Saturday, May 30, 2015

Gibson L-Series Guitars and The Nick Lucas Special Guitar

1926 L-0
In 1926 Gibson introduced the L-0 acoustic flat top guitar. The top was amber stained spruce. The back and sides were made of birch that had been stained in a brown finish. The Gibson L-0 was a small guitar measuring only 13 ½” wide across the lower bout. The top and back of the body were bound.

The unbound neck came with a fretboard was made of “wood” that was “ebonized” or stained black. On the 5th, 7tn and 9th frets were white dot inlays. The Gibson logo, painted in white, adorned the head stock. The tuners were 3 on a side plate style with white or black buttons.

This guitar had an ebony “belly” bridge with pins securing the strings. The neck joined the body at the 12th fret. There was no pickguard on this model. The guitar retailed for $35.00 USD

This was one of Gibson’s cheaper guitars and it was very lightly constructed. The interior revealed ladder bracing. The player had to use light gauge strings, because heavy string would ruin the guitar.

Guitars in the L series were very popular with Blues players and fingerpickers due to their upper and mid range timbre and price point.

1928 L-0
Changes occurred in 1928 to this model. The top was now made of mahogany as were the back and sides. The belly bridges on some of these guitars had an extra white bridge pin below the six black ones. No reason is given, except it possibly was just a spare bridge pin. The fretboard was still unbound but it was now made of rosewood.

1929 L-0
By 1929 the bridge was changed to a flat style without a belly and the extra bridge pin was phased out.

In 1930 to 1931 the body was widened to 14 ¾” on the lower bout (exactly the same shape as the Gibson L-2). The shape of the guitar was changed from a rounded bottom style. The bottom of the body was more of a square shape. The bridge was made of a rosewood rectangle with an angled saddle.

The top, back and sides were all made of mahogany. The rosewood fretboard was unbound and had dot inlays on the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 12th and 15th frets. The same 3 on-a-side tuners were used.

1932 L-0
The big change in 1932 was that the neck joined the body at the 14th fret. In this year the guitar was now available in a natural finish for an upcharge. The logo continued to be painted on with white paint. The L-0 was discontinued in 1933 but revived four years later in 1937. The specs remained similar but for the top which was now made of spruce and painted black. The 1937 version of the L-0 guitar came with a fire-striped tortoise grain pickguard. The price was reduced to $25.00 USD. By 1942, the L-0 was officially discontinued.

1926 L-1
The Gibson L-1 was said to be the choice of Blues legend Robert Johnson. This was originally an archtop guitar, but in 1926 it was re-introduced as a flattop. It was more expensive and the materials were of better quality than the original L-0 model.

The 1926 version included the small body with a 13 ½” span at the lower bout. The end of the body was elongated and rounded as was the style of the day. This guitar had a slightly arched spruce top that was stained amber. However some models did come with a natural finish.

The rosette around the sound hole was fancier than that of the L-0 with 3 consecutive black rings with white rings between them. The back had a slight carve and was made of birch as was the guitars sides. These were stained brown.

1926 L-1
The fretboard was made of ebony and had white dot inlays between the 5th, 7th and 9th frets. The bridge was also made of ebony wood with carved pyramids at either end and was fitted with six black pins. The bracing pattern for the L-1 could be ladder braced, X braced or A braced. (Style A bracing is a variation on X bracing in which the X shaped struts are retained but the transverse strut between the fingerboard and the soundhole is replaced with 2 diagonal braces that splay outward toward the soundhole.)

The Gibson logo was painted in white on the head stock. The tuners were 3-on-a-side plate models. This list price for the L-1 was $50.00 USD.

1928 L-1
In 1928 some changes occurred to this instrument. The body size remained the same, but the spruce top now had a stained and shaded finish. The back and sides were now made of mahogany with a brown stain. The bridge was changed to rosewood and had a bottom bellow with a raised center. The neck on this model was bound and the fingerboard was made of rosewood with position inlay makers at the 5th, 7th, 9th, 12th and 15th frets. The tuners remained similar to those on the 1926 version. The neck joined the body at the 12th fret and the guitars scale was 25”.

The only change in 1929 was the addition of an extra bridge pin, though some 1928 model, like the one pictured, had this feature. Some models made later in that year had a rectangular rosewood bridge.

1930 L-1 catalog
By 1930 the guitars width was increased to 14 ¾” across the lower bout. The guitars top was still made of spruce with a stained and shaded finish. The back and sides were mahogany with a brown stain and were bound on the top and bottom. The bridge was slightly longer and was rectangular. The neck was once again unbound and had dot inlay position markers on the rosewood fret board at the 5th, 7th, 9th, 12th and 15th frets. In 1932 the specification changed. The neck now joined the body at the 14th fret.

1930 L-1
The scale was reduced to 24 ¾”. The body was no longer stained, but sprayed with a sunburst finish. The neck was once again unbound with dot inlay position markers at the 5th, 7th, 9th, 12th and 15th frets. The tuners were upgraded to individual Gibson style tuners.

Despite the improvements, the price was dropped from $50.00 to $37.50. These were the Great Depression years. No changes occurred until 1937 when the model was discontinued.

1929 L-00
Gibson introduced the model L-00 in their 1932 catalog; however it was actually available as early as 1929.

1932 L-00
The 1932 model listed at only $25.00 USD. It has a 14 ¾” span on the lower bout. The top was solid spruce with a black finish. The back and sides were made of mahogany.

The top of the body was bound with white trim and had a white pickguard.

The unbound V-shaped neck had a fretboard of ebonized “wood” with white dot inlays at the 5th, 7th, 9th, 12th and 15th frets. It joined the body at the 12th fret. The logo on the head stock read either The Gibson or Gibson in white paint. The tuners were 3-on-a-side plate open back tuners.

1933 L-00
By 1933 the Gibson L-00 changed the body shape by moving the neck back. The neck now joined the body at the 14th fret. The top remained solid spruce, but was sprayed with a sunburst finish showing a slight bit of yellow, instead of the black painted on finish of its predecessor.

The top was bound on all models and some came with back binding too. This guitar came with white dot inlays on the 5th, 7th, 9th, 12th and 15th frets. The headstock now read Gibson in white paint. There was a fire-striped tortoise pickguard (not made of tortoise shell.) The model listed at $27.50 USD.

1935 L-00
The only change that occurred in 1935 was to the sunburst finish. It now showed more yellow. By 1936 the guitar went back to having only the top binding on the body (although a few were made with back binding.) In 1937 the yellow portion of the sunburst finish was enlarged.

All guitars had top and back binding. The guitar listed at $30.00 USD.

1941 L-00
By 1941 a natural finish as available as an option at an extra cost. The sunburst sold for $36.75 and the natural finished models sold for $42.00 USD. By 1942 a few models were made with the banner “Only a Gibson is Good Enough” on the headstock. Not many models were made this year since it was to be replaced by the LG. The L-00 was discontinued in 1945. Gibson offered Hawaiian versions of both the L-0 and the L-00 that were known as the H-0 and H-00 models.

L-2 1929 Catalog
Gibson also made a more expensive version of their L Series called the L-2. This model was first available in 1929 and was made for only five years. It resembled The Nick Lucas model, but was not nearly as fancy.

1929 L-2
The original 1929 version of the Gibson L-2 retailed at $75.00 USD. The width across the lower bout was 14 ¾”. The guitars spruce top was slightly arched as was its back. The back and sides were made of rosewood. Unlike some of the other guitars in the L series, this guitar was X braced.

1930 L-2
The odd thing on the 1930 Gibson L-2 was the short trapeze tailpiece. Due to this many of these guitars came with an adjustable bridge. There was no pickguard. The top and back had triple binding. The tuners were deluxe and made by Grover. The Gibson L-2 came with a bound neck joined the body at the 13th fret. The fretboard was made of ebony with white dot inlays. The headstock announced this guitar was “The Gibson” which was inlaid into the black wood veneer. This guitar was available in a sunburst or natural finish.

1931 L-2
There were some changes to this model in 1931. The trapeze bridge was now a longer version. There was gold inlay around the top and sound-hole. The neck position was changed so it attached to the body at the 12th fret. The headstock now looked more like modern Gibsons and was still inlaid with the company logo.

Many had a pickguard that was bolted on the top and the side of the guitar, similar to what is found on Gibson archtop guitars. The top was available in a gray or natural finish.

1932 L-2
By 1932 the version of the L-2 came sans the trapeze tailpiece. A pin bridge was now standard, although it could be ordered with the trapeze. The sparkle binding and rosette were gone. The fingerboard was slightly raised on some models. Some came with the elevated pick-guards, while other had glued on versions. Some were produced with the neck joining at the 12th fret and others had the neck joining at the 13th fret. The finish options were the same as in 1931. By 1933 the pick-guard was the glued on version and the neck joined the body at the 14th fret.

The top remained spruce, but the back and sides were mahogany instead of rosewood. The headstock logo stated “Gibson.” Two years later the L-2 was discontinued.

Gibson L-2 Florentine
There is one last version of the Gibson L-2 worth mentioning. This pretentious "work of art" guitar was worthy of The Roaring Twenties aka The Jazz Age when Art Deco was in vogue. Gibson, as well as other guitar manufacturers decorated guitars with stenciled scenes over the guitars finish. This guitar has come to be known as the Gibson L-2 Florentine, which is ironic, because the scenes depicted are of Venice.

In the case of the instrument pictured above, the Venetian scenes were hand-painted using oil based paints and the spruce body was left unfinished. The fretboard of the neck was topped with pearloid material. Instead of position markers, scenes of Venice are scrimshawed in between the frets with a coat of lacquer preserving the work. The headstock is inlaid with rhinestones, which not just provide a center decoration, but outline the guitars head. The entire body is painted, though some of this has worn off of the back of the neck, due to it being played. This late 1920's version features the rounded bottomm a V shaped neck and H bracing. The tuning buttons are pearl.

Late 1920's Gibson L-2 Florentine
This guitar was acquired at one time by Gruhn Guitars. The photos are also from the Gruhn collection. There is no serial number on this instrument, so it is difficult to determine how many of these unusual one-of-a-kind instruments were produced.

Check out the bodies depth and the width of the neck.
Dominic Nicholas Anthony Lucanese, better known as Nick Lucas, was an American singer and guitarist. He was known as The Father of Jazz Guitar. He was popular during the mid 1920’s to the 1930’s.

Let me clarify the term Jazz. It was originally associated with an amalgam of syncopated popular music. This sort of music was played by New Orleans artists as well as small orchestras. It was the music of the 1920’s long before it became Jazz as we know it today.

Nick Lucas had a couple of popular tunes that became hits. These were Picking The Guitar and Teasing The Frets. His fame increased when he co-starred in a movie called The Gold Diggers of Broadway. In this movie he sang two songs that would become popular, which were Painting the Clouds with Sunshine and Tiptoe through the Tulips.

From Gibson Catalog
Due to his popularity, the Gibson Company wanted their instrument in his hands. It made economic sense to Gibson to get their instruments to well known artists, so a special model was designed for him. And it was quite a guitar.

Nick Lucas tells this story about the instrument. "When I was working at the Edgewater Beach Hotel, I was playing a Galliano guitar that I brought when I was in New York for $35.00. Frank Campbell, who was general sales manager for Gibson, was trying to persuade me to get rid of the Galliano. 

This was in 1924. I said, "If you'll build a guitar to my specifications that's not too bulky, I'll throw this guitar away” I wanted a wider neck, deeper sides, and a smaller body that would be more presentable on stage. 

I was very happy with the instrument they made, and I still have it. That guitar was made in 1925. You'd be surprised how this guitar carries!”

All Brazillian rosewood.
The original model that Lucas used was finished in black and came with banjo style tuners.

He did not actually throw the Galliano guitar away, but gave it to his brother, Anthony. Lucas kept a backup guitar in the event a string would break during a performance.

His collection and other memorabilia are now housed at a Santa Monica theater where he often played. The collection includes some other Gibson models including a J-160E, several Gibson Lucas guitars, a Martin 000-45, his Galliano and an Orpheum signature archtop.

1928 Nick Lucas
The Nick Lucas model began its run in 1928 but was offered in the catalog as early as 1927. It originally sold for $125.00 USD, which was a princely sum during this time period. It was a small guitar and was only 13 1/4” across the lower bout. The top made of spruce and the back and sides were solid mahogany. This instrument featured a rosewood “belly” bridge with pyramid carvings on either side. The bridge pins were white and included an extra pin below the bridge saddle. The rosette was a 2 ring multi-ply pattern. The guitar was finished in sunburst with a brown stain on the back and sides.

1928 with trapeze
The body was 4 ¼” deep which was fairly deep for this model guitar. This was requested by Nick Lucas as part of the design. He also wanted the neck to be slightly wider than on prior L-series instruments. The scale of the Nick Lucas Model was 24 ¼”. The earliest version had an angle logo spelling out, “The Gibson” that was silk-screen in white letters into the headstock veneer.

Special Label
The rosette around the sound hole was made of alternating white-black-white wood strips. The fretboard inlay included a white five point star on the 3rd fret. The top and bottom of the body were bound and the neck, which attached to the body at the 12th fret, came with triple binding. The fingerboard was made of rosewood with varied patterns for the position markers.  “The Gibson” logo was silkscreen onto the headstock. The tuners were made by Grover.

The original models had the round bottom body. There was a special “Nick Lucas” label inside the body.

1928 Nick Lucas
Later in 1928, “The Gibson” logo was inlaid in pearl. The pyramid bridge underwent a slight change and the fretboard inlays were now a more varied pattern with a notched diamond shape on the 3rd fret. The headstock included a Fleur-de-lis inlay below the logo.

1929 Nick Lucas
In 1929 Gibson completely redesigned their guitar line up and increased the body size to 14 ¾” across the lower bout. Most instruments of this year join the body at the 12th fret, but some joined at the 14th fret. The 14 fret models had a glued in pick-guard while the 12 fret versions had and elevated pick-guard. The rosette was now a just a 3-ply ring. The pyramid designs on the bridge were gone in favor of just a rectangular rosewood bridge.

1930 Nick Lucas
The guitars top was still solid spruce and the back and sides were solid mahogany. By 1930 the shape and most of the specs remained the same but for the bridge. This was now an adjustable bridge with a trapeze tailpiece. The neck was raised on these models and joined the body at the 13th fret. By 1932 the back and sides were made of solid rosewood. The bridge and saddle came with the option of a standard rectangular pin bridge or the trapeze tailpiece with the adjustable bridge.

This guitar came with an elevated pick-guard or a glued on pick-guard. The fretboard was now made of ebony and raised off the guitar’s top.

1934 Nick Lucas
This design continued until 1934. Gone were the rosewood back and sides, which were replaced with maple or mahogany. This version had the rectangular pin bridge. The neck joined the body at the 14th fret. The pick-guard was glued into place. This guitar had additional inlay at the 1st fret. It was available in sunburst or black. This design remained until 1941 when Gibson discontinued the guitar.

1964 Bob Dylan with '30's Nick Lucas
The guitar experienced a brief resurgence around 1964 because Bob Dylan was playing a vintage 1930’s model 13 fret Nick Lucas guitar in concert and in album photographs. Dylan’s guitar had a bridge that was replaced with a Guild bridge and the guitars body was refinished to show the natural wood instead of the original sunburst color.

In those days these were considered “used” guitars and could be bought rather inexpensively. Gibson did not take advantage of reproductions in those days.

1935 Gibson L-C
Back in the 1980’s I wandered into a local music store that had a Gibson L-C for sale. This was a beautiful looking guitar and tucked away in a glass display case. As I learned more about vintage instruments I realized this was more of a display piece than a quality player instrument.

1935 L-C
The L-C was produced from 1933 to 1941. This Gibson model featured a 14 ¾” span across the lower bout of its sunburst spruce top. The back and sides were made of maple and triple bound on the back as well as the top. The neck was triple bound as well. The fretboard and the peg head veneer were made out of white pearloid (plastic) with notched diamond inlay and rosewood rectangles or hearts and flowers or a wreath pattern.

1936 L-C
The one I saw had hearts and flowers at position markers. The neck joined the body at the 14th fret. The original retail price for this was $55.00 USD. It was certainly a beautiful guitar. In 1937 it was offered with a Hawaiian set up. By 1938, the peghead had rosewood veneer with a pearl Gibson logo. The last year for this model and its Hawaiian version was 1941.

1942 LG-2
The L-Series guitars sort of resurfaced in 1942 as the LG series (Little Guitar), and were labeled the LG-0, LG-1, LG-2 and LG-3. Only around 100 models of each were produced this year, and then the LG-0 and LG-2 were discontinued.

1943 L-1 and L-3
The LG-1 and LG-3, which continued to be produced in 1945,  had a spruce tops. The LG-1 had ladder bracing, while the LG-3 had X bracing.

1958 LG-0
By 1958 the LG-0 was introduced as the new low-end flattop student guitar. It had ladder bracing under its mahogany top. The guitar was finished in brown.

By 1962 to 1963 the L-Series were replaced by the B-25 models. These were discontinued in 1977

In 1987 Gibson was under new ownership. This year the company bought out the Flatiron Mandolin Company and moved its acoustic manufacturing operations to Bozeman Montana. By 1990, under the leadership of luthier Ren Ferguson, Gibson began creating a reproduction of its L-00 series guitar along with many other of its well-known models.

2014 L-00 Pro
As of today, the company continues to offer a couple of L-Series instruments. These include the Gibson L-00 Pro, which has a solid Sitka spruce top, solid mahogany back and sides, and an unbound mahogany neck with Indian rosewood fretboard and white dot markers. The belly bridge is made of rosewood. The headstock veneer has a period-correct Gibson decal logo. It sells for approximately $1400.00 USD new at Guitar Center.

2014 L-1 Blues
The Gibson 1928 L-1 Blues Tribute is based on Robert Johnson’s guitar. It features a faded sunburst finish and a rounded bottom on the body. The belly bridge is rectangular with white end pins. The unbound v-shaped neck, which joins the body at the 12th fret, has a rosewood fretboard topped with white dot inlays and is 1.77” at the nut. The headstock veneer is topped the Gibson logo inlaid in pearl. The tuners are period 3-in-a-line open back models. It is a beautiful guitar and comes with its own form fitting hard-shell case. The L-1 Tribute retails for $3299.00 USD.

Gibson makes some other small body guitars which include the 1932 L-0 model, the Robert Johnson L-1, which is $600 cheaper than the tribute model, the L-00 Legend, the Keb Mo’ Bluesmaster, the Arlo Guthrie LG-2 ¾, the Elvis Costello Limited Edition, which is based on a 1937 Gibson L-C, however instead of a plastic fretboard, on this model it is made of Madagascar rosewood that has a ivory colour, and the Blues King.


Saturday, May 16, 2015

B.B. King's Lucille

From Rolling Stone Magazine
American blues great B.B. King died Thursday in Las Vegas at the age of 89. King played many guitars over the years, and all of them were named "Lucille." For over 50 years, B.B. King has always named his guitars Lucille.

There have been many Lucilles throughout the decades. The story of how Lucille came to be is rather interesting.

Riley. B. King started playing when he was only 12 years old.

He purchased his first instrument for $15.00. By 1943 he was working as a tractor driver on a farm and on the weekends he played guitar in churches with the Famous St. John's Quartet of Inverness, Mississippi.

By 1946 he left for Memphis Tennessee and moved in with bluesman Bukka White. By 1948 he returned to West Memphis Arkansas where he began to get a following after appearances on Sonny Boy Williamson’s radio show. The appearances turned into a brief career in radio.

He worked as a disc jockey with the pseudonym The Beale Street Blues Boy. This eventually was shortened to Blues Boy King. It was around this time King ran in to T-Bone Walker and heard him play electric guitar. King realized he had to get an electric guitar.

That following year Blues Boy King went to Los Angeles and was able to record with record producer Sam Phillips, who later founded Sun Records. King had horns, along with piano, drums and a second guitarist on his very first session.

B.B. then assembled his own band and called it the B.B. King review. By his own admission King never could play chords very well, so he relied on his husky voice and improvisation on the guitar.

In a video interview, B.B. King tells this story:

Original "Lucille"
“I used to play a place in Arkansas called Twist, Ark., and they used to have a little nightclub there that we played quite often. When we didn't have any other place to play, we were always welcome to play there. Well, it used to get quite cold in Twist, and they used to take something look like a big garbage pail and set it in the middle of the floor, half-fill it with kerosene.

They would light that fuel, and that's what we used for heat. And generally, the people would dance around it, you know, never disturb this container. But this particular night, two guys start to fight and then one of them knocked the other one over on this container, and when they did, it spilled on the floor.

Now it was already burning, so when it spilled, it looked like a river of fire, and everybody ran for the front door, including yours truly.

When I got on the outside, then I realized that I'd left my guitar inside. I went back for it. The building was a wooden building, and it was burning so fast when I got my guitar, it started to collapse around me. So I almost lost my life trying to save the guitar.

BB King Super 400
But the next morning, we found that these two guys who was fighting was fighting about a lady. I never did meet the lady, but I learned that her name was Lucille. So I named my guitar Lucille and reminded me not to do a thing like that again.”

That first guitar, the one in the burning building was a Gibson L-30 archtop. Since those days B.B. King has usually favored slim body Gibson ES-355 guitars.

Then in the early 1980’s when Gibson made a signature Lucille guitar for him.

BB King ES-355
The first ES-355 can be heard on his 1965 album “Live At The Regal.”

As a rule, King made a few modifications to his ES-355’s, by having “Lucille” inlaid in the headstock. He also removed the vibrato bar. Since this was a semi-hollow guitar, King was concerned about feed back, so he would stuff rags into the f-holes.

Autographed Signature Lucille
On his signature Gibson model, B.B. King required it not to have any f-holes.

Super Lucille
The Gibson Lucille has been issued in a variety of iterations, including a limited-edition "King of the Blues" version and an ostentatious "Super Lucille."

80th Anniversary Lucille
In 2005, Gibson produced an 80th Birthday model Lucille for the bluesman, which he summarily adopted as his main stage instrument.

BB and Eric Dahl returns Lucille
Sometime during the summer of 2009, it was stolen. But a few months later, the guitar was discovered in a Las Vegas pawn shop. Eric Dahl, who deals in rare guitars discovered this while searching for unique instrument.

He said when he went to exam it, "The whole thing was covered in sweat. The strings were nasty, and then I flipped it over and looked at the headstock and it said, 'Prototype 1' in a white stamp. I assumed it meant this was one of the original 80th Birthday model Lucilles that B.B. King had approved."

From B.B. King's Funeral courtesy of Michael Wilson