View Full Version : Old Gibson A's and J-74s

Feb-05-2004, 7:52am
I have recently acquired a 1914 Gibson A, which came to me strung up with Martin Bronze strings.

I have a small stock of J-74s, which are thicker in gauge than the Martins, especially on the wound strings.

Are these medium gauges safe to put on an antique Gibson A, which shows no structural problems other than some predictable sinkage about the bridge?

If this sounds overly paranoid, forgive me and advise me as such. This is my first "old world" instrument, and maybe I'm thinking too hard.

Feb-05-2004, 8:41am
I wouldn't try it - the old one's don't have 1/ a truss rod neck 2/ heavy bracing in the top and 3/ lots of old time mojo. These old ones absolutely sing with lighter strings. Bite the bullet and either use Martin's lights - GHS lights or something like that. I just started using the Black Diamond Silvers on a few of my older instruments and couldn't believe the volume out of them. Then, for the heck of it, I put them on a KM 110S and even on that "modern" (1979) flat top, the sound just boomed.

For older instruments - use strings which are more delicate and lighter tension. You won't really loose sound and your instrument will appreciate it.

Bob DeVellis
Feb-05-2004, 8:43am
QUOTE: "... other than some predictable sinkage about the bridge"

I'd investigate the sinkage before upping the string tension. Gibsons are robustly built but it's the tops, not the necks, that seem to fall victim to over-stringing. On a nice, healthy A style, I think J74s would be fine (although I actually prefer the lighter Martins on old round-hole Gibsons) but if the top looks a bit iffy, have someone check the brace before doing anything. If the brace is a bit loose at one end, it's an easy repair. If you unstring the instrument, you can probably feel around inside and determine if there's a loose brace -- see if the edge of a business card can slide under one end or the other, for example. Or pinch the brace end against the top between your thumb and a finger and see if it moves at all. If in doubt, have a luthier look at it for you. If the top fails, that'd be a much bigger loss than having some unused strings on your hands.

Feb-05-2004, 8:52am
i understand your parinoia but i went for it. i've been running j74's on my non-truss rod '21 gibson a-2 that i got in november with no ill effects (the brace had been repaired just before i purchased it.) & it just sings. but maybe i'll try a lighter set the next string change.

John Rosett
Feb-05-2004, 12:41pm
now you all are making me paranoid! i put thomastik heavy strings on my '13 a when i got it, but switched to the j-74's which i like better sound-wise. i think the thomastiks have less tension, although i can't find any tension info on the package like the d'addarios have. does anyone know what kind of gauges and tensions mando strings had back in the teens and twentys? that would be interesting to know.

Feb-05-2004, 3:50pm
I believe I saw the tensions listed on Thomastiks website. Useful information; it should be on the packages for all brands' strings IMHO.

Feb-05-2004, 5:23pm
if you go to the juststrings.com site you can compare string tensions of several of the brands. btw, the j74's put #more tension on the neck than the thomastiks. now i'm paranoid.

Feb-06-2004, 1:46am
Another way to look at the bracing is to pull the end pin and peek in through the hole.
Shine a small light in through the soundhole and you should be able to inspect the brace very well. You also get a good look at the number stamped on the neck block.

Feb-06-2004, 3:59pm
I've played a 1917 Ajr seven or eight years with phosphore bronze D'addario strings (.011 to .040), and I didn't notice anything wrong.
P.S. For me, it was a "New World " instrument;http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

Ken Waltham
Feb-08-2004, 9:08am
I agree completely with the statement, " if the brace is in good shape, no problem with the J74's"
I've used J74's on tons of old Gibsons, and have always preferred their sound over the others.
I have an A3 right now that I put Martins on, and wish I'd put J74's on instead.
To me, they have a "bigger sound".

Feb-08-2004, 6:57pm
Question: I live in a very humid climate (90%-100% with high temperatures) and my '13 and '16 are always going sharp. I have used the GHS A250's with success, but have recently tried a set of J-74's. Will the fact that the instruments tend to go sharp in humid enviornments increase the tension enough that it should be seriously taken into consideration?

Here in Florida when I get ready to play I must tune down, not tune up.


mandy lynne
Feb-09-2004, 3:11pm
fangsdaddy...consider this. I have a 1918 A with a sunken top and I had been using Medium GHS strings for about 2 years. Then one day....I heard a loud pop sound from the general direction of my mando stand. Upon further inspection,there was a full blown crack in the top running parallel to the fingerboard on the treble side all the way to the soundhole. Broke clean through the binding around the soundhole just like that...quite traumatic. To be fair, I live in Chicago and had been gigging the mandolin quite a bit that winter. Although my apt is humidity controlled....the constant shrinking/expanding prob did not help. I use light gauge now. Paranoia be damned.

Feb-18-2004, 9:06am
over the weekend i put a set of martin lights on my a-2.
playing solo i noticed that the chords were less thick sounding. other than that, it was the same sound.
last nite at my weekly bluegrass session i found that the mando continued to be loud enough & cut thru as it did before w/the j-74's.