3/17/2018

1914 Gibson Style O Carved-Top Archtop Guitar




When a consignor of mine sent this in, he was real excited about me working on it. I took one glance at the mismatched seams (Gibson carved tops and backs love to expand/shrink without regard to one another and their sides) and a detached "center brace" (these things have flying-buttress-like braces along the sides of the guitar running from the neckblock to the sides near the endblock) and thought to myself, "I'll save this for a rainy day."

Well, it didn't rain, but it's been snowing like a fiend up here (just to be cruel -- we had a couple 65F days just recently and now it's going to be 8F tonight) and so I got started on this one late last week. I'm glad I did as it's a truly righteous guitar. Not only are these Style Os beautiful, but they cause a desperate, illogical lust in the average vintage-nut guitarist. Everyone at the jam this morning let out inner pangs and whistles upon seeing it completed.

This guitar is entirely original save its truncated original tailpiece (more on that later), its new ebony bridge, and the bass-side binding at the fretboard. It has a serial number that reads 17726 as far as I can tell, but don't hold me to that. It makes sense, though, as it certainly looks like other 1914 Style Os hardware-wise I've seen around the net. It's now playing spot-on with 3/32" EA and 1/16" DGBE action at the 12th fret, it has a straight neck, and it's wearing 54w-12 strings. The adjustable bridge lets one dial their height-preference in easily, too.

Condition issues include some not-absolutely-perfect seams just near the bass-lower-bout area, two hairline cracks (one behind the scroll on the back and one on the side near the endpin), a bit of muck near the endpin itself on the endstrip, and an old repair to a hairline split in the heel (it's stable). It's also missing its original bracket-clamped pickguard, but like the original tailpiece trapeze-bar, it was made of celluloid and the stuff disintegrates readily. The last condition issue is simple "mojo" -- this guitar was filthy when it came in and I've cleaned it up a bunch, but it still shows usewear and playwear as you'd expect for a 104-year-old box.

The solid spruce top is carved and the solid birch back is as well. This has "tonebar" bracing in a V-ish shape and the aforementioned "flying-buttress" side braces that run in the airspace on the inside of the guitar. The neck is two-piece mahogany with a center strip (like on Gibson mandolins at the time) and it's capped with an ebony fretboard.

Specs are fairly normal for a Gibson carved-top of the time -- it has a 24 3/4" scale length and 1 3/4" nut width. The string spacing is 1 5/8" at the nut and 2 1/4" at the bridge. The body is 16 1/8" on the lower bout and 12" on the upper with a 3 3/4" depth at the endpin. The neck has a deep, huge V-shape d profile and the board has something like a 10" radius.

Tonally, these have, yes -- a carved-top sound. A lot of flattop players pick one of these up and are totally unimpressed. If you get a heavy-handed chord-chucker (read: hard-playing early jazz or blues types) behind the wheel, the point of this instrument becomes obvious -- it's made to punch in an ensemble setting just like... an archtop. To my ears this sounds like a slightly-more rustic and less-snappy L-4 from the early-to-mid '30s. It has a velvety mwah in the lower mids and an open-sounding top-end with a lot of clarity. It's not quite as compressed as later Gibson carved-tops, so it lends itself to some strumming, too, though it's not its strong point. Like any carved-top, it sounds dramatically different from behind as compared to in front and a player has to get in a reflective room to really hear it. From my point of view, in 1914, this would've been much more of a volume-equipped guitar-weapon compared to the average flattop if you were playing in a group at the time, though it's not as full-on as later Epi or Gibson carved-tops from the '30s.


Yeah, it's a beaut, no?

Work included repairing burst seams and gettin them to match-up as best as possible on the lower bout top/back, regluing one end of a "flying-buttress" brace on the inside in the same area, and replacement kerfing in the same area. I also gave it a fret level/dress, replaced missing binding on the bass side of the neck, sealed a hairline crack behind the scroll on the back, and fit a new, ebony, adjustable bridge. 

The original tailpiece is still on the guitar but the original celluloid "string-hanger" was disintegrated when it came in and the wire arms of its retainer had rusted to weakness half-way through their length. I decided to make the best of this situation and made a smaller rosewood "string-hanger" for it and capped it with tortoise pickguard material to give the effect of the old tortoise-celluloid hangers. I then shortened the wire arms and bent them over to hold it. It's a lot shorter than the original but it serves! I drilled holes through the top for string-loading rather than the pin-in-hanger method the original used.


The nut is bone and the headstock veneer is ebony, too. How about how yellowed all the binding and buttons are? It's wild.


The frets are the low, small Gibson-style frets used right into the late '20s.








There's tons of adjustment room on that bridge.






















4 comments:

Nicholas Ratnieks said...

Absolutely amazing! "From a smoke and pet free home" or just owned by a man with a kipper factory?

Jake Wildwood said...

Heehee, it doesn't smell like smoke but the grunge that was on it when it came in suggests long exposure either to nicotine clouds or many years spent in someone's barn or attic.

Robert Gardner said...

Pretty magnificent guitar. Quite an education playing that with metal picks and then standing on the other side while you chopped chords on it. What a voice that old thing has. The carving on the back at the neck joint is worth the price of admission too. Somebody is going to look pretty sharp playing that on stage. Great post.

Nicholas Ratnieks said...

Yes, let's hope it is played and not stashed away in a case- it really is a special instrument.
I bought an old early 60s Kay that was owned by a man, I was told, that repaired the highways in rural Ohio. That was covered in nicotine and tar which I cleaned off but it still exudes a pungent aroma of heavy duty smokes from inside. That tough old guy may be gone but his essence is still hanging around that old box!