The 1998 Gibson Custom L5 CES and 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 and my life as a man and musician have been forever changed. 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! is an enterprise dedicated to buying and selling only Archtop guitars.  There is no greater landing place on the internet than 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?


I fired up a Google search and landed on 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.