Big Joe Vest's description of the differences in the production of the Master Model from the other Gibson Mandolins of the era
by Gibson F-5 Master Model Registry on Sunday, May 2, 2010 at 11:10am ·
There were several differences...I can only speak about the years I was involved, but certainly not the same animal. The woods were different. The Adirondack Spruce on the MM, better figured Maple in most cases, the carving was more carefully adhered to, the bracing was fit far more carefully, the sanding was done with far more care as well. The MM also used a different glue (hide) and used Macassar ebony for the neck support. The color was done in a different manner than the lacquer mandolins, which shows when you see them side by side. Less hands touched the MM in the build process. Each step was carefully overseen by Charlie and Danny. The headstock inlay is different. The points on the MM are made from fossil ivory, not bone. The necks are shaped with a bit more care and fitted as tight as possible. If the neck did not fit tight without adhesive it was not acceptable. The varnish finish was hand made to a very specific formula and then the french polish overlay was also a special formula and each of these processes were very tedious. When everything went right, we could produce about 1 1/2 a month average. That was in a good year. Some years is was only about 1 a month. The tuners (Waverly's) and the rest of the hardware were silver plated and the cost of the hardware was very high. No body gets a discount on Waverly tuners. Gibson paid the very same as you would if you order them. The bridge and pickguard were very high quality and were stamped just like the Loars. It took many, many, many more hours of labor to complete a MM than a Fern or any of the other mandolins.
The MM was not a profit producing product as some might think. It was a product of love and devotion by Charlie...and the rest of the team as well. It was the result of a passion to build a particular mandolin a particular way and to make it the best it could be within the parameters sought. Only a very limited number of those built under Charlie and Danny exist. Under 100 I believe. That makes them more rare than the original Loar.
The other Gibson mandolins are great mandolins, well built, good woods, great finish, hardware, etc. But just not the same animal as the MM. I am not trying to put any of that line in a negative spot. They were very carefully built, and each one of them was played and inspected by a team of people to ensure the quality of the product and the tone before they were allowed out of the facility. Of the hundreds of mandolins I played there, I was impressed in some way with each of them. The MM's were another animal all together though. They were the epitomy of what a mandolin could be and that was always a point of joy and satisfaction. While I have played a very good number of incredible mandolins, and I have owned a number of incredible mandolins, the MM was, to me, the peak of anything I've seen in the Post Loar years, and some of the MM's even beat some of the Loars I have seen and played. To me and many others, Charlie built a mandolin that exceeded that of the Loar era in many ways, even though the Loar was the prototype. Charlie would never have made that claim to anyone. He never wanted to see what he did as anything to boost his ego. Those of us who surrounded him were not as humble about what he did.
Again, there are many good mandolins and great builders who make instruments that are just as incredible in what they do. The Derrington MM was to many the ultimate for that kind of mandolin. There may be some resemblence between the other products of that era from Gibson, but they were like the nice Mustang compared to the MM's being the Ferrari. This is certianly my opinion, but I think there may be many others who may agree.
There was absolutely nothing sub standard about any of the Gibson mandolins. There was not real "factory" either. Most people have the view of 100 people working in an assemblly line building these mandolins. Nothing could be farther from the truth. There were a handful of people, each who did specific jobs and did them very well. Most were cross trained but usually did a particular job on a regular basis. The mandolins were built to very high standards, and each single one was played and checked by several people before they were approved for shipment. Any mandolin that could not be brought to standard was cut up in a band saw. No 2nds period! They were great mandolins and the standards of build were very high.
That being said, the MM was built a bit different. First, the woods for the MM were seperated from the others upon grading. Only a select few backs, rims, necks, and tops would pass the inspection. If it did not pass, it would not be used on the MM. Since these woods were selected specifically for the MM they were never selected to be any other model. While in a rare occasion a back might be grabbed from the MM stash to build a different mandolin, that was very rare. The tops were never substituted. The MM was the only one allowed to have the red spruce (yes...I know there were a few G's with a red spruce top). We could not pull any other model off the line to be an MM because there were several differences in the materials...and the glue.
The MM was handled differently with more attention and essentially only one guy in the build and graduating. He did the MM's and not the other mandolins. The level of expectation was substantially higher than on the other models. Nothing was sub standard by any means, but the MM was held to a standard that was extremely high in the areas felt important to Charlie. He was the King and we his lowly servants . Seriously though, the MM was a very special product and was held to a particular standard different from the others. Again, none were sub standard, but the standards for the MM were a bit higher...as they well should be.
The DMM started out as an MM and was distressed later. In order to properly distress them we had to completely build them. We even completely finished them, played them, and then selected the ones we wanted to distress. We selected the candidates we felt would respond best to the process. This was a product that was at the top of the price spectrum for a modern mandolin, and we were very careful to choose the right product for this process. Just think of it. Your new...worn out mandolin...actually started life as a highly polished mandolin without flaw. We did not chose those with flaws in the finish to distress. The distressing had to be right and just fixing a poor finish or ??? would be too obvious and not look correct by any means. The DMM was the best of the best available at the time we needed a DMM.
I hope this clarifies the process a bit. All the mandolins were carefully built by hand by a small team of highly dedicated and gifted people who had an incredible amount of pride in the work they were doing. These people were incredibly dedicated and wanted to produce the best product they possibly could. Not a slacker in the bunch. Only the very best of the best were allowed to touch the MM. That was a very small, very elite group of dedicated employees.