"It was quite an experience for me, I never dreamed of making a record."
- Maybelle Carter on the Bristol Sessions
Maybelle Carter (1909-1978) Maybelle not only was one of the early pioneers of country music, but also one of the first people to play a lead solo on the guitar. Her original approach of playing the melody on the bass strings with her thumb and then brushing the appropriate chords on the treble strings with her fingers was so innovative, that the now commonly used technique is called the “Carter Scratch”. Except for the early years, she played those awesome licks on a 1928 Gibson L-5 archtop guitar chosen by her because it was the best guitar she could find.
In the late 1920’s The Carter Family was formed with Maybelle on guitar & harmony vocal, her cousin Sara on autoharp & lead vocal, and Sarah’s husband A.P. singing bass. The group’s big break came when they responded to an open audition advertised in the local paper to make a record and were chosen as one of the acts out of hundreds to record. On August 1, 1927, A.P., Sara, and Maybelle who was 9 months pregnant made the arduous journey in a Model T Ford to Bristol, Tennessee to make their first recordings. The Carter Family’s genuine down-home sound resonated so well with the southern record-buying public that they recorded a staggering 326 songs before disbanding in 1944.
In 1938 the group moved to Del Rio, Texas so they could easily cross the border to perform live on a Mexican radio station which in those days reached the entire United States and even into Canada gaining them national fame. The Carter Family is considered to be country music’s first superstars. Maybelle is considered to be the mother of country music earning her the moniker, “Mother Maybelle”.
- Wilwood Flower, 1928
- Can The Circle Be Unbroken, 1935
My 1934 Gibson L-5 – Like a violin, the top and back of this guitar are hand-carved from thick slabs of maple and spruce wood. The L-5 model was introduced in 1922 with a 16-inch body but everyone seems to want a 1928 model because that was the year Maybelle Carter’s guitar was made. Ironically, most of the L-5 guitars made in 1928 also seem to be the best sounding ones. The guitar shown here was made in early 1934 and can easily be identified as being a later model by the large block inlays on the fingerboard. This guitar is among the last of the “small” body L-5’s because in late 1934 the body of the guitar was increased to 17 inches in width.