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Thread: What's the deal with Vintage F4s?

  1. #1
    Registered User Joe Dodson's Avatar
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    Default What's the deal with Vintage F4s?

    I've always thought old Gibson F4s were gorgeous mandolins, but I've never played one and don't know much about them. For example, how would y'all characterize the tone of these? And why does a Loar-era F4 sell for $7k to $10k, give or take, compared with $125k and up an F5? Is there a difference in build quality, the quantity made, desirability of tone or some other factor?

    No agenda other than curiosity to learn a little more about them. Thanks for your collective knowledge.

  2. #2

    Default Re: What's the deal with Vintage F4s?

    Pretty simple and there are two main reasons. There is 300 +/- Gibson F5's with a magic signature, snakeheads, F2', F4's or any other mandolins built during that time do not have Lloyd Loar's signature. He is credited with changing the design of the mandolin and designing the F5. Same reason an F5 with his signature commands a certain price and one made a few months to a few years later and that does not have his signature are half the price, even though it may have been constructed at that time or with parts made during when Loar was there. The second is some guy by the name of Bill Monroe is developed a new style of music and he played a F5 signed by Lloyd Loar. I am sure that those more qualified as to the history will be able to give you some more insight.

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    Default Re: What's the deal with Vintage F4s?

    I would say it was Bill Monroe's influence more than Loar's. Sure, the Loar F5 had to exist for Monroe to play one, but without Monroe it would just be a great instrument and considerably cheaper. Monroe created the demand we still see today.

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    Registered User William Smith's Avatar
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    Default Re: What's the deal with Vintage F4s?

    All those 20's builds are pretty nice regardless on the style, I've had many and all are built with better specs than the earlier ones from say the teens, but some like the say F-4 sound of the teens better than the Loar era stuff. The F-5's just have the tone and power that cuts above all the other models, some don't like the Loar sound and like the 20's Fern sound? Its all in what you like, there were other players who played the F-5's but if it wasn't for Monroe and Bluegrass I doubt they would cost so much today? Every year or so a new re-found Loar or other pre-war F-5's come to light and its exciting for us hardcore vintage Gibson geeks! I know of a few right now but have promised not to say anything, I will say that they are vintage F-5's!

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    Registered User tbown's Avatar
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    Default Re: What's the deal with Vintage F4s?

    Quote Originally Posted by Joe Dodson View Post
    ... For example, how would y'all characterize the tone of these?
    I've owned a '25 F4 and played several pre-Loar F4's. Generally speaking, the tone of these F4s (2's) is more "woody". I think another way I would describe the tone is maybe last focused or more rounded than F5 tone. They definitely don't have the cutting power of an F5, which is not related to volume. The F4 I had could be very loud. On the other hand, the darker, less focused tone could also produce a more delicate tone than that of an F5 when played light -- not sure if "delicate" is the right word, but its the best one in my head.

    Then there is the whole business with pre-Load/post-Loar F4's. While he may not have signed any F4s, he still had an influence. I find myself liking post-Loar F4's over pre-Load F4's -- without exception so far.

    As with all posts of this nature, your opinion may vary.
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  10. #6
    Gibson F5L Gibson A5L
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    Default Re: What's the deal with Vintage F4s?

    The oval sound hole instruments have a less forceful mellower tone . The F hole instruments are brighter and cast that tone out further with less resonance. Archtop guitars accomplish the same feat. The term rounder sound is often applied to the oval sound hole instruments. And yes availability of L.A.L. signed instruments will keep their price higher than any other regardless of who played what when. Though , of course, that didn't hurt. Play one when you are able. THey are different but equally lovely… R/
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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: What's the deal with Vintage F4s?

    Two things. One is the oval hole and ff holes sound different. And secondly, it is the sound of the ff hole that is treasured in bluegrass - due almost entirely IMO to Bill Monroe.

    I have played a few and they are lovely. Among the most beautiful IMO mandolins ever made.
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  12. #8
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    Default Re: What's the deal with Vintage F4s?

    If I could make a generalization about the tone of F-4's, it would be that they tend to be "clear-toned," tend to sustain a note longer than an F-5, and are less percussive than an F-5.

    It is difficult to say more, because the tone of F-5's vary considerably, depending on when they were made, who was making them, and what specifications were used to carve the tops and backs.

    In my experience, signed F-5's tend to sound more like F-4's than like F-5's made in the 1990's, when most F-5's were being built with a lot of focus on mid-range response. Trends have changed, and many F-5's are now being made to better resemble the tone of the 1920's F-5's.

    And also, F-4's made in the 30's sound quite different from earlier instruments, because they were carved and finished differently.

    Good F-4's are very good instruments. Some are much better than others.

    Between 1910 and 1930, Gibson made thousands of F-4's. They only made a few hundred F-5's between the model's introduction in 1922 until 1930. Starting in the early '30's, Gibson mandolins were built differently from earlier mandolins, with heavier carving and finish.

    If Monroe had used an F-4 on stage, the price of F-4's would be higher and the price of F-5's would be lower.

    If you are really interested in the general characteristics of F-4's, you should try to play a few if you have the opportunity.
    Last edited by rcc56; Nov-06-2019 at 2:56pm.

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