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The L-5 was introduced in 1923.
Lloyd Loar left Gibson in December 1924 and the last Loar-signed label appeared in that month. Our database lists 29 Loar signed L-5s and it is estimated that there was a total production of around 31 units.
Gold plated hardware.
Catalog N, which dates to 1923 was the first full-line catalogue to show the F-5 Master Mandolin. Though it makes no mention of the L-5 guitar, H-5 mandola or K-5 mando-cello, it includes a picture of the duo Bertram and Saxton (below) with what appears to be an L-5 guitar. The L-5 also appeared on a price list dated April 15th 1923.
By 1925, the L-5 had maple (rather than birch) back and sides and a triple bound fingerboard with a black line on the sides.
Horizontal 'The Gibson' logo (see left).
Straight The Gibson logo
1927 was the last year for the ‘Master Model’ label.
By 1928 the L-5 had dot fingerboard inlays that started at the third fret (see Type Two Gallery.)
Backward facing Banjo style tuners were fitted to some examples for a short period in the late 1920s/early 1930s (see Serial Number 85437 under Type Two Gallery).
At least one L-5 was built in 1928 with a neck to body junction at the 12th fret (see image, right).
In early 1929 the dots used since the model’s inception were replaced by wide block inlays starting at the third fret (frets 3, 5, 7, 9, 12 and 15). These were often pearloid. For a time Gibson continued to ship some L-5s with the old style dot inlaid fingerboard – perhaps in an effort to use up existing stock.
See Gibson L-10 for a pamphlet called "The Road To Happiness" which shows a block inlaid L-5 for the first time.
Transition to a horizontal script 'Gibson' logo (no The) took place over the period 1928 to 1934 and varies by model. Though a 'Gibson' logo appears on some L-5s by the early 1930s, others continue to display the earlier style 'The Gibson' logo.
From August 1935, Gibson switched to the new Advanced 17-Inch L-5. Sales of the original 16-Inch model subsequently declined sharply.
Nevertheless, the company continued to build a number of the 16-Inch L-5s consecutively with the new 17-Inch model until 1938. The last two examples were shipped on January 12th 1939.The list below shows the total number of 16-Inch L-5s that were shipped between 1935 and 1939.
c. 1908 to 1932
White oval label, 'Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Co.', 1898 and 1906 patent notices (unlike earlier labels, this has no photo of Orville Gibson). Both the serial number and the model name were hand inked or pencilled (from 1917 the model name was ink-stamped on some examples).
1922 to 1927
'Master Model' label (the model designation and serial number were written by hand).
L-5 Special with 12 fret
neck-to-body junction. Serial Number 86885.
Photograph courtesy of the Museum of Musical Instruments www.themomi.org
Backward facing Banjo style tuners
Thanks to André Duchossoir, vintage guitar authority, who first researched this information for a feature in Vintage Guitar Magazine published in December 2010 (see L-5 in Detail).
1932 Gibson logo
Though most block-inlaid fingerboards have a square end and 19 frets, examples with block inlays, 19 frets and a pointed end do exist, as illustrated by this 1929 L-5 which once belonged to jazz guitarist Joseph Hilton ‘Nappy’ Lamare.
Gibson catalogues don't show fingerboards with a block at the first fret until the change to a 17-inch body in 1935. However, some 16-inch examples appear to have been shipped with a first-fret block as early as mid 1929.
1934 Gibson L-5 Special with pointed end fingerboard and Gibson L-10 banjo-style inlays.
Photograph courtesy of Norman's Rare Guitars www.normansrareguitars.com
Shipped from 1935
White oval label, Gibson Inc., in typeset lettering (no Mandolin-Guitar Co.). The
serial number and model name were now hand inked stamped.
Late 1920s to the 1950s
MADE IN USA impressed into the back of headstock of examples intended
for export (right).
June 1st 1922 to December 21st 1924
In addition to the 'Master Model' label, a label signed and dated by Lloyd Loar was fitted. It reads: ‘The top, back, tone bars and air chamber of this instrument were tested, tuned and the assembled instrument tried and approved – date - Lloyd Loar’s signature - Acoustical Engineer.’ (Loar’s signature and the date were written by hand).
Images (left and right) courtesy of Paul Fox (fox-guitars.com)
Though most Loar L-5 guitars had birch backs and maple sides, by late 1924 some featured maple back and sides.