6/23/2015

1910s Gibson Army-Navy Pancake Mandolin




I've worked-on and sold a couple of Alrite mandolins but I've never done-over an Army-Navy. They're "almost" the same instrument save a much-downgraded trim option on the Army-Navy. This model is even more bare-bones than an A-Jr. I also say "almost" like an Alrite because the top bracing on this is simple ladder-style -- one right under the bridge and one under the fretboard extension. On the Alrites there was a curious Y/V tonebar bracing. I have to admit that this Army-Navy sounds a lot better, though I suppose the Alrites had more clarity/crispness to their sound. I'm not sure about dating but I'm almost certain this was made between 1918-1920.

This instrument came in via a customer for work and that work included: replacement back brace, board level and refret, fitting a new bridge, installation of a new headstock veneer, and then a few items the owner didn't know about. Those were: lube/clean the tuners, modify the supplied bridge, and reglue about 1/2 of the top/side and back/side seams. There was an especially poor repair to the endblock area that really, really needed to be addressed. 




The end result of the work is a Gibson-feeling mandolin with "brand new boutique" playability and plenty of volume and cut boosted by a woody, warm tone. I've strung it with 34w-10 strings, though at the time this was built it would've probably been more used to the tension of 32w-9 or comparable (from what I've seen of period sets). 


Ah, yes, and a new bone nut, too.

The customer supplied the nice thick ebony headstock veneer as well as some replacement pearl dots and the new bridge and bracing stock. The veneer went on beautifully and reinforces a headstock that'd been reglued in the past (you can see indents from C-clamp pressure on the sides of the headstock).


Rather than "ebonize" the ebony fretboard (as it would've been originally), I just polished it up after a final level/dressing. These days we like to see color on our instruments! I used "banjo" size fretwire when refretting and while the first 3 pearl dots are replacements, the remaining dots are the originals.

Nut width, scale length, and neck profile are all identical to comparable-era Gibson mandos.


The instrument shows a ton of wear and tear but no cracks. The top just slightly sinks in a couple areas but that's very much expected of both Alrite and Army-Navy mandolins. It goes with the design.


The bridge began as a beautiful customer-supplied Siminoff-made ebony teens-era Gibson repro bridge. The trouble started, though, when the standard curved base meant that even with the feet just lightly fitted to the top, the bridge was already a bit too short. I hack-jobbed it into an adjustable bridge (almost Strad-O-Lin style in the way the shafts are concealed) to make lemonade out of a lemon.

Interestingly, the tone didn't change much. It perhaps got a slight bit more punchy and clear-sounding.





The tuners were pretty gross as-supplied. A bit of cleaning and lube got them working just fine, though. They actually hold tune really well.

Note the repaired "crack line" down the center of the headstock.


While the top is solid spruce and the neck is mahogany, the back and sides are standard "Gibson birch."




The endblock-area back/side seam had been reglued "off" from the side of the instrument. This wasn't a huge problem in itself, but a mucky old repair job meant that it was much more convenient to reglue it in the same place it was glued-up beforehand. I simply filled the remaining "edge hangover" to match and reduce edge chip-out and wear.



While the headstock veneer is matched in profile near-perfectly to the original headstock cut, there are tiny little gaps here and there from "rounding off" of the headstock edges. You'd miss them if I didn't point them out, though.


An ebony nut would've been true to the original design, but bone wears so much better.

4 comments:

Amahl_Shukup said...

Oh that is one SWEET looking piece of history, sounds nice too. If you ever come across one of these for sale, Jake, let me know.

Jake Wildwood said...

Will do!

Amahl_Shukup said...

Forgot to say (in case you didn't recognize the 'Amahl Shukup' pseudonym) I'm Bill down in Tennessee, you just finished up the Gibson 1923 banjo-mando and Harmony archtop for me.

Jake Wildwood said...

I do recognize you. :) You told me about your web handle and its origins, too, hee-hee.