Mandolin Cafe News

New Music
Publications
Workshops
Builder News
Announcements
Special Events
Bill Graham
Interviews

News Search

NOTE: you are viewing old, archived Mandolin Cafe News articles. Our news has relocated here.

The F-5L Mandolin - A turning point in the history of Gibson's acoustic string instruments

By Roger Siminoff
May 9, 2010 - 9:00 pm

Email article Email article  Printer friendly Printer friendly

Roger Siminoff, author of <i>The F-5L Mandolin - A turning point in the history of Gibson's acoustic string instruments</i> Roger Siminoff, author of The F-5L Mandolin - A turning point in the history of Gibson's acoustic string instruments

©Copyright 2010, Roger H. Siminoff, Atascadero, CA 93423. All reproduction rights reserved. No image or part of this publication may be reproduced, published or redistributed without the prior written permission of the author.

There is little doubt in the world of bluegrass music that Gibson raised the standard of excellence with the development of the F-5 Master Model mandolin in the early 1920s. While this instrument was originally designed for classical and concert music, its adaptation in 1945 by Bill Monroe (1911-1996), coupled with his playing style, put the voice of this instrument in a category of its own. Interestingly, Monroe didn't care that Lloyd Loar developed the F-5, and Gibson and Loar didn't envision that Monroe would ever play an F-5, especially the way he did. What transpired was just a matter of wondrous circumstance.

After seven years at Gibson wearing many hats, Lloyd Loar's interest in acoustic guitars, mandolins, and mandolas was dwindling. His mind was going too fast for him to stay in one place too long, and at the end of 1924 he left the company and ventured into the world of electrically amplified musical instruments.

While Gibson's interest in the mandolin wasn't fleeting, the public's interest in mandolin orchestras was dwindling, and the company's loss of Loar - its acoustical engineer - left it a bit stranded in supporting its Master Model line (named after Master Loar, as he was known by those at Gibson). To make matters more difficult, in the ten years following Loar's departure, Gibson began weaving its way through the Great Depression (ca. 1929-1935). Although the sales of mandolins were important to the company's bottom line in the early 1900s, the expansion of Gibson's guitar models in the 1930s and 1940s became the primary focus, and the mandolin became Gibson's lowest priority.

F-5L promotional photo. Click to enlarge. Reproduction rights reserved. F-5L promotional photo. Click to enlarge. Reproduction rights reserved.

Over the years, the F-5-style mandolin went through several iterations, with higher-numbered models featuring an array of structural and cosmetic changes. By the early 1970s, the company's F- models had gone through so many design, manufacturing, and structural changes that they bore little physical or acoustical resemblance to their original counterparts. Sadly, they were virtually unplayable from an acoustical standpoint.

In the mid-1970s, the story took a marked turn, and if you enjoy Gibson and Loar history, the development of the F-5L mandolin is an interesting tale. It is one I have wanted to share for some time but have hesitated to do so because I knew that so much of it would read like an autobiography. The fact is, not only was I involved, I championed the project, and there is no way for me to avoid using first person in telling the story. So, at the risk of appearing boastful, I would like to ask that you disregard the "I dids" and allow me to share the story of the F-5L with you.

The launch of the F-5L

In mid-1973, I met with Bruce Bolen, Gibson's Artist Relations Manager at the time, to show him a truss rod system I had designed that I thought might interest Gibson. Intrigued by my description of the idea, he invited me to bring my prototype to Gibson's headquarters in Lincolnwood, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, to spend a morning talking about the attributes and possible implementation of my design. Within a year, Gibson licensed my truss rod patent, and I found myself involved in several projects with the company. I also had other design patents that were of interest to Gibson and, before I knew it, I was consulting on a fairly regular basis making monthly and sometimes weekly trips from my home in Morristown, New Jersey to Gibson's headquarters in Lincolnwood or to the plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

One persistent idea that was always at the forefront of my mind was that Gibson should reintroduce some of the original instrument models that made the company famous - the instruments that I saw as Gibson's heritage. And, my particular focus was on the original Mastertone banjo line and on the first version of the F-5 mandolin that Lloyd Loar designed.

The The "old building" at 225 Parsons Street, Kalamazoo, Michigan. The mandolin builders, prototype shop, and engineering department were on the first floor. Click to enlarge. Reproduction rights reserved.

Meeting with various folks, as I had the opportunity to do on my frequent visits to Kalamazoo and Lincolnwood, I was relentless in my pursuit of the re-issue idea, and I continued to talk about the importance of Gibson's heritage. Almost every time I saw Bruce Bolen, I spoke about the "tap tuning" of Gibson's Master Models and about some of the stylistic features of the early F-5s and L-5s. And, I was somewhat verbal - as I could be in the role of consultant - reflecting on how the arched-soundboard acoustic instruments "we" were building at the time just weren't up to expectations. Bruce always listened with interest. "Gibson" was was in his blood. He is an unbelievably great guitarist with an equally great ear for music and sound. He was interested in the premise of tap tuning, but I don't think he really grasped exactly what it meant, let alone how he could implement it in the plant.

Aside from the marketing and artist relations folks in Lincolnwood, I also shared my thoughts with some of the people in Kalamazoo. I bent the ear of Julius Bellson (former Gibson employee and historian) each time I saw him, but excited as he was with the idea, he was retired then and didn't have the power to affect a change at Gibson.

Tom Fedders was the plant manager at the time, and I made a few efforts to spark his interest. Unfortunately, Tom was more of a furniture guy than a musical instrument guy, and my ideas fell on deaf ears.

I clearly remember a discussion with Gibson's president, Stan Rendall, which ended in him reading me the riot act on how I was "way off base" and how "These mandolins..." as he picked up an F-12 by the scruff of its neck from a stand behind his desk - "are the finest ever made!" So, I kept pushing Bruce, but clearly backed off of Stan.

Julius Bellson in his home (ca. 1975) with his Gibson style A-4 mandolin. Click to enlarge. Reproduction rights reserved. Julius Bellson in his home (ca. 1975) with his Gibson style A-4 mandolin. Click to enlarge. Reproduction rights reserved.

At some point along the way, Stan resigned as president, and within a month or so Carl Spinoso replaced Tom Fedders as plant manager. "A new regime, I thought." Over the next many months, I presented my ideas a few times to Carl, but he appeared to be uninterested. Another dead end.

Several months later, Jim Deurloo replaced Carl as plant manager. Jim was a prior Gibson employee who left to become Guild's plant manager in Rhode Island, only to be brought back to Gibson in 1974 to manage the expansion and transition to Gibson's new facilities in Nashville.

Then, several things happened in quick succession. One day, I was in my shop in New Jersey and UPS dropped off a large carton. In it was a new blonde-bodied Citation guitar (L-5 style with ƒ-holes, arched soundboard and backboard) - factory and warranty tags attached but marked as a "second" - with a note from Bruce taped to the case saying, "Tap tune this!" I called him and said, "You know, I'm going to have to pull the backboard and this is a brand new guitar." All he said was, "Okay, fine. Call me when it's TAP TUNED!" In essence, put up or shut up.

So, I did. I pulled the backboard, removed the tone bars, regraduated the soundboard and backboard from the inside (I didn't touch the outside), reinstalled tone bars in their correct asymmetrical positions like the early L-5s, tuned the parts, and glued the guitar back together. By the time my work was done, I had removed a lot of wood, and I thought it sounded better, but I didn't play it long enough to be really sure. And, I didn't have the guitar in my possession long enough to really know the guitar, and more importantly, I didn't play guitar well enough to put it through its paces.

Left to right: Bruce Bolen, Roger Siminoff, Jim Deurloo in Jim's office on the first floor of the old (1917) building, ca. 1976. Click to enlarge. Reproduction rights reserved. Left to right: Bruce Bolen, Roger Siminoff, Jim Deurloo in Jim's office on the first floor of the old (1917) building, ca. 1976. Click to enlarge. Reproduction rights reserved.

Bruce was doing a lot of clinics at the time, dashing from music store to music store. He was scheduled to be at a store in Philadelphia and asked that I drive down to meet him so he could hear the guitar. When he was done doing his demo of some of Gibson's latest models to the rather large group of customers assembled at the music store (he really knows how to wow an audience and bring the best out of a guitar!), he waited for the crowd to clear and then he opened the case. He took out the guitar, with his back to me and facing into a corner, played some of his Amazing Grace licks. I don't think I'll ever forget the look in his eye when he slowly turned and said, "No sh**!" I hoped that meant he liked it, but he made no further comments one way or another. He told me had to run to the airport, thanked me for driving all the way down to Philadelphia, asked me to send the guitar back to him, and off he went to Chicago. Guitar in hand, and a bit uncertain of what was next, I took a deep breath and headed back to my home and shop in New Jersey.

By then, Bruce had begun to work more closely with Richard Schneider, a stellar luthier who lived in Kalamazoo at the time. Richard built magnificent classical guitars. Richard wasn't just a luthier - he was an artist in the truest sense. Richard had begun some acoustical developments with Dr. Michael Kasha, and they were very focused on building acoustic guitars with tuned tone bars and air chambers (which were to become Gibson's Mark Guitar series). Bruce invited me to Kalamazoo to meet with he and Richard to talk about my tuning ideas to see just how practical they were for production, and if my ideas were at all similar to the ideas Richard had. It was a great meeting, but apparently another dead end regarding my F-5 reintroduction ideas.

This fern-model F-5 (owned by Fred Severud) was used to describe the features of the fern inlay until the original drawing was found. (The June 1975 issue of <i>Pickin' Magazine</i> featured a story I wrote on Gibson's history and also included a fold-out poster of this F-5 peghead.) Click to enlarge. Reproduction rights reserved. This fern-model F-5 (owned by Fred Severud) was used to describe the features of the fern inlay until the original drawing was found. (The June 1975 issue of Pickin' Magazine featured a story I wrote on Gibson's history and also included a fold-out poster of this F-5 peghead.) Click to enlarge. Reproduction rights reserved.

About a month later, I learned there would be yet another meeting at which time I was asked to talk about what was so special about the "Loar-signed F-5s," the mandolin market size and scope, ideas on how to address the market, and who I thought the target market really was (i.e., who was the ideal potential buyer). In August of 1977, a meeting was held at Billy Finn's Place (a restaurant in Kalamazoo) during which time I delivered my presentation to Jim Deurloo, Bruce Bolen, Tom Pooton (sales manager), Julius Bellson, Bill Halsey, and Abe Wechter. (Bill was a designer-draftsman then and now makes violin bows and mandolins in Michigan. Abe was a contractor who managed several developmental projects at Gibson; he now builds guitars under his name in Fort Wayne, Indiana.) I had a Kodak Carousel projector loaded with about 30 slides that included some text on the features of the original F-5, a bit about its history, some background I had at the time about Lloyd Loar, and a bunch of photos of a fern F-5 that was owned by my friend, Fred Severud (and was pictured on the June 1975 cover of Pickin' Magazine) and of a flowerpot F-5 I owned. I had a list of features we should include and suggested that we needed to do some serious re-tooling because the patterns being used in Kalamazoo for F-5 soundboards and backboards weren't up to original specs. I asked Jim to have one of Kalamazoo's soundboards available at the meeting, and I brought along one of my carved soundboards so they could see, hear, and feel the difference. I offered the idea that we could call this "new" instrument the "F-5L" - the "L" in honor of Master Lloyd Loar. I also had a few slides on the market size and scope from marketing information we developed at Pickin' Magazine. It was a good, positive meeting. At the end of the meeting, Jim chatted for a few moments alone with the Gibson folks and then said, "Well, let's get going!"

Jim charged Abe, Bill, and me to work together to build three F-5Ls for the June 1978 NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) convention in Chicago. I was to be the "mandolin guy," Abe was to be the project manager in the plant, and Bill would turn all of our ideas into drawings and get everything down on paper.

If my memory serves me correctly, the project took the better part of eight or nine months. Much to our delight, Bill scrounged through Gibson's drawing files and found a few early mandolin drawings that helped us confirm we were on the right path. Abe worked with the three mandolin builders inside the plant - Wilbur Fuller, Aaron Cowles, and Dick Doan (Dick is the luthier who was assigned to rebuild Monroe's broken peghead in 1980) to ensure they accurately followed our specs. Drawings and parts went back and forth in the mail, and I was flying back to the plant about once every two or three weeks. I carved some prototype soundboards and backboards on my pattern carver (the same one I'm using today) from wood provided by Gibson, and before long, we had three bodies and necks in process. Bill used the fern inlay on Severud's F-5 as a master for the inlay drawings, and we used an F-5 I owned at the time as a color master. When the bodies were assembled, I headed off to the plant to tap tune them.

With some diligent sleuthing, Bill Halsey found the original drawing for the F-5 fern inlay. Click to enlarge. Reproduction rights reserved. With some diligent sleuthing, Bill Halsey found the original drawing for the F-5 fern inlay. Click to enlarge. Reproduction rights reserved.

We were working in the original Gibson factory building at 225 Parsons Street on the first floor, where the original F-5 mandolins were built. Every time I was in that building it proved to be an awesome, mystical, and somewhat spiritual experience.

And, it was then we learned that trying to tap tune those bodies in the presence of all the nearby shop noise was virtually impossible. In fact, after the first three instruments were made, I set about to develop the "deflection tuning" method (described in my book The Luthier's Handbook) that enabled us to tune instruments in a noisy environment. Working from the basic ideas of a prototype deflection machine I designed, the machinists at Gibson built an incredibly sturdy deflection device. The soundboard that was to be tuned could be mounted to a 3/4" aluminum plate with a large oval hole in the center. When the plate was flipped over, the soundboard came in contact with four dial indicators located at strategic points along the two tone bars. To simulate the load of a bridge with strings at tension, a 40-pound force was applied to the center of the soundboard, and the tone bars could be shaved until the desired deflection measurements were achieved. To know what the proper deflection measurements should be, we used one of my tap-tuned soundboards as a deflection master.

On one trip, I demonstrated some hand-shading and grain-contrast-building techniques on an unfinished F-5 mandolin that was in process and left it there as a color master for the F-5Ls that were soon to be finished. When they were finished and strung, we were comfortable that we had built three nice-looking mandolins that sounded even nicer.

Three F5L Bodies

Above: Three partially assembled bodies, with oversize tone bars, await the tap tuning phase. Click to enlarge. Reproduction rights reserved.

Roger Tap Tuning

Above: The tap tuning process is again brought back to Gibson's old building. Peterson model 400 strobetuner at right. Click to enlarge. Reproduction rights reserved.

Roger during tap tuning process

Above: During the process, I learned that the ambient noise in the plant was too great for the tap tuning process. This led to the development of a deflection tuning process. NOTE: there is not a larger version of this image. Reproduction rights reserved.

Deflection fixture

Above: The deflection fixture featured a 3/4" aluminum plate with an opening to access the tone bars. The soundboard was clamped to one side of the plate and then the plate was turned over to bring the soundboard into contact with four dial indicators (two on each side of the fixture), which showed the deflection, under load, of the two tone bars in four locations. Click to enlarge. Reproduction rights reserved.

Deflection fixture

Above: The two dial indicators on the right side of the fixture revealed two deflection values of the bass tone bar. Click to enlarge. Reproduction rights reserved.

June rolled around and off we went to NAMM in Chicago. I was invited to introduce the F-5L to the various sales teams during the two meeting days that preceded the NAMM show. The Gibson guys were pranksters, and Tom Pooton, and Bruce Bolen always had a bit up their sleeves! During one of the presentations when I went in front of the sales team, the mandolin wasn't on its stand. Tom walked up with the mandolin case and said, "Here, sorry," and when I opened it, I found a sandwich instead of a mandolin! Then, with a big grin on his face, in front of a laughing sales team, he walked out with the mandolin in his hand.

During the main sales event preceding NAMM, Bruce and Tom invited me to the front of the room. Tom said, "Which of these three would you pick as the very best one for us to put on the show floor?" I played them and looked them over for a moment and said, "This one." Then, Tom and Bruce, thanking me for my help and asking for a round of applause, said, "Well thanks for your great efforts in bringing back one of our earliest models. Put it in its case. We want you to take this one home!"

Roger Siminoff presenting the F-5L to the sales team

Above: Roger presenting the new F-5L to the sales team. Click to enlarge. Reproduction rights reserved.

After the presentation, I went to Tom and Bruce and said, "I really appreciate the gift, but this is the one we need to put on the show floor - it's the best of the three and that's why we're here!" Tom warned me that "It will get dinged out there!" to which I replied, "I don't care - it's the one we have to show." Fortunately, after three days of folks playing it on the show floor, I took it home without a ding or scratch.

The F-5L finally gets to the show floor, NAMM, June 1978. Click to enlarge. Reproduction rights reserved. The F-5L finally gets to the show floor, NAMM, June 1978. Click to enlarge. Reproduction rights reserved.

Prior to the show, I went to the marketing folks and asked if they had any intentions of creating an ad for the F-5L for Pickin' Magazine (a bluegrass and old-time music publication I started in 1974). I was hoping to have an ad in the edition that we would be distributing at the NAMM show where the mandolin was announced. I was told "no," and it was suggested to me that there wasn't a sufficient market to warrant the cost of producing a separate ad, let alone the monthly advertising costs. I said, "Well, what if I create an ad - one that reflects the reintroduction of this instrument along with Gibson's history?" I offered to do the photography, copy writing, and assembly of the ad for their approval at no charge. Dave Sutton, Gibson's Marketing Director, told me that it was okay to move forward as long as we agreed that it was at my expense; Gibson would pay for the ad space if I covered the creative costs. With that, I created the "60 Years Ago..." ad and sent it to Dave for his approval. After three weeks of approvals at his end, he sent it back with a few "legal" corrections along with an insertion order to run it for six months!

To say the results from the show were astounding would be an understatement. I'm not at liberty to share the details, but the F-5L outsold the company's expectations by a huge margin.

Gibson F-5L ad

Above: This ad ran in Pickin' Magazine once and then several times in Frets Magazine. The mandolin in the photo is the one given to me by Gibson and is one of the three prototypes. Reproduction rights reserved.

As if by magic, the one person least expected to be at NAMM came by the Gibson booth to see what mandolins were on display. Bill Monroe, who just happened to be in Chicago at the time of NAMM - with his F-5 in hand - came into the booth and picked up the F-5L. Yes, he played it. And, yes, he liked it. We talked for a while about the comparison between the F-5L and his mandolin, and the work Gibson did to bring back this instrument. I remember standing there holding his mandolin while he played the F-5L, then we swapped back only for him to ask to play the F-5L again - that was a good sign!

Roger Siminoff and Bill Monroe

Above: Mr. Bill and I spent some time at the June, 1978 NAMM show comparing the new F-5L to his trusty sidekick. Click to enlarge. Reproduction rights reserved.

Soon, a huge crowd had gathered around us with a lot of people wanting to see who this old geezer was playing the heck out of a mandolin.

Gibson's introduction of the F-5L was of special interest to knowledgeable folks like George Gruhn (Gruhn Guitars) who took the mandolin over to a window, pulled the end pin, and carefully inspected the construction and workmanship inside the mandolin. Click to enlarge. Reproduction rights reserved. Gibson's introduction of the F-5L was of special interest to knowledgeable folks like George Gruhn (Gruhn Guitars) who took the mandolin over to a window, pulled the end pin, and carefully inspected the construction and workmanship inside the mandolin. Click to enlarge. Reproduction rights reserved.

In the recap meeting following that June 1978 NAMM show, the dramatic change in mandolin sales got everyone's attention. The executive team was surprised at how mandolin sales could have jumped so dramatically at this one show. All of a sudden, Gibson was back in the mandolin business - big time! But the company wasn't ready from a production standpoint. Its soundboard and backboard carving patterns couldn't be used, and since I carved the soundboards and backboards that were on the three prototypes, I was asked to continue carving boards for the first production run. (The company would send me a pallet of spruce and maple, and I'd send back carved boards - a process that continued for more than two years.)

Gibson's marketing theme at that time was centered around the company's heritage. When we started the F-5L project, it wasn't clear to me whether Gibson's motive was just to have a nice heritage instrument for the NAMM show that said, "Look, we can still do it" or for the company to really get re-engaged in the mandolin business. Regardless of the motive, the sales results raised enough eyebrows and fueled a new direction for Gibson to regain some lost territory. The F-5L marked a turning point for Gibson to begin looking back as it planned its future, and it was the event that triggered the reintroduction of other classic Gibson instruments - the next being the Earl Scruggs banjo; a project which I am also proud to say I championed.

Ten years later, when it was clear that the F-5L had gained momentum, I brought Lloyd Loar's widow, Bertha Snyder Loar Westerberg, to the 1988 Winter NAMM convention in Anaheim, California to take part in a celebration honoring the contributions of her husband 60 years prior. Bruce Bolen and I had lunch with Bertha, we talked about Lloyd's contributions to Gibson, and she reminisced about the NAMM shows she walked through with Lloyd in the late 1930s.

Roger Siminoff and Bill Halsey

Above: Bill Halsey and I took a moment to horse around at the Pickin' Magazine booth where we posed in front of a mock front-cover banner with the F-5L. Reproduction rights reserved.

Bruce Bolen, Bertha Loar, Roger Siminoff

Above: Lloyd Loar's widow, Bertha, visited Gibson's booth at the 1988 NAMM convention in Anaheim, California to pose with Bruce Bolen and me (and an F-5L) for this Gibson PR photograph. This was the first time Bertha had visited a NAMM show since she accompanied her husband Lloyd in the late 1930s. Click to enlarge. Reproduction rights reserved.

Today, in addition to the continued interest in mandolins over the past three decades, the F-5 has heralded Gibson's efforts as an acoustic instrument maker while at the same time putting the company under the microscope. The F-5 mandolin is one of the company's most hand-intensive and most expensive products. The instrument has become an icon; a replica of its highly identifiable peghead stands almost three stories tall above the Opry Mills shopping center in Nashville to boast the location of Gibson's retail store and mandolin shop. In the late 1980s, the spirit of the early Loar-signed F-5s was kept alive at Gibson by master luthier Charlie Derrington until his untimely death in 2006. Today, the F-5 mandolin line continues to gain respect under the watchful eye of David Harvey, Gibson's master luthier.

Inside the early F-5Ls...

To ensure there would be no confusion of Gibson's or my locating holes, I plugged the holes needed for my carver with a 1/4" dowel and stamped an "X" along with a comment. Both holes were hidden by the headblock. Click to enlarge. Reproduction rights reserved.

Since tooling wasn't ready at Gibson to meet the initial demand for these instruments, I was asked to carve the soundboards and backboards on my pattern carver for the initial run. While the need for my carving services was intended to last for only a short period of time, the increased demand for F-5Ls immediately following the June 1978 NAMM show required me to carve boards well into 1980. In fact, in 1979 when I was in the middle of the move from my home and shop in New Jersey to California, a truck came with a pallet of soundboard and backboard wood, which we simply slid from the floor of the delivery truck right into the moving van.

Gibson's boards came planed to the final thickness (.640") and were drilled for Gibson's two locating holes, which were different from my locating holes. To avoid confusion, after I carved the boards, I plugged and identified the one hole I had added with a "Carver's Index" stamp.

As on the original F-5s, the two longitudinal tone bars were asymetrically positioned.

The ribs for these mandolins were steam bent in a series of fixtures by applying steam to the part being bent. The same steam chamber - an ancient contraption that was in use for decades at Gibson, and still located in the back of the old building - was also used for bending the maple pieces that were rolled into three-ply and four-ply rims for Gibson's banjo line.

Steam bending fixture

Above: Steam bending fixtures at Gibson. The form in the foreground is for bending the rib piece that goes between the two body points. The form in the background is for bending the piece that goes around the headblock. Steam was applied to the rib parts as the forms were closed. Click to enlarge. Reproduction rights reserved.

Neck joints; somewhat problematic...

The neck joints on these instruments boasted a mortise and tenon design that Gibson was using at the time. The machining of the neck heel and one-piece neck-and-fretboard-extender spoke well for Gibson's incredible woodcrafting capabilities. Unfortunately, the neck joint didn't feature a secure locking method, and several of these instruments experienced neck joint failure and required subsequent re-sets. In his early years working at Gibson, this joint was a sore point with Charlie Derrington, and he worked hard to eliminate this method and get the F-5 line back to dovetail neck joints.

mortise and tenon neck joint

Above: The mortise and tenon neck joint featured a single element neck-and-fretboard-extender that greatly facilitated construction and alignment. Click to enlarge. Reproduction rights reserved.

We had wanted the mortise and tenon eliminated early on in the development of the F-5L, but the company had already prepared a bin of necks (see photo below) and had invested a great deal in tooling to create the mortise and tenon connection.

We also sought to use an ebony fretboard extender as used on the original F-5 mandolins, but since the extender was now an integral part of the mandolin necks, the request was denied.

The neck joint and extender were the two main points of contention when we developed the F-5L.

Neck construction...

Ted McHugh's truss rod patent of 1922

Above: Ted McHugh's truss rod patent of 1922 featured a truss rod that was embedded so the rod was closest to the fretboard at its centermost point. Click image to enlarge. Reproduction rights reserved.

A huge bin of mandolin necks prepared quite some time before our project began await being selected for use in the F-5L mandolins.  Reproduction rights reserved. A huge bin of mandolin necks prepared quite some time before our project began await being selected for use in the F-5L mandolins. Reproduction rights reserved.

The first several batches of F-5Ls featured necks that were prepared well in advance of this reintroduction. Commensurate with the company's posture of being a mass producer of instruments, and to take advantage of set-up time and tooling, necks like these were made in large quantities rather than on an as-needed basis.

The F-5 necks of this time featured a 3/16" steel truss rod embedded on the same inverted curve that was featured in Ted McHugh's original truss rod patent of 1922 even though the rest of Gibson's truss rod installations (on its guitars, etc.) had the truss rod positioned in the neck with a low center and its extremities close to the fretboard plane.

In keeping with proper practices of F-style mandolin neck preparation, the F-5 necks had a peghead scroll strengthener embedded into the scroll area to add strength to the scroll and prevent breakage.

The two dimples seen in the fretboard plane (above right) are locating holes for the numerous machining operations necessary during the production of the neck.

Identifying the early F-5Ls...

During the first five years of production of F-5Ls, Gibson was involved in moving its operation to Nashville - the job Jim Deurloo was brought back to manage. It was the involvement in this move, and the attention it demanded, that supported the decision for me to continue to carve soundboards and backboards rather than worry about developing new carving tools while in the process of moving.

Gibson's serial number system in the period 1970-1985 was an eight-digit code. The instrument in this example was made on the 45th day of 1980 and was the 123rd instrument to finish white wood that day in Kalamazoo. Reproduction rights reserved. Gibson's serial number system in the period 1970-1985 was an eight-digit code. The instrument in this example was made on the 45th day of 1980 and was the 123rd instrument to finish white wood that day in Kalamazoo. Reproduction rights reserved.

F-5L production continued in Kalamazoo through 1983 and then the operation was moved and placed under the control of individuals who were not involved in the original production of this instrument. The change in management of the mandolin assembly process also marked a change in production techniques that were previously implemented, and such important processes as deflection tuning were eliminated. (The story of those changes and subsequent developments of the F-5L and related models is outside of the scope of this document.)

This first series of instruments were unusually fine mandolins, and they can be identified by their serial number. In the early 1970s, Gibson developed an eight-digit serial numbering system that identified both the sequence, day, and location of manufacture. In this eight-digit system, the first and fifth numbers identify the year, the second, third, and fourth numbers are the Ordinal Calendar date (the number of the day in that year, sometimes referred to as the Julian Date Format), and the last three digits represent the sequence of that instrument completed that day in white wood (finished sanding) and ready for coloring and finishing; 0-499 was for instruments finished in Kalamazoo, and 500-999 was for instruments finished in Nashville.

The F-5L project, as I remember it...

by Bill Halsey

Bill Halsey, luthier and violin bow maker. Bill Halsey, luthier and violin bow maker.

It was my friend Abe Wechter (then consulting for Gibson) who had asked me for input on mandolins that were caving in. That's how it started for me. For years I had been grousing over the state of Gibson's mandolin production, but hadn't the slightest idea of how to approach them - then the door opened.

We met one morning in the summer of 1977 in Gibson's engineering department where the various production parts of the F-5 were laid out for examination. After some discussion, I was given complete access to the drawing files. I went through every drawer, drawing by drawing, but my only discoveries of interest were a rough rendering of the F-4 and some of its fittings, and a few heavily revised drawings of F-5 details. In fact, there seemed to be little recorded basis for the manufacture of mandolins, save for the usual process and routing sheets and a few specification sheets from old factory production manuals. I was encouraged to investigate the factory at large and ask questions. As I delved deeper into the tool room, I eventually unearthed the old rib moulds and a few original templates for scroll and headstock profiles. I was also very lucky to find an old-timer in the shop who ultimately vindicated my campaign for offsetting the fingerboard toward the scroll, as had always been done on the old F-models. That was a particularly hard sell to management.

That autumn, I had the pleasure of meeting Roger Siminoff, and making his acquaintance through his many visits to Kalamazoo during the following months. I was delighted that he was on board and prepared to lead the complete overhaul of the F-5, and that Gibson management was willing to give it their best shot.

With my own background in drafting and technical writing, I was retained as an outside agent to generate all of the production drawings for this effort to replicate the original F-5. Roger generously made available his own 1924 Loar-signed F-5 for this effort to ensure historic accuracy. We met at the factory and also during evenings to discuss our mission and to resolve important details of the project.

The first three F-5Ls had a The first three F-5Ls had a "Gibson Prototype" stamp on the back of the peghead. The earliest F-5Ls had Kluson machines with modified posts and real MOP buttons. Click to enlarge. Reproduction rights reserved.

Gibson produced three prototypical F-5L mandolins, stamped as such on the backs of the headstocks. I carved the scrolls in my own studio, Roger demonstrated to the mandolin makers how to perform the acoustic adjustments at the factory, and the completed instruments were finished with the traditional hand-applied sunburst in Gibson's finishing department. (I had just completed a Fern F-5 of my own earlier that year, which Gibson's ad department photographed as a back-up image in case the prototypes might not be available for promo materials to be printed.)

The three F-5L prototypes were completed in time for introduction at the 1978 Summer NAMM show in Chicago. I received a call from the factory that spring and had the pleasure of meeting there with Julius Bellson (longtime Gibson Treasurer and historian, then retired) who had also been invited to examine and play the newly completed trio of mandolins. I was quite pleased with the results, especially considering the many changes we had made within the available time and resources. Of course, I was seeing and hearing them in the context of current market demand, which then was mostly bluegrass performance. In his own calm, gentle way, Julius (a virtuoso classical mandolinist) seemed happy with the attention given to the instrument, and was very approving of the achievements of the project (although, with a wink and a grin, he quietly reminded me of his lifelong preference for the F-4!).

F-5L tuner prototypes. Click to enlarge. Reproduction rights reserved. F-5L tuner prototypes. Click to enlarge. Reproduction rights reserved.

Retrospectively, I'd say that Norlin (Gibson's parent company at the time) corporate management probably posed the greatest challenge to the success of the F-5L. The folk music boom had waned, and in spite of the enthusiasm and support of the managers at Gibson for the project, they were strapped with a razor-thin budget for R&D and there were significant constraints upon production times for any given operation. Thus, at least for the time being, the hand-fitted dovetail neck joint was a no-go, as was a varnish finish. Also shelved were several of the less critical trim details, such as a real wood headstock veneer, the laminated celluloid fingerrest bracket, and special tuner profile (although prototypes were made of the old-style "arrow-end" tuner plates).

There was, however, an enormous talent pool in the Gibson factory, which represented an immeasurable accumulation of worker experience and skill. The means were in place to make a first-rate job of the F-5L project, and we did achieve a great deal by providing examples, drawings, specifications and a bit of training, in our endeavor to revive the notion of what an F-5 had once been under the aegis of its creators.

D. Wm. Halsey, December, 2009

A word on playability and tone...

by Ken Roddick

Ken Roddick, luthier. Ken Roddick, luthier.

I have been very fortunate to have examined and played one of the prototype F-5Ls and had the chance to compare it side-by-side to a 1924 Loar-signed F-5 mandolin. In addition, I have been involved in several bluegrass jams where both a Loar-signed F-5 and an early version (i.e., 1980-era) F-5L were being played. Although these instruments were constructed 50+ years apart, they sound amazingly similar - so much so that if you could not visually see each instrument, you may have difficulty determining which instrument is which by listening only to the sound they produce. Unquestionably, the Loar has a slightly mellower tone than the F-5L but, on the one I compared, I attribute this to a Virzi Tone Producer that is installed in the original F-5. Otherwise, both instruments have virtually the same overall sound and volume attributes.

What is most amazing, and probably most important as it relates to the manufacture of the early F-5L mandolins, is the similarity of sound they have to other F-5Ls made at the time; more so than any other two F-5 mandolins I have heard side by side.

I am proud to own F-5L #80090009, which I was told was formerly owned and played by Wayne Benson of IIIrd Time Out. Comparing this mandolin to the Gibson prototype F-5L #71598129 that Roger owns delivers an uncanny similarity of tone that I have never heard in two other mandolins. My assessment is that this similarity of tone and volume is attributed to the fact that these two early F-5L mandolins were structurally tuned during the construction process.

Ken Roddick, January, 2010

Ken Roddick's F-5L

Above: Roddick's 1980 F-5L #80090009 was modified somewhere along the way to feature an abbreviated fretboard and large frets.

F-5L

F-5L

Above: Gibson F-5L #71598129, one of the three prototypes made for the Summer 1978 NAMM show in Chicago. This instrument was built by Gibson luthier Wilbur Fuller.

Author contact information:
Author's web site

© Mandolin Cafe

---------------------------

Post a Comment

You may leave a comment if you have a Mandolin Cafe Forum account. Clicking "Post a Comment" below will take you to the forum where you can complete this action. Please note that once you have, your comment will appear both on this page and on our forum. YOU MUST BE LOGGED IN to your Mandolin Cafe forum account to comment.

» View Full Version of These Comments

Reader Comments

wjsandman
May 09, 2010 10:46 PM
Thank you so much for both your efforts in returning Gibson to old school craftsmanship and for this article.
Mike Bromley
May 09, 2010 11:31 PM
Lovely Story. And no, Roger, no trace of any vainglory. It's clear you loved what you were doing.
Michael Lewis
May 10, 2010 01:29 AM
Excellent article from a hero of mine. Thanks Roger.
grassrootphilosopher
May 10, 2010 05:31 AM
This is a nice piece of history revisited. It also shows the initial efforts that several people undertook to raise production standards and quality.

I also appreciate the nod towards Charlie Derrington and Dave Harvey and their efforts.

All in all this is an excellent read.

(And as a sidenote I'd like to see and hear more of Bill Halsey's mandolins)
Skip Kelley
May 10, 2010 07:15 AM
Very nice story! A great read!!
MikeEdgerton
May 10, 2010 09:00 AM
Without a doubt this is historical information first hand that needs to be preserved. Wonderful.
violmando
May 10, 2010 11:38 AM
Great story--thank you for sharing your history with us; it's so important to keep this all alive. Hey, can we have more like this? It's addicting and exciting to read about all the details!
JEStanek
May 10, 2010 12:13 PM
Great history on the great Gibson Mandolin Revival. Thanks, Roger.

Jamie
JimRym
May 10, 2010 12:48 PM
Great article, Roger. I'd love to hear your take on the current crop of Gibson F5L's and Gibson acoustic instruments in general. The topic is always fodder for a lively debate. -Jim
woodwizard
May 10, 2010 12:56 PM
I'm a sucker for Gibson history, very enjoyable read. Thanks for all you did for Gibson.
BadeInBulverde
May 10, 2010 12:58 PM
It just doesn't get any better than a first hand historical account!!! Thanks Roger!
Bernie Daniel
May 10, 2010 01:12 PM
Thanks for the detailed historical account of a great chapter in American mandolin history. This was a huge piece of the story

I knew that Roger had played a role in it but I had no idea how amazingly involved that he actually was. And even better anyone can go to Roger's website, look up his number and end up getting advice right from him in real time!

Fantastic job Roger we all owe you big time!

Now can someone fill in the Carlson/Weber/Flatiron part! (<:
rhicksnm
May 10, 2010 02:45 PM
Thank you, Roger, for writing this article. It is so important for its historical significance. If not for you and your Gibson team, the original Loar F-5 concept would have been lost. We who love the mandolin appreciate your great contribution to its revival and continuing improvement.
sgarrity
May 10, 2010 03:14 PM
Great article. Thanks Roger!!
Nelson Peddycoart
May 10, 2010 04:42 PM
Thank you for the article. I could read stuff like this all day!
Mike Romkey
May 10, 2010 06:26 PM
What a fascinating tale! Thanks for everything you've done for mandolins and mandolin players.
D C Blood
May 10, 2010 07:07 PM
I have a question...In 1996 I bought an F-5L at Gruhn's. It was a 1982 model, very clearly marked on the label. (can't remember the exact date.) Also very clearly marked was the signature. It was signed by Steve Carlson. Now I know he was not supposed to have been at Gibson until what? '86 or '87 or something like that? But I know it was his signature as I had grown up as a Phillies fan and I immediately noted the similarity in his name to the Phillies great pitcher Steve Carlton. Is there some way Carlson could have been there and signed that 1982 F-5L? Unfortunately I didn't keep it, as I traded it back to Gruhn later. Somebody help here...
jim_n_virginia
May 10, 2010 08:16 PM
GREAT story! Thanks for all your work you deserve it Roger! I am on my second F-5L and I couldn't ask for a finer mandolin!
Plectrosaurus
May 10, 2010 08:33 PM
Thanks for posting this article. I enjoyed reading about the 're-invention' of the 'Gibson' mandolin. A great article for those whose interest in the mandolin is deeper than just playing one.
bropete
May 10, 2010 11:01 PM
Thank you Roger.
Rich Evans
May 11, 2010 12:00 AM
Great article Roger. It was a real treat seeing you play the prototype F5L on Friday night at Parkfield. It must make you feel a real sense of accomplishment to see the mandolins Gibson had made in the last 10 years.
Bernie Daniel
May 11, 2010 05:43 AM
If it exists, and if Roger approves, could anyone post a video of this performance? (referred to in the post #22 above) Thanks!
hank
May 11, 2010 11:40 AM
Roger your modesty is amazingly LARGE considering your contributions to acoustic excellence and the revival of Gibsons Master Model Mandolins. Your selfless dedication and hard work are the foundation so many stand upon today. Great read for "The rest of the story".
Denny Gies
May 11, 2010 01:11 PM
Loved it, thanks.
siminoff
May 11, 2010 11:18 PM
My deep appreciation to each of you for your kind and generous comments; I'm glad you found the story to be informative. I would also like to thank Scott Tichenor for recognizing the value of this piece and bringing it into MCs archives. Regarding Steve Carlson, when Gibson began its move from Kalamazoo to Nashville in June, 1984, the company began outsourcing certain models to outside firms, and Flatiron Mandolins (Steve's company in Bozeman, MT) was selected for mandolin production. As a result, for about two years, the F-5Ls were not made in Kalamazoo, were not deflection tuned, and were somewhat different from those made before and after the move. (I have no idea how Steve Carlson could have signed an F-5L with a 1982 date.)
Roger
MikeEdgerton
May 12, 2010 07:40 AM
Roger wrote: "Regarding Steve Carlson, when Gibson began its move from Kalamazoo to Nashville in June, 1984, the company began outsourcing certain models to outside firms, and Flatiron Mandolins (Steve's company in Bozeman, MT) was selected for mandolin production. As a result, for about two years, the F-5Ls were not made in Kalamazoo, were not deflection tuned, and were somewhat different from those made before and after the move..."

Now there's a historical nugget of information.
f5loar
May 12, 2010 09:30 AM
I remember it like yesterday one summer night in 1986 when I was sitting down at the Station Inn in Nashville and in walked Charlie Derrington and some other big wheels at Gibson with Steve Carlson. Charlie told me that night about the deal with Flaitiron and I knew a new era for Gibson mandolins had begun. A Steve Carlson signed 1982 F5L? Impossible I say.
Steve working on a 1982 F5L later on say in 1987 and back dating a signed label? Not likely. Somebody else having a name similiar to Steve Carlson and signing in 1982. Possible as it seems the floor sweepers would walk by the F5L bench and sign the labels.
Bernie Daniel
May 12, 2010 10:58 AM
Roger: "Regarding Steve Carlson, when Gibson began its move from Kalamazoo to Nashville in June, 1984, the company began outsourcing certain models to outside firms, and Flatiron Mandolins... was selected for mandolin production. As a result, for about two years, the F-5Ls were not made in Kalamazoo, were not deflection tuned, and were somewhat different from those made before and after the move....

As Mike notes that is a great piece of information.

I'd be interested hearing about how Gibson handled QA/QC issues for the mandolins during this period.

My point is NOT to question any aspect of production or to suggest quality faded or even changed. I'm merely curious as to how this might have been done.

The Flatiron produced F5-L's were not "deflection tuned" but were they at least tap tuned? (Reading Roger's article it would seem that the deflection tuning something the Gibson mandolin crew developed and was neat way to remove listener bias and subjectivity from the tap tuning process)

But even if they did not have the deflection tuning jig in Montana I would guess the Montana luthiers could still tap tuned them by ear. Even if they did Roger's point is certainly well taken -- these 1984 - 1986 F5-L were not made exactly like the 1978 - 1983 instruments and then post 1986 models.

Who is going to pick up and continue Roger's F5-L story?
banjer23
May 12, 2010 11:15 AM
Wow,,amazing reading,,a lot of history from Roger,,thanks to all!!!
Bernie Daniel
May 12, 2010 11:24 AM
f5loar: "...A Steve Carlson signed 1982 F5L? Impossible I say. Steve working on a 1982 F5L later on say in 1987 and back dating a signed label? Not likely. Somebody else having a name similiar to Steve Carlson and signing in 1982. Possible as it seems the floor sweepers would walk by the F5L bench and sign the labels."

With no disrespect at all intended to the member stating the existence of a 1982 Carlson-signed F5-L -- it is noted that this claim seems to be based entirely on memory. All memories are subject to error. Without a picture or a written statement of record it is pointless to go much further with this because the odds seem high that somewhere along the line an error exists.

As per Roger's article, Gibson's serial number system in the period 1970-1985 was an eight-digit code. So if it was a 1982 Gibson F5-L the instrument (thus made in Kalamazoo) the serial number would have been of the 8_ _ _2 _ _ _ format. In this formula the first three spaces were for the Julian day of the year (155 = June 4th) and the last three spaces a number from 0 to 499 (Kalamazoo plant).

Say it was the 145th F5-L made and it happened to be June 4, 1982 -- this would be a serial number of: 81552145. Seems to me it would be pretty easy to get a number like this scrambled over time -- say 81525145 -- instrument number 145 made on June 1, 1985. It sure would be easy for me anyway!
Mark Walker
May 12, 2010 02:23 PM
Wow - what a great story! Thanks Roger! Thanks Bill, and thanks Ken.
And Bill - small world. I never put 2 and 2 together until this article, that you're THAT Bill Halsey! And just down the road from me here in West Michigan! Great stuff here!
jan burda
May 12, 2010 03:14 PM
What a story. Being a friend of Bill H., and a maker, I've heard much of the story up until the 1980's. It would be interesting to hear about the Steve Carlson/ Rem Ferguson involvement up to the present day evolution of the F5-L. Jan Burda
Bill Halsey
May 12, 2010 11:48 PM
Jan, welcome on board the MC! As I recall, you have a very nice Carlson-signed F-5 in your shop...
Let's get together and abuse a couple of flat picks!
Soon...
mandoisland
May 13, 2010 12:23 PM
Great story! Thanks!
MandoNicity
May 16, 2010 09:57 PM
Thanks for such a fact filled and informative article. Totally fascinating to hear the insiders story on all the Gibson going ons. Amazing, simply amazing.

JR
GRW3
May 19, 2010 09:05 PM
Periodically, someone will post about the percieved poor quality of '60s and '70s Gibson mandolins. This usually brings on a lot of controversy. Yet in paragraph 4 Mr. Siminoff says essentially the same thing and one of the other contributors talks about collapsing tops as a common occurence. So which is it, were there bad years that need to be avoided or is he mistaken too?

If there was a bad period, what did it span? The Sam Bush mandolin is an F-7 isn't it, made several years after Loar left? Maybe some good mandolins cme out of the lean years so wouldn't it be good to really discuss the issues. And based on his efforts with the guitar, would it be possible to rebuild/recarve a problem instrument into a decent performer?
Bernie Daniel
May 19, 2010 09:55 PM
GRW3 stated: "Periodically, someone will post about the percieved poor quality of '60s and '70s Gibson mandolins. This usually brings on a lot of controversy. Yet in paragraph 4 Mr. Siminoff says essentially the same thing and one of the other contributors talks about collapsing tops as a common occurence. So which is it, were there bad years that need to be avoided or is he mistaken too?

If there was a bad period, what did it span? The Sam Bush mandolin is an F-7 isn't it, made several years after Loar left? Maybe some good mandolins cme out of the lean years so wouldn't it be good to really discuss the issues. And based on his efforts with the guitar, would it be possible to rebuild/recarve a problem instrument into a decent performer?"


In my opinion I think most acknowledge (including even some associated with the Gibson company) that mandolin quality suffered for a time which might roughly be the period you suggested early 50's to mid 70's. So, I personally do not see this as a particularly "controversial" or a taboo subject.

Likewise, most will also note that some very good mandolins were also made during this period - but indeed the quality was "spotty" or less consistent than it might have been. That is the issue Roger was trying to help Gibson to correct.

Sam Bush's main mandolin, is a Gibson F-5 (not F-7) and it was made over two decades after Loar left. Further as far as I know it was not re-carved only the finish was scrapped off the top.

However, many Gibson mandolins from these years have been re-carved or re-voiced -- this is well known also and has often been discussed in detail on this board -- again you imply there is an problem with discussing this matter and I would say clearly there is not. Some of these mandolins have been dramatically improved by re-graduation -- others not so much -- at least that is my view.

You mentioned a guitar but that is something I am not familiar with.
Jordan Ramsey
May 19, 2010 11:00 PM
Hey Bernie, Hoss was re-graduated by Randy Wood.
hank
May 19, 2010 11:14 PM
Seems like I remember Sam talking about his mandolin on his Homespun Mandolin Method. I believe he said it belonged to Norman Blake and that Norman had randomly sanded on the top and later had Randy Wood rework the top, tone bars and refinish with varnish.
woodwizard
May 19, 2010 11:36 PM
Ahhhh yes... I believe the expression was hippie sanding. Am I wrong...
Bernie Daniel
May 20, 2010 12:14 AM
Quote from hank: Seems like I remember Sam talking about his mandolin on his Homespun Mandolin Method. I believe he said it belonged to Norman Blake and that Norman had randomly sanded on the top and later had Randy Wood rework the top, tone bars and refinish with varnish. End Quote

OK, I stand corrected on that. I knew about the sanding but if I ever knew about the re-grad I forgot.

I had a 1952 F-12 re-graduated in Randy Wood's shop some years ago. I think it improved it significantly -- but the sound was not like like my F-5 Fern -- it was darker and deeper.

David Grisman has that mandolin now -- or he did have it anyway. If I ever get the chance I'd like to ask him how he thought it sounded.
f5loar
May 20, 2010 01:22 AM
Hoss is a 1937 F5 that had already been refinished by the factory in the 50's. The 50's lacquer finishes were rather heavy at times so Blake felt it was holding it back and removed the finish and sold it to Sam who had Wood put the finishing touches on it as you see it today. I know of the 1937 F5 that is still all original that belonged to Dave Apollon and it is a "hoss" too so yes there were some gems during the 30's and 40's and on into the 50's. The mid 60's is when things started a downward spinal in quality and sound but they still played fine. By early 70's when the new "redesign" going back to a thick varnish and thinner necks they reached a peak in the dark era for the F5 until Roger got the F5L redesign going in 1978. And if I remember correctly you could still get the bad F5 in 1978 and 1979 as well as the new F5L. The worst F5L ever made was far superior to the best 70's ever made so that speaks highly of what Roger did accomplish in his involvement at Gibson. I have a question for Roger. Bill Monroe was given F5L serial no. 11568197 signed on June 1, 1978. Was that one of the 3 prototypes and if so which one of them?
mandolirius
May 20, 2010 04:00 AM
Quote from woodwizard: Ahhhh yes... I believe the expression was hippie sanding. Am I wrong... End Quote

Random hippie sanding. You need all three words for the expression to attain its full comedic value.
Bernie Daniel
May 20, 2010 06:33 AM
Quote from f5loar: .... so yes there were some gems [Gibson F-style mandolins] during the 30's and 40's and on into the 50's. The mid 60's is when things started a downward spinal in quality and sound but they still played fine. By early 70's when the new "redesign" going back to a thick varnish and thinner necks they reached a peak in the dark era for the F5 until Roger got the F5L redesign going in 1978. And if I remember correctly you could still get the bad F5 in 1978 and 1979 as well as the new F5L. The worst F5L ever made was far superior to the best 70's ever made so that speaks highly of what Roger did accomplish in his involvement at Gibson.... End Quote

Thanks for that additional bit of information. Your information along with Roger's article, reading of past comments on the Cafe, as well as some PM's I think I am finally starting to see the complete outline of the entire "rise,fall, and revive" story of the Gibson F-5.

Someone really needs to write a book or a least a long essay -- like Roger's but taking the story back and then forward from where Roger started and ended -- including the Flatiron/Carlson and Nashville/Derrington parts of the story.

I agree the early 1970's was, apparently, the lowest point in the F-5's evolution. I owned two of them -- a 1972 F-12 and a 1972/3 F-5. Both had the straight slot neck joint and the "intermediate" slope or rise of the fretboard (relative to the top plate). (This fretboard elevation pattern started in 1951 and was intermediate between the F-2/F-4 (and the pre-1951 F5/F-12) fretboards that laid ON the top and the original Loar F-5 that raised the fingerboard high off the top board.)

(It seems to me that for some reason when Gibson restarted F-style mandolins after WWII they completely abandoned the Loar F-5 template for a while? I have seen at least 4 post-1948 and pre-1951 F-12's that had the F-2/F-4 style fretboard. So was it Roger than that finally brought the high rise (Loar-style) fretboard back with the F-5L?)

These two early '70's mandolins of mine were beautiful mandolins to look at but in addition to the neck joint and "inferior" fretboard raiser they had very thick top plates and were covered with a heavy finish coats. As a result both of mine from this time sounded pretty dull and "thuddy". In fact my Morgan Monroe MM-3 was essentially equal to the two Gibsons.
Scott Tichenor
May 21, 2010 12:37 PM
Roger asked me to post this because the content included an image and the ability to post those within this section commenting on news articles is turned off.

This post Roger authored references this image:
http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/attachment.php?attachmentid=58681&d=1274463299

===
The story of what happened to the F-model line in the early '70s is interesting, amusing, and sad. While the change of each feature has its own unique story, the one that intrigues me the most is the modification to the shape of the soundboards and backboards, and the resultant removal of the recurve (thus making the boards too thick in that region). Early on, the soundboards and backboards were carved on a pattern carver, lengthwise, one at a time, as the company did its carved guitar models (see photo ca.1972 - a Citation guitar soundboard is ready to be carved). In the interest of production, someone got the bright idea that the bed of the pattern carver was large enough that two mandolin patterns could be set up at once if the patterns were simply turned 90° - basically carving two boards side-by-side. This would cut the machining time in half. On the carver, the table moved back and forth and the cutting head and following wheel (joined together as one unit) moved up and down; basically, as the following wheel rolled up and down over the pattern, the cutting head moved up and down in unison over the piece to be cut. Well, the carver's head was rather delicately balanced - heavy and sturdy as it was. So, when the bed began moving, the following wheel would come out of the recurve of one pattern, skip over the recurve of the neighboring pattering, land with a clunk about 2" into the work, and the cutter would put a ding in the neighboring soundboard (or backboard). And, of course, this happened again when the machine's bed began moving in the opposite direction. So, someone (I'll leave names out of this story) got the brilliant idea to "just fill in the little low area [i.e., recurve] and the cutter won't bounce!" The recurves were filled, and the problem was solved - at least from a production standpoint. Sad, but true. (Dealer and owner complaints eventually forced the modification to be reversed but the replacement patterns were more poorly graduated than their predecessors.)

As to the F5L gifted to Monroe, yes, it is in the hands of a private owner, and I'll check with him to see if he wants to chime in.

Thanks for all your interesting viewpoints on this story...
Roger
Bill Junior
May 22, 2010 01:29 PM
I am the current owner of the 1978 F5L that was given to Bill Monroe by the Gibson Company as a peace offering. Roger Siminoff asked if would chime in with what information I have on the instrument. Here is all that I know. If anyone else has any information about this mandolin, I would love to hear from them.

After the NAMM show, Roger encouraged Gibson to present a new F5L mandolin to Mr. Monroe as a gift to help mend fences with the 'Father of Bluegrass.' Sometime later, the Gibson Company gave Monroe one of the F5L prototypes. This mandolin was signed by Gibson luthier Aaron Cowles on June 20, 1978, and bears the serial number, 71568197. According to Roger, this mandolin was finished on June 5th. "And, if that's the case, yours had to be one of the first three (and I think I remember Aaron completing his first)." On the first half-dozen instruments, Roger tap tuned the mandolin before the body was closed, so this one would have been tuned personally by Roger.

When I first acquired the mandolin, all I knew is that it had been owned and used by Monroe. As a Big Mon disciple, that was good enough for me. But one day I got a call from a friend of mine, Tom McKinney, of Asheville, North Carolina, and he said, "There's a publicity photo of Bill Monroe holding your mandolin." I confess I was skeptical, but Tom was right. After carefully comparing the headstocks of the two mandolins, specifically the inlays, I realized it was the very same mandolin. I didn't know of any publicity photos of Monroe with anything other than his 1923 Loar-especially late in his career. That started me on a little research project to find out what I could about the instrument. I don't know if anyone else feels the same way I do about this, but most of us go through dozens of vintage instruments in our lives and don't know anything about the provenance or history of these things, and that's a shame. So, I wanted to find out all I could.

Last year, the Mandolin Café posted a little audio clip of Monroe on stage where he talks about mending fences with the Gibson Company. Monroe mentions acquiring the 1923 Gibson mandolin in a barber shop, the subsequent feud with Gibson, and how in 1978 Gibson convinced Monroe to have the Loar-signed instrument worked on back in Kalamazoo, Michigan. At the end, Monroe says, "And in the deal, they give me that new mandolin there in a brand new case." This F5-L mandolin is what he refers to as "that new mandolin there."

Monroe played the 1978 F5L mandolin quite often when his number one mandolin was unavailable, such as in the 1980 White House concert for President Jimmy Carter. In December 1981, I saw Monroe using the F5L to play "My Last Days on Earth" at an Orlando concert. So for at least some of the time, Monroe had the F5L in that alternate mandolin tuning.

Monroe used the F5L as his primary instrument after the infamous November 1985 "vandal" incident, in which an intruder smashed both of Monroe's Loar-signed mandolins. Curtis McPeake verified that Monroe used the F5L for a year or more until his 1923 Gibson was repaired by Charlie Derrington. As evidence, Monroe was filmed using the F5L at a 1986 Colorado concert in the Scott Wright documentary titled, "High, Blue, and Lonesome."

So how did I come to acquire the mandolin? Bill Monroe was good friends with a Nashville-area police officer, Bill Hawkins. Mr. Hawkins was not a professional musician, but played locally as an avocation. Hawkins did a lot of favors for Monroe, such as helping to feed livestock when the Blue Grass Boys were on the road. I understand Officer Hawkins was one of those called to the scene after the vandal incident, and helped gather mandolin pieces up into a paper bag. Sometime in the late 1980s or early '90s, Bill Monroe saw Mr. Hawkins in town and called him over to his vehicle. Monroe said, "I have something here I want to give you." It was the 1978 F5L mandolin. Bill Hawkins treasured the F5L mandolin and played it until his passing. In the summer of 2005, the mandolin was brought to McPeake's Unique Instruments, in Mount Joliet, Tennessee, and made available for sale; I purchased the mandolin from Curtis.

Sometime during its life, the mandolin lost its original pickguard, tailpiece, and bridge. I repaired a crumbling bone point on the lower bout. Other than that, the mandolin is intact and includes the original case. I recently took the F5L mandolin to Bruce Weber in Logan, Montana, for a review. After looking the instrument over for quite some time, studying the smallest details, Mr. Weber said he was impressed with the workmanship.

I have played a few Loar-signed Gibson mandolins over the years, and I think the power and tone of this F5L mandolin is comparable. As Big Mon, himself, would have said, "it's a wonderful instrument." I'm glad the behind-the-scenes story of the F5L's development has been revealed. Roger and everyone involved in making those early Gibson F5L mandolins should be proud of what they did.
carleshicks
May 22, 2010 02:04 PM
I would love to see some pics of this mando. Also another note Aaron Cowles is still alive and building archtop guitars and mandolins in Vicksburg Mi. His instuments are built using the name Jubal .
Danny Clark
May 22, 2010 02:24 PM
i agree with F5Loar ,about the bad years for Gibson, i have easily owned over 100 Gibson mandolins ,everything from 20's F-5's to 2010 F-5's , i have experienced good and bad from almost every decade, some of the worst i remember were a 1949 F-12,and a 1981 F-5,and surprising i also owned a killer sounding 1976 F-5,
good or bad i am still a Gibson fan.
Bill Halsey
May 22, 2010 02:43 PM
Bill Junior, that is an important addition to the F-5L story, very well-written. Thank you so much for joining us!
Bernie Daniel
May 22, 2010 02:44 PM
Thanks Bill Junior! This remarkable story just keeps growing. Two things:

1) Now that this piece in the life of 71568197 has been elucidated can some of you who had personal contact with Monroe over the years in question (circa 1978 to the early '90's) take a look at your photos and recordings again to see if still photos or audio and video tape of this mandolin in action on stage?

2) I don't completely follow the end number sequence of "197" of this mandolin. Shouldn't the number of this mandolin have been something like 71568003? Since it was the third F5-L where the last three digits 001 to 499 indicated the Kalamazoo plant?

Maybe a different way to think about it is how does this mandolin made by Aaron Cowles relate to the other prototype mentioned in Roger's original essay? To quote the article:
"Gibson F-5L #71598129, one of the three prototypes made for the Summer 1978 NAMM show in Chicago. This instrument was built by Gibson luthier Wilbur Fuller." This one would have been signed on June 9, 1978 159) but it carries #129 as the last three digits?

I guess this last part of the number (197 vs 129) must refer to some other aspect of the Gibson instrument production process?
hank
May 22, 2010 06:04 PM
Bernie I came up with 159=June 8th 156=June 5th. Am I correct that Aaron Cowles signature date June 20th is the finished product where the serial number date is the finished in the white date? I'm baffled as well on the last three digits unless they were considered prototype with special designators specific to each of those three builds with #001 starting after the first three prototypes. I didn't see in my search how to read modern Gibson serial numbers but I'm guessing from my FGR signed April 13th 2006 by Casey O'Sullivan 60413020 that the first and second or first and sixth digits=year with the third=the month and the fourth and fifth the day. The sequential number at the end with either the last three or two digits. year 06, month April, day 13th, the twentieth F5Gold Rush.
edance
May 22, 2010 06:12 PM
I am not tooup on Gibson Mandoin serial numbering system. One of the threads state that from 1970 to 1985 Gibson used eight digit numbers. My F-12 has six numbers. 417904 I bought this instrument new in 1974 or 75. Can some one provide the meaning of this nmber?

Ed
f5loar
May 22, 2010 09:19 PM
Ed, A 400000 number would be made in 1974/75 so sounds like yours is indeed a 1974 most likely if you got in late 1974 or early 1975 as there was some lag time on delivery from time of order on the F5s and F12 both still custom ordered instruments.
These years and numbers can be found in Gruhn's Guide To Vintage Instruments.
Bernie Daniel
May 22, 2010 10:41 PM
Hank: "Bernie I came up with 159=June 8th 156=June 5th."

We could both be right it varies one number for a leap year for any date after Feb. 29th. (:

edance: "...threads state that from 1970 to 1985 Gibson used eight digit numbers. My F-12 has six numbers..."

Yes, the 1990 F5-L I looked at last week had 6 numbers as well and did not follow the 8-digit model described either.

(wish I knew why the "reply with quote" and "advanced" button do not work about half the time -- I'm thinking it happens mostly with Firefox)
Bill Junior
May 23, 2010 10:49 AM
In response to the question about hearing the 1978 F5L in action, here are a couple of options. There is a video segment at the end of the first Monroe mandolin instructional DVD by Homsepun, which shows the 1980 concert at the White House. Bill Monroe is playing the 1978 F5L at this event. It was still relatively new at the time. In addition, Smithsonian Folkways produced several records with Bill Monroe and Doc Watson, and I know that at least one song, "Paddy on the Turnpike," was taken from that White House concert in 1980. I am sure the DVD now available will allow folks to hear the tonal characteristics of the mandolin much better than the video. There may be other tunes from that event that have been produced on a record, but I haven't had time to thoroughly research that question.

Here are the details.

The Mandolin of Bill Monroe (DVD One)
One-On-One with the Master
Smithsonian Folkway Recordings and Homespun Video


Bill Monroe & Doc Watson
Live Recordings 1963-1980: Off the Record Volume 2
Smithsonian Folkway Recordings
f5loar
May 23, 2010 02:43 PM
Bill, In that promo photo of Monroe with this F5L you will notice a rather large piece of wood stuffed up in the lower end of the pickguard. Do you know why Monroe had to put in that piece of wood on this mandolin?
Bernie Daniel
May 23, 2010 03:03 PM
Quote from Bill Junior: In response to the question about hearing the 1978 F5L in action, here are a couple of options. There is a video segment at the end of the first Monroe mandolin instructional DVD by Homsepun, which shows the 1980 concert at the White House. Bill Monroe is playing the 1978 F5L at this event. It was still relatively new at the time.... End Quote

Great tip! The DVD has five numbers played on the F5-L by Monroe: Uncle Pen, Blue Moon of Kentucky, Rawhide, Rabbit in a log and Paddy on the Turnpike beautiful video of the mandolin and the performers -- it seems like a thousand years ago....
Bill Junior
May 23, 2010 04:39 PM
F5Loar:

That's a good question. It does look like a piece of wood, maybe a dowel, stuck under the pickguard. I don't know anything about that.

Or could it just be a strange reflection in the mandolin finish?

Junior
Bernie Daniel
May 23, 2010 07:08 PM
Quote from f5loar: Bill, In that promo photo of Monroe with this F5L you will notice a rather large piece of wood stuffed up in the lower end of the pickguard. Do you know why Monroe had to put in that piece of wood on this mandolin? End Quote

Can you provide a link to that pic? Thanks!
evanreilly
May 23, 2010 09:31 PM
I always thought it was a cork that Bill had placed under the pickguard to keep it from vibrating/shaking loose when he beat on it.
the picture is the Decca/MCA promo picture that was current then.
I have it somewhere and when I find it, I'll scan it.
f5loar
May 24, 2010 05:05 PM
The story of the piece of wood goes back to when I went to see Monroe at a show in NC on 2/7/1986. He had the F5L with the pickguard on it and I asked him backstage before the show why was there a piece of wood jammed under it. He says he calls this mandolin "old Rattler" and then took out the piece of wood and showed me how it would make a really bad rattle when it did not have the hand carved piece of wood under it. Dumb me asked Monroe why didn't he just take the pickguard off since he was use to picking without one anyway. And his exact words were " Oh I can't hardly do that it was on there when they give it to me". It's an old folks belief that if someone gives you a gift you are not suppose to alter it in anyway as they may want it back. So Monroe simply adapted for the problem without altering the mandolin. I then handed him my '23 F5 without the pickguard and he was most appreciative to be able to pick it that night. He even got inspired enough to perform his newly written instrumental "Lloyd Loar" on it. The next week I called Charlie Derrington at Gibson and told him about the pickguard problem and said it was not good for Gibson's image for Monroe going around with a piece of wood jammed up in the pickguard. Charlie got the mandolin back from Monroe for a quick repair and removed the pickguard and gave it back to him. So that would be what happened to that pickguard. Most agree that particular '78 F5L is one of the best they ever made.
Bill Halsey
May 24, 2010 07:07 PM
More great history from one who lived it. Thank you, Tom!
siminoff
May 24, 2010 08:20 PM
Don't let the sequence of the last three numbers throw you. This was the number assigned to that instrument of all the instruments in the Gibson plant that were in the final white-wood sequence that day. So, for example, one number lower it could have been a Les Paul, and one number higher could have been a jumbo acoustic guitar, etc.
Roger
Bernie Daniel
May 24, 2010 09:44 PM
Quote from siminoff: Don't let the sequence of the last three numbers throw you. This was the number assigned to that instrument of all the instruments in the Gibson plant that were in the final white-wood sequence that day. So, for example, one number lower it could have been a Les Paul, and one number higher could have been a jumbo acoustic guitar, etc.
Roger End Quote

Thanks Roger. I kinda eventually came to a conclusion that it was something like that.

But its still a bit confusing if because it was specified that 0 - 499 is Kalamazoo plant production and 500 and above is some other production site?

Maybe that was an original stipulation that was never adhered to?

I say this because it seems to me that one 3-digit number can't specify both the daily production as well as the production site.

Actually its not a big deal because this system which DOES give the year and day in the first 5 numbers is much better than most of Gibson's numbering systems over the years! (<:


Anyway thanks for the great history -- its great that it is now recorded for all to read.
Bernie Daniel
May 24, 2010 09:48 PM
F5loar: "Most agree that particular '78 F5L is one of the best they ever made".

For some unknown reason all the best mandolins ended up in Monroe's hands! (<:

Divine intervention?
Bill Junior
May 25, 2010 06:15 PM
F5Loar:

The wood stuck in the pickguard incident is 'Classic Monroe.' Great story. And I am glad to hear Big Mon gave the instrument a name. I've tried out a couple different names for it but was never quite saitisfied with them. Now I know what to call it: Old Rattler.

Junior
f5loar
May 25, 2010 10:05 PM
If I remember Monroe had a dog named Old Rattler after the Grandpa Jones song. Funny he did call that mandolin that due to the problem with the pickguard but I don't recall a nickname for his No. 1 mandolin.
Bill Halsey
May 25, 2010 11:28 PM
Well, I know of one nickname Mon had intended for #73987. When I heard him explain his reason for leaving the word "The" in the headstock, he said had in mind to get someone to inlay a replacement for the company name so it would read "The Thing".

Of course, all that has long since been laid to rest, much to Gibson's credit.
carleshicks
May 26, 2010 03:28 AM
That would have been pretty funny. He could have went down in History as the guy that played The Thing.
Bill Junior
May 26, 2010 08:12 AM
Fellows:

Regarding his trusty 1923 Gibson, Monroe did name that instrument, but not until the twilight of his life. I got this information from Bruce Weber, who was there. In about 1995, Monroe came out here to Bozeman, Montana, maybe to visit the Gibson factory, and as part of his tour some folks took him to Yellowstone Park. He was so taken with his experience at one of the park's signature sites, that he decided to name his mandolin, "Old Faithful." When you consider the length of Monroe's amazing career and the role that mandolin played in it, I can't think of a better name for the instrument.

Not many people know this story.

Junior
hank
May 26, 2010 09:27 AM
I'm glad Gibson straightened that out. Old Faithful is way more better than The Thing.
Jim Triggs
May 26, 2010 02:03 PM
I have enjoyed reading this thread with great information regarding the F5L and Roger Siminoff's importance in Gibson history. If it wasn't for Roger's book and efforts no one knows where the mandolin's place in today's music market would be. I may have some anecdotal additions to the Bill Monroe story regarding his relationship with Gibson which many may not be aware of. Sorry this is kind of a long read.

Last year when rumors began surfacing about Monroe's headplate being auctioned I had an interest in checking out the story. Several people contacted me asking if I knew anything about it. Over the years I had never heard that his original headplate existed and while working at Gibson I never recall Charlie Derrington mentioning it. With that being said, I did hear plenty about the restoration that Charlie and several other Custom Shop employees did on Monroe's July 9th Loar. I didn't have a hand in that project as I didn't start with Gibson until the Fall of 1986 but Monroe's other Loar (that was also damaged)was in my possession for a period of 8-10 months right when I started. It was on my bench and I used it for reference in constructing the first F-5 prototypes that I built there. I didn't do any restoration work to that mandolin but I did fit the bridge and do all of the final setup work.

My curiosity about the headplate lead me to make two phone calls to investigate. First I called Tim Shaw. Tim was my former boss in the Custom Shop at Gibson. He worked for them while they were still in Kalamazoo and I thought he may know something about the repair. When asked about a saved peghead off of Monroe's mandolin Tim was surprised to hear that one existed. He went on to mention that the repair department had a 2"x4" aluminum bar that was placed on a hot plate. When removing a headplate they would heat up the aluminum and set it on the peghead. Within minutes of applying heat the headplate would come off easily. The thing I found interesting is that he said after this process there would be a 2"x4" brand burnt right in the middle of the headplate and that the ivoroid celluloid binding would have lit up and melted with the intense heat.

My next call was to George Gruhn. He also hadn't ever heard that the peghead was saved and doubted that it existed. We went on to talk about Monroe's Loar for a while and discussed the fall-out between Monroe and Gibson and him carving their logo off of the peghead. He then told me if I wanted to hear the story of how Monroe and Gibson made amends I should ask the man that got them back together. He said I should call Billy Grammer. I was surprised to hear that Billy got Monroe and Gibson on speaking terms again. George insisted that I just call him up. I mentioned to George that I didn't know Billy was still alive and he said, "He may be old but he's certainly not dead", and then gave me Billy's number. He told me it may take a couple times to reach him but once you get a hold of him expect a thorough version of the story.

After trying to get a hold of Mr. Grammer for two days he finally answered. He was pretty tight-lipped the first five minutes or so while I was telling him who I was. I filled him in on my history with Gibson and mentioned that I dealt with Monroe for six years and had set up his mandolin during my time there. I told him George Gruhn suggested that I call him to get the story about Monroe and Gibson first hand. He said, "I remember it like it was yesterday." He said he was backstage at The Grand Ole Opry and there were four gentleman from The Gibson factory in Kalamazoo there standing in the hallway. He knew the Gibson folks well as they had built him some custom guitars over the years. Rendall Wall and Jim Duerloo were the ones that he knew. There were two other guys from Gibson there and one was holding a mandolin case.

They told him they had built Monroe a brand new mandolin and that they wanted to patch things up with Bill and get his mandolin fixed the way it should be. This included getting the scroll right and inlaying Gibson back in the peghead. They offered to fly the mandolin back to Michigan with them. They had purchased a seat for it in the First Class section of the plane and also took out a $50,000 insurance policy on the mandolin in case anything happened to it while it was in Gibson's possession. They said they'd repair it and deliver it back to Monroe in 90 days.

The Gibson folks knew Bill was at the Opry that night but were unsure how to approach him about the repair. One of them asked Billy if he would talk to Monroe for them. Billy went into Monroe's dressing room and was filling him in on the situation. Bill was apprehensive at first but he changed his tune when Billy asked him why he was mad at Gibson and Monroe said that it had been so long he couldn't even remember. Billy told Monroe about all of the nice custom guitars he had received from the Gibson factory and how great their quality was at the time. He told Monroe that they had a beautiful new mandolin for him to use while they fixed his old one and told him about the insurance policy and the seat on the plane. He asked Billy if it were him, would he have them do the work. He convinced Monroe that he didn't have anything to lose and Monroe said he'd do it as he thought the feud had gone on too long and he hated the way the mandolin looked with no scroll on it.

Billy brought in the folks from Gibson and they made their deal with Monroe. He said three months later they delivered the repaired mandolin to Bill's office which he thought was up in a trailer he had in Goodlettsville at the time. When I asked Billy if he ever heard about the old headplate he said, "I never heard of that and I never saw it. Bill never said anything to me about it so I can't speak to that but I did help get Monroe and Gibson back together."

Before my conversation with Mr. Grammer was over he went on to fill me in on how the Opry took away his membership because he was now legally blind. He also told me that Gibson offered him the head QC job at the Nashville plant when they were in the process of moving from Kalamazoo. I thought his story was interesting enough to share with all of you on the cafe. It's amazing to think that all of this stuff happened 30 years ago now.

For those that don't know who Billy Grammer is you should look him up. He was a country star known most for his song "Gotta Travel On." He and his band were playing at the location Gov. George Wallace was giving his speech when there was an assassination attempt on him during his campaign for Presidential Election. He also was the founder and co-owner of Grammer Guitars.
f5loar
May 26, 2010 02:56 PM
I knew Grammer had become blind but I did not know that is why he is no longer a member of the Opry. That's a shame they are doing that to Grammer and some other old time Opry members. Most gave every weekend of their lives to the Opry for their fans often playing the same No. 1 hit(s) for decades over and over. I guess Doc Watson never had a chance at becoming a member!
Those of us who lived during the first repair to the peghead of Monroe's Loar felt like the crack in the Liberty Bell had been repaired. The broken scroll and removed Gibson logo was part of the legend. While Monroe had independent luithers like Randy Wood to work on his Loar during the Gibson feud years he never asked any of them to fix the peghead when they could have easily done it. Not long after that you saw the endorsement of the Gibson Monroe Signature Bronze strings. There was more to it then just a willingness to fix the peghead. Giving him a new F5L sure helped seal the deal.
MikeEdgerton
May 26, 2010 03:10 PM
This thread just gets better by the day. Thanks to all for adding this piece of history to the mandolin world.
Sergio Lara
May 26, 2010 04:04 PM
If you own one of these period Gibson F-5L's please check out this thread:

http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/showthread.php?62134-Gibson-F-5L-from-78-82-Serial-numbers-and-information.

Thanks,

Serge
Bill Halsey
May 26, 2010 05:02 PM
Quote from Jim Triggs: My curiosity about the headplate lead me to make two phone calls to investigate. First I called Tim Shaw. Tim was my former boss in the Custom Shop at Gibson. He worked for them while they were still in Kalamazoo and I thought he may know something about the repair. When asked about a saved peghead off of Monroe's mandolin Tim was surprised to hear that one existed. He went on to mention that the repair department had a 2"x4" aluminum bar that was placed on a hot plate. When removing a headplate they would heat up the aluminum and set it on the peghead. Within minutes of applying heat the headplate would come off easily. The thing I found interesting is that he said after this process there would be a 2"x4" brand burnt right in the middle of the headplate and that the ivoroid celluloid binding would have lit up and melted with the intense heat. End Quote

The headstock restoration on #73987 was performed by Gibson mandolin maker Dick Doan. (Dick was one of the three mandolin makers at Gibson during the F-5L project, and built one of those prototypes.)

I just gave Dick a call, and with his kind permission I can say that he confirmed the method of removing the headstock veneer. He told me that he set a hot metal plate on it until he could work a knife under the veneer, then off it came. He said that operation would sometimes damage the bindings, but perhaps this one came off more easily.

Dick verified that the instrument retained its original neck, and that he had restored the headstock scroll and replaced the headstock veneer and fingerboard, and that Abe Wechter tinted the new bindings to match the old body bindings.

I also spoke with my old band buddy Pat Mertaugh, who was an adjuster at Gibson for many years, and had done the final setup on Mon's mandolin before it was returned. He said someone snapped a photo of him with that instrument before it went out -- I'll see if I can make a copy of it to post here, sometime.
f5loar
May 26, 2010 05:36 PM
Bill, sounds like you would know who made the F5s from 1970 to 1978. Care to list those names? Did one luthier build the whole mandolin or was it done in stages with different guys doing different stages in the mandolin?
Jim Hilburn
May 26, 2010 05:39 PM
http://blog.mlive.com/kalamazoo_gazette_extra/2007/12/gibson_has_been_my_life.html

Following this thread has made me do some looking around online and I came up with this.
Jim Hilburn
May 26, 2010 05:40 PM
I'm not sure i did that link correctly.
Bill Halsey
May 26, 2010 07:05 PM
Quote from f5loar: Bill, sounds like you would know who made the F5s from 1970 to 1978. Care to list those names? Did one luthier build the whole mandolin or was it done in stages with different guys doing different stages in the mandolin? End Quote

Tom, I knew only the three mandolin makers who were in that department in 1977 - 78 during the F-5L project; viz., Aaron Cowles, Wilbur Fuller and Dick Doan. As I recall, the makers would receive the ribs & blocks glued up as an assembly, the necks were roughed on machines and of course the fingerboards and head veneers were made up ahead of time as well. Each mandolin maker had his own bench, and they were lined up in front of the bottom level west windows near the front of the old building (see the "tap tuning" photos in Roger's piece -- that's one of the mandolin makers' benches). (Sorry, I don't know if my link will work here -- something weird about this thread.)

At any rate, it was each mandolin maker's job to graduate and assemble the instrument, bandsaw and carve the scroll, set the neck, etc. I'll try to get in a little chat time with these guys and see what else I can learn for the record.
MandoNicity
May 26, 2010 07:48 PM
Quote from MikeEdgerton: This thread just gets better by the day. Thanks to all for adding this piece of history to the mandolin world. End Quote

I agree. Fascinating.

JR
MikeEdgerton
May 26, 2010 09:50 PM
Links don't work in this section. To get to Jim's link above cut and paste the following into your browser:

http://blog.mlive.com/kalamazoo_gazette_extra/2007/12/gibson_has_been_my_life.html

Do the same with Bill's link here:

http://www.mandolincafe.com/news/publish/mandolins_001217.shtml
f5loar
May 26, 2010 09:58 PM
I'd like to know if those 3 guys were there in 1970 when the major changes were made from the previous postwar F5.
That would be interesting to hear of who came up with all those changes to the F5.
Bill Halsey
May 27, 2010 12:35 AM
"I'd like to know if those 3 guys were there in 1970 when the major changes were made from the previous postwar F5."

I think they all were there in 1970, Tom -- surely, Aaron Cowles and Wilbur Fuller were.

I should mention that Gibson employees could bid on different job openings according to seniority, provided they were qualified at the requisite skill and experience levels. "Mandolin maker" was considered a plum position, so those in that department usually stayed there for a long time.

"That would be interesting to hear of who came up with all those changes to the F5."

Very good question. It seems that Wilbur Marker may have had something to do with going retro on the F-5 headstocks (and possibly the revival of the lovely "Paramount" style fiddle headstock on the banjos, as well).

My guesswork here is pretty foggy, so I'll do some digging for real facts. Likely it'll take me a while, but I'm sure a lot of the information is still available first-hand. Of course, it would be best if those who actually lived it could put it down here in their own words. However, interaction with the internet understandably does not necessarily appeal to everyone, so perhaps I can do a little field work and try to gather a few answers. I'll get back when I have something solid.
Bill Junior
May 27, 2010 08:12 AM
Within the last year, I talked to Aaron Cowles about his 1978 F5L mandolin. All these years had passed and he was still unaware that his mandolin was the one chosen to go to Bill Monroe. I wonder--is there anyone out there who knows why this particular mandolin was selected as a gift to Big Mon. Was it the first one made? Was it the best sounding of the lot? Was it the prettiest? Was it the one that sounded the most like his 1923 Loar? Or was it the only finished F5L left unaccounted for at the time? There must have been some criteria used in the selection process.

During the discussion about building the instrument, Aaron also mentioned the fact that none of the three mandolin luthiers there at Gibson in 1978 knew anything about tap tuning an instrument. It was Roger Siminoff that re-introduced that technique to the Gibson culture.
Bernie Daniel
May 27, 2010 08:52 AM
Certainly Roger's article has stimulated some amazing discussion. I would not want to intoduce any OT diversions here just raise a point that might be worth following up on later if it is actually possible to do so.

In post #84 f5loar mentioned one addtional related story (the changes in mandolins that happend in 1970) -- I'm sure that's another great story in Gibson mandolin history.

In like manner, I want to suggest another "story" that might be harder to investigate -- what decisions/reasons lead up to abandoning the Loar design when the F-5 (and F-12) were re-introduced to the line-up in 1948 (and 1949 respecitvely)?

Then I want to ask a question -- who is going to write a book about all this stuff?
MikeEdgerton
May 27, 2010 09:00 AM
Quote from Bill Junior: Within the last year, I talked to Aaron Cowles about his 1978 F5L mandolin. All these years had passed and he was still unaware that his mandolin was the one chosen to go to Bill Monroe. I wonder--is there anyone out there who knows why this particular mandolin was selected as a gift to Big Mon. Was it the first one made? Was it the best sounding of the lot? Was it the prettiest? Was it the one that sounded the most like his 1923 Loar? Or was it the only finished F5L left unaccounted for at the time? There must have been some criteria used in the selection process.

During the discussion about building the instrument, Aaron also mentioned the fact that none of the three mandolin luthiers there at Gibson in 1978 knew anything about tap tuning an instrument. It was Roger Siminoff that re-introduced that technique to the Gibson culture. End Quote

I'm not sure we aren't mixing things up a bit here. The best sounding of the three original 1978 prototypes that were built went to to Roger. Here is the quote from the article that started this discussion:

During the main sales event preceding NAMM, Bruce and Tom invited me to the front of the room. Tom said, "Which of these three would you pick as the very best one for us to put on the show floor?" I played them and looked them over for a moment and said, "This one." Then, Tom and Bruce, thanking me for my help and asking for a round of applause, said, "Well thanks for your great efforts in bringing back one of our earliest models. Put it in its case. We want you to take this one home!"

From what I take from the Bill Graham article about the Bill's headstock repair that took place at a later date, closer to 1980. They gave Monroe a mandolin and promised to return his within 6 months if I recall. That quote is here:

"The work began in the winter of 1980," said Siminoff, a Gibson consultant. "I specifically remember being back to the plant when snow was on the ground, and Monroe's mandolin was there. I have a good visual imprint of the instrument on Dick's workbench and of him working on it. Dick did a really great job rebuilding the scroll and replacing the peghead veneer."

Perhaps Roger can clear this up. I'm not saying that Monroe didn't get a mandolin built by Aaron Cowles, I'm just assuming he got one from the production runs.
Bill Junior
May 29, 2010 09:07 AM
Mike:

Sorry if my last post left anyone confused. It is my understanding that by the time Gibson decided to give an F5L to Monroe, Roger had already left (presumably with his F5L prototype). Regarding when 'Old Rattler' was made, I can only go by what Roger told me, which is that it was finished on June 5th. "And, if that's the case, yours had to be one of the first three (and I think I remember Aaron completing his first)."

I guess as time passes there will always be some details to these kind of stories that will never be known. I think we're lucky to know as much as we do, and most of that is thanks to Roger Siminoff.

Junior
siminoff
May 30, 2010 11:06 AM
First, I'd be remiss if I didn't say a word of thanks to all of you for your interest in this piece of history - it's exciting to read your comments and input. Regarding Mike's and Bill Junior's question about the mandolin given to Bill Monroe, F5L #71568197 was one of the first three prototypes (although for some reason this one did not get a "prototype" stamp on the back of the peghead). However, it was not made specifically for Monroe; it just happened to be one of the earliest F5Ls that was finished at the time the Gibson marketing folks agreed to give one to Monroe. While Mike extracted from my article that "the best sounding one went to (me)," I'm not sure that is the case and I am sorry if I mislead anyone by not providing a broader description of what happened. When Bruce Bolen and Jim Deurloo asked me to select the best one for the NAMM show, I played them as I described in the article, but I also considered a lot of issues including: playability, wood figure, coloring, binding work, action, general fit and finish of hardware, and of course tone and volume. However, I didn't pick the show mandolin based on tone and volume alone (especially for a noisy place like a NAMM show where appearance is equally importance to tone/volume). I don't want to mislead folks by saying that I have the best sounding F5L of the three as I'm not so sure that is actually the case - however, all three of them sounded pretty darn good and very similar to each other (a testament to tap tuning). I just felt that mine was the best of the three taking all of the foregoing issues into consideration. Actually, the binding work around the peghead on mine is not as good as the binding work on the ones made by Aaron and Dick. But, taking everything into consideration, I felt it was the mandolin that most properly represented both Gibson and what people thought of as "the classic F5." I also want to point out that the three luthiers who built these mandolins were not the same folks who did the shading and finishing. As Bill Halsey mentioned earlier, the luthiers at Gibson were given a lot of pre-fabricated parts. For them, it was more like working from a kit (and I don't mean to diminish the great work they did). The mandolin luthiers worked with a bunch of pre-shaped parts, did the assembly and binding, and then off the instruments went to another department for finishing. By comparison, the mandolin and banjo assembly process was much more consolidated than the assembly-line process Gibson used for its other instruments at the time.
Roger
kpbeddin
July 23, 2010 08:26 PM
I really enjoyed this article and have admired Mr. Siminoff since purchasing his book "Constructing a Bluegrass Mandolin" in 1989 of which I used a lot of the information in building my first F Style Mandolin. One question if someone can help me: There is a picture in the article of Bill Monroe and Roger Siminoff at the 1978 NAMM show. In the picture Mr. Monroe's mandolin has the repaired peghead, but I didn't think Gibson repaired the peghead until 1980. Any insight on this inconsistency?
Bill Snyder
November 15, 2010 11:30 PM
We never did get an answer to kpbeddin's question.
Con Dowd
May 09, 2011 08:40 AM
It ain't bragging if it's true! Thanks for reprinting this story. Truly engrossing for mandolin afficiandos. Con
kpbeddin
May 11, 2011 12:52 PM
Quote from kpbeddin: I really enjoyed this article and have admired Mr. Siminoff since purchasing his book "Constructing a Bluegrass Mandolin" in 1989 of which I used a lot of the information in building my first F Style Mandolin. One question if someone can help me: There is a picture in the article of Bill Monroe and Roger Siminoff at the 1978 NAMM show. In the picture Mr. Monroe's mandolin has the repaired peghead, but I didn't think Gibson repaired the peghead until 1980. Any insight on this inconsistency? End Quote

Here is information from the Mandoline Cafe article also ng that peghead was repaired in 1980:

"The work began in the winter of 1980," said Siminoff, a Gibson consultant. "I specifically remember being back to the plant when snow was on the ground, and Monroe's mandolin was there. I have a good visual imprint of the instrument on Dick's workbench and of him working on it. Dick did a really great job rebuilding the scroll and replacing the peghead veneer."
Steve Carlson
December 10, 2011 08:12 AM
Quote from f5loar: I remember it like yesterday one summer night in 1986 when I was sitting down at the Station Inn in Nashville and in walked Charlie Derrington and some other big wheels at Gibson with Steve Carlson. Charlie told me that night about the deal with Flaitiron and I knew a new era for Gibson mandolins had begun. A Steve Carlson signed 1982 F5L? Impossible I say.
Steve working on a 1982 F5L later on say in 1987 and back dating a signed label? Not likely. Somebody else having a name similiar to Steve Carlson and signing in 1982. Possible as it seems the floor sweepers would walk by the F5L bench and sign the labels. End Quote

Roland White was 'sitting in' that evening I believe. Impossible is correct. The 1st 6 F5L's (made in Montana) were shown at the Namm show in Chicago, the summer of 1987. I had no other 'in between period' affiliation with Gibson prior to this time.
MikeEdgerton
December 10, 2011 08:16 AM
A post from the man himself, welcome to the Cafe Steve.
vyolynyst
January 03, 2012 03:58 PM
I sure would like to own an F-5L.
coelhoe
March 25, 2012 10:45 AM
Tremendous contribution to our understanding of F-5 and Gibson issues. In '74 I bought a slightly used '72 Gibson F-5. Before that I had owned an A-2, F-2, and an A-50, and the chance to get a "real" F-5 was overwhelming. Blond, with those intricate inlays. But it never justified my excitement. Heavy construction, no projection. I then discovered that the position of the "F" holes was off by about 1/2 inch. That is, the points of the "F" holes, where the bridge is supposed to line up to produce an accurate scale were located too close to the fingerboard. At first, I couldn't believe that a reputable company would release such an instrument, but after several measurements, that was exactly the problem. Once I had the chance to try a Flatiron in '84, I sold the Gibson.
f5loar
March 25, 2012 05:07 PM
A blonde top 70's F5 was rare. Had to have been a custom order that way. Yeah no greater joy then owning your first Gibson F5.
Bill Halsey
May 21, 2012 02:32 PM
Quote from f5loar: I'd like to know if those 3 guys were there in 1970 when the major changes were made from the previous postwar F5.
That would be interesting to hear of who came up with all those changes to the F5. End Quote

Quote from Bill Halsey: Very good question. It seems that Wilbur Marker may have had something to do with going retro on the F-5 headstocks (and possibly the revival of the lovely "Paramount" style fiddle headstock on the banjos, as well).

My guesswork here is pretty foggy, so I'll do some digging for real facts. Likely it'll take me a while, but I'm sure a lot of the information is still available first-hand . . . I'll get back when I have something solid. End Quote

Well, it only took me a couple of years to get around to this . . .

I just spoke with Jim Duerloo this a.m., who told me that Stan Rendell (Gibson president, 1968 - 1976) initiated all those retro appearance changes, in time for introduction at the NAMM show in summer of 1969. That included reverting to the narrow-waist mandolin headstock, script logo, V-neck profile, adding fancy f'bd inlays, etc.; the banjo fiddle headstock, early f'bd inlays, and so on.

It's interesting that all these changes to the F-5 mandolin at that time were only skin-deep, and that when Roger Siminoff approached Rendell about enhancing the tonality and function of the instrument, Stan wouldn't hear of it.

Apparently, Stan also insisted on introducing a flat-top guitar with a 12 fret neck and no dome in the (flat) top. I don't know which model, but it was not perceived by middle management as one of his best ideas.
MikeEdgerton
May 21, 2012 02:47 PM
Ahhh the 60's. cool
Mandolin Cafe
May 09, 2016 07:27 AM
This article which was published six years ago today remains one we enjoy seeing again.
FolkMusician.com - Acoustic Instrument OutfittersMandolin World HeadquatersThe Music EmporiumEllis MandolinsThe Mandolin StoreD'Addario StringsJustStrings.comKentucky MandolinsWeber MandolinsAcoustic Music CompanyMorgan MusicElderly InstrumentsEastman Mandolins