Late 1920s Gibson L-1 Flattop Guitar Look Alike

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Gibson introduced a line of flattop guitars in 1926. These instruments are probably best known these days because blues legend Robert Johnson is playing one in the well known picture of him. The guitars were originally built with backs and sides made of birch but later mahogany was used. They are small bodied by todays standards, measuring 13.625" across the lower bout on the original instruments, later changed to 14.75". Although the original instruments all had 12 frets to the body, 14 fret versions were available a lot later. The original instruments were stained dark brown, and some featured small hand applied sunbursts on top and back, typical of other Gibson instruments of the time.

Initially appeared: June 9, 2017
Last updated: April 23, 2019

About the Instrument

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The guitar pictured here is a look alike instrument. I was fascinated by the use of birch in the original L series guitars. This wood was commonly used for inexpensive factory instruments at that time. I built this guitar with back, sides and neck from a similar light-colored wood, tulip poplar. The instrument was finished in brown dye with a hand-applied sunburst top and back. Plastic bindings on body and neck and lining the soundhole are like those used originally.

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Two significant differences between the originals and the guitar pictured here are the neck and the top bracing. Original instruments featured a one piece set neck - this one uses a laminated bolt-on neck with adjustable trussrod. Top bracing on original L series instruments was highly inconsistent. They seemed to change the bracing pattern daily. One luthier I know that has worked on a number of the early L series Gibsons joked that the factory may have just used whatever small pieces of wood they had available on a particular day. The instrument pictured makes use of conventional X bracing albeit with only one finger brace on each side of the plate.

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Plans and More Information

Although I do not offer downloadable plans for this guitar here, plans for an original L-0 (another model in the L series) are available from the Guild of American Luthiers.

Construction Notes

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Construction of this instrument is conventional in every way with the exception of the bridge. Rather than being carved from a single block of wood the bridge on this instrument is built up from separate pieces. This technique is the same as used in the originals.


Photo: Hap Newsom, courtesy GAL

The great Mark Hanson takes the L-1 for a spin at a recent GAL Convention.


• Latest American Lutherie article: "Book Review: The Caldersmith Papers", American Lutherie #148 Table of Contents

• Latest research article: "Quantifying Player-Induced Intonation Errors of the Steel String Acoustic Guitar"


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