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coletrickle
Jun-14-2010, 8:03am
Hi everyone. I have a chance to purchase a teens (likely 1917-18) Gibson A mandolin. Basically a pumpkin/orange colored top. It sounds great, the neck is straight, the frets are good, the action is a good, and from best I can tell it stays in tune really well. It was purchased at Elderly a decade ago and has basically been played little.

I'm looking at buying it from a friend, so I want to be sensitive to that, but also make sure that it is a decent investment (read not making money, just paying ball park). My main concern is that the back has been replaced. Looks like a very good job, perfect match almost, and frankly it might have improved the tone. Second there is some top sinkage around the bridge. I would say that is how he purchased it because little/nothing has been changed since it was bought 10 years ago and the set up is still great...not an expert but it appears stable. It does have a fair amount of top wear, including what looks like a repaired side (on the bass side). Finally, there is a label inside which shows a serial number in the 89000s. I was looking on the archive and that puts it in the late 20's, which can't be right. Is this a common occurrence on repaired back mandos? Why would that number be so high?

He is asking $ 1,000. I've been back and forth on it...it is a great sounding mando, and has that great vintage appeal...but let's say I wanted to resell, would I get my money out of it? Any insight is greatly appreciated.

Rob Gerety
Jun-14-2010, 8:19am
Personally, I would hesitate about buying a teens A with a sinking top. There are so many out there with good solid tops in great shape. The top issue will probably depress the price - so will the replaced back - imho. If you are looking for a bargain knowing that it could well be a terrific player but that the value probably will remain somewhat depressed go for it. $1000 sounds a touch on the high end to me for the mandolin you describe. Check the ebay auctions and elderly. Elderly prices seem pretty much on the mark to me.

Wait a bit and see what others with more experience say - they will chime in no doubt.

jim_n_virginia
Jun-14-2010, 10:56am
I'm with Rob on this one I would not pay $1000 for one with a sinking top (and replaced back) you can get one with nothing wrong with it for that price. I bought a 1916 A2 model similar to what you are looking at with no issues at all for $1000.

Also you should try and get one with all the original hardware like the original tailpiece cover, pickguard and tuners. Original case doesn't hurt either if they have it.

allenhopkins
Jun-14-2010, 12:58pm
Dunno; looking at Elderly's "vintage" listings, (http://www.elderly.com/vintage/cats/90U.html) most of the A's around $1K have fairly significant issues, and the really clean ones seem to tend toward $2K. Probably you can find one with "nothing wrong with it" for around $1K, but doubt that it would be from a national dealer.

The price doesn't seem outrageous to me. Assume you're looking for a "player's" instrument and not a collectible. A replaced back, well done, won't affect sound or playability, IMHO. The top sinkage could be more serious, but many Gibson A's have some degree of sinkage. If it's stable -- and I'd have a good repair shop look at the top and brace -- it could stay unchanged indefinitely.

The label change may mean that Gibson did the back replacement; they'd put a new label on the new back, rather than trying to transfer the old label or reproduce the original serial number. If you can find a stamped factory order number inside the mandolin, that can be used to date it. Look inside above the soundhole.

Overall, I'd say that if a real expert repairperson gives the A a clean bill of health, you're not at a bad point with regard to price and condition. Of course, my opinion is based on not having seen the instrument. Perhaps posting a pic might elicit more informed and expert advice...?

mrmando
Jun-14-2010, 1:08pm
The label change may mean that Gibson did the back replacement; they'd put a new label on the new back, rather than trying to transfer the old label or reproduce the original serial number.
I don't know why Gibson wouldn't reproduce the original serial number. I can't think of another example of a Gibson repair where the instrument was re-serialized. The OP doesn't say whether it's a period-correct Gibson label or not. Or maybe what looks like an 8 to him was really a 3. But if it has a demonstrably incorrect serial number, then I'm inclined to think someone other than Gibson replaced the back and re-serialized it for his or her own purposes.

From a collector's point of view, this instrument has value only in terms of whatever original parts are left on it. You're paying only for the sound, and it's really hard to put a price on that. I'm inclined to think $800 is a more realistic price for an instrument with the particular issues described here, unless despite those issues it has the original case, pickguard, tuners, binding, and tailpiece (and ideally, the bridge, nut, and endpin) and no significant fretwear. But, you know, I say that without having heard the instrument.

Rob Gerety
Jun-14-2010, 7:01pm
I just looked at Elderly and yes for around 1000 to 1200 they have repaired cracks or maybe need some work - if you get up to the $1400 range it looks like you would expect something really clean. But for me it the sinking top issue that gives me pause. If you need to plane the board, do a refret, repair some cracks and the like that is all doable - just takes money. But the sinking top is something that probably won't ever be the same again. I have an A4. I bought it in top shape with new frets that I like very much. Still, I had to reglue the transverse brace, replace the nut and ultimately I decided to install a new adjustable bridge. Now it is a wonderful playable mandolin that is beautiful to look at and has great old tone. I love the thing. Fits me like a glove. If it were me I would pay a little extra and get one that is in really good shape and then do a really good job to maintain it - they will need work from time to time.

allenhopkins
Jun-14-2010, 9:18pm
I don't know why Gibson wouldn't reproduce the original serial number. I can't think of another example of a Gibson repair where the instrument was re-serialized. The OP doesn't say whether it's a period-correct Gibson label or not. Or maybe what looks like an 8 to him was really a 3. But if it has a demonstrably incorrect serial number, then I'm inclined to think someone other than Gibson replaced the back and re-serialized it for his or her own purposes.

From a collector's point of view, this instrument has value only in terms of whatever original parts are left on it. You're paying only for the sound, and it's really hard to put a price on that. I'm inclined to think $800 is a more realistic price for an instrument with the particular issues described here, unless despite those issues it has the original case, pickguard, tuners, binding, and tailpiece (and ideally, the bridge, nut, and endpin) and no significant fretwear. But, you know, I say that without having heard the instrument.

1. According to Darryl Wolfe in this thread, (http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/showthread.php?44773-Gibson-A-puzzle&highlight=gibson+label+change) it wasn't uncommon for the Gibson repair shop to replace an instrument label when they worked on it, especially if the label was torn or detached during the repair process. Even Bill Monroe's Loar had its label replaced with a later one! Quite possible a serial number could be altered or incorrectly copied, or even a new one written in, especially on a lower-end mandolin such as an A.

2. You're giving the "collector's point of view" correctly, but I get no hint that the OP is interested in the A as a collectible. As far as that's concerned, the replaced back has already taken it out of standard collectible status. As a player, the replaced back's pretty irrelevant, the sunken top less irrelevant, as it affects both the instrument's action and its sound -- and also may bode future trouble. But if the instrument's stable and playable, the $1K price isn't wildly out of line. Not to say it couldn't be further negotiated, maybe down to $800 as you say, but the comparably-priced ones at Elderly all have issues: cracks and repairs and finish damage. Finding an 80-year-old instrument without any damage, all original parts + case, and no serious wear, is a pretty unusual event.

journeybear
Jun-14-2010, 9:54pm
I'm thinking, if you're not in a big hurry, keep an eye on ebay - these come up pretty often. There's one there now for $550 with some issues (yeah, I know, but so does the one in question), a couple more in the $1300-1400 range, and a couple more that are poised to go over $2000. I seem to recall one going for under $1000 just a month or so ago that looked to be in better shape than mine, which I got for about $900 a couple of years ago. They're out there.

While I know nothing beats being able to hold an instrument and hear how it sounds, you also want to feel happy about the deal you made. And even if right now you don't intend to sell it or trade up sometime down the line, such a situation may present itself, and you want to feel confident that you'll be able to get some value for your instrument. Finally, buying something expensive from a friend could have consequences at some point, whether you expect it or not. For these reasons, as well as the condition, particularly that sinking top, I would approach this deal with caution.

As to the serial number, I agree with Martin. If it is necessary to replace a label, why issue a new number? Why not just write in the same number in the space provided? It's still mostly the same instrument. When a car gets some work done, they don't change the VIN. :confused:

barney 59
Jun-14-2010, 10:03pm
It's a bird in the hand--you can these days, it seems, beat that price on ebay. The difference is that you have access to it,you can play it and possibly carry it to a reliable repairman to give you some informed insight to what you have there. If you like it and you get a clean bill of health,or a not to expensive estimate to bring it into good form then the price is not unreasonable. Ebay is always a little risky and I wouldn't pay close to a grand for that based on what you described from an online auction but if I had it in hand and it spoke to me that would be a whole different thing.

mrmando
Jun-14-2010, 11:34pm
1. According to Darryl Wolfe in this thread, (http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/showthread.php?44773-Gibson-A-puzzle&highlight=gibson+label+change) it wasn't uncommon for the Gibson repair shop to replace an instrument label when they worked on it, especially if the label was torn or detached during the repair process.
Actually, I said that!
Even Bill Monroe's Loar had its label replaced with a later one!Darryl mentioned Bill Monroe's mandolin, but he didn't say "replaced." And anyhow, when Gibson put the new label in Monroe's mandolin, they sure as heck didn't give it a new serial number!
Quite possible a serial number could be altered or incorrectly copied, or even a new one written in, especially on a lower-end mandolin such as an A.Incorrectly copied, perhaps. Altered or replaced, I'm not so sure.

In the 1960s, if you took an old instrument back to Gibson for repair, they would stamp the serial number in the back of the headstock, just as they were doing with new instruments at the time. But the stamped number would match the one on the original label!

If we could see some photos of the label and the instrument, we might have enough data to reach some definite conclusions. Darryl or Tom could probably tell whether the repairs were done at Gibson.

I get no hint that the OP is interested in the A as a collectible.Maybe not, but he is at least concerned about whether it will hold its value.

coletrickle
Jun-15-2010, 8:26am
Thanks for all of the insightful replies. Truth be told I wasn't even looking for a mando like this...he just needs to sell it and asked if I would be interested because he wants to see it go to someone who would appreciate it. I'm making a make a pros and cons list about buying it, especially because I will have to sell my current mando at some point to get it. This info is very helpful.

Ken Waltham
Jun-17-2010, 6:31pm
I wouldn't touch that one for that money. They are too plentiful to have to settle for something at that price.
Ken