Le Grand model from Gibson Custom is the pinnacle of achievement in archtop guitar production. The Le Grand began life as Gibson’s renowned Johnny Smith model, which was designed for the celebrated ja... Read More
Le Grand model from Gibson Custom is the pinnacle of achievement in archtop guitar production. The Le Grand began life as Gibson’s renowned Johnny Smith model, which was designed for the celebrated jazz guitarist in 1961, incorporating Smith’s desire to have a fully acoustic, carved-top archtop guitar that could also be used as an electric instrument for live performance. To meet this challenge, Gibson’s top luthiers designed an instrument that has defined the archtop electric guitar ever since. The Le Grand has always been a select model manufactured in limited numbers, and only 963 of the original Johnny Smith version (identical in all but name) were produced between 1962 and 1979.
Body and Hardware
The core of the Le Grand is formed by an instrument that is crafted as a top-flight acoustic archtop guitar in its own right. Its soundboard is carved from a solid piece of high-grade spruce, and its back and sides are carved of high-grade maple. At Johnny Smith’s request, the guitar’s top was given the X-bracing pattern preferred by many players in a fully acoustic instrument.
The mini-humbucking pickup — known as a floating BJB pickup that was originally borrowed from a Seth Lover design for Epiphone — was mounted to the end of the fingerboard, with no contact with the body at all to avoid impeding the free resonance of the soundboard. Likewise, the single volume control and input jack were mounted to the floating pickguard. This arrangement was so revolutionary at the time that the suspended, neck-end-mounted pickup has been known ever since as “a Johnny Smith pickup”.
In helping to create the LeGrand’s predecessor, Johnny Smith made many specific requests regarding design and appointments. The body was based on Gibson’s L-5, although not quite as deep at an even 3”, and the neck and headstock were based on that of a Super 400. The instrument initially carried the L-5 tailpiece, but after 1979 was given its own six-finger unit with individual fine-tuning adjustment screws for each string. All hardware was gold plated, including the ABR-1 bridge mounted atop an ebony base.
The Johnny Smith model was made from 1961 to 1988, and was reintroduced as the Le Grand in 1993 as part of the Custom Collection. Gibson Custom continues to produce the Le Grand in the image of Smith’s original vision for the ultimate archtop guitar, including all appointments described above, along with the multi-ply binding on the top and back of the body, fingerboard, headstock and pickguard; the abalone split-block fingerboard inlays; and the bound f-holes. It is also still made to the 25-1/2” scale length and 1-11/16” nut width that so supremely suits a large-bodied archtop. Comes complete with a Gibson Custom case, a certificate of authenticity and a custom care kit.
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