Is This Mandolin Any Good?

Is This Mandolin Any Good?

Hello, someone reccommeded this site to me because they said I could get info on mandolins.

My grandfather had a very old Gibson mandolin. I don’t know much about mandolins, but this one is what I guess you would call pear shaped and the back of it is flat. I can’t tell you about the model or the serial number because the paper label they were on has disintegrated.

My brother ended up with it after my grandfather died and he had it restored. It has now fallen to me, but I don’t play the mandolin, just a little rhythm guitar. I played the trombone in the band in high school, which obviously is no help at all.

Is there any way to date it or to find the serial number besides on the paper label inside? I have looked all in it with a flashlight and I can’t see anything anywhere which resembles some sort of serial number.

I had heard that mandolin was one of the main instruments in Irish music and also in old time country music. I don’t know anyone around my place who plays the mandolin. I strummed the strings after I looked up how to tune it and it sounds fine to me, but what do I know.

Any help would be appreciated.

Re: Is This Mandolin Any Good?

If you have a Gibson (an ‘A’ Model, from your description), you’re probably onto a winner. Obviously it depends what condition it is in, but if it has been properly restored then it will be good. However, if you visit the Mandolin Cafe message board (see Links page on this site), you’ll find more mandolin experts. I just play the thing.

Re: Is This Mandolin Any Good?

Actually the best site for mandolins is http://www.mandolincafe.com . They have a whole discussion board devoted to this very question. But the short answer is yes, you can date a Gibson mandolin by it’s characteristics or at least get a ball park figure. For instance the shape of the headstock, the absence or presence of a truss rod, A hole or F hole style, and whether it is carved or not will help date it. If your instrument is truly flat backed (meaning not carved) then it is either an Army-Navy model (around the first world war) or some of the ’30s A models had flat backs and carved tops.

You really need to get to mandolin cafe with a picture.

Mike Keyes

Re: Is This Mandolin Any Good?

You can also the mandolin section of articles here:

http://www.gruhn.com/articles/

This may give you some good starting information about what you have.

Re: Is This Mandolin Any Good?

Hey, I looked at quite a number of pictures and I think my mandolin is a Gibson A mandolin. Since my grandfather played it when he and my grandmother first married, which was in 1921, I would hazard a guess that it dates back to that time. I saw another mandolin that looked just like it, complete with the pumpkin color, the soundhole and the headstock(the thing with the tuning pegs on it)

So a Gibson A is very good? Why? I know I probably sound stupid, but I just got this instrument given to me (my brother didn’t want it anymore) and I would like to do something with it, although given my guitar ability, that might not be much.

LIke, how good is it? How much would it be worth, if this group doesn’t mind me asking?

Re: Is This Mandolin Any Good?

I’ll buy it for $5

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Very funny. I looked at a website that sells vintage Gibson A mandolins and even one in just O.K. condition from the time I think this one dates to is worth about $1000.

$5. Cute. Very cute.

Re: Is This Mandolin Any Good?

Frankly, I’ve never met a bad mandolin 🙂

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Re: Is This Mandolin Any Good?

Vintage Gibson mandolins are the sh*t; that’s what (almost) everyone is looking for.

A models (which is what you have) aren’t as desirable as F models (the ones with scrolls), but they’re the next best thing.

A flat backed A style with a carved top was a depression-era model, so think sometime in the thirties.

Look at the peghead (where the tuning buttons are). If it’s roughly rectangular (actually trapezoidal) and the widest part is at the base, nearest the body, then you have a "snakehead" and you can add another $500 to $1000 dolars in value. If not, it’s still worth on the order of a grand; twice that in excellent condition, not a lot less even if it needs serious work.

There were a whole lot of different A styles, which were essentially the same instrument, but with differing levels of trim and qualities of wood. these factors will adjust the value accordingly.

If you’re thinking of learning Mandolin, you should hang on to it; that’s an excellent instrument, whatever style of music you intend to play.

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Re: Is This Mandolin Any Good?

It’s possible that it is a ‘Loar’ - that is it was made when a man called Lloyd Loar was in charge of Gibson.

These Loar era Gibson mandolins can be worth much more. I don’t want to over-raise your hopes, because there were a lot of A model Gibson made in the early teens (I have one from 1912) and the really valuable ones are Loar F models, but it is something you should at least be aware of.

Put a picture and as many details as possible on ‘Mandolin Cafe’.

Dagger Gordon.

Re: Is This Mandolin Any Good?

It sounds like junk. If you send it to me then I’ll make sure to dispose of it properly for you.

Re: Is This Mandolin Any Good?

If you want to hear how a gibson a model mandolin sounds in Irish music, just listen to the early planxty albums. My own opinion is that in the main, they dont have the volume to cut through the noise in a session though 🙂 ……

Re: Is This Mandolin Any Good?

…….Having said that, dont think of getting rid of it unless you’re on the breadline. I had one and loved it, but I had to sell it to finance a louder instrument. Best of luck tracing it’s origins. The people at Mandolin bros. Http://www.mandoweb.com would be glad to do an appraisal over the phone for you.

Re: Is This Mandolin Any Good?

There’s only one "Lloyd Loar" signed A model in existance, so the odds of it being one of his aren’t terrific; however, if it is, you just won the lottery—"ordinary" Loars are going for 150k.

Does it have "f" holes (like a violin) or a round or oval sound hole?

Either way, peek inside and see if you can see a paper label stuck to the back. If it’s there, it should be visible from the sound hole.

These will ordinarily be signed and dated by the luthier who made it. I dunno if the lower end models got this treatment, but the better ones did.

If you go to the mandolin cafe, there’s a page which runs down all the various types of A models, which should give you a fighting chance of figuring out what you’ve got.

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Re: Is This Mandolin Any Good?

If you want to make it louder, scroll back several pages to my question on better bridges for bouzoukis, and follow the link to Red Henry’s articles about an improved bridge design. Then keep the original bridge, but replace with one of these improved ones. If you re-sell the mando, you can always put the old bridge back on for a snob who can’t tell the difference between a good mando and a better-sounding one.

PS It’s funny to think that the "Gibson Mandoline Company" doesn’t even make acoustic guitars any more, only electrics, when they were once so embarressed by the thought of marketing an electric that they asked Les Paul if he didn’t mind having his name on it instead !l

Re: Is This Mandolin Any Good?

Gibson doesn’t make acoustic guitars? Since when?

Re: Is This Mandolin Any Good?

What sim0n said about prices seems about right to me. A models aren’t particularly collectable and bluegrass players laugh at them, so their value is pretty much based on how they sound to the rest of us. I’ve met non-musicians with old Gibson mandos that they thought were rare antiques. Actually, they’re very common. Unless it’s in spectacular condition, it won’t have exceptional market value.

Some of the Lloyd Loar F-5 models are worth over $100,000. An F-4 of the same vintage might be worth $4000.

Keep it for sentimental reasons, get it set up properly and play around on it. If you turn into a "serious" mandolin player you’ll probably eventually want something better.

Re: Is This Mandolin Any Good?

The Gibson acoustic division is in Bozeman, Montana, just 110 miles south of where I live. Their acoustic guitars are alive and well. They recently debuted a new model at the Winter NAMM show in Anaheim CA (late Januray 2005), per this blurb from the Gibson web site:

"One of the most exciting new Gibson guitars comes from the Gibson Acoustic division, based in Bozeman, Montana. The Traveling Songwriter features a unique body style that is thin but hollow. The Sitka spruce top is designed with dome construction and the same scalloped bracing pattern as Gibsons from the 1930s, for true acoustic tone. The body shape, from Gibson’s historic square-shoulder family, along with the famous Moustache™ bridge, give the Traveling Songwriter an unmistakably Gibson look. The Traveling Songwriter is the only professional-quality guitar designed for easy travel. Gibson Acoustic will also unveil the J-45N, a modernized version of its legendary “workhorse” model, with natural finish and acoustic-electric capabilities. "

I’ve played a handful of old Gison A model mandolins, and every one was a charmer—easy under the fingers, nice round tone, good projection. Maybe "briolin" is hoping to weasel June5th’s prize away at a "steal" of a price….

The newer Gibson instruments I’ve played have also been excellent, though priced out of my reach. The acoustic division in Bozeman is a fairly small, talented, conscientious pool of people, so it’s not like you’re getting some mass-produced, assembly line schlock just because it has the Gibson logo on the peghead.

That said, I’ve never put much stock in the "I won’t play it if’n it don’t say Gibson on it" mind set (once common in the bluegrass world) either.

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Re: Is This Mandolin Any Good?

OH yeah—if the tailpiece (where the strings attach opposite the headstock) still has it’s slide-on cover stamped "The Gibson", then that alone can be worth a couple of hundred bucks, if it’s the right kind.

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Re: Is This Mandolin Any Good?

I’ve heard that some of the lacquer on those old instruments can be highly toxic, especially if the instrument becomes too hot while playing and starts emanating fumes. You don’t play it now, but if you start to learn and become too good or someone you’ve sold it to plays it too hard, it could, well, I just don’t want to think about it. Send it to me for disposal. I’ll return the strings to you, you might be able to use them for packaging or equipment repair. Upon receipt of the instrument in good condition, I’ll reimburse you in full for the shipping charges (if not exorbitant) and throw into the bargain an introductory letter you can use to enter sessions in New Orleans signed with a genuine reproduction of Eamon De Valera’s signature.

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Re: Is This Mandolin Any Good?

Bizarre—I was channel surfing cable tv and suddenly an old Gibson A-4 mandolin was on my screen. Some show where experts assess the value of "antiques" people bring to them. This woman had a mint condition A-4, with the original case in primo condition. All original parts, down to the ivory/pearl inlaid buttons on the tuners. Black finish, oval sound hole with the "rope" inlay. She said she paid $25 for it. The expert valued it at $3,000 USD because it was in such perfect condition. Said the average price for such an instrument might be around $2,000 USD.

$25. Geesh…I’m gonna go drown my envy in $25 worth of beer….

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Re: Is This Mandolin Any Good?

3000USD for toxic waste? Must be an urban legend.

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Re: Is This Mandolin Any Good?

But this is the good ol’ USA, where you can sell anything for more than it’s worth and a fool and his toxic waste are soon parted. This mandolin didn’t even have an image of Jesus in the wood grain, or mold growing inside in the shape of Jessica Simpson’s left ear. Think what it *could* be worth….

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Re: Is This Mandolin Any Good?

The boys at the mandolin cafe have opined that the antiques roadshow’s price was about a grand too high, even for an instrument in such perfect shape.

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Re: Is This Mandolin Any Good?

S’funny…I know most serious bluegrass mando boys wouldn’t be caught dead wearing an A-style, but I actually prefer the way they look over the F-style, particularly with the oval sound hole. And the old, old A-styles I’ve played sound terrific—lots of depth to the tone, dark and warm, perfect for Irish trad. So I’m glad that they’re valued lower than the F-styles, but until I have $2k burning a hole in my pocket, I’ll keep my $125 garage-sale Ibanez A-style.

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Re: Is This Mandolin Any Good?

I prefer them as well, Will.

There are often discussions about this on Mandolin Cafe. Some people think that A-styles sound just as good and the F shape (which is more expensive to make) is mainly for show. The F is so popular partly because that’s what Bill Monroe used to play.

But Tim O’Brien plays a Nugget A-model with f-holes and it’s considered to be a great instrument. Other bluegrass Gibson oval hole users include Andy Statman (nowadays mostly playing Jewish music but possibly the best player of the lot - there’s been a thread about him recently on M Cafe) and the late Red Rector, who was a well known player.

Dagger

Re: Is This Mandolin Any Good?

I love the A sound but for Celtic styles I prefer a bit more jangle in the voice. James Bryan and Carl Jones get a great blend with fiddle and Gibson A mando. Now that I stop to think about it, I guess it depends more on the particular ensemble than the style of music. Mick Moloney apparently used a Gibson A on "Strings Attached". So never mind. I’m just rambling.