Thursday, February 21, 2013

1934 Gibson L-00 from Instagram

I like to post pictures of guitars on Instagram and sometimes I will search hash tags for other old guitars.  Today I found this one, a 1934 Gibson L-00.  Neither the guitar or the pictures belong to me (unfortunately!).

This guitar, bearing the batch number 1212 - 31 was manufactured in 1934 according to Spann's Guide to Gibson: 1902-1941.  It features the smaller sunburst typical of the early 30s.  Supposedly the sunburst was small because wood supplies were not very good during the depression.  The black part of the sunburst served to cover up imperfections in the wood.

Structurally, this guitar is very similar to my '33 L-00.  One way that it differs is in the lining used to join the sides to the top and bottom of the guitar.  You can see from the photo above that this guitar has the modern, kerfed lining.  My guitar has the solid, steam bent lining.  See below:

There was a soldier overseas during World War II that wanted to someday be a touring Country Western musician.  He bought this guitar used upon his return from the war.  He followed his dream for a while but soon opted for the life of a family man instead of that of a touring musician.  He still played every once in a while with some other musicians.  He played this guitar until his death.  It was then passed on to his granddaughter where she displays it proudly on her wall.

The tuners have been changed but they look very similar to what would have been on there.  I think that these are the cheaper tuners that Harmony used on their guitars in the 60s.  Everything else on the guitar looks to be original.  I don't see any bad repairs but I don't have any shots of the underside of the top.

What a stunning little Gibson!  After I wrote this I took mine out of its case and played Mississippi John Hurt's version of "Make Me a Pallet on the Floor" and remembered why these are so popular for fingerstyle blues.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

1943 Gibson J-45: All Mahogany, All blues

This banner Gibson J-45 was made in the lowest of low time period during World War II.  It is made from all solid Mahogany and features no steel truss rod but a solid Ebony insert down the neck for stability.  Stock piles were at there lowest point because everything was going to the war effort.  While this guitar may not be as desirable as a Spruce/Hog with truss rod guitar, it is a very cool part of Gibson history.  The neck is straight and the tone is unique and warm.  I love playing this guitar!!

When I saw this guitar and its combination of features and probably original case, I had to have it.  It was a great compliment to my Spruce banner J-45 and just looked so interesting.  I met the seller outside of a Cracker Barrel in Chattanooga and fell in love a first strum.  Something about the color of the burst just grabbed me.  I am currently waiting to get it back from my luthier after some set up work and reglue some loose braces.

As evidenced from the wear around this soundhole, this guitar has been played.  I am still trying to figure out what kind of playing style would make that!  I don't mind it though.  The rest of the guitar is pretty clean when you consider what it has been through.

This guitar did have 2 large cracks down the back of the guitar that were repaired.  They sanded and buffed this area but luckily did not overspray it.  It was tastefully done but I would rather them have just left the finish alone.  It still has the original tuners which is quite rare.  It is ever rarer that they function!

The elephant in the room has got to be the tone of this instrument so pardon my delay.  It still has the lapping thump of a banner guitar.  The highs are more rounded off and pleasant.  Sometimes the highs can be shrill on a Spruce top but not with this one.  There may be a slight decrease in volume from my Spruce banner but that could also be a variance from guitar to guitar.  The lows are warm and comfortable but don't overpower.  The mids are equally warm and present.

I should also mention the girth of this neck.  With a nut width of 1 7/8" it can be quite a handful.  It did take a couple of minutes to get used to even after playing my other banner J-45.  Since this guitar did not receive a truss rod but a big v shaped Ebony inlay down the neck, Gibson made the neck with more girth in an attempt to give the it some stability.  It seems to be working because the neck is dead straight.  This was probably not the case before they did the refret.  There is significant playing wear on the back of the neck so I'm not sure that it was because the neck was warped or because of the fret wear.  Either way it is a joy to play now and I am glad to have it in my collection.  When the maple banner gets back from the luthier I'll have to complete banner J-45 line up.


Saturday, February 9, 2013

1944 Gibson J-45 "Only a Gibson is good enough"

The banner on Gibson's wartime flat-tops appeared around June of 1942 and disappeared sometime in 1946.  It is still a but unclear why but we may know more about the banner after this book comes out: Kalamazoo Gals.  Maybe it had something to do with national pride during the war years since the Martin guitar company was still family owned and the original CF Martin was in fact, a German immigrant.  This is solely speculation though, It may have had nothing to do with Martin.

This guitar was probably made in 1944 but again, that is just a guess.  It bears no visible factory order number and may have never received one which is common for the late war years.  It was constructed of a two piece Spruce top and a solid, one piece flat-sawn Mahogany back.  The one piece back is of note because it is evidence that wood stock piles were low so "lower quality" wood was used.  The Mahogany should have been quarter sawn for appearance and strength however this process wastes more wood than the flat sawing method.  Also of note, the Kalamazoo Gals that built this guitar were told to put "back strips" on the interior of the guitar to help the two joined quarter sawn pieces of Mahogany.  Yet this guitar has a one piece back.

I mention this because the people that built this guitar were probably not men who had worked in the factory for many years.  More than likely they were "Rosie the Riveters" that filled the empty positions of men who had gone to support the war effort.  In John Thomas' book, "Kalamazoo Gals," an argument is made that these guitars were somewhat superior to other Gibsons because of the nature of the women who made them.  These women had been working with their hands all of their lives.  They may not have been making guitars but they were very skilled nonetheless.  Since the book is not out yet I cannot say that this is the exact point or argument made.  I am very excited about the book as you can imagine!

One thing that I have noticed as a pattern of the banner Gibsons is that they have a distinctive percussive "thump" that vibrates throughout the entire instrument when a string is struck.  My experience is limited since I have played only as many banners as you can count on two hands but it is certainly a pattern.  A friend once described the thump of this exact instrument to be akin to a "lapping", as if from the tongue.  I thought that was a great way to describe it since thump would indicate a bit bass heavy, which these guitars are not.  I am worthless when it comes to describing tone with words so just bear with me.

I have three banner J-45s: one spruce and mahogany, one all mahogany and one in the mail that is spruce and flame maple.  The maple banner is still in the mail and should arrive in a couple of days.  I'll be doing two more posts on the other two banners later this month.  Do you have a banner Gibson?  Send some pictures to my email at tvguit at gmail.  I don't want to post the actual email for fear of bots.