4/17/2015

1916 Gibson A-4 Carved-top Mandolin




For round-hole pickers of the A-style fascination, it doesn't get too much better than this ultra-sweet A-4. No cracks, no real issues, and now a fresh board level, refret, and setup... making this play like a modern boutique instrument but sound like a million-bucks vintage one. It has that dry, percussive, woody tone with a lot of crisp attack that only the best of these get... and I've played a lot of them, now. It's loud and Alpha Male in character.

I did the work on this for a customer and I think he's going to be shocked at the transformation. When this came in it had the usual warp/relief in the neck that these get over time and I, basically, considered it unplayable as-is. It had cheese-slicer action. With a lot of patience I coaxed that dried-out, chip-prone board back into playing shape and I'm so glad the owner took the plunge. This is now 100% functional and a joy to hold, play, and see. It drives me nuts how many Gibson owners can't really make use of their old mandolins because they've got a rat's nest of playability issues to solve.



The spruce top is carved pretty thin which is, I'm imagining, the reason it sounds so good. Unfortunately there's a tiny bit of sag (presumably from heavy stringing) at the treble side of the bridge, but the top is holding steady.


As an A-4, this gets fancy appointments with pearl-inlaid fleur-de-lis at the headstock, inlaid tuner buttons, and ivoroid binding all over.

With regards to the past history of the instrument, I've set this up with regular light (10s) strings.


After a lot of patience in dealing with the board level job, the new banjo-size fretwire popped in quite happily. The board also looks great with a nice polish to it, too, and the pearl now jumps right out.


I love the rosettes on these guys. Also: note how the extension binding has shrunk a little bit. It's pretty pointless (unless you like broken binding) to try to force the old celluloid back.


The owner wanted an ebony adjustable bridge (always a plus!) to replace the old non-adjustable bridge. Due to the slightly interesting top geometry (a little sunken around the treble foot), I cut the new, nice-grade repro bridge down to the same size as the original on the wings and then fit it from there.



Aside from the good condition, the originality is great as well.



Amazingly, the original clamp for the pickguard is working just fine.


Here are those gorgeous buttons.











The original case, Gibson string packets, bridge, and even an original sales receipt (dated to 1917, though the serial number points to shipping in 1916) are with the mando.


Gotta love that!

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