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Guitar Player

December 1993
by Tom Wheeler

Link to Guitar Player Magazine

am finishing this Encore on September 14, 1993, 50 years to the day after the death of one of the most storied characters in guitar history, Lloyd Loar. These are some of his creations, including Gibson's Style 5 Master Model line of late 1922, considered by many the First Family of American stringed instruments. Some designs attributed to Loar may have been largely the work of others, but in his many capacities, Loar was virtually Gibson's all-around guru of design, quality, and taste.

   Gibson considered the Style 5 line to be an improved mandolin family, with violin-type f-holes rather than the oval or round soundholes of previous Gibsons. The L-5, the first modern orchestra guitar, is shown at top; there are an estimated 15 to 30 L-5s signed by Loar, including this one from 1924, and they are among the most highly prized guitars on earth. Also note the 1924 K-5 mandocello at left, with its L-5 body and lovely upper fingerboard curve; the 1922 F-5 at left front, the ultimate expression of the mandolin builder's craft ("It's very early," says owner Hank Risan, "maybe the third one made"); and the H-5 mandola, right front. The range of the Cremona brown sunburst is suggested by these four Master Models. What could possibly make the collection more astounding? Loar was a visionary who pioneered the design of electrics, and leaning against the case is the electric viola on which he performed, along with his personal 10-string mando-viola from the familiar "experimental laboratory" photo. "This is the prototype for all Gibson f-hole instruments," says Risan. We can even glimpse his saw, the one he bent and twanged as an instructional aid while teaching the physics of music at Northwestern.

   Each Style 5 is arguably the finest of its species and certainly rare, but to see original, Loar-signature examples of the complete "mandolin family" together in a single collection-alongside Loar's personal instruments-is astonishing. As Gruhn and Carter said of the Style 5 line in Acoustic Guitars: "While some individual models are more prized than these, no set of instruments can compare in terms of rarity, quality, and historical importance." Courtesy Hank Risan, Washington St. Music, Santa Cruz, California; photo by Paul Haggard.End

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