Introduced in 1930, the L-12 was initially conceived as a fancier alternative to the ground-breaking L-5. Originally a 16" guitar with art-deco "Picture Frame" inlays, the L-12 was enlarged to 17" in 1934 and given the "Advanced" designation, just like the L-5. In 1939, the X-bracing was substituted for proper archtop parallel top braces. In the '30s, the L-12 was an oranate guitar, but by the late-'40s, it wasn't quite as over-the-top. Interestingly, it was the first Gibson model to feature the iconic split parallelogram inlays on the fingerboard.
In 1948, the L-12 was identical to the L-5 in size, finish, body materials, scale length and bracing—only subtle cosmetic details set it apart. 17" wide across the lower bout, 25-1/2" scale, a carved Spruce top, and figured Maple back and sides—the L-12 even had gold hardware and a full-body sunburst like the L-5. The model was made until 1955, and relative to the L-5 and plainer L-7, it was made in much more limited quantities. In some years, only a single L-12 left Kalamazoo, but in 1948, Gibson shipped 56 of them. 1948 is a significant year, too, because it debuted the contemporary "Gibson" script on the peghead.
This 1948 Gibson L-12 embodies the best of the Kalamazoo-made archtop guitars, and over the years it has needed some repairs to keep it in such fine condition. At one time, the bass side separated from the back right by the neck heel, which caused a ~2"-long crack in the side. It looks like the neck was reset, possibly at the same time (or perhaps later), but it's also possible that the side damage occurred when the dovetail neck joint was opened. The binding and treble side have also been reglued to both the top and back on the lower bout just past the end pin, and there's a binding repair on the bass side right along the waist. Beyond that, it has been re-fretted with period correct fret wire, and the tailpiece looks to be a vintage-appropriate replacement.
This 1948 L-12 is an excellent player with nuanced archtop tone. Its snappy response and throaty, full sound make you want to practice your 2-5-1s and join a swing band. It has a full-feeling C-shaped neck, and the current setup is smooth, fast, and extremely playable. Its sunburst finish shows gorgeous finish checking that provides authentic '40s mojo, and the Maple back and sides show interesting "blister" figuring that we've seen on a few other Gibson archtops from this period.
This 1948 L-12 is a superlative Gibson archtop. Even though this model is more rare than the L-5, good examples like this one can be purchased at much more reasonable prices. This one includes its original hardshell case.