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The Unwound Third => Gitfiddles, Harps, Washboards & Kazoos => Topic started by: thumbstyle on August 18, 2005, 06:19:20 PM

Title: Gibson A mandolins
Post by: thumbstyle on August 18, 2005, 06:19:20 PM
Hey All,

I've been thinking about buying a vintage Gibson A-style (oval hole) mandolin, and I'm looking for a little advice. Specifically, when were the best-sounding ones made? I seem to recall hearing that the best ones are from the nineteen-teens (or was it the 1920's?). Is there a difference in sound between the various trim grades (A, A-2, A-3, etc.)? Anything else to keep in mind or look out for?

Slack, I remember playing and loving yours -- what is it again?

Thanks for any help,

Dave
Title: Re: Gibson A mandolins
Post by: Slack on August 18, 2005, 07:30:46 PM
Davebro - the expensive vintage mandolins are the years that Lloyd Loar worked for Gibson - it has been awhile since I reserched mandolins -- but the years were soemthing like 1923 (or 22) -1926 (or 25 cannot remember).  All Snakehead A's are from this period and are very popular and pricey. Loar era mandos also have an adjustable truss rods, earlier mandos do not.

I have a 1921 A4 (got lucky on eBay), so no trussrod and even though Loar may have been in the factory at that time, it is not considerd a Loar era.  Absolutely wonderful instrument (as you noted)

A1, A2, A3, A4 (the A0 is a little later) have increasing ornamentation and better woods as you go up the scale.  You might spend some time on madolincafe.com -- they also have a classified section and I think there is a vintage gutiar and mando page on the net that will describe the differences in models.  If all else fails, Collings makes an excellent A.

Cheers and keep us posted,
slack

edit:  Oops -- but Collings does not do oval holes.
Title: Re: Gibson A mandolins
Post by: waxwing on August 18, 2005, 08:08:01 PM
Another option might be a flatback Stella. When you come over to pick up your National you can try it out if you like. It has gotten some good reviews from some good players (I'm a beginner myself) and I would imagine they go a little cheaper than the A Gibsons.. Neil Harpe often has them for around $300, which is what mine was.
All for now.
John C.
Title: Re: Gibson A mandolins
Post by: thumbstyle on August 20, 2005, 12:34:04 PM
Thanks, guys.

Slack - Thanks for getting me up to speed on Gibson vintages. Based upon your'n, I'm not sure how much Loar-era matters, but it's good to know.

I was admiring Lauren's Collings at PT -- they are really nice. She has the simpler matte-finish model, which I think is particularly tasteful and appropriate for this kinda music. I will keep Collings in mind, but I have a real jones for an old oval-hole mando.  :P

Wax - Good tip on the Stella mando. I'll have to give it a pick when I come over (like you said elsewhere, would be good to set for a spell and play when I get down your way -- next weekend?).

Cheers,
Dave
Title: Re: Gibson A mandolins
Post by: waxwing on August 20, 2005, 01:04:32 PM
Next weekend is pretty busy, but let's email. Out of town from this aft 'til Tuesday eve.
All for now.
John C.
Title: Re: Gibson A mandolins
Post by: GhostRider on August 22, 2005, 10:11:54 AM
Hey Dave:

Tim Williams a CB player here in Calgary has a Stella flat back mando which sounds just great, even amplified. Saw him do a duet with Mary Flower with that mando and Mary playing her L-00 last Thurs..

They did MM's Frisco Bound.

Alex
Title: Re: Gibson A mandolins
Post by: frankie on August 25, 2005, 09:55:14 PM
I hate to be a stick in the mud (really, I do), but there's nothing particularly magical about Stella mandolins except the name.  Totally serviceable mandolins can be found by Washburn, Lyon and Healy, Supertone - hell, they're probably all made by the same two factories anyway.  If you can find a Strad-o-lin, they can be great deals.  Not much to look at for the most part, but great sounding & playing instruments.  I think Bernunzio had a couple, maybe in the $400 range, not too long ago.

Gibson A models are cool if you have the cash - a lot of old-time players I know really dig F-4 models - the oval hole ones.  Nothing wrong with those, either, if you have the money and one speaks to you.

edited to add:  Whoops - no oval-hole Strad-o-lins, at least none that I've seen.  Plenty of oval hole models made by Washburn, Lyon and Healy, Supertone, Weymann...  keep an eye out.
Title: Re: Gibson A mandolins
Post by: waxwing on August 25, 2005, 11:36:35 PM
Actually, I wasn't saying any different about the Stellas. Just that they sound great and are relatively (to the Gibsons, that is) cheap. I got mine over 2 years ago for $300 and Neil Harpe has an identical one in pristine condition for $500 at the moment. What do the vintage Gibsons run? What do the new Gibsons run?
All for now.
John C.
Title: Re: Gibson A mandolins
Post by: thumbstyle on August 26, 2005, 09:21:59 AM
The vintage Gibsons are in the $2000 range, plus or minus depending upon model and condition.  (I haven't played any new Gibsons that I particularly care for -- probably get a Weber instead) The Stellas, etc. are a lot cheaper, but they sure don't speak to me visually.  That might change if I played some, though.  Nothing like a great sound and a low price to make something look beautiful!  ;D

Alex: I sure did hear a lot about/by Tim Williams this year at PT, mostly from Victoria Mark. He seems to be a major force in acoustic music in Canada, but not well known in the States. I've never heard his rekkids (I don't think), but the songs I've heard people play are all great. What's a good CD of his to start with?

Dave
Title: Re: Gibson A mandolins
Post by: Mark on August 26, 2005, 09:54:40 AM
Hi Dave -

Two of Tims CDs that I would higly recommend are 'Riverboat Rendezvous' and 'Fellow Travellers' (which also features Big Dave McLean, another force in the Canadian acoustic blues scene).  Both are excellent, and have great examples of Tims work on both guitar and mandolin.

If you can't find them in the US, try ordering on-line from A&B sound.  Uncle Bud posted a link to their website somewhere in this forum last year.

Mark
Title: Re: Gibson A mandolins
Post by: GhostRider on August 26, 2005, 11:51:22 AM
Hey Dave:

My favorite Tim Williams CD is "Evenings Among Friends", his live album from 2000. I have copied the track list below:

Drop Down Mama
Sportin' Life Blues
Mojo Hand
Pallet On The Floor
In The Evening When The Sun Goes Down
Kansas City Blues
Slide Guitar Rag
I Want To Thank You Baby
The Arms I Crave
Let Your Shoe Leather Do The Talking
Summerland
My Babe
Black Cat Bone
Leavin' Here Laughin'
Plane Wreck At Los Gatos (Deportee)
When The Levee Breaks
No Expectations

Absolutely first rate.

Here's the link to his website.

http://www.telusplanet.net/public/belzners/main.htm

Alex
Title: Re: Gibson A mandolins
Post by: Slack on September 01, 2005, 01:02:00 PM
Hey Dave,

Here is a shop in Philly that has a good selelction of Gibson A's.

http://www.vintage-instruments.com/navigate/catidx7.htm

I particularly like this one: GIBSON, Mandolin, A-4, 1912, black-face, inlaid tuners, completely original, missing pickguard, very good condition, original hard case, (Our #23696)

Cheers,
Title: Re: Gibson A mandolins
Post by: uncle bud on September 01, 2005, 01:17:31 PM
Yeow, that's a purty one.
Title: Re: Gibson A mandolins
Post by: waxwing on September 01, 2005, 04:59:01 PM
Looks more like scrimshaw on the tuners. Pretty cool. Not all thet pricey either. Fred Ostler (Vintage Instruments) is a nice guy and has been around the biz for quite some time. Knows everybody, including Ari, BTW.
All for now.
John C.
Title: Re: Gibson A mandolins
Post by: thumbstyle on September 01, 2005, 07:35:08 PM
Wow, nice selection! That black one is just about the ticket. But there are many to salivate over.  :P Thanks for the link, Slack.

Good to know that it's a reputable dealer, too -- thanks JohnC.

Dave
Title: Re: Gibson A mandolins
Post by: crookedtune on September 02, 2005, 04:56:26 PM
I've been playing mandolin long enough to have owned a few, including a 1923(?) Gibson A-.  (I eventually traded it for an old-time banjo).

The Gibson was a great, sweet player, and I miss it.  But I have moved on to a Weber Beartooth (f-holes.  Expensive but really, really great).  I also have an old Strad-O-Lin (also f-holes), which is great, particularly for blues.  It's not as refined as the Gibson or Weber, but very strong and full of character.  If you've listened to mandolin blues by Yank Rachell, Johnny Young, or Howard Armstrong, you'll get the picture.  I've not been impressed by any of the modern middle-priced instruments, and wouldn't even bother looking at them. 

Bottom line: the Gibson's better, but the old mail-order mandos are great deals and might just satisfy your itch!
Title: Re: Gibson A mandolins
Post by: arbarnhart on September 20, 2005, 01:49:08 PM
I play a cheap (about $200) A4 inspired import - the Washburn M1SDL I got mine here:

http://www.music123.com/Washburn-M1SDL-i131427.music?t=4 (http://www.music123.com/Washburn-M1SDL-i131427.music?t=4)

I like it a lot and it has been played by others with more experience than myself and I have yet to hear anything but praise (though sometimes qualified by the "for the money" disclaimer). I have "e-chatted" with another owner who lives in NYC and knows Andy Statman, and he had Statman look his over. Statman immediately recommended it to someone else who was looking for a good A4 style for little cash. This same guy in NYC has a friend with an early Gibson and says that cash value is the only reason he would consider a trade.

I did have to do a little fret leveling to get mine buzz free with really low action. The Washburn line is known for inconsistency (the F hole A model that carries a similar price tag is completely different) but they do carry a lifetime warranty and the company has been around a while (not as long as they would lead you to believe; the current company bought the name, but I think that was over 25 years ago).

On Steve James' DVD (Learn To Play Blues Mandolin), he likes the old Gibsons but says that for the blues sound you really don't need to go high end and recommends looking at used Harmony mandolins.

Don't get me wrong - I would love to have a vintage A4. But it's not necessary to plunk down a lot of cash for a good blues mando
Title: Re: Gibson A mandolins
Post by: arbarnhart on September 08, 2006, 06:48:43 AM
Wow - it's been about a year since I made that recommendation and guess what - I still stand by it and like that little bugger more now than I did then. I read a post elsewhere from someone that got one used that the previous owner had carved on the back (carved a relief picture of some sort) and he decided to replace the back. Had some nice things to say about the inner workings and measured against an A4 drawing and found there is more than a passing resemblance - other than the F style peghead and the in line (instead of transverse) brace it is a dead on copy.

I have discovered that strings can make a huge difference and I am using the JazzMando JM-11s (http://jazzmando.com/jazzmando_jm11_flatwound_strings.shtml (http://jazzmando.com/jazzmando_jm11_flatwound_strings.shtml)). And I have still not received any negative feedback on it from anyone playing it (other than some grassers telling me it's not a bluegrass mandolin - ya think??  ;) ).

I play a cheap (about $200) A4 inspired import - the Washburn M1SDL I got mine here:

http://www.music123.com/Washburn-M1SDL-i131427.music?t=4 (http://www.music123.com/Washburn-M1SDL-i131427.music?t=4)

I like it a lot and it has been played by others with more experience than myself and I have yet to hear anything but praise (though sometimes qualified by the "for the money" disclaimer). I have "e-chatted" with another owner who lives in NYC and knows Andy Statman, and he had Statman look his over. Statman immediately recommended it to someone else who was looking for a good A4 style for little cash. This same guy in NYC has a friend with an early Gibson and says that cash value is the only reason he would consider a trade.

I did have to do a little fret leveling to get mine buzz free with really low action. The Washburn line is known for inconsistency (the F hole A model that carries a similar price tag is completely different) but they do carry a lifetime warranty and the company has been around a while (not as long as they would lead you to believe; the current company bought the name, but I think that was over 25 years ago).

On Steve James' DVD (Learn To Play Blues Mandolin), he likes the old Gibsons but says that for the blues sound you really don't need to go high end and recommends looking at used Harmony mandolins.

Don't get me wrong - I would love to have a vintage A4. But it's not necessary to plunk down a lot of cash for a good blues mando
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