1931 Gibson L-1, Sunburst

By Gibson

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Stunning, rare, transitional 1931 Gibson L-1; easily one of the nicest small bodied, pre-war Gibson flattop acoustics we’ve had in store for quite some time. The incredibly light bracing and construction make for an extremely resonant and characterful guitar. Early, large bodied, 12-fret Gibson flat tops built between the late 20’s and early 30’s are among the finest sounding acoustics ever made, and this rare, transitional spec L-1 model is certainly no exception.

The L-1 model name has an established history for Gibson with its first use in 1902 with the L initially denoting a round soundhole. The first L-1 was a simple, archtop guitar with plain adornments. The model would go though a variety of changes before transitioning to a flattop model in 1926 with a list price of $50. The early flattop models had 12 frets clear of the body, a 13 1/2” wide rounded lower body shape and pinched waist. By 1930 the body would become more squared at the bottom and increase in size to 14 3/4” wide like this example. Then, shortly after in 1932 the guitar would adopt a 14-fret neck join making this particular model a very rare find especially in such good condition.

As well as the more squared 14 3/4” wide body the guitar features an X-braced Spruce top, Mahogany back and sides, Mahogany neck, unbound Brazilian Rosewood fingerboard and bar bridge. The body has a bound top and back and the elegant soundhole Rosette is 3-ply white-black-white. The tuners are 3-on-a-strip with white buttons and matching white bridge pins. The guitar has a Factory Order Number of 126 (verified as an L-1 batch in Spann’s Guide to Gibson 1902-1941) dating it to 1931. It features a beautiful fire striped celluloid pickguard with the headstock displaying the silkscreened script Gibson Logo which was phased in by Gibson on certain models from the late 20's. The Cremona sunburst finish, evocative of these early ’30s instruments, is hand rubbed in a small sunburst with an incredibly thin lacquer finish. The Mahogany back and sides are finished with a dark stain that contrasts beautifully with the white binding.

The guitar is in very good overall condition with the original finish backlighting well and no obvious signs of any previous work. The finish itself is excellent with only a few light marks to the incredibly thin-finished top. The back and sides are equally good with only a small area of wear in the first position of the neck. These instruments were very lightly constructed with thin finishes and light tops, and were very lightly braced - one of the reasons they sound so good but the reason they often need running repairs to keep them going. The overall condition of this example is very good and it’s easy to forget this guitar is 90 years old! It has two professionally repaired cracks to the top which were internally cleated, the neck has had the prerequisite reset meaning the playability is excellent, and internally some bracing has had attention. The Maple bridge plate looks correct but has potentially been replaced and there are two small stable nicks at the fingerboard extension.

We’ve had the guitar in the shop for a good while before listing (we can’t put it down!) and it has remained perfectly stable throughout, the neck set has resulted in good geometry with a good break angle over the saddle and a comfortable playing action. The frets are excellent, appear original with a nice height, and play great with every note ringing true. The neck is a comfortable 'C' profile with no hint of the large 'V' profile associated with later ‘30s Gibson necks. These early, larger body 12-fret Gibson guitars built between the late 20’s and early 30’s are among the finest sounding acoustics made. Featherweight, 12 fret, 00-sized and X-braced this guitar sounds crisp and clear with a sharp initial attack. String balance is excellent too; the guitar suits fingerstyle perfectly but equally offers strummers a delicate, harmonically rich and well balanced tone that projects very well. The guitar is currently strung with 11-52 and sits at pitch happily.

All in all this is a stunning, rare piece of Gibson history during an excellent period of quality production. The guitar comes with a non-original vintage hard shell, peach lined case.

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