Vintage Guitar - February 2018 - 38
The Smeck L-5's engraved tuner buttons were likely
done in Kalamazoo, at Ihling Brothers Everard.
ONE FOR THE
Roy Smeck's Gibson L-5
BY GEORGE GRUHN
AND JOE SPANN
The list includes Washburn (Lyon &
Healy) in 1924, the Harmony Vita-Uke
and Vita-Guitar in '27, the Bacon &
Day Roy Smeck Silver Bell banjo line
in '28, and (after World War II) his
return to Harmony.
Smeck (1900-1997) rose to fame
as "The Wizard of the Strings,"
assisted by his 1926 appearance in
the Warner Brothers short film His
Pastimes, for which he used the new
Vitaphone sound-on-disc system
to synchronize sound with the film
(the following year, it was used for
segments of The Jazz Singer).
The guitar you see here is one of only
63 Gibson L-5s documented in 1933, an
extremely difficult year for the company
given its poor sales and layoffs due to the
Depression. In fact, records show production
that year was mostly confined to wooden
toys, student-grade/entry-level instruments, and the first Kalamazoo models.
Gibson was obviously seeking opportunity.
The details of the earliest Gibsons endorsed by Smeck are not known, but this
L-5 may have been part of the deal. In '34,
Gibson debuted the S-1 Roy Smeck Stage
Deluxe and S-2 Roy Smeck Radio Grande
The ink-stamped factory order number
(FON) indicates this guitar was produced in
mid May of '33 while the serial number tells
us it was likely delivered in early June. A close
look reveals it's a standard production model
with a few easily altered details including
a Grover De-Luxe trapeze tailpiece of the
type usually seen on Martin and Stromberg
guitars of the period, a truss cover engraved
Photos: William Ritter. Instrument courtesy of George Gruhn.
layer endorsements are part of the tradition of guitarmaking going back to its
earliest use for public performance. LeRoy G.A.
Schmeck, a.k.a. Roy Smeck, may be history's most-prolific endorser of fretted