1949 Gibson L-4C

Maker: Gibson

Bought From: McKenzie River Music

Comments: I bought this in September, 2004. It's very cool, and has a clean, well articulated tone that is yet a little darker than my other archtop. 1949 was the first year for the cutaway L-4. The standard construction for an L-4 (even today) is a carved spruce top, laminated maple back and sides, and a one-piece mahogany neck. This one seems to have mahogany sides, which is interesting.

This guitar had a Johnny Smith pickup installed -- which cannot be original, since the first year for those was 1961, but it had clearly been on there for a long while. It was really a bit too big for the space under the strings near the neck -- it actually was digging into the top a bit. In other ways the pickup installation didn't look professional -- the pickguard was cut clumsily to allow room for the pickup, the 1/8" jack was in a screwy place, and there was a non-functioning endpin jack. The pickguard itself was mounted at a crooked angle.

So when I got the guitar, I got an repro pickguard from Pickguard Heaven who have a great assortment of repro guards available, and a super-slim "2D" Kent Armstrong pickup from archtop.com to put on. It also allowed me to mount the pickup under the "24th" fret, which is usually where they go.

The guitar still sounded good with the new setup, though I kept the Johnny Smith pickup and original pickguard; at some point in the future I may have a use for it.

In the summer of 2009, I decided to address some other issues. Although the guitar sounded very good, the string to string balance was not right. Specifically the 4th and 5th strings were just too loud and notes on those strings really had a tendency to feed back -- even at low at-home volumes. Performance volume was impossible.

I have two Kent Armstrong handmade pickups (on separate pickguards) for my Orchid -- a PAF and P-90. These have adjustable pole-pieces, which I knew I would need on this guitar to solve the balance problem. I also decided to have the new installation professionally done. So I ordered an interesting Kent Armstrong handmade single coil pickup that is tappable between 8k DC resistance (like a P-90) and 13k (like a DeArmond Rhythm chief). I delivered this and another Pickguard Heaven pickguard to Mannella Guitars where the work was done.

So far I am very pleased with the results. I have set the polepieces to balance the strings, and I very much like the tone I get from the "Rhythm Chief" position. The switching is accomplished by the small toggle switch just above the volume knob.