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Thread: Gibson snakehead Jrs vs other snakeheads

  1. #1
    Registered User Cary Fagan's Avatar
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    Default Gibson snakehead Jrs vs other snakeheads

    Hi all,
    I've tried only one snakehead jr and didn't love it. I know that Juniors are mostly stripped down versions of higher models, but also their tops tend to have much wider grain. If you've had a chance to try various snakeheads, I'd appreciate hearing if you have an opinion of whether the juniors sound any different. (Acknowledging of course that the old Gibsons all have their own voices and are not consistent.)
    Cary Fagan

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    Registered User Craig the Mad's Avatar
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    Default Re: Gibson snakehead Jrs vs other snakeheads

    Yeah, that last acknowledgement is the problem. Everyone's opinions will be different because they're all extrapolating from different data.

    Someone once said (I read it here on MandoCafe, so it must be true) that the A-jr is the best mandolin ever made because it gives you everything you need in a mandolin and nothing you don't. I tend to agree. To my hands and ears, my '23 A-jr is the best mandolin I've ever played or heard. And I've played a number of other Gibsons made between 1907 and the 1940s. Most of those weren't snakeheads, but some of them were at least Loar-era or almost that. So far I see no reason to believe that the Jr is much different from the other Gibsons of its time other than cosmetically.
    1923 Gibson A-Jr
    2011 Kentucky KM-630

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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Gibson snakehead Jrs vs other snakeheads

    Setup is everything. I love old snakeheads.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Gibson snakehead Jrs vs other snakeheads

    Snakeheads are wonderful. I have owned an A-Jr and I liked it but not as much as my 23 A-2. OTOH I have died when playing a few A-4 snakeheads. On the third hand, the one A I played was a 1920 A pumpkin that just had the right sound to it. And it wasn't a snakehead. Gibson was very consistent in their inconsistency. You can depend on it.
    Jim

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    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: Gibson snakehead Jrs vs other snakeheads

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    Gibson was very consistent in their inconsistency. You can depend on it.
    One of the all-time best JG quips.....

    Mick
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    Default Re: Gibson snakehead Jrs vs other snakeheads

    I was the second owner of a Snake head Jr. I purchased it from the original owner around 1987 in Napa , Calif for the princely sum of $400.It was in in excellent plus condition and included the original case. It was made on Dec 22, of 1922. I found it to be a very fine instrument; of the 50 plus mandolins I have owned it was in the top 5. Sadly due to a serious hand and wrist injury ( hit by a car) I quit playing all instruments and offed my collection to include a half dozen mandolins.

    Nut was about 1 3/16ths plus. Just about wide enough.

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  12. #7

    Default Re: Gibson snakehead Jrs vs other snakeheads

    I think that the lack of an adjustable truss rod is more of a factor in any tonal difference between the Jr and the higher models of that period. I do not remember offhand whether there is any reinforcement at all in the neck of the junior models.
    BradKlein
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  14. #8

    Default Re: Gibson snakehead Jrs vs other snakeheads

    gibson was very consistent in their inconsistency!!! good one

    i have two snake heads. one refinshed which i call the worlds best busking mandolin, and one mostly origonal that was my workhorse for decades but shows serious signs of wear(bad top crack that is repaired) . they sound totally different. i found a paddle head 1923 junior locally that is sweet as any mandolin i have ever heard and my old black workhorse snake head is as loud as any i have heard and has an eerie ability to project way beyond where you'd expect. the refinished one has good volume but a fuller tone. inconsistency is the hallmark of gibsons.

    - - - Updated - - -

    i'd love a 1923-24 A 4 snakehead someday. red sunburst. they are so beautiful.

  15. #9
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Gibson snakehead Jrs vs other snakeheads

    Quote Originally Posted by brunello97 View Post
    One of the all-time best JG quips.....

    Mick
    I resemble that remark!
    Jim

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    Registered User Cary Fagan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Gibson snakehead Jrs vs other snakeheads

    Hi again, and happy holidays. Thought some might like to know that after looking at a lot of mandolins, and emails with owners and stores, and having videos made for me, I settled on a 1925 snakehead Jr. in excellent condition with all original parts. It's going to be sent to me by Gruhn Guitars in early Jan. when I'm in the U.S. with a 24 hour trial. I'm looking forward to getting it.

    Cheers.
    Cary Fagan

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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Gibson snakehead Jrs vs other snakeheads

    Quote Originally Posted by BradKlein View Post
    I think that the lack of an adjustable truss rod is more of a factor in any tonal difference between the Jr and the higher models of that period. I do not remember offhand whether there is any reinforcement at all in the neck of the junior models.
    They do not. A past thread can be found here.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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  20. #12
    Registered User Cary Fagan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Gibson snakehead Jrs vs other snakeheads

    I am aware they don't have a truss rod, thought they had a rod or stiffener of some sort. They have the narrower nut and slimmer necks of other snakeheads.
    Cary Fagan

  21. #13
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Gibson snakehead Jrs vs other snakeheads

    The 36 Kalamazoo KM-11 I had had the slimmest neck I've ever played and although it was a decade newer than your A Jr it was fine with no truss rod. I'm sure some had to have neck problems but I never saw it. That is one thing Gibson apparently did right.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  22. #14

    Default Re: Gibson snakehead Jrs vs other snakeheads

    I agree with Mike that set up is everything. Totally undervalued. What amazes me is snakeheads at $6000 and non snakeheads at $2000 or less. Obviously a little less wood in the headstock will change the sustain and tone no doubt but I just think that a good normal A style (A or A1,A2,A3 or A4) with a great set up should not be 1/3rd of the price. I think the paddle headstock has always just been a bit wide at the top with the result of strings virtually touching each other and taking a directional shift on the nut. The snakehead sorts that which is a plus.

    End result is similar to all the ballyhoo about Brazilian Rosewood guitars compared to normal rosewood. Brazilian=add 50% or more to perceived value. I've played a few Brazilians and GENERALLY SPEAKING, I think there is a big exaggeration on the supposition that Brazilian is THAT MUCH BETTER and probably the same with snakeheads.

    Just my view.

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    Registered User Cary Fagan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Gibson snakehead Jrs vs other snakeheads

    Just for interest, I have paid $1500 for the snakehead Jr. (There were two others available, two for 2,000 and one for 1,700. Only one was in the same excellent condition as the one I bought.) Yes, an A4 costs much more money but they are beautiful instruments visually. I think it's fine to pay more for one if it will give you pleasure.
    Cary Fagan

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  26. #16

    Default Re: Gibson snakehead Jrs vs other snakeheads

    Day late and dollar short to this, but I had bought/played/sold a small music shops worth of old ovals (4-6 were Jr’s) before I settled on mine, a ‘24 A Jr snakehead. I agree with Jim.

    Congrats on yours, they’re a blast.
    Gunga......Gunga.....Gu-Lunga

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Gibson snakehead Jrs vs other snakeheads

    I have a '23 A2 Sheridan brown snakehead. Lovely sound. Creamy thick Gibsonny tone.

    As others have said there is enough variability in old Gibsons to provide exceptions to any rule we can come up with. Also, I think how an old mandolin sounds has a great deal to do with its condition. The mandolin's life over the last 96 years has probably a bigger impact on its tone than the differences in construction between it and its contemporaries.

    That said, if ya got a good one, play the potatoes out of it.
    Indulge responsibly!

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    Default Re: Gibson snakehead Jrs vs other snakeheads

    I have a 23 snake. Has that cool old tubby pretty sound. Then I played a A jr at a bluegrass jam and it had that cool old tubby pretty sound!!! I think at 96 years old most of the old Gibson’s sound wonderful.

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Gibson snakehead Jrs vs other snakeheads

    I am sure there are some vintage Gibsons that are not great but I agree 100% that a lot does depend on proper set up.

    Here are my former A-Jr. and my current and longest-loved snakehead both I believe from 1923. The second is my Brentrup A-4 copy along with the 23 A-2.

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    Jim

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    Default Re: Gibson snakehead Jrs vs other snakeheads

    Cary Fagan---OP---the width of grain, whether wide or tight, does not always relate to tonal quality. Often, a wider grain top can be remarkable---perhaps the subjective observer will tend to find that which supports a pre-supposed expectation. If we think that tighter is better than we look for a subjective support that gives us the reinforcement that we crave.

  34. #21

    Default Re: Gibson snakehead Jrs vs other snakeheads

    Quote Originally Posted by pelone View Post
    Cary Fagan---OP---the width of grain, whether wide or tight, does not always relate to tonal quality.
    I agree, and I've not been able to find any consistent generalization about tone in relation to grain width of quartered wood. I'm not saying that some experienced builder would not, just that I have not been able to. But having said that, I THINK that both Gibson and Martin tried to use narrow, tight grained, quarter sawn wood on their most expensive instruments. Now they didn't always succeed, and there are Loars with run-out or off quartersawn tops and they were very pricey instruments. But in general, I think that prewar Martin 45s have narrower grain then 18s. And Junior models tend to have wider grain than the A-4s of the period. Am I wrong?
    BradKlein
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    Default Re: Gibson snakehead Jrs vs other snakeheads

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    Gunga......Gunga.....Gu-Lunga

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  37. #23

    Default Re: Gibson snakehead Jrs vs other snakeheads

    Quote Originally Posted by jimmy powells View Post
    I agree with Mike that set up is everything. Totally undervalued. What amazes me is snakeheads at $6000 and non snakeheads at $2000 or less. Obviously a little less wood in the headstock will change the sustain and tone no doubt but I just think that a good normal A style (A or A1,A2,A3 or A4) with a great set up should not be 1/3rd of the price. I think the paddle headstock has always just been a bit wide at the top with the result of strings virtually touching each other and taking a directional shift on the nut. The snakehead sorts that which is a plus.

    End result is similar to all the ballyhoo about Brazilian Rosewood guitars compared to normal rosewood. Brazilian=add 50% or more to perceived value. I've played a few Brazilians and GENERALLY SPEAKING, I think there is a big exaggeration on the supposition that Brazilian is THAT MUCH BETTER and probably the same with snakeheads.

    Just my view.
    there is no comparison. brazillian rosewood in a great lutheirs hands has extra umph that no other wood has, but paddle head gibsons can be as good as snakeheads. however i found the two i own and several others i have played to be great mondolins.

  38. #24

    Default Re: Gibson snakehead Jrs vs other snakeheads

    My favorite "snakehead" Gibson, the Griffith Loar. The snakehead mandola is pretty cool too. Hopefully I'll see both of them next weekend...
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    Spruce dork

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  40. #25
    Registered User Cary Fagan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Gibson snakehead Jrs vs other snakeheads

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    For the record, here's the one that I bought and will be trying out next week.
    Cary Fagan

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