1950s Gibson A-50 Archtop Mandolin

In the mid-30s, Gibson more-or-less replaced their venerable oval-hole A-style line with instruments of the same profile but with f-holes, a tonebar bracing pattern, and stripped-down aesthetics. This style, as exemplified by this A-50, continued to be Gibson's entry carved-top mandolin offering through the 60s. This came to me in a trade deal and while the previous owner thinks it's a late 40s build, I have the feeling it's actually an early to mid-50s build. The bigger frets, thicker gloss finish, and lighter back color are indicators of that to me. There's no serial or factory order numbers inside so it's always going to be a good guess.

It came out of the box in good shape but felt a bit stiff to play. After a fret level/dress, setup, and a new set of 40w-11 strings, it's buttoned-up and humming with on-the-dot 1/16" action at the 12th fret. These A-50s aren't quite as purely loud as many of the old Gibson oval-hole As, but they are more heavily-built and sturdy and thus more practical from a player's point of view. The tonebar bracing and f-holes also give it more cut which makes for a useful sound in band situations. This sounds like what it is -- a bluegrassy mandolin but more down-market than an F-model -- still plenty tasty, though!

The top is solid, carved spruce and the back and sides are solid, figured maple. This mando has no cracks (yippee) and is missing its tailpiece cover (Waverly "cloud" style), pickguard, and original tuners (though, thankfully, the latter part is just fine by me as the original tuners are always fussy from this era).

I think the bone nut may be a replacement, too, but it was well-done. The truss works perfectly.

The board is rosewood, just like the bridge -- and bound.

The fretboard isn't elevated and simply sits on the carved top. I actually prefer this style of construction, to be honest.

With no tailpiece cover to hide it, my foam-mute is a little ugly -- but it works.

I will not argue with 18:1 newer tuners, though StewMac "Golden Age" machines would look the business...

1 comment:

Amahl_Shukup said...

Jake, I happen to have one of these, and it has a cloud-type cover plate instead of a Gibson plate down near the end-pin. Do you know what cover plates came with these?