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20th Century Guitar
Rara Avis -- 1936 Gibson Advanced L-5s

February 2000
by Bianca Soros

Link to 20th Century Guitar Magazine

n the 1930s, the flapper fad began to fade with the beginning of hard times. However, the decade would become one of America's richest in terms of art and culture. President Herbert Hoover saw people in trouble and organized a committee to prevent hunger and cold. Art mirrored life in the film Little Caesar where Edward G. Robinson portrayed real life gangster Al Capone, who served his guests machine guns at a dinner party held at the Fox Lake Hotel. Fats Waller composed the tune "Ain't Misbehavin'" (1929), a classic that still resonates today. Popular bands led by Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Benny Goodman played swing music as an enjoyable distraction for the daily woes of life.

   In this decade of uncertainty and turmoil, Gibson developed the Advanced L-5. Introduced in 1934, the L-5 is one of the most popular and acclaimed carved archtop guitars, endorsed by well-known Hollywood studio players such as Richard Ehrecke of Warner Brothers and Bobby Sherwood of MGM. The two 17-inch L-5s shown here feature backs, sides, and necks made of the finest curly maple. The Advanced L-5's original list price in 1936 was $275, and the accompanying Aeroplane case sold for $27. The guitar's top is made of Adirondack spruce, and the fingerboard is genuine ebony with pearl inlays. Gibson decorated the guitar with a sprayed sunburst Cremona brown finish.

   Some of the new designs incorporated in the model were an Art Deco-style, gold-plated tailpiece, individual Grover gold-plated machine heads, an elevated celluloid pickguard and an adjustable bridge and truss rod. Lloyd Loar, Gibson's acoustic engineer, developed the first 16-inch f-hole archtop in age of Dixieland jazz, although the big band era was looming around the corner. The L-5 became a favorite among big band guitarists, but not without a bit of competition from Epiphone, who introduced their 16 3/8-inch Deluxe in 1931 to compete with Gibson's 16-inch L-5 model. In 1934, Gibson accepted Epiphone's challenge and expanded the size of their guitars from 16 inches to 17 inches to let Epiphone know they were serious about being the best and the biggest maker of archtop guitars. The Advanced L-5's body was not only enlarged by an inch, it was also redesigned with x-bracing, a new carving pattern incorporated into the top and back, 5-ply binding, longer scale length, and a reshaped headstock design. End

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