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The Gibson L5 Guitar

Updated on February 14, 2011

The iconic Gibson L5 archtop guitar was first produced in 1922, and remains popular today. It was heavily used by big band guitarists during the 1930s and 40s, and was probably the most popular rhythm guitar of that period on account of its powerful sound, which made it ideal for playing with an large band. It is still a favoured choice among jazz guitarists today.

The L5 was also the first guitar with F holes, which are part of its characteristic appearance, as is its choice of natural and sunburst finishes.

The build and appearance of the L5 has undergone various changes over the years. For example, the back was originally made of birch, but later changed to maple. Earlier models of the guitar also tended to be plainer in appearance than their later counterparts, which were more heavily ornamented.

In 1939, a cutaway version was introduced, and was criticised by some players who felt that the guitar’s volume was negatively affected. However, by the 1960s it was almost impossible to find non-cutaway versions of the L5, although vintage models may still be available.

The Gibson L 5 has been a popular guitar among many notable players over the decades, such as Wes Montgomery, Maybelle Carter, Django Reinhardt, and Ronnie Wood.

Other Versions Of The Gibson L 5

Eddie Lang's Gibson L5


Various L5 models have been produced over the years, and Gibson have also made departures from the standard hollow body acoustic form.

The Gibson L5S for example, was a solid body electric version of the L5. It was first introduced in 1972, but was not a huge success, and Gibson eventually ceased production of the L5 S in the 1980s.

The Gibson L5 CES was introduced in 1951, and is an electric version of the L5. Unlike the L5S, the L5 CES has a hollow body. The CES is still in production and may be ordered via Gibson Custom Shop in a choice of vintage sunburst, ebony or antique natural finishes.

The Gibson L5 Guitar (Book)

L5 enthusiasts might enjoy the book 'The Gibson L5 Guitar' by Adrian Ingram. First published in 1997, this book takes a look at the history of the L5 and the guitarists who helped it rise to prominence. The book is also lavishly illustrated with full colour photographs.


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