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Old 12-27-2020, 09:21 AM
onaclearday onaclearday is offline
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Default Early Gibson Round Hole Archtops (buying adivce)

Hello!

I would be interested in buying a vintage Gibson archtop. My budget is around 2000USD. I'm mostly interested in the early oval(round) hole archtops (L1,L2,L3,L4, I would love a Style 0 unfortunately they are quite a lot over my budget) but I am also considering the affordable f hole ones or even Epihpones of the era. I've been researching them for a while reading old catalogues and forums, but I don't feel like I know too much about them.

Does anybody here know what I should look for, the better models, and best vintage stores (both in USA and in Europe)?

Any help would be much appreciated!
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  #2  
Old 12-27-2020, 12:06 PM
Silly Moustache Silly Moustache is offline
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In the '70s, I had a 1915 ish L-3. It was in remarkably good condition and I loved it. the sound was odd by modern standards and bears no resemblance to the L-0 or L-1 (of supposed Robert Johnson association).
Quite boxy but certainly had it's own character.
I still kinda miss it.

The small bodied f-hole guitars such as made famous.fashionable by David Rawlings are very different in sound - and you'll know that sound from many recordings.

I have a '34 build L-4 which is a 16" F-hole ('35 model) which is similr in sound to the 16" L-5 (I had the opportunity to A-B it with a '34 L-0-5 and the corner of the L05 said he couldn't tell the difference although, of course the L-5 was far prettier and had a three piece maple neck compared to my one piece mahogany neck.

Gibson and Epiphone (and other) archtops made between 1900- and 1935 were many and various and made for the fast evolving popular music of the times, and it is rare to hear them played in the style for which they were designed.

This guy shows the models, but I'm not convinced of all of his info.



This is me with my L-4 :



hope this helps,
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Old 12-27-2020, 02:19 PM
THart THart is offline
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I'd never seen that video before. I have an L-2 very much like the one shown, '24 possibly built in '23 from what I can discern. Has the adjustable truss rod which I think is a nice feature. I just love the unique sound of it and it plays quite easily. Maybe the neck with the adjustable truss rod is a little thinner than older models? Still fairly chunky but I find it very comfortable. I've never played other models though so I couldn't give a comparison from experience. Mine may not be 100% original (I'm not even sure how to determine that for sure). I bought it at a music store where it was on consignment & was told it had been to Gibson for unspecified repairs/work at one point. Has a well repaired crack from the sound hole running up alongside the treble side of the neck and the top seems a little bit sunken at the bridge but the braces are solid and the sound is great! The top must have been refinished, probably at that point I'd guess. I had the frets dressed, otherwise it was ready to go (with a fairly beat up original case). Got it a couple of years ago for well south of $2000. Good luck with your search!
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Old 12-27-2020, 02:53 PM
godfreydaniel godfreydaniel is offline
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I had an early oval-hole L-4, 1923 I think. It had an interesting sound, but it had a really huge V-neck that I couldn’t come to terms with, so I let it go.
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  #5  
Old 12-28-2020, 06:43 AM
onaclearday onaclearday is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Silly Moustache View Post
In the '70s, I had a 1915 ish L-3. It was in remarkably good condition and I loved it. the sound was odd by modern standards and bears no resemblance to the L-0 or L-1 (of supposed Robert Johnson association).
Quite boxy but certainly had it's own character.
I still kinda miss it.

The small bodied f-hole guitars such as made famous.fashionable by David Rawlings are very different in sound - and you'll know that sound from many recordings.

I have a '34 build L-4 which is a 16" F-hole ('35 model) which is similr in sound to the 16" L-5 (I had the opportunity to A-B it with a '34 L-0-5 and the corner of the L05 said he couldn't tell the difference although, of course the L-5 was far prettier and had a three piece maple neck compared to my one piece mahogany neck.

Gibson and Epiphone (and other) archtops made between 1900- and 1935 were many and various and made for the fast evolving popular music of the times, and it is rare to hear them played in the style for which they were designed.

This guy shows the models, but I'm not convinced of all of his info.



This is me with my L-4 :



hope this helps,

Thank you for the information! Your L-4 sounds great, it does seem more refined than the oval hole archtops, at least that's what I can figure out by listening on the internet. If I'd buy an f-hole I too would be interested in the smaller 16 inch ones from the 30s.
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  #6  
Old 12-28-2020, 06:48 AM
onaclearday onaclearday is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by THart View Post
I'd never seen that video before. I have an L-2 very much like the one shown, '24 possibly built in '23 from what I can discern. Has the adjustable truss rod which I think is a nice feature. I just love the unique sound of it and it plays quite easily. Maybe the neck with the adjustable truss rod is a little thinner than older models? Still fairly chunky but I find it very comfortable. I've never played other models though so I couldn't give a comparison from experience. Mine may not be 100% original (I'm not even sure how to determine that for sure). I bought it at a music store where it was on consignment & was told it had been to Gibson for unspecified repairs/work at one point. Has a well repaired crack from the sound hole running up alongside the treble side of the neck and the top seems a little bit sunken at the bridge but the braces are solid and the sound is great! The top must have been refinished, probably at that point I'd guess. I had the frets dressed, otherwise it was ready to go (with a fairly beat up original case). Got it a couple of years ago for well south of $2000. Good luck with your search!
I saw a good deal on an L-2 a little while ago on reverb but I stupidly passed on it. Your find seems great, that's mostly what I am looking for. Chunkier necks never scared me, in fact I always felt comfortable on them, but I never played a vintage Gibson, it might be too big, but I think I can get used to them.
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Old 12-28-2020, 04:59 PM
Richard Mott Richard Mott is offline
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When I was a teenager in Pittsburgh (50 years ago), I bought a Gibson L-1 roundhole from, I believe, the late ‘teens. It cost me $100. Unfortunately, the top appeared massively thick and very little sound came out. So I took it to a local pawn shop and traded it even for a ‘61 Les Paul Junior they had hanging on the wall. Those were the days! My lesson from all this was to beware of over-built early Gibson archtops.
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Old 12-29-2020, 09:05 AM
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ArchtopLover ArchtopLover is offline
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I own and play a few examples of what you are looking for. First, each model, from this period has its own particular sound, especially when body size and sound hole configuration is concerned.

My L-1 is a small, delicate guitar, with a strong upper register, but with little, low-end warmth. Great for old-timey 1920's ragtime or blues. But I become bored with of the lack of acoustic depth quickly. A niche tone for sure, and not recommended if this is the only vintage Gibson you are considering.

My L-50s are a mix of later F-hole types and an earlier round hole version. The F-hole L-50s all have that classic Jazz box sound you may already be familiar with, in other words, they exhibit a significant amount of natural reverb, or acoustic overtones and artifacts peculiar to this body design. My 1934 round hole F-50 is a completely different breed of sound. If you have ever played a vintage Gibson LG-2 or LG-3, small body, flat-top, then this is what it sounds like. Exceptionally sweet and detailed upper register, with great sustain and really clean and round bottom end. Not very loud, with no natural reverb, but very responsive and a pleasure to play.

Now, for the best-of-the-best, my 1928 round-hole L-4 is a breathtaking dream to play and to hear. It exhibits an amazing combination of vintage archtop tone and a frequency range, more similar to a modern dreadnought flat-top. It has very little natural reverb overtones (a function of the round hole design), but it does have a very deep and clean bottom-end, with sweet, clear trebels and lots of sustain, which is unusual for an archtop of this vintage. The neck is a very comfortable deep C shape, very similar to my L-7, with narrow frets.

With what I know now about how these guitars sound and play, and if I were to own only one, I would recommend an early L-4. And, as a back-up to this plan, I would chose a 1930's F-hole L-50, if I were to find one, in good playable condition at or below your budget price.

Most of what I own I have purchased on Reverb and eBay at purchase prices well below $2K. All of these instruments needed repairs, extensive repairs or just complete restoration. The only exception is my 1934 L-7. I paid top-dollar for this beauty, and I got burned. She arrived with significant damage and body cracks, that was not disclosed before sale. Oh well, you win some, you lose some....

I hope this helps, and good luck with your search. Let us know if you find something you like .
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1918 Gibson L-1
1928 Gibson L-4 (Blond w/Ebony Fret-board)
1930's Kalamazoo KG-32
1930's Gretsch F-50
1934 Gibson L-7
1934 Gibson L-50 (KG-11/14 Body Shape)
1935 Gibson L-50 (Flat-back)
1935 Gibson L-30 (Flat-back)
1942 Gibson L-50 (WWII Banner Head)
1948 Gibson L-50
1949 Epiphone Blackstone


"a sharp mind cuts cleaner than a sharp tool"
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Old 12-29-2020, 09:39 AM
onaclearday onaclearday is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ArchtopLover View Post
I own and play a few examples of what you are looking for. First, each model, from this period has its own particular sound, especially when body size and sound hole configuration is concerned.

My L-1 is a small, delicate guitar, with a strong upper register, but with little, low-end warmth. Great for old-timey 1920's ragtime or blues. But I become bored with of the lack of acoustic depth quickly. A niche tone for sure, and not recommended if this is the only vintage Gibson you are considering.

My L-50s are a mix of later F-hole types and an earlier round hole version. The F-hole L-50s all have that classic Jazz box sound you may already be familiar with, in other words, they exhibit a significant amount of natural reverb, or acoustic overtones and artifacts peculiar to this body design. My 1934 round hole F-50 is a completely different breed of sound. If you have ever played a vintage Gibson LG-2 or LG-3, small body, flat-top, then this is what it sounds like. Exceptionally sweet and detailed upper register, with great sustain and really clean and round bottom end. Not very loud, with no natural reverb, but very responsive and a pleasure to play.

Now, for the best-of-the-best, my 1928 round-hole L-4 is a breathtaking dream to play and to hear. It exhibits an amazing combination of vintage archtop tone and a frequency range, more similar to a modern dreadnought flat-top. It has very little natural reverb overtones (a function of the round hole design), but it does have a very deep and clean bottom-end, with sweet, clear trebels and lots of sustain, which is unusual for an archtop of this vintage. The neck is a very comfortable deep C shape, very similar to my L-7, with narrow frets.

With what I know now about how these guitars sound and play, and if I were to own only one, I would recommend an early L-4. And, as a back-up to this plan, I would chose a 1930's F-hole L-50, if I were to find one, in good playable condition at or below your budget price.

Most of what I own I have purchased on Reverb and eBay at purchase prices well below $2K. All of these instruments needed repairs, extensive repairs or just complete restoration. The only exception is my 1934 L-7. I paid top-dollar for this beauty, and I got burned. She arrived with significant damage and body cracks, that was not disclosed before sale. Oh well, you win some, you lose some....

I hope this helps, and good luck with your search. Let us know if you find something you like .
Thank you very much for such a detailed answer! A lot of first hand information I really needed. I was mostly thinking I'll settle for an L-1 or an L-3 if I should find one, but I think I'm going to wait to find a nice L-4. I see from your signature you also have an Epiphone archtop. How does it compare to the Gibsons f holes?
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Old 12-29-2020, 09:54 AM
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ArchtopLover ArchtopLover is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by onaclearday View Post
Thank you very much for such a detailed answer! A lot of first hand information I really needed. I was mostly thinking I'll settle for an L-1 or an L-3 if I should find one, but I think I'm going to wait to find a nice L-4. I see from your signature you also have an Epiphone archtop. How does it compare to the Gibsons f holes?
My 1949 Epiphone Blackstone is a very loud and "brassy" sounding archtop, in comparison my L-50's. Where as my L-50s have a more delicate and developed overall tone, especially in the upper and midrange register, the Epiphone is a cannon. It just blasts out gobs of sound; a real noise machine.

If you absolutely need to be heard over that Godforsaken banjo, then this is the jazz box for you .

There is an exact copy of my Blackstone on eBay right now for about $1695.00, I think. A reasonable and fair price for this vintage and quality.
It looks to be in good playable condition, check it out, if this is the tone shape you prefer.
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Leonard

1918 Gibson L-1
1928 Gibson L-4 (Blond w/Ebony Fret-board)
1930's Kalamazoo KG-32
1930's Gretsch F-50
1934 Gibson L-7
1934 Gibson L-50 (KG-11/14 Body Shape)
1935 Gibson L-50 (Flat-back)
1935 Gibson L-30 (Flat-back)
1942 Gibson L-50 (WWII Banner Head)
1948 Gibson L-50
1949 Epiphone Blackstone


"a sharp mind cuts cleaner than a sharp tool"
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Old 12-29-2020, 10:59 AM
onaclearday onaclearday is offline
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Originally Posted by ArchtopLover View Post
My 1949 Epiphone Blackstone is a very loud and "brassy" sounding archtop, in comparison my L-50's. Where as my L-50s have a more delicate and developed overall tone, especially in the upper and midrange register, the Epiphone is a cannon. It just blasts out gobs of sound; a real noise machine.

If you absolutely need to be heard over that Godforsaken banjo, then this is the jazz box for you .

There is an exact copy of my Blackstone on eBay right now for about $1695.00, I think. A reasonable and fair price for this vintage and quality.
It looks to be in good playable condition, check it out, if this is the tone shape you prefer.
Hmm, I will mostly play it solo and for writing, no real need for loudness, so I think I'll stick to Gibson, as "delicate" seems closer to what I am looking for.
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Old 12-29-2020, 12:24 PM
Hobo_King Hobo_King is offline
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I currently own a 1920 L3, and have previously owned a 1920 L1. I've had my hands on about 6 of these types of guitars total, mostly when I was shopping for the L3 I finally purchased. First off all the necks on these are huge by modern standards, so be prepared for that, using a capo past the 5th fret can be a challenge. Being 100 year old plus instruments, I can say everyone I played was very different from the other, either due to how it was built or due to repairs over the years. That said they are a quiet instruments in general and best suited for the style of music that was popular when they were first available, which is finger picked parlor style music. Works very well for finger style blues and ragtime playing too. The two I owned also had a decent tone, though quiet and very balanced for strumming open chords. What they don't do very well is comping chords for jazz, they sound very thin compared to a later archtop, which makes sense since jazz was still very new to most people in the late teens and very early 20's. I have no evidence, but based on the small sample model years I have played, every one that was built during Lloyd Loars tenure at Gibson was better than earlier models. He wasn't building or signing them like the famous L5s and F mandolins, but he was overseeing many parts of Gibson's design and production. The other thing I can mention is they work better on their own vs playing with other guitars or a band setting. Other things to consider and look for would be originality vs playability. Mostly with the bridge and tail piece. Originals will have a non-adjustable bridge and a pin-style tail piece. They work ok when in good condition, but having a more standard archtop bridge and tailpiece does make them a little more user friendly. I recently had to look into replacing the tuning gears too. The plastic buttons on these hold up better than some of the 50's Gibson's I've seen that develop dry rot, but the buttons can start to come loose from the shaft making it harder to tune, and if not replaced eventually will just pull free.
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Old 12-29-2020, 01:19 PM
Howard Emerson Howard Emerson is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by onaclearday View Post
Hello!

I would be interested in buying a vintage Gibson archtop. My budget is around 2000USD. I'm mostly interested in the early oval(round) hole archtops (L1,L2,L3,L4, I would love a Style 0 unfortunately they are quite a lot over my budget) but I am also considering the affordable f hole ones or even Epihpones of the era. I've been researching them for a while reading old catalogues and forums, but I don't feel like I know too much about them.

Does anybody here know what I should look for, the better models, and best vintage stores (both in USA and in Europe)?

Any help would be much appreciated!
Here's a Gibson L-75, which is uncommon, and basically an L-4 in disquise:

They've already dropped the price, so no telling what they'll consider. Also be on the lookout for the very rare L-50 round hole archtops. Quite unique!

https://reverb.com/p/gibson-l-75-archtop-1932-1939

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Old 12-30-2020, 01:21 PM
rockabilly69 rockabilly69 is offline
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I just found this video on you tube. A friend of mine filmed me playing his 1916 L1...

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