Gibson Black Special

I had all intentions of finding this month's attack while visting my wife's family in Louisville, Kentucky. I like to scour the music stores, pawn shops, flea markets and antique malls for vintage treasures whenever I'm visiting a city. Unlike many metropolitan areas Lousiville has not been invaded by the Walmart of musical instruments (aka Guitar Center) allowing the small shops the ability to compete in their market. Unfortunately the selection of vintage guitars was non-existent but if I wanted a Daisy Rock brand instrument I had my pick! Since most pawn shops are selling on eBay these days and more savvy when it comes to musical instruments, bargains have become harder to find. Ultimately I came back empty handed with the exception of an inexpensive Mahalo brand ukelele that my son just had to have. Of course the 12 hour car ride back to Jersey listening to his uke version of "Bulls on Parade" by Rage Against the Machine was almost worse than being asked every 30 minutes, "are we there yet"?

This month's attack has a bit of a twist. I've owned this 1938 Black Special No. 2 (BSN2) for about 3 years and it was on the "sacrificial" list which is why she is not pictured anywhere on my website. Her turn had come for the auction block but as I inspected what I thought to be an L-30 was in actuality a BSN2! A very faint ink stamped 5 digit serial # confirmed the guitar was manufactured in 1938 which was 2 years after the black finished L-30 model was discontinued. Even though she is considered an entry level model my timely "discovery" has made me re-think the sale and make our relationship formal by adding her to my collection. Actually she fits in quite well - prewar, rare model, limited production run (1937-40) and original right down to the end pin. With the exception of a strap button hole, one small line of wear on the v-neck and very light finish checking she is in beautiful condition for a guitar that is 70 years old. The black finish is also a refreshing change from Gibson's standard sunburst. Part of the "classic period for Gibson archtops" (early 1930s to WWII) the models of this era defined what an archtop is today. Of course the L-5 and Super 400 were the top dogs but Gibson realized quickly it needed to provide low cost alternatives to continually increase its market share.

To put this model in perspective, released in 1935 the L-30 and sister L-37 acoustic archtops were aimed at the entry level market along with their house brand (Kalamazoo) and private label models e.g. Recording King, Cromwell, etc. Of course the Gibson labeled models had a truss rod, larger adjustable bridge and slightly longer f-holes to differentiate them from their budget line. Gibson also produced a group of "non-catalog specials" during this period one of which, the BSN2, had the same specs as the L-30. It was only available from 1937-40. The original version of the L-30 was produced in the black finish only during 1935-36 so the BSN2 just continued the black finish without the L-30 designation. The models were replaced with the release of other "specials" (No. 3, 5 & 7 plus the Wartime), the short lived L-47 in 1940-42 and the L-48 in 1946. It became Gibson's longest running entry level acoustic archtop until it was discontinued in 1971.

The BSN2 has a small body width of 14 3/4" with a flat not arched back. Unlike the L-30, which has a single bound top and back, the BSN2 is top bound only. The adjustable rosewood bridge is slightly smaller than the standard issue. Also it utilized nickel thumb wheels instead of the brass found on the high end models. The clover leaf tailpiece is an early version of the raised diamond that is found on so many Gibson hollowbody guitars. Incredibly the single-ply pickguard has avoided crystallization and just the victim of some warping. The open back strip tuners, manufactured by Kluson, are literally perfect with buttons that have barely yellowed. Like many early archtops the guitar has a v-shaped neck however it is not thick like a "baseball bat" and very comfortable especially for my bear claws. The action is low with plenty of room for adjustment and not a buzz anywhere on the neck. What the heck was I thinking? This is a great little guitar with surprising volume and a wonderful even tone! 

Not even listed in the 2008 Vintage Guitar Price Guide, the range for the L-30 is $1250-1700 so a bit of a premium should be added for the BSN2. The vintage archtop market, as compared to flat top or solidbody electric, has not seen anywhere near the appreciation it rightly deserves. The skill level and time involved with their construction has been overshadowed by a market driven by solidbody wielding guitar heros and a select group of vintage dealers. A great example is the 1950s Les Paul Jr., an entry level slab of wood with a P-90 pickup, that sells for more than all but a few high end archtop models. Where is the justice? Undoubtedly some day in the future market demand will shift and vintage archtops will return to their rightful place. My soapbox rests!



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