Gibson 1934 L-5 – The unchallenged perfection

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Source: Dave’s Guitar

The archtop guitar was invented by Orville Gibson in the later part of the nineteenth century. It was in an era when mandolins and other like musical instruments reigned. However, in the early 1920s, Orville Gibson sought the services of the multi-talented Lloyd Loar to improve on the guitar’s design.

Lloyd Loar was not just a Physics Engineer; he was also a teacher, composer, musician, and a design consultant.

In the year 1923, Lloyd Loar made public his advanced design of the L-5. However, it was in 1934 that the L-5 model was known to have undergone enough design modifications to reach its apex.

While Loar focused on making the necessary design changes that brought the upgrading of the L-5 and the other models of Gibson’s guitars, Gibson remained the known sole manufacturer of the musical instruments.

It was Loar who created the harmonically tuned carved tops of the L-5, the tuned longitudinal tone bars otherwise known as braces, the violin-style f-holes, and necks that featured more available fingerboards for play.

gibson 1934 l5 03
Source: imperialvintageguitars.com

The L-5 guitar was the first guitar to have the violin-style f-holes in them, and it was a remarkable feature at the time which attracted more reputation to it.

Although the L-5 was not the first exact archtop guitar, its modifications by Lloyd Loar positioned it as a model for subsequent archtop guitars.

The earlier designs of the L-5 featured 16-inch lower bouts (which increased to 17 inches in the L-5 guitars manufactured from 1935), and easier-to-install kerfed braces.

Gibson left the company in 1924, after which his designers continued to make improvements on the design of the L-5. They changed the plain dot position inlays and replaced it with pearl blocks. In place of the rosewood fingerboard, they made it with ebony and dropped the Verzi Tone Producer from within the guitar. 

All through the early ’20s and ’30s, the L-5 remained the guitar of choice for top jazz performers and dance band players.

gibson 1934 l5 01
Source: Gibson.com

The L-5 had its pickguard elongated and bound, its Cremona Brown finish hand-rubbed, featured open-back Waverly tuners, and had flowerpot headstock inlay.

The stable and high-grade spruce top had it archtop thinned and tap-tuned. This improved the L-5’s harmonious resonance with its entire body. The result was an acoustic power which generates an imposing volume when its size is taken into consideration and one which never ceased to be a surprise to unfamiliar players.

One of the most important processes in the manufacture of the 1934 L-5 and which had been maintained in the production of the model is the application of nitrocellulose finish. This process, however, happens to be one of the most labor-intensive processes in the manufacture of the L-5 guitar and requires many man-hours to achieve. But its benefit had remained notable.

This is because the nitro finish dried much thinner than the alternative finishes, thereby creating lesser interference during play and boosting its sound production. The nitro finish also happens to be ‘porous’ enough to allow the wood to breathe appropriately and age properly.

Nowadays the Gibson 1934 L-5 guitar comes with a care kit, custom shop case and a certificate of authenticity. It is a real treat for anybody who is interested in buying a true high class guitar.