So, I've been cyberstalking every guitar store that deals in acoustic archtops for a couple months looking for a 16" L-5, or at least that was the theoretical goal. The very best examples of acoustic archtop I've ever played were the few '28-29 L-5's I've played, along with Joe Vinikow's personal 16" walnut-backed broadway, and John Collins' D'Angelico Excel. I also hadn't played a bad 20's L-5, although I'm sure they're out there. There was also a wonderful 40's Deluxe owned by my friend that owns the acoustic music store in Denver. I had an idea that a 20's L-5 would be a good match, but I also knew that not having owned any vintage acoustic archtops, I had a lot to learn.
I picked up the 1935 Gibson L-12 I posed about previously, because I spotted a good deal, and indicia that the guitar would be something special (super light weight, a ton of play wear). But I also was interested in learning about what an "advanced", x-braced guitar would sound and feel like. Well, after dialing in the strings gauges to really make the guitar sing, it's been a very interesting and inspiring learning process. I've been so inspired to play solo guitar, chord-melody type stuff, and it's because the guitar is it's own orchestra. Deep bass, nice treble zing, and sustain. Of course, even with those strengths, it has drawbacks. One small complaint are the tuners and frets - nothing worse than playing chord melody and just one random fret here or there is just out of tune enough to drive you crazy!
Still, the most intresting thing to learn was how amazing that guitar sounds alone, or in a duo or trio context, compared to how it sounds in a band with a full rhythm section. The L-12's rich bass is unnecessary when playing with a bass player, and the sustain and nice treble are lost when playing with drums and horns. It's as if the guitar simply disappears in a band. Since I do almost all of my playing with rhythm sections and horns, I could tell that the L-12 was not going to be "THE" guitar for me. That said, I can tell that this specific L-12 is a great one, and it's something I will keep for a long time. At home, alone, I tend to find it the most satisfying to play because it's so balanced.
So, learning from that, I figured I would be better suited to something on the "punchier" edge of the spectrum: Epiphones (which are all parallel-braced) and parallel-braced Gibsons. If nothing else, I had a great sounding chord melody guitar I could keep, and so I figured I should be looking for more of a rhythm and single-note cannon. And so I kept cyberstocking.
I noticed Lark Street music listed a 1931 Epiphone De Luxe that looked awfully familiar. I recognized it as my friend Ted's guitar, so I checked with him about it. He's known me and my playing for 10 years, and he said this would be the perfect guitar for me, and that it easily beat out a 16" L-5. After a bit more research, I found the archived listing onarchtop.com: Fine Vintage Instruments Online from when Ted bought it. (1932 Epiphone Deluxe) Anyway, I got a 48 hour approval period, and Ted basically intimated he'd buy it back from me if I didn't love it, so I couldn't say no with such guarantees.
I had the guitar shipped directly to my favorite local music store/repair shop, Westwood Music, so I could have them look at it and adjust it if need be. I brought the L-12 along for comparison.
I'm gonna be honest here - I hated it.
I took a couple of days to play the thing constantly, changing strings and gauges, and it took until the 11th hour before I would have to send it back, but then it clicked with me. I think, partially, the guitar was dealing with some issues related to the travel and climate (it was unusually humid in Los Angeles when it arrived), and the guitar didn't feel "open". However, I came to realize that such a guitar is an entirely different animal than the L-12, and the L-12 had set my expectations wrong. The joke I've been making is that I felt that "This apple is such a crappy orange!"
I decided to keep the guitar and took it with me to Lincoln Center and Beantown, and used the opportunity to guitar shop while I was in those fine cities. What was very satisfying was how the De Luxe stood up to even the fanciest of guitars. However, because I hadn't had a gig where I could compare the performance of the L-12 to the De Luxe, I couldn't fully appreaciate the De Luxe.
Then after we got back, I had a wedding gig where I was stuck playing drums. Fortunately our good friend Craig Gildner was in town on vacation and agreed to cover the guitar chair. He didn't bing a guitar with him, but of course, I had guitars he could use, HA! Anyway, I had the perspective of sitting on the drum throne listening to him alternate between the De Luxe and the L-12, and it was perfectly clear how perfect the De Luxe sounded in a band context. The rhythm chords jumped, chord melody solos jumped, single notes jumped! And the L-12 disappeared by comparison. Before the band started, I had to do an hour of solo-guitar on the patio by myself, and I used the L-12, and it sounded profoundly good. So, it's not to say that the L-12 doesn't have it's uses. However, for most of what I do, the De Luxe is exactly what the doctor ordered.
Anyway, here's a video review of the guitar, and I hope you enjoy it: