View Full Version : Gibson H2 Mandola (1907ish?) Need Advice and a Good Luthier

May-23-2014, 9:24pm
A little back-story. I was playing a gig a couple weekends ago and afterwards a woman approached me and said that she'd found a mandolin in a closet while cleaning out her parent's estate. I was playing a nice F5 with a cremona finish at the time, and she said it "looks just like that". Obviously this had my imagination running, and we exchanged contact info, but when I got a few pictures from her later it wasn't at all what I expected. I thought it was an A4, but Dan Beimborn from the MandolinArchive instantly ID'd it as an H2.

This evening I went to see what shape it was in, and in spite of needing some serious TLC I bought it and brought it home. Now I need help. I want to date it, make sure it's worth saving, and find a good luthier.

The FON is 684 and the S/N is 7700. This would indicate like a 1908 date, but the mandolin looks like it was made earlier than that? Is the case original? The bridge? What kind of a mess have I gotten myself into now?

There is one crack in the top, and some separation of the wood near the pickguard. The back is really nice, and the heel looks solid too. There is only very slight sinkage, and the brace appears solid. The worst appears to be the crack/separation in the headstock. Other than that it just needs some cleaning and TLC. What can be done for the finish? I will not be refinishing this, just want to know what can protect/rejuvinate it a bit.

Without further ado, the part you all came here to see...PICTURES!

http://i86.photobucket.com/albums/k113/JLeatherman_CF/Mandolins/Gibson%20H2%20Mandola/IMG_0489_zps48b88e50.jpg (http://s86.photobucket.com/user/JLeatherman_CF/media/Mandolins/Gibson%20H2%20Mandola/IMG_0489_zps48b88e50.jpg.html)

http://i86.photobucket.com/albums/k113/JLeatherman_CF/Mandolins/Gibson%20H2%20Mandola/IMG_0498_zpsd051e9a1.jpg (http://s86.photobucket.com/user/JLeatherman_CF/media/Mandolins/Gibson%20H2%20Mandola/IMG_0498_zpsd051e9a1.jpg.html)

http://i86.photobucket.com/albums/k113/JLeatherman_CF/Mandolins/Gibson%20H2%20Mandola/IMG_0491_zpsae6fbcdb.jpg (http://s86.photobucket.com/user/JLeatherman_CF/media/Mandolins/Gibson%20H2%20Mandola/IMG_0491_zpsae6fbcdb.jpg.html)

http://i86.photobucket.com/albums/k113/JLeatherman_CF/Mandolins/Gibson%20H2%20Mandola/IMG_0492_zps50a64b42.jpg (http://s86.photobucket.com/user/JLeatherman_CF/media/Mandolins/Gibson%20H2%20Mandola/IMG_0492_zps50a64b42.jpg.html)

http://i86.photobucket.com/albums/k113/JLeatherman_CF/Mandolins/Gibson%20H2%20Mandola/IMG_0496_zpsb9a5f87d.jpg (http://s86.photobucket.com/user/JLeatherman_CF/media/Mandolins/Gibson%20H2%20Mandola/IMG_0496_zpsb9a5f87d.jpg.html)

http://i86.photobucket.com/albums/k113/JLeatherman_CF/Mandolins/Gibson%20H2%20Mandola/IMG_0497_zps69c85e18.jpg (http://s86.photobucket.com/user/JLeatherman_CF/media/Mandolins/Gibson%20H2%20Mandola/IMG_0497_zps69c85e18.jpg.html)

http://i86.photobucket.com/albums/k113/JLeatherman_CF/Mandolins/Gibson%20H2%20Mandola/IMG_0499_zpsd17fff48.jpg (http://s86.photobucket.com/user/JLeatherman_CF/media/Mandolins/Gibson%20H2%20Mandola/IMG_0499_zpsd17fff48.jpg.html)

http://i86.photobucket.com/albums/k113/JLeatherman_CF/Mandolins/Gibson%20H2%20Mandola/IMG_0500_zps9e4c07c1.jpg (http://s86.photobucket.com/user/JLeatherman_CF/media/Mandolins/Gibson%20H2%20Mandola/IMG_0500_zps9e4c07c1.jpg.html)

http://i86.photobucket.com/albums/k113/JLeatherman_CF/Mandolins/Gibson%20H2%20Mandola/IMG_0501_zpscfa92a6f.jpg (http://s86.photobucket.com/user/JLeatherman_CF/media/Mandolins/Gibson%20H2%20Mandola/IMG_0501_zpscfa92a6f.jpg.html)
(I have the pieces of binding, they were in the case)

http://i86.photobucket.com/albums/k113/JLeatherman_CF/Mandolins/Gibson%20H2%20Mandola/IMG_0502_zps043112b1.jpg (http://s86.photobucket.com/user/JLeatherman_CF/media/Mandolins/Gibson%20H2%20Mandola/IMG_0502_zps043112b1.jpg.html)

Django Fret
May-23-2014, 9:46pm
Wow! You picked up a beauty and love the tailpiece, tuners and inlaid pick-guard. Hope you get some good advice and direction to a qualified luthier on what would be the best approach to restore this one.

May-23-2014, 9:50pm
FON 684 doesn't show up in Span's guide (but you probably already knew that), but FON 683 shows up as an H1, and the first instrument listed for 1909.
Don't do anything to the finish until the repairs are done, and then just clean it with a soft damp cloth. Some violin polish can help once it's clean, something like Angel Polish.
The worst problem I see in the pictures is the deteriorated center laminate in the neck. That is what has caused the cracks in the front and back of the peghead, and it will take some creativity by a good repair person to do a minimally visible repair that is sound and long lasting. The top cracks are routine repairs.
It all looks original to me, including the bridge and case.

Where are you in Maryland?

May-23-2014, 10:56pm
John, I'm in central Maryland a little south of Frederick. Thanks for the info, I do not have Spann's book so I didn't know that. The FON is definitely 684, it's very legible.

The neck appears to have only delaminated in the peghead area. The rest of the neck from the nut to the body seems solid. It's been in a closet for more than 50 years (allegedly) with the strings on and fairly tensioned. I'm surprised it's survived as well as this.

May-24-2014, 1:04am
You live near my sister, who is in Smithsburg.
There is probably a triangular maple insert in the neck shaft keeping it together and displacing most of the center lamination. That would keep the neck shaft in a much more solid condition than the headstock. The center laminations were some kind of "mystery wood" dyed black, or nearly black. Some say pear wood, some say maple, it doesn't really matter, whatever process they used to "ebonize" it made it decay to a powdery pulp after many years, so there is nothing between the two halves of the peghead holding it together other than the powdery, decomposed center strip. As I said, someone will need to be creative to fix that and make it look as near untouched as possible. All in all, I think it's a worthy project, but I don't know anyone in your area to recommend as a luthier to work with.

May-24-2014, 7:54am
Great find. I didn't think that Gibson was still doing the inlaid pickguards in 1908-1909, but obviously they were. The work needed to fix the cracks is not that complicated. It looks all original, even the case. Congrats.

May-24-2014, 10:36am
Love the case! Assuming it's leather, get it to a leather shop to get the leather re-moisturized, and whatever's come loose glued or sewn.

I'd guess that case is a significant part of the mandola's overall value. Don't see many surviving for a century or more.

May-24-2014, 11:29am
Here's the page from Gibson's 1909 Catalog F that shows the embossed leather case they sold for all the instruments. This was their top of the line case for pre-1910, so the H-2 case is definitely original.


Jeff Mando
May-24-2014, 2:41pm
Congrats! Beautiful piece.

May-24-2014, 9:05pm
What do you guys think of the top profile? Does it look a bit sunken and/or bellied?

May-24-2014, 9:22pm
What do you guys think of the top profile? Does it look a bit sunken and/or bellied?

Looks OK to me. Orville, and early Gibson corp. mandolins had kind of a plateau in the center of the top, so it could be like that. if not, and it is slightly flattened in the center of the top, it looks pretty good for 105 years.

May-24-2014, 10:57pm
The case is certainly original and is a Bulls Head brand case made by Maulbetsch & Whittemore. See their history here: http://www.stevekirtley.org/bullshead.htm As Paul Fox says above, leather was considered highest quality. The new fangled hard shell cases had just been been introduced about 1904. By 1917 Gibson dropped leather cases and the hard shell case became the new standard.

May-25-2014, 8:11am
Given that the bridge appears to be original, and the string height seems fairly close to what you'd want it to be, I don't believe the top has sunk much at all.

Allen, the case is indeed leather and the main body of the case is in very good shape. Even the leather "hinge" where the bottom half opens isn't splitting. It could certainly use some cleaning and oiling though. All the ancillary parts (handle, strap, closure, etc) are badly deteriorated and/or missing.

May-26-2014, 4:13am
Indeed, it's the shape of the top that I like the most about this instrument. Well, there'e the pineapple tailpiece, too ... :whistling: But in the closeup of the bridge the arch on the top looks smooth.

I agree, it needs cleaning, but maybe not a whole lot. It looks really good for having been tucked away for so long, and strung up all the while. I would hold off on refinishing; it looks like it's still got a good bit of shine. Quite a find! I have a 1916 H-2, and it is a delight.

I don't know many luthiers, none in your area, but if you are up for a drive, George Youngblood in CT is an excellent craftsman. He even gets instruments that stump Gibson from time to time. He may have the right combination of skills and creativity you need. And it's a nice time of year for a drive. :)

May-26-2014, 8:45am
I have a pair of H2's in the collection but neither are as early as yours, congratulations. I'm in Silver Spring, MD and have had some great work done over the years by Marc Glickman in Frederick. You will find him careful and courteous with reasonable turn around times. I don't have his number handy but here is his Facebook link. Let us know how your project turns out.


Frank Ford
May-28-2014, 11:59am
You live near my sister, who is in Smithsburg.
There is probably a triangular maple insert in the neck shaft keeping it together and displacing most of the center lamination.

No triangular maple reinforcement in these early ones. Those with the insert don't have a real center lamination - it's a fairly shallow inlay, all the way up the peg head, as a rule.

So, it will be important to stabilize the peg head - glue has a nasty habit of letting go of that decomposed dyed wood, so I tend to favor reinforcement of one kind or another. Also the fingerboard might be made of the same dyed wood, and if so, it would be even more important to stabilize the peg head. I've seen a few where the entire neck split all the way to the body, fingerboard included.

FL Dawg
May-28-2014, 12:26pm
Get the cracks in the top properly reglued. Address the split neck lamination. Replace the missing piece of binding. Find a screw to replace the missing tuner screw. Make sure the frets are ok. That's it... no rejuvenation or preservation needed. The finish looks normal - it doesn't need any polising or buffing.

May-28-2014, 12:49pm
No triangular maple reinforcement in these early ones. Those with the insert don't have a real center lamination - it's a fairly shallow inlay, all the way up the peg head, as a rule.

Thanks for that.
As usual, rules have exceptions. I've worked on Gibson mandolins with the triangular insert and a center lamination rather than the shallow inlaid strip. (IIRC, the Mando Cafe project mando from some years ago was one of those.)

May-30-2014, 10:56am
Mark, thanks for the recommendation. The H2 is in the hands of luthier Marc Glickman now. I'll update the thread when I have more info back, but he was pretty confident that it won't be a terribly tough job.

Aug-09-2014, 11:15am
Well, the mandola is back! The work included cleating the crack near the pickguard, regluing the brace, repairing the headstock break, regluing the back where it had just started to come loose in a few places, and regluing all the binding (plus standard setup and fret dress work). Turned out very well. The only thing I want to touch up slightly now that I've had it out in strong daylight is the repaired area near the inlay on the peghead has lost the yellowish tinge of the finish. Can anyone recommend something I can retouch this with to even out the clear?

http://i86.photobucket.com/albums/k113/JLeatherman_CF/Mandolins/Gibson%20H2%20Mandola/IMG_0621_zps012f11ce.jpg (http://s86.photobucket.com/user/JLeatherman_CF/media/Mandolins/Gibson%20H2%20Mandola/IMG_0621_zps012f11ce.jpg.html)

http://i86.photobucket.com/albums/k113/JLeatherman_CF/Mandolins/Gibson%20H2%20Mandola/IMG_0622_zps6389d8de.jpg (http://s86.photobucket.com/user/JLeatherman_CF/media/Mandolins/Gibson%20H2%20Mandola/IMG_0622_zps6389d8de.jpg.html)

http://i86.photobucket.com/albums/k113/JLeatherman_CF/Mandolins/Gibson%20H2%20Mandola/IMG_0623_zps0c4c1438.jpg (http://s86.photobucket.com/user/JLeatherman_CF/media/Mandolins/Gibson%20H2%20Mandola/IMG_0623_zps0c4c1438.jpg.html)

http://i86.photobucket.com/albums/k113/JLeatherman_CF/Mandolins/Gibson%20H2%20Mandola/IMG_0625_zpsab205f2a.jpg (http://s86.photobucket.com/user/JLeatherman_CF/media/Mandolins/Gibson%20H2%20Mandola/IMG_0625_zpsab205f2a.jpg.html)

http://i86.photobucket.com/albums/k113/JLeatherman_CF/Mandolins/Gibson%20H2%20Mandola/IMG_0624_zpsc271354d.jpg (http://s86.photobucket.com/user/JLeatherman_CF/media/Mandolins/Gibson%20H2%20Mandola/IMG_0624_zpsc271354d.jpg.html)

http://i86.photobucket.com/albums/k113/JLeatherman_CF/Mandolins/Gibson%20H2%20Mandola/IMG_0626_zpsf44e06c4.jpg (http://s86.photobucket.com/user/JLeatherman_CF/media/Mandolins/Gibson%20H2%20Mandola/IMG_0626_zpsf44e06c4.jpg.html)

http://i86.photobucket.com/albums/k113/JLeatherman_CF/Mandolins/Gibson%20H2%20Mandola/IMG_0628_zpseedf429d.jpg (http://s86.photobucket.com/user/JLeatherman_CF/media/Mandolins/Gibson%20H2%20Mandola/IMG_0628_zpseedf429d.jpg.html)

F-2 Dave
Aug-09-2014, 12:08pm
It looks beautiful, congratulations.

Robert Smyth
Aug-09-2014, 1:03pm
I can't believe how well the repair went in fixing those cracks! I have a 1919 H2 that I love but wish it had the Handel tuners like yours.

If you can say, what did you pay for the mandola originally?

FL Dawg
Aug-10-2014, 11:30pm
Can anyone recommend something I can retouch this with to even out the clear?

My choice would be a big jar of nothing in this case, it's very normal for the ambered finish to flake off or be missing over parts of the inlay.

Darryl Wolfe
Aug-11-2014, 11:52am
I would use a little yellow professional quality art marker on the inlay if you choose to. They come in many shades at Hobby Lobby and similar places

Aug-11-2014, 12:08pm
I don't have very good luck with art markers, though I've tried them a few times. I like plain ol' Transtint vintage amber and a small artists brush followed by a seal coat of blonde shellac. That can match the surrounding color nearly perfectly if done with patience.
(Furthermore, I've found so little use for art markers that they dry up before I use them more than a few times, so if you don't use them regularly they are kind of expensive to lie around and dry up. I always have dyes on hand, so it works out better for me.)

Aug-11-2014, 12:12pm
She is a beauty. Very nice repair on the peg head compared to what you started with. I would leave the inlay alone.

Aug-12-2014, 1:27pm
Beautiful! I love the details...such as the design on the tuning pegs. The case is gorgeous!

Aug-12-2014, 8:50pm
I can't believe how well the repair went in fixing those cracks! I have a 1919 H2 that I love but wish it had the Handel tuners like yours.

If you can say, what did you pay for the mandola originally?

Robert, I debated posting this, but I paid $500 for the mandola as it looked in the initial pictures. I felt comfortable that no matter what surprises were found in the restoration I wasn't likely to lose any money at that price (figured I could sell the tuners and tail piece for close to that). I was also not certain about the originality of some parts. This time around I got lucky and the repair was both very effective and significantly less than the end value of the instrument. I'll probably still have a couple hundred more in the case once I find a leather shop to restore it as well. I've learned a good bit more about an odd instrument, and now I'll play it a little and see what happens next.

To the latter point, it turns out that although a mandola is the closest instrument to a mandolin, it does not mean I can immediately play it with any real degree of proficiency. I can't get any 4-finger chord patterns, barely can stretch for 3-finger patterns in the lower positions, which really limits my style of playing. It is an interesting sound. When I get the nerve I'll muddle through a fiddle tune of some sort and post a sound clip.

Aug-12-2014, 8:58pm
By the way, for inquiring minds, there is no triangular reinforcement in this mandola neck. In spite of that the neck appeared to be very solid from the nut to the body, just the peghead separation.

Capt. E
Aug-13-2014, 9:10am
What a beautiful instrument. I just love restorations. I agree you need to just leave the inlay alone, don't try and color it. My parents were antique dealers and the general convention is that most repairs should be visible.