View Full Version : Gibson A model sunken tops

Sep-13-2006, 8:05pm
I have a 1917 Gibson A which plays and sounds quite nicely. I have read numerous references here to problems with 'sunken tops' on these models.

Visualizing this hasn't been too difficult but I've never seen one in the flesh (or in photo.)

What are the consequences of a sinking top? Would this effect the action negatively? (I suppose you could crank up the bridge to compensate somewhat for awhile.) Does it happen slowly or dramatically?

Each time I pull mine out to play I examine it in section again and again. Paranoid? Yes.

I just saw this A model on ebay with a nice side shot, which appears dramatically sunken to my eye. Is this an example of a sunken top?

http://cgi.ebay.com/ws....IT&rd=1 (http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&ih=005&item=150031166670&rd=1&sspagename=STRK%3AMEWA%3AIT&rd=1)

Any better description would be helpful-pictures even moreso.

Thanks for the help.


Bob DeVellis
Sep-13-2006, 8:17pm
I don't think the one on Ebay is as bad as it looks in the side picture. I think it might be the angle of the shot. From the side, the top looks concave and it doesn't look that bad from the front.

I think of the usual sunken top as a significant flattening of the arch where the bridge is. So, instead of being convex, it has a noticable flat spot. If it's actually concave, I would definitely worry. A sunken top is usually the result of a loose brace and often can be fixed pretty easily. It's best to catch it soon, lest the brace detatch more and more and the top sink more and more. Some sunken tops can remain stable for long periods. I'd certainly be concerned if the top suddenly showed sinkage and would feel around inside to see if a brace end was loose. Loosen string tension and get it to a luthier if that happens and it should be a fairly easy fix.

Paul Hostetter
Sep-14-2006, 12:19am
It's not always about the little lateral brace giving out. There was a period around 1921-22 when Gibson made mandolins with thinner tops, and they all flattened pretty bad. In fact I'd say a good many didn't survive at all, which is why we don't see them.

This photo looks bad: http://pages.prodigy.net/musicrick/og6.jpg

But I agree with Bobd that in the other shot it looks pretty OK:


The pillowtops had one-piece bridges that are usually shimmed way, way up if they're there at all. They sound like banjos. I've had pretty good luck salvaging them by X-bracing the tops.

A bit of slumpage isn't unusual or necessarily bad. It's surprisingly uncommon, considering how old these mandolins are. But when a top goes as slack as it seems to be in the first photo above, the mandolin's got an issue.

Bill Van Liere
Sep-14-2006, 8:16am

I have a 1917 Gibson A-1 with the typical settled top, a flat spot from about the bridge to the soundhole. I have seen many like this that are remedied by adding a shim underneath the feet of the bridge.

Mike Buesseler
Sep-14-2006, 8:28am
I own an old Gibson that looks almost identical to that one, #65951. Mine is a bit more worn, but when I held it in a position as close to the picture on eBay (and in Paul's copy above)it looks exactly the same. Mine might be somewhat flattened, but it certainly is NOT sunken or concave. My bridge, tuners, tailpiece, and frets have all been replaced. Also, the side was separating from the top around the tailpiece, nicely repaired by Kevin Kopp (sp?) in Montana. The main point is that everyone who's played mine agrees it sounds and plays GREAT! When I bought it, I picked it over several nice snakeheads for its sound, which came through even with it's bum bridge and other problems. Glad I endured the repairs. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/laugh.gif

Jim Rowland
Sep-14-2006, 10:07am
At a recent folk festival, Rachel Bryan was playing a '17 Gibson "A" with a partially collapsed top. She told me Steve Gilchrist had inspected it and assured her that it was stable and would probably be OK for the forseeable future. It didnt seem to bother her playing and surely sounded good.

Bob DeVellis
Sep-14-2006, 12:46pm
Paul -- Interesting about the thinner tops in the '21-'22 time frame. I wasn't aware of that. Thanks for passing that along.

Paul Hostetter
Sep-14-2006, 5:44pm
That's *about* right. I know where a few known extant pillowtops reside, I'll try and doublecheck.

Dan Adams
Sep-14-2006, 9:16pm
I own both a 1916 (up for trade, a shameless plug!) and a 1917, with fully arched tops. I'm always amazed to hear the sunken top stories, even though I know the condition will manifest itself in mandolins from this era. I must be lucky!! Nothing like that teens A-model tone!! Dan

Sep-14-2006, 10:15pm
Thanks for all the responses. After reading the more specific descriptions, I've determined that mine does have a minor bit of sinkage or flattening between bridge and soundhole. I believe it still has the original bridge (I may be wrong here) so hopefully the problem has not grown too severe.

I do think I'll bring it into the shop to have someone take a look at it just the same.


Bob Denton
Sep-15-2006, 5:33pm
I bought a 1917 A4 in 75 and played it all around the world both for gigs and studio work. After moving to Florida for a coouple of years, the top sank like the Titanic.

I had it repaired and a few months later the top collapsed again.