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Thread: Need advice for using and keeping 1921 Gibson A

  1. #1
    Registered User John Aubuchon's Avatar
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    Default Need advice for using and keeping 1921 Gibson A

    Hello,

    I've come into possession of a very nice 1921 Gibson A mandolin. Its has some scratches but very little neck and fret wear and no visible cracks or repairs that I can discern. Sounds and plays beautiful!

    My concern is how I should be using this mandolin and how I should store it to keep it in good shape(I live in Southern California). Also this is not my mandolin. It belongs to a non-musical friend who inherited it as a family heirloom from his grandfather, who bought the instrument. I doubt he will ever sell it. But he wants me to take good care of it and put it to good use.

    Right now I've only played it maybe an hour, just to get used to it a little and to record a sample to show my friend how it sounds when played.

    Thanks for your advice!
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  2. #2
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    Default Re: Need advice for using and keeping 1921 Gibson A

    Well, it looks as though it has received some stresses in the past. The grain of the top wood seems to be uneven, with swelling along the lines of the grain, which might have been caused by large variations in temp/humidity. Also there seems to be some finish damage, though it's hard for me to tell.

    Obvious first step is to provide a stable environment with regard to temperature and relative humidity. Second, since you are a player, establish a rule that whenever the mando leaves your hands, it is secured in its case. No leaving it on a chair or table for a minute. Beyond that, there's little in the way of obvious precautions to take.

    If you play standing, with a shoulder strap, consider securing the strap without using the end pin. I've seen two horrible examples regarding trusting an end pin. Either the strap will pop off the button and the instrument crashes to the floor, or it gets a hard bump directly on the pin, which causes a split in the end block. Since it's not your instrument, an excess of caution is indicated.

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  4. #3
    Registered User John Aubuchon's Avatar
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    Default Re: Need advice for using and keeping 1921 Gibson A

    Thanks Bob, yes this mandolin has lived in the San Fernando valley just north of LA most of it's life so it probably did experience some humidity swelling in the summer. What do others living in this area do about humidity? Can I use desiccant packs in the case? It's not like the south or midwest here where you're basically soaking wet all summer. The average humidity here is about 71% (ranges from about 65% to 95%). And I'm already only setting it down in the case. The end pin is broken off in the hole so I only play it sitting down.

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    Default Re: Need advice for using and keeping 1921 Gibson A

    I don't know how you could have much closer to ideal conditions than in So. Cal, unless you are in the inland empire or desert where it is much drier.
    To be safe, I would monitor the humidity inside your house, especially in the summer if you use AC (which a lot of So. Californians don't), and during the winter when you're using heat. Dryness is more of a concern than humidity.
    Jeff Rohrbough
    "Listen louder, play softer"

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  7. #5
    Confused... or?
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    Default Re: Need advice for using and keeping 1921 Gibson A

    Even given all of the above good advice, those old Gibsons are pretty tough birds to have lasted this long. No real need to use super-light strings; medium is okay. My advice is to bone up on the effects of humidity and dryness, then simply assume that it's your own brand new $3K or $4K instrument (two or three times what it's actually worth?) and treat it accordingly.

    FWIW: Here in summer-humid NJ/NY, summer A/C virtually never takes the house below 50% humidity.

    And please don't do anything so foolish as to have it "restored"!
    - Ed

    "What our group lacks in musicianship is offset by our willingness to humiliate ourselves." - David Hochman

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  9. #6
    Registered User John Aubuchon's Avatar
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    Default Re: Need advice for using and keeping 1921 Gibson A

    Yeah I guess it's survived this long without special care .

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    Default Re: Need advice for using and keeping 1921 Gibson A

    It would be a good idea to check that the top brace, which is right behind the soundhole, is not loose. Push on it at the ends with a finger-- it should not move. If it is loose, find someone experienced to reglue it. A loose brace is very common on these oldtimers, especially when they've been sitting in a case for a long time.

    These mandolins seem to hold up well if they are not strung any heavier than 11-15-25-40. I prefer 10 1/2-14-24-40 on mine.

    Humidity of much below 35% is risky for any string instrument [some say 40%]. A room humidifier or Dampits are a good idea when the humidity is low. Failure to humidify can result in cracks, open seams, bad glue joints, and protruding fret ends.

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    Default Re: Need advice for using and keeping 1921 Gibson A

    I have used 11, 16, 26 and 40 on my '22 for decades without harm. It plays easy with low action and sounds fantastic.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

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    Registered User Timbofood's Avatar
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    Default Re: Need advice for using and keeping 1921 Gibson A

    The best thing to do with it is so obvious,
    Play and appreciate it!
    A piece of advice someone gave me years ago has served me well is “Don’t leave your instrument anywhere YOU don’t want to be!”
    I think of instruments as living things, treat them with simple care and respect you will have a friend for many many years!
    Timothy F. Lewis
    "If brains was lard, that boy couldn't grease a very big skillet" J.D. Clampett

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    Still Picking and Sawing Jack Roberts's Avatar
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    Default Re: Need advice for using and keeping 1921 Gibson A

    I live in Ventura county, slightly inland. Cool wet Winters, warm dry Summers. I have three 'teens Gibson that I keep in their cases when I'm not playing them, and they all do fine here. I would say Southern and Central California have the best climate in the world for long term preservation of old mandolins.

    Don't use dessicant. The cases will provide a good reservoir of just the right moisture for normal swings in RH. Desiccant will dry out the wood and the joints.

    I took my A-1 to out to play in a parking lot yesterday and had a hard time keeping it in tune in the sunlight, so keep them out of the sun!
    Ha, ha! keep time: how sour sweet music is,
    When time is broke and no proportion kept!
    --William Shakespeare

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    Still Picking and Sawing Jack Roberts's Avatar
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    Default Re: Need advice for using and keeping 1921 Gibson A

    Quote Originally Posted by John Aubuchon View Post
    ... It belongs to a non-musical friend who inherited it as a family heirloom from his grandfather, who bought the instrument. I doubt he will ever sell it. But he wants me to take good care of it and put it to good use....
    This is very close to how I bought my F4: my non musical friend first asked me to teach me to play it--he found it under his mother's bed after she passed away. Then he asked me to take care of it and play it in gigs because he decided to stay non-musical. Finally he sold it to me for fair market value. It was a 3 year process.
    Ha, ha! keep time: how sour sweet music is,
    When time is broke and no proportion kept!
    --William Shakespeare

  18. #12
    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Default Re: Need advice for using and keeping 1921 Gibson A

    I have had a 22A for 2+ decades , I live further north , cooler and by the sea, have not done anything but Play music on it..


    mine will need a refret before long..
    writing about music
    is like dancing,
    about architecture

  19. #13
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    Default Re: Need advice for using and keeping 1921 Gibson A

    I have always told folks " don't leave and instrument anywhere you wouldn't leave your baby" Play it and heed my advise.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

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  21. #14
    Professional Cat Herder Phil Vinyard's Avatar
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    Default Re: Need advice for using and keeping 1921 Gibson A

    I've got its twin (on the left next to my Jam Master). I also inherited it from a great-uncle who had it in Los Angeles up until his death in 1932. Mine lived in woodsheds and all sorts of unfavorable climates and still survived. I had the internal bracing re-glued and the fret board planed and refretted. And I finally broke down and replaced the tuners with some reproduction ones from Stew-Mac.

    It's a sweet old guy and really loud! Enjoy it!

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    Phil Vinyard
    Gibson Jam Master F Standard #12 May 13, 2009
    Gibson Model A #67336 ca. 1921
    Trinity College TM-325 Octave Mandolin
    Freshwater Mandocello

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