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Thread: Advice sought about 1917 Gibson H1 Mandola

  1. #1
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    Default Advice sought about 1917 Gibson H1 Mandola

    Hi - experienced player (celtic traditional) here who mostly plays his own made instruments but has never ventured into the vintage mandolin market. I am interested in a 1917 Gibson H1 Pumpkin top Mandola which is in incredible original condition. Its not whether the condition really is truly 'original' that bothers me (yet) but the fact that it is tuned to mandolin pitch and, surprise, there is a slight curve to the neck. For all that, the action is very playable up to the neck join and the sound really projects rich lows and mids, just sounds incredible. I can see no cracks or evidence of repairs and it otherwise looked pretty good.

    My question is to what extent a set on the neck is to be expected on an instrument of this age and wonder whether the high tuning is common, unusual or plain ill-advised. It is just so playable but I fear for its future.... any advice on old H1's really appreciated.

    Thanks Dave

  2. #2

    Default Re: Advice sought about 1917 Gibson H1 Mandola

    Interesting. A 46cm scale length mandola tuned to mandolin pitch using normal 0.10/0.015/0.024/0.038" mandolin strings has approx. 130kg of string tension.
    A mandolin (36cm scale length) would have approx. 80kg string tension with the same set of strings at the same tuning.
    The mandola is designed for around 80kg string tension as well.

    If you want to do this, a set of .008" plain, .012" plain, .018" plain or .020" wound, and .030" wound strings will give you about 80kg of total tension, so you would not be doing any further damage, if any has been done. That .008" string will probably be a bit fragile, but should work.

    (Source: Graham Macdonald String Tension Calculator, thanks Graham)

    A Gibson mandola kept with normal string tension and with moderate care given to it environment should not need a neck reset unless it's damaged or sees extremes of temperature and/or humidity. I'd be more worried about the structure of the neck than the neck joint, but with this much tension, you are the test pilot, and it's possible you'd see different failures than these normally show up with.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Advice sought about 1917 Gibson H1 Mandola

    Re-setting the neck will not correct a warped neck. Instead, the neck should be straightened.

    You are going to have to string the instrument very lightly if you are going to tune it to mandolin pitch, or you will damage the instrument.
    It is possible that if you string the instrument as Marty suggests, the neck will relax to some degree, and you will be able to set up the instrument to play reasonably well without making major repairs.

    To straighten a severely bowed neck, I remove the fingerboard and glue it back on, using hot hide glue and a caul that is back-loaded about .010" - .015", followed by a good, tight re-fret job. On a few occasions, I have had to straighten the neck while the fingerboard is off, using gentle heat and a back-loaded caul. I avoid planeing the bare neck unless I think there is no other choice.

    For standard mandola tuning [CGDA], I use .012" - .020" - .032" - .046" or .048" on old Gibsons.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Advice sought about 1917 Gibson H1 Mandola

    It is a mandola. Perhaps one should tune it as such.
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  6. #5
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    Default Re: Advice sought about 1917 Gibson H1 Mandola

    I heartily agree.

  7. #6
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Advice sought about 1917 Gibson H1 Mandola

    A third vote for mandola CGDA tuning. You will open a new dimension of playing Celtic tunes with it -- especially since it's a top-line vintage instrument. I play mandola and octave mandolin in a Celtic band, and the opportunities for harmonies, counter-melodies, and "octave doubling" the fiddle/mandolin melody, are not only great musically, but lead to developing new approaches and skills.

    Plus, you stop over-stressing the instrument by too-high string tension. You may need to have the current neck problem corrected, and that's a significant consideration, but my prejudice, often expressed here, is to tune and play instruments the way they were designed to be tuned and played, not try to make them into something else. My apologies to all Cafe members who want to tune their ukulele like a mandolin, or their octave mandolin like a mandocello, etc. etc.

    Plus plus, no one complains if a mandola player puts a capo on.
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    Default Re: Advice sought about 1917 Gibson H1 Mandola

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post
    Re-setting the neck will not correct a warped neck. Instead, the neck should be straightened.

    You are going to have to string the instrument very lightly if you are going to tune it to mandolin pitch, or you will damage the instrument.
    It is possible that if you string the instrument as Marty suggests, the neck will relax to some degree, and you will be able to set up the instrument to play reasonably well without making major repairs.

    To straighten a severely bowed neck, I remove the fingerboard and glue it back on, using hot hide glue and a caul that is back-loaded about .010" - .015", followed by a good, tight re-fret job. On a few occasions, I have had to straighten the neck while the fingerboard is off, using gentle heat and a back-loaded caul. I avoid planeing the bare neck unless I think there is no other choice.

    For standard mandola tuning [CGDA], I use .012" - .020" - .032" - .046" or .048" on old Gibsons.
    Not to hijack....but instead of planing the neck (with the fretboard off), would you not glue a shim in to flatten it...adding rather than subtracting (given that you have to take break angle and bridge height into consideration)?

  9. #8
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    Default Re: Advice sought about 1917 Gibson H1 Mandola

    Yes, that can be done. It would require additional cabinet and finish work.

    It's better to avoid causing a problem to begin with, by not subjecting an old Gibson to too much string tension.
    Warped necks can be fixed, but it's a lot of labor and expense. Collapsed or distorted tops can not always be repaired without re-topping the instrument..
    Last edited by rcc56; Feb-01-2020 at 2:24pm.

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  11. #9

    Default Re: Advice sought about 1917 Gibson H1 Mandola

    I toured for a couple of years, hitting sessions as I went, with a 1921 H2, and not that you're collecting votes, or even asking the question, but ya, a fourth vote for CGDA tuning for IT (a fifth vote if I include the Dublin band that I ran into in, all of places, Latvia, who opined that they had always thought that mandola was better suited for IT than mandolin).

    Drop the B parts down an octave, and you've got the melodies covered along with adding some spicy depth to the the tune (unless there's a banjo-player already in that zone).

    The H2 had a majorly-crushed-at-one-point top (as though someone had stepped on the neck), but with a couple of cleats, is still going, and is loud and clear. Interesting instrument – the previous owner, thinking that the repair had reduced its value, decided to throw "vintage" out the window and had radiused the neck. I continued along those lines, replacing the tuners, installing a pickup, giving away the pickguard, and I don't remember what else. It came with a custom Hoffee case, which I figured was worth half of the $1800 I paid for it.
    Last edited by Jim Bevan; Feb-01-2020 at 3:08pm. Reason: Geographical Error

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    Registered User Eric F.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Advice sought about 1917 Gibson H1 Mandola

    I believe the OP is saying he is interested in purchasing said mandola, which is currently tuned GDAE and has a bowed neck, possibly as a result, not that he intends to tune one GDAE.

    Anyhow, I had a teens H1 at one point. It was a big helping of rich chocolatey goodness. I'd be wary of the neck on the one you're looking at though. Of course, if you are able to do the work yourself, which it sounds like you could, that puts a slightly different spin on it.

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    Default Re: Advice sought about 1917 Gibson H1 Mandola

    Thanks for all the helpful insight! Gonna think hard about this one....

  14. #12
    vintagemandolin.com Charles Johnson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Advice sought about 1917 Gibson H1 Mandola

    Play it as a mandola. If you want a mandolin, then buy a mandolin. They are less money as well.

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    Default Re: Advice sought about 1917 Gibson H1 Mandola

    Hi Dave, am having a weekend break in a British seaside town and I think I just played this mandola you’re talking about and can absolutely see why you were tempted. I nearly was! I was really interested in the comments in this thread. I think the GDAE tuning would definitely put risky tension on the neck...

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