Vintage Gibson L-5 CES With Alnico Pickups – USA 1955

by Gibson

$19,995.00 21225
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Originally priced at $600, the L-5 CES was a flagship guitar that incorporated the latest innovations, like switchable dual pickups with separate controls and a Tune-O-Matic bridge.

The post-World War II boom included a golden era for American manufacturing, and guitar building was no exception. Gibson focused on expanding its electric guitar range after the war’s rationing of supplies and labour ended, and normal production could resume. At the time, it was thought that electric guitars didn’t need solid wood for sound reproduction, and even the top-of-the-line ES-5 (introduced as “the supreme electronic version of the L-5”) had all-laminate construction.

By 1951, because enough guitarists demanded it, the venerated Super 400 and L-5 were electrified. But these new CES (cutaway electric Spanish) guitars benefitted from a deeper understanding of electric guitar construction and were made from solid woods, and received the same decorative embellishments as their acoustic counterparts.

By the end of 1953, these guitars were upgraded with newly designed, powerful single-coil pickups using alnico 5 magnets and the Tune-O-Matic bridge (also introduced that year), which allowed for truly accurate intonation. The now-classic layout of volume and tone knobs for each pickup, with a 3-way toggle selector switch, was implemented for the first time.

The L-5 CES was advertised as being the best of both worlds, acoustically and amplified, and was described this way in the 1955 Gibson Catalogue: “The depth and mellowness of the L-5 CES is winning acclaim for this fine guitar from the most discriminating artists. The tonal quality of the acoustic guitar and the advantages of an electric instrument are combined in this one superlative instrument.”

Only 19 sunburst L-5 CES guitars were shipped in 1955.

Typical of classic Gibson hollowbodies, this L-5 CES has the company’s so-called Grecian urn headstock inlay, flanked by a set of Kluson Sealfast tuners.

Other features as explained in the 1955 catalogue -

  • Pickups are close to the bridge and fingerboard.
  • Great sustaining power and perfect accuracy of each string are achieved through the Gibson Tune-O-Matic bridge and extra large, individually adjustable Alnico No. 5 magnets.
  • Pickups have adjustable pole pieces and separate tone and volume controls, which can be pre-set.
  • Three-position toggle switch on treble side activates either or both pickups.
  • Kluson Sealfast pegs.
  • Professional 20-fret fingerboard and Gibson adjustable truss rod neck construction.
  • Body size: 17" wide and 21" long.
  • All metal parts are gold plated.
  • Twin dog-ear P-90 pickups with alnico 5 magnets provide the electric side of this classic archtops’s voice. Each pickup has its own volume and tone knob, and is switchable via a 3-way toggle.

It’s difficult to comprehend one guitar player having such a profound influence on any one musical genre, much less one as conspicuously diverse as jazz music. Yet in the span of just a few years in the late 1950s and early 1960s, jazz legend Wes Montgomery was able forge a body of work that is still referred to today as the most important and influential of any music ever recorded by a jazz artist. 

It’s difficult to comprehend one guitar player having such a profound influence on any one musical genre, much less one as conspicuously diverse as jazz music. Yet in the span of just a few years in the late 1950s and early 1960s, jazz legend Wes Montgomery was able forge a body of work that is still referred to today as the most important and influential of any music ever recorded by a jazz artist. 

Though it all, Montgomery relied on his faithful Gibson L-5 CES guitars. And it was this model L-5 with the alnico pickups that Wes used on his very early and most influential albums recorded in the 1950s.

 This guitar is in excellent vintage condition with only light evidence of player wear. There are a few expected marks, dings & dents but noting offensive. There are a few very light impressions on the rear upper bout, possibly made by a shirt button.

The neck is clean, the fingerboard shows no pitting and the original frets have lots of life left in them. Truss rod works fine, original tuners are strong and most importantly, there are no structural issues with this guitar.

The original nitro finish is in wonderful condition and the beautiful three colour sunburst simply glows in a way that only comes from 60 + years of a well lived life.

Weight 7.4 Lbs                     Serial # A 20xxx

This guitar was bought by its current owner from a reputable US dealer in 2012. They reported that the pickguard is a replacement from high end specialists Mirabella, and the jack plate had been replaced at some point. That appears to be all the work that has been done to this L-5 CES since new.

As you would expect from the guitar which many call the "king of the jazz guitars" this instrument plays perfectly and sounds fabulous. Whether used for blues, jazz or whatever, this iconic guitar is one of the finest archtops you will ever play.

Comes in an original 1940s Gibson hard shell case in good condition.

Video demo of same model - https://youtu.be/fq8LaTTt2hU


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