A short history
of the Gibson
L-0 and L-1 guitars
from 1926 to 1929
The L-series, Gibson's first regular production flat-tops, debuted in 1926 with the introduction of the L-0 and L-1. The illustrations on this page are from Gibson's 1926 catalog "P", in which these models were introduced.
The body was characterized by a round lower half shaped much like that of the later SJ-200, but considerably smaller, measuring only 13 and one-half inches across the lower bout. In 1929 this dimension changed to 14 and one-quarter inches and the shape was changed to be less rounded, more flat on the bottom. Thus, the L-0 and L-1 models that we’re concerned with here were only produced for three years.
The Gibson L-0 and L-1 were made cheap to sell cheap, constructed with light bracing, thin woods, and thin finishes. It is exactly these cost-cutting measures that gave them their exceptional responsiveness. For the price, these guitars offered a beautifully warm, remarkable tone and volume for their small body construction . They were favorites amongst finger picking and blues style guitarists.
The 1926 L-0 was an acoustic flat top with a spruce top and maple back and sides, 13.5” wide at the lower bout. It had a bound top and back with white “ivoroid” (plastic), dot inlays at the 5th, 7th and 9th frets on the “ebonized” (i.e., black-dyed white wood, generally holly) fingerboard. The neck had 19 frets, joining the body at the 12th, with a scale length that varied from 24 1/2 to 25 1/4 inches. It carried a “The Gibson” logo silk screened in white paint and had an ebony pyramid-style bridge, bone saddle, no pick guard, 3-on-a-plate tuners with white plastic buttons and an “Amber Brown” finish. It carried a list price of $35.
The 1926 L-1 also had a spruce top, but substituted mahogany for the back and sides and ebony for the fingerboard. The top was finished in amber, with the rest of the body finished in “Sheraton Brown”. It was priced at $50.
The very first examples of both models were built with ladder bracing on the top, similar to that used in the carved top guitars that preceded them. The ladder pattern was first modified slightly, then abandoned completely in favor of an X bracing pattern. Most of the surviving examples of these models are X braced, indicating that the change occurred relatively early, probably in late 1926 or early 1927. Many players prefer the tone of the X braced guitars, but the ladder braced models had a unique sound that is well suited to certain styles of music.
What are the caracteristics of an "authentic" 1926-1929 Gibson L-0 or L-1? This is an impossible question to answer, as Gibson seems to have operated almost as a custom shop during this period. Examination of the few remaining examples of these models reveals that there is tremendous variation in their construction. Tops vary from a very thin .080” (2.032mm) to .115” (2.921mm) thick. Necks vary in shape from a "V" to a fat "C" shape more like a modern classical guitar. Some necks are as wide as 1.87" (47.5mm) at the nut and 2.30" (58.5mm) at the 12th fret, while others are narrower. As noted above, scale lengths varied greatly, generally due to slipshod workmanship in the placement of the bridge. Braces sometimes extend under the kerfing, while on other examples they stop short of the sides.
Even the "official" specifications of these models varied wildly during the three years of their production. The L-0, initially produced with maple back and sides and spruce top, was later manufactured with an all mahogany body (back, sides and top). Fingerboards were made of black-dyed holly, ebony or rosewood, and later gained pearl position dots at the twelfth and fifteenth frets. Some L-0 models were produced with no binding on the back. Purfling designs around the sound hole varied somewhat. Most examples had binding on the inside edge of the sound hole, but some did not. Bridges could be ebony or rosewood, nuts bone or ebony. The actual size and position of the sound hole itself varied considerably, from the relatively small hole depicted in the original catalog illustrations to ones a full inch larger.