|1938 Gibson Super 400|
|Stromberg Master 400|
|Paul Yandell's 400|
Stromberg’s idea was bigger is better, so their Master 400 was an inch larger than the Gibson Super 400. D’Angelico's Excel was much more elaborate.
|1928 Gibson L5|
|1934 Super 400|
By 1934 the guitar was renamed the Gibson Super 400. Its grand auditorium body shape is not unlike Orville Gibson’s 1902 Style O model. The L5 was part of what Gibson called the Master Series. This included the legendary F-5 mandolin, H-5 mandola and K-5 mando-cello and of course the L5 guitar. All were created in an era when Mandolin orchestras were popular.
As with many Gibson guitars, the numerical designation depicts the instruments original price tag. Four-hundred dollars was quite a price in 1930’s America. (The current suggested retail price for a brand-new Super 400 CES is $17,292. A new Gibson L5 acoustic will set you back $6,774. Gibson does not offer a Super 400 acoustic model.)
The Super 400 is perhaps the finest Gibson that was ever produced. It was also the largest guitar that the Gibson Guitar Corporation had produced. The original models came with a hand-engraved tailpiece and finger rest support. The early models had engraved truss rod covers that still stated this was an L5 Super.
By 1939 the model the truss cover were changed and the designation Super 400 was official. Changes were made to the design. The upper bout was enlarged and there was no hand engraving on the tailpiece. The f-holes were enlarged on this instrument. A cutaway model was also offered. This was designated the Super 400P or premiere. Later on Gibson changed the cutaway designation to C.
It was not until the 1950’s that Gibson electrified this instrument and designated it the Super 400 CES for Cutaway Electric Spanish. This model came with twin P-90 pickups with black plastic covers and individual volume and tone controls for each pickup and a three way toggle switch. On mid-1950 models the pickups were changed to Alnico V pickups. By 1957 twin humbuckers were standard. On the CES, the top was slightly thickened to eliminate feedback.
|Beautiful neck heel cap|
The f-holes had triple binding. The pick guard was a brown pearloid model. The beautiful bound ebony fretboard came with split block inlays.
|Click to see L5 logo|
Production at the Gibson factory was halted in 1941 due to the war effort.
Guitar operations resumed in 1948, after the war ended. The Super 400P was re-christened the Super 400C.
This guitar had a slightly thicker top, to eliminate feedback. It originally came with twin P-90 pickups, each with its own volume and tone control and a three-way toggle switch to control them. The P-90's were updated to Alnico V pickups and in 1957 Gibson used twin humbuckers.
It was in 1955 when Gibson decided to discontinue the Super 400 and Super 400N guitars from their product line up. By 1982, slumping sales of the Super 400 CESN brought an end to this model and in 1987 the Super 400 CES was no longer being manufactured.
One rather rare model I have come across is a Gibson Super 400 CES with a Florentine cutaway manufactured in 1966.
There are some very notable players of the Super 400 CES other than Mr. Montgomery and Mr. Ritenour. Scotty Moore played one on Elvis’ 1968 live concert.
|Merle with Super 400|
|Eddie and Alonzo Pennington|
photo by Michael J. Stewart
If you watch the following videos, pay attention to how massive a guitar this is.
Before Merle Travis passed away, the Gibson Guitar Company asked him to donate his guitar to the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee. In turn, Gibson built an exact replica of his special modified Super 400 CES. It is interesting to note that Merle's new guitar had a wooden center block similar to what is found on ES-335 models.