1917 Gibson L-1
THE GUITARCHIVE – There are only three known pictures of Blues legend Robert Johnson. In one of them, he is holding a Gibson L-1. These guitars are iconic to the blues. They were used in jazz as well — the arched top and back , as well as the sound hole, were designed to project sound to fight to be heard among the band.
This 1917 Gibson L-1 came to us from a long-time Gibson collector from the North Carolina coast. It’s in excellent condition, plays beautifully, and sounds great. It has that blues, rag-time sound but with round tone and some volume. The serial number 38604 is clearly penciled in on the intact oval Gibson paper label which is still attached and affixed opposite the sound hole. Wonderful guitar for both collectors and players alike.
Much of this information came from the guitar’s previous owner, a long-time Gibson collector and new friend of The Local Pickup. We loved having this 1917 Gibson L-1 in our studio for a time. It’s a real treasure.
This guitar is mostly original, in wonderful playing condition, and has gorgeous original finish.
There were a few professional, well-executed repairs made in 2018 which included stabilizing a small 2 inch crack on the bottom back, two cracks on the upper and lower bouts on the 6th E string side, and closing two open back seams. The repaired bout cracks can be seen in the pics but the other repairs are not easy to discern unless someone points them out to an observer.
Although it has some light surface scratches, the original finish still retains the original sheen from the spirit based varnish that Gibson used prior to 1925 which was a shellac cut with small amounts of alcohol to give it a finish similar to that of a violin.
The binding is in fantastic shape. The previous owner believes the binding may have been replaced many years ago and wrote this on the matter: “On a recent closer inspection, while it doesn’t look new, I think the binding along the neck has been replaced sometime in the past. Two reasons, 1) The neck binding does not look ‘new” but does not show any wear along the treble side of the first three frets which I would expect, and 2) I am pretty sure even these early L1s had little red dots as fret markers on the bass side neck binding at frets 3, 5, 7 & 9 and this detail is absent on this binding. The reason I am not absolutely sure about reason #2 is that each L1 that I have had in the past either did not come with all the binding along the neck or it had already been replaced as this seems to be a common issue with these models after about 100 years!”
The neck is straight with great action up and down, some finish wear on the back of the neck. In 2018, three frets were replaced during its last shop visit and all the frets were leveled and polished. It was a really good fret job as I cannot tell which frets were replaced but can reasonably assume it was the first three frets based on the position of the worn finish on the back of the neck.
Beautiful “The Gibson” logo on headstock fully intact and bright. The fretboard has minor wear in first two frets but is even up and down.
Unlike most of these early ones, this 1917 Gibson L-1 includes the original celloid pickguard with metal supports and the original tailpiece. The pickguard is marked with the Patent Pending mark and date of “March 30, 09” and the tailpiece metal portion with Patented date of “July 19, 1910. The string pegs look original except for one which looks newer. The end pin is also original. Bridge and tuners were replaced in 2018 with period correct open gear and cream colored button style tuners. The original bridge, the violin style type made of ebony, is included in the case but it is broken and not usable as is.
The original hard shell case is included with this guitar, and it is in shockingly good condition.