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hakkolu 01-25-2021 05:46 PM

L5 Wes Montgomery vs Fully Acoustic L5 volume

Has anyone ever compared an old fashioned fully acoustic L5 volume level and an unplugged L5 Wes Montgomery? I have been told that the fully acoustic L5 should be significantly louder but I have never heard from anyone that actually played or owned both.

Steve DeRosa 01-25-2021 07:44 PM

I've played a number of acoustic L-5's over the years, mostly of the "Advanced" 17" non-cut prewar/early-postwar variety...

I also had the pleasure/honor of playing Wes' personal circa-1963 L-5CES, when MandoBros had it on consignment in the early-2K's...

To my ears it was apples and oranges - the old Big Band comp boxes had been played hard early on and, although each one was tonally unique (archtops tend to be highly idiosyncratic), with an additional quarter-century of aging under their belts they all had the classic archtop bark and punch...

The Wes L-5 was softer and sweeter-sounding, set up as an electric jazzbox (flatwound strings and ultra-low action) rather than something designed to cut through a 20-piece horn section without amplification - a lovely couch guitar, great for subtle unamplified solo work behind a soft-voiced vocalist, in Wes' talented hands an iconic plugged-in tone, but not something you'd take if you were auditioning for Freddie Green's old spot with the Basie band...

IME if you're simply looking for a cutaway with true acoustic/electric capability - perhaps a presumption on my part based on your question - I'd strongly recommend an early-postwar (late New York-production) Epiphone 17-incher: the Triumph/Broadway/Deluxe "Regent" models are regarded as some of the very few cutaway instruments that were a match for their non-cut counterparts, in terms of tone and projection, and when paired with a DeArmond Rhythm Chief 1000 "redhead" or 1100 floating pickup (available through the Guild parts shop) and a low-/mid-powered tube amp, you've got classic Bop-era jazz tone for days. Good news is that they're also less - sometimes far less - expensive than their Gibson equivalents, still a bargain given their level of craftsmanship (IME you'll pay about 30-40% less for an early-50's Deluxe Regent than for an L-5C, 25-30% less for a Triumph Regent versus an L-7C, in comparable condition), and while it's quite understandable that sometimes you just have to have "that" guitar it's also quite telling that, in the heyday of the archtop, Gibson considered Epiphone their only competition...

hakkolu 01-26-2021 10:23 AM

Wow you played the actual guitar of Wes Montgomery?
Was it the single pickup model (you said CES so not sure).
I have a single pickup Wes Mo L5.
However I am a Blues player. I play some finger style blues or single line blues with it and have round wounds on it.
I prefer the acoustic sound of my Wes Mo compared to regular flat tops. Less resonant, drier sound compared to a flat top.
However I am also a left handed player so never had a chance to play an actual fully acoustic Archtop.
Hence my question.

Steve DeRosa 01-26-2021 11:51 AM


Originally Posted by hakkolu (Post 6615712)
Wow you played the actual guitar of Wes Montgomery?
Was it the single pickup model (you said CES so not sure).
I have a single pickup Wes Mo L5.
...I am also a left handed player so never had a chance to play an actual fully acoustic Archtop...

Wes' very own single-pickup '63 L-5CES - yes, "that" one - documented, brokered by a dealer with an international reputation, and with a then-asking price of $125K firm; the late Stan Jay (founder of Mandolin Brothers) knew I was an archtop fan, as a 30+ year customer I had cultivated a good relationship, and as such (as a few fellow AGF-ers also know first-hand) was permitted access to the "inner sanctum" where the super-primo pieces were kept (on exactly two occasions - the other one where I played John Lennon's Dobro). Needless to say, when he opened up the case I recognized the guitar immediately (as I'm certain the expression on my face showed) - his only words were, "Yes, it is - feel free" as he handed me the guitar...

As far as being a lefty is concerned, unfortunately there are very few true vintage southpaw archtops out there (I've been playing since 1962 and I've only seen one in person), and while conversion of a non-cutaway right-handed instrument is possible under certain circumstances the results are often far from ideal - most players don't realize that "parallel" archtop braces are anything but (differing in height/thickness/contour and often noticeably splayed - particularly so in New York-era Epiphones), tops are graduated differently, and changing the relationships throws everything out of whack. FWIW if you've got around $5K to spend, Mark Campellone's work is excellent - one of his instruments is on my bucket list - and you'll have the assurance that it was properly constructed from the get-go...

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