1910s Gibson Style A Carved-Top Mandolin

Gibson mandolins are always good fare, no matter how down on their luck. These round-hole, simple, carved-top models from the teens (this one's serial is illegible so I can't peg the date closer) always yield a woody, open, friendly, and fairly punchy voice that's very suited to "old-timey" pickers but not at all "driven" enough for bluegrass or the like.

A local customer dropped this by and, while it showed evidence of old repairs, it needed "average" work which included gluing-up a bunch of sprung seams, cleating/sealing a top crack, regluing the brace below the soundhole, giving it a fret level/dress, installing a new adjustable bridge, and a setup. Post-surgery it plays perfectly with 1/16" action at the 12th fret, a straight neck, and strung with 34w-10 light strings (though people use 11s on old Gibsons to the top's misfortune, I absolutely suggest staying with 10s or lower).

During some old seam repairs at some point in its past, I think the finish was touched-up here and there, though it looks pretty authentic on the top. The top, itself, is 3-piece in construction.

All the hardware (save the bridge and a pulled-off replacement pickguard) is original, including the bone nut. I lubed the tuners, too.

I added side dots to the ebony board during work on the frets.

This came with its original, one-piece ebony bridge (which is safely stowed in the case), but I suggested to the owner that she should go with an adjustable one for ease-of-use. Gibsons up here in Vermont swell a bunch in summer and contract in winter, so the flexibility is more useful than aesthetic purity. So -- I fit this bridge to the top and it sounds just as good, in my book.

The back and sides are solid birch, as usual.

The whole area up here had blown-out seams, unfortunately.


Jeff Todd Titon said...

I've played several of these down through the years. The best of them sound wonderful, no matter if they are As or A-4s; but I believe they need to be played a lot to get the best sounds out of them. I've seen a lot of lovely A-4s that were bought as trophy instruments and sat in the case for 50 or more years. They look lovely but they sound weak. Even those that have been played a lot, if left alone for a few years, need to be played for at least a couple of weeks to begin to get their good sound back. From the sound of the clip, this one seems as if it hasn't been played in a while and needs to be "woken up" with daily use to get the full-voiced sound it's capable of. I wonder, Jake, if you've noticed the same thing with guitars, especially older Gibsons? -- that the best-sounding are often the most beat looking?

Jake Wildwood said...

Oh yeah, that's why most of my own instruments are ugly as heck -- I pick-out stuff that's been played to heck.

You're certainly right that this needs to "wake up" a bit -- it's sat unrepaired for years as far as I know. When the new strings settle and it gets some hours each week it'll probably come back "true" again. Right now it sounds like a very good "new" mandolin. :)

It's been "scientifically proven" that the more vibration you put into an instrument, the more the wood aligns itself to let those vibrations pass freely. This is why the same rule of thumb (look for the BEAT one) holds true with electric instruments, too.

That said, I have seen instruments that've been played like MAD but visually look sparkling-clean because they've been taken care-of by their owners. They also sound wonderful. I can't claim to be that careful, though -- I add my own healthy dose of nicks and dings to anything I own.