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Let's talk small-bodied Gibsons


theflyingturtle

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So, finally, I have the time, money, interest, and a bad right shoulder that won't be getting any better. I am ready to stock up on small guitars. I am enter the post-dreadnought phase of my life or, in other words, I am getting old... As a singer I am really looking for an all around guitar with a lot of tone, charm, and vintage goodness. At the top of my list is a LG-2 and a Martin 0-17. The Gibson is meant to replaced my beloved J-45 when I sit on my couch or my shoulder can't take playing a dread and I find the Martin magical and charming. So right now I am on the hunt but I did want to check in with you fine people as I attempt to jump into the pool. BTW- the LG I am looking for is intended to be the guitar of my dreams, the sound in my head, the one that raises the hairs on the back of my neck. Hopefully my bank account can withstand my tastes. Here are my questions:

 

1. Are there any other standout small-bodied, vintage guitar models that I should try out before pulling the trigger? The lower bout can't be wider than an LG-2. My shoulder makes "crunchy" sounds when I try to rotate it.

 

2. What eras are generally considered good for LG-2s? Early 50's and Banners?

 

3. Vintage guitars seem to be priced according to several factors: age, condition, tone, play-ability, and historical value. For those that have gone through the process, what proved to be the most important to you over time? After all the dust cleared, what do you think you got right, wrong, and what really mattered in the end?

 

Lastly, I do not like V shaped necks.

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Hard to find any guitar that is not the instrument of your dreams when you first lay out your hard earned scratch for it. There are plenty of small body Gibsons RIs floating around in addition to the LG-2 - the Nick Lucas, L-00 and so on and so on. The guitar that I will always see as the one that got away was a Banner LG-1 RI released around 2013 with the mahogany top and X bracing.

 

As far as vintage LG 2/3s I will always be a fan of those built between 1942 and 1949. They will vary in sound and feel though more than those that came after when Gibson re-organized and retooled. If you have little or no experience with "vintage" guitars I would recommend you snag somebody who does and who can spot modifications and condition issues.

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For the record, I have the same shoulder issues (age 70) you seem to have, and do stretching and muscle-building exercises to stabilize the joint and maintain range of motion. In the year I have been doing those exercises, my should has gotten dramatically better, but still "crunches" when I stretch it

 

If you don't like V-shaped necks, L-series guitars (L-OO) would be out. I don't know if early LG-2's (banner era) retained that previous V-neck, or started out with the very full C shape we associate with banner era guitars.

 

The finest Gibson neck shapes I have owned and played have been from the late 1940's to pre-1955. They tend to be a full C shape, but not a baseball bat like some banner-era necks.

 

I would choose either an LG-2 or LG-3 from that period. They are the same except that the LG-3 has a natural top rather than sunburst LG-2. Both have X-braced tops, unlike the ladder-braced LG-1.

 

These smaller bodies will not have the same bass, sustain, and volume of a J-45 from the same period, but they can be very good guitars.

 

Condition will drive your choice in the vintage market, and you will need a full inspection by someone qualified if you don't feel comfortable with your own knowledge.

 

A bad set-up can make what could be a very good guitar play poorly and sound dull. You will definitely need to bring your inspection skills with you. The best advice I could give would be not to jump on the first one you find. There are plenty of 1946-1954 LG-2/3's out there. LG-2's are much more common, and the only difference is the top finish.

 

The neck profile starts to get a bit thinner in the late 1950's, and by around 1960 or so, can sometimes feel quite a bit smaller. If you have any arthritis in your hands, the thinner neck may be better or worse, so try a lot to see which suits you best.

 

If you have any experience with vintage J-45's, look at the same potential issues in an LG.

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First of all, my condolences regarding your shoulder problems and kudos to you for a positive attitude and a plan to continue playing the guitar👍 LG Gibsons are a joy to own and play, but won't deliver the 'power' of the J-45 or J-50. Once you come to terms with that, the search becomes easier and - hopefully - more productive. They offer variations in tone and volume (all are more subdued than their larger siblings) not unlike what you'd expect from one 45/50 to the next. Personally, I wouldn't automatically rule out LG-1 models from the early 1950's, as I've owned/played some that were amazing. Neck profiles will vary among examples within the same era and from different eras as well, but I have yet to encounter a V-neck LG. Also, don't overlook the Gibson-made Epiphone FT-45 Cortez model. It's an LG-2. The very first ones were made with a V-style neck (original Epi parts), but they're not too common. In my experience, the necks of many banner/later 1940's LG-2 guitars will need a neck reset or be close to it. Hope you have a good time searching and great success finding the right guitar(s)!!

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Since the Gibsons are covered and you like the little mahogany Martin, don't forget the other 0 and 00 Martins. I also love my 60's Guild F20, a small spruce flat top (14" lower bout) built sturdy like the LG2 but much more affordable. Guild has begun re-booting this line in California, so you may be able to find a dealer to get the feel of a new one. The tone is bright and rich, comparing to the LG and Martin. I had to abandon the dreads for similar reasons and like to have both a spruce and mahog. I find my '62 Martin 00018 is still comfortable at 15" wide. My mahog is a 30's L0 and has nice percussive tendencies. The Martin is softer and has chime-like tone. My L00 is feather-light and easy on the shoulder. I predominantly flat pick but have heard good finger style players rip it on my little guitars.

 

As a side, I dumped both 50's era LG2's I owned for too little 'thump' from the low E. My B25 also had that problem, being the design that replaced the LG2. Perhaps the sturdy build reduced bass response, which isn't a problem for the lighter build L00 and 0's that Martin builds. The L00 does everything an LG2 does, but with the additional benefit of a wider nut and the ability to approach that bell-like Martin tone. It's very responsive to string experimentation too, which I feel is a plus.

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Since the Gibsons are covered and you like the little mahogany Martin, don't forget the other 0 and 00 Martins. I also love my 60's Guild F20, a small spruce flat top (14" lower bout) built sturdy like the LG2 but much more affordable. Guild has begun re-booting this line in California, so you may be able to find a dealer to get the feel of a new one. The tone is bright and rich, comparing to the LG and Martin. I had to abandon the dreads for similar reasons and like to have both a spruce and mahog. I find my '62 Martin 00018 is still comfortable at 15" wide. My mahog is a 30's L0 and has nice percussive tendencies. The Martin is softer and has chime-like tone. My L00 is feather-light and easy on the shoulder. I predominantly flat pick but have heard good finger style players rip it on my little guitars.

Martins are another avenue for sure. If I recall correctly, Martin 000's aren't quite as deep-bodied as Gibson LG models and that might allow for more comfort with a wider bout. Hadn't considered hog top models (not much affinity - my bad), but that might be a good idea. The smaller Guild guitars are splendid, though I've not played any of the more recent ones. Actually, there are lots of nice smaller guitars available currently - 😒

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Note that while an LG2 isvnarrower than a J45 (14.45" to 16"), it is nearly as deep (4.5 to 4.75). The deep body (4.75) blues king I had was almost as trying as a slope. Try before you buy. Fwiw Martin 00s. 000/OMs and Ms are all 4.25 deep.

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My suggestion is to first try the Epiphone EL-00 Pro and play that for a considerable period of time and see how you actually bond with a small bodied guitar. Maybe have a real bone saddle made for it instead of the artificial bone saddle that comes with it. They run around $325 or so and are quite good little guitars. Solid top. Lam sides and back, just fine for a small bodied guitar. I think you will like it and then have a much better vantage point on buying or not buying a LG1 or LG2 or one of the Martin small bodied guitars at about 3-5 times the price. I place my Epi EL-00 Pro as one of the most fun and playable guitars I have in my collection of 39 instruments including many Gibsons. It amps quite well too. Is it as rich sounding as a small Martin CEO or a LG1 or LG2 or a Gibson 00 or Marin OO? No. But these are all small bodied guitars and in a different league than jumbos or dreadnaughts. I suggest buying the inexpensive Epi EL-00 Pro first and then deciding what if anything should be next. Your shoulder may also heal some by playing the inexpensive small body guitar awhile enabling you to periodically play a larger guitar. Maybe.

 

Just my 2 cents.

 

QM aka Jazzman Jeff

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QM makes a very good point. I LOVE my EL-00 (mine is a very early L1 shaped one from before they switched to the L-00 shape) and it would be an inexpensive way to try a parlour for a while to see how you dig the very individual vibe small guits put out.

 

I'd definitely go with Jed's enthusiasm for the Guild F20, one of the best guitars I ever owned.

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I agree with most of the comments above.

 

I'm only a couple years behind you and although I haven't had the shoulder problems, I was allowing the arthritis in my fingers limit my neck shape preference. I started exercising them daily and now they are not an issue. Baseball bat or super thin shape, they're all okay. Maybe play an SJ200 until it hurts, then pick up the J-45 ;) Sounds like a good excuse to get a SJ200 !

 

Another option to consider is the CJ165. It has a 15" lower bout. The more rounded bottom may help.

 

Here's a CJ-165 RW next to one of the LG-2 RI mahogany back, sides and top replica of John Thomas's guitar for comparison.

 

FEBC0F6D-F899-4B4D-B2A9-FAF33162A547_zps6zntxwpl.jpg

 

I have a few small bodied Gibson's and while they all sound good, they are not as powerful as a J-45 as mentioned above. The only exception I have found is a Nick Lucas RW but with the deeper body it feels like you're wrapping your arm around a J-45.

 

Another consideration is since you're planning on keeping the guitar, find one you really like as far as sound then have the neck carved down to your preference. Not that expensive of a modification.

 

Good Luck with the hunt!

 

Dave

 

 

 

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The reissue of JT's LG-1 is the one that I was talking about that I let slip through my fingers.

The one I have was JT's. He had to buy one to compare to his original ( he made a video of the comparison ) then sold it to me.

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Note that while an LG2 isvnarrower than a J45 (14.45" to 16"), it is nearly as deep (4.5 to 4.75). The deep body (4.75) blues king I had was almost as trying as a slope. Try before you buy. Fwiw Martin 00s. 000/OMs and Ms are all 4.25 deep.

 

 

I never got why folks describe the LG-2 as a "mini" J-45. Very different voices. I like the the older Blues Kings with the deep body and long scale far better the the later ones which had a very shallow body. They remind me of my early 1930s 00 size Kay Kraft-built Oahu with the long scale and 4 5/8" deep body (albeit it maple).

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There's a lot of wisdom in the notion of buying a newer, less expensive small body Gibson until you're sure the dimensions will work for you. If all goes well, you'll have a 'beater' when you don't want to put a vintage instrument at risk

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I only clicked to check out his nails. It's always surprising to see guitar players with divot-makers on their fretting hand. Eventually, the guitar frets sharp.

 

The tone of that old LG-2 comes through, even if it was recorded in the RV. Can you close your eyes and imagine that sound coming out of a new one?

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Also consider a Montana Arlo Guthrie Model:

 

 

 

 

JC

The 'Arlo' model is, of course, the LG-2 3/4 resurrected from days of yore. They're small, fun to play, and vintage pieces are available if you watch for them.

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