Vintage Vault: 1974 Gibson L-5S
This svelte solidbody pays homage to a classic archtop.
While the 1970s Norlin phase of Gibson’s history is seen today as a time when the manufacturer strayed from its traditional quality, it was also a period when new, interesting models continued to be created. One of these new designs was the L-5S. This guitar was meant to be a high-quality solidbody version of the classic L-5 archtop, which had been a flagship model since 1922.
The L-5S shared many decorative embellishments with the L-5, such as a multi-ply top and back binding, along with a bound ebony fingerboard coming to an ornamental point at the end. The famous L-5 “flower pot” headstock motif and block inlays were also included, but now in abalone. Completing the elegant look was the traditional art deco L-5 tailpiece. At nearly 13 1/2", the body was a little wider than a Les Paul, but it was also thinner at only 1" deep. When the model was introduced in 1972, it was equipped with the same low-impedance pickups used on the Les Paul Personal, Professional, and Signature models. These pickups proved unpopular and were replaced by regular-sized humbuckers in 1974. The L-5S was discontinued in 1985, but has been resurrected from time to time as a special run Custom Shop model.
The L-5S shared decorative embellishments with the L-5, including multi-ply top and back binding, an art deco tailpiece,
and a bound ebony fretboard.
The 1974 L-5S pictured here has features typical for that year, including a carved, 3-piece figured-maple body with multiple black/white/black binding, a gold-plated “wide travel” Tune-o-matic bridge, a gold L-5 tailpiece with silver-plated insert (which changed to a stop tailpiece by 1976), two gold-plated Gibson “Super Humbucking” pickups, a 3-piece maple neck with a 24 3/4"-scale ebony fretboard, and abalone headstock and fretboard inlays. The controls were laid out in the same manner as on an SG or ES-335, with the pickup selector toggle switch near the volume and tone controls.
The model’s elegant headstock has an ornate “flower pot” inlay and multi-ply binding.
Gibson shipped 555 L-5S guitars in 1974 with a list price of $985 plus $110 for the case. The current value for one in excellent all-original condition is $5,000.
Sources for this article include The Gibson L5: Its History and Its Players by Adrian Ingram, Electric Guitars and Basses: A Photographic History by George Gruhn and Walter Carter, and Gibson Shipment Totals 1937–1979 by Larry Meiners.