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1968 L4-CES - real or fake?


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I am selling this guitar for my late brother in law's estate. I don't know much about Gibson electrics. I am having trouble identifying this guitar as it has a label that says it is a L4-CES, but the tailpiece and fingerboard inlays don't look like typical L4's of this age.  Also, the label looks pretty new for a 50 year old guitar. Any ideas? 


2019-07-21 17.10.44.jpg

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Mwaidelich, I hope you're still here.  Having been a member here for a long time, I have a great deal of respect for jdgm, but I'm not so sure about his take on this one.  At first glance, there are things that seem puzzling (as mentioned), but I'm seeing too much that looks "right" for me to conclude that this couldn't be a genuine Gibson L4.

The first thing we need to consider is that although the L4CES eventually became a standardized model in later decades, it was not a regular production model back in Gibson's golden era (prior to 1970).  In A.R. Duchossoir's "Gibson Electrics", the "model" is listed as sort of a footnote and the end of the section covering the ES-175 and ES-295 models, which of course have similar construction features.  No production totals are available for electric L4's from that period, but it's safe to assume that they're pretty uncommon if not rare.  Also, it's notable that as a non-standard model, the electric L4's that do exist tend to have been custom orders, sometimes with appointments from other models.  In this case, L5-style fretboard inlays and an ES-175-style tailpiece.  The fact that the f-holes are bound is also curious, but not necessarily a red flag for me.  I've seen this done before on custom guitars.

The thing that stands out most here is the 22-fret neck, and the resulting short-scale appearance (like a Byrdland), with the neck pickup being positioned closer to the bridge pickup than would be standard on a full-scale example of an L4.  To me, with so many other things looking right, I get the impression that this guitar was either a custom order or an aftermarket customization.  This could be an explanation for the odd shape of the headstock.

With regard to what looks "right"... I'm struck by first by the placement of the vol/tone knobs.  The asymmetry that was created by Gibson's placement of the volume knob for the neck pickup (slightly inset toward the bridge) is a subtle thing that I would rarely expect to see on a faked Gibson.  A lot of Gibson aficionados even seem to overlook this.  The fact that this guitar's top looks like a legit spruce grain is another thing that a faker might not have used.  The tailpiece looks like a legit vintage Gibson part, and even if it's not "correct" for an L4, again, it wasn't a regular production model.  An ES-175 zigzag tailpiece (which some people seemed to love), used on a "sister" model certainly lends an air of credibility for me.  Would a faker have even thought of something like this?  I doubt it.  The whole body of this guitar (including all of the parts, with the possible exception of the pickguard) basically looks legit to me.  The body shape, and the cutaway both pass the eye test for me, and these things are not easy to fake.  The pickguard would have needed to be somewhat custom anyway, due to the location of the neck pickup and the need to cut the guard out in custom fashion, so I'm not going to take a lot of points off for it not being an authentic Gibson part.  Overall, this guitar just strikes me as more likely being a custom (or modified) Gibson than a fake.  It almost seems too sophisticated to be a fake.

So... I'm just offering these thoughts for whatever they might be worth.  I admit that I could just be grasping at straws here.  It's not easy to examine this based on one photo.  If I were you, I would try to take the guitar to a really knowledgeable person for an in-hand inspection, or send photos to a dealer who has expertise with vintage Gibson archtops.

In conclusion, I would just add that I can't help but be curious about your brother in law, Mwaidelich.  If this was actually a custom order, and if he was the person who ordered it, he must have been a pretty advanced guitar enthusiast.  Did he own other guitars?  Other Gibsons?  Other archtops?  If he had friends or fellow musicians who might still be able to be contacted, this might help to clear things up.


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Here are a couple more pics. They are low res as there seem to be restrictions on image file sizes. The fret board has been worked on and I don't know if it is original or not. My brother-in-law was a fingerstyle played and had all of his necks either widened to 1 13/16" or replaced. This one, with the doubled up binding, was probably just widened. The guitar was most likely re-finished at some point. There isn't much sign of wear.. The finish has little cracking but lots of thin raised lines. You can see this on the headstock photo. This guitar also came with one pickup and the bridge which were replaced at some point. Even if it is fake someone upgraded it at some point.

headstock small.jpg

label small.jpg

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Interesting.  I exchanged messages with the OP, and sure enough, the owner was someone with a lot of guitars and a lot of experience with them.  He apparently was quite particular about neck sizes, and as already mentioned above, he wasn't shy about modifications.  In this case, I would say that I've seen far worse in terms of aesthetic results.  

By the way, and just as a footnote to all of this, I don't see anything to make me think that this guitar was necessarily refinished.  Looks like a nice original 1968 Gibson sunburst finish.  The "lines" in the surface of the finish are very common on vintage guitars (we refer to this as finish "checking").

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21 hours ago, Mwaidelich said:

The fret board has been worked on and I don't know if it is original or not. My brother-in-law was a fingerstyle player and had all of his necks either widened to 1 13/16" or replaced.

Ah ok. That would explain the neck, inlays and frets then.

 I'm still a little doubtful looking at the headstock, but - if the neck was replaced....and I must bow to JimR56 who has far more expertise than I do.

Best wishes.

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  • 1 year later...

Folks, my father in law left me one of his guitars. He has had it since 1962.

I believe it to be a1959 L4-CES with a Charlie Christian pickup. All original, in original case. Only the tuning keys have been replaced (they had turned to powder!).

 I’m trying to estimate its value. Can you guys help?








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Paging  @JimR56   [cool]

The thing on the headstock is an original George Van Eps string damper with the damper bar missing.  You might consider removing it and selling it separately because even as it is, someone will pay you good money just for that.  Rare and highly sought after.



Have a look at https://www.archtop.com/ for some idea of resale value.

Best wishes!

Edited by jdgm
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Thanks for the info. I have the cross bar for the damper but the felt disappeared just in the last couple of years.

I don’t want to remove anything, it would feel sacrilegious to my father-in-law’s memory.

 Thanks also for the link to arch top. I’ll see what they have to say.

 Have a great holiday season.


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1 hour ago, rschleicher said:

Is the mis-alignment of the strings to the fretboard simply a matter of the (floating) bridge needing to be slid over a bit to the low-E side?  Or is there something off in the tail-piece position?  Very pretty guitar!

Yes I thought so too, see 2nd pic.  TP is fine, bridge is out very slightly.

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 12/20/2022 at 11:46 AM, jdgm said:

Paging  @JimR56   [cool]

Well, I'm a little late.  😉

Wow, VERY nice guitar.  These are quite rare, and were only in production for a short time.  The value of something like this is pretty subjective, since they rarely come up for sale.  The way my mind has always worked, I think this should be worth more than a similar standard production model of the same period such as a 1959 L4C acoustic, or an ES-175 with P-90's (the paf models are going to be boosted in value by those pickups).   If it were mine, and I wanted to sell it, I would probably start it at $15K, and I wouldn't take less than $10K (I probably wouldn't take less than $12K, really).  "Find another one!"

As a side-note, about 25 to 30 years ago, when I was hunting for a vintage Gibson with a CC pickup, I found one of these L4CES's (also a sunburst) listed for sale through a private seller.  He sent me photos, and... the guitar was photographed on a rug very much like the one in the photos above.  Coincidence?  Maybe.  Anyway, the price was a bit high for me at the time, and then I think the seller decided to keep it.  But in 45 years of vintage guitar enthusiasm, I've only seen a handful of these ever come up for sale (most were sunburst, but I did see one or two blonde examples).

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