Greven L-00v Prototype Test




This is my personal evaluation of two prototype John Greven Luthier guitars given the designation L-00v. They are replicas of two 1934 Gibson L-00 guitars  (not shown) that were extraordinary examples owned by professional artists.  One of them belongs to professional blues performer and recording artist Mary Flower of  Portland.  Several features and characteristics of those example Gibsons stood out. They had a huge versatile sound, wide 1-13/16" nut and wide saddle spacing, a large 4" sound hole, beefy necks with a vintage V profile. They also didn't sound honkish, midrangy, nasally or thuddy as one might expect some of the older L-00s to sound. However Gibson changed their design details continuously.  First let me start with a little history. John recently built the first #001 prototype and it was addicting to play and promising but did not nail the vintage Gibson examples. The next step was to build #002 and leave all the bracing and inside a little rough with the bracing and every detail exactly copied from the originals and also adi bracing with a sitka top of high grade. This #002 prototype exceeded all expectations and to every pro playing it was  as good or better than both original Gibson references. They were tested with various strings, setups and even fingerpicks. The headroom was limitless on #002 and the bass chest pumping strong. This news set off a firestorm of interest and John proceeded to build #3 figuring he'd push the envelope with adi bracing and adi top and cuban mahogany back and sides. Surely it would be even more powerful. Well not the case.  He and everyone agreed #003 missed the mark and didn't have quite the same sound.  Close but not the exact clone of the originals #002 seemed to be.

SPECS - Nut 1-13/16", Body join 2-5/16", saddle 2-5/16", total length 39.5", body length 19-1/8", upper bout 10-1/4", waist 8-3/8", lower bout 14-3/4", Body depth at butt 4", body depth at upper bout 3-3/4", scale length 24.9".

Fast forward and these guitars eventually made it to me and here are my experiences after having them several days. My first impression was #003 which arrived a few days early.  I was immediately drawn to the wide fretboard and the fact the necks didn't feel like the ball bats I had expected from speaking with John. The sound of #003 was great but I can hear some slick glassy high end and lack of that dry sparkly mahogany high end I was expecting. It also lacked that nasally small body sound I was expecting and had a huge bass, flatter EQ and sustaining trebles. This guitar sounds a little like  a rosewood guitar with a more reflective metallic string sound.  After speaking with John he said this cuban is very hard and would not surprise him that my impressions were such. It's also very important that I noted the Elixir strings on it which automatically add to that sound I am hearing. The  guitar is a little stiff in the action even though the neck relief and height are good. Lotsa saddle and some super minor fret sizzle and a little rough around the edges but a very addictive guitar to play and of course a prototype. Now waiting on the #002 that's suppose to be so fantastic. 

Finally on Friday #002 arrived.  It has fretboard markers and some very minor differences. It plays with a more loose feel and I see a tapered headstock like the Gibsons. The sound is almost identical to #003 and it took me some time to really hear the difference. The #002 with the sitka top does have more open sound and open midrange response and less high end sustain. It also doesn't have quite the throaty bass of #003. I guess it's focused a little more in the midrange.  Also #002 has less overall sustain than #003 but very close. I personally think the adi top on #003 is still a little tight.  They are so close that unless you hear them side by side you can't  hear the difference. #002 does have more headroom now but who is to say the adi topped #003 wont open up over time dramatically and catch up or surpass. #002 sitka does sound a little more opened up in the midrange but I like the Lightnin' bass runs and some other licks better on #003. I think I like #003  and not ready to dismiss it yet even though I can hear what everyone does.

SUMMARY: These guitars are certainly great but they are not capturing as much of the cheesy dry sound I was expecting with a honky nasally blues drenched midrange and ker-thunky bass. I think these are magnificent replicas of the specific 1934 Gibson L-00s but are much more modern and versatile sounding to my ear than the L-00s I have owned and player from the 1930s. Perhaps a little more modern tone with glassy trebles and slick midrange with a flatter EQ.  These would make better all purpose guitars than many modern OMs.  The large bassy yet balanced wall of sound is impressive. I like John's idea of using a less dense, lighter woodier sounding mahogany.  This dense hard cuban could be leaning this guitar more toward the rosewood reflective tonal coloration.  There is no one single Gibson sound or look since they changed their specs constantly. Don't get me wrong most people will flip out over these guitars but I could lean toward more dry woody sound. I'd also like to hear that sparkly dry shimmering effect on the trebles that makes 3 note chords blend together on most mahogany guitars. I suppose owning so many Stellas and the ladder braced Kalamazoo has wet my taste buds for a little bit of an exaggerated sense of blues tone. Neither way is better or worse. Simply a choice. I also realize the tone of #002 blew away Mary Flower and many other pros and players before I received it and she says it's a clone of her Gibson sound. It's hard to ignore that fact. Let's try the phosphor bronze strings (see below) since I believe much of the slick sound I am hearing may be coming from the coated strings.

MAJOR UPDATE- I changed the strings to DAddario EJ-16s and have all the sound clips condensed in one location for comparison and I hear a big improvement in the vintage Gibson tone.  [JUMP TO THE COMBINED MP3 SOUND TEST PAGE]


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