View Full Version : My first Gibson

Capt. E
Apr-19-2010, 4:31pm
I recently acquired a Gibson A made in 1922, serial number 68299, with trussrod, original tuners and tailpiece, replica bridge, new nut, some new frets, original case in good condition. The pickguard is long gone and the finish shows much playing over the years, but it is still straight, solid, crack free and has that vintage woody Gibson sound in spades. The more I play it, the more I am coming to prefer its sound to that of my Weber etc., in spite of the somewhat funky tuners. Something about it that is hard to describe, especially in the lower end. It is just perfect for oldtime jams and just pickin' on the porch. It'll be even better when the lighting bugs come out.

I would appreciate any musings on the old Gibson A's.

Denny Gies
Apr-19-2010, 4:58pm
I had a 1916 A-2 and just loved the thing. The sound was warm and pretty clear, not a great bluegrass mandolin but a really sweet one.

Rob Gerety
Apr-19-2010, 5:14pm
The more I play it, the more I am coming to prefer its sound to that of my Weber

Congratulations on your new Gibson. I have a 1916 A4. I bought it not too long ago. I love it. Everything about it. I wouldn't trade it for anything. I've spent a little money to get it in top notch playing condition - but not too much. So enjoy that mandolin - it is a wonderful musical instrument. Take good care of it. They aren't making them anymore.

F-2 Dave
Apr-19-2010, 6:24pm
Sure would be nice if'n the Capt. posted some pictures of the latest acquisition. That's a beautiful A-4, Rob.

Randy Smith
Apr-19-2010, 7:19pm
I recently acquired a Gibson A made in 1922. . .Something about it that is hard to describe, especially in the lower end. It is just perfect for oldtime jams and just pickin' on the porch.

My experience is that many of us with these mandolins become really closer to them than our other instruments. I've got a tubby 1919 A2 and a brighter sounding 1924 Snakehead Ajr. Sometimes I feel like a few friends of mine who are parents but still talk of having another child--maybe I just need a teen F2 or F4? Enjoy your A on the porch for many years!

Rob, that *is* one of the nicest looking A4s!!

Apr-19-2010, 7:47pm
Gotta agree about Rob's A-4, just lovely. That old Gibson red finish is my favorite.


Apr-19-2010, 8:25pm
My first mandolin was a mid-'teens A-1 paddlehead that I found in my grandfather's attic. Had a big top crack with adhesive tape over it, and the adhesive had worked into the finish a bit. Cleaned up and restored, it was the instrument I learned on for years before it went in trade on my first F-2. There must be thousands upon thousands of those old Gibson A's out there, and they're solid instruments with a distinctive sound.

jim simpson
Apr-19-2010, 9:15pm
I used to have a nice 1917 pumpkin top that I didn't appreciate at the time. I thought I must have the longer set neck and scroll. Many mandos later I've come to appreciate the short neck with oval hole sound. I now enjoy them for their differences.

Apr-19-2010, 11:50pm
There is something special about acquiring your first Gibson no matter what model it is. I still have such fond memories of getting my first used 1958 A50. Since you got one of those "desireable" Loar era A models I would get a repo pickguard made for it. Maybe even get it french polished to protect the finish for decades to come.

Apr-20-2010, 2:00am
I'm not rich, or spoiled....but my first Gibson was a 1923 A2Z. I had that for several years before I moved up to the final Gibson level.

Patrick Gunning
Apr-20-2010, 3:41am
My first Gibson was a 1918 pumpkin-top A. I had only been playing a plywood Hondo my dad brought home from a pawnshop out of nostalgia (he had played semi-pro bluegrass when he was younger and lived in Ohio) for about 3 weeks, but just loved mandolin completely. I went looking for a slight upgrade from the dead tone and 1/4" 12th-fret action I had, and while looking at cheap Fenders stumbled across the Gibson, a really fantastic-sounding example for only $800, and I cleaned out my bank account (I was 17 at the time) and brought it home. Just an instant connection with the instrument.

Later, I got into different mandolins and my dad "inherited" the Gibson from me, where it was busted up really bad when he fell down the stairs on it. I sold the parts to Gail Hester. Maybe she restored it, I don't really know. I should check with her about that...

Darryl Wolfe
Apr-20-2010, 9:25am
Mine was a blonde top A-40

Capt. E
Apr-20-2010, 9:31am
Took some pictures of my Gibson A...take a look at them in my album here: http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/album.php?albumid=792

Apr-20-2010, 10:26am
Its the first Gibson I ever purchased. Way back in the way back. As it turns out its the only Gibson I ever purchased. The only Gibson I have ever owned.

1923 A2 sheraton brown snakehead

charp chort, lower to da ground, twice pipes, candy apple red and a button top. Oooo, clean! :cool:

I am surprised how well I did for how little I knew at the time. I didn't know what I was doing when I bought it. I did not have any real idea about Gibson, wasn't yet listening to bluegrass, or even any recorded mandolin music. At the time I was playing fiddle tunes and contra dances on a bargain basement Japanese mandolin my father got for me from a television repair shop.

I just liked the feel and sound of it. I thought the color made it look "serious", and bought it. From Music Emporeum, in Boston. I didn't get that "first Gibson glow" until much later, when I learned more about it. To show you how naive I was, several years ago Dan Beimborn even had to correct me about the year. :))

It is probably not the last Gibson I will buy. If my MAS has any say, an F2 or F4 someday. We will have to see.

Eric F.
Apr-20-2010, 11:32am
My first was a 1915 pumpkintop A with a horrible refinish on the back but a sweet tone. Next was an A-4, which I eventually sold to Dave Harvey. Fell in like with a 1918 A-2 recently, but not enough to pull the trigger. Maybe the sweetest I've played was a white truss-rod A-3 at Gruhn's a year or so ago. I didn't have the scratch at the time but I still think about that instrument. I'd buy it today without hesitation.

That was a long way of saying, yeah, there's something special about them!

John Kinn
Apr-20-2010, 3:15pm
I've only had two, and I still have both. The first one a late forties blonde top A40 bought 20 years ago, and the other a 2002 A9 bought 3 months ago.

Tom Sanderson
Apr-20-2010, 4:54pm
I have a nice 1922 White A3. Clear as a bell and plays like butter. (69451)

F-2 Dave
Apr-20-2010, 5:17pm
My first gibson was a '21 F-2 that I bought with my summer wages in 1978. Still have it, still play it. Last year I bought a collings MT. A whole different critter, really. Last saturday, I got my second gibson, a '10 A-4. A beautiful old blackface that looks like it's been around the block a few times. I'm just a sucker for that tubby oval hole sound.

Bill Van Liere
Apr-20-2010, 7:51pm
My first Gibson mandolin was a teens pumpkin top A-1. Paid $200 for it 1990. It's not great but I still got it, have added a few other A models to the fleet since then. Plenty of Gibson ovals around here, maybe because I am an hour from Kalamazoo

Apr-20-2010, 8:01pm
I am enjoying viewing the eye candy and hearing all your stories. I love these old oval holes, lots of Mojo in em'.


Rob Gerety
Apr-20-2010, 8:13pm
Hey Capt. E - I just checked out your photos. Beautiful old instrument. I notice one thing - is it possible that the saddle is swapped around end for end? Does it intonate well? If not, you might try it with the saddle reversed. What do you all think?

Ron McMillan
Apr-20-2010, 8:57pm
While I understand some of the attraction of the F-style instruments, nothing to me is as good on the eye as the round-hole Gibson A from the first third of the twentieth C. Just beautiful.

Bob A
Apr-20-2010, 10:20pm
My first Gibson was a 1921 F4, which I got after I hocked everything I could sell to raise the thousand bucks it cost me, nearly 40 years ago. It was Ry Cooder's first album that pushed me into the instrument - saw a photo of him with an F4 and I had to do it.

Still have the mandolin, expect to die with it. While I have or have had a couple dozen other mandolins, this one contains a large chunk of my soul.

Capt. E
Apr-21-2010, 8:52am
Hey Capt. E - I just checked out your photos. Beautiful old instrument. I notice one thing - is it possible that the saddle is swapped around end for end? Does it intonate well? If not, you might try it with the saddle reversed. What do you all think?

Interesting observation on the saddle. Intonation seems just fine, though I'll take another look at it.

I love the vintage vibe of my new Gibson A. All the finish wear is completely honest with no attempts to refinish any part of it, simply necessary maintainance. The verdigris on the trussrod cover perfectly matches the hardware on the old case.

Apr-21-2010, 10:14am

Capt. E
Apr-21-2010, 10:29am

Good eyes seeing the missing leather cover on the case handle and a good suggestion for a replacement. Could have new leather padded cover sewn on, but Janet Davis' would certainly cost much less.

Apr-21-2010, 10:46am
Nice to see those old cases still in service and part of the mojo, they work surprisingly well, but it would be a shame to see your mando take a header because of that strap.

Apr-21-2010, 1:16pm
Also, I think small dog makes a cover for that case for transporting.

Brad Weiss
Apr-21-2010, 1:49pm
I got my '20 A4 two years ago off of that celebrated auction site. I paid, well, a lot, but then I find that I can almost certainly get much more for it today (if comparative shopping online means anything). I really like it a lot. It plays shockingly well for a fixed bridge. Has some scratches, but no cracks at all. I think it's in exceptional shape for a 90 year old beauty. It's especially nice for choro- it has both the sustain and the resonance for that.

Here's some pics from the archive, and an illustrative youtube video.

Capt. E
Apr-21-2010, 2:47pm
Hey Capt. E - I just checked out your photos. Beautiful old instrument. I notice one thing - is it possible that the saddle is swapped around end for end?...

OOPS. Must have not been paying close attention when I put the bridge back after servicing the old tuners. Fixed now.

Capt. E
Apr-21-2010, 2:49pm
A cover is a great idea. Thanks

Tom Sanderson
Apr-22-2010, 6:52am
Some pics of my A3 #69451

Apr-22-2010, 7:24am
This is one great thread, and reading it brought back a lot of good memories.

I was just getting into mandolin in the mid 70s, having inherited an old bowlback from a great uncle. I would hang around the music store in a nearby town, trying top pick the brains of the owner and his repairman about instruments, the local music scene, instrument set-up, etc., to the point where they probably hated to see me coming. But, they were still gracious to me.

One day I spied what appeared to be a Gibson A under about 2 inches of dust on a shelf under a workbench. "What's that?" I asked. The curmudgeonly repairman just shrugged and said they had taken it in on trade for an electric guitar, but discovered it was hot. They had been waiting on the police to give the OK to resell it.

"Tell you what, kid, " said the repairman, "If we hear anything, we'll call you first." It sounded like a brush-off to me.

Two weeks later they called. Still interested? We'll let you have it for two hundred bucks. No case. No tailpiece cover.

I drove up that saturday, knowing that I didn't have two hundred bucks, but I did have about $120. and an el cheapo Japanese 5 string that I hadn't learn to play.

The mandolin, now all clean and strung, was a 1919 A-O, brown top, with one back crack and what appeared to be a 4 piece top. However, the grain was very fine on the top, and it certainly had a good ring and plenty of volume. Minimal playing wear on the fingerboard. I spent at least 40 minutes playing it, and knew I HAD to take it home. Some how.

I made my offer to the perplexed owner, reinterating the fact that I was willing to give him cash and the banjo, but I had nothing else to offer, except maybe to clean the store! With a wide grin, he just shook my hand, said "Deal," and handed me the old A model. He found an old instrument box to put it in, and I drove home one happy customer. I kept looking at the back seat on the way home, just sure it was a mirage. Did I really now own a Gibson, a REAL mandolin? I couldn't believe this stroke of luck.

Over the years I've owned several other A models, with my current favorite a 1927 A4. However, I still have the old A-0, and while a little beat from all the playing and transporting I did with it since the day I took possession, I still enjoy getting it out and playing it. While it has been relegated to my "take it out in any weather" mandolin, it will always be one of my favorite Gibsons, the instrument that turned me into a serious player and performer.

Capt. E
Apr-22-2010, 3:27pm
Thanks for the great story, Zookster. In the 70's-80's I was more focused on photography than music and had the pleasure of owning quite a few vintage cameras, Leica, Nikon RF, Rolleiflex, etc. that gave me much pleasure and satisfaction. There is still nothing like making photographs on film with a high quality vintage camera, but your tale makes me wish it had been musical instruments instead. Never too late, I guess. It is so much fun discovering what my new/old Gibson can do.

Apr-22-2010, 4:16pm
The oval hole sound is definitely my preference. I have two, non-descript and refinished Gibson A-styles, 1915 and 1917. I got the 1917 first, and played it for ~1 yr, then got the 2nd and it was so much better and more playable. It pretty much has been my main/favorite mandolin since. Both now need some work, with major fret wear, and the 1917 badly needs a FB replane/refret and some other repairs. It is true that some sort of ownership bond tends to form; to have an instrument that is a piece of handmade history, nearing 100 yrs old, that plays well and sounds good, is really something. I was lucky to find these for prices I have rarely seen since.

Capt. E
May-03-2010, 9:53am
Got a replacement handle for the case from Janet Davis...works great...fine tuned the intonation...and she just keeps sounding better, waking up after sitting around for too long, I guess. Tuned it to GDAD on thursday. What a great old timey sound with that high open D droning along! Now I need to give her a name.

Eric F.
May-04-2010, 11:14am
Well, I just got my third Gibson, a 1928 A-4. I'd been jonesing for another for a while, and saw this at a good price, so I jumped. It's a very fine sounding instrument and I am falling in love all over again.

F-2 Dave
May-04-2010, 12:27pm
That's a great looking A-4. Gorgeous sunburst.

Eric F.
May-04-2010, 12:58pm
Thanks, Dave. It's got some forearm wear, some buckle rash and all the other signs of a well-played instrument that's 82 years old, but it's a beauty and sounds fantastic.

Andy Fielding
Oct-06-2010, 4:48am
How many of the rest of you have had this experience?:

You've owned a mandolin, maybe a few. They were imports. The first was laminated; the others had "solid" tops, or even "solid, carved" tops. (What does "carved" mean, anyway? Couldn't you make a single knife mark in a top and call it "carved"?)

You thought they sounded good. They were bright, twangy, lots of treble—that's how mandolins were supposed to sound, right?

Then one day you wander into a music store and see a Gibson mandolin. When you see how much it is, you gasp and think, "Man—I could buy a car for that!"

You wonder if you should ask to play it. You know the only reason it's so expensive is because it's got such fancy wood and inlays and stuff, and that clichéd, commercial name on the peghead. But you ask to play it anyway, so you can smirk about how people throw their money away on meaningless status objects.

And then, from the first note, your whole concept of how a mandolin is supposed to sound is redefined. :?)

Mandolin Mick
Oct-06-2010, 5:57am
Andy- Exactly! :))

Mandolin Mick
Oct-06-2010, 6:12am
Back to the original poster's question ...

My Gibson A-Century sounds completely different than my Gibson F-9, which is a Bluegrass mandolin. Wouldn't dream of using the A for Bluegrass. :))

The Gibson A-Century is for solo mandolin performances. More of an Italian tremolo style like you'd hear in an Italian restaurant or the Godfather theme. This is my workhorse right now.

Oct-06-2010, 4:29pm
Then one day you wander into a music store and see a Gibson mandolin. When you see how much it is, you gasp and think, "Man—I could buy a car for that!"

And then, from the first note, your whole concept of how a mandolin is supposed to sound is redefined. :?)

And for the first time, you think, wow, cars are pretty over rated.

Oct-06-2010, 6:41pm
Must have missed this thread-my first Gibson was a 1929 A0 and I still have it, has a truss rod, bound top only and bound sound hole,dark brown almost black finish,Gibson stencil logo and the deepest recurve on the top and back I've ever seen. Walked into a Antique store 18 years ago and said you got any mandolins, the shop keeper went into the back room and came out with it, no strings and an inch of dust with a funky clear lucite home made picguard on it, I think I paid $200.00:)

Mandolin Mick
Oct-07-2010, 2:27am
Some of these antique store stories are really inspiring! I'm going to have to do some investigating in the shops around here! :)

Andy Fielding
Oct-26-2010, 4:35pm
And for the first time, you think, wow, cars are pretty over rated.

Plus, mandolins don't create greenhouse gases. (Mandolinists often do, though.)

Oct-27-2010, 1:47pm
Not my first Gibson (which was a refinished 1924 F-4) but my favorite one due to the circumstances of acquisition.

My wife has some colleagues whose sister suffers from hoarding. She needed money for some medical problems and they asked me to look at a 1921 A2 that she had bought in the 50's. I was expecting a dried out instrument but they brought me a pristine mandolin with the original pickguard. After freeing up the tuners and adding a Cumberland bridge, it played like butter and had the sound and volume that a small percentage of these instruments will have. (As an aside, I have played a lot of A Gibsons, only about one in ten have that sound in my opinion.) I gave her full market value for the instrument because it was the right thing to do (and a great mandolin.)

It turns out that she did not play mandolin but just acquired it at a garage/estate sale as part of her hoarding. She paid $55 for it, by the way. She put it in her house under newpapers (she has the typical hoarder's house with a small pathway through all the junk) which kept it at a constant temperature and humidity for all these years. It looks like it was kept up very well when she bought it and it had to have been played a lot for the sound to be so good (or it was built by the guy who made F-4s.)