The Virtual Museum of

Vintage Gibson Acoustic Guitars and Mandolins

A Free E-book

Illustrating and Exploring the Development of the Instruments of the Gibson Company

Created by Folk and Roots Music Photographer Robert Corwin

Featuring Instruments from the Phyllis, Jerry, and Robert Corwin Collection

1940 Gibson J-55 and Roy Smeck Stage Deluxe Guitars

Please note:  This web site is a work in progress, still with holes and place holders.  
Not all sections are complete - many have not even been started yet.  Not all links work.  If you've stumbled on this site,
feel free to enjoy what's here, and check back for further additions if you wish, knowing it will take some time before the site is finished.
And, for the time being, let's please keep this web site our little secret, between you and me!  

April, 2014

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Download my Orville guitar and mandolin image as a 1680 pixel Screensaver, free for your personal use as my gift to you!

~ Click on the headstock image below and download a hi-res file to create a high quality 11" x 14" photographic print, suitable for framing, free for your personal use as my gift to you! ~

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Orville H. Gibson Mandolins and Guitars

Arch Top Guitar and F Style Mandolin Hand carved by Orville H. Gibson

Download the above image as a 1680 pixel Screensaver, free for your personal use as my gift to you!


1898 Orville H. Gibson Archtop Guitar
Hand Carved by Orville H. Gibson

Formerly of the Chinery Collection
Illustrated on p. 14 of Chinery

Illustrated on p. 20, 70, 71 of Boston Museum of Fine Art "Dangerous Curves"







1900 Orville H. Gibson Model F Mandolin




Illustrated in Bacon, "The History of the American Guitar"


1901 Orville H. Gibson Model A Mandolin
Besides the archtop guitar and "F style" mandolin, the third basic style of instrument designed by Orville Gibson in the earliest years, the Style A mandolin, also endured as a mainstay of the Gibson line for many years to come.


Illustrated in Gruhn and Carter, "Acoustic Guitars, a Photographic History"

From Mandolin Brothers:



This "A Style" mandolin is the only instrument from the pre-Gibson Company era known to have a hand made label signed by Orville Gibson.


Instruments Made by
Gibson Mandolin - Guitar Mfg. Co. Ltd.

The Gibson Mandolin - Guitar Mfg. Company was born when a group of investors purchased the business from Orville Gibson in 1902.

1904 Gibson Style O

This early Gibson Company version of the Style O guitar was most likely built by Orville himself, or built under his supervision while he was training the new workers to follow his designs.

Still with carved back and sides with no braces, and rims constructed from one solid piece of walnut.

Serial Number 2625




1904 Gibson Style A Mandolin

Early Gibson Company version of the Style A Mandolin.

  Serial Number 2863

The slanted "The Gibson" logo appeared on some early Gibson Company instruments, while many had a blank headstock or a star.

1905 Gibson Style L1 Guitar

Early Gibson Company version of the Style L-1 Guitar

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12 1/2" Wide

22 3/4" Scale

2lbs. 12.6 oz.

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Serial Number 4540

Order Number 240

Note that the heel cap is an extension of the back, as it is on Orville's guitars.

And note the large bridge, with the thick, rounded lower bout and square, raised wings, similar to that used by Orville, and nearly identical to that used on the 1904 Style O above, but for the compensated ivory saddle replacing the straight fretwire saddle.

This early Gibson Company guitar is the first I've seen that includes the words "Order No" on the neck block.  If ever proof were needed that the number stamped on the neck block of Gibson Guitars is the Factory Order Number, and the serial number is stamped on the interior label, this guitar provides that proof. 

This early Gibson Company guitar has a single 3 1/2" brace under the carved top, below the sound hole, and not a single brace on the back. 



1906 Gibson Style F2 Artist Mandolin

Early Gibson Company version of the Style F Mandolin.
  Serial Number 3959

Early Gibson "3 point" F Style mandolins were built with an added point on the bass side that disappeared in the early teens.

The early Gibson mandolins had an inlaid pickguard that was replaced by a raised pickguard by 1907.


1906 Gibson Style L1 Guitar

Early Gibson carved arched top and arched back Style L1 guitar with slotted headstock.  
Serial Number 5486

1907 Gibson Style O Guitar
Serial Number 5779



1907 Gibson Style O Guitar
Serial Number 7872






Instruments Made by
Gibson Mandolin - Guitar Co.

1916 Gibson Style O "Artist" Guitar

The "Artist" version of the Style O, with the scroll design, was produced from 1914 to 1921.



Gibson "Master Model" L-5 Guitar with "Virzi Tone Producer"

signed by Gibson's "Acoustic Engineer" Lloyd Loar, March 31, 1924

Serial Number 76710

Virzi #10184

The 1898 Orville Gibson archtop, the first arch top guitar built by Orville Gibson, this example exhibited in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts "Dangerous Curves" exhibit, with the 1924 "Lloyd Loar" L-5, the first "modern" archtop guitar, built with "F" holes, this example formerly owned by David Grisman, both built with the identical body size and shape.


The top, back, tone-bars and air chamber of this instrument were tested, tuned and the assembled instrument tried and approved
March 31, 1924.  
Lloyd Loar, Acoustic Engineer.

1926 Gibson L1 Guitar

 The first flat top Gibson, still with arched back, often made of local Northern Michigan Beech.

After 1926, Gibson flat top guitars had a flat back as well.

The Gibson Company did not think highly of flat top guitars for many years.  In fact, while Martin had been making flat top guitars in America since 1833, Gibson built their first flat top guitar some 93 years later.

Gibson did not change body shapes often.  The shape of Orville Gibson's first archtop was used for their jazz guitars decades later, and the form of the L-1 archtop was kept for the first flat tops, and remained the primary small body shape until the 14 3/4" body was introduced as the 1920's came to an end.

The first examples had H-pattern top bracing as well.

By 1928, the L-1 had an unbound soundhole, belly bridge, and sunburst top finish.

Note the pyramid style bridge, similar to that used on early Martin guitars.

The slanted logo remained in use until it was replaced by a straight logo briefly in the late 1920's, before transitioning from "The Gibson" to "Gibson".


The 1926 Gibson L-1, Gibson's first "flat top" guitar, the 1898 Orville Gibson archtop, the first guitar built by Orville Gibson, and first arch top guitar produced by any maker, and the 1924 "Lloyd Loar" L-5, the first "modern" archtop guitar, built with "F" holes.

1929 Gibson "Florentine" Nick Lucas Special Guitar

The early Nick Lucas Special was made with the same basic body shape as the first L1, such as the 1906 seen above, and the first flat top, the 1926 seen above.  The Nick Lucas is distinguished by a body with extra depth.

Those who study vintage Gibson guitars have come to the conclusion
based on the uniqueness of the various examples that the Nick Lucas Special was made in extremely small quantities, most likely made one at a time on special order.  The Lucas can be found in various combinations of 13 1/2" and 14 3/4" wide bodies, 12, 13, and 14 fret necks, mahogany, rosewood and maple bodies, with no pickguard, glued on pickguards, or raised pickguards, a large variety of bridge designs, with our without a trapeze tailpiece, and some with a raised fretboard extension.   

Nick Lucas Gibsons can be hard to date by conventional means, as it appears that labels with with serial numbers already assigned were pre-printed, and applied to the guitars as they were built over a period of some years.

This one of a kind Nick Lucas Special is far more unusual than most, with painted scenes of Venice on the fretboard.  What else would you expect of a Gibson "Florentine"?  The build date remains a mystery, as it has the smaller body and banjo style tuners associated with Gibsons built in 1929 and earlier, but a bridge design that was introduced in 1932!

  Serial Number 85102

Illustrated in Bacon, "The History of the American Guitar"

Illustrated in Gruhn and Carter, "Acoustic Guitars, a Photographic History"

1930 Gibson Nick Lucas Special Guitar

Every Nick Lucas Special is special.  It's hard to find two that are identical.  Perhaps the most common of the variations, however, are those with the later 14 3/4" body in mahogany and a 12 fret neck.  These are among the first of the Gibsons with the later, larger body style.  A number of collectors who have owned Nick Lucas Gibsons in numerous configurations, including the rare and more expensive  rosewood and maple examples, consider the 12 fret mahogany Lucas to be among their favorite sounding guitars.

  Serial Number 86608   


 1930 Gibson Trujo Style A and 1931 Trujo Style B Guitars


Manufactured by Gibson for the Trujo Banjo Company of San Fancisco, owned by a couple of banjo teachers named Truett and George, whose names were contracted to form the name "Trujo".  

The Trujo style A is an extremely rare guitar, of which most dealers have seen no more than one in their lifetime, as Trujo sold mostly banjos, and very few guitars.  This example conforms to the description of the Trujo Style A in Gruhn and Carter: "Similar to Kel Kroydon KK-1, S.S. Stewart and Gibson L-2 of the period, single bound spruce top with x pattern bracing, mahogany back and sides, 3 ply soundhole ring, mahogany neck, 12 frets clear of body, unbound rosewood fingerboard, dot inlay, squared off peghead painted black, inlaid perloid rectangle approx 1 1/2" x 5/8" with Trujo stenciled in black, small painted and carved leaf designs in upper corners of peghead, open back tuners with white buttons, natural finish.  Available 1929."  

Until recently I didn't know if the rosewood model B was actually produced and existed in wood, or never made it further than existing on paper.  I'm thrilled to say that I now have a model B to show, and more importantly, to play.

This example conforms to the description of the Trujo Style B in Gruhn and Carter: "L-2 size, spruce top with x pattern bracing, rosewood back and sides, triple bound top and back, bound soundhole with 3-ply ring, mahogany neck, 12 frets clear of body, bound rosewood fingerboard with black line on side of binding, dot inlay, standard Gibson peghead shape, black peghead with inlaid perloid rectangle approx 1 1/2" x 5/8" with Trujo stenciled in black, finely carved and painted designs in corners and down center of peghead, banjo tuners.  Available 1930."
The Trujo A has a shallow round 1 3/4" at the nut neck similar to the early Martin OM of the same period.  The Trujo B has a deeper V shaped neck of the same width.

While Gibsons are generally thought of as solidly built guitars, the Gibsons built around 1930, including the Gold Sparkle L-2, the Kel Kroydon, and those built for Trujo and S.S. Stewart, have some of the most delicate braces you'll ever see. I've often said, this first batch of Gibsons with the new larger 14 3/4" body, but still with 12 frets clear and an incredibly light build, are the sweet spot in Gibson construction for fingerpickers.

Gibson made very few guitars of rosewood, and most were of other varieties than Brazilian.  More importantly, the few small body rosewood guitars that Gibson built were as a rule built with a tailpiece, as on the tenor L-2 that follows and a small number of rosewood Nick Lucas Model guitars
, and not a pin bridge.  While some examples have been converted to a pin bridge, the location of the bridge plate and braces make the conversion less than entirely successful.  To find a lightly built 12 fret, pin bridge, 14 3/4" Gibson, such as the Trujo, with a Brazilian rosewood back and sides, is more than a dream come true!

My Trujo A and Kel Kroydon guitars each weigh about 2 5/8 lbs.

1930 Trujo A Guitar Serial Number 36 / FON 9804  

1931 Trujo B Guitar Serial Number 9731

1930 Trujo A Guitar Serial Number 36 / FON 9804


1931 Trujo B Guitar Serial Number 9731

1930 Trujo A Guitar with No Serial Number / FON 9512

This immaculate earlier example of a Trujo A combines features of the Trujo A and B above. 

This example appears to be either a prototype or at least a very early example to which changes were later made to further differentiate this model from the Style B.

The fretboard is bound with the binding seen on a Nick Lucas.  In place of the light mahogany finish of the Trujo A you will find the extremely dark back finish of the rosewood Trujo B.

The flat headstock of the Style A has the more intricate design of the Trujo B.

This Trujo A has a fingerboard bound in the manner of fingerboards on the Nick Lucas, the L-2, and other high end Gibsons of the period, with red dots placed precisely at the high side of the horizontal line dividing the sides of the fingerboard.

Gibson Kel Kroydon Guitar

A similar guitar to the Trujo was built as the Kel Kroydon, a house brand similar to Kalamazoo.

The Kel Kroydon is often seen with a design stenciled on the top.

The Kel Kroydon name, the origin of which is not known, was later used for wooden toys produced by Gibson during the war years.

FON 9496 and 9819

Gibson L-2 and L-2 Tenor Guitar


The Gibson L-2 changed several times in the transition from the 1920's to the 1930's, from small 13 1/2" to large 14 3/4" wide body, from 12 frets to 13, to 14, mahogany to rosewood and back, from pin bridge to trapeze tailpiece and back, from raised to large glued pickguard, and from natural top to Argentine Grey with Gold Sparkle border and back. 

While Gibson made relatively few rosewood guitars, it's long been assumed that those vintage rosewood Gibsons were built with Brazilian rosewood.  It's recently been discovered, however, that even rare and expensive rosewood Gibsons such as the Advanced Jumbo
built from 1935 on were built with Amazon or East Indian rosewood.
While most earlier small body rosewood Gibsons, such as the rosewood L-2 and Nick Lucas Special, were built with Brazilian rosewood, some transitional guitars were built with an Amazon or East Indian rosewood back and Brazilian rosewood sides.

While this 1931 and 1932 L-2 are each made from Brazilian Rosewood, this 1931 L-2 Tenor is a surprisingly early example to have the transitional mix of Amazon or possibly East Indian rosewood back with Brazilian rosewood sides.

Gibson 1931 L-2 FON 119

Gibson 1932 L-2 Guitar

After producing a mahogany back and sides L-2 with 12 frets and Argentine Grey Sunburst finish, Gibson returned to a beautiful Brazilian rosewood L-2 for a natural top 14 fret pin bridge version in 1932.


Gibson L-2 Tenor FON 595

Tenor guitars are typically tuned in fifths, usually CGDA, similar to the tenor banjo or the viola, and the same intervals as a mandolin or fiddle, but starting a fifth lower.


Gibson "Century" L-C Guitar

The Gibson L-C "Century" Model, with it's space age plastic "mother of toilet seat" fretboard, was built for the 1933 Century of Progress Exposition
in Chicago.

1934 Gibson Century FON 889




Gibson Jumbo Guitars

1940 J-100, 1940 Roy Smeck Stage Deluxe, 1934 Roy Smeck Radio Grande, 1940 J-55, 1939 Recording King Ray Whitely, 1939 Recording King Carson Robison Jumbo

1932 Gibson HG-20, HG-22, and HG 24
Hawaiian Guitars

While Gibsons had previously been made available with nut adjusters for Hawaiian playing, the first Gibson guitars intended specifically for playing in the Hawaiian style were the dual chambered HG-20, HG-22, and HG-24, unique feats of engineering with an inner baffle, in essence a second set of sides set 1 1/2" inside of the outer sides, attached to the top of the guitar, but ending one inch above the back of the guitar, creating the greater volume of a National or Dobro resonator guitar while breaking up unpleasant lower frequency overtones.  The HG has a 3 1/4" round soundhole in the normal position and four "F" holes, two smaller 3" "F" holes on the upper bout, and two larger 6 3/8" "F" holes on the lower bout, located above the outer chambers between the two sets of side walls.

The HG-24 was Gibson's first full size 16" Jumbo 14 fret Dreadnaught guitar, first appearing by 1932, well before the six string Gibson Jumbos and Martin's 14 fret Dreadnaughts, made with Brazilian rosewood back and sides, and selling for a huge $160 when a Martin OM-28 cost $85.  The HG-24 has
mahogany baffles, a sunburst top finish, three ply binding on the top and back, three-ply bound fingerboard with large pearloid block inlays, a pearl script Gibson logo and fleu-de-lis on the peghead, and clipped end Grover tuners with scalloped buttons. 

The HG-20 and 22 have a smaller 14 1/4" wide waisted Dreadnaught shaped body
with laminated backs and sides made from maple, with maple baffles, dot fingerboard inlays, and a white painted Gibson logo, the 22 with a lighter suburst finish with white single ply binding on the top and back, a tortoise Celluloid pickguard, and three on a nickel plate tuners with Ivoroid buttons, selling for $80, and the economy HG-20 with a dark brown top finish without sunburst, dark stained back and sides, white binding on the top only, and three on a brass plate tuners with black buttons, selling for $45.50.  While the HG-20 and 22 have raised fingerboard extensions, the HG-24 does not.  I've also seen the HG-20 with a plain white pickguard.  The 20 and 22 sometimes have backs and sides made from local Northern Michigan beech.

Unlike later Gibson Hawaiians, these guitars have rather narrow necks, with a 
1 5/8" nut on the HG-22 and HG-24, a 1 3/4" nut on the HG-20, and standard frets.  

While sometimes said to date from 1929, the first mention in Gibson records is in late 1931 and the first FON that I know of is from 1932.

This set of guitars illustrates the progression of Gibson logos, from slanted to straight "The Gibson" logos briefly in the late 1920's, to white silkscreened "Gibson" script logos on the lower end models in the late 1920's, while the higher end models did not transition to "Gibson" until 1933 or 1934.

1932 HG-20 FON 302, HG-22 FON 283, and HG-24 with no number.

Gibson Hawaiian Roy Smeck Radio Grande and Stage Deluxe Guitars

 The early Gibson Hawaiian HG guitars were followed by the Roy Smeck, a Jumbo 12 fret guitar built for Hawaiian Style playing in a rosewood version called the Radio Grande, and a mahogany version called the Stage Deluxe.  These were Gibson's first high strung Hawaiian guitars, with round but large necks, high nuts and straight saddles, and flush Ivoroid fret markers in the place of frets.

1940 Roy Smeck Stage Deluxe #FG2804, 1940 Recording King Roy Smeck Lap Steel #FWE727, 1934 Roy Smeck Radio Grande #888

This first year of production Radio Grande, built in 1934, is one of the small handful of Jumbo Gibsons built with Brazilian rosewood, before Gibson made the change to Amazon rosewood the following year.  
This example has been converted for Spanish style playing.  With it's huge 12 fret body, it is thunderously loud.  The neck is round, not square, but with a pronounced "V" shape, and quite large at 2 1/4" wide. 

1940 Roy Smeck Stage Deluxe

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4 lbs. 1.8 oz.

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  FON 888



Opinions of the Radio Grande will vary. Some may not prefer the sound as a non-Hawaiian. Some are philosophically against converting the guitars for non-Hawaiian standard style playing, and I can understand that. Some will find the huge neck impossible to play as is. Preferences vary with any guitar. That's why God invented Gibsons and Martins, and even Taylors, and many models of each. Some want one of each, and some have a clear preference for only one.

Some say it's wrong to convert a Hawaiian when you can buy a guitar that was intended to do what you want it to do.  Gibson didn't make many rosewood guitars, and the large ones are expensive. An original Advanced Jumbo, even with it's East Indian Rosewood, can cost $60,000 and much, much more.  
Personally I find my converted RG to be an astounding guitar that cannot be matched by any other guitar at any price.  This example is one of the few made in the first year of production, the one year they were made of Brazilian rosewood.

The Radio Grande is a huge 12 fret dreadnaught with a huge sound. The price of a vintage Martin 12 fret Dreadnaught is astronomical, and the volume of the 12 fret Dreadnaught is huge. I'd say the volume of the Radio Grande is infinitely more. Besides being a boomer, I also find the sound quality to be wonderful. Some think it is great with a flat pick for old time/bluegrass jams. I love mine as a fingerpicking guitar. I'd say it's much smoother than other of the more boomy Gibson Jumbos, which have a tendency to be
rough sounding.

Personally, I don't mind the neck as is, and wouldn't choose to alter or replace it for size and/or shape.  While some conversions are involved and expensive, without re-shaping the neck the Roy Smeck conversions seem to be minimally invasive, and rather easily reversible. The neck angle is not bad as is. The flush fret markers are made of Ivoroid, not of fret wire as they are on Martins.  It can be a bear to remove frets that are both metal and flush with the fingerboard.

Simply put, I don't think the sound of the Roy Smeck Radio Grande can be matched by any other guitar, but is probably most closely matched by a vintage 12 fret Dreadnaught Martin. I haven't played a bunch of the Radio Grandes to compare, but would guess they are fairly consistent.  I've played converted Stage Deluxe examples against each other, and found them to have vastly different sounds.

Smeck Style "Deluxe Flattop" Guitar

1940 Roy Smeck Stage Deluxe #FG2804,  Roy Smeck Radio Grande Style "Deluxe Flattop" #2544 with 1 3/4" Spanish style neck, 1934 Roy Smeck Radio Grande #888

The "Flattop Special" shown above is a one of a kind Gibson Made with a rosewood Radio Grande Style body and an original V shaped 1 3/4" wide non Hawaiian style neck.  While Radio Grandes are often converted to Spanish style guitars with new thinner Spanish style necks, it's clear that this neck is original, and this is not a conventional Radio Grande body.  Not the unusually long 22 fret neck, and the lower placement of the soundhole, near the center of the top.  The bridge, with compensated saddle, is finished over and original.

#2544 is listed in the Spann reference at the end of 1933 as a "Deluxe Flattop", immediately before the first "S-2" listings for the Radio Grande, potentially making this guitar a prototype.  The original tuners are the Wavery clipped end style tuners of the type commonly used by Martin in 1933.  Other features point to a later guitar, so the mystery continues.

 1934 Jumbo Gibson Guitar

In 1934, Gibson began to produce standard six string guitars with a 14 fret round shouldered Dreadnaught size body similar to the HG-24 and the 12 fret Roy Smeck Hawaiian Guitars.  The first of these was known as the Jumbo.  After a transitional model known as the Trojan, the standard round shouldered Dreadnaught was known as the Jumbo 35 from 1936 to 1942, sometimes referred to as the Gibson J-35 guitar.  This was produced with a sunburst top finish, with a natural top optional starting in 1939.  From 1942 to 1982, Gibson made two distinct versions, a sunburst J-45, and a natural top J-50.

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16" Round Shoulder Dreadnaught body

The scale length is 24 3/4".

Inlaid abalone pearl "Gibson" logo on the headstock.

Large "Firestripe" Celluloid tortoise pickguard
Small rectangular bridge with no dots or bolts

Dot inlays

The peghead tapers from 17/32" to 23/32"

The nut is 1 3/4"

Three slightly scalloped tone bars

Three on a plate Kluson tuners with plastic buttons

Small neck heel

Red spruce "Adirondack" top with small light center

The depth of 4 1/8" at the neck, and 4 1/2" at the lower bout
Sunburst mahogany back and sides

Sunburst neck and heel

3 lbs. 13.2 oz.

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1934 Gibson Jumbo

FON 1101

With binding on the top and back, the original Jumbo had a notably small area of sunburst on the front and sunburst on the back...

as well as sunburst sides...

 "No taper" is a common generalization used to describe the depth of Jumbos and Smecks, when the taper is minor but not nonexistent. The depth is 4 1/8" at the neck, and 4 1/2" at the lower bout. Other examples are said to be 4 5/8" at the lower bout.

and even the neck and heel
are sunburst...

The scale length is 24 3/4".

The peghead tapers from 17/32" to 23/32"

The nut is 1 3/4"

While the Jumbo 35 had a white silkscreened script logo, the early Jumbo has an inlaid abalone pearl "Gibson" logo on the headstock.

The Jumbo has three slightly scalloped tone bars.

As for the sound:
I was expecting a boomy and somewhat rough and loose sounding guitar, but the sound is tight, precise, and clean, while not harsh.  Every string rings loud and clear. I've never played another guitar that cuts through the mix like this one, and I've only put light gauge strings on it so far. It arrived with a new set of flat wounds.

Fantastic for fingerpicking, as well as flat picking.

These are said to have butterbean G-98 tuners, but my '34 Radio Grande FON 888 has clipped end tuners, as does my c. 1930 HG-24 with no FON. My '37 Stage Deluxe has beautiful G-98 tuners with cream plastic buttons. I would assume early enough Jumbos would have to have clipped end Grovers.

1939 Gibson Recording King Ray Whitley #1027 Rosewood Guitar

The rosewood Gibson Recording King Ray Whitley Guitar is a version of the rosewood Gibson Adanced Jumbo Guitar that was manufactured for the Montgomery Ward Stores.  Besides the cosmetics, including a fancy inlay pattern on the fingerboard that's one of the most distinctive of all patterns seen on a Gibson Guitar, the primary difference is the standard long scale, as opposed to the extra long 25 1/2" scale seen on the Advanced Jumbo, and the lack of a truss rod, as with all Recording King Guitars.

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16" Round Shoulder Dreadnaught body

Standard long 24 3/4" scale
Straight, wide grained, red spruce "Adirondack" top with Sunburst finish

ancy peghead

Special engraved vine and leaf decoration in the Celluloid pickguard

Beveled three point bridge

Bound soundhole

ancy inlay pattern on the fingerboard

No truss rod

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The Whitley was produced for one year, from Spring 1939 to Spring 1940.

The Ray Whitley was produced with the beveled three point bridge also seen on the early J-55.

1940 Gibson J-55 Guitar

This first version of the Gibson J-55, introduced in 1939,  is one of Gibson's most distinctive guitars, with the beautiful "stairstep" headstock, mustache bridge, and long scale, only seen for a short time, until the beveled edge three point bridge, standard peghead, and short scale were introduced in 1941.

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16" Round Shoulder Dreadnaught body

Standard long 25 1/2" scale
Straight, wide grained, red spruce "Adirondack" top with Sunburst finish

Fancy Stairstep peghead

Pearl straight "Gibson" logo

Special long firestripe Celluloid pickguard

Mustache bridge with standard saddle

Bound fingerboard with dots
Adjustable truss rod

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 The J-55 was discontinued in 1943.

1940 Gibson Carson Robison Recording King #1052 Model K Jumbo Guitar

Produced from Fall 1939 to Fall 1940, the Gibson Recording King 16 1/4" Jumbo was the first flat top Gibson to utilize the same popular size and shape body which was ubiquitous on archtop Gibsons such as the L-5.

 The Gibson J-185, produced in the 1950's, is the only postwar flat top Gibson to be produced with the same shape and size body as the archtop L-5, which is also the same shape body used by Orville Gibson for his first guitars built at the turn of the century.  

No number  

The Gibson Recording King Jumbo Carson Robison Model K, 1898 Orville Gibson archtop, 1924 "Lloyd Loar" L-5.



Surprisingly enough, the only other Gibson using this popular body shape was the somewhat uncommon Gibson J-185 which was produced in the 1950's. 

The Robison is considerably thinner than the J-185.

My Robison measures 3 7/16" thick at the neck and 3 29/32" thick at the end pin.

My J-185 measures 3 3/4" and 4 3/4".

That's a difference of 5/16" and 27/32" in depth.

In other words, the J-185 is almost 7/8" thicker than the Robison at the end pin.

Here you can see a Recording King Jumbo with a J-185:



1942 Gibson Opaque Blonde Jumbo 35 Guitar

Following the "Jumbo" in 1934 and the short lived
"Trojan" variation, the Jumbo 35 was introduced in late 1936 and continued with little change until 1943.

The Jumbo 35 was produced both with two scalloped tone bars and three unscalloped tone bars.

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16" Round Shoulder Dreadnaught body

24 3/4" Scale

Straight, wide grained, red spruce "Adirondack" top.

Sunburst finish, natural finish optional.
Attractive book matched mahogany back and sides.

Large "Firestripe" Celluloid tortoise pickguard.

Silkscreen logo.

Small rectangular bridge with pearl dots outside of bridge pins, dots within pins by late 1930's.

Dot inlays.

Two scalloped tone bars.

Three on a plate Kluson tuners with plastic buttons.

Wide neck heel.

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In 1942, Gibson made a couple of batches of the Jumbo 35 with a unique opaque blonde finish, similar to what Gibson would later use on some archtops and the Les Paul Special, and Fender would later use on the "butterscotch" blonde Telecaster and Esquire.

This rare opaque Jumbo 35 just arrived with a finish covered with the signs of years of use, which I have just started to clean off.

FON 432H-20

Gibson 1944 Rosewood "Banner" Southerner Jumbo

The Gibson Southerner Jumbo, or "SJ", was a fancier version of the sunburst J-45, produced from 1944 to 1978.

he very first batch, with FON 910,
was made with backs and sides of the same type of rosewood used for the Advanced Jumbo, after which most were made with mahogany backs and sides, with a few maple examples.

Some people consider the rosewood SJ to be the best sounding large body Gibson, comparing favorably to the Pre-war "Herringbone" Martin D-28.

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16 1/8" Wide Round Shoulder Dreadnaught body

24 3/4" Scale

Straight, wide grained, red spruce "Adirondack" top with Sunburst finish

Attractive book matched rosewood back and sides
Teardrop Celluloid tortoise pickguard

Gold Silkscreen logo

"Only a Gibson is Good Enough" Banner on Peghead

Small rectangular bridge with pearl dots outside of bridge pins

Large Double Parallelogram inlays

Wartime Kluson tuners with plastic buttons

Wide neck heel

Two scalloped tone bars

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 FON 910-29

The SJ was made during the war, when Gibson Guitars had a banner on the headstock with the slogan "Only a Gibson is Good Enough", leading these to be known as "Banner Gibsons".   These guitars were built by a workforce made up entirely of women, while the men were off to war.

The SJ had a fancy parallelogram pattern on the fingerboard, and more layers of binding on the body.

Gibson c. 1947 J-50

The round shouldered 16" Dreadnaught Gibson J-35 and J-35N were followed by the similar sunburst J-45 and the natural top J-50, both introduced in 1942.


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16" Round Shoulder Dreadnaught body

24 3/4" Scale

Straight, wide grained, red spruce "Adirondack" natural top

Attractive book matched mahogany back and sides

 Small Celluloid tortoise teardrop pickguard

Small rectangular bridge with pearl dots

Gold Gibson Logo

Two scalloped tone bars

Three on a plate Kluson tuners

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While post war Martins had moved to Sitka spruce tops and lost their scalloped braces, the post war Gibsons retained their straight, wide grained red spruce "Adirondack" tops and scalloped braces.

While later Gibsons moved to larger and often klunky bridges, the postwar Gibson retained the small, rectangular bridge until roughly 1948.

This guitar has the number "2" stamped on the back of the headstock to indicate that it was a "second", however, like most examples, it exhibits no issues that show compromise.

Many of the 1946-1947 J-50 with small rectangular bridges have no serial number or FON. 

FON 4048-29

The "modernized" gold script logo with a tail on the "G" and "N" first appeared in early 1947.

The dot of the "i" was connected to the "G" until 1951.

c. 1947 J-50 with no serial number or FON

Gibson J-185 Guitar, 1953

 The Gibson J-185, produced in the 1950's, beginning in 1951, is the only postwar flat top Gibson to be produced with the same size and shape body as the archtop L-5, which is the same shape body used by Orville Gibson for his first guitars built at the turn of the century.  The only pre-war use of this body was for the Carson Robison model K built for Montgomery Wards.  The braces changed in 1954 or 1955.


1939 Montgomery Wards Recording King Carson Robison Model K, 1898 Orville Gibson archtop, 1953 Gibson J-185.




Rosewood Gibson Guitars

While all early Martin guitars with few exceptions were made with Brazilian rosewood backs and sides, and all of the higher quality 20th century Martins have been made with rosewood, Gibson made surprisingly few guitars with rosewood.  While Martin used Brazilian rosewood until switching to East Indian Rosewood in the late 1960's, Gibson continued using Brazilian rosewood only through 1934.

Gibson used rosewood on several of the higher end models, such as the Nick Lucas and L-2, for only brief periods of time.  Other rosewood models, such as the HG-24, Roy Smeck Radio Grande, Advanced Jumbo, Ray Whitely Recording King, and Trujo Model B, were short lived and made in relatively small quantities.  It has been speculated that the Gibson Banner SJ used rosewood for a brief period only because the rosewood Advanced Jumbo was discontinued and the wood was left over. 

The early Hawaiian Dreadnaught HG-24 used Brazilian rosewood, and the Radio Grande used Brazilian rosewood in it's first year of production only.  While the rare Trujo Style B used Brazilian rosewood, some transitional examples, such as the L-2 Tenor, mixed different varieties of rosewood on the backs and sides of a single guitar.

Most small body rosewood Gibsons were made with a trapeze tailpiece, making original pin bridge small body rosewood Gibsons suitable for fingerpicking extremely rare.

The pre-war Super Jumbo 200, Advanced Jumbo,
Ray Whitley, and Banner SJ were first thought to be made of Brazilian Rosewood.  Since it was first realized that these guitars were not made from Brazilian, it has been variously speculated that these guitars were made with East Indian Rosewood, or perhaps another variety of Amazon rosewood.  While the wood has been tested, the results are still in question, and perhaps more than one variety of non-Brazilian rosewood has been used.

After years of thumbing our noses at EIR Martins, learning that the highly coveted Gibson Advanced Jumbo may in fact be East Indian Rosewood has taught us that we may have judged too soon.

I am extremely proud to have a collection with such beautiful and nearly impossible to find rosewood Gibsons, such as the Trujo B.  It has made me realize,
however, that Gibson, with it's bright, percussive sound, does mahogany extremely well, and guitars like the mahogany Trujo A are certainly no compromise in any way whatsoever.

The photos below show a small selection of rosewood Gibsons.

Gibson HG-24, Trujo Model B, L-2 tenor, Radio Grande style "flatop special" with 1 3/4" neck, Roy Smeck Radio Grande, and Ray Whitley Recording King.

Since these photos were taken, I've added a six string rosewood L-2 and a rosewood Banner SJ to the collection.

Model Codes

Many of the instruments made by Gibson for sale by specific dealers have model designations which include initials which relate to those dealers.  These code "designations" are different from model "names" such as "Model A" or "Model K".

Some of the model code designations are:

"K" for Kalamazoo

"FDH" for Francis, Day & Hunter

"G" for Cromwell, a Gibson brand sold through a number of distributors

"J" for Capital distributor J.W. Jenkins

"KK" for Kel Kroydon

"M" for Montgomery Wards.

"ME" for Mastertone Electrics

"CW" for Henry L. Mason distributor Coast Wholesale

"N" for Nouveau.

"S" for Old Kraftsman, a subsidiary of Spiegel


If you would like to buy a nice Martin or Gibson Guitar...

I love these, but I really need to make some room for new ones.

Acoustic Instruments for Sale

Electric Instruments for Sale

I am not in the business of buying and selling guitars, but am interested in purchasing specific unique instruments to round out my collection to present you with a web site with as complete a picture as possible to help you learn.  I am interested in substantially original examples made from the 1800's to 1960's by Stauffer, Panormo, Schmidt & Maul, C. F. Martin, Martin & Coupa, Martin & Schatz, Martin & Bruno, Martin & Zoebisch, John Coupa, Oliver Ditson, Southern California Music, John Wanamaker, Wm. J. Smith, Wurlitzer, S.S. Stewart, Orville Gibson, the Gibson Company, and the Larson brothers.  I am not hunting for bargains, but seeking quality intstruments at a price that is fair to the buyer and seller alike.

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