Vintage Guitar - December 2016 - Open - 54

COLUMN The (Way) Back Beat
"One of the most economical devices ever presented
to the guitarist." This was
a reference to the supposed
propensity of the traditional
"high bone saddle and acute
angle" for snapping the expensive
gut strings, and shows Gibson
still considered steel strings far
from a universal choice. In time,
many of these celluloid blocks
have twisted, cracked, or decayed,
and that fragility may have been
evident before long as by the early
'20s given that Gibson replaced
it with an all-metal tail suited
primarily for steel strings.
If they seem eccentric and
archaic today, Gibson guitars
of this era were ultra-modern in
their day. At the time, Martins
were small gut-string guitars
and the company was just beginning to consider the steel string
guitar, spurred by the popularity of Hawaiian music. Gibson
was slow to respond
to this trend as
well, perhaps
isolated
by their
mandolinteaching
dealer/
agent network. In
1919, t h e
company

(LEFT TO RIGHT) The L-4 as shown in Catalog H. The L-4 at work. A first-year L-4.

U Harp Guitar (detailed here in
the December '15 issue), at $140
without the enormous - and virtually requisite - case. The Style U
was far and away the most heavily
promoted Gibson guitar - at least
one is seen in many catalog photos
of mandolin orchestras.
One new guitar joined the line
circa 1910; the L-4 would go on to
become one of Gibson's longestlived models. Well-conceived, its
large 16" body in a more traditional
shape and smaller oval soundhole
split the difference between the
smaller L models and the eccentric Style O. The earliest had
the black top of early Style Os
(and were thinner at the rim) but
within a couple of years they'd
adopted a lovely red sunburst
top. The L-4 survived into the
'20s with only cosmetic changes,
though afterward it would evolve
rapidly through several eras as one
of Gibson's most adaptable fretted
chameleons.
All Gibsons of the era shared
many fittings, including a solid
maple arched bridge, described in
catalogs as "violin style..."

"New model Gibson guitars all have the high, narrow bridge embodying the
same principles as the violin bridge...(to) secure the
maximum vibration of the
sounding-board," noted the
company. It must have become apparent before long
that these neatly carved pieces
could be problematic because
their delicate shape couldn't
be adjusted to compensate
for changes to the action.
As the top settled (or
perhaps bulged in humid conditions), the
setup could only be
properly altered with
a new bridge.
Another universal
(and eccentric) feature was a trapeze
tailpiece ending in
a cel lu loid block
equipped with f lattop-style bridge pins
that allowed for gut or
steel strings. As usual,
Gibson claimed great advantages for this fitting, noting

VINTAGE GUITAR

54

December 2016


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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Vintage Guitar - December 2016 - Open

Contents
Vintage Guitar - December 2016 - Open - Cover
Vintage Guitar - December 2016 - Open - IFC
Vintage Guitar - December 2016 - Open - 1
Vintage Guitar - December 2016 - Open - 2
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Vintage Guitar - December 2016 - Open - Contents
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Vintage Guitar - December 2016 - Open - IBC
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