Nashville Tennessee: Smoky Mountains, Music City, Elvis and his land of Grace, Jefferson Street, Beale, the West End, Belle Meade, Grand Ole Opry and the heartbeat and home to country music and the Delta Blues, Nashville is a leafy sprawl of suburban metropolis hosting over 600,000 in human inhabitants and situated neatly on the banks of the Cumberland River. But Nashville is more than just the homestead for country and blues, more than just the culmination of thousands of musicians hopes and dreams collected neatly upon the eternally-spiraling and concentric circles of a now-antiquated dusty but never-forgotten record album, it is also the home of Gibson.
Orville Gibson, born 1856 in Chateaugay, New York, had noticed with some considerable consternation that Mandolins being produced and played during that period were poorly constructed and had the same features as "a potato bug." Consequently he set about constructing a different shape, a better design that was characterized by an arched top and bent sides which produced a richer, more mournful sound when played. The previous mandolins had been made flimsily of strips of wood where Gibson's were constructed of solid woods. Orville Gibson was granted a patent for his mandolin design in 1898, the only patent he would receive in his short life as he passed quietly into the night in 1918.
A gentleman by the name of Lloyd Loar, a genius in his own right as a performing artist and part-time luthier, stepped in to the Gibson organization initially as an acoustic engineer and eventually as a design consultant, and helped to cultivate Orville's ideas while introducing many of his own as well. Loar was one of the first to amplify instruments electrically and worked to bring the finer qualities of the violin into the guitar such as F-holes, graduated soundboards and longer necks, features which can be found on some of Gibson's guitars to this day.
The Gibson L-4 A has a solid Sitka Spruce cutaway top with tortoiseshell pick guard, and Indian Rosewood back and sides. The 20-fretted fingerboard is also composed of Indian Rosewood and all frets are readily accessible via the cutaway. A multi-ringed abalone rosette gently graces the soundhole and provides a dramatic contrast to the darkness of the guitar's sunburst finish. The neck is composed of gorgeous Curly Maple and is attached to the body of the guitar with a dovetail joint for extra strength and durability. The body itself is finished with a fine nitro-cellulose finish for beauty as well as breath-ability over the life of the instrument.
The body classification of the L-4 is Jumbo Acoustic, and the scale length is 24 3/4" which interestingly is the same as many Gibson electric guitars. Width at the nut is 1.72" and the headstock features gold Grover tuners. The L-4 includes a Fishman prefix plus pickup, which is a Piezo system designed to catch the natural resonant sound through ceramic sensors and send the signal as cleanly as possible to the preamplifier. On-board equalization is also part of the package making quick adjustments fast and easy.
The Gibson L-4 is currently available for anywhere between $1900 and $2200 and can be purchased through various on-line merchants or through your friendly local music outlet. The L-4 A is a reproduction of a model that has been produced by Gibson since the 1920's, and although some of the materials have been altered since the initial production, the current L-4 is as aesthetically pleasing as the first.
The L-4 A has a nice warm tone and excellent blending of values from treble to mid to bass. I noticed a little opacity (muddiness) in the mid-range but found out later that many Gibson acoustics have this same problem which can be easily rectified when the guitar is set-up. The action was high as well but again, this matter can be easily resolved. Also, the guitar felt small for me especially relative to other acoustics I've played and looking at the guitar's scale size that doesn't surprise me now. The guitar feels small and may not be the best choice for people with larger hands and bodies, although this matter is subjective as some players prefer a guitar that is easier to manipulate. Nevertheless, the L-4 A is a classically beautiful instrument that sounds great and has lasted the test of time.