Vintage Guitar - March 2017 - Open - 56
as illustrated in an editorial published in
Crescendo that implored readers to "Do
your part" in spending money on music,
instruments, and lessons. The magazine
was a ghost of its former self, with manufacturer ads mostly gone.
By 1932's Catalog U, Gibson had begun
to adapt, entering a period of
rapid turnover in designs
and designations; models
were renamed, re-priced,
or rapidly supplanted.
The $275 L-5 was pictured in its block-inlaid
incarnation, called "the
greatest of all guitars."
The L-10 followed, its $175
tab noted as "a remarkably
low price, easily within
the reach of everyone,"
which was optimistic. While $100
less than the L-5,
it was still one
of the most expensive guitars
in the world,
out of reach
for any but a
venerable L-4 was
listed next, modernized with a slimmer
neck, raised fingerboard,
and a thinner carved top distinguished by a
round (instead of oval) soundhole. At $100, this
was a more-affordable option but lacked the
"modern" f-holes. The lowest priced carved-top
was the ancient-looking round-hole L-3 at $75, a
relic that finally disappeared the next year. By
this point, companies like Harmony
and Kay (with the successful
KayKraft line) found a market
for cheap plywood archtops
at prices far below Gibson's.
In response, Gibson took to
highlighting the company's "30
years of carving tops" and announced they employed "No bending,
no heating, no soaking, no veneers!" in
creating their arched guitars.
1933 found Gibson flirting with
other lower-end models but seemingly
reluctant to re-cast their archtop line
in the Epiphone mold, instead offering
a hodgepodge of models and features.
The L-5 still held the top spot; the L-10
was down-priced to $150 but gaining
a sister, the L-12, at $200. This was
basically the same instrument with
a sunburst top; it was described (but
not pictured) in the catalog and in
(LEFT TO RIGHT) The oddly squat '33
L-50. A rare '32 L-12. The well-dressed
'34 L-12, complete with Vib-Rola!
actuality appears to have been made in very
small numbers. These were still the only f-hole
guitars in the line; for some reason, creating
budget archtops initially proved a challenge at
Gibson. The round-hole L-4 held fast at $100,
above the new L-75 and L-50. The $50 L-50
rapidly evolved as Gibson struggled
to market a $50 carved top guitar
- something Epiphone already
offered. L-50 models from '33 were
built with an oddly squat 143/4" body
that resembled a small dreadnought.
Its arched top had a large, round
soundhole, and the pickguard was
glued down, flat-top style. These don't
look much like an archtop, especially
since Gibson often used its adjustable
bridge and tailpiece on flat-tops around
this time. Within the year, the L-50 was
upgraded to f-holes and an elevated
pickguard, but retained the short body.
The '33 L-75 used the same body form but
with an f-hole top and the fingerboard
layered in pearloid and rosewood, shared
with the Century of Progress flat-top
introduced at the same time. While
the $50 L-C lasted for some time, the
odd-looking L-75 disappeared almost
immediately, making it a rarity today.
By Catalog W (1934), Gibson's archtop
line was finally presented as a thoroughly
designed set with well-integrated 16"
professional models arrayed
under the L-5. These were
the new $125 L-7, the
$150 L-10, and the
$175 L-12; these last
two much fancier
than the year before
with elaborate "picture box" fingerboard
inlay and more-decorative headstock. The
L-7 was slightly plainer
and shared its fingerboard pattern
with the Nick
Luc a s . A l l
of the era,
b o u n d
tuning pegs (the
L-12's were goldplated). The early 16"