Wes Montgomery graces the cover of the 1964 Downbeat annual guitar issue
The Gibson L-5CES was a particularly fine instrument, and as such was made in relatively small numbers, and had a relatively high purchase price. Favoured by jazz musicians, most notably Wes Montgomery, it had a hand carved top; a feature of only the very best guitars. It was first available in 1951, and is still available today - either in sunburst or natural finish. Initially the pickups were P90 single coils, changing to Alnicos from 1953 to 1957. Thereafter the Gibson humbuckers came as standard.
One important variation over the course of production was the cutaway shape - initially this was the rounded Venetian style, changing in mid-1960 to the sharper Florentine cutaway (pictured). Sometime in 1969, this reverted to the Venetian style of the 1950s. Have a look through some of the Gibson catalogues that include the L5 CES, to see how it changed over the years.
As previously mentioned, the L-5CES was an expensive instrument - only cheaper than the Super 400 and Johnny Smith (and the Citation, when it was launched). After 1962 it was marked in price lists as a custom order instrument - but despite this, sales rose throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s.
The following description is taken from the 1970 Gibson electric-acoustics catalog
L-5 CES - Cutaway Professional musicians enjoy the fast neck action and quick response of the L-5 CES. This electric acoustic offers performance to match its rich, impressive appearance.
FEATURES: Carved top of select close-grained spruce. Carved back of curly maple with matching rims. Slim, fast low-action neck joins the body at the 14th fret. Five-piece curly maple neck, adjustable truss rod. Ebony fingerboard, pearl block inlays. Adjustable Tune-O-Matic bridge. Exclusive L-5 tailpiece. Powerful twin Humbucking pickups. Separate tone and volume control for each pickup. Three position toggle switch to activate either or both pickups. Gold-plated metal parts. Deluxe individual machine heads. 17" wide, 21" long, 3 3/8 " deep; 25 ½ " scale, 20 frets.
L-5 CES - Sunburst
L-5 CESN - Natural
600 - Faultless plush-lined case
ZC-6 - Deluxe zipper cover for 600 case
A gorgeous 1952 Gibson L-5CES in natural finish Image Heritage auctions
Electric guitar advertisements originally published from 1964 onwards. Click on the images for larger copies. Check out other vintage Gibson advertisements
Gibson L-5 CES - The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery (1964)
This advertisement from 1964 uses the title of Wes Montgomery's highly acclaimed 1960 album 'The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery' - and highlights his use of Gibson jazz guitars. Montgomer...
Gibson L-5 CES - Wes Montgomery (1965)
In the mid 1960s, Gibson almost exclusively advertised itself as a brand, rather than specific products. And these adverts invariably featured virtuoso jazz guitarists that used a Gibson jazz box. ...
Gibson L-5 CES - Gibson, The Workingmans Guitar (1967)
Featuring legendary Jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery playing a Gibson L-5 CES electric guitar
The L-5CES guitar has appeared in numerous Gibson guitar catalogues since the model's introduction in 1951. In chronological order...
Hand-graduated, carved top of select close-grain spruce arched, highly figured curly maple back with matching curly maple rims alternate black and white ivoroid binding modern cutaway design small, comfortable feeling three-piece curly maple neck with Gibson Adjustable Truss Rod
The inherent quality, versatility, and rich, impressive appearance of the L5-CES have won acclaim from the most discriminating artists.
A beautiful modern deep cutaway guitar with hand-graduated, carved top of select close-grained spruce, arched back of highly figured curly maple, with matching rims
Guitarists everywhere praise the slim, comfortable neck, the fast, easy-playing action and quick response
The 1966 Gibson full line catalogue is the first to show the entire Gibson guitar range in colour. The L5-CES appears on page 4, alongside the Super 400 CES and ES-175D models.
Professional musicians enjoy the fast neck action and quick response of the L-5 CES. This electric acoustic offers performance to match its rich, impressive appearance
In 1972 Gibson launched a flyer devoted to the L-5CES - The Gibson L-5CES Guitar of the Month Showcase. The spruce used on the L-5CES is from a tree approximately 450-500 years old. Only a very small portion of the world's spruce yield is good enough to use in production of the Gibson L-5CES
From the Gibson 1975 Electric Acoustics catalogue
Gibson custom order guitars are unequalled anywhere because their materials design and craftsmenship are unavailable anywhere else. Close even-grained spruce from trees 450-500 years old; solid woods, not veneered; hand carved and graduated tops and backs; precision f-holes based on Stradivarius violin construction
From the 1978 Gibson catalogue
Custom carved spruce top. Carved maple back. Solid maple matching rims
The 1981 Gibson (Rosetti) catalogue was produced by UK distributors Rosetti.
Gibson 1983 American made World played guitar and bass catalogue
The Gibson L-5CES is the heart and soul of the entire Gibson line - the proud descendent of Lloyd Loars masterpiece L-5, the worlds first arch top, f-hole guitar in 1923. Today's L-5CES has specially designed bracing, a carved maple back, hand-shaped rims and a beautifully finished spruce top