1920s L-5 Tailpiece Bar

1920s L-5 Tailpiece Bar

Frank Ford1920s L-5 Tailpiece BarG99996759
Talk about your specialty items! This one is so special that if you don't recognize it immediately from the photo, you don't need or want it. In fact, maybe I shouldn't even be telling you about it because you know all about it already.

Just to be clear, this piece is ONLY the BAR for original Gibson tailpieces from the late 1920s. It is NOT a complete tailpiece!

OK, maybe that was a bit much. Read on if you want the long winded story on this thing:

Here's the deal. I have a few pals who are really into early 16-inch Gibson L-5 style guitars, and those have really special and rather nasty tailpieces, just like the one in the photo.

The cross bars on the earliest ones are made of brass, while those of the later 1920s were cast zinc (pot metal) and had a nasty habit of bending or breaking. On either version, the strings hook on under the back edge of the bar, and actually wrap over the bar on their way to the bridge. I can't imagine why anybody would design a tailpiece to work that way, but there you have it.

Compounding the difficulty of restringing, the original bars were made such that the string barely clings on as you struggle to maintain tension, and try to avoid the string snapping around and scarring the top of the guitar. In fact most of these L-5s have scars from just that event.

So, first Tony Marcus, and then Michael Simmons asked me to try to make replacement bars for this weird tailpiece. After some procrastinating, about a year and half ago I decided it might be an interesting challenge for my machining activities. I have no CNC machining ability or equipment, so everything I do is on manual equipment, and as a result, not easily repeated beyond whatever batch I might be set up to do. I don't expect to make more of these things.

It took a bit of rethinking, but I managed to make a better landing space for the string balls. Here's a view from the underside, where you can see the string ball neatly held in place:

Figuring I might run into another player or two who might want one of these tailpiece bars, I set up and made a total of ten units. I polished them up nice and shiny, and put them in my pocket, carrying 'em around with me for a few days, sort of bumping and jingling together. Then, I gave the batch to Tony who took 'em to the plating shop and had them gold plated without doing any buffing. The result is what you can see in the photo - a kind of authentic looking vintage gold finish that looks like a well kept original part.

I'll bet you thought the story would end by now, but there's still a bit more:

My replacement bar looks just like the original from the top, and fits directly on the original tailpiece "trapeze" arms without modification. I've recessed the bottom much more deeply than the original, so restringing is a solid and easy proposition.

Of the original ten, 9 have been sold, so only ONE remains as of today, June 24, 2018.

I'll try to keep this note updated. . .


Frank Ford