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Artistry in Archtop Guitar Design

All guitar historians will tell you that Orville Gibson invented the archtop guitar at the end of the 19th century, but many will also add that Lloyd Loar advanced the design considerably in the early 1920s. Gibson was already the leader in a market dominated more by mandolins and related instruments than by guitars in the early part of the last century when it hired a multi-talented musician, composer, teacher, and physics engineer by the name of Lloyd Loar in 1919 as a design consultant. Along with designing the other members of his Master Series—the legendary F-5 mandolin, H-5 mandola and K-5 mando-cello—Loar unveiled the L-5 guitar in 1923, but the model is considered to have reached its zenith in 1934. While Gibson was already the preeminent manufacturer of archtop guitars, Loar brought a raft of advancements to the table, including harmonically tuned carved tops, violin-style f-holes (the L-5 was Gibson’s first guitar to carry them), tuned longitudinal tone bars (braces), and necks with longer playable portions of the fingerboard.

Advancing the Form

While Loar’s L-5s of the early 1920s were impressive instruments in themselves, Gibson designers continued to take the format forward after his departure from the company in 1924, and improved the model considerably over the course of the following 10 years. They dropped the Verzi Tone Producer—a supposedly “tone enhancing” wooden disc of somewhat dubious worth—from the inside of the body, upgraded the cosmetic appointments, changed the rosewood fingerboard to ebony, and replaced the plain dot position inlays with pearl blocks.

A Powerful Performer

Players who are unfamiliar with the format are often surprised to find what a powerful acoustic instrument the L-5 can be, and throughout the late 1920s and early ’30s it was the choice of professional jazz and dance-band players across the country, noted for its cutting, punchy rhythm work in particular. The thin, carved-arched top of solid spruce was tap-tuned to resonate harmoniously with the entire of the body, and the result was a guitar that not only put out impressive volume for its size, but one that was sweet, rich, and musical too.

A Classic L-5 for a New Century

The Gibson Custom Shop’s 1934 L-5 is a painstaking recreation of the ultimate evolution of this stunning archtop acoustic guitar. Every effort is made to retain period-perfect detailing, while the full weight of the Custom Shop’s luthiery skill is brought to bear on its manufacture. From the high-grade spruce top and high-grade maple back and sides, to the select maple/walnut neck and ebony fingerboard, this is a guitar made to play flawlessly and sound superb. Alongside such constructional considerations, details like the elongated bound pickguard, hand-rubbed Cremona Brown finish, open-back Waverly tuners, and flower pot headstock inlay make it virtually indistinguishable from the L-5 Gibson was producing at the height of the big-band era. Each 1934 L-5 comes with a Custom Shop case, Certificate of Authenticity, and Custom Care kit.