While most of the instruments featured in this space are high-end, often elaborately ornamented models that were expensive when new and command high prices today as collectible, the L-00 was the least-expensive guitar offered by Gibson when it was introduced in the March/April, 1931, issue of Gibson’s Mastertone newsletter.
The announcement said the guitar, which retailed for $27.50, would “take the place of the Kel Kroyden guitar” Gibson sold as part of an inexpensive line featuring Kroydon-branded wood toys as well as guitars and banjos.
Specifications for the L-00 were given as “striking black – top bound with white ivoroid, mahogany back, rim and neck” with the same body shape and 143/4″ width as the Kel Kroydon guitar. The original L-00 had a 12-fret neck and a white pickguard; the first 14-fret necks were seen in 1932. By late ’33, the L-00’s specs were changed to a sunburst top, walnut stain back and sides, and a nitrocellulose tortoiseshell-grain pickguard, and by ’37 the L-00 had white binding on the back as well as the top of the body. Throughout its production, the model had a white-paint-silkscreened script Gibson logo on the peghead. The early sunburst pattern on the top of the L-00 (and on dreadnought models) had a very small lighter center, whereas in the late ’30s through early ’40s, the light area of finish was considerably enlarged with a much smaller dark finish toward the edge such that it is possible to approximately date these guitars at a glance based on this finish pattern.
The standard L-00 body shape was closely modeled after the Martin 00 and 000 12-fret body; the resemblance is almost certainly more than mere coincidence, especially since Gibson’s introduction of the shape coincided with its use of Martin style-X-pattern top bracing on their flat-top guitars. It’s worth noting that Martin altered the body shape when they introduced 14-fret guitars such that it was essentially the same as the 12-fret model except with a shortened upper bout to meet the neck at the 14th fret. The Martin bracing pattern on the lower bout remained virtually unchanged. When Gibson introduced 14-fret necks on the L-00 and other models, the company did not alter the body shape, but changed the bridge position and bracing pattern. In the mid ’30s, when Gibson introduced the Roy Smeck model Hawaiian dreadnoughts with 12-fret necks, they used the 14-fret body dimensions but moved the bridge placement and bracing. In the ’60s, Gibson introduced the folk model 12-fret neck F-25 and FJN models with 14-fret bodies and different bridge position, without altering the bracing pattern or bridge-plate position so the bridge-pin holes on guitars of the ’60s typically hit the edge of the bridge plate or miss the bridge plate entirely.
The L-00 shown here is an oddball with a body width slightly under 141/2″ at the lower bout. To date, we have not encountered any other Gibson-made examples of this body shape. The company’s production ledger lists this work order as standard L-00 with no mention of any special specs. Also, it was made early enough that Gibson did not assign a number within the batch. From the ’30s onward, Gibson typically had a three- or four-digit ink-stamped work order batch followed by a handwritten dash and number within the batch, as well as a letter designation beginning with A in 1935 and working upward to H in ’42. When this guitar was made, there was no such designation within the batch, so we do not know if it was a one-of-a-kind or part of a small-production group. Gibson’s ledgers also show this guitar was returned to the factory by Andrews Music on October 30, 1935. During the Depression, Gibson instituted a return policy by which dealers could return unsold merchandise for credit on new instruments so, return authorizations indicate if an instrument was defective or was returned for credit. The ledgers show numerous L-00s were returned in ’35, perhaps because dealers found it hard to sell the earlier black finish/white pickguard version after the introduction of the sunburst finish/tortoiseshell-grain pickguard version.
Interviews with Gibson employees indicate that when this guitar was made, it was not uncommon for one-of-a-kind sample instruments to be made for testing and/or feedback from sales reps. Though we may never know what motivated the production of this L-00, or if any other examples with this body shape were made, we do know it’s an interesting oddity, with essentially the same specs as a standard ’33 L-00 with the exception of the unusual body dimensions.
Though the L-00 was inexpensive when new, it was built to excellent standards of quality, utilizing good materials including Adirondack spruce top, mahogany neck, back, and sides, and Brazilian rosewood bridge and fingerboard. Although it lacks fancy ornamentation, this guitar is lightweight, facilitating a lively response and excellent tone. Proper design is first and foremost for producing excellent tone and playability, with ornamental workmanship being a secondary factor. The L-00 combines excellent design with very good structural workmanship and materials.
This article originally appeared in VG July 2014 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.