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Thread: 1940s Gibson A-50

  1. #1

    Default 1940s Gibson A-50

    Hi everyone, I've been reading the forum for a long time, but this is my first post. I just purchased an A-50 and am trying to pinpoint exactly when it was made and any other information this community may have about this specific mandolin.

    I'm fairly sure this exact version of the A-50 was initially produced in 1942. The serial number stamped on the inside of the instrument is 2439-44. Would that be from 1942? How precisely can we nail down the actual date of production? Was this made in Kalamazoo?

    Also, did Gibson keep up production throughout WWII, or did they cease or slow down as the country ramped up the war effort?

    Many thanks to anyone who can help. I'm attaching a few photos to assist.

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    Last edited by YooperMando; Aug-03-2019 at 11:04am.

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  3. #2

    Default Re: 1940s Gibson A-50

    We have been discussing an identical A-50 in the ebay section of the Forum. It is not in as good condition as your mandolin but it is from the same era. There may be someone who can fix the date from that number- it may be in Spann's book but it may be later than the book covers. In fact, Spann lists that number as an A-50 from 1940 to 1945. That may be the best fix you are going to get. However, with those riveted Kluson tuners, I would suggest that makes it 1942 to 1945.

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  5. #3
    Registered User William Smith's Avatar
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    Default Re: 1940s Gibson A-50

    Well its # is listed as a 1940-1945 A-50, the 44 is I believe how many were made in the batch, so 44 A-50's were made with that # of 2539-someone correct me if I'm wrong. With the style of it and shade I'll say its early in with the 2539# but hard to pin point! I'd say 1942-45 also but on the earlier end. I've had many A-50's but none this late-with that diamond inlay! Very neat, and it looks like it was played, so I'd bet it sounds pretty good! That's some serious wide grain Adirondack on yours so yeah man I bet she puts out some tone!

    My favorite A-50's are the 1935's with the F-holes and the elevated fret boards off the top-lets the top vibrate more freely IMHO and they are great ones. I have a few of those still. I've only seen these style of A-50's in 1935, someone let me know if there is a late 34 or early 36 like these? I've yet to see one! There are the earlier A-50's from 33-34 with the elevated board but have the round hole instead of F-holes. I had one of those but I'm not a huge fan of the round hole mandolins-at least all the ones I've owned.
    Last edited by William Smith; Aug-03-2019 at 12:14pm.

  6. #4

    Default Re: 1940s Gibson A-50

    That number is not a serial number, it's a factory order number (FON). The serial number would be printed on a sticker attached to the back of the instrument on the inside, while the FON was typically printed directly on the wood inside the body, usually on the side walls near the neck, but occasionally elsewhere. The FON tells you when the instrument began to be manufactured, while the serial number tells you when it was shipped out of the factory. Since these dates could vary by months or even years in some cases, the FON is a better guide to the instrument's age.

    Btw, the -44 doesn't indicate the size of the batch; it indicates this instrument's position in the batch. So there should be only one instrument with the FON 2539-44 (though this is complicated by the fact that some FONs were re-used in later years).

    Spann's book, as NickR says above, indicates that an FON of 2539-xx should be an A-50 made between 1940 and 1945. I assume the war effort has something to do with the vagueness of the date; most FONs can be nailed down to a single year.

  7. #5
    Registered User William Smith's Avatar
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    Default Re: 1940s Gibson A-50

    Your correct I meant FON#, I've never seen a serial # on any A model from the 1930's-40's, I may be wrong on the 44 being the # of mando's in that batch but I have a mid 30's F-5 in the archives and that also has a pencil mark after the stamped FON, 1144-5, with my serial#93722, the next serial# is 93723 with FON# 1144-4 then the next known F-5 in that same batch jumps to 94336 with the FON# as 1144-2? and in that batch of 5's anyway there are the FON #'rd but with a say 1144-3 and 1144-1 and possibly 1144-6 out there in the world that are F-5's not known about still floating or waiting to be discovered?

    I'd like one of the real knowledgeable Gibson historians like Darryl Wolfe, Tom-F5-Loar to chime in on their thought about the #'s after the FON #'s?

  8. #6

    Default Re: 1940s Gibson A-50

    FWIW, and probably a useless and insignificant point to mention about "riveted" wartime Klusons. Technically speaking, "riveting" refers to the rivet being hammered into place. Whereas, "pressing" refers to the rivet being pressed together with force from a press using a cupped die. Hammering would show variation where pressing would look uniform. The press can be a powered machine press or a hand press. In both cases rivets are used to connect the string shaft with the gear, so in common parlance, "riveted Kluson" conveys the meaning desired with identification, but "Klusons with pressed-on gears" might be more accurate.

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  10. #7
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    Default Re: 1940s Gibson A-50

    Yes, that is a mandolin made somewhere between 1942 and 1945.
    Gibson record keeping from that period is not detailed enough to give us the exact year.

    Gibson did maintain instrument production throughout WWII. Their production was mostly limited to a few models: A-50 mandolins, J-45 and LG-2 flat top guitars, L-7, L-50, and what are known as "Wartime Special" model arch top guitars, and a few banjos assembled from whatever parts remained on hand. They did continue to make other models as well, but only in small numbers.

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  12. #8

    Default Re: 1940s Gibson A-50

    The explanation of the -44 part of the FON being the position of the instrument in the batch is in Spann's book.

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    Default Re: 1940s Gibson A-50

    Quote Originally Posted by Craig the Mad View Post
    The explanation of the -44 part of the FON being the position of the instrument in the batch is in Spann's book.
    Where in the book as I can't seem to find it? I've read the book a few times but this one is escaping me! Just glanced again but must be overlooking that explanation?

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    Default Re: 1940s Gibson A-50

    Page 63, three quarters of the way down.
    This info is also available in several other sources, including Gruhn's Guide to Vintage Guitars.

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    Default Re: 1940s Gibson A-50

    Ok then his A-50 was the # 44 of the batch #2439! So I'm sure there is more! So then on my 34 F-5 with an FON# of 1144-5, its the 5th F-5 in that batch so I was correct about the missing 5's from the archives that exist or did! Why didn't I put that together first-I feel shame after all my years with Gibson mandolins-dumb DA dumb dumb! I know better as sometimes I write without thinking straight!

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    Default Re: 1940s Gibson A-50

    If you read the page in Spann's book very carefully, you will find that while all batch numbers contained the same type of instrument [i.e. a batch of mandolins, or a batch of guitars], some batches contained more than one model of the same type of instrument.

    So your 1144-5 is the 5th mandolin in batch 1144, but it should not be assumed that all of the mandolins in batch 1144 were F-5's.

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    Default Re: 1940s Gibson A-50

    Sorry but yeah with F-5's they are 1144 from the year 34, all are F-5's in that batch unless someone can prove otherwise!

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    Default Re: 1940s Gibson A-50

    They may very well all be F-5's, but assume nothing, especially when it comes to Gibson numbering systems.

    The mandolin archive is not a complete listing of existing instruments. It contains only instruments that were reported to the archive. There are many instruments that have not been reported, but none the less are in happy homes.

    There are probably not very many "undiscovered" F-5's left out there. However, there may be quite a few that have not been reported to the archive.

    To the OP, yes, your A-50 was made in Kalamazoo. Gibson's first plant outside Kalamazoo was built in Nashville in 1974. The Kalamazoo plant was closed in 1984.
    Last edited by rcc56; Aug-04-2019 at 12:02am.

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    Registered User Eric Platt's Avatar
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    Default Re: 1940s Gibson A-50

    Very nice find. That one should be a keeper. Definitely a Kalamazoo made instrument.
    1935 Gibson A50, 2018 Collings MT, 1929 Gibson A Jr., 1941 Strad-O-Lin, 2018 Eastman MDO-305, 1950's Californian, 2015 Ashbury Style E OM
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  24. #16

    Default Re: 1940s Gibson A-50

    Thanks to everyone for their help! It's too bad we can't narrow it down to a specific date, but I now understand the background and context behind this instrument much better than when I bought it. By the way, it plays great. The sound is definitely more treble-heavy and a bit thinner than a top-of-the-line mandolin, but it has decent volume and a lot of character.

  25. #17
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    Default Re: 1940s Gibson A-50

    It might surprise you with a setup and heavier strings.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: 1940s Gibson A-50

    What Mike said!
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  27. #19

    Default Re: 1940s Gibson A-50

    Yes, I've been wondering if I might be able to improve it a bit. This is a very basic question that has surely been asked elsewhere on this forum, but is there a good guide to basic mandolin setup on this or another site? Or is it better (for someone without the relevant skills and experience) to take it to a luthier and ask what they think they can do?

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    Default Re: 1940s Gibson A-50

    If you think the trebles are heavy, you might try a set of D'Addario EJ73's-- 10 through 38, phosphor bronze.

    Considering the age of the instrument, it would not hurt to have it inspected by a good luthier, especially if you feel that the tone is weak.

    The last one of these that came across my workbench had loose tone bars [top braces] that needed to be attended to.

    Loose glue joints are quite common on Gibson instruments made in the '40's and '50's, and can affect not only the structural stability of the instrument, but also the tone and response.

    For some reason, loose glue joints seem to be more common in instruments made during this period than in earlier instruments. I think Gibson had a foreman who was stingy on their glue mixture.
    Last edited by rcc56; Aug-06-2019 at 8:30pm.

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    Default Re: 1940s Gibson A-50

    Forum Member Rob Meldrum has a free eBook that you could ask him to send you if you want to tackle it yourself.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Formerly F5JOURNL Darryl Wolfe's Avatar
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    Default Re: 1940s Gibson A-50

    The FON with the dash serves as the serial number on this. All instruments with the same FON are the same model. All banjos and many instrument of all kinds from the 30's use the FON-xx as the serial
    Darryl G. Wolfe, The F5 Journal
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    Default Re: 1940s Gibson A-50

    Quote Originally Posted by Darryl Wolfe View Post
    The FON with the dash serves as the serial number on this. All instruments with the same FON are the same model. All banjos and many instrument of all kinds from the 30's use the FON-xx as the serial

    There are exceptions to this. Check Spann's listings of documented FON's and you will find quite a few examples.

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    Default Re: 1940s Gibson A-50

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post
    There are exceptions to this. Check Spann's listings of documented FON's and you will find quite a few examples.
    I'm pretty sure Joe checked his listings with Darryl.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: 1940s Gibson A-50

    "Observed evidence indicates that the instruments contained in any one particular FON batch were all of the same type [i.e. banjos, guitars or mandolins] but not necessarily of the same model." --Spann's Guide to Gibson, page 63.

    A couple of examples concerning mandolins:

    FON 803 F: A-00, EM-125 & EM-150 --Spann's, page 170
    FON 4229 G: KM-12, KM-22 & KH-22 --Spann's, page 181

    There are many examples of FON's containing both Florentine and Bella Voce model banjos.
    FON 1287 C contains six different budget model guitars. -- page 158

    Multiple models in one batch occur more frequently starting in 1934, when the production of budget brand instruments increases.

    I have an HG-Century guitar in my possession that shares the same factory order number with a batch of KG-31 guitars: FON 832 B. --page 136.

    Many other combinations exist, but I'm not going to take the time to list them. Those who are interested can read the book, do their own research, and see for themselves.

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