2/23/2018

1928 Gibson L-1 Flattop Guitar




I loved the last two L-style '20s flattop Gibsons that were in the shop, but this one is head and shoulders more delicious to my ears. In fact, it may be my favorite smaller guitar that I've had the chance to play so far. And, ya know, I've played a lot of small guitars. It has that warm, direct, woody, plain-Jane Gibson sound to it that most LG-2s would die for, but all in a box only 13 5/8" in width at the lower bout and with a short, "parlor"-sized 24 1/4" scale length. No wonder Robert Johnson himself was a player of one of these fellas.

Anyhow, this guitar required oodles of work to get it in-spec. It came with all the lovely playing wear-and-tear extant but -- importantly -- it also came in all-original except for some old glued-up hairline crack repairs all over the sides. My own work included filling/gluing-up those and more hairline cracks on the sides, repairing top damage under the original bridge area and installing a replacement bridge, some cleats added to a back crack, and a light board plane and total refret with medium-height, wide-width frets. The board itself had a compound radius that I kept which runs from 10" at the nut to 16" over the extension.

The original frets had been played right into the fretboard -- which accounts for the finger-wear in the wood at frets 1-5. Also, judging by the intense amount of pickwear in front of the bridge, this guitar was loved like mad. That's a good part of what makes a guitar sound excellent and probably why this box is so striking to me.

It plays perfectly with a straight neck (and working truss rod) and action 3/32" EA and 1/16" DGBE at the 12th fret. I've used a custom set of strings per the light build but short scale -- 50w, 38w, 28w, 22w, 16, 12. I bulked-up the trebles vs a normal 50w-11 set because I like just a little more resistance on a scale like this.


The top is solid spruce, the back and sides are mahogany, the neck is mahogany, and the board (and replacement bridge) are rosewood. Being an L-1, this has nice binding at the board and edges. The factory order number at the neckblock (9212) points to 1928 manufacture per Spann's Guide to Gibson.


This guitar has A-style or fan-style bracing. Functionally, it works like half X-bracing and looks like it, though, compared to what "normal" fan bracing would sound like. The "A" and its not-joined-to-the-other-brace tonebar has a wide stance and so there's a ton of flex and movement behind the bridge because of that.

To my ears, this bracing sounds warmer and more fundamental than average X-bracing and for this particular guitar it's insanely well-suited as this thing has far-better punch and kick than x-braced L-style guitars I've played while still being warmer and mellower.


The painted-on "The Gibson" is almost faded-out. The original nut is bone and 1 3/4" in width. The back of the neck is a shallow C-shape that's just as fast and playable as anything modern.


Note the finger-gouging to the fretboard in spots 1-3, especially. While I did level the board a bit before the refret, I didn't fill them as I like the evidence of wear. Besides -- if you're pressing the strings down into the board for those to be an issue past these new frets, you're sharping your notes way too much, anyway.




When this came in, there was so much grunge on the top that half of the soundhole rosette was almost invisible.


My new bridge is thin in thickness but at the same time it's the same thickness as the "lower deck" of the original bridge. I wanted to be sure I'd have plenty of saddle-height adjustment room as in summer or very humid regions, the light bracing on guitars like this means people will want a lower "summer" saddle since the top will dome up a bit more.


I used the same outline as the original bridge and installed a pearl dot on the rear behind the (new, ebony) pins to mimic some of the Gibson design elements from concurrent L-style guitars.

The new saddle has a drop-in slot and is bone.



Here you can see the massive pickwear on the top. It's actually worn through in one teeny, tiny spot about an inch forward of the bridge. It just looks like a fleck of finish in this pic. I could fill it, but I left it as I love the "Willie Nelson" look to this.

Luckily, there are no top cracks on the guitar.







The tuners are original save 2 set-screws for the shafts and one shaft which I pulled from my parts-bins.





There's a ton of scratching on the back but only a couple of hairline cracks -- one tiny one and one 4" or so one which I cleated. Both are tight.






OK, let's take a look at these side cracks. All were pretty stable when this came in as Gibson had the forethought to add fabric strips all around to the sides on the inside of this guitar. I did glue and clamp some of these and also use a bit of fill/sealing to get the remainder stabilized. I've not cleated any as they're all very tight, glued-up, and essentially "cleated" by the fabric reinforcement anyhow. This first picture shows the worst -- a bump-in puncture that's been repaired.


Here are some more on that same side.


The ones above are from the other side.


...and these, too.




The endpin is new and ebony, like the bridge pins.


Here are the cleats to the one longer back crack.

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