Year shipped: 1930
Headstock: Horizontal ‘The Gibson’ logo
Neck/fingerboard: 20 fret fingerboard with pointed end, dot inlays from the third fret
Body: Maple back and sides
Hardware: Replacement tailpiece, tuners and pickguard. Originally had gold-plated wrap-over tailpiece, backward-facing banjo tuners and short bound pickguard
Images courtesy of George Gruhn and Eric C. Newell of Gruhn Guitars
This guitar was returned to the Gibson factory at least three times for repairs before 1951.
This guitar was sold by Gruhn Guitars in August 2004 for $575,000 and is now owned by and on display at the Country Music Hall of Fame.
“I consider this to be the most important single guitar in the entire history of country music,” says George Gruhn, and he does not exaggerate. “Mother Maybelle” Carter bought this guitar after the Carter Family made its first recordings in Bristol, TN. With her brother-in-law A.P. Carter and his wife Sara, she played this guitar on the recordings that would become the foundation of country music. In addition, she played in a distinctive style, featuring the melody played with the thumb and the rhythm played with the index finger — that would become as widely copied as the Carter Family’s songs. No other guitar represents as much country music history as this instrument.”
Dating Maybelle Carter’s L-5
The dating of Maybelle Carter’s guitar has proven controversial, with most sources quoting a shipping date of 1928; however, when our research indicated that the guitar was in fact shipped in 1930, we turned to Gibson researcher, Joe Spann for confirmation. Below, Joe, author of Spann’s Guide to Gibson, explains how he pinpointed the shipment date of Maybelle Carter’s guitar;
“As I understand it, the serial number of Maybelle Carter’s L-5 guitar is 85558, while the FON is unknown. With the evidence of my research, this serial number places a shipping date of early 1930 on the guitar.
“We know that FON 9500 was reached before 1931 because this number was given to a batch of Gibson-built Kel Kroydon model KK-2 guitars that were only produced in 1929 and 1930.
“Serial number 85473 (which precedes Maybelle’s guitar) belongs to a Gibson mandolin with a factory order number of 9509.
“In addition, we know that FON 9464 was reached by April of 1929, because this number referred to the very first batch of model TB-1 banjos with a one-piece flange, which were introduced in April 1929.
“Therefore, a mandolin with a FON of 9509 had to be produced well after April of 1929 but before 1931. Since the serial number of Maybelle’s guitar falls after the mandolin model, it cannot possibly have left the factory before April of 1929.
By adding other chronologically significant details to this analysis, I conclude that Maybelle’s guitar was shipped in January of 1930.”
‘Mother’ Maybelle Carter with her L-5