    I have been using different guitars on different gigs for the past years, but when i'm called for an "important" gig i always bring the L5.

  41. #40

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    Groynaid,
    Very well stated and I can entirely relate to your experience on my 2014 L5. I play chord melody- mainly acoustically ...and just love the sustain. In fact - I find myself slowing down the pace to relish the carryover effect - it a very lyrical experience and a bit intoxicating ........ my recordings even sound better.

    I'm assuming your referring to your new L5 - which is heavier than earlier generations and contains the TOM bridge.

    I had a mint 1948 non cut L5 years ago and did not have that same experience- it was lighter and had that chomp chomp bright loud tone with a quicker decay - well suited to orchestral accompaniment.. ..but you still knew you were playing an L5.....it had that famous Gibson sound.

    For me - I find the modern L5 ( TOM) to be heavier and somewhat quieter than earlier generations......,but the sustain and balance is extraordinary... and I find myself playing this guitar often.... and not because it's new ..... because it's magical.

  42. #41

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    Quote Originally Posted by boatheelmusic
    I've always thought long sustain was not necessarily desirable in a jazz guitar....

    You are right, but The L5 sustain has a different timbre and not an
    overlong sustain, but a different quality . It is the benchmark by
    which others are compared. I agree with Groyniad, an L5 has a
    uniqueness which is hard to describe, but becomes clear if you own
    or play one. A marked difference to a solid body ( LP for instance)
    i briefly used mine yesterday , after a honeymoon period with the
    Memphis ESLP's . The tone is unparalleled IMO.


    Happy New Year.
    Last edited by silverfoxx; 01-01-2016 at 09:41 AM. Reason: Spelling

  43. #42

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    I really like what Steve Longobardi and Greentone have to say here, tho I agree with everyone.

    I had a '65 Johnny Smith, and I regret saying this, but, it did not do what great jazz guitars do. (and there was little sustain - so the expressiveness of chord melody and single note lines was at a minimum for me)

    Later on, after years of admiring and lusting for the L5 CES tone, I found and bought one I could afford. (Credit cards are wonderful).

    I think a great New Year's resolution for me would be to play the L5 much more. It's not my first choice for my "blues" gigs, tho it really really shines when I do play the gig with it! People sit up and notice its tone and fullness. The sustain is a great aid when playing blues and rock!

    But, Greentone, what KB recordings were done with an L5? I revere "Blue Bash" with Jimmy Smith. I was raised on that LP since '67. Love the tone there, but wasn't sure what he was playing??

  44. #43

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    And then there's George Benson's "The Other Side of Abbey Road". Don't always know what he was playing back then on his recordings (Gibson or Guild?), but his tone there was beautiful. The notes fat, full and sustaining. What an L5CES does so well.

  45. #44

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    I kind of go with 'boatheelmusic' (above). I too thought jazz guitar playing requires short, unsustained notes to get that be bop kind of pointalistic sound in the riffs, licks, comping, solos. Not knocking the great L5. I wish I could own one too. But, If it is that jazz guitar is changing to a, let's say, twangier sound, almost like solid-body rock players get, then maybe we should consider going to Martin D28s or Gibson J200s. I sound sarcastic but I don't mean to. I'm merely saying that, perhaps the era of the big, chunky, chunk chunk, F holed arch tops is ending; that jazz guitar is moving toward a more sustained, singing quality, closer to a violin's than say, well, a penny whistle's (which, btw, I hope it's not)....Mark
    P.S. Unrelated: The phrase, I believe is: " cat's pajamas ", not whiskers. This reminds me of folks who say : "He's laughing all the way to the bank !". That kills the sarcasm intended. Of course he is laughing, that's why you say "crying all the way".."Boy, that Bill Gates is crying all the way to the bank !!"
    Last edited by MarkInLA; 01-03-2016 at 03:26 AM.

  46. #45

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    Quote Originally Posted by MarkInLA
    I'm merely saying that, perhaps the era of the big, chunky, chunk chunk, F holed arch tops is ending; that jazz guitar is moving toward a more sustained, singing quality...
    That started happening about 60 years ago, give or take a few orbits.

  47. #46

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    Quote Originally Posted by rpguitar
    That started happening about 60 years ago, give or take a few orbits.
    Probably correct, but what are you concluding; that that 60 year old sound should remain, or, not remain ? I.E. Are you agreeing with 'boatheelmusic' and I that the 'staccato' sound is what jazz guitar is all about ? Or are you implying that this is now,say, archaic a sound; that sustained notes and chords is the new jazz tonality ? (again, I like the old, traditional, arch top sound (little to no twang),.. Mark

  48. #47

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    It seems a bit of a sterile debate, when the difference between the two sounds is a wooden vs TOM bridge....

  49. #48

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    Quote Originally Posted by MarkInLA
    Probably correct, but what are you concluding?
    What I am concluding is that the traditional swing band accompaniment style/sound began phasing out somewhere in the 1950s. Of course it still exists in the huge panoply of jazz guitar sounds that we musicians have at our disposal. But D'Angelico, D'Aquisto, Benedetto, and other luthiers drew the acoustic archtop out from its place at the back of the orchestra and that vector remains in full force today.

    I'm not saying that jazz guitar is "all about" any one sound (how boring would that be!?). It's about the notes, played with any sound you like.

    I own a '47 L-5 that would be happy in an orchestra. And I have a CES that is a stellar electric guitar with big, warm sustain. (BTW, it's not a wood bridge vs. TOM thing - it's the bracing and intrinsic build qualities of these guitars.)

  50. #49

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    Bee's knees

    What I find interesting is owners of Gibson solid body humbucking guitars tweak their pickups heavily - there's a whole cottage industry of PAF cloners with some clones fetching $1500 for a set, yet I never see anybody replacing the Classic 57s in L5s - a much maligned pickup in Les Paul circles.

    A hollow-body should theoretically have a sharper decay on notes because more energy is transferred away from the string into the top/body but there is also the feedback loop of the top/strings picking up the sound from the amp's speakers, so it gets complicated.

  51. #50

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    IMHO the L5 is one of the most visually pleasing guitars I've ever seen (and owned). It's easy to fall in love with a Gibson archtop. There's a reason why it's called "The Lady".

    Sonically there's no question that some great artists played and recorded with the L5.

    BUT...when I think about it, the list of great guitarists and recordings that are my dessert island picks don't necessarily include the L5 as part of the deciding factor.
    Lennie Breau, Jim Hall, Ed Bickert, Kurt R., Julian Lage, Silvan Luc, Charlie Christian, Django R., Pat M., George B., et al.

    Yes the L5 is a seductively beautiful guitar, but it's the player that ultimately brings the music forward, not the instrument.

    Note: I had a 2000 L5 CES that I sold because I fell out of love with her. Would I consider buying a model from the 40-50s? Absolutely!