View Full Version : My new (used) Tope F-5

Apr-21-2009, 1:16pm
Well I have been shopping for a F model for a few weeks and then this came up on Ebay. I guess I broke the try it before you buy it rule of good tone but it seems to me that Gary Tope is producing a top quality instrument that may be a little undervalued (I see Gruhn has a new one listed at 5k)

Anyway these pics are pretty poor (I don't know why anyone would try to sell a top quality instrument without top quality pics -talk about shooting yourself in the foot)

It is #19 and I hope it isn't actually as bright yellow as these pics and more like this new one at Gruhn's

G. Fisher
Apr-22-2009, 12:50am
At that price for a handmade mando you can't go wrong. You'll have to give a detailed review once you have it in hand.

Scotti Adams
Apr-22-2009, 7:27am
Yea..what Greg said..let us know how she sounds!

Apr-22-2009, 2:17pm
I'll do that and also post better pics :-)

Just got a tracking number. What a very good resource this forum is. I was able to do a search and found lots of information regarding Tope Instruments:


I have not seen a lot of his mandolins but what I have seen and read seems pretty impressive.

He mentioned using ss frets and compound radius
uses a french polish that seems to be desirable and examples of his PH work seem nearly flawless

Unfortunately I am a lousy mandolin player so any sound/tone judgments on my part are probably worthless

Michael Gowell
Apr-22-2009, 3:08pm
Hey, a great instrument is inspiring to play and will seduce you into playing more often. Every time you strike a note, the power and purity of that note will thrill you. Even if we can't string a sequence of notes with the speed and fluidity we're shooting for, it's a privilege to make the attempt on a great mandolin.

Life Is Good
Apr-22-2009, 9:27pm
Chris, The mandolin is gorgeous! I wouldn't worry too much about the finish... Compound radius sounds good! Hopefully you will find the back of the neck comfortable. The only thing you can't see in the pictures are the tone bars. The top looks wonderful as does everything else, nice investment! As you know it will sound better as it gets played in. I was watching it on Ebay but couldn't invest at this time. I look forward too hearing your report...

Chris Biorkman
Apr-22-2009, 9:41pm
Looks really nice. Good workmanship.

Apr-22-2009, 10:09pm
Oh that is something I forgot to mention, the neck was something that concerned me because my Parsons has a more v shape that I am used to

but then I found this from the buyer of #15:

"1) Already sounds "gypsy" in mid range.
2) Great and developing upper and lower ends
3) The mandolin "breathes" for me---I can't think of any other way of describing it but I bet you all know what I mean.
4) Just impeccable craftsmanship
5) A progressive radius and a gentle V in the neck that really works for my small hands
6) A "doesn't look like a hearse" look with the varnish
7) Love the color (kind of faded leather on the periphery with sunburst (you can see all the grain)"

Apr-22-2009, 10:10pm
Nice mandolin, even better name! My name is also Chris Stewart, aka Bigtuna.

Apr-25-2009, 9:38pm
I was watching that Tope - glad it went to a good guy who hangs out here! Big, big congratulations on your score there, Chris!

Apr-26-2009, 3:28pm
I have played about 6 topes and all of them are top of the line in fit and finish as well as tone and volume.

Apr-26-2009, 5:53pm
Well, I got it in on Friday, put new Sam Bush strings on her and started playing. :-) I finally took a break this morning and tried my hand at picture taking.

As I said I am no great judge of sound quality this being my first F and my other mando is an A with a oval hole. The banjo player was over last night to check it out and he said it was louder brighter but also deeper bass. I'll get more opinions at the next regular jam.

Fit and finish is outstanding. The neck is perfect with a slight v shape, the action is very low with no buzz, fretting the strings is quite a bit easier

Apr-26-2009, 5:54pm
A few more pics:

G. Fisher
Apr-26-2009, 6:24pm
That is some very nice looking wood and the workmanship looks very clean.

Congrats again.

Bill Snyder
Apr-26-2009, 9:59pm
Nice looking mandolin. Good photos.

Chris Biorkman
Apr-26-2009, 10:41pm
That's one heck of a nice looking mandolin. Surprised I haven't heard more about these on this board. There are so many good builders these days.

What's with the longhorn? You live in College Station, right? Isn't that like having a pentagram on your armrest.

I'm a horned frog. Don't think that would look too nice on a mandolin.

Apr-27-2009, 8:16am
What's with the longhorn? :)

Well I was in Austin at Fiddlers Green when I first decided to start looking for an F style, and saw these armrests (which I now would not do without) and this one was made of Mesquite (local wood) and stupid me just associated the longhorn with being "Texan" and not a university, after being kidded about it a few times though I am about ready to see if I can trade it to something else. I do root for the Aggies but I just am not much of a fanatic. :)

I see that Mr. Tope has not been active here in the past few years. With all the competition these days I would guess a maker really needs to be actively promoting their work unless you happen to get a strong base of top musicians using your instruments.

Probably excellent photography is as important as excellent workmanship. For example Mr. Mowry does great photography work that really communicate the level of artistry that goes in to his instruments. Maybe a good name helps also? In my mind "Flatiron" was a good name
for a bluegrass instrument for example.

I don't really know why some makers get to the top while others of seemingly equal talent do not but then maybe top players can tell a difference that I can't.

I am in the same position though, (designing houses) which is part artistry and regardless of any basic talent I my or may not have had to start at the bottom and work my way up.

Mark Walker
Apr-29-2009, 2:54pm
Chris - excellent looking mandolin! Gary's not too far from where I live (I'm up between Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids) and I SHOULD look him up one of these days. (My wife is from right down the road from Benton Harbor; she's from Watervliet, MI.)

That armrest looks like a Doug Edwards' 'McClung' version. I've got one on my Silver Angel - but no fancy inlay in it!

Great looking mandolin and armrest all the way around. Great pictures you took as well!

Enjoy! :)

Apr-29-2009, 3:33pm
Thanks, yea I just wrote Gary an email about how thrilled I am with this instrument. Only a few days and I am a better player already. I really like that armrest also. Today I am thinking I need a custom made strap as well :)

Skip Kelley
Apr-29-2009, 4:08pm
Chris, Congratulations! Gary Tope builds some great mandolins! Enjoy!

Bill James
Apr-29-2009, 4:36pm
That's a beauty, I love the color. Looks like Gary is doing some very nice work.

I wish I was playing it right now!

Scotti Adams
Apr-29-2009, 5:14pm
Looks very nice Chris..enjoy your new gem..they dont come along very often.

Apr-29-2009, 5:34pm
another interest of mine is photography so I took a few more shots.

Apr-29-2009, 5:35pm
and a few more

May-01-2009, 5:31pm
here are some pics showing the 3d wave effect

May-22-2009, 9:25pm
Well after a month or so I have to say I just could not be any happier with this mandolin.

Below my sig is a link to lot's of YouTube vids of it, unfortunately I am not a very good player so you might have to use some imagination but I think it sounds good regardless of my ability.

Ivan Kelsall
May-22-2009, 11:53pm
Congratulations Chris - that's a superb looking instrument & from what you're saying,it sounds as good as it looks. I love the 'strong' grain of the top,i think it looks great.That should increase your 'picking time' by a few hours a week !,

Jason Kessler
May-23-2009, 11:08am
I'm not usually a fan of bursts, but that one is very subtle, very nice.

May-23-2009, 11:48am
Thanks y'all

Yeah I started out looking for a blonde or light stain but they are harder to find. This was such a great deal I could not pass it up and now I am also very happy with the color (it reminds me of the copperhead snakes we have around here)

Dale Ludewig
May-23-2009, 5:15pm
Gary is one of my finest friends. Has been for several years. And yet we have to meet face to face despite the fact that we have talked and shared much over the time we've known each other. Even tho' we're 5-6 hours away from each other.

He's a wonderful person. We have to stop each other from continuing to talk and share ideas. He's that kind of person. His instruments and craftsmanship are "just fine", to put it mildly. If you can, find his interview in Mandolin Mag.

Gads, he's a competitor! :)

May-23-2009, 7:45pm
i can tell you're disappointed ...

lovely instrument, chris - long life to you both.

May-23-2009, 8:40pm
I'm fortunate to have a Tope mandolin I got from Elderly a few years ago. It's a great mandolin and one that I enjoy playing although I have a few other mandolins from better known builders. I suspect there are probably several builders like Gary who make wonderful instruments but who stay off the radar for one reason or another.

Coming across great, yet little known builders like Gary is one of the reasons why mandolins are such a great hobby.


May-25-2009, 12:44pm
It looks great, Chris, and I'm sure it must sound great, too. Still no Tonegard, though? I would look into that in your shoes (not that one would fit inside a shoe..)..It'll change your life..seriously! ;)