Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The George Gobel Gibson L-5CT - Comedian Guitars part 2

In the 1950’s, comedian, singer and guitarist, George Gobel was a hot commodity. In 1954, he was the star of his own television show on the NBC network. This variety show featured the most popular TV and movie stars of the day. The show ran for six years.

Gobel was a rather short fellow. Much like Drew Cary, George Gobel was known for wearing his hair in a crew cut.

His musical career began when he was a child and was known on the radio as Little Georgie Gobel. Later, he toured with country bands by singing cowboy songs and billing himself as The Littlest Cowboy. Gobel appeared on radio shows of the day, including The National Barn Dance from Chicago’s WLS radio.

Unfortunately, his career was cut short due to WWII. During these years, he joined the Army Air Force and served as a flight instructor in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Later in his career, he would joke that none of them enemy ever made it through to Tulsa.

Gobel’s sense of humor was very low-key. He talked about his home and referred to his over-bearing wife as Spooky Ol’ Alice. He referred to himself as Lonesome George. He had several catch phrases that brought laughs, such as "Well I'll be a dirty bird" and "You can't hardly get those any more." Gobel was featured in several movies.

George Gobel was one of a handful of players honored by the Gibson Guitar Company, during their Kalamazoo era. Gibson made a special guitar bearing his name; the Gibson L-5CT George Gobel Model. The prototype of the guitar was presented to George by fellow comedian Tennessee Ernie Ford on Gobel’s TV show.

The original model that Gobel played had the same features as the L-5C model, but the bodies depth was only 2.25”. This short depth helped Gobel play more comfortably. The prototype presented to Gobel had a scale of 25.5”, which was unusual for a Gibson instrument. The production models all used a 24.75” scale. Gobel’s guitar had a beautiful dark red finish, that showed up nicely on television. His instrument had a venetian or rounded cutaway.

For those unfamiliar with Gibson’s designation, the letter C is for cutaway, the letter T is for thin, the letter E designates an electric guitar and the letter S indicates a Spanish/six string guitar. For example, a Gibson ES-335T, designates a thinline instrument.

The fact the guitar is a double cutaway is factored in to the 335 designation. Another little known fact is the numerals at one time indicated the instruments price. A Gibson ES-335T, sold for $335. A Gibson ES-175, sold for $175. Those were the days!

From Guitar Center $25,000
Between 1958 through 1962 only 44 George Gobel L-5CT’s were manufactured, which makes this an extremely rare guitar. How did it sound? I’m told that despite the narrow body depth, the guitar produced a very nice and big tone.

This is it, the "one-off" custom-built especially for Gobel by Gibson, with Serial Number 27318, which the Gibson archive dates to March 20, 1958 and hand-notes "Lonesome George Gobel Spec." The Gibson label inside this guitar notes the serial number and "L5 C- Special" as model.

Gibson L-5C
The guitar is slightly thicker (2 5/8 in.) than the production model and has a standard L-5 25 1/2 inch scale to the production model's 24 3/4 inches. 

Gobel's L-5C "Special" has a 17 inch wide body, weighs just 4.90 lbs and has a nut width of 1 11/16 inches.

The top is carved spruce. The back and sides are curly maple and so is the neck. The neck is bound and capped with an ebony fretboard and 20 jumbo frets. It also features inlaid pearl block position markers. The tuners are made by Kluson and the tuning buttons are Kluson's bell-shaped models.

The pickguard is feaux tortoiseshell with a five ply binding. The saddle is made of rosewood and compensated. The guitar's distal end features a distinctive L-5 trapeze tailpiece. All the hardware is gold-plated.  The factory number on the orange label is A  27318.

Despite the shallow depth, the guitar has a remarkable tone.

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