The iconic Delta-blues guitar: Gibson’s L-1.

With its plain headstock and simple one-ply body binding, this L-1 projects an understated—even utilitarian—vibe.
The L-1 began as part of Gibson’s archtop line in 1902. This version was transformed and modified in various ways until it was discontinued in 1925. In 1926, the L-1 (along with the L-0) was reborn as one of Gibson’s first standard production flattops.

Gibson L-1s are known for their even balance and response. This is due to very delicate construction using light, thin wood and thin finishes. These features alone would make the guitar appeal to players and collectors, but the L-1 also has the distinction of being the model used by the legendary bluesman Robert Johnson. The best-known existing photo of Johnson shows him playing a late-’20s or early-’30s L-1.

The Gibson L-1 pictured this month has features that indicate it was likely built in 1930. These features include a 14 3/4" body width, one-ply white binding on the top and back, an unbound neck that joins the body at the 12th fret, a rectangular rosewood bridge, and “The Gibson” as the headstock logo. The back and sides are mahogany, while the top is spruce.

You can find a wealth of detailed information on the L-1 and other Gibson acoustics inGibson’s Fabulous Flat- Top Guitars: An Illustrated History & Guideby Eldon Whitford, David Vinopal, and Dan Erlewine, and also inGruhn’s Guide to Vintage Guitarsby George Gruhn and Walter Carter.

And if you love the blues and want to understand the roots of rock, be sure to investigate Robert Johnson and his influences in Elijah Wald’sEscaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues.

Dave ’s Guitar Shop
Dave Rogers’ collection is tended by Laun Braithwaite and Tim Mullally and is on display at:
Dave’s Guitar Shop
1227 Third Street South
La Crosse, WI 54601
Photos by Mullally and text by Braithwaite.