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Thread: More questions about old Gibson A mandolins

  1. #1

    Default More questions about old Gibson A mandolins

    In the past year I have purchased 3 vintage A Gibsons from Ebay. A 1906 blackface A4,a 1918 Red A4, and an early white A3.
    Ok,I understand with ebay purchases you take your chances, and I accept that.I live in Australia and those kinds of instruments don't come up for sale here where you can play them prior to purchase and assess the condition of them.Hence Ebay.
    The red A4 has developed top split/sagging issues on the bass side since I purchased it.
    The white A3 which I just purchased has arrived, and it has top sagging issues,and looks like a neck reset is necessary.
    The blackface A4 so far is a gem and holding up well.
    I love old instruments, and appreciate them for the character and history they have,as well as the tone they have. I figure I could have purchased similar instruments from reputable dealers in the US, and had the same issues.

    Ok,is it the age or just bad choices I have made with these mandolins.Are instruments of this vintage prone to these problems, and are they fixable with top sagging problems, without a total rebuild?
    All advice appreciated.

  2. #2
    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2002

    Default Re: More questions about old Gibson A mandolins

    These instruments have just a short transverse brace underneath the sound hole, and no other top bracing. Like this:
    Click image for larger version. 

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    For the top to maintain its integrity, it's vitally important that the brace remain firmly glued. If it becomes loose or detached at all, even a little bit, then the top will be prone to sinkage. If a mandolin is stored a long time without adequate humidity, it's common for the hide glue to dry out and the brace to become loose.

    The very first thing you should do when acquiring a vintage Gibson mandolin is to have a luthier examine it, with the top brace being a particular point of attention. String it up with a loose brace and you're asking for trouble. Regluing a loose brace is usually a (relatively) simple matter: force some new hide glue into the joint and clamp it up. A good repair technician can do this without taking the instrument apart.

    Sagging tops may be fixable with a lot of humidity, heat and patience to restore the arch ... but it's better to prevent the problem in the first place.

    I admit I don't know enough about the general climate in Melbourne. Some people use humidifiers to keep their instruments from getting too dry. More than you wanted to know about electric mandolins.

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  3. #3

    Default Re: More questions about old Gibson A mandolins

    Thanks for your detailed response.I now have a clearer understanding.I have contact with an excellent luthier who repaired a mandocello I purchased.I will go and see him on Monday.
    As for the weather in Melbourne I think the Crowded House song "four seasons in one day" was written about Melbourne.
    Thanks again.

  4. #4

    Default Re: More questions about old Gibson A mandolins

    I've heard that Gibson started graduating the tops, i.e., making them thinner at the recurve, around 1921. This made them louder and more responsive, but also weaker. It's a tradeoff. Personally, I'd rather have some weakness to allow for tone and volume.

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