6/20/2015

1937 Gibson L-4 Round-hole Carved-top Guitar




Update 2018: I originally worked on this guitar for its owner in 2015. Since then I've done some more work to it and he's putting it up for sale. I've taken new photos, made a new soundclip video, and completely re-done the post with updated information.

This latter-era, carved-top, carved-back, round-hole Gibson L-4 looks like a war buddy and sounds wonderful. Its owner has had it for many years, now, and it's been different things to him -- a fingerpicking acoustic boom-machine, soundhole-pickup-mounted electric jazzbox, and "take-anywhere" oldie. It's the kind of guitar that does have a bit more openness to its voice that suits some strumming and bass-run old-time work, but the overall impression is that -- yes -- it's a very good, velvety, carved-top, punchy, archtop guitar... and will sound best in roles associated with that. It does have a lot of lower-mids chunky warmth that many f-hole models lack, though.

The top is solid, carved spruce and only has a couple of tiny hairline cracks in it (the only cracks on the guitar). It's braced in a "tic-tac-toe" pattern with two tonebars and some ladder braces. The back is carved, solid maple and the sides are maple, too. The neck is mahogany and both the fretboard and bridge are rosewood. It's original save an endpin jack at the tailpiece, missing pickguard, and tuners.

Older work on the guitar included replaced tuners, replacement pickguards (with pickup cut-outs), patched control pot holes on the top, patched soundhole pickup holes near the rosette, a patched jack-hole in the side, a bad strap-button install at the heel, and a lightly-shaved back of the neck and headstock. That last bit poses no structural issues and the neck is dead-straight and has a perfectly-functioning truss rod.

Old work that I did included a fret level/dress and some setup work that was still bang-on. This time around when it came in I fixed some seam problems with the back/sides, cleaned it up in many small ways, lightly-sanded the icky refinish to the back of the neck and buffed it up to smooth-fast-satin, replaced some funky replacement tuners with equally funky older Kluson tuners (though these ones are at least branded Gibson), and set it up with a standard 54w-12 light set. It plays like a champ, is loud as heck, and has that decisvely-satisfying rumble in the lower-mids I mentioned. It bites pretty well, too!

Specs are: 24 3/4" scale, 1 3/4" nut width, 1 1/2" string spacing at the nut, 2 1/16" spacing at the bridge, 16" lower bout, 11 1/2" upper bout, and 3 1/2" side depth. Action is spot-on 3/32" EA and 1/16" DGBE at the 12th fret with room at the adjustable bridge up/down. The neck is just slightly thinner than the usual mild/medium soft-V Gibson necks of the period and feels a lot like a '20s/'30s Martin, really.


How about all that life in the guitar?



It's hard not to love the inlay on these guys. The fretboard has a 12" radius to it and the original, smaller Gibson frets are still going strong even post-level/dress job.





I love the giant soundhole with its multi-ply rosette.


It's possible that the bridge saddle/topper is a little bit later, but I'm not certain.





There are three old patched-up control holes, here.



The "dark walnut" finish on the maple back and sides hides the minor figure and curly stuff going on here and there in it.


While not "right," these later Gibson-branded Kluson-style tuners work just fine.





There's some scraping on the back of the heel from the old "neck work" before I cleaned it up. I also patched some small holes/nick damage from two strap-button locations at the heel, too.


In this photo you can see one of the bulged-but-repaired sections of back/side seam.


Here's another section that's a little longer.






I've brightened this shot up enough to see some of the maple on the sides.


An endpin jack is mounted in the original tailpiece. It's there but not hooked up to anything.




The old pickguard screw location caused a small hairline crack in the top. I'd put a cleat on this in 2015 but just recently touched-it-up cosmetically.


Here's the filled jack-hole in the side.


There's also just the faintest whisper of a hairline crack at the bass waist on the top. It's right over kerfing so a non-issue.


A newer, somewhat-used, but good-looking tweed hard case comes with it.

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