Responding to a growing demand for its products, the post-war years saw Gibson – now owned by the Chicago Musical Instrument Company (CMI) – expand its workforce and acquire new equipment and machinery in an effort to increase production.
Ted McCarty, who had joined the company in 1948 – initially as Vice President, General Manager and Director of Gibson and from 1950, as President – modernised factory methods and oversaw the introduction of a comprehensive line of electric guitars.
The big jazz orchestras that had been a feature of the Pre-War era were on the way out to be replaced by small combos. This, together with the growing popularity of the electric guitar, led to a drop in demand for acoustic archtop guitars, particularly non-cutaway models.
The Post-War Non-Cutaway L-5
Production of the L-5 and Super 400 was put on hold when the United States entered World War II in 1941 (see ‘Wartime Production’ below). When Gibson resumed production in late 1947, specifications of the non-cutaway L-5 remained much the same as its Pre-War counterpart. The headstock still carried the pearl flowerpot motif together with the old style script ‘Gibson’ logo and, reflecting its status as Gibson’s top-of-the-line 17-inch archtop, the L-5 featured highly figured maple back, sides and neck – the latter with a dark centre lamination. Hardware remained more or less the same, though at some point the Varitone tailpiece was modified with a larger roller cam which, if overtightened tended to damage the spruce top! The headstock was fitted with a set of Kluson Sealfast tuners with plastic buttons replacing the large Catalin buttons seen on many Pre-War examples. These were replaced by gold-plated metal buttons in the late 1950s.
As a consequence of Post-War timber shortages, a number of L-5s shipped between 1948 and 1950 had Brazilian rosewood – rather than ebony – fingerboards and by the late 1940s, the Pre-War logo had been replaced by Gibson’s ‘modernised’ script logo, which had a tail on the letter ‘G’.
Gibson continued to offer the L-5 and L-5N into the 1950s but in 1958 the non-cutaway model was discontinued.
The Post-War non-cutaway L-5 had a 17-inch body with a carved spruce top and carved maple back and sides. The tops of both cutaway and non-cutaway models featured parallel top bracing.
Early examples still displayed the old style script ‘Gibson’ logo but this was replaced by the ‘modernised’ script logo in the late 1940s. The neck was constructed from two sections of maple with a dark centre lamination (this was described by Gibson as a ‘three-piece neck’). L-5s shipped between 1948 and 1950 can be found with a Brazilian rosewood, rather than ebony, fingerboard. Gold-plated hardware included a Varitone tailpiece and Kluson Sealfast tuners with plastic buttons (later metal). Other features included large bound f-holes, a 1-11/16-inch nut width, a 25 ½-inch scale length, a wide neck heel and a choice of Sunburst or Natural finishes.
The non-cutaway L-5 was discontinued in 1958.
The Post-War Cutaway L-5
In 1961 the ‘three-piece neck’ described above was replaced by a construction that comprised three sections of maple separated by two dark laminations and in the mid 1960s, the nut width was reduced to 1-9/16 inches.
While the earliest Post-War cutaway L-5s still had ‘L-5P’ on their label (Premier), by the late 1940s the model was renamed the ‘L-5C’.
A volute was added to the back of the headstock in the mid 1970s and around the same time, ebony replaced rosewood for the bridge base and saddle. In addition, the tailpiece’s Varitone adjustment was eliminated.
The maple used for the back and sides of L-5s shipped in the late 1960s through the 1970s is often rather plain and from the early 1970s the sunburst pattern become less subtle with an abrupt shift from the dark outer area to the light coloured centre section.
The L-5C was discontinued in 1982.
In most respects, the Post-War cutaway L-5 followed the same evolution as its non-cutaway sibling.
Changes made after the non-cutaway L-5 was discontinued in 1958 include the switch to a ‘five-piece’ neck in 1961, the addition of volute to the back of the headstock in the mid-1970s and the change from rosewood to ebony for the bridge base and saddle.
The L-5C was discontinued in 1982.
Introduced in the late 1950s and often referred to as the ‘George Gobel’ model – a reference to the TV star for whom the guitar was designed – the L-5CT had a Cherry finish, a shorter 24 ¾ -inch scale length (the regular L-5C had a 25 ½-inch scale length) and a thin 2 1/8-inch deep body. Just 43 examples were shipped – some fitted with the McCarty ‘finger rest’ integrated pickguard/pickup – before the model was discontinued in 1962. In his book, The Gibson Super 400, author Tom Van Hoose mentions a custom ordered L-5CT that was shipped in 1969 with a thin body and Cherry finish but with a full 25 ½-inch scale length.
“Gibson made some great electric rigs in the ’50s,” says vintage dealer John Stewart. “I have a 1957 ES175 and a 1948 ES350P but the thicker finish of that era does not seem to hurt the electric models. Plus, it seems that the finish began to get thicker as 1960 approached. I think the real dip in quality was about 1965, then again about 1970.”
Gibson continued to ship L-5s through the period 1941 to 1947, albeit in diminishing numbers (guitar researcher André Duchossoir lists 106 L-5s shipped in 1941, 50 in 1942, 19 in 1943 and 18 in 1944). Production of these may have been initiated before the US entered World War II, with completed guitars assembled from Pre-War parts. Vintage dealer John Stewart comments: “I have had a few L-5s from 1943, one from 1945 and many from 1947. The War-time ones all seemed different to those produced in 1940. Perhaps they were ‘sweep-up’ batches built using mostly on-hand parts?”
‘The Gibson Super 400’ by Tom A. Van Hoose
‘’Gruhn’s Guide to Vintage Guitars’ by George Gruhn and Walter Carter
‘Gibson Guitars, Ted McCarty’s Golden Era’ by Gil Hembree