1/19/2015

1937 Gibson A-Century Carved-top Mandolin




Our soundclip today is played by guest Mr. Paul... who owns this mandolin! He brought it by both to show it off to me and also get some minor fret and setup issues worked-out. It was already playing quite well when it came in but now that it's dialed-in... mwah, what a nice'n.

These things are totally rare (this is called a "Century of Progress" model and these were originally meant to feature at the exhibition of the same name) and this one is in the even rarer condition of nearly-unplayed. The frets hadn't been worked on before and showed only the tiniest wear... though a few were out of alignment with one another. Aside from age-related finish crackle and a couple tiny hairline cracks on the back, it could be a nearly-new instrument. It's amazingly clean. The factory order number stamped at the neckblock is hard to read but either says 1303C, 1803C, or either of those with a "G" after the number. Considering that there's an A-Century logged into Spann's Guide to Gibson as 1303C, I'd have to guess that it's the same instrument. So... we'll call it a '37.


Here's the proud owner taunting us with his smirk. He knows he's got the fanciest Gibson to grace these walls since the Poinsettia uke left a while back.


The top is, thankfully, carved with enough meat left to take a set of 38w-11 strings just fine. And... it sounds tops while doing it. The sunburst finish is classy as heck and who can't like a glued-on firestripe pickguard that conforms to the top contour? Very cool.


When you get up close and personal with these you understand the time investment made by the workers who did the inlay. Not only do these have "mother of toilet seat" celluloid all over, they're also inlaid with blocks of rosewood which are themselves inlaid with pearl diamonds and script. Add to that the two-ply binding fixed to the headstock and board and you've got one heck of a deco-fantastic look.


As I was saying... the condition is fantastic. I'm pretty jealous.



The original bridge is perfectly-fit to the top and only needed a tiny bit of slot cleaning to remove a bit of warble to the tone.


Original cover and tail, too...




The back and sides are made from solid flamed maple. Unlike a typical f-hole Gibson from the time, this model was made with a flatback. Consider this L-50 made in the same fashion. I really like what this does to the tone... it's slightly warmer/more hi-fi in tone rather than simply gutsy and punchy in the midrange.



Paul had his strap initially tied right around the nut but I pointed out that the original strap hanger was way too cool not to use and after confusing ourselves we finally got it fastened correctly.




You've gotta have a pretty cold heart not to be moved by how cool this little dandy is. Paul plays a lot of early popular jazz and Dixieland numbers with a couple groups and I can only think how great this will look up on stage.


Here you can see how that binding just pops with the two-ply layering.

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