The L-6S Story


Copy below reprinted from the book Guitars: Music, History, Construction and Players from the Renaissance to Rock by Tom and Mary Ann Evans

When I began working for Gibson in Kalamazoo, there was a certain hostility towards Fender -- the general opinion at Gibson was that a Fender guitar was nothing but a board with a screwed-on neck, but Gibsons were "real" guitars. Sure, Gibson had a long history of making fine acoustic instruments, but when it came to solid-bodies, they had nothing to compete with a Tele, a Strat, a P-Bass, or a Jazz Bass.

Back in the '50s, the big band era had come to an end, and smaller groups were emerging all across the country. While in a big band the guitar had a fixed position in the rhythm section and played only a minor role in the orchestra, the electric guitar became the dominant instrument in the smaller groups, and Fender became the leading maker of a new instrument, "The Electric Solid-Body." Throughout my playing years, I used all kinds of different archtops, but when it came to solid-bodies, I played Fenders, and I've used Fender amps exclusively since '58.

As a player, I like a well-balanced, not-too-heavy guitar that feels comfortable and offers me a variety of clean rich sounds with brilliant highs, and therefore I could not agree with the general opinion at Gibson about Fender. As a designer, I know how complicated it is to combine a functional design with an aesthetic appearance. I don't know if Leo or a team effort was responsible for the final design of Fender's unprecedented masterpieces, but I do know that whoever designed these instruments had extensive knowledge and experience in fundamental design.

Gibson needed a mainstream guitar that could compete with Fender.

In 1972, I was asked to design a multi-sound system for the SG Standard. This didn't make any sense to me, and after several meetings with marketing, I convinced them to introduce a completely new solid-body that offered a wide variety of different sounds. I was given a free hand as long as I observed a set production cost limit. In order to stay within that limit, I had to make use of their existing hardware, including pickup covers, and the champfered body contours I wanted were not in the budget either. Given a mere $25 more to work with, I could have made the guitar to my specs. Also, I had designed a beautiful three post lightweight bridge made of hardened stainless steel that could be converted into a trem and a two 3 position toggle switches for nine different sounds. The first 3 position switch was a pickup selector while the second was a sound selector -- position one was for Les Paul , position two for Strat, and position three for Tele sound.

Well, I had to stay within the budget, and we ended up with a six-position rotary switch, pickups with large humbucker covers, a stock Schaller bridge with a "stop" tailpiece, and a clumsy-looking body. My original prototype had a beautiful, elegantly-shaped pickguard, but somebody changed that too. Even with these changes, the early production L6-S was still an excellent performer. When the new ownership took over, there were even more changes, and by 1976, the L6-S had become just another Les Paul-style Gibson solid-body. All that remained of my original design was the thin, lightweight body with its large cutaway for easy access to all 24 frets.