Gibson 1939 L-5 Premier

1939 L-5 Premier

Click tab below to view my 1940 Gibson L-5

1939 & 1940 Gibson L-5's

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!

1939 & 1940 Gibson L-5's. The Premier cutaway and non-cutaway models were available in 1939. Natural, or Blonde finish was made available that same year.
Original shipping ledger from Lynn Wheelwright.

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. 

Serial EA 5556. Note the ledger above states this model was shipped from the Gibson factory November 10, 1939.
Very first L-5 P (labeled as 'Cutaway') FON 25440, shipped by Gibson on 8/15/1939. Photo Paul Fox
Tiny Timbrell's L-5 P, serial #EA5573, shipped 12/14/1939. Photo Paul Fox.

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.

Gibson 1939 L-5 Premier


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

Post-war August 1946 article captures a pre-war L-5 Premier being played with a floating pickup.
Grover Imperial Tuners. These tuners briefly made their way onto higher-end Gibson models from 1938-1940. They were an option for the buyer at the time and were short-lived by Kluson Delux Sealfast Tuners in 1940.
Gibson 1939 L-5 Premier
Gibson 1939 L-5 Premier
May, 1942.
Gibson 1939 L-5 Premier
Note the 'PAT APPLD FOR' stamp on the underside of the Grover Imperial Tuners.
High-end Gibson models would sometimes have the serial number stamped on the back of the peg-head. Note the EA5556.
Grover Imperial tuners made their debut in 1938 and were an upgrade on higher-end guitars(Super 400 and L-5). The Kluson Catalin tuners (front) made a short appearance in 1940. Most Kluson tuners on L-5's in the early '40's had metal sealfast buttons.
Note the heel of the L-5 P is much wider than the heel of the regular 1940 L-5.
Gibson 1939 L-5 Premier and 1940 L-5.
Note the very first L-5 Premiers had the fingerboard attached to the body.
Soon after the 1939 L-5 Premier introduction, the fingerboard would be raised away from the body like all of the other Gibson archtop guitars.
Introducing the new Gibson tailpiece with Vari-Tone for all Super 400's and L-5's in 1939.
Underside of L-5 tailpiece with Vari-Tone control.
Note when the L wrench is inserted into the hole, the brass piece will press with downward force causing the tailpiece to slightly elevate. Thus, a little tone variation.
Note the hex nut that the L wrench will be inserted into (very vague outline of the nut in the hole).
1939 L-5 P tailpiece with Vari-Tone control.
From all of the archtops that I have ever held or played, the craftsmanship of the first L-5 is by far superior to most guitars. Note the soft flowing curves on the sides and back above.
Highly figured maple back of my 1939 L-5 Premier.
Gibson 1940 L-5 and Gibson 1939 L-5 Premier.
Gibson 1940 L-5 and 1939 L-5 Premier Archtop Guitars.