A-Jr. owners / admirers group

  1. frshwtrbob
    Hello, I'd like to start a discussion about the A-Jr model. I have just been lucky enough to find a very "clean" one locally for a very good price. It sounds woody w/nice volume and plays a little tough because of the low fret height and notes are cutting out pass the 10th fret and up.
    Here are its specs:
    Factory Order # 9677 Serial # 86309 (1928 Gibson serial range from #85401 thru #87300) so this number falls in mid-1928 production before the A-O model was introduced -
    Lacquer A-jr with silkscreened horizontal straight painted script “The Gibson” on peghead, Special white round "Junior" label, Cloud tailpiece cover, Symmetrical body w/ oval soundhole with black binding inside it , no body binding, ebony fingerboard, screw-style elevated pickguard - 1 post holds pickguard on the treble side of fretboard at 15th fret & 1 removable post on the treble side w/ a single flat head screw, dark brown (walnut?) stained finish.
    It's unusual features seem to be that the top and back seems more "dished" than the previous models & this is one of the very few A-Jr.'s I've seen with the LOGO on the headstock, One of the last made POST LOAR A-Jrs.

    I'm going to have a re-fret done by a very good local mandolin repairman and I'm leaning towards using EVO or Stainless Steel wire in about 80 x 50 size or a tad smaller (76x48??).
    The bridge is a replacement & its larger 3/4 inch brass wheels interfere w/ the pickguard. I'm replacing it with either the stock Stew Mac Gibson style, the Randy Johnson or a Cumberland. Then again, the Brekke style seems to be more in fashion w/ the original and boasts sonic superiority & being able to adjust at full string tension

    Can I get please hear some opinions from actual owners of the A-Jr. model and help me decide on the wire size (original size or larger) and the bridge replacement (the cheapo $20 Stew Mac or the $50 Johnson, Cumberland, or Brekke @ $80)?
    Happy Holidays,
    Bob G
  2. Martin Jonas
    Martin Jonas
    I'm very fond of my Ajr -- it's #68884 (link to photos at Mandolin Archive). It's pretty battered, but plays like butter all the way up the neck. The Mandolin Archive entry (which was prepared before I bought it) says "replaced tuners and fretboard", which may be but is not obvious -- they are entirely in keeping with the original, except that the fretboard actually intonates properly, which is by no means the case for all original Gibson boards.

    My Ajr is listed in the Archive as 1921, but as it's right at the end of that year (#68923 is already listed as 1922), there is at least some doubt on that front. It's an early paddlehead Ajr, before they switched to snakehead halfway through 1922.

    Good luck with your Ajr -- I get the impression that they are on the whole rather more reliably good than the other A models.

  3. frshwtrbob
    Thanks for the reply. Correct me if I'm wrong, but your archive photos look as if the previous owner put on a rosewood board and kept the frets on the skinny/low side like the originals which are probably in the 34 wide/ 32 high.
    It's a struggle playing my A-Jr. at the moment and I don't know if it's due to the frets being milled down to their last go round or if it's just rugged playing this size.
    My Mid Mo M-1 shows no signs of wear as of yet and its got wider/taller frets but my Eastman 515's thin frets are showing signs of wear after only 4 months. I'm leaning toward the Stainless and/or Evo in the 80 x 40 range so's I don't have to deal w/ this expensive procedure again in a year. The gold colored evo may be a little too out of character though.
    Martin, what would you do if you HAD to re-fret? and re-bridge? Do you wish you could alter the action from time to time?
    Bob G
    p.s. Most A-Jr. owners, such as you and I, are fond of their instruments so I'm surprised that a sub-group hasn't been started until now, let alone by a yankee newb such as myself.
  4. Martin Jonas
    Martin Jonas

    It's an ebony board, and you're right that it's the same fret size as the original (but clearly new frets as there was virtually no wear when I got it a few years back, and still very little wear indeed). I don't have problems playing with that fret size, but everybody has their own preferences. I play with a fairly light touch, so I don't expect having to refret any time soon.

    Regarding the bridge, I have the original one-piece, but I also have two ebony splints that I can use to adjust the action if needed (not that I do, but they came with the mandolin).

    For what it's worth, I've been playing around with the Ajr today and recorded a quick-and-dirty version of "Lonesome Moonlight Waltz) -- It's been ages since I last played that tune, so I'm a touch rusty, but it came out alright. So, here's how the Ajr sounds:

  5. frshwtrbob
    Thanks Martin - you hypnotized me for a moment there. Very cool... or should I say warm. Especially in the lower register. Almost sounds like a drum.
    Pardon my ignorance but what, where, why and how are the "splints" used?
    That instrument doesn't look as weathered as it did in the archive photos. What have you been feedin' it?
    I too have a Mid Mo Mahogany model such as you - How do you compare them to each other? I'd be interested to hearing your explanation compared to mine.
  6. Martin Jonas
    Martin Jonas
    Bob, still the same condition as on the archive photos, just less revealing lighting conditions -- those photos were taken with full pro studio flash. when I got the Ajr, the previous owner had raised the bridge by about 1mm by having a luthier fit an ebony strip to the base of the bridge. That was a proper professional job, chalk-fitted and all, but when I got it I thought the action was too high for my preferences and playing style. So, I took it off and lowered the bridge to its original height. That in turn was a little bit too low, as there was an occasional buzz. I then simply put a piece of ebony veneer between the base of the bridge and the top of the mandolin. The veneer is so thin and flexible that it doesn't need fitting, it simply follows the shape of the bridge and top. I normally play with the veneer in place and it puts the action as exactly what I want -- low and easy to play but without buzzing. If I wanted to lower the action I can take it out. If I wanted to raise it, I could return to the thicker ebony splint.

    Regarding the difference between the Mid-Mo and the Ajr, the most obvious one is the flattop-archtop difference. The Ajr has a rounder and fuller sound, but less attack. I do like both of them a lot, it's just that some tunes seem to call for the Ajr and others for the Mid-Mo. Looking through my Youtube videos, I have only one direct comparison between both: I recorded "Westphalia Waltz" on the Ajr a few months ago and again on the Mid-Mo more recently. Here are the links:

    Westphalia Waltz on Ajr

    Westphalia Waltz on Mid-Mo M-0W

  7. frshwtrbob
    Excellent comparison - very similiar recording distance/ same tune/ same player/. Mine both sound very similar although my A-Jr. has a very incorrect rosewood adjustable bridge versus the ebony one piece. Common sense tells me it will make a really big difference in volume and tone. I'm really considering cutting my own Red Henry maplewood templates and experimenting once the frets are in. I'm expecting more volume w/ extended highs and lows but if it only plays easier w/out the buzz I'd be satisfied with the it's present sound.
    Thanks for your input - Your Junior sounds Excellent. Do you know the size of the wire that the Mid Mo's are/ were made of? That's what I'm diggin' on feel-wise. There definitely taller and fatter but not extreme.
    I thought this thread would be a little more active - with all the A-Jr.'s that I see being bought and sold with worn frets and aftermarket bridges.
    Come on people, don't be bashful. Hasn't anyone else had to make decisions about what frets and bridges to put on these little beauties (ugly ducklings)?
  8. Martin Jonas
    Martin Jonas
    Bob -- this is a social group, not the main forum, and the groups are very much more quiet than the forum (with the notable exception of the Song-A-Week social group). The last post in this particular group prior to yours was two weeks ago and there have been only five new threads all year. If you want more activity, post in the "vintage instruments" section of the main forum (or the builders/repair section for your setup questions).

  9. Jimmijames
    Hey Martin,

    I'm also An Ajr owner. Mine is #74497. That would put it somewhere around fall of 1923. My wife bought it for me as an anniversary gift. I installed a Cumberland bridge and love it. I was able to lower the action to make it a little easier to play. I also had a re-fret done. I had the luthier use EVO 80/40's. The height and width are just right for me. The gold color isn't a big deal. After the strings are on you don't even notice it.
  10. LongBlackVeil
    A jrs are awesome. I've had two snakeheads so far. i did change the tuners to stew Mac golden ages. I had to do it on both of them, the tuners they were built with were simply not built to last. I would develop carpal tunnel very quickly if I had to use those all the time. I'm also thinking about putting an adjustable loar style bridge or maybe a brekke to keep the original one piece vibe. Of course it's important to keep all the stock parts somewhere safe though! Then again, I'm not planning on making the same mistake again and selling this one.
  11. Jill McAuley
    Jill McAuley
    I got a '27 snakehead Ajr about 5 months ago and I love it. It needed a refret and I had my luthier use bigger fretwire, which made a world of difference as regards playability - really smooth playing now. He reconditioned the original tuners, so they work quite well now and hold tune good, but still not as smooth turning as modern tuners of course. I picked up a set of Stew Mac Golden Ages via the classifieds to have on hand when it's time to replace them.
  12. Colin Braithwaite
    Colin Braithwaite
    I have a 1918 Ajr. Objectively, it's a mess. It's structurally sound, but the back doesn't meet the sides very well. I replaced the clapped out tuners years ago with modern 12-string guitar tuners, which look unbalanced. But it has a terrific solid ebony and bone compensated bridge, and (its claim to fame) was re-fretted by Michael Heiden when he ran a repair shop in Calgary in the 1980s. Subjectively, it still sounds great--warm but bright. It's become my mandolin for Irish sessions; my Resophonic RM-1 is just too loud.
  13. ChazMeatball
    I recently purchased a 1924 A Jr Snakehead. It is mostly original (except for the bridge and nut) with the original HSC. The condition is very good playing well across all frets, all strings. The s/n is 78644 and is registered on the Mandolin Archive. When I play it, I often wonder who had a hand in building it; who played it before me; what songs did they play on it; etc. It's a little magical to me...
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