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Differences...


DPhillips

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I'm new, or not even that, to the hollowbody electrics...

 

Can someone explain the sonic differences between the Citation, LeGrande, the Wes Montgomery, Byrdland, L5 CES, etc...

 

I realize some are single pickup while others are duals, but from the descriptions, I'm not sure what the differences are, say between the Citation and the LeGrande, other than cosmetic appointments and about $10K in price.

 

No, in Alaska, we don't any of these in our shops, so I have no direct access to the different models.

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I can understand the body size, accourtemnets, etc., having a difference in sound and tone. The Wes Montgomery, L5 CES, and Le Grande are all similarily priced (well, at least when you get those numbers, anyway), then there is a monster jump to the Citation... Is the Citation vs. the Le Grande similar in scope to the LP Studio vs the LP Custom? The jump from those or, say, a

SST to the J200 isn't as drastic...

 

I really hope I'm not coming off argumentative, I just don't understand. The guitars I first referenced would all be considered elite instruments. I don't think any would be considered a beginner's model, or a "Poor man's version" of the genre. I really do get it, if say the Citation uses Exhibition grade wood where the others use AA, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Are the others more of a mass manufacture while some are hand built one at a time?

 

Whatever the case is, I love Gibson's line of jazz hollowbodies. Guess I need to visit someplace that has a few of these...

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Everbody's different...I LOVE archtops for jazz, but, back in the 70's, I was more into Jeff Beck (Blow by Blow, Wired), Dimeola, Steve Khan etc. They were all playing solid bodies. Then I discovered Pat Metheny, and his influences, influenced me. I've also always loved Steve Howe's playing, and both he and Metheny played ES 175's. Since I couldn't afford a Gibson, I bought a brand new Epi ES 175, and, say what you will about Epiphone, but this guitar is damn sweet for $470.00 (ordered on sale from GC). I've since picked up one of my dream guitars...a Heritage H 575, and it is amazing.

Anyway, a lot of guitar players play both solid body and hollow body guitars. The solid body is great for fusion type stuff while the archtops are more traditional (Wes type stuff)...just my two cents...

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The guitars in question share many similarities. All have carved, solid spruce tops, solid curly maple sides and back, 3-piece curly maple necks with contrasting spacers, ebony fretboards with inlays of mother-of-pearl, abalone or a mix of the two, multiple binding on all edges and gold hardware. All are nominally 17” wide at the lower bout (the Citation and LeGrand are a bit smaller) and have 25.5” scale lengths (except the Byrdland). Recent production guitars have nut widths of 1 & 11/16” (this has varied over the years.)

 

Despite having all this in common, there are a number of differences that set them apart. Let’s start with the Citation and LeGrand. Both have 3” deep (at the rims)bodies that are acoustically braced and have a single floating pickup suspended from the pick guard (which Gibson calls a “fingerrest”), with a volume control and jack also mounted on it.

 

The Citation is built in smaller quantities and each one differs from other Citations in some way. It has superior wood throughout and fancier inlay. It has a larger headstock that is double bound (front & back) and a large volute that is also bound, which is a rather unique feature. Another unique feature is that the heel cap is formed by cutting the back to cover the heel.

 

It has a MOP nut and engraved tuners. The pick guard is curly maple with multiple binding, which even goes around the pickup cutout. Each one receives special attention in carving and tuning the top and back and has a special finish designed to optimize acoustic properties.

 

The wood on the Legrand is quite nice, but perhaps slightly less so than on the Citation. The inlay is slightly more basic and the head stock is bound just on the front. There is no volute. The pick guard is bound plastic. Instead of the point on the end of the fretboard found on the other guitars, it has a square end. It has standard Gibson carving, tuning and finish. While both guitars are beautiful, the Citation is noticeably fancier and more dramatic-looking.

 

Both guitars have a well-balanced acoustical sound. The Citation is louder and woodier, with lots of detail, while the LeGrand is somewhat smoother, although still detailed. Amplified, the Citation retains its acoustic detail, while the LeGrand is slightly more electric-sounding. Each has a beautiful sound, but the LeGrand is more useful as a gigging instrument. The Citation sound can be wonderful in a controlled environment, though.

 

Disclaimer: I have played exactly two Citations and two LeGrands, all built from 1993 to 1996. I have also played several original Citations from the ‘70’s, but I don’t remember enough to include those. In any case, this is too small a sample from which to draw such sweeping generalizations.

 

The L-5 CES and Wes Montgomery are basically the same guitar with two pickups or one. They differ from the Citation and LeGrand in having pickups that are set-in, rather than floating, and in having electric rather than acoustic bracing. This reduces their acoustic properties and produces a smoother, less detailed sound. At 3 & 3/8” deep, they have more bass output, too. Although both floating and set-in pickups have their proponents, from a gigging standpoint the set-in is probably preferable. Either version of the L-5 can produce the quintessential jazz guitar sound, ala Kenny or Wes, but the two pickup version is more versatile. The one-pickup Wes has a somewhat deeper and fuller sound that is the ultimate in this style of guitar, but the two-pickup version behaves better at high volume. Everything is a tradeoff.

 

To further confuse the issue, the L-5 has been made in a number of variants, which include thinner (of which the short-scale Byrdland became its own model) and smaller (the L-5 CES Signature and Lee Ritenour signature are 15.5” wide and 2 & 5/8” deep.) Thin body depths include 2”, 2 & 1/4”, 2 & 3/8” and 2 & 1/2”. Thin ones generally sound similar to the bigger ones but have less low end. The Byrdland’s short scale gives it a somewhat different sound, more mid-rangy and punchier than a similar thin-body L-5. The thin L-5 is often, but not always, labeled L-5 CT, and is also sometimes referred to as a George Gobel.

 

The original L-5 was an acoustic model, and Gibson has continued to build some of them acoustically braced, generally with floating pickup. OTOH, I’ve never seen either a Citation nor a LeGrand with anything other than a floating pickup. There has been at least one two-pickup (floating) LeGrand (in general, this is a bad idea.)

 

Back to the original question, the Citation has more handwork and attention to detail, coupled with very small build quantities, that result in a much higher price. While any of the others are outstanding guitars, the Citation is both more exquisite and less practical. Between the LeGrand and the L-5, the size and sound are the big differences. As with most things, which one is better is strictly a matter of personal preference.

 

Danny W.

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I made some minor edits to my posting to clarify a few points and to convert several cut & paste mashups back into something resembling standard English.

 

Let me also mention that while I think set-in pickups are generally more practical than floaters for gigging, there are many great players who feel otherwise. I do feel that recently there has been something of a shift away from the boutique-style large archtop w/floater that had become very popular during the '90's to smaller guitars with set-in pickups, which I think echoes my own opinions about practicality.

 

Danny W.

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