Gibson L6-S Custom - Its the best damn guitar you ever played
This early advert for the L-6S was printed when the guitar was at its peak. 1974 was the only year with reasonable sales, despite the high profile endorsement of Carlos Santana over the following years.
This early instrument has the block inlaid fingerboard, which would soon be changed to dots.
Gibson L6-S Custom - Santana Calls it His Rainbow
Actually, it's the Gibson L6-S. But he's got a point. Because the L6-S lets you color your sound any way you want with tone and mid-range control and a six-position sound switch. From pretty and warm to funky and hard-and anything in between-the choice is yours. The L6-S also has two incredibly powerful pickups mounted in its solid maple body for exceptional sensitivity and sustain. And the body itself is designed to give you complete access to 24 frets of the quickest, easiest action you ever laid your hands on. Creem Magazine called it "The kind of guitar that musicians ten years from now will dream about owning." Santana calls it his rainbow. We call it the L6-S.
Gibson L6-S Custom - Santana Calls It his Rainbow
Mid 70s advertisement for the Gibson L6-S series. The image features Carlos Santana (of latin rock band Santana) playing the L6-S Custom. This model was the first of the series, and was simply known as the L6-S until (and in some cases beyond) the time that the L6-S Deluxe was also available.
Two versions of the L-6S guitar, the Custom (top) and the Deluxe (bottom).
|Model||L6-S Custom||L6-S Deluxe||Midnight Special|
|Pickups||Two chrome-covered super humbuckers (parts 13682, front; 13683, back) ||Two black plastic-covered super humbuckers (parts 13654, front; 13655, back)||Two chrome-covered super humbuckers|
|Body||Maple. 13 1/2" wide (lower bout), 16 1/2" long, 1 1/4" thick|
|Neck||Set maple neck, with maple, rosewood, or ebony fingerboard. 24 frets. Dot markers (a few early examples have block markers)||Set or bolt-on neck, with rosewood fingerboard. 24 frets. Dot markers||Bolt-on neck, maple fingerboard. 24 frets. Dot markers|
|Width at nut||1 9/16"|
|Hardware||Volume, midrange and 'treble roll-off' controls. 6 position pickup selector switch. Wide-travel tune-o-matic bridge, with stop-bar tailpiece.||Volume and 'treble roll-off' controls. Three position pickup-selector switch. Tune-o-matic bridge, strung through body.||Volume and tone controls. Three position pickup-selector switch. Tune-o-matic bridge, strung through body.|
|Finishes||Natural Maple Gloss, Black, Cherry, Wine Red, Tobacco Sunburst, from 1980 Silverburst||Natural Satin, Wine Red, Tobacco Sunburst||Ebony, Maple Gloss, Wine Red, White|
|Notes||By far the most popular of the series, outselling the deluxe 4:1, and the MS 6:1|| ||This 'secret' guitar was left unadvertised. Unmentioned in price lists, catalogs and other promotional material|
The L6-S was designed in 1972 by then Gibson employee Bill Lawrence. The remit was to create a guitar with as varied an array of sounds as possible, without over-complicated electronics, and something that could compete with Fenders six string range. Bill Lawrence explains:
In 1972, I was asked to design a multi-sound system for the SG Standard. This didn't make any sense to me, and after several meetings with marketing, I convinced them to introduce a completely new solid-body that offered a wide variety of different sounds. I was given a free hand as long as I observed a set production cost limit. In order to stay within that limit, I had to make use of their existing hardware, including pickup covers, and the champfered body contours I wanted were not in the budget either. Given a mere $25 more to work with, I could have made the guitar to my specs. Also, I had designed a beautiful three post lightweight bridge made of hardened stainless steel that could be converted into a trem and a two 3 position toggle switches for nine different sounds. The first 3 position switch was a pickup selector while the second was a sound selector -- position one was for Les Paul , position two for Strat, and position three for Tele sound.
Well, I had to stay within the budget, and we ended up with a six-position rotary switch, pickups with large humbucker covers, a stock Schaller bridge with a "stop" tailpiece, and a clumsy-looking body. My original prototype had a beautiful, elegantly-shaped pickguard, but somebody changed that too. Even with these changes, the early production L6-S was still an excellent performer. When the new ownership took over, there were even more changes, and by 1976, the L6-S had become just another Les Paul-style Gibson solid-body. All that remained of my original design was the thin, lightweight body with its large cutaway for easy access to all 24 frets.
Read the rest of this article at the Bill Lawrence website
Launched in 1973 at the summer NAMM show in Chicago, very much as a more affordable version of the Gibson L-5S. It retained the L-5S body shape, still had maple body / neck (although the L-5S was curly maple, rather than close grain) and an (optional) ebony fingerboard. Solid bodies had tradionally been mahogany up to this point, but for reasons of economics, and fashion, the seventies saw a range of maple Gibsons, and L-6S was one of them.
Electrically it differed from the L-5S though, with its six-position phase switching system, and treble roll-off and midrange controls. The idea was to offer new sounds and as much versatility as possible. To this end, the L-6S also had a two octave, 24 fret neck - the first Gibson to have this.
L6-S production started at the Kalamazoo plant in Michigan, however it moved to Nashville, certainly by the end of 1977, perhaps earlier.
The guitar shown below was in the 1973 Gibson Look Ahead to Gibson flyer. Unlike the majority of L6-Ss this instrument has a two-piece scratchplate, old-style headstock script, and block inays. Whether this was just a prototype, or an early production version is unclear. Compare this to a later, 1976 L6-S Custom
Keith Richards (Rolling Stones)
Al di Meola
Lady Bo (Bo Diddley)
Johnny Borrell (Razorlite)
Johnny Borrell (Razorlite)
In 1974 a second model was released (the Midnight Special), and in 1975 a third, the Deluxe (see a 1976 L-6S Deluxe). The original model was then named the L-6S Custom. Both were a cheaper models with simpler electronics, strung through the body, bolt-on neck for the Midnight Specials and a rosewood fingerboard for the deluxe. Each had its own unique scratchplate. Some instruments may have been alder-bodied too.
The series lasted throughout the 70s, with the deletion of the model announced in dealer newletter Gibson News in June 1980. Some examples still shipped from the Nashville plant, though, as late as early 1981. The current owners of Gibson produced a limited reissue in 2011.
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