Gibson 1939 L-5 Premier
Click tab below to view my 1940 Gibson L-5
Just as 1935(late 1934) was a giant year for Gibson to unvail the new line-up.....including the new Advanced Model L-5 with a larger 17" lower bout and the 'All New' Super 400(although showing up in 1934) sporting its huge 18" lower bout, 1939 was another milestone for Gibson's treasured archtops.
1939 was the year Gibson introduced the first cutaway models, namely the L-5 Premier and the Super 400 Premier. This was also the year that the sunburst tone Cermona Brown would take a backseat to the all new beautiful blonde finish.
Premier, or first, which after the war the name would change (most likely around 1947-'48)to cutaway, was given to describe something that had never been accomplished to an archtop before. The new cutaway would allow guitarists to reach the higher register on the fingerboard easily past the 14th fret. This instantly grabbed the attention of jazz guitarists and has forever become the standard for archtop guitars.
The L-5 Premier pictured here is one of my favorite pieces in the collection. Although it is very similar to my 1940 non-cutaway L-5, it has a much slimmer neck, the fingerboard is flat against the body(indicative of the very first L-5 Premiers and not floating like the later models) and is carved with so much thought to detail. Honestly, there are so many accolades written about these pieces that one tends to believe it is just hype.....I felt the same. Now, after getting one, I can truthfully say that the 1939 L-5 Premier is a carved masterpiece!
Because I had questions dating when this piece was made, I asked Mr. Lynn Wheelwright and he sent this photo of the original Gibson shipping ledger from November 10, 1939.
Looking at the ledger, one can see that this L-5 Premier's first home was Stoner Piano Co. in Des Moines, Iowa. It later found its way to a gentleman in Yuma, Arizona. After that, it went to Oregon where it spent 25 years until I recently acquired it. As with all of my prewar pieces, it is very interesting to discover the places where these pieces have been.
I also received input from Mr. Paul Fox on this piece. He had some great information about the first L-5 Premiers that were made around the time mine was. According to Mr. Fox, 'I believe the first L-5 P left the factory on 8/15/1939 with only a FON 2544, which was the first batch of these. They were designated "L-5 Cutaway" and Gibson salesman, Clarence Havenga got the first one.'
Mr. Fox also gave a little more info, you can see both of the ledger pics that he sent me above, he noted that another L-5 P (this L5 P was Tiny Timbrell's and I had come across it on search. Interestingly, Tiny Timbrell's serial #EA5573, is very close to my serial #EA5556). He noted that Tiny Timbrell's L-5 P was shipped a month after mine on 12/14/1939 to Canada Bank of Toronto.
1939 L-5 PREMIER FACTS
Because this is such a historically significant guitar; an introduction cutaway model that would change the body styles of all archtops thereafter, I wanted to note some facts that I found in Thomas A. Van Hoose's book, 'The Gibson Super 400 Art of the Fine Guitar'.
According to Van Hoose:
-1939 marked the return of parallel bracing for both cutaway and noncutaway L-5 models
-the first L-5 Premiers had a cutaway whose edges seemed somewhat swollen in the curved area
-The fretboards on the very first L-5 Premiers rested almost flat on top of the guitar but were later elevated slightly
-The Premier was continued after WWII and was named Premier during 1947-1948, when it was renamed the L-5C
-1939 the natural, or blonde finish was offered as an option on the L-5 and L-5 Premier
-The case was tweed-covered with green and red stripes across the center of the case body
-1939 the Varitone tension-altering device was introduced, replacing the earlier hinged tailpiece
-L-5 non-cutaway and L-5 Premire was offered from 1939-1941 in sunburst or natural finish
-1939-1941 Natural L-5 Premiers produced =53
-1939-1941 Sunburst L-5 Premiers produced =65