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L-5 Guitars

1924 Gibson L-5

Color: Cremona Brown, Rating: 9.00, Sold (ID# 01163)
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One of Only Twelve Known Lloyd Loar L-5's
Signed by Lloyd Loar - With Original 'Virzi'

This exceptionally fine 16 inch wide and 3 3/8 inch deep, highly important and very rare archtop guitar weighs just 4.90 lbs. Two-piece carved spruce top with two-piece book-matched birch back and curly maple sides. Original "Virzi Tone Producer" attached to the underside of the soundboard, stamped in black on each side: "VIRZI Tone Producer U.S and Foreign Pats.” Two-piece book-matched curly maple neck with center mahogany strip, and single-bound ebony fretboard with a small, graceful point at the end. Twenty original thin frets, and inlaid pearl dot position markers and black dot side markers. Triple-ply binding on the top and back of the body. Earliest style 'unbound' f-holes. Triple-bound 'snakehead' headstock with the "Gibson" script pearl logo inlaid diagonally across the face of the headstock and with the pearl "L-5" flowerpot inlay. Black-painted headstock rear face with widow's peak. Original Waverly silver-plated three-in-a-row strip tuners with ornately engraved base and oval pearl buttons. Black plastic bell-shaped truss-rod cover with two screws. Original triple-bound celluloid pickguard (double-pinned to the side of the neck and secured by a celluloid and triple laminate plastic bracket with original screw and washer) stamped in white "Pat. Mar, 30, '09". Original height-adjustable ebony bridge with pre-set compensating saddle on original ebony base. The side of the base is stamped "PAT'D JAN, 18-21". Original earliest style silver-plated 'trapeze' tailpiece engraved "Patented July 19, 1910" secured by three slot-head screws and original ebony strap-pin. There are two labels inside the treble f-hole: The first is a white oval label which reads: "The top, back, tone-bars and air-chamber of this instrument were tested, tuned and the assembled instrument tried and Approved “Dec. 1” (black ink) 192 “4” (black ink) “Lloyd Loar” (signature in black ink) Acoustic Engineer". The second, a white rectangular label reads: "VIRZI" Tone No. 10327 / U.S. and Foreign Pats. / Marca / New York". Inside the bass f-hole is a white oval label which reads: "Patented Mar. 30, 1906 Sept,20,1920 - Jan.18,1921 THE GIBSON MASTER MODEL Style “L-5” (pencil) Number “77405” (pencil) is hereby guaranteed against faulty workmanship or material. Should this instrument, with proper care and usage go/wrong (usual wear accepted), we agree to repair it free of charge at our factory, or to replace it with another instrument of same style or value. Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Company Kalamazoo, Mich., U.S.A." This exceptionally rare and very important piece of musical history is in exceptionally fine (9.00) condition. The guitar is totally original with no repairs, modifications or re-finishing of any kind. There is some finish wear on the back of the neck behind the first three frets and some very slight and insignificant 'buckle' wear (nothing through the finish) on the back. The original frets show some wear on just the first three, which is absolutely consistent with the wear on the back of the neck. The neck is perfectly straight and the action (quite understandably for an 86 year old instrument) is a little higher than on later guitars. We believe this to be one of the finest original Lloyd Loar L-5's in the world. Housed in its original Gibson black five-latch hardshell case with burgundy plush lining (8.00).

Included is a valuation letter, signed and dated March 13, 2001 from George Gruhn of Gruhn Guitars in Nashville.
"I have personally examined the instrument described below. We certify that the guitar described below is, in our opinion, a Gibson L-5 model made in the year 1924. Description: Serial number 77405. This guitar is in very good plus condition, showing normal playing wear. It has two labels, one with the serial number and the other with the signature of Lloyd Loar dated Dec. 1, 1924. The guitar conforms to the typical specifications of the model for the period in which it was made with non-cutaway sixteen inch wide body, curly maple neck and sides, birch back, carved spruce top with F holes, flowerpot peghead inlay, slanted "The Gibson" peghead logo and an internal Virzi tone producer which was available as a common option on Loar instruments. The hard shell case is original to this instrument. This is an extremely rare instrument which is of great interest historically as well as being a superb musical instrument. Careful research of company records indicates that in all probability no more than thirty-nine Loar signed L-5's were ever produced, however, researchers have found only fourteen which have turned up in the hands of collectors or musicians known to the market today. Current market value: $40,000 (forty thousand dollars)"

Nine years later, however, twenty-four Loar-signed L-5s have been identified. Yet this L-5 is one of only twelve with Virzi, and signed by Gibson’s legendary master, Lloyd Loar.

"December 1, 1924, was the last day of Lloyd Loar's tenure at Gibson, and several Master Model instruments were signed on that date. This guitar is one of them… Holding the guitar in one's arms drives home the artistry and precision of Gibson craftsmen as they translated Loar's acoustical notions into three dimensions. Edges are crisp, and the top is graduated dramatically, with deep concavities and generous belly swell. The neck is triangular and hefty… The sound is punchy, rounded, and robust, with substantial volume -- louder than any other L-5 I have played. A feisty little guitar, capable of holding its own in any ensemble." (Jonathan Kellerman. With Strings Attached. The Art and Beauty of Vintage Guitars. p. 114).

"Although Orville Gibson produced the first archtop guitars, using carved tops similar to those found on violins and 'cellos, it was in fact Lloyd Loar who was responsible for Gibsons' adoption of violin type "F" holes. The resulting instruments owed as much in appearance to the cello, as to their fretted predecessors, and have, as a result, since been generically described as "cello style" guitars. Loar, who held a Master of Music degree, was a virtuoso mandolinist, composer and an acoustical engineer of high repute. His combined musical knowledge and acoustic engineering skills enabled him to make an enormous contribution to the design and development of Gibson's ever expanding range of fretted instruments. Amongst the components he designed or improved were the adjustable bridge, elevated pickguards and banjo mutes. His refinements to Orville Gibson's carved bodied instruments resulted in the model F5 mandolin and the L5 guitar. These not only had tap tuned carved tops and backs, but also the first "F" holes found on any instruments since the Baroque period (circa 1650-1750). As the mandolin was Loar's speciality, it was hardly surprising that this instrument was the first to receive the "violin" style "F" holes. The model in question, appropriately designated the F5, was in many ways the direct antecedent of the L5 guitar, which was later to adopt several of the F5's distinctive features. From the outset Gibson recycled its most successful design features; combining them, in a variety of ways, in the production of new models. Carved tops, raised pickguards, adjustable bridges and "f" holes were but a few of the features which quickly migrated from one instrument to another. In retrospect it is clear that Loar's brilliantly conceived mandolin became the catalyst for many of the standard features found on Gibson's later mandolins and archtop guitars. Parallel top braces, maple necks, the bound tortoiseshell pickguard with right angled support, and the newly-patented truss rod, under a fretboard raised clear of the carved top, were perhaps the most obvious features to be carried across from the F5 to Gibson's expanding range of archtop guitars. The L5 guitar was appropriately afforded a similar hierarchical position in the company's growing range and in so doing acquired the F5's exquisite ornamentation; notably the multiple bindings and peghead flowerpot inlays. In keeping with Gibson's tendency to recycle, the flowerpot inlay transferred blatantly from the F5 to the L5 was, in itself, a further refinement of a pattern previously found on the F4 mandolin, H4 mandola and K4 mandacello. The F5 was introduced in June 1922, and predated the first L5 by several months. Understandably, both instruments went on to become "classics" of their kind, although the L5 was to later undergo further refinements, relating to size, construction and ornamentation. The first L5s were made towards the close of 1922, and in the hands of players like Eddie Lang, George M Smith, Nick Lucas and Roy Smeck, were soon to play an important role in the, "dance orchestras" of the period." (Adrian Ingram, The Gibson L5. Its History and its Players. pp. 12-13).

“Lloyd Allayre Loar's contribution to stringed musical instruments ranks in the high order of the musical genius of Antonius Stradivarius, Orville Gibson, Leo Fender, and Christian F. Martin I….they established precedents by which all stringed musical instruments are measured today. But one might suggest that Loar was just a cut above the rest. His approach to the science of acoustics…, and the acoustical properties of the instruments he created, bear no equal” (Roger Siminoff).

A professional mandolinist who also played the violin, viola, and piano, as well as being an acoustical engineer and luthier, Llyod Loar (1886-1943) began to work at the Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Company of Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1918, just after founder Orville Gibson’s departure. And, just as Orville Gibson had pushed the company to the top of stringed instrument craftsmanship and manufacture, Loar took it to the next level with his designs for the prestigious “Master Model” series of instruments, including the L-5, the most significant guitar that Gibson had yet produced and one that has remained in production ever since.

Introduced in 1922, the L-5 soon became the standard by which all other professional-grade guitars of the era were judged and became the premiere instrument for guitarists during the swing era of jazz. Loar integrated many innovative advances in acoustic string instrument technology. Under Loar's supervision, soundboards and backboards were meticulously tapered from their thickest to their thinnest regions, the final thickness varying from instrument to instrument depending on the stiffness of the wood, grain distribution, density, etc., the entire process designed to facilitate the “tuning”of these components. The incorporation of "Stradivarius arching" allowed the soundboard and backboard to breathe and generate greater compression and rarefaction within the air chamber, which provided greater amplitude than any other guitar on the market. The longitudinal tone bars were also "tuned" by thinning them to adjust the stiffness of the soundboard. By tuning the tone bars to a specific note, Gibson engineers were able to adjust the soundboard to a known and very repeatable stiffness. The tuning process was so refined that a whole-tone could be reached between the two tone bars. As a final step, the f-hole openings – introduced by Loar for the Master Models series - were also "tuned." All of the components were thus “tuned” to create an instrument in perfect harmony with itself, and Loar proffered his signature on a label inside the instrument as warranty that the instrument had been hand-tuned and personally inspected by him. To further enhance the tonal characteristics of Gibson's Master Models and the L-5, Loar installed "Virzi Tone Producers" to the underside of the soundboard, which increased frequencies in the upper and lower register and thus improved tone quality. Each was stamped in black on each side: "VIRZI Tone Producer U.S and Foreign Pats.”

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