Vintage Guitar - October 2017 - open - 60

COLUMN The (Way) Back Beat
The fancy fretboard of a 1939
L-5 Premier (right).

Style 0 of the 1910s had a sort of flat cutaway on the treble side, while
the late-'20s Epiphone Recording Guitars had an awkward treble bout
looking as if a chunk of the body had been lopped off.
Prior to the War, only the Super 400 and L-5-were offered in Premier
format, cataloged as an extra-cost option, not a separate model. The
'39 versions were unique, with a fingerboard that was attached to the
soundboard - not floating - and with a flatter neck angle. It's not clear
why; perhaps designers worried that removing the symmetrical support on the treble side of the neck would make the heel block prone to
undue movement. Whatever the rationale, only the very first
Premiers were built this way, and the design soon reverted
the standard extension floating over the top, which
also meant the neck was no longer a special-built
item. The early cutaway Premiers were intended
as showpieces, lavished with the finest woods
and extra attention in construction. Today,
they are rare and sought-after.
Gibson's cutaway design took the archtop
world by surprise; Epiphone briefly experimented with a Soloist Emperor of similar configuration in '41, but it was not until the latter
'40s that Epiphone - and others like D'Angelico
- picked up on the idea.
The other Gibson innovation - a natural/
blond finish - was also not exactly new, but
was striking and enhanced the streamlined
Deco aesthetic. Since the debut of the L-5
in the 1923, the archtop guitar's look had
been defined by its stately sunburst
top descended from Loar's violininfluenced Cremona Brown varnish.
Most other guitars, including Martin
flat-tops, were finished natural as
a matter of course. Gibson itself
had made thousands of "pumpkin
top" A-style mandolins in the 1910s
- along with the occasional naturaltop guitar - but the huge Advanced
archtops looked more modern and
sleek without the sunburst shading.
"The breath-taking new natural finish"
was available from '39 on the Super 400 and
L-5, for a $10 upcharge. Epiphone took notice

VINTAGE GUITAR

60

Gibson's 1939 announcement
for the Premier models.

right away and within months
offered blond on its top models.
The cutaway option was reserved for the two top-line guitars,
but the natural look proved so
popular it quickly spread down
the line. Otherwise, between 1936
and '41, the Gibson archtop line
remained fairly stable, with
minor changes into the war
years, when production of all
archtops was curtailed. Just
beneath the Super 400 and
L-5 was the $175 17" L-12,
a high/midline guitar
with fancy cosmetics
that was middlingly
popular, though most
professional users opted to pony up for an L-5
while amateurs went
for something cheaper.
Oddly, the L-12 was not
offered in natural. While
the models around it appeared as flashy blonds, the
L-12 remained a somber sunburst. It returned to the line after

October 2017


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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Vintage Guitar - October 2017 - open

Contents
Vintage Guitar - October 2017 - open - Cover
Vintage Guitar - October 2017 - open - IFC
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