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Thread: Any info on Flatiron Mandolins?

  1. #1

    Default Any info on Flatiron Mandolins?

    Hey guys, could anyone walk me through the history of the Flatiron, quality, etc. If you own one, I'd appreciate a few pics as well :-)

    New here to the mando community and immediately took interest to the Flatiron

  2. #2
    two t's and one hyphen fatt-dad's Avatar
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    Default Re: Any info on Flatiron Mandolins?

    Here are photos of my '84 1N (flattop) and '84 A5-1 (a-model). Loved them both.

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    f-d
    ˇpapá gordo ain’t no madre flaca!

    '20 A3, '30 L-1, '97 914, 2012 Cohen A5, 2012 Muth A5, '14 OM28A

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  4. #3
    Registered User Dave Hicks's Avatar
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    Default Re: Any info on Flatiron Mandolins?

    '85 A5Jr - bought new and still playing it (at lunch time, in fact):

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  5. #4

    Default Re: Any info on Flatiron Mandolins?

    I've played a number of A5s (-1,-2, Jr), haven't seen a stinker yet. Not currently in the market, but there's one for $1300 in the classifieds that might make me reconsider. In general one of the better bang for your buck models IMO.

  6. #5

    Default Re: Any info on Flatiron Mandolins?

    You can do a search and find out more specific information, but here is the short version as I know it.

    Sometime in the early/mid 80's Flatiron was founded in Montana. Steve Carlson ran the company and about 1987 Gibson saw the Flatiron mandolins at a show and offered to buy the company. Steve Carlson stuck around for a few years before moving on. Bruce Weber took over to head Flatirons at that time until about 1996 when he started his own company. There may have been someone that took over for a short time (Bill Ballan rings a bell?) until they moved production to Nashville. Flatirons from 1999 until 2001 were made on the same benches by the same luthiers as Gibson mandolins. They also had Gibson Master Model labels inside. 2001 was the last of the US made Flatiron's. Since they were basically the same mandolin and sold for less money they stopped production, thinking they would make more money. In 2002 Gibson started producing the F9 and A9 as there value line but had Gibson on the headstock. They also contracted for a line of Flatiron mandolins to be made in Asia. So any Flatiron after 2001 would be made overseas.

    The early Flatirons with a Steve Carlson signature are pretty sought after. There were periods when they had integrated fretboards which are not as desirable, so feel they are not as loud? The 1999-2001 had dovetail neck joints, prior to that it is my understanding they had mortice and tenon joints. I have had four 1999-2001 Flatirons and they were all very good and thought they were a good value. Pictures are 2001 Flatiron Festival F5 and a 1999 Performer A.
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  8. #6
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Any info on Flatiron Mandolins?

    Flatiron started out making "pancake" mandolins, designed like the old Gibson Army-Navy and Alrite models; hence the name.

    They made "pancake" mandolins, mandolas, and long-scale octave mandolins, which they called "bouzoukis." I have an early-'80's 3K koa-bodied OM, which has served me well for 30+ years.

    After a couple years, they started making carved-top instruments, A- and F-models, such as the ones Steve shows above. Their quality was superior, although there was some discussion of the different neck attachment methods. Gibson bought the company, as detailed above. What's left of the Montana operation now builds Gibson acoustic guitars, I believe. I have a Gibson-labeled fancy "A-N Special" "pancake" signed by Carlson in 1986, so Flatiron was building at least a few "Gibson" instruments before the move to Nashville.

    Montana-made Flatirons -- at least all I've seen or played -- are top-quality instruments, whether "pancake" or carved-top. I can't speak to the Nashville-made Flatirons, though I've never heard them criticized. The Chinese-made ones of the past few years generally get pretty disappointing reviews, though much of that may be because they don't measure up to the standards of the US-made instruments.

    I sometimes make noises about the practice of taking respected American brands, and assigning them to imported lines that aren't as good. Epiphone, Flatiron, Washburn, etc. -- several others -- seems a bit misleading. But that's another topic.
    Allen Hopkins
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  10. #7
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    Default Re: Any info on Flatiron Mandolins?

    If you search on any particular model, there's lots of thread on each.

    Here's some reminiscenes including people who worked there. Its odd that htere's so much info on the banjo forum, Flatiron made very few banjos and they almost never come up for sale, except for a few early ones that were Stelling pots and FI necks, I think. There's other posts you can search about how they installed CNC routers for necks, spray booths and other modern guitar making equipment for the Gibson label in Montana.

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/s...atiron-History

    https://www.banjohangout.org/archive/290027

    https://www.banjohangout.org/archive/237833

    https://web.archive.org/web/20010211...ins/index.html

    https://web.archive.org/web/20080821...us_history.htm

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=09Kf6jyBuak
    Last edited by gtani7; Aug-30-2018 at 9:28pm.
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  11. #8
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    Default Re: Any info on Flatiron Mandolins?

    The original Flatiron company was established in 1977. Their original product line was "pancake" mandolins; hence the name "Flatiron."

    They began making carved top mandolins in 1983. At the time, they were arguably the best factory-made mandolins being built. In 1986, Henry Juszkiewicz, David Berryman, and Gary Zebrowski purchased the ramshackle [some say failing] Gibson company from Norlin. Gibson acquired Flatiron in May, 1987. At that time, the Flatiron factory was in Belgrade, MT. Gibson built a new plant in Bozeman, MT in 1989. Gibson also moved their acoustic guitar production to Bozeman at that time.

    The Flatiron models and designs gradually changed after Gibson acquired the company. Gibson moved production of Flatiron mandolins to Nashville in 1997. I'll defer to the judgement of Northwest Steve about the date of the last American made Flatirons.

    My personal opinions are that the carved mandolins made by the independent Flatiron company were the best factory made mandolins of the era. I believe that Gibson bought Flatiron because Flatiron was making better mandolins than Gibson was at the time, and that instead of eliminating the competition, they thought it more valuable to acquire the plant, the workers, the machinery, and the expertise. I also believe that the quality of Flatirons gradually declined after Gibson bought the company.

    When Gibson bought Flatiron in 1987, the majority of new mandolins were Asian made instruments by companies such as Alvarez, Ibanez, and Washburn. Only a handful of individual craftsmen were hand making mandolins at the time, and few of us were aware of any of them except for John Monteleone. He made his 130th mandolin in '87, Steve Gilchrist completed his 175th mandolin in May of '87, and Lou Stiver, Gene Horner, and Tom, Mary, and Scott Morgan were making a few instruments.

    Many of us were playing Stradolins, oval hole Gibsons, and the occasional A-50 or F-12 [if you could find a decent one] in those days. If you had the money, a Flatiron A5-2 or possibly one of Rolfe Gerhardt's Unicorns were about the best new f-hole mandolins most of us could lay our hands on.

    Those were very different times. I think a lot of us take the proliferation of quality hand built mandolins for granted. And the current better grade Chinese mandolins can be quite good. They are certainly much better than the imports of the '70's and '80's, and also better than Gibson mandolins made from the '60's until the acquisition of Flatiron.

    Carved pre-Gibson Flatirons are usually darn good mandolins, even by today's higher standards.
    Last edited by rcc56; Aug-30-2018 at 11:16pm.

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  13. #9
    Registered User BBarton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Any info on Flatiron Mandolins?

    The one that got away...'88 Flatiron A-5 Artist -- 'wish I still had it!!
    Too many instruments...too little time

  14. #10
    two t's and one hyphen fatt-dad's Avatar
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    Default Re: Any info on Flatiron Mandolins?

    The name, "Flatiron" is a reference to the geology of the Front Range of Colorado. It's not related to the flat nature of their first mandolins!

    (I am a geologist and I studied in Colorado.)

    f-d
    ˇpapá gordo ain’t no madre flaca!

    '20 A3, '30 L-1, '97 914, 2012 Cohen A5, 2012 Muth A5, '14 OM28A

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  16. #11
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    Default Re: Any info on Flatiron Mandolins?

    Quote Originally Posted by fatt-dad View Post
    The name, "Flatiron" is a reference to the geology of the Front Range of Colorado. It's not related to the flat nature of their first mandolins!

    (I am a geologist and I studied in Colorado.)

    f-d

    This is true, the name is not related to “pancake” mandolins. In Boulder, you see the impressive Flatiron. Steve Carlson grew up in Boulder and hiked around the Flatirons. This is where the name came from.

    Steve discussed this many years ago, I can’t site my source but I think it was here on the Cafe....


    Now, this is strictly based on what I think I remember hearing someone say; but it seems to me there is a connection with Steve and Mike K from the late 70’s. There was a Boulder based company that made mandolins and banjos.
    Scott

  17. #12
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Any info on Flatiron Mandolins?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Hicks View Post
    '85 A5Jr - bought new and still playing it (at lunch time, in fact):
    '83 A5-2* - bought new and still playing it (and will do so at lunch time, in fact)
    * this model later became the A5-Artist but the later had gold hardware, I believe.

    These were the very first carved mandolins (only A models at that time) that Flatiron made. At that time there were very few small shop mandolin makers. I bought mine from Mandolin Brothers and had a choice of an A5 and an A5-2 and the fancier one was maybe a $100 more expensive but both sounded great.

    I have been switching off between my Brentrup and this Flatiron in my playing at home.
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  18. #13
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Any info on Flatiron Mandolins?

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post
    When Gibson bought Flatiron in 1987, the majority of new mandolins were Asian made instruments by companies such as Alvarez, Ibanez, and Washburn. Only a handful of individual craftsmen were hand making mandolins at the time, and few of us were aware of any of them except for John Monteleone. He made his 130th mandolin in '87, Steve Gilchrist completed his 175th mandolin in May of '87, and Lou Stiver, Gene Horner, and Tom, Mary, and Scott Morgan were making a few instruments.
    In addition to those folks, I believe other early small shops making mandolins IIRC were Bob Givens, Steven Anderson, John Zeidler and Audie Ratliff (started in 1982).
    Jim

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  19. #14
    Registered User bradlaird's Avatar
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    Default Re: Any info on Flatiron Mandolins?

    Spokey, I always love when Flatiron appears in this forum. Here are a couple of items of interest:

    Steve Carlson interview right here on the Cafe: https://www.mandolincafe.com/news/pu...s_001678.shtml

    1985 Flatiron Catalog scans: http://www.bradleylaird.com/blog-art...tiron-bro.html

    The story of my own '85 Flatiron with scans of early Flatiron advertisements: http://www.bradleylaird.com/blog-art...-flatiron.html

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  21. #15
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Any info on Flatiron Mandolins?

    Quote Originally Posted by SWS View Post
    ...There was a Boulder based company that made mandolins and banjos.
    Ode?
    Allen Hopkins
    Gibsn: '54 F5 3pt F2 A-N Custm K1 m'cello
    Natl Triolian Dobro mando
    Victoria b-back Merrill alumnm b-back
    H-O mandolinetto
    Stradolin Vega banjolin
    Sobell'dola Washburn b-back'dola
    Eastmn: 615'dola 805 m'cello
    Flatiron 3K OM

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