“The Guitar of Guitars – The Gibson Master Guitar: Style L-5 In every field of art the pinnacle of perfection is marked, more often than not, by some certain achievement – standing out above all others. So it is with the Gibson Style L-5 in the field of fine guitars – there is no other near comparison.” — 1931 Gibson catalog
Make and Model: The Gibson Guitar, Style L-5, “Grand Concert Size”
Year: Late 1931
From Joe Spann: “The factory order number (FON: 9991) indicates that it was manufactured towards the end of March in the year 1931. The serial number (88219) indicates that it was prepared for sale and shipment in October of the year 1931. In those days, Gibson didn’t add the tuners, nut, bridge, strings and interior paper label to any instruments until they were ready to ship. Therefore we sometimes see a wide gap in time between production and first shipping. Especially for the more expensive and less popular models. Evidently, this particular L-5 did not sell, and was returned to the Gibson factory on Dealer Exchange (the L-5’s and Super 400 were notoriously difficult to sell).
Here are the dates and information:
3 July 1936 – Shipped as a “repair” to Hunleth Music Company in St. Louis, MO
12 March 1937 – Shipped as a “repair” to Hunleth Music Company in St. Louis, MO in a #514 case
27 June 1939 – Shipped as a “repair” to Hunleth Music Company in St. Louis, MO
2 February 1944 – Shipped as a “repair” to W.J. Phillips in a non-Gibson case”
Specifications: Rare for this year carved Spruce parallel top bracing, rare one piece neck, 25 1/2 scale length, 16″ wide body, carved Spruce top, Maple back and sides.
Originality: Reproduction tailpiece and bridge made by Jackson Cunningham, reproduction gold oak leaf strip tuners with pearl buttons from Waverly. Appears to be some amount of overspray on the top. The fretboard and pickguard were likely replaced by Gibson in the late 1930s.
Condition: This one wears its age proudly and draws the attention of everyone in the room. It is structurally 100% solid. There is one top crack on each side of the top near the F hole. There is a small hairline crack on treble side of the headstock that didn’t go through. We were unable to flex the crack or wick any glue inside.
Playability: Excellent. This guitar easily lives up to the hype around 16″ L-5 guitars. People in the shop commented that it was difficult to talk over the guitar while we were playing it with a heavy plectrum.
Notes: This beautiful 16″ L-5 comes from the golden era of guitar manufacturing at Gibson in Kalamazoo, MI. I was told by the previous owner that this was Mel Bay’s personal L-5 in the mid 1930s :). He provided no documentation to support that claim. Suffice it to say that this L-5 was played professionally by a player residing in St. Louis, Missouri until the mid 1940s. It has been thoroughly enjoyed but nicely maintained throughout its lifetime. It’s currently in excellent playing condition and is a fine example of what a good L-5 should sound like. I’m confident it will live up to your expectations as well.