The 1998 Gibson Custom L5 CES and Archtop.com Review

I have always purchased new guitars.  Any dings or scratches or gouges — and they’re an unfortunate, but inevitable mark of playing a living thing — were proudly and embarrassingly put there by me.  When I became interested in expanding my guitar playing repertoire from Blues to Jazz, I realized my talent was challenged in the change and that I was chasing a whole new sound I was failing to properly pin down.  I happened to find Joe Vinikow and Archtop.com and my life as a man and musician have been forever changed.

Archtop.com is one of those Holy Grail places you read about in ancient myths — except that place of beauty and aesthetic conception is alive, and its manna is available for purchase!  Archtop.com is an enterprise dedicated to buying and selling only Archtop guitars.  There is no greater landing place on the internet than Archtop.com if you want to get a fantastic Jazz guitar at an incredibly reasonable price.

I instantly fell for this beautiful 1998, blonde, Gibson Custom L5 CES and contacted Joe and it was mine without moments!

The Gibson L5 CES is the greatest Jazz guitar of all time.  It has a storied history.  It is an expensive, well-made, glorious work of art.  Some believe the guitar doesn’t make the player, but I can tell you a great guitar makes a middling player better while a professional player can make a lesser guitar sound like a good guitar.

The advantage to the newbie talent in having a great guitar that can lead you and guide you because of its intentional presence and playability is why guitars like the Gibson L5 CES are so cherished and in demand: They bring out the best in you by demanding your effort matches their craftsmanship.

Getting your hands on a new L5 CES costs a lot of money and you might have to wait a year or two for Gibson to make one for you because L5s are only being custom built on order.

Price and immediacy is what will lead you to Joe Vinikow, because he can hook you up with an excellent used Archtop at a great price.

Sure, your guitar will have dings and scratches from being previously owned, but you have to consider those marks of the sound that rounds out the unique effort of the experience of the wood beyond the marking and melody.

When my guitar arrived, it was extremely well-packed and secure.  That was a relief, because UPS have a reputation of delivering guitars to me with giant, gaping, holes in the box that clears one side to the other!  The thick and heavy shipping box Joe uses is absolutely as important as the price he charges you for the guitar.  Without the right shipping box, your Jazz box risks the exposed elements and the vulgarities of the uncaring shipping company.

Any test of a good Archtop is how it plays acoustically.  My Gibson L5 CES sounds fantastic unplugged.  The bass booms.  The highs ping.  It is a delight to play.

Here is the great Greg Hilden playing his beloved L5:

Plugging in my L5 CES makes for an even richer experience.  One thing I noticed about the L5 is that I don’t have to roll off the tone — as I have to do with my Les Pauls when I play Jazz — and if I do roll off the tone with this L5, I lose that particular Jazzy creaminess.  This guitar was made for the Jazz tone, full-out, no turning down any knobs required!  It plays like a dream.  I love the neck.  Both pickups are boss.  The frets are low and fast!

As I was pawing through the included case candy, and reflecting on my brand-new 14-year-old guitar that will celebrate its birthday on August 25, I found a business card from Ernie Bracco.

Ernie Bracco?

Hmm.

I fired up a Google search and landed on eBracco.com and found my L5 staring back at me from Ernie’s arms!

That is 100% my guitar — I can match the uniqueness of the finger rest bit-by-bit!

Now I had Ernie Bracco’s baby in my arms and, for a moment, I was sad.  Why did Ernie have to give up this wonderful guitar?  No man would ever willingly give up such a divine inspiration — then I decided Ernie must’ve sold it to Joe so he could buy a $40,000.00 Benedetto instead… or something…

I do love knowing the provenance of my L5, and I am honored to have this Gibson that Ernie clearly loved before me.  One day — but never soon — I will, in turn, give this L5 to the next player in the chain, and I will remind that person of Ernie Bracco and how and why he came to wail on this wonder.

The first thing I did after re-stringing my L5 with George Benson flat wounds was to pick up my previously admired Ibanez AF125AMB Artcore Custom and lock it away in its case and shove it into closet storage.

There was no comparing the two.

Once you play an L5, no other guitar can compare.  Why bother pretending the Ibanez can meet the excellence of this Gibson?  Now I know the Ibanez is a toy.  The L5 is a machine that perpetuates beauty in the player.

Thanks, Joe Vinikow, I never would’ve known this level of joy and admiration existed without you.

26 comments

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  • What a beautiful story, David. It’s great to have something with history especially when it can be used to make beautiful music!

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    • Well said, Gordon! It was amazing to pick up the L5 and play what I played on the Ibanez — and everything sounded so much better and felt so much easier to play. Amazing experience, really. Don’t need another guitar, really. I have everything… Welp… except for a Wes Mo L5 and a Super 400 and an L4 and and and… SMILE!

      The problem with Archtop.com is you want every single guitar Joe has in stock!

      I can tell you I’ll never buy a new guitar again. Only Vintage guitars purchased as “new” from here on out. I like the extended mojo too much to go back now!

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      • hello david , from greg goebel please tell me you are looking for another guitar besides the 1998 L5 ces that you got from archtop .com i’m a player for many years.medically retired from heart surgery, spinal fusions, and diabetes . i lost my right leg in 2011 and my left one is starting to get bad. one of my things to do 24/7 is playing my guitar to my labrador retrievers at home. then the dogs and my self go to a ronald McDONALDS HOUSE ON LONG ISLAND N. Y. THEY DO PET THERAPY, FOR THE ILL CHILDREN THERE I PLAY MY 1950 ES/5 FOR THE KIDS THAT WANT TO HEAR MUSIC TO CHEER THEM UP, I LOVE THAT GUITAR !!! i would have gotten it but you got it first !!! just in case you tire of it i would love to buy it from you i can be reached at [redacted] MY PHONE # [redacted] like i said just in case , i would treat that guitar as it was a part of me never selling it to anybody but you again if you missed it !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! THANK YOU, YOU LUCKY GUY, GREG GOEBEL

        [Comment edited by David W. Boles to remove personal information.]

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  • you got it before me i told people att archtop .com i want one just like yours if it exists. enjoy it i could be the third owner if you like one day !!! you are a very lucky person !!!!!!!

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    • Hi Greg!

      Thanks for the compliments and I’m sorry I grabbed the guitar before you did — that’s happened to me and it can be a painful experience trying to find another enchanter. You’re smart to tell Joe to put a watch out for a similar guitar. I’m sure he’ll find one for you straight away. Let us know if he does! SMILE!

      Having the perfect, classic, be-all-end-all Jazz guitar in an L5 CES would make one thing you’d be satisfied and content. Not true! Having one L5 only makes you want another one and another one because all other guitars pale in comparison. You want that magic to continue into other L5s just in case something happens to the only one you have. Odd, eh? So when you plan your purchase — secretly plan on getting at least one more in quick succession. One as your main box and the other as your backup box and vice-versa!

      I will keep you in mind if I ever sell. You’ll be first on my contact list.

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      • hi david, thank you for getting back to me that fast. i’m on face book ! , cause some friends put me on there. so i could put a face on my e mails . my profile picture is of me now. back two years ago my vascular surgeon was trying to save my right leg { seven operations to save it ,two operations to remove it } back then i had a two month beard , he told me 30 days i would be walking again and could take my labrador retrievers swimming again, that’s when i told him i’d shave my beard and my head then in 30 days! two years now ,never healed well and he is still taking good care of me. my beard is as long as moses {the ten comandment guy} if you want to see me to put a face on my e mail to you.if you scroll down on the pictures you can see me playing my mandolin to some of the kid’s i told you about. on halloween i went dressed as a crippled witch in a wheelchair playing my es/5 for them,. no pic. of that though you should have seen the kids dancing with my dogs and the kids in their costumes { PRICELESS} THANK YOU VERY MUCH, GR ,TRULY,G

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        • Hi Greg –

          I sent you an email a little bit earlier tonight. Did you get it? It has my offer to sell you the guitar. If you didn’t get the message, please use the contact form here to get in touch:

          http://bolesblues.com/contact/

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          • Hi David – thanks so much for sharing your experiances with the L5. I’ve been looking for a direction to take my jazz guitar sound, and Greg Hilden’s demo of his L-5 on your page is truely awesome and beautiful. Of course, his skill and the amazing instrument he’s playing is much of the sound, but I’m curious as to the sound boxes he’s using, as well as the rest of the system. Looks like my Boss RC-2 loop pedal on the right, and the unit on the left looks to be a tuner. Do you have any idea’s as to the black and red units in the middle?
            Also, looks like he’s going into a little mixer, then ostensibly into some kind of amp or PA system. I love the sound, even coming out of my computer spekers; I can only imagine what it would be like live, and want to know as much about the process as possible. It’s funny, I keep playing back the vidio to try and see the items, but then get lost in the music, and have to start it over again.
            Thanks again for sharing, David.
            Mark Mcdougal

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          • Hi Mark!

            Thanks for the great comment.

            If you watch Greg’s videos right on YouTube — he offers a short description of the equipment he’s using in each video. Here’s the tech on the video in my article:

            “011-0.49 Elixier Strings on this, clean only, Boss RC-2 Looper, Amp: Fender Vibroverb (original 1963), Vahlbruch SpaceTime Delay, http://www.gregorhilden.de

            Greg also provides more detail and other equipment links on his YouTube homepage: http://www.youtube.com/user/GregsGuitars

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          • Thanks so much David for your reply, and for the info. I’ll dig in and do the research. I’d like to find and play an L5 CES to be sure of course, but I believe I’ve found a new level and quality of sound to aspire to. (Thanks in part to you, of course.) I’ll need to save up a couple of grand, and I have a 2004 Mark Campellone Special that I will put on ebay for the balance.
            Ain’t life grand??
            Thanks again, David!
            And Happy New Year to you.
            Mark Mcdougal

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  • Steven Pinkston

    After reading your story I was reminded of my Dad. He bought his L5 CES in 1975. I did not understand at the time why it should cost so much when he could get something else for less.
    The years and research have taught the value of a truly fine musical instrument. When Dad died in 1999 he left he guitar in my care. Although it has a lot of sentimental value to me after reading your story I am thinking of selling to someone who can play it and get the same satisfaction and joy that he did. This guitar is still in great playing condition with just a few superficial blemishes. I am a bass player and don’t play jazz even though I do enjoy listening to it. Anyway, thank you bringing up fond memories of my Dad and his L5.

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    • That’s a beautiful story, Steven. I’d love to see some photos of the guitar. Maybe we can work out a deal? SMILE!

      You can get in touch by using the contact link at the top of the page.

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      • David,
        I have been out of touch for sometime and just saw your post.
        I have the photos archived, but will send them to you as soon as I dig them up.

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  • I love your plan, Mark! Be sure to come back here and let us know about the L5 you decide to buy!

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