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The ‘snake’ headstock, which was narrower at the top, was triple bound and inlaid with a diagonal The Gibson logo and Gibson's iconic ‘flowerpot’ motif in pearl. Three-on-a-strip tuners featured an engraved base plate and pearl buttons. Access to the truss rod was at the headstock, the routing concealed beneath a black plastic bell shaped cover.
Though the first L-5s had an unbound pickguard, most were triple bound. Hardware was silver-plated including the tuners and trapeze tailpiece. On early examples the strings passed through and over the tailpiece but by the late 1920s this arrangement was altered so that the strings passed directly through the crossbar (through the late 1920s and early 1930s L-5s can be found with both style of tailpiece).
The L-5 sported an all over sunburst finish evocatively named ‘Cremona Brown’. Though this was the only finish officially offered on the 16-Inch L-5, several examples were shipped with an all black finish (see image, left).
Until recently, it was assumed that the L-5 was launched in 1922 along with the F-5 mandolin. However, as the earliest surviving example (listed in Darryl Wolfe’s F-5 Journal, www.f5journal.com) dates from July 6, 1923, the later year appears to be more likely.
Although Gibson’s Catalog N of 1923 included the F-5 Mandolin, it made no mention of the L-5. Nevertheless the model was pictured in an artist endorsement photo (see Timeline Cont'd) and also appeared on a price list dated April 15th 1923.
The 1924 'Mastertone Stringed Instruments' brochure (see Timeline Continued) pre-dates Catalog O and is the first piece of Gibson promotional literature to mention (but not show) the L-5.
Gibson’s Catalog O (issued in either late 1924 or early 1925) shows the entire Style 5 Master Model line, including the F-5 mandolin, the H-5 mandola, the K-5 mando-cello and the L-5 guitar. The documents mentioned above can be viewed on the ‘L-5 In Detail’ page.
The L-5’s neck – which joined the body at the 14th fret - was constructed from two sections of maple with a dark centre lamination (Gibson referred to this as a three-piece neck). Other Gibson guitars of the period had mahogany necks.
Fitted with 20 nickel silver frets, the single bound ebony fingerboard had a pointed end and was inlaid with a series of pearl dots that began at the fifth fret. The scale length was 24 ¾ inches.
Tailpiece with wrap-over strings
Interior label signed and dated by Lloyd Loar himself
Photo courtesy of Robert Corwin
Photo courtesy of Robert Corwin
Details included unbound f-holes (earlier Gibson archtops had a round or oval soundhole), a fingerboard that was raised off of the top and twin parallel braces or ‘tone bars’. Early examples have no pickguard binding. Most Loar-signed L-5s and some later examples were fitted with a small spruce disc suspended within the body, its feet positioned slightly behind the centre-line of the bridge. Known as a Virzi Tone Producer, this device was intended to enhance the guitar's overall tonal characteristics.
The original Gibson L-5 had a 16-inch wide body with a spruce top, a birch back and maple sides )Gibson literature described many instruments prior to 1925 as having maple back and sides, when in fact they had birch). By late 1924 some examples featured maple back and sides. Both the top and the back of the body were triple bound.