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Gibson F-4 Carved Top Mandolin (1928)

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Gibson F-4 Model Carved Top Mandolin (1928), made in Kalamazoo, Michigan, serial # 83978, sunburst varnish finish, maple back and sides, spruce top; mahogany neck with ebony fingerboard, original black hard shell case.

As Gibson mandolins go there are not many more hallowed instruments than a Style F-4 Artist model, especially those from the company's "Lloyd Loar" era. This mandolin dates to just after that period-the most modern scholarship dates it to 1928-and this is a lovely example of Gibson's craftsmanship from a time that was just ending, as interest in the mandolin waned and players turned to banjos and then guitars. This example is practically identical to the Loar era instruments, and in fact appears to have been constructed from the same reserve of parts from earlier in the decade. The only notable difference is a slightly heavier lacquer finish, which shows a different checking pattern from the 1923-24 varnish. Regardless of this the Mandolin maintains the unmatched sound quality and perfected features of the Loar era including the adjustable truss rod, raised adjustable bridge and slimmer neck profile. The F-4 Artist's model had been Gibson's highest grade mandolin until the advent of the Master Model F-5 in 1922, and even after that model's introduction remained at a price of $150.00, one of the most expensive instruments of the time.

This F-4 features a two-piece bookmatched back and sides of beautifully flamed maple; despite Gibson's catalog descriptions, only the Style 4 instruments were actually built with the specified maple body. Top, back, sides and neck feature a beautiful dark, rich red sunburst finish and are bound in grained ivoroid. The headstock carries flowerpot inlay, a Gibson pearl logo mounted at a less acute angle than earlier examples and Waverly strip tuners with grained ivoroid buttons. The pickguard is the usual elevated tortoise celluloid piece, with the 1920's metal bracket. The previously top-of-the-line F-4 may have been overshadowed somewhat by the Master Model F-5, but the examples from this decade are still the finest ever built and often spectacular sounding mandolins. The tone is somewhat mellower than Gibson's f-hole instruments, but with plenty of body and "bite" when needed.

Lloyd Loar's tenure as "acoustic engineer" at Gibson has become so mythical that sometimes separating fact from fiction is difficult. Certainly the mandolin family instruments made during the period of Loar's employment are the most perfectly realized in Gibson's history, and have become the template for most similar instruments since. The mandolins of the "Loar Era" show the influence of a master player on both design and execution, although other Gibson employees (especially Thaddeus McHugh and Lewis A. Williams) actually engineered many of the technical improvements. Loar was primarily concerned with 'voicing' the instruments properly; the Master Model Style 5 line was his greatest contribution with their violin-style F-hole tops but all Gibson mandolin family instruments were refined and improved at the same time.

The factory order number 9000 stamped on the heelblock of this mandolin indicates it was assembled in mid-1928, while the serial number-by the most recent reckonings-suggests it was shipped out towards the end of the year. Master Lloyd had "left the building" several years earlier, but this F-4 is still built to materially the same specs as those made under his watch. The late-20's-the "jazz era" was in, and mandolin sales were declining rapidly to nil-few batches of F-4's were built as the company turned to banjo and then guitar production. This F-4 is a fine example of Gibson's best traditional mandolin work, from the very end of that period. It remains in well-played but largely original condition, a lovely reminder of the company's first great period.

Overall length is 26 1/4 in. (66.7 cm.), 10 in. (25.4 cm.) wide, and 1 3/4 in. (4.4 cm.) in depth, measured at side of rim. Scale length is 14 in. (356 mm.). Width of nut is 1 1/8 in. (29 mm.). This is a wonderful sounding mandolin that has seen its share of playtime but remains in nicely original condition. There is some considerable finish wear to the top and a few deep dings, and the varnish is worn down to the wood on the back of the neck. All hardware is original and complete. The instrument was just refretted and plays extremeny well with a rich ringing tone. A great player's example of the just-post Loar F-4, complete with a well-used but still solid OHSC. Very Good + Condition.