Tuners – 16-inch L-5s
Silver-plated three-on-a-strip Waverly tuners
All Loar-signed L-5s have silver-plated three-on-a-strip tuners with the cog positioned above the worm gear. Manufactured by the Waverly Musical Products Company of Long Island City, New York, these have an engraved base plate and pearl buttons.
Gold-plated three-on-a-strip Waverly tuners
Many Type Two L-5s from the mid 1920s through to the early 1930s were fitted with gold-plated three-on-a-strip Waverly tuners with an engraved base plate and pearl buttons, mounted so that the cog is positioned below the worm gear.
A number of early Type Three L-5s were also fitted with gold-plated three-on-a-strip Waverly tuners (see serial number 85758, which was shipped in 1930).
In the late 1920s/early 1930s some Type Two L-5s were fitted with backwards facing Grover No. 90 ‘Professional’ model banjo tuners, which are sometimes called ‘pancake’ tuners (see serial number 85437, which was shipped in 1930).
Individual Gold-plated Grover 98G ‘Sta-tite’ Tuners
The majority of Type Three L-5s were fitted with individual gold-plated Grover 98G ‘Sta-tite’ tuners. From the early 1930s on, some Type Two L-5s were also fitted with these tuners (see serial number 87887, which was shipped in 1931).
Tuners – Advanced L-5s
Early Advanced L-5s were equipped with individual gold-plated Grover G-98 tuners (see serial number 92230, which was shipped in 1935) and examples equipped with this style of tuner can still be found as late as 1938.
Gold-plated Kluson Sealfast Tuners
By 1938 some Advanced L-5s were fitted with gold-plated Kluson Sealfast tuners and these are also found on Premier L-5s. While some Kluson Sealfast Tuners had amber coloured Catalin buttons (see serial number 95454) others had metal buttons (see serial number 95160).
Gold-plated Grover Imperials
From the mid 1930s some Advanced L-5s were also fitted with gold-plated Grover Imperials. These are also found on Premier L-5s (see serial number 93206, which was shipped in 1936).
Kluson #511G tuners
Joe Spann comments: “Production of Kluson #511G tuners is generally agreed to have ceased in the year 1942. Therefore, it would appear that Gibson had previously stockpiled tuners, which were then used to complete guitars just prior to shipping in the year 1944 (see L-5s serial numbers 97940 and 97941, both of which are fitted with the tuners described above).”
Tuners in Summary
All Loar-signed L-5s have silver-plated three-on-a-strip Waverly tuners with an engraved base plate and pearl buttons.
Many Type Two L-5s from the mid 1920s through the early 1930s were fitted with gold-plated three-on-a-strip Waverly tuners.
In the late 1920s/early 1930s some Type Two L-5s were fitted with backwards facing Grover No. 90 ‘Professional’ model banjo tuners.
From the early 1930s some Type Two and Type Three L-5s were fitted with individual gold-plated plated Grover 98G ‘Sta-tite’ tuners – as were the earliest Advanced L-5s.
By 1938 some Advanced L-5s were equipped with Kluson Sealfast tuners. These were also found on Premier L-5s.
From the mid 1930s some Advanced L-5s were also fitted with gold-plated Grover Imperials – as were many of the earlier Premier L-5s.
All Loar -signed L-5s have a silver-plated wrap-over tailpiece.
Many Type Two L-5s – and some Type Three L-5s – have a gold-plated wrap-over tailpiece (see serial number 85758 for an example of a Type Three L-5 fitted with a wrap-over tailpiece).
Regular trapeze tailpiece, gold-plated
The majority of Type Three L-5s have a regular trapeze as do some Type Two L-5s from the early 1930s on.
Flat-Plate tailpiece engraved with ‘L-5’ legend
Early 17-inch Advanced L-5s were fitted with the flat-plate tailpiece engraved with ‘L-5’ legend (see serial number 91329, which was shipped in 1935). The flat-plate tailpiece continued to be fitted to Advanced L-5s through the mid/late 1930s.
Hinged tailpiece with silver centre insert and three engraved diamonds
The Hinged Tailpiece appears to have been fitted concurrently with the flat-plate tailpiece and examples fitted with this style of tailpiece can still be found into the early 1940s (see serial number 97675, which was shipped in 1943).
The Varitone tailpiece – distinguished by a small hole at the bottom intended to accommodate an Allen wrench – appeared around 1937 (see serial number 94390, which was shipped in 1937) and this style of tailpiece continued to be fitted through the 1930s and into the early 40s. All of the Premier L-5s we have encountered have been equipped with this style of tailpiece.
Some L-5s and other Gibson Archtops were factory fitted with a Vibrato Tailpiece. Two types were in use during the Pre-War period.
The Vib-Rola tailpiece that appeared in Gibson’s 1934 catalogue W was invented by Clayton ‘Doc’ Kauffman and patented in 1932 (patent application was filed on August 19th, 1929 and granted January 5th, 1932). The device worked in a sideways manner with the help of an adjustable vibrato arm. Both nickel and gold-plated versions were available, priced respectively at $8.50 and $12.50.
Gibson’s 1937 catalogue Y offered a cheaper alternative in the Vibra-Rest, which was priced at just $6.00. This simple device worked by depressing a bar that passed directly over the strings.
André Duchossoir adds: “Gibson factory shipping ledgers show that some Vib-Rolas were actually factory-fitted when the instrument was new. Whether one is a retrofit or a factory mount has to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.”
(Left) Guitarist Ralph Mazza pictured in Gibson’s 1938 Catalog Z, holding a 16-Inch Type Three L-5 fitted with a Kauffman Vib-Rola. (Right) The Vibra-Rest retro-fitted to a 1934 Gibson L-12 (for more pictures of this guitar, see the Rivals and Revivals page). Image left courtesy of Paul Fox (fox-guitars.com), right courtesy of Joe Vinikow (archtop.com).
The Short Pickguard
All Type One and most Type Two L-5s were fitted with a short triple bound pickguard that extended to the 16th fret. The short pickguards were pinned to the side of the neck and attached at the rim of the body by means of an adjustable metal rod and riser block.
The Long Pickguard
The introduction of a long pickguard that extended to the 14th fret, appears to have taken place around the same time as the switch from dot to block fingerboard inlays. Note that the pickguard was now screwed directly to the top of the guitar. Most Type Three L-5s were fitted with the long pickguard.
All 17-inch ‘Advanced’ L-5s were fitted with a pickguard that had five-ply binding and reached to the 15th fret. In the late 1930s, a few L-5s were shipped with a pickguard cut from white pearloid.
As a result of their cutaway, the pickguard fitted to the Premier L-5 ends somewhere between the 18th and the 19th frets .
The pickguards fitted to the early L-5 Premiere (picture below left) guitars are slightly different than those fitted to later cutaway L-5s (picture below right).
From 1940 to 1963-64 the ‘guards then follow a template and remain more or less the same. After this the L-5 guard becomes notably smaller and this remains the template that Gibson uses as its model. The Super 400 followed the same changes to its pickguard.
It’s interesting to note that the ‘long guards’ fitted to the early ES 335, 345 and 355 models were also cut from the 1940- 1960s L-5 template. Thanks to Cris Mirabella for this information (http://www.mirabellaguitars.com/).
The 1946 brochure pictured above was the first to feature the L-5P by itself, since the model was not pictured in Catalog BB of 1942 and no war-time catalogues were issued. Close inspection reveals a marbled celluloid pickguard similar to that occassionally fitted to the Super 400 (see picture above from Gibson’s 1942 Catalog BB) .Images courtesy of Paul Fox http://www.fox-guitars.com
Pickguards in Summary
All Loar signed L-5s and most Type Two L-5s had a short pickguard that extended to the 16th fret.
Most Type Three L-5s were fitted with a long pickguard that extended to the 14th fret.
All 17-inch ‘Advanced’ L-5s had a pickguard that reached to the 15th fret.
As a result of their cutaway, Premier L-5s were fitted with a pickguard that ended somewhere between the 18th and the 19th frets.
In all cases the fret to which the pickguard extends varies to some degree depending on how it was fitted.
The Adjustable Bridge
Gibson Plant Manager Thaddeus ‘Ted’ McHugh and Gibson General Manager, L.A. (Lew) Williams co-invented the height-adjustable bridge. Application for patent was filed on May 28th 1920 and granted on January 18th 1921.
Left, above: Stamped on the base of the bridge, the patent date reads Jan 18,1921
Right, above: Original Patent Drawing
16-inch L-5s have an ebony bridge. Rosewood bridges were introduced with the 17-inch Advanced L-5 and Super 400 models (with thanks to George Gruhn for this information gruhn.com).
Truss Rod Cover
Custom Truss Rod Covers
During the pre-war period, an L-5 (or other Gibson instrument) could be ordered with a truss rod cover personalised with the owner’s name. From 1928 to 1931, William C. Schrier, an etcher and engraver employed by the Henderson-Ames Company (which designed and made uniform regalia) did additional work for Gibson from the basement of his home in Kalamazoo. Besides engraving truss rod covers, Schrier may well have been responsible for etching Gibson’s Florentine, Bella Voce and All American banjo fingerboards.
Images above, top row: Left Serial No. 84471, shipped 1929, Middle Serial No. 86811 shipped 1931, Right Serial No. 91100 shipped 1934
Images above, bottom row: Left: Serial No. 91879 shipped 1935, Right: Serial No. 95122 shipped: 1938
Abalone Truss Rod covers
“I believe that Gibson initially intended the L-5 guitar and F-5 mandolin to have an abalone truss rod cover,” says vintage instrument authority Darryl Wolfe. Examples include the earliest known F-5 mandolin as well as the L-5 guitar pictured in Gibson’s Catalog O (1924) and the F-5 mandolin in seen in catalogue N (c. 1923).
Mono-Plak Metal Truss Rod Covers
The personalised metal truss rod covers pictured here were supplied by the ‘Mono-Plak’ company and were available for guitar, banjo, mandolin and ukulele. 14-carat gold plated or nickel silver plated versions were priced at $3.00 (later increased to $5.00) while the sterling silver option cost $8.00. The price included free engraving of “eight letters per line” with a limit of two lines. Additional letters were 15c each. The item was gift boxed in a Lucite case.
Above left: regular Gibson truss rod cover; right: blank Mono-Plak metal truss rod cover showing where the customer could have their name added
Above left: ‘Bob Gibbons’ personalised metal truss rod cover, seen here fitted to L-5 Serial Number 87092 shipped in 1931. Above right: ‘Bob Bain’ personalised metal truss rod cover, seen here fitted to L-5 Serial Number: 86949 shipped in 1931