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  1. #1
    Hello all,

    Greetings! I’m a long time lurker, but first time poster on this forum. Here’s my question for you all:

    There is a very nice 1949 Gibson L-4C for sale at a decent-ish price (about $3,800), close to where I live. I’ve been seriously thinking of purchasing it and converting it into a L-4CES (I.e adding nice pickups and electronics).

    Does anyone have experience with such a process? How did it turn out?

    oh, and I plan on never letting go of it, and very much dislike floating pickups.

    Thanks for your feedback!

  2.  

    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
     
  3. #2

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    Quote Originally Posted by Goldtop69
    Hello all,

    Greetings! I’m a long time lurker, but first time poster on this forum. Here’s my question for you all:

    There is a very nice 1949 Gibson L-4C for sale at a decent-ish price (about $3,800), close to where I live. I’ve been seriously thinking of purchasing it and converting it into a L-4CES (I.e adding nice pickups and electronics).

    Does anyone have experience with such a process? How did it turn out?

    oh, and I plan on never letting go of it, and very much dislike floating pickups.

    Thanks for your feedback!
    Please find another guitar to do this with not an acoustic L4. Buy a guitar that is already a CES. As you you said you dislike floating pickups so there is no point in you buying a guitar that what made to be played acoustically first and foremost. Please do not ruin a very nice GIbson L4c.

  4. #3

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    Willie's in St. Paul Minnesota yesterday had a CES for sale. You should check that out. The acoustic version was never meant to be butchered and would likely not have a good result, so keeping it might end up being your only option, imho.

  5. #4
    Thanks for your reply @deacon Mark.
    I understand that you feel such a conversion would “ruin” the guitar. Could you elaborate on how that would be the case?
    Wouldn’t a converted L-4 essentially be like a CES, i.e an ES-175 with solid instead of ply- wood, a configuration sought by many? Not to mention this is old wood and the back and sides are mahogany —my favorite. ?
    If possible, I’m looking for a bit more than emotional responses here. Cheers!
    cheers!

  6. #5

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    The carve of the plates and the bracing of an acoustic L4c are different than later made L4CES. Plenty of people have cut into these older guitars only to have the acoustic tone ruined, the top sink, and have feedback issues.

    If you want a mountain bike you can’t get there by buying a delicate road bike and adding fat tires.


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk Pro

  7. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by Goldtop69
    Thanks for your reply @deacon Mark.
    I understand that you feel such a conversion would “ruin” the guitar. Could you elaborate on how that would be the case?
    Wouldn’t a converted L-4 essentially be like a CES, i.e an ES-175 with solid instead of ply- wood, a configuration sought by many? Not to mention this is old wood and the back and sides are mahogany —my favorite. ?
    If possible, I’m looking for a bit more than emotional responses here. Cheers!
    cheers!
    It is not an emotional response. I would suggest that you do much more research and thinking about jazz guitars. Your question is quite valid but it also tells me that if you do not know the difference and do not understand, more work is needed on your part before you do do this. Reminds me about the great Chet Atkins who had John D'angelico make him an acoustic Excel. After getting it a few years later Chet put pickups in the top and a bigsby. At the time that was certainly not a good move but today it would be consider stupid of all stupid. As great a player as Chet was it proved he made some not so wise choices guitar-wise for his playing. Luckily he later had D'angelico put a new top on the guitar. I believe you simply have to do a lot more homework on the sound you want and possible go through a number of guitars before you get to the place you need to be.............wherever that is.

  8. #7

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    I'll preface this post by saying that I have added pickups to 2 vintage Gibson archtops. The first was an L-50 that was converted to an ES 150. The second was another L-50 that had a TK Smith Bigsby style-pickup. In both cases, I was very happy with the results. I ended up selling both, but the market value of these guitars was not negatively impacted. In fact, the TK Smith one sold so quickly and with so many inquiries, that I'm positive I priced it too low. TLDR is that (1) I am not a total purist and (2) I think I have a credible sense of what is a desirable mod for vintage archtops. Your L4C->CES conversion is not something I would do for the reasons below.

    The spruce top on every L4 CES I've played is very thin. Much thinner than an any electric archtop I've played, even thinner than the early 175 Laminates. I would be concerned that this won't produce a nice electric tone, and will feed back too much. Also, I've only played one L4-C with a decent acoustic tone. I think there's a reason they didn't catch on. There are good ones out there, but only 1 out of the 5 I've played sounded any good (see video below). If it helps, my response is not because of because of any piety with regard to the L4C. I'm not saying "don't mod that precious instrument!" and I don't worry about the supposed sacrilege. I just don't think they're great guitars and I think you're taking a big expensive risk with this one.

    The braces are not going to be spaced like a 175. If you cut the top, you'll be cutting the braces. If you're going to position the neck pickup where a CES neck pickup goes, that shouldn't be an issue because the braces are very thin and not adding much support there. If you're adding a bridge pickup, you'll be cutting right through the middle of the braces. Your best bet is to have a luthier remove the back and reposition the braces if you want a bridge pickup.

    This is going to cost more than a CES and produce a guitar of significantly lower value. You think you'll never let it go, but this guitar could sound awful based on my first point above. If you decide you didn't like the result of the experiment, you're not going to get much of your money back on the used market.

    The question you might want to ask yourself is, what are you trying to achieve? If you are after a more acoustic sounding version of the L4CES, then I would recommend the following two options:

    (1) Get a 50's 175. The early single p90 versions are the most resonant and actually have a more pleasant acoustic tone than most L4Cs I've played. If you are set on a humbucker, look for a 1957-59 single pickup model. They're expensive but would cost about what your proposed project would cost. If you don't care about guitars that have been modified, then you can save money by getting a 175 where the PAF was replaced with a modern humbucker.

    (2) Get an L4C and put a floating pickup on it. I know you said you don't like floating pickups, but you probably want to give them another shot. A local guitarist got one of these with a Johnny Smith pickup (I had almost bought the same guitar just weeks prior but the dealer gave off too much of a tweaker vibe to take him seriously). I've gotten to play it and it sounds amazing acoustically as well as plugged in. Every other L4C I've tried (including one that I owned for a few months) was a disappointment. This L4C with a Gibson Johnny Smith pickup sounds amazing:

    Last edited by omphalopsychos; 02-18-2021 at 12:48 PM.

  9. #8

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    Here's a video I found of a 1950 L5CN CES... not sure if its original or modified to CES.
    The sounds is still thin with very little bass fullness. Granted, I have no idea what amp is being used nor the settings, which would affect the tone as well.

    I have mentally toyed with amplifying a 50s L4, but always come back to the sound being thin.


  10. #9

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    There was a single p-90 50s L4 for sale in the Denver area recently, but I can't find it now. There was a video of the guitar being gigged.

    Here's a Craigslist ad selling a converted 1948 L4
    Gibson L4-C 1948 - Amazing/Vintage! - musical instruments - by owner...

  11. #10

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    Here's a '56 L4C converted with a P90...




  12. #11

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    1948 L4C with a floating Benedetto pickup... sounds really good.


  13. #12

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    More Googling.... here's my favorite (looking) configuration so far... vintage L4C with a Charlie Christian. Sounds good... still on the thin side of tone.



  14. #13

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    It is not wise to harm a vintage guitar, all the while reducing it's value, in order to get something that is both readily available and not crazy expensive.

    Buy a Gibson L-4CES if that is what you are after.

  15. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by Goldtop69
    Hello all,

    Greetings! I’m a long time lurker, but first time poster on this forum. Here’s my question for you all:

    There is a very nice 1949 Gibson L-4C for sale at a decent-ish price (about $3,800), close to where I live. I’ve been seriously thinking of purchasing it and converting it into a L-4CES (I.e adding nice pickups and electronics).

    Does anyone have experience with such a process? How did it turn out?

    oh, and I plan on never letting go of it, and very much dislike floating pickups.

    Thanks for your feedback!
    A guy I know recently bought an L4CES for about $3500 (yes, people ask way more on Reverb, but I doubt anyone is getting much more than $4-4.5k for one) Does $3800 + at least several hundred dollars to modify it to unpredictable effect sound like a good idea to me? No. If you could get an L4C in really poor condition really cheap, and you want to try it for the sake of experiment, it might be worth a shot. But if you know what you want (an L4CES), I'd say go buy that. In the end, it'll be likely be cheaper, take a lot less time, and carry none of the risk/uncertainty of a major modification project.

    John

  16. #15

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    1951 L4C with DeArmond FHC pickup mounted to it, and it's plugged into a Fender Blackface Princeton Reverb amplifier.
    This is sweet!


  17. #16

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    1958 Gibson L4-C, outfitted with a DeArmond FHC pickup, played into a Blackface Fender Princeton Reverb amplifier.

    I'm getting sold on the DeArmond FHC pickup... sweet.




  18. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by John A.
    Does $3800 + at least several hundred dollars to modify it to unpredictable effect sound like a good idea to me?
    I think you're underestimating the cost. Adding 2 pickups (and pots and a jack) and having the braces repositioned will probably cost more than $1,000 if done by a qualified luthier/technician depending on where you live. In the SF bay area, I'd expect to pay 2k for a job this complex.

  19. #18

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    I'll just add guitars are originally designed to preform optimally in their original state. Especially acoustic designed ones.
    You will run into several issues such as top plate carve thinness as well as X bracing vs. Parallel bracing design.

    Definitely avoid this process and trade or purchase the CES model equivalent. Or even have Stephan Holst, Mark Campellone, Franz Elferink make you one.

  20. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by John A.
    A guy I know recently bought an L4CES for about $3500 (yes, people ask way more on Reverb, but I doubt anyone is getting much more than $4-4.5k for one) Does $3800 + at least several hundred dollars to modify it to unpredictable effect sound like a good idea to me? No. If you could get an L4C in really poor condition really cheap, and you want to try it for the sake of experiment, it might be worth a shot. But if you know what you want (an L4CES), I'd say go buy that. In the end, it'll be likely be cheaper, take a lot less time, and carry none of the risk/uncertainty of a major modification project.

    John
    Aye! Aye!

    From the a cost-resale angle it won't be worth the trouble. You can score an L-4CES for way lower than the money you put into this project. Even if you had inherited the L-4C and paid nothing for it I would still advise you to sell it, not modify it invasively and irreversibly, and use the proceeds to buy an L-4CES. Better preservation of value that way all round.

    The L-4CES is out there...Keep looking.

  21. #20

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    2003 Gibson L-4CES | Willie's American Guitars | Reverb

    Go to Willie's directly instead of through Reverb. You can probably get it for $4000 (or lower) and not get billed sales tax by Reverb if you are from out of state.

  22. #21

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    1989 Gibson L4 CES Sunburst - Thunder Road Guitars Seattle

    ^ you can probably score it for what that l4c is listed at.

  23. #22

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    Quote Originally Posted by Goldtop69
    Hello all,

    Greetings! I’m a long time lurker, but first time poster on this forum. Here’s my question for you all:

    There is a very nice 1949 Gibson L-4C for sale at a decent-ish price (about $3,800), close to where I live. I’ve been seriously thinking of purchasing it and converting it into a L-4CES (I.e adding nice pickups and electronics).

    Does anyone have experience with such a process? How did it turn out?

    oh, and I plan on never letting go of it, and very much dislike floating pickups.

    Thanks for your feedback!

  24. #23

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    See? Laminated maple 2003 vs. laminated mahogany 1989. Take your pick.

  25. #24

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jabberwocky
    2003 Gibson L-4CES | Willie's American Guitars | Reverb

    Go to Willie's directly instead of through Reverb. You can probably get it for $4000 (or lower) and not get billed sales tax by Reverb if you are from out of state.
    Absolutely luscious!

  26. #25

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    I would vote for a floating pickup like one of the DA Rhythm Chief reissues. I have the 1000. The stick can be mounted with just 2 tiny screw holes on the neck, and run a 1/8" jack through the endpin for a minimalist installation.

    You could mount a P90 on the surface of the top without changing the acoustic tone. Or get an archtop bridge pickup.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jabberwocky
    2003 Gibson L-4CES | Willie's American Guitars | Reverb

    Go to Willie's directly instead of through Reverb. You can probably get it for $4000 (or lower) and not get billed sales tax by Reverb if you are from out of state.
    You will get billed sales tax in Minnesota though, just like an in-person purchase, right? Not the lowest sales tax rate...

  27. #26

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    I just posted about this L-4c in the current "L-7 vs L-4c" sort of thread....

    I like this '50 L-4c with a McCarty, but it was great with an old DeArmond Rhythm Chief 1000 as well.

    Rather than cut and convert a decent old acoustic L-4c, I'd get a '50's ES-175 and double my pleasure.

    Converting 1949 Gibson L-4C into L-4CES —any experience?-c72d8d1f-10ce-4b24-b865-33669e999a82_1_201_a-jpeg
    Last edited by zizala; 02-19-2021 at 06:44 AM.

  28. #27

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    Quote Originally Posted by deacon Mark
    It is not an emotional response. I would suggest that you do much more research and thinking about jazz guitars. Your question is quite valid but it also tells me that if you do not know the difference and do not understand, more work is needed on your part before you do do this. Reminds me about the great Chet Atkins who had John D'angelico make him an acoustic Excel. After getting it a few years later Chet put pickups in the top and a bigsby. At the time that was certainly not a good move but today it would be consider stupid of all stupid. As great a player as Chet was it proved he made some not so wise choices guitar-wise for his playing. Luckily he later had D'angelico put a new top on the guitar. I believe you simply have to do a lot more homework on the sound you want and possible go through a number of guitars before you get to the place you need to be.............wherever that is.
    Sorry, but I do not see a problem here........

    said the guy who converted his vintage Ferrari into a pick-up truck:
    Converting 1949 Gibson L-4C into L-4CES —any experience?-ferrari-412-pickup-truck-2-jpg

  29. #28

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    Quote Originally Posted by omphalopsychos
    I think you're underestimating the cost. Adding 2 pickups (and pots and a jack) and having the braces repositioned will probably cost more than $1,000 if done by a qualified luthier/technician depending on where you live. In the SF bay area, I'd expect to pay 2k for a job this complex.
    Makes sense. I was assuming about a grand, but there are places where things cost less than in NYC or SF (or so I've heard ...)

    John

  30. #29
    Thank you all for your answers. And very special thanks to @omphalopsychos for going the extra mile and then some! This is exactly the kind of technical information I was looking for.
    and thanks to @Steve for the eye candies.
    stay well and stay safe you all —we still have a few months of “rough seas” ahead of us.
    Cheers from the great frozen wasteland of Montreal.

  31. #30

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    In the 70s, I bought a "converted" L4C from a second-hand store in London. It was cheap, and I could just about afford it. I still have the guitar and play it. When bought, the guitar had P90s, badly fitted, hacked braces, a pickguard with stick-on initials, a case with stickers from all the holiday camps in the UK, and controls in the wrong place. After many years of work, it is now in reasonable condition structurally, though rough-looking cosmetically. It plays extremely well.

    I have also had a few L4CES and 175s, so can make a direct comparison.
    -the L4c has a small acoustic voice compared to either the L4CES or 175. It is a delicate sound without much acoustic bass
    -electrically, the L4C conversion does not sound like an L4CES. The CES is thicker-built, sounds more bassy, and more 'electric'.
    -for my taste, a late 50s L4C has a consistent, fat-ish neck shape that I far prefer to the thin/ thick modern Gibson L4CES and 175 shapes

    Predictably, many voices here say 'don't do it'. I agree. That said, a hacked L4C can still work as an electric guitar, although with little acoustic sound.
    Attached Files Attached Files

  32. #31

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    Quote Originally Posted by Goldtop69
    .... and very much dislike floating pickups.

    Thanks for your feedback!
    What is it about floating pickups that you dislike?

  33. #32
    Many thanks Franz! Great insight!
    JazzNote: with floating pickups, I’ve had a difficult time playing in bands without experiencing feedback. I also didn’t care much for the sound —but that may be a function of the individual pickups I tried—, which I found too thin..... would you have a suggestion?
    cheers!

  34. #33

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    Quote Originally Posted by Goldtop69
    Many thanks Franz! Great insight!
    JazzNote: with floating pickups, I’ve had a difficult time playing in bands without experiencing feedback. I also didn’t care much for the sound —but that may be a function of the individual pickups I tried—, which I found too thin..... would you have a suggestion?
    cheers!
    Before you do any cutting of that vintage guitar, try a handmade Kent Armstrong Johnny Smith Pickup. It may change your mind about floating pickups.....

  35. #34
    Quote Originally Posted by Stringswinger
    Before you do any cutting of that vintage guitar, try a handmade Kent Armstrong Johnny Smith Pickup. It may change your mind about floating pickups.....
    Will do!

  36. #35

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    I like the DeArmond Rhythm Chief, attached with Blu-Tack. Controls can be thumbwheels attached under the pickguard or inside the treble f hole, or you can use minipots in the pickguard. It gives close to a set pickup sound, without changing the top at all.

  37. #36

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    Quote Originally Posted by Goldtop69
    JazzNote: with floating pickups, I’ve had a difficult time playing in bands without experiencing feedback. I also didn’t care much for the sound —but that may be a function of the individual pickups I tried—, which I found too thin..... would you have a suggestion?
    cheers!
    - Over the years i've tried quite a few floaters and found the most important feature to be the adjustable polepieces. A Kent Armstrong (handmade) 12 pole PU is ideal in that respect because for each string it has two adjustable screws. It also sounds very warm.
    - I like the sound of the Bartolini a lot but the downside of this is that there are no adjustable polepieces.
    - The Dommenget Jazzbucker sounds great too, but on this, the polepiece adjustments cannot be done with the mounted PU, which makes fine adjustment hard to do.
    - Recently i installed a P90 single coil floater by Pete Biltoft which sounds great, but i feel that the KA pickups are more resistant against feedback.
    - I also like the sound of the DeArmond Rhythm Chief, but have no practical experience with it, only tried one at home, never in a live band situation, so i don't know how resistant it is to feedback.

    General advice: the feedback usually occurs in certain frequencies only, so if you succeed taming them you are out of trouble. I do that in two ore three stages. 1st: adjustable polepieces, 2nd: using a parametric eq in the chain, 3rd: often i play over a Acoustic Image Clarus amp which has a low frequency filter to cut just the bottom, leaving the higher frequencies untouched. And another important device is the volume pedal which i use on 99% of my gigs - it enables me, if necessary, to continuously play at the verge of feedback without getting any of it, by intuitively reducing volume whenever i feel that it would start.

  38. #37

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  39. #38

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    Quote Originally Posted by JazzNote
    - Over the years i've tried quite a few floaters and found the most important feature to be the adjustable polepieces. A Kent Armstrong (handmade) 12 pole PU is ideal in that respect because for each string it has two adjustable screws. It also sounds very warm.
    - I like the sound of the Bartolini a lot but the downside of this is that there are no adjustable polepieces.
    - The Dommenget Jazzbucker sounds great too, but on this, the polepiece adjustments cannot be done with the mounted PU, which makes fine adjustment hard to do.
    - Recently i installed a P90 single coil floater by Pete Biltoft which sounds great, but i feel that the KA pickups are more resistant against feedback.
    - I also like the sound of the DeArmond Rhythm Chief, but have no practical experience with it, only tried one at home, never in a live band situation, so i don't know how resistant it is to feedback.

    General advice: the feedback usually occurs in certain frequencies only, so if you succeed taming them you are out of trouble. I do that in two ore three stages. 1st: adjustable polepieces, 2nd: using a parametric eq in the chain, 3rd: often i play over a Acoustic Image Clarus amp which has a low frequency filter to cut just the bottom, leaving the higher frequencies untouched. And another important device is the volume pedal which i use on 99% of my gigs - it enables me, if necessary, to continuously play at the verge of feedback without getting any of it, by intuitively reducing volume whenever i feel that it would start.
    Plus one for the Acoustic Image system. I have Corus Series III, and the tuneable LF filter is absolutely invaluable in getting a tight, manageable tone. My JHS Haunting Mids parametric equalizer also comes in might handy as a boost/cut to fit your tone to the room as needed.