Hi, Steve. I had a chance to meet Chuck Morrison in Boulder when he contacted me about a presentation he was giving for the Boulder Guitar Society about the early days in luthiery in the Boulder area because I'm old enough to have gotten to know some of the players in those days. I was surprised to hear his story of how Flatirons started and finally understood the Boulder connection.
Hi Steve Carlson.
I have a 1987 Gibson F5L that you signed in September of that year. I bought it new through Mandolin Brothers, Staten Island, New York. Shortley after taking possession of it I phoned you in Montana and had a nice conversation with you about the instrument, plus you explained the significance of the serial number. Still playing it as my main mandolin and enjoy it very much. Thank you, good to hear from you via mandolincafe.
Lee H. Bayliss
Flatiron 2MW I gave to my father. My niece seemed to enjoy my rendition of 'Golden Slippers'.
'Christmas Times a-Comin'
Summer NAMM '87. Signing the 1st 4 Montana F-5L's at NAMM. Henry signed the 1st 4 also. Notice Jim Triggs and Greg Rich (background 1st photo).
w/Jim Triggs . . . w/Greg Rich . . . Dennis Balian w/Roger Siminoff.
Charlie Derrington and Dennis . . . Stan Jay and Ellen . . . Flatiron Booth as it appeared in the Gibson booth summer 1987.
Henry and myself with the 1st walls of the Guitar plant going up.
Thanks for the pics steve . so many faceless names in the forum .nice to see we are all just folk .
So Steve, can you explain why you all used X-bracing in your arched-top mandolins when you began making them? I just think it's great and love my Flatiron. Just wondered what led you all to use x-bracing.
(On a related, but unrelated note - I went to college in Fort Collins, B. S. Geology, 1977 and lived/worked in Boulder for a spell afterwards. Your brand stuck with me from the onset.)
ˇpapá gordo ain’t no madre flaca!
'20 A3, '84 1N, '84 A5-1, 2012 Cohen A5, 2012 Muth A5
Wow,,, Steve Carlson posting on the Cafe and posting old pictures.
That is pretty cool. Nice to be able to put a face to the signature.
I have a 1984 Flatiron A5-1 SERIAL # 84110434
I was sort of keeping my eye out for one for a couple of years and then stumbled upon this one.
I bought it from craigslist sight unseen and much to my suprise it arrived unplayed and as close to mint as you can get.
I guess if you buy enough mandolins online you have to get lucky sooner or later!
Great mandolin with a thump of a chop.
I really like the finish on these mandolins.
The answer to your question and every similar question is this . . . 'it is found in the doing'. I'll try to clarify. When you are doing something . . . say traveling down a path or on a journey, you come to junctures in that path that require a decision. And each decision made has (or should have***) the same objective. And that is to accomplish the goal. Which in the case of a journey, is to reach the final destination.
So how that (those) decision(s) are made along this path is what make:
- Companies Unique
- for Successful Results
- for Interesting Stories
- Colossal failures
- Life Interesting
In the doing then . . . is a constant flow of 'needs' which generate questions/feedback/decisions/regrouping/redirection, and new decision, etc. A constant feedback loop exists which is responded to. And lessons learned are better not forgotten.
Create a picture in your mind now about Flatiron at that time. Think of all the things you can picture and parse them into the process of decision making.
A key logic stream:
You make mandolins, you ship them to dealers. If you ship a 'great sounding mandolin' to your best dealer (or any dealer), it is highly likely that the best player in town is going to buy it. [Maybe he/she gives lessons at the store, we'll call her Joan]. If it sells, the store is likely to re-order (which is the goal). Now if the 2nd mandolin arriving at this store for some reason is not up to snuff with Joan's . . . you're in trouble.
That whole thought process is summed up in the word consistency. And it is an example of only one of the many objectives of a project.
So any project has a myriad of objectives and every company has a protocol for reaching consensus along this path of decisions.
In this specific case, what you don't know (which is a lot) you learn by asking questions . . . and question asking is my forte! Dealer feedback was important. And of course many dealers were quite knowledgeable. You talk with anybody who knows anything. You read everything you can find. I had a full library of 'Pickin' and 'Frets' magazines with many pertinent articles and interviews, etc. You become of depository of information you in the end will sieve through and . . . build something.
Prototypes start to 'make real' the information gathered. My first was pretty awful. What looked good on paper looked like an onion in person. If you're 'learning', it's just trial and error . . . and time. Time going by while doing something. In the doing is progress made.
In the end, after numerous prototypes, I personally liked the X-braced sound and I felt that X-bracing gave me the consistency I was looking for. So that dealers and their customers could look forward to opening the case.
So the process is always the same. Doesn't matter what you're working on. In my present manufacturing business Phil and I are always discussing the next project or problem. Only now, we have 32 years of applied experience in the field. 32 years of asking questions, applying and learning. The challenge is much more, not forgetting what we've already figured out.
Right now we have a customer whose truss rod doesn't work exactly the way he wants. The customer wants to try 'ABC' and we think more like 'XYZ'. So we've discussed it, laid out the extremes, and we're building 4 necks with 2 approaches, both appoaches with quarter-sawn and flat-sawn samples. The goal is to 'get there' as efficiently as possible. Nothings changed. That's the process.
Question for you. Don't you have an original 'Carved Top Brochure'? It does cover some of this and may be of interest. I don't know.
***(The project process is oft times thwarted in the Corporate environment where individuals tend to spend more time tending their resume, than making a decision their accountable for. Thankfully this was not a problem for me at Flatiron (which was me) or Gibson, where I was allowed to be me.)
'Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!' by Richard Feynman
'Made in Japan' The autobiography of Akiro Morito (Sony)
My Favorite Book: 'The Man Who Loved Only Numbers' The story of Paul Erdos
Thanks for the fascinating reply! I have heard of Ed Demmings and total quality management, which is a customer and worker focused path to better product and process. I didn't buy my Flatiron new so the background I have on the early days (I.e., when my a5 was made) is mostly from this site. Along the way, I did collect some information on the pre-Gibson Flatirons, however.
So, you still make instruments? The folklore seems to suggest you stopped making instruments, maybe building other stuff. Not to pry, that is. . .
THanks again for your reply!
ˇpapá gordo ain’t no madre flaca!
'20 A3, '84 1N, '84 A5-1, 2012 Cohen A5, 2012 Muth A5
Thank you for your illuminating and insightful posts. It's wonderful to attach your personality to my beloved '88 F5L.
I'm going to get it re-fretted soon and when that happens I will also have a bit of finish work done on the scroll where I have worn it down to bare wood. Can you tell me what kind of finish is on my mandolin? It's dated May 9, 1988, serial # 8114058 and signed by you.
I remember the day in the Summer of 1978 when I made a business trip thru Bozeman and stopped by the store to meet you and pick a few tunes. Later on we played at Karl Marx Pizza and went to Livingston and played on Ken Boom's radio program. That is when I met Tom Fish and some other local pickers. Lotsa fun in those days.
It is good to see your posts here on the Cafe.
Long time my friend!
Yes . . . those were the days. I had occasion a year ago or so, with Ron King visiting in town, where we sat down and listened to that radio show and other old tapes. There was even one with Alan Munde joining us at the Filling Station. It had been probably 20 years since I'd heard them.
But, do you remember me driving to Helena on Friday night's and playing with you and Mike Williams at your local pizza place, then spending the night with your family if there was a snow storm. I think we did that for several weeks.
Thanks for the howdy and the memories!
Best to you,
Flatiron beginnings . . .
Last edited by Steve Carlson; Jan-14-2012 at 9:59am.
Oh. man... however did I miss this thread? Fantastic. I was one of the first buyers of an A5-2 back in 1983 (see below). I bought mine that year from Mandolin Brothers and still have and play it. I also contacted Steve a year or so later to see if he would build me a mandola but at that time he hadn't built any any said that he would have to build a few prototypes first so it would prob take a couple of years to make sure it was right.
"Look upward; He is coming back!"
I missed it too. Must have been on vacation in a foreign land where there was no WiFi to catch up on the cafe. I remember sometime in 1986 being at the Station Inn when Charlie D and Steve and others from Gibson were at the Station Inn right after the deal went down or was about to go down between Gibson and Flatiron. I remember CD told me they were having trouble keeping up with the F5L production and they had to farm out to other luthiers to build them partial and Gibson factory finished them. They needed someone who could do the whole process and maitain quality control much better. I would say the marriage was a sucess for quite a number of years. They put out some super Monroe models in Bozeman. If Steve is still reading this I wonder if he could tell the story of the Bobby Osborne model and why it didn't get past the prototype stage.
1992 F-5L signed by Steve Carlson.
Fabulous tone, best sounding Mandolin they had at Mandolin Bros. that day.
It spanks everything I've played anywhere around here for comparison.
Here's a '92 Gibson F-5L signed by Steve Carlson. It's one of very few blonde mandolins ever produced by Gibson (or Flatiron). I was very privileged to have it living at my house for a few years and later sold it to a well known West Coast player. It is a great mandolin (thanks Steve, Jill, Peter and Chris for your involvement in my stewardship of this exquisite mandolin).
My poor old beat up 2M flatiron is a factory second, so it doesn't have a signature in it....but it sure plays pretty. I'm guessing that the first two numbers of the serial number are the year of manufacture, so it is an 81...
I just want to say "Thank you" Mr. Carlson .... I have an 88' F5L and a 90' A5L each signed by you that I am pleased and proud to play anywhere in any company. R/
Cheers . . .
Last edited by mando-tech; Jan-30-2013 at 11:34am. Reason: need addition