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The Gibson "Special" "Nick Lucas Model" (14-3/4″).
Factory Order Number 9921.
John R. Barmeyer Collection, 2006.
The Nick Lucas Special was the first celebrity-endorsed guitar offered by an American manufacturer, a marketing idea that has since proven to be a stunning success for the industry. Thus, at a difficult economic juncture in its history, the Gibson company permanently established its guitars as desirable instruments for professionals and discriminating amateurs alike.
Nick Lucas, a jazz vocalist and guitarist who was called “the famous Crooning Troubadour” in a 1932 Gibson catalog, achieved fame in the 1920s for his vocals accompanied by guitar. Indeed, Gibson's advertising suggested that this small-bodied, but deep instrument was “an exceptional guitar for vocal accompaniment on the stage, radio, and records.” The company developed the model on the premise that many Lucas fans would be eager to replicate hits like “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” “Picking the Guitar,” and “Teasing the Frets” at home on a guitar developed to the artist's unique specifications. Like many of the best popular instrumentalists of the time, Nick Lucas was an American of Italian descent who Anglicized his name. Born Dominic Nicholas Anthony Lucanese, Lucas had musical roots in the Italian mandolin tradition and was a skillful player of that instrument, in addition to his expert playing of the banjo and guitar.
NMM 12574 was made in the second year of the model’s production, with mahogany back and ribs and a lower bout width of 14-3/4″, slightly enlarged from the original 14″ width. Later examples also featured rosewood or maple for the back and ribs, as well as features more typical of the archtop guitar, such as a raised pickguard and fingerboard, trapeze tailpiece, and adjustable bridge.
Inscriptions: Printed on the round, lacquered paper label with a thin line inside a thick line border, the serial number written in black ink, the first "7" written in a different ink over the lacquer, the other numbers under the lacquer: NICK LUCAS Gibson SPECIAL / [photograph of Nick Lucas with guitar] / No.7873804 / Made by / GIBSON, Inc. / KALAMAZOO, MICH. / U.S.A.
Body: Soundboard: two-piece spruce: medium grain, narrowing toward the bass flank, broadening toward the treble flank. Back: two-piece mahogany. Ribs: two-piece mahogany, reinforced on inside with 12 reinforcement strips of white canvas glued to inside of ribs, perpendicular to top and back. Head: mahogany veneered with black lacquered maple; black celluloid bell-shaped truss rod cover secured with nickel-plated, steel, slot-head screws. Neck: mahogany; integral with head.
Trim: Heel cap: none. Fingerboard: rosewood bound in white celluloid with two-ply, black-and-white celluloid trim between binding and neck; 19 nickel-silver frets; mother-of-pearl slotted diamond with concave sides behind 3rd fret; mother-of-pearl slotted trefoil behind 5th fret; mother-of-pearl slotted lozenge behind 7th fret; mother-of-pearl lozenge with two lobes behind 9th fret; mother-of-pearl lozenge with circle at center behind 12th fret; mother-of-pearl lozenge with two ovals and diamond at center, behind 15th fret; single imitation tortoise-shell, celluloid side dots behind 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, and 15th frets; double imitation tortoise-shell, celluloid side dots behind 12th fret. Nut: bone. Bridge: rosewood; angled bone saddle; black plastic bridge pins. Tuners: six Grover, nickel-plated brass, worm-gear machine tuners with decoratively cut plate outlines; nickel-plated brass heads with decoratively cut head outlines and rounded edges. Endpin: white celluloid. Pick guard: imitation tortoise-shell celluloid. Lacquer: dark red-brown sunburst on top; dark brown on back, ribs, neck, and head; fine craquelure.
Inlay: Head: mother-of-pearl Gibson; abalone fleur-de-lys. Binding: white celluloid; two-ply, black-and-white celluloid strip trim. Rosette: three-ply (white-black-white) celluloid purfling strips set in from inside edge; soundhole inside edge bound in white celluloid. Back stripe: none. End graft: none.
Interior: Linings: kerfed mahogany. Neck block: mahogany; beveled edges. End block: mahogany; beveled edges. Top bracing: spruce X-brace, the joint of main cross-brace reinforced with white cloth; transverse and finger braces with tapered ends; maple bridge plate. Back braces: four spruce back braces with tapered ends. Back graft: spruce.
©National Music Museum, 2006-2020
Most recent update: January 10, 2020