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  1. #1

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    Hopefully, once I get the CITES permits done, I will be receiving a 1935 Gibson L-12. I hate buying guitars sight-unseen, but I am in Canada and it is hard to find a dealer who will do both the CITES documentation and allow for 48-hour returns.

    I did my homework, consulted with a good luthier and got what I hope will be a structurally sound L-12 that looks a little on the rough side (to be kind). I don't know much about it's history but it in the photos, it certainly looks well-played. Before I go and slap a set of 13's on it, what should I check. In the photos, the position of the bridge looked good, but I am a little concerned about what strings should go on it until I can get it to a good luthier to give it a complete check-up. There are no cracks in the top and I don't want to put any there as a result of having no idea what I am doing.

    Suggestions?

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  3. #2

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    Nice project.

    Check if braces are still ok. They often come loose after all these years. When it happens, it's not a big problem, a good luthier can glue them and they will be ready to play for another century of music.

    13's will go like butter on bread. They were made to accomodate heavy gauge.

    Cheers.

  4. #3

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    Neck angle is one potential issue. Does the bridge have good clearance? What happens sometimes with these old archtops is, neck angle flattens but the top also collapses, they cancel each other out and play fine

  5. #4

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    Keep in mind, no matter what particular strings you decide to put on it, you’ll likely need to readjust the bridge position slightly to achieve the best intonation.

  6. #5

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    while i totally agree with fa ^ that old guitars were built to take heavy strings...in 1935 they were still using wound b strings!!

    but if i were getting a guitar that old, sight unseen, i'd start out a little on the light side...just to see what's going on first...once you've established that the body and neck are sound, then you can switch to your favored gauge...but i'd start with 12's max

    12's 80/20 bronze would be my choice

    cheers

  7. #6

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    yup, inspect the braces with a dental mirror, or if your cell phone is slim enough, turn on video and insert as much of the camera as possible.

    neck heel joint next. then sight down the neck to look for twisting, warp, excessive bowing.

    For strings, since it is traveling, keep about the same gauge if possible until the guitar has stabilized to your humidity and conditions. later, you can ease it over to your preferred gauge.

    good luck - how exciting!

  8. #7

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    Since you've done your homework, you may already know this point but I thought I'd mentioned it here nonetheless. The early Gibson Advanced model (17 inch) archtops have a "flattened" arched top so it may appear as if the top is sinking. It is not. It is the way it was designed.

    (I don't have this book but I read in another forum/post that Adrian Ingrams book about the L5 pg 24 notes when Gibson went from 16" bodies to 17" bodies (1937-39,*) the company knew that pressure at the bridge area could cause a sinking of the top and as such began to construct tops in a more flattened pattern about where the bridge is.)

    * I believe Gibson actually started the Advanced model archtops in 1935.
    Last edited by archtopeddy; 08-07-2020 at 06:08 PM.

  9. #8

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    ........Congrats !

    And I agree w/ Neat. - - start off with 12's.....

    And get it to that luthier asap so he can check the bracing.....
    Then have him do a complete set-up, TR check, etc etc etc......
    And fwiw check the nut too - -my luthier and I both missed a split - hairline crack in the nut of my '52 L-7, and once he replaced it, that was it - - issues over !

    Best of luck with it !!

  10. #9

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    I think the flattened profile of the arch under the bridge during the "Advanced" 17" body years was intentional and had more to do with the X bracing they used at that time.

    They can look decidedly sway backed compared with other Gibson archtops of those times (before and after) with the 2 longitudal braces.
    Doesn't mean that some sinking might be worth watching out for....and the profile does look odd if one is looking for a nice crowned arch.
    I wouldn't consider one of those when I first saw those tops, but learned that I was wrong to assume they had structurally deformed from string pressure.

    As for strings.....some old archtops can be quite responsive with 12's.....and other players hear and feel more from 13's.
    Try'em and choose.

  11. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by zizala
    I think the flattened profile of the arch under the bridge during the "Advanced" 17" body years had more to do with the X bracing they used at that time.

    Even as but it can look decidedly sway backed compared with other Gibson archtops of those times with the 2 longitudal braces.
    Doesn't mean that some sinking might be worth looking for....but the profile does look odd if one is looking for a nice crowned arch.
    I wouldn't consider one of those when I first saw that top, but learned that I was wrong to assume it was a sinking top.

    As for strings.....some old archtops can be quite responsive with 12's.....and others hear and feel more from 13's.
    Try'em and choose.
    I’ve even found some from the ‘30s that really like 11s, believe it or not.

  12. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by zizala
    I think the flattened profile of the arch under the bridge during the "Advanced" 17" body years was intentional and had more to do with the X bracing they used at that time.

    They can look decidedly sway backed compared with other Gibson archtops of those times (before and after) with the 2 longitudal braces.
    Doesn't mean that some sinking might be worth watching out for....and the profile does look odd if one is looking for a nice crowned arch.
    I wouldn't consider one of those when I first saw those tops, but learned that I was wrong to assume they had structurally deformed from string pressure.

    As for strings.....some old archtops can be quite responsive with 12's.....and other players hear and feel more from 13's.
    Try'em and choose.
    Thanks Zizala for clarifying what I was trying to say. Precisely as you noted (and I've seen other people say the same thing), they passed on a mid-30s Gibson Advanced model archtop because they thought the top looked collapsed due to the way it was designed/carved. As you said, this and any old archtop, needs to be examined for a sinking top but in the case of these early X-braced Advanced models looks can be deceiving with their "flattened" design around the bridge.

  13. #12

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    "Double hump" vs. "single hump" is the terminology I've used over the years of handling these guitars. I suppose that's like walking a mile for a cam.. oh, nevermind.

  14. #13

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    Bactrian Camel vs Dromedary if you will......

    doc w,
    Hope that L-12 is as good or better than what you're hoping for!

  15. #14

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    Update: FedEx says that the L-12 will be delivered tomorrow. I am pretty stoked and will let you know how it all turned out (with photos).

  16. #15

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    Years ago I heard of using a blacklight to look for cracks. Don't know if there is anything to that.