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  1. #1

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    I have a 2000 model Wine red in the very tempting dark smokey style shading. Looked nearly like the shading of JZ's recent L5 Wes.

    Man, oh man...I just couldn't put the L4CES down! It sit's so balanced and perfectly in the lap. Unfortunately the music store I sampled the guitar in didn't have a small Deluxe or Twin amp, so I was forced to hear the guitar from a rock style amp that didn't do the guitar justice.

    But the guitars comfort, playability, and natural fit leads me to do further investigation. I immediately bonded with the L4CES' 3.5" depth! My Guild AA experience taught me that I seem to gel with archtops of greater depth.

    And as if that wasn't bad enuf, on the wall of the shop was a 1 owner, original condition, 1915 Gibson L4 in unbelievable condition. The guitar's finish was remarkably brilliant, as if it had been restored. The vintage Gibson is reportedly in 95% condition...we're talkin' 1915!!! Did I play it? Heck no, I didn't dare put my hands on it, but on the return trip I'll have to, if for no other than the experience of playing a 1915 Gibson.

    and to think...I only drove to the shop to acquire a new set of Classical guitar strings!


    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
  3. #2

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    When Makis Ablianitis did his Archtop shoot-out on Youtube, the L4CES was among my favorites, along with the Super Eagle:

  4. #3
    Jon Dalton gets a great tone out of his demo too. I'm not fond of the tuners. Given all the brass on the guitar I'd have preferred Gibson issued the L4CES with the L5's Schaller brass plated tuners.

  5. #4

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    Whatever you do please ensure it is an earlier model ( with ebony board ) the newer one is rosewood mine is circa 2008 in natural , they are the biz.

  6. #5

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    I had a 2001 that was maple.

  7. #6

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    I picked up an NOS '88 L4CES around 1992 ... it had been sitting in the basement of Chuck Levin's in Maryland so long the neck was warped and it appeared to be a hopeless case

    I made them and offer on the condition they could straighten out the neck in their repair shop ... the neck straightened out nicely and has only needed a couple of adjustments since then .... so I got a great deal on it even for 1992

    Mine is a wonderful sounding guitar ... I keep thinking of trying to sell it, but it sounds so good ... and it has been around long enough to have a history with me ... so I haven't been able to let it go

    Mine has a mahogany back and side ... and it may be a pressed top as opposed to a carved top, buy I've never had that confirmed. The back and side have lots of checking ... as does my '85 ES175D ... so I'm wondering if Gibson was still trying to figure out how to spray hollowbody guitars in the Nashville humidity in the mid to late 80s.

    Good luck ... these can be great guitars ... the flame maple backs are pretty, but a mahogany back may be worth having for its tone ... I'm sure either choice can be a good one

  8. #7

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    I have one with Maple back and sides... It is "pretty" and does not lack for tone. One of the most underated archtops in the Gibson line.

  9. #8

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    Hi Bluedawg & Jaco

    Your comments encouraged me to dig out mine ,I agree with Jaco that it is an
    underrated model , not as popular as a 175 and usually not a quick seller.
    Since I took Patrick & 2b's recommendation and fitted the Bill Gagnon African
    Blackwood bridges to it and the L5CES the tone is improved also. I like the TF
    but the CES 's have the edge for ultimate tone quality IMO I have even strung
    the L4cES with TI , 11's which work well on it.
    Last edited by silverfoxx; 07-13-2015 at 06:58 AM.

  10. #9

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    The L-4 has gone through many design changes in its long, long life. The most recent version (L-4CES) has always had a carved spruce top, but the back plate has been either laminated maple or carved mahogany, with matching rims. There may be a laminated mahogany-back version in there as well (not sure of that). That may be important to some players.

    Quote Originally Posted by 2bornot2bop
    ...Given all the brass on the guitar I'd have preferred Gibson issued the L4CES with the L5's Schaller brass plated tuners.
    Gold. Gold-plated. Gibson plates its metals in nickel, chrome or gold. Their only main items fabricated with plated brass are their tailpieces - bridges and tuners are fabricated using other metals.
    Last edited by Hammertone; 07-13-2015 at 08:50 AM.

  11. #10

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    I think the L-4CES followed the ES-175 construction with laminated maple, laminated mahogany and the newer ones with solid mahogany backs and sides. Tops were always carved as far as I know. there was even a L-4CES with solid carved maple back and sides a couple years ago that was listed for as much as an L-5CES. There were even thin body L-4CES guitars. I played a custom shop model in CA. that had a sparkle ivory finish and intricate engraving on all the metal parts. Not my cup of tea but something Merle Travis might have played. There are a lot of flavors of L-4CES's especially if you include the older ones with different pickups CC, humbuckers and P-90's and some with single pickups. Don't for get about the acoustic versions which are wonderful guitars. All in all great guitars for the price, especially used.
    Thanks John

  12. #11
    But has there ever been a single humbucker L4CES, ala a '175?

  13. #12

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    I don't think it was ever a production model, but there are a few custom orders

    Last edited by wintermoon; 07-13-2015 at 02:51 PM.

  14. #13
    Thanks WM! Okay, there's my L4. Where do I find it and what's it gonna cost me?

  15. #14

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    $10 234.00, Musician's Friend Guitar Sale.

    Gibson L-4 CES Owners-8-17-12001-jpg

    You must be a changeling. All these L-4CES with single pups have been hashed and rehashed since about 2012 as 2bop must be aware. Where did the real 2bop go?
    Last edited by Jabberwocky; 07-13-2015 at 03:04 PM.

  16. #15

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    Gibson L-4 CES Owners-2009l4ceswes-1-jpg
    Gibson L-4 CES Owners-2009l4ceswes-2-jpg

  17. #16

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    Gibson L-4 CES Owners-gibsonl4cesfront-jpg
    Gibson L-4 CES Owners-gibsonl4cesback-jpg

  18. #17

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    Why did I not start playing right handed? Some tasty guitar right there. Which one you ask? All of them! I blame my father, he was born lefty and had to "train" to be a righty. One time he gave me and my brother (also a lefty) a pair of lefty scissors, so that we wouldnt have to endure the same trauma he had to. Guess he could not have given us a Gibson archtop, cause they are not a single left-bloody-handed one (if you´re not a billionaire and could have one made). Apperently Gibson, after they make a lefty one, destroy all the tools, equipment and I take it, all the personnel aswell, and start the process all over again. Costly indeed.

    Still, there are some makers that are not so discriminating towards me and my sad, unhappy band of brothers and sisters. Heritage for one. Peerless and Eastman. Gretsch too. So I shouldnt complain too much. At least I am not a lefty piano player.

    Sorry for the rant and hijack, its just seeing those iconic instruments and knowing I could never get one...

    So, get one and play the living daylights out of it. Not for me, but for all of us cursed lefties.

  19. #18
    Okay, one final Q to my esteemed partners in guitar crime.

    What say you about a Mahogany back and sides mid 2000's L4, versus a maple back and sides L4?

    Thank you in advance!

    edit - Was there an upcharge for a Mahogany over Maple, or vice versa?
    Last edited by 2bornot2bop; 07-14-2015 at 05:33 PM.

  20. #19

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    Gibson L-4 CES Owners-three-gib-guitrs-jpg

    This '89 has maple back and sides, but I wouldn't let that be too big a factor.

  21. #20

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    I've played an L4 once...remember really liking it.

    Were I hunting for one, I'd want the mahogany, if only because that further makes it it's "own thing" and not a "baby L5."

    The more i play 'em...16" instruments are where it's at for me. Even though they look like Les Pauls on my frame.

  22. #21

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    2b, Yes my 165 has the same depth.
    I love mine. Everytime time I play it, it blows me away. I want to side by side it with my L5 when I do my Joe Pass "Night and Day" Video so folks can hear the difference. Only problem, that means I have to play the song perfectly twice in one take. That might zap ole Zeus of all his energy and turn him into sand..

    Just a word of advice for my bro from another mo.. The 165 is nice. Don't get me wrong. But from a buyers perspective, it will always be the cheaper alternative to the 175. Even though its the same Guitar as the regular 175 (sans the "D"). It has always been the Bargain 175. And that's a shame because its just as superb..

    Quote Originally Posted by 2bornot2bop
    Hey Joe, isn't your Herb Ellis the same depth? What do you think of it? At this point it's added depth, comfort, and playability that's the attraction for 2b
    Last edited by Max405; 07-14-2015 at 06:03 PM.

  23. #22

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    One thing I particularly like on the 175 is that gap between the end of the fingerboard and the pickup. It's my default 'picking zone'. The L4 looks like a great instrument but it doesn't have that gap, which I think I would miss.

  24. #23
    1994 to 2003 L4s had "laminated" maple back and sides and 2004 through current production the guitars are/were made with solid carved mahogany back and solid mahogany sides.

    A buyer wouldn't have known that without doing extensive research....The L4CES plot thickens....

  25. #24

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    Mine is c2008 with Mahogany back & sides and there is a noticeable tone difference
    between it and both the TF (2013 & Maple ) and a Es175 '59 VOS (laminate ) 'though
    i like the latter two ,the L4CES has the edge as most other contributors to your quest for
    perfection have said in their evidence your honour, ! But it's down to your ear as well as
    the visual appeal.

    Do I qualify for expenses if i am called back to give further evidence ( First Class flight no Red Eye )


  26. #25
    Thanks for the feedback SF! That's the problem with buying blind...there is no "ear" action. At this point I'm enamored with the feel of the L4CES, but I'm wondering if it's worth an extra $1400 for an L4CES to acquire that "feel." I don't need the redundancy in humbucker's as I've got that covered. I'm partial to acoustic playing most times.

  27. #26

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    Quote Originally Posted by grahambop
    One thing I particularly like on the 175 is that gap between the end of the fingerboard and the pickup. It's my default 'picking zone'. The L4 looks like a great instrument but it doesn't have that gap, which I think I would miss.
    I never noticed that! Good catch. I am convinced that is the sweet spot for the warmest sound on the guitar.

  28. #27

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    Quote Originally Posted by 2bornot2bop
    Thanks for asking. I didn't make it back to the shop. I dropped off a guitar for a setup that same day so I'll just wait until I pick up that guitar in a few days. Wine red is my 4th choice. As much as I enjoyed the playability the other day I'm thinking this isn't the L4 for me.
    Does it have to be a CES? Could it be an L-4C with a floater? You could choose between a natural and a burst. (I know, you're not the vintage type, but still...)

  29. #28

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    Quote Originally Posted by Joe DeNisco
    I never noticed that! Good catch. I am convinced that is the sweet spot for the warmest sound on the guitar.

    I got used to that 'spot' on my 175, and thought it'd be a real problem getting used to not having it. But there is plenty of travel in the p/u and I have never missed that gap at all. We've all see those surface p/u's that almost touch the strings and had I discovered my L-4 were even close to that, I'd have never kept it.

    Funny, by time I noticed it wasn't there, I was already locked in to keeping and playing mine - a lot !!

    Good luck.

  30. #29
    Quote Originally Posted by Eddie Lang
    Does it have to be a CES? Could it be an L-4C with a floater? You could choose between a natural and a burst. (I know, you're not the vintage type, but still...)
    Thanks Richard...I've pretty much narrowed it down to a later model. But thanks for the suggestion...I wouldn't know the first thing about buying a vintage archtop, which is why I've never acquired one...I've learned to 'stay in my lane' if you know what I mean?

  31. #30

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    The acoustic L-4 has a very nice sound, very punchy and clear. With a de Armond is pure bliss but a whole different animal than a L-4 CES. My 1952 L-4 came with a de Armond 1000 but I hardly ever use it as the L-4 is so nice with out it.
    My L-4CES is a 2009 with a mahogany back and sides. I have played a laminated maple back and sides but not side to side, so a difference in tone is hard to say. I have been wanting to try a laminated mahogany bodied L-4 against the other styles to check them out but I have not had the opportunity as yet.
    Thanks John

  32. #31
    Quote Originally Posted by grahambop
    One thing I particularly like on the 175 is that gap between the end of the fingerboard and the pickup. It's my default 'picking zone'. The L4 looks like a great instrument but it doesn't have that gap, which I think I would miss.
    Regarding the "GAP" I once read someone's comment that the reason the pickup was placed at that location was because that was the utmost location to experience the "natural harmonics of the '175." Sounded plausible...but then again I've bought swampland before, so...

    Sweet '175 Autumn Leaves demo...

    Last edited by 2bornot2bop; 07-14-2015 at 09:49 PM.

  33. #32

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    Quote Originally Posted by 2bornot2bop
    Whats on your list of "improvements BD?

    From a playability stand point I think the 175 and the L4CES are practically the same guitar ....

    but for me the L4CES has a richer, fuller sound ... which I attribute to the solid top

    when compared side by side I find the 175 to to be thuddier and less lively ...

    but a lot of people seem to love that thuddiness .... so it really is a matter of taste as to which sounds better

  34. #33
    To "thud" or not to that the question for some? I mean surely it wasn't just it's lower price that kept its popularity so high over the years.

    I'm only now experiencing my first laminate in an Aria PE190, and although it's a 17" vs. a 16" box, I'm enjoying the difference of having a less lively top, much less the entire guitar being made of plywood.

  35. #34

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    And don't discount the L-4's ebony fingerboard, which also, somehow, adds to the whole L-4 vs 175 sound difference. ( sustain ?? )

  36. #35

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    If I'm not mistaken, the L4-CES is a relative latecomer to the jazz guitar party, being introduced in the early-mid '80's, almost 35 years after the 175 debut. So, the 175 was well established on the scene.

    I really like ebony fingerboards. Why, oh why, did I ever sell my 347?

  37. #36

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    According to Vintage Guitars Info:

    The L-4 Acoustic Archtop : Production Years of 1912 - 1956
    The L-4 C Prod. Years: 1949 - 1971
    The L-4 C " " : 1958, 1969, and then as you noted - the CES from 1987 to present.

    The guitar itself is always described by Joe @ as the 'oldest model name in the Gibson catalogue'. Check out his '51 L-4 description that should show up on a search.

    Back in the day, ( '60's ) I was out - a lot - listening to the jazz guys around here. I always thought they were all playing 175's until one day one of them told me they were usually L-4's, because that's what the players were always out searching for. Some would put CC P/U's in them.
    It got more confusing when the CES's came out 'cause unless you knew the 175's had that gap and L-4's didn't, ( which at the time I didn't ).

    But L-4's have been around -the CES was the latecomer, but not the acoustic.

    Hope this helps.

  38. #37

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    I think the first L-4CES guitars were made in the late 1950s/early 1960s for Sacha Distel, French jazz guitarist and pop crooner. He had an L-5CES with AlNiCo V pickups in '58, then a couple or more L-4CES guitars over the years (as well as a similar model made for him by Jacobacci). Late in his life he played an Ibanez GB guitar with a CC pickup retrofitted into it as well. Like some of the other jazz players based in Europe (René Thomas, Jimmy Gourley), he favoured the single coil sound of the CC (and, in his case, AlNiCo V as well) pickup.
    Attached Images Attached Images Gibson L-4 CES Owners-sacha_distel-jpg 
    Last edited by Hammertone; 07-16-2015 at 04:13 AM.

  39. #38

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    Now that's interesting !! The three photo's that have visible headstocks show the Gibson ' flowerpot' inlay, right ? From your notes, I'd believe the one in top left photo is the L-5 due to the t/p, right ?
    Then, one of the other guitars shown has the trapezoid TP. Were those ever used on L-4's ?

    The most interesting one for me is the one on the top right. It reminded me of the guitar Jim Hall used and pictured on an album called " It's Nice to be with You in Berlin". He was using 175's a lot by then but this one shows up with the same shape but those L-5 block ebony fingerboard fretmarkers. Never saw one like that either ! At the time this made me think maybe he had more L-4's than I'd thought.

    Interesting and thanks !

  40. #39

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    It's possible that the guitar in the upper right and lower left corners are the same instrument with swapped out hardware. Or not.
    The one in the lower right corner has a different burst pattern.
    Upper left is the L-5CES - this guitar has come up for sale recently in France.
    Here's an action shot of Distel with his Ibanez GB w/CC added:
    Attached Images Attached Images Gibson L-4 CES Owners-distel-ibanez-cc-jpg 
    Last edited by Hammertone; 07-16-2015 at 05:46 PM.

  41. #40

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    All the older L-4's had the old style tailpiece with the pointed ends. At least my 1952 does and all the old ones I have seen used this tailpiece. The L-5 style was used on most of the later re-issues. But then there are exceptions to every rule!
    Thanks John

  42. #41

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    The Jacobacci "Distel Model" - a few versions:
    Attached Images Attached Images Gibson L-4 CES Owners-jacobacci-distel-jpg 

  43. #42

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    Loved my 2006 L-4 CES with Mahogany back and of course solid spruce top. Signed inside by Jim Hutchins....

  44. #43

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    Another "help!" thread from me..!

    My father recently gave me some advice... If you're gonna buy an expensive guitar, do it now, while you don't have any obligations!

    I really, really, really would like a Gibson L4 CES more than any. Did they ever make a single PU version? To be honest, any single-pickup Gibson archtop would be cool. There is a 1979 Kalamazoo award for sale downtown, but $12810 is not money I have.

    It doesn't need to be a carved-top instrument or a Gibson, but I would like a single humbucker.

    So if anyone has any suggestions as to what guitars for which I should be looking, please let me know!


    Also, I found out recently that a friend of the family also happens to be the only Heritage dealer in Norway! Does that mean you can "ask" for say, a plain-top h 575 with a single PU?

  45. #44

    User Info Menu has a single pickup L4CES. I have a 2014 L4CES Mahogany. One of the best sounding/playing guitars I have ever owned. Perfect neck profile too. The volume balance on the entire neck is unbelievable. Every string has the same volume anywhere on the neck. How often does that happen. Really a sweet tone with the mahogany back and sides. All carved too. Not like the earlier ones that had plywood back and sides. Like the Tal Farlow another sleeper "great axe" from Gibson.

  46. #45

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    I totally agree with the notion that if you are really out for a Gibson L4CES, then you should probably go with that. Heritage does, without question, make a great guitar but even if the 575 was a faithful copy of the L4 in question, it still won't be the Gibson L4. If you were looking for an L4 type... then, yeah. I'd recommend the Heritage. That's me though.

  47. #46

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    That L4CES is a stunner, if you don't like it when you've set it up ( & with an AB bridge)
    I'll eat my hat. These have a superb, fat tone, a fair second to a good L5CES, I only
    reluctantly parted with my 2008 model to obtain a long awaited Byrdland, can't have the
    cake and eat it! I respectfully suggest a Byrdland neck might not suit your large mitts.
    but the L4CES's will . Your evaluation is eagerly awaited, and where is that wine red Wes?
    Tho; I fully expect you to declare ,when it's ready the Ms Wu with a Biltoft CC is the
    creme de la creme for you. I am afraid the 18" bout would swamp someone of my size.

  48. #47

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    I love my L4CES. Mine has the mahogany back and sides. Both versions are great IMO just very different sounding. We will be watching the FS section to see what you will be giving the boot.

  49. #48

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    I think that if the L-4CES came about earlier in the timeline of jazz guitar history, it might be more popular today. As it is, only Joe Diorio used it as a main ax and so the L-5, Super 400 and ES-175 reign supreme.

    That said, it is a " tweener" guitar. Sort of in between a 175 and an L-5 tonewise. I used to do jazz guitar duets with a couple of guys who owned L-4CES guitars ( I was mostly playing a 1977 ES-175 at the time). I did switch with both guys a few times. I like the 175 better. The 175 is more feedback resistant and is less delicate (two things of importance to a working jazz musician). But the L4-CES is sweet.

  50. #49

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    Mine is an '88 ....

    I've heard a rumor that the backs and sides were laminate ..

    And that the top might even be a solid pressed top as opposed to carve ..

    But I have no idea if those rumors are true

    It does sound great, though

  51. #50
    I was having a hard time in my head to buy an L4CES when I could buy a full sized Golden Eagle for the same price. But I've moved on from them, and the L4CES being last on my Gibson ownership list, so it's now or never.

    Clearly I'm anticipating it to have a deeper electric voice than the Sweet 16. IMO, their thin depths limit their voice range...but the '16's are so comfy and so much fun to play.

    You guess's an '02 model. I had the option of buying an '06 'hog back L4CES in Wine Red...and as much as I love the wine red/gold accents, I'm just a sucker for a sunburst. Both these guitars reportedly are from a large collection and reportedly "largely" unplayed. The price between the two was very minimal and I struggled several days about which to buy.