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This site is written and curated by Paul Alcantara. Paul is a journalist, guitarist and guitar collector. He was Vintage Consultant for Guitar Buyer Magazine for over 15 years. Site designed and edited by Sally J Hall.
Introduced in 1923, the L-5 was Gibson’s first f-hole archtop guitar (see 16-Inch Timeline for more on the introduction date). Indeed, it was the first guitar by any manufacturer to combine a carved top and back, f-holes, an adjustable truss rod and a neck that joined the body at the 14th fret. At a time when Martin’s pearl-encrusted 000-45 retailed at $150, the L-5 carried a princely price tag of almost $304.50 (including a Gibson 515 case) and it remained Gibson’s flagship model until the launch of the Super 400 (costing $400.00 including the case and cover) in 1935 .
The ensuing years saw the L-5 undergo many changes, evolving from the original 16-inch wide, non-cutaway design, through the 17-inch ‘Advanced’ model and finally on to the L-5 Premier, complete with a rounded ‘Venetian’ style cutaway. By the early 1950s, Gibson had successfully added an electric version – the L-5CES - to its line.
In the process, the Gibson L-5 established a benchmark by which archtop guitars from other manufacturers are judged. Epiphone, D'Angelico, Gretsch, Stromberg and later Guild all offered models based on the L-5, a tradition that is continued to this day by luthiers like Bob Benedetto, Mark Campellone and Bill Collings.
This website is dedicated to the acoustic L-5s that Gibson produced prior to World War II, with special emphasis on the original 16-inch model (surely one of the most beautiful guitars ever made!). If you are fortunate enough to own a pre-war L-5, or are simply a fan of vintage Gibsons, we hope that the information presented here will be of interest to you.
We also hope that you will want to see your own instrument on these pages - click on the 'Flowerpot' button above to contact us.
Submit your guitar here!
If you own a Gibson L-5 or another guitar featured on this site, we'd love to hear from you. Click the flowerpot.
"Volumes can be written on the achievements of the Gibson Guitar Company but from my perspective as an archtop guitar maker, nothing overshadows the Pre-War L-5. It launched the archtop guitar as a legitimate, mainstream jazz instrument. The impact that the L-5 had on players and luthiers alike, is as profound as that of Andrea Amati (1505 - 1577), who is credited for violin design as we know it today. Nearly 100 years after its introduction in 1923, the L-5's fundamental archtop f-hole design has proved to have staying power. It set a high bar and gave direction for all other manufacturers and individual makers, who, at best - and in every case - contributed but refinements to Gibson's seminal creation. I am absolutely delighted to have been invited to contribute to Paul Alcantara’s website – www.prewargibsonL-5.com – a tribute to the quintessential jazz guitar."
Bob Benedetto, Benedetto Guitars
“The foremost builder of archtop guitars in the world." Tom Wheeler,
Guitar Historian, Author, The Guitar Book; American Guitars;
The Stratocaster Chronicles; former Editor in Chief, Guitar Player Magazine"
Photo courtesy of Robert Corwin
NEW on the website: Andrew Mowry's L-5 style archtop