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  1. #1

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    Is there an era of Gibson archtops that you might want to avoid due to craftsmanship issues? Or, are they all pretty much really good guitars (save for an occasional clunker)? I've been on and looking at Gibson and Heritage jazz archtops and was wondering what years are the "safest bets"?


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  3. #2

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    A lot of people think the 70s were subpar in any guitar manufacturer but the truth is there's good and bad in all eras.
    Judge each instrument in a case by case basis.

  4. #3

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    I'm at the low end of the bell curves for experience and expertise on this site, but even so I have owned low- and mid-line Gibson archtops from the 20s, 30s, 50s and 60s.

    My observation is that throughout that range Gibson's priority has always been to get product out the door. Ebony fingerboard on a rosewood-standard model? Ship it. Wrong peghead inlay? Ship it. Plywood back and sides on a carved model? Ship it!

    So often time itself is more important than craft. Gibsons from the 20s, 30s, 50s and 60s are now 50-100 years old. The way they work and sound today is more about what has happened to them than about any initial good or bad craftsmanship. If it got played hard but carefully daily, you can tell. If the neck was reset when needed and the frets are up to date, you can tell. Conversely, if it got thrown through the goalposts when the home team scored, you can tell.

    Above all, whether some particular guitar is right for you depends on you. I keep coming back to this lesson learned working on the floor of a guitar store in the early eighties: "Sam, everybody leaves the store convinced that they have just gotten The One. And all of them are correct . . . at least temporarily."

  5. #4

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    I honestly don't know. I have two from the Memphis series that are superb and another from the early '90s that is superb. I had a CC ES-175 that had to be from the late '70s that didn't play well from me. As I recall the finish was a bit crude as well.

  6. #5

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    Lack of “craftsmanship” is not necessarily the source of issues with gibson guitars. Design, materials, bean counting business practice, administration’s treatment of workers all come into play. As just one example, if you give a highly skilled worker 20 minutes to perform a task that takes 40 minutes to do, the shit work is not due to a lack of craftsmanship.

  7. #6

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    I think you’ve always had to play them tbh from what I hear

  8. #7

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    I always thought the 1940s to early 1960s were the Golden Years for Gibson. Much of this was due to Ted MaCarty leadership, skilled woodworkers, and abundance of great materials.
    Also many of the same things went into the lowest level instruments as well as the top tier.

    I have found that since the 1990s forward has also made some the same great quality instruments. The ones that weren't so great were due to higher production and some less skilled workforce at Gibson USA.
    Jim Hutchins as well as Phillip Whorton have probably been responsible for the best Archtops in their entire history!

  9. #8

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    Gibson has never really done a good job with the finer points of a guitar. Their setups were more often than not lacking. Fret level not always the best. This is from the 70s on out in my experience. Even though they were a production made guitar they all felt a bit unique. The necks were always a bit different feeling even within the same model. The sound alway had the characteristic Gibson model sound, but within that group there were some real winners and a few losers too. They were always pretty good a mix and match whatever parts were handy it seemed, each being a bit different. I've always found that every Gibson was going to need some attention to play, and sound it's best, but the signature sound was hard to beat. Once you put that time in, you would end up with a really top end instrument. For a production guitar this was part of the allure I feel. Always looking for "the one". If they were all exactly the same it would be a bit boring.

  10. #9

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    Best to judge each one, case by case. I have seen one or two L5CESes with the tailpiece mounted a little offcentre, a little askew. Walkin Japan showed small acrylic shims made to correct the skew of the tailpiece. They don't really affect the performance but they do look odd and asymmetric.

    Most of my Gibsons were made in the 2000s. My "youngest" one is from 2012. The colour of the Antique Sunburst changed over the years. The figure of the maple changed over the years. By and large though, most of the Henry J. era archtops are good. The clunker is more the exception than the rule.

    Soundwise, I am no tone connoisseur-most of them sound good to me. If it doesn't sound good, I say it is the player usually.

    Yeah, all of them benefit from good set-up to play their best.

  11. #10

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    I would say it is so much about craftmanship than components or "features"...
    Without being specific and for various reasons, some eras used: pancake bodies, enlarged headstocks, baked maple, laminated rosewood fret board, plain looking wood, pencil neck, Richlite for ebony, robot tuners. Some people might want avoid those things and era associated subjective or not!
    In my case my '59 125 has that vintage golden year vibe, my '92 Les Paul Standard is a keeper despite being not 100% LP purist approved and my '96 Tal Farlow is gonna be pried out from my cold dead hands.
    I am not on the market for another Gibson any soon but if I would, I probably look again for a '90s instrument as a vintage one is too expensive

  12. #11

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    In my personal experience there was a bad spell for 175s in 2004-2005. Had to return two (loose brace, cracked top) before getting a decent one. Not exactly a volume product in my country, but these were not the only returns. One had the inner curve of the cutaway sanded to one-ply thickness. Of course, such bad apples stand out early and whatever is on the secondhand market 15 years later has either stood the test of the time or been repaired.