Other Guitars

Epiphone Broadway - L5 Conversion: A Tale of Guitar Obsession

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I've commented here previously on my love affair with big hollow body guitars. From the time I first heard Moby Grape and the Sons of Champlin, there was something compelling about that sound, whether played clean and mellow or pushing into overdrive. In high school, there were two guys who I played with frequently --- one had his father's Gibson ES-5 (blonde with three P-90's), the other had a Gibson ES-125 (deep body, no cutaway, one P-90). My first electric was a similar ES-125 from 1969 or so, with a cherry sunburst top and walnut-stained back and sides. Later I sold the ES-125 and got a blonde ES-175 that satisfied my tonal cravings at the time.

As I got more into jazz (Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, Larry Coryell, et al), I found myself lusting after the mighty Gibson L-5 CES. Both its Venetian (rounded) and Florentine (pointed) cutaway versions seemed to possess mystical properties of aesthetic beauty. Something about the proportions, contours, appointments (not to mention the tone!!) was just RIGHT, and it became my "Holy Grail" guitar.

But with a list price in the stratosphere, and even used ones going for WAYYYYY over my budget, plus the fact that my guitar skills were still nowhere close to justifying such an expensive instrument, I figured it would always be out of reach.

Fast forward to the early 2000's, when I started getting back into guitar playing and had enough income to indulge my guitar habit a bit. There were a number of affordable big-bodied jazzboxes available --- the Samick Greg Bennet LaSalle in several pickup configurations, Washburn, and older models from Matsumoku --- Lyle, Ventura, etc. The one that captured my fancy, though was the Epiphone Broadway, which had the most pleasing proportions to my eye. The main aesthetic drawback for me was the Frequensator tailpiece, which I found both homely and inconvenient, as many strings weren't long enough for the reach from the short tailpiece to the "D" tuner.

I had an opportunity to try a few in local stores, and was even able to play one next to a real L-5 in one store. To my astonishment, in my hands they sounded damn close. Certainly close enough to satisfy my ears. And so the hunt began. Eventually I found a used 1997 Peerless-made sunburst Broadway on eBay for $500 and snagged it. It arrived in a hardshell case that actually had "L5" written on it, which I figure was done in a store's stockroom for easy identification, but I took it as a good omen.

It was gorgeous, played beautifully, and I decided it was a keeper, but that I had to give it a proper makeover. First up was replacing the black pickup selector with a white one, then the black-and-chrome knobs with gold bell knobs. The tailpiece was my main priority, but they rarely showed up online, and were often pricey. I made a trip to Subway Guitars in Berkeley and told the owner (the legendary Fatdog) what I was looking for, and he pulled out a catalog, and there it was. An L-5 style tailpiece for around a hundred bucks. Only Fatdog refused to sell it to me. Something about it being "too decadent." He wanted me to order a much cheaper (but ordinary) tailpiece of the sort he used on his custom guitar builds. I left.

Sometime later, I found a high quality Japanese L5 style tailpiece on eBay (probably from one of the Matsumoku models), along with a gold Tune-O-Matic bridge, and when I installed them, the tone of the guitar got even better. More definition, more crispness, but no loss of that fat, warm mellow tone I loved.

The only remaining thing that I could actually change was the pickguard. The fretboard end on a Broadway is flat, and I wasn't about to try to re-shape it into the L-5's curved bracket shape. The bridge base was plain rosewood, and I could have tried to find one with ornamental inlays like the L5, but somehow that didn't seem important. Eventually I did find an Allparts bound pickguard intended for an acoustic archtop, with no pickup cutouts. I tried taking it to a local TAP Plastics store to see if they could do the pickup routs, but they said no. Meanwhile, lots of other things in life took priority, so I didn't think much more about it until recently.

By now you're probably all thinking the same thing I did: Paul Setzer. I contacted Paul and he agreed to do the deed, so I sent him the pickguard blank with a cardboard template and a paper tracing, and a few days later it came back with the pickup routs done, and even the mounting holes drilled. It fit perfectly, and my Epi Broadway now looks as good as it sounds. Between this, my Elitist Broadway (with a deeper body solid spruce top and hella flamed maple back and sides), my Epi Emperor Regent and D'Angelico EXL-1, I have as close to an L-5 as I'll ever need --- and all four together cost substantially less than one Gibson.

Here's some pics of the completed makeover:

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So let's see the others as well. Good job on this one!

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VERY NICE!!! Looks fabulous!

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Well there you go. Sometimes it takes years to realize a vision. You have to stick to it.

Good tale, well told. Thanks for taking the time.

I'm waiting on some Paulparts (and some TVparts) myself - for a similar (though arguably less august) transmigration of guitar souls.

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So let's see the others as well. Good job on this one!

– Don Birchett

Ask and ye shall receive:

Elitist Broadway (Terada factory)

Epiphone Emperor Regent (Peerless factory)

D'Angelico EXL-1

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Great story and I may keep my eyes peeled for a big Epi. That sounds like Fatdog all right. He had an NOS Melita he sold me in '84 when I told him about my 6120's intonation problems; he said that this is what Gretsch used and that was good enough for me. He would make the strangest guitars from old parts.

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Congrats on sticking to your dream. They’re all gorgeous, but the blue one - OMG gorgeousness. Your ‘97 has a real nice looking vibe about it.

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Glad it all worked out for you.

The L-5 tailpiece looks elegant to me. Good choice!

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I recently met a guy who bought his L5 used in the late '70s. He told me about his dad who just shook his head in disbelief at the idea of spending $1600 on a guitar.


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