Gibson L5-S

Solidbody electric guitar

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Gibson 75 solid body catalogue
The fingerboard of the L5-S is inlaid with beautiful, select abalone that gives this instrument an outstanding stage presence of its own
Taken from the 1975 Gibson solid body catalogue (above)

Variations of the Gibson L5-S

Some variations of the Gibson L5-S guitar. From left to right 1) 1973 - Cherry sunburst. Note the gold plated low impedance 'recording' style pickups 2) 1975 - Still Cherry Sunburst but with humbuckers rather than recording pickups 3) Fireburst finish 4) 1980 Natural L5-S with the TP6 tailpiece.

The Gibson L5-S was a particularly fine guitar; the first high end jazz solid body. It was first demonstrated at the 1972 summer NAMM show, but does not appear to have shipped until the next year. As the name suggests it was related to the L5 archtop electric acoustic - sharing many features; single-cutaway body (though less sharp horn), ebony fingerboard with block inlays, flowerpot headstock inlay, L-5 tailpiece with contrasting silver on gold and the multilayer binding throughout. Another similar model was the L6-S which was a simplified version of the same guitar, launched in 1974.

Features: Carved curly maple body, with ornate multilayer binding, laminated maple neck, ebony fingerboard with abalone block inlays, gold-plated hardware throughout (pre-78 tailpiece has contrasting silver centrepiece, later changed to a gold plated TP-6). "L5" engraving, two gold plated pickups with seperate volume and tone, three way selector switch. Width at nut 1 11/16", scale 24 3/4".

Pat Martino on the cover of Guitar Player magazine with his L5S

Jazz guitarist Pat Martino on the cover of Guitar Player magazine with his L5S, June 1977

It was Gibson's most prestigeous solid body (and therefore expensive, with a couple exceptions). Prices were typically 30-40% more than the other high end Gibson solid bodies; the Les Paul Recording, LP Custom and SG Custom. The exceptions were in 1979/1980 when the very fine Flying VII and active Les Paul Artist models were available; both were between $50 and $100 more, and were deleted almost as quickly as they had arrived.

L5-S chronology
  • 1972 L5-S launched[1], though shipping figures list no instruments shipped until 1973[2]
  • 1973 $895[3].L5-S first instruments shipped, Cherry Sunburst being the only finish available
  • 1974 $895[4]. This was the best sales year for the L5-S shipping 555 instruments[2]. Late '74 - gold covered 'recording pickups' are replaced with rectangular humbuckers
  • Gibson 1975 Solid Body Catalogue
    1975 $899[5]. The first catalogue appearance of the L5-S was in the 1975 Gibson Solid Body catalogue, where it took pride of place.
    The fingerboard of the L5-S is inlaid with beautiful, select abalone that gives this instrument an outstanding stage presence of its own
  • 1976 $929[6]. In June of '76 the price rose to $999, and two new finishes were added to the original cherry sunburst: Tobacco Sunburst and Maple[7]
  • 1977 $1079[8]
  • Gibson 1978 Quality / Prestige / Innovation Catalogue
    1978 $1079[9]. Tobacco Sunburst is dropped in favour of Fireburst, Maple is now described as Natural. Cherry Sunburst still available as before. The Gibson TP-6 tailpiece became standard this year. See the Gibson 1978 Quality / Prestige / Innovation Catalogue
  • 1979 $1149[10]. Antique Sunburst added to Fireburst, Cherry Sunburst and Natural.
  • Gibson 1980 Catalogue
    1980 $1249[1] By late 1980, the Gibson deluxe tuners with "Crank" button, and "Posi-Lok" strap button were added to this model. See the 1980 Gibson catalogue
  • 1981 $1349[12]
  • 1983 $1699[13]
1) Gibson 1975 solid body catalogue
2) Gibson Shipment Totals 1937-79 by Larry Meiners
3) Gibson pricelist 1-6-73
4) Gibson pricelist 1-2-74
5) Gibson pricelist 1-1-75
6) Gibson pricelist 1-3-76
7) Gibson pricelist 1-6-76
8) Gibson pricelist 1-1-77
9) Gibson pricelist 15-5-78
10) Gibson pricelist 1-6-79
11) Gibson pricelist 1-7-80
12) Gibson pricelist 1-4-81
13) Gibson pricelist 1-1-83

Famous users include Ron Wood and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, Pat Martino and Paul Simon

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Phil Meek Comment left 30th November 2013 22:10:17 reply
I bought my custom L-5 S around 1980. This thing traveled all over the northwest playing everything from little bar gigs to some pretty big time concerts. I still have it and do play it once in a while. I have everything from strats to PRS and Carvin, but my L-5 is still my baby. When I pass it will go to my daughter. Thanks Gibson for a dream come true that has lasted for my lifetime.
Tommy Tom Tom Comment left 7th March 2012 09:09:06 reply
In the avert up above Santana is playing the L6-S model, not an L5-S. Just sayin'.
vintage guitar and bass Comment left 7th March 2012 09:09:20 reply
You are correct Tom - that is not meant to show Carlos Santana with a L5S - rather it is the cover of the 1975 Gibson Solid Body guitar catalogue from which the quote below it (about the L5S) is taken
Norm Elder Comment left 13th November 2011 14:02:57 reply
I own a 1973 L5 - S and IMO, it is the most fantastic guitar Gibson ever made. My L-5 has been used on so many recording projects, I lost count. The beauty of the instrument has to be in the low impedance pick ups, any tone can be created from big box jazz to "Telecaster" twang. When I play out, I run the L5 through a pair of Twin Reverb Fender amps, w/ real JBLs', none others need apply. Do not pass up the chance to play one of these incredible guitars, should the opportunity come your way. Norm