Case Candy: Picks, Strings and Straps

One of the first pages that went up on Scotty's site when we started it ten years ago was a page about Scotty's 1954 L5.  At that time it was owned by Memphis native Robert Johnson and on display at the Rock 'N Soul Museum there in town. The Rock and Soul Museum was the first Smithsonian Museum outside of Washington D.C., it was called the "Smithsonian Rock and Soul Museum" for 10 years while the Crossroads Cultural Exhibit was running, which featured the L5.  Since then we've expanded on its history as the guitar has changed hands and only days ago Robert emailed me to share some insight as to how it came to be owned by him, and also to share some pix he took of the case and accessories he still has. I've included them as follows:


The well worn front and rear of the '50s Gibson model 600 case that came with the L5 guitar
Photo Robert A. Johnson

Hello James,

I want to thank you for mentioning me on Scotty Moore's Web-site. I get emails and messages frequently about this and the great history you have provided. Enclosed are pictures of Scotty Moore's L5 Case and the stuff that came with the L5 when I bought it from the 3rd owner.


The wear pattern on the interior Gibson model 600 case that came with the L5 guitar
Photo Robert A. Johnson

Around 1991 I was working in Nashville Producing a record and used Scotty Moore's tape duplication company on McGavock St. I would always hang out and talk to Scotty and marvel at his Ray Butts Echo-Sonic amp. One day when Scotty was signing some photos for me, I asked him "what ever happened to your original L5 Gibson?" He immediately said, my friend Jack Eubanks has it. He got it from me when I acquired the Gibson Super 400. I said do you you have a phone number on him? Scotty reached for his phone book and gave me a number. I thought this cannot be that easy.


Scotty backstage at the Mosque Theater with L5 and case - June 30, 1956
Photo Al Wertheimer courtesy Guitar Player Magazine

I called Jack Eubanks and left a message on his answer machine. I never heard back from him. About a year later, I got a call from Jack Eubanks who said he had been living with his daughter out of town for a year and just got back and my message was on his answer machine. I asked him did he still have the Gibson L5 and he said no and that he sold it to a friend by the name of Joe Calhoun in Georgia in the mid to late 1960's. I said Jack, if you can take me to Joe Calhoun I will pay your expenses and give you $1,500 in cash.


Strings and polish from the case pocket
Photo Robert A. Johnson

A few days later Jack made arrangements to meet Joe Calhoun so I drove up to Nashville from Memphis and picked up Jack Eubanks and we started our journey to the Middle of Georgia to a remote place on the Highest Mountain top in Georgia, the home of Joe Calhoun. We walked in and there was the Scotty Gibson L5 in all it's Glory. Joe had it in a new case, but the old case was right next to the Guitar. We chatted a while and listened to Joe Calhoun rave about Jack Eubanks being one of the great guitar players of all time, never once highlighting the brilliance of Scotty Moore.


Thumb and finger guitar picks along with Gibson and OK Houck flat picks from the case pocket
Photo Robert A. Johnson


Thumb and finger guitar picks from the case pocket
Photo Robert A. Johnson

I had stopped by Gibson along the way and with my track record of playing guitar for celebrities and platinum studio work, I could get Gibson Guitars from Dave Berryman at artist cost, so I picked up a reissue Gold Gibson ES-295, just like Scotty's first guitar for a possible trade and cash. My plan worked and I traded Joe Calhoun the ES-295 plus an undisclosed amount of cash, paid Jack Eubanks his commission and we all left happy, especially me. I always wondered why nobody else ever asked Scotty Moore where his famous Gibson L5 was?  I video taped this whole episode and recorded all the phone conversations in the acquisition.


Guitar Straps included in the case
Photo Robert A. Johnson


Guitar Straps included in the case
Photo Robert A. Johnson

When I got back to Nashville, I stopped by Gruhn's Guitar shop and showed the guitar to George, his comments were it looks authentic but it has been re-fretted, I thought who gives a crap, this is the Holy Grail. Joe Calhoun, Jack Eubanks and Scotty Moore had worn the frets down so Joe Calhoun had the Guitar re-fretted, the repair tag is still on the case which I have along with some amazing case accessories.


The original knobs and switch tip said to be from Scotty's L5
Photo Robert A. Johnson

I kept the original case when I sold the Scotty L5 guitar. The OK Houck Picks are awesome and very 1950's. Anyway I thought you would like the pictures. I took the original knobs and switch-tip off the L5 as souvenirs and switched them with one of my Gold-Top knobs and tip. I still have the E.P. D-35 Martin and strap.

Kind regards,
ROBERT JOHNSON

November 30, 2012

A bit about Straps


Vintage advertisements for Bobby Lee straps
courtesy web

Leather guitar straps by Bobby Lee were said to be some of the earliest patented of the more popular designs and began in 1948. They were soon replicated by other brands.  Many of the guitar manufacturers soon offered straps through their own label and would ship them with their guitars.


Scotty with his new L5 in Texarkana, AR - Sep. 2, 1955
Photo courtesy Steve Bonner

Two of the straps in Robert's case resemble Bobby Lee style straps that Scotty had been pictured using on his 1954 L5 in 1955 and 1956, though no brand name is apparent.  Initially, like his ES 295, Scotty attached them to the strap button at the bottom end and then looped an end around the headstock, though the one in the case with a buckle attachment appears to have been shortened to an insufficient length to complete a headstock loop. Robert said it had been cut with a razor blade or knife and the hole was remade with something homemade, not a leather tool for sure. It was altered long long ago and looks pre-1955.


Scotty onstage at Houston City Auditorium - April 21, 1956
Photo by John D. Greensmith courtesy Ger Rijff's "Fire in the Sun"

The other strap, broken, in the case Robert was told was a very early 1950's and possibly a strap that Elvis used in the ES-295 and Martin Parlor Guitar days. Twentythree years ago everybody's memories were sharper.* It at least appears long enough to have been attached in the manner that Scotty subsequently was most often pictured when he owned and played the L5. Sometime in September of 1955 Scotty changed that way he attached and used the strap. Lacking an upper strap button, the L5 afforded itself to be secured with the strap passing from around the back upwards beneath the fingerboard and slightly knotted above.  As advertised by Bobby Lee (above), this method gives better balance than the headstock wrap, takes pressure off the neck and prevents the guitar sliding back and forth.  Scotty also continued this method of strapping the guitar when he later switched to playing his Super 400.


Examples of Vintage Bobby Lee Straps, two with rings for head stock loops
Photo
courtesy Heritage Auctions


Simple '50s era braided rope guitar strap
Photo
courtesy silvertone14

When Elvis started out, performing with his first Martin, the 000-18, he used a simple braided rope strap.  When he switched to a D-18 prior to the D-28 he used a strap like the later western style one (if not the same) only wrapped at the headstock just above the nut before the tuners.  During this (the L5) era Elvis is regularly pictured using a decorative leather "western style" strap looped around the headstock with a metal ring and a simple unstitched squared off tooled leather shoulder pad.


Elvis, with his D-18, and Bill at the Louisiana Hayride - Jan. 8 (or Feb. 5), 1955
Photo courtesy of Louisiana Hayride Archives - J. Kent


Elvis backstage with D-28 at Fort Homer W. Hesterly Armory, Tampa, FL July 31, 1955
Photo by William V. "Red" Robertson EPE.Inc.


Elvis with D-28 and western style leather strap at the Cotton Club - Oct. 15, 1955
Photo I.G. Holmes courtesy Steve Bonner


Elvis with D-28 and western style leather strap backstage in Minneapolis - May 13, 1956
Photo courtesy Emil Flaim


Elvis backstage stage in Tupelo with Bitsy Mott and Tom Diskin - Sep. 26, 1956
Photo source FECC/bluejeans1944


Elvis with D-28 and western style leather strap on stage in Tupelo - Sep. 26, 1956
Photo courtesy Steve Bonner

Elvis used this strap, or one like it, consistently with his D-28 through November of 1956 and then another similar one initially with his J-200.  By the 1970s Elvis often used straps of contemporary designs with weaves and patterns made popular by companies like Ace and others, companies inspired by Bobby Lee.

Page added December 3, 2012

* Note: To clarify some points that may have been misremembered overtime, Gail Pollock who worked for Scotty at that time has said that neither Scotty or her were aware that Jack Eubanks had Scotty's L5. They both knew him well and he never told them about owning the guitar and only had heard about it when they met Robert in Memphis for the first time in the early '90s. She doesn't recall doing tapes for Robert at McGavock St. and Scotty's Amp was never kept there. The excessive wear and tear of the case is evidently the result of use of the subsequent owners since Scotty has always been and still is meticulous about his guitars and cases. Given that the subsequent owners were also players the guitar picks may well be theirs also since the thumb picks are not of the shape Scotty used and in 38 years she has never seen him put on a finger pick nor is there one in his personal collection of picks. In his opinion finger picks are for banjo players.

added December 4, 2012

 

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