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Thread: old Flatiron, old guy, some thoughts

  1. #1

    Default old Flatiron, old guy, some thoughts

    Hi folks,

    I recently came into a nice old Flatiron: an all-original 1983 A5-1, signed by Steve Carlson. A case queen: corroded strings, frets and tailpiece. Warranty card, strap, picks, pitch pipe (!) and key still in the case. No repairs. Few signs of playing.

    As you might expect, it sounds pretty good!

    I thought I might have a fine luthier give it an up-to-date makeover: James tailpiece, Rubner tuners, radiused fingerboard, a re-fret. From reading on the Cafe, I know that at least a few early Flatiron owners have gone that route, with excellent results.

    But then I thought, well…maybe I shouldn’t. As it stands, it’s an unaltered bit of mandolin history from the workbench of one of our most respected luthiers. Maybe I should just Let It Be. If I really want a modern A5, a number of brilliant young builders are turning out beautiful instruments at a cost that even a regular guy might consider.

    I don’t know. What do you think?

    Fair winds,

    lostsailor

  2. #2
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: old Flatiron, old guy, some thoughts

    Quote Originally Posted by lostsailor View Post
    Hi folks,

    I recently came into a nice old Flatiron: an all-original 1983 A5-1, signed by Steve Carlson. A case queen: corroded strings, frets and tailpiece. Warranty card, strap, picks, pitch pipe (!) and key still in the case. No repairs. Few signs of playing.

    As you might expect, it sounds pretty good!

    I thought I might have a fine luthier give it an up-to-date makeover: James tailpiece, Rubner tuners, radiused fingerboard, a re-fret. From reading on the Cafe, I know that at least a few early Flatiron owners have gone that route, with excellent results.

    But then I thought, well…maybe I shouldn’t. As it stands, it’s an unaltered bit of mandolin history from the workbench of one of our most respected luthiers. Maybe I should just Let It Be. If I really want a modern A5, a number of brilliant young builders are turning out beautiful instruments at a cost that even a regular guy might consider.

    I don’t know. What do you think?

    Fair winds,

    lostsailor
    There's no problem with making it playable and making it the way you want it to be. It's not of great historical significance and is probably a really decent mandolin. It's yours, you can do with it as you please but there is no sense in leaving it unplayable.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: old Flatiron, old guy, some thoughts

    Have the work done, make it how you like it, and play it, play it, play it! There’s a video of Chris Thile discussing this issue with respect to his Loars, and his opinion was the same as mine. And, while your Flatiron is nicely aged, it’s not a 23 or 24 Loar. You could even save the original tuners and just replace the fretboard, saving the original board as well. Then, if you ever sell it or decide you really want it as it originally was made, you could switch them back out (or include them in the sale for the new owner to do with what they like).

    My bet is that if you like the tone, getting better tuners on it and getting the fretboard and frets how you like them will only increase how much you play it!!

  4. #4
    Dave Sheets
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    Default Re: old Flatiron, old guy, some thoughts

    Get the corrosion cleaned up, but fresh strings on it, lubricate the tuners, and play it for a while to see how much you like it. Then decide if you want to put the money in to upgrade it. Flatirons are good instruments, whether the upgrades make sense or not depends on how much you like it, I think. You may not get your money back if you upgrade it and decide to sell. But if it's a keeper for you, you might also get it set the way you want it. In any case, enjoy it!
    -Dave
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    My Florida is scooped pheffernan's Avatar
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    Default Re: old Flatiron, old guy, some thoughts

    Quote Originally Posted by lostsailor View Post
    What do you think?
    It’s not an important historical piece that needs to be preserved, but neither is a makeover necessarily an improvement. I’d have a luthier clean it up for you and play it as is until and unless you reach the point where you know a modification would be an upgrade.
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  7. #6

    Default Re: old Flatiron, old guy, some thoughts

    Once upon a time, a Loar was just another used mandolin. Don’t do anything that can’t be undone.
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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: old Flatiron, old guy, some thoughts

    There's a prejudice that "newer is better." Flatirons were well-made from the start, and their "original equipment" pretty much stands the test of time (I have an '83 or so Flatiron 3K OM that still works fine with its original frets, tuners and tailpiece; lotta miles on it...).

    Concur with the recommendations to get it into playing shape, give it a chance, and replace/"upgrade" as needed. Not a question of preserving a vintage instrument, for sure, but -- other than the radiused fretboard, if you have to have one -- those suggested replacements aren't needed to make it playable.

    I would, however, ditch the pitch pipe...
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    Default Re: old Flatiron, old guy, some thoughts

    Quote Originally Posted by Br1ck View Post
    Once upon a time, a Loar was just another used mandolin. Don’t do anything that can’t be undone.
    Now if he can only hang onto it for another 70 or 80 years there's a chance, a slim chance it might be valuable.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: old Flatiron, old guy, some thoughts

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Sheets View Post
    Get the corrosion cleaned up, but fresh strings on it, lubricate the tuners, and play it for a while to see how much you like it. Then decide if you want to put the money in to upgrade it. Flatirons are good instruments, whether the upgrades make sense or not depends on how much you like it, I think. You may not get your money back if you upgrade it and decide to sell. But if it's a keeper for you, you might also get it set the way you want it. In any case, enjoy it!
    This is good advice. The frets might polish up nicely and play well without replacing them, and a drop or two of oil on the tuner bearings might work wonders.
    Play it for a while, and then see if you still want to do the optional work.

    Pre Gibson Flatirons were darn good mandolins, perhaps the best factory made instruments of the period; and generally superior to later Gibson made Flatirons.

  11. #10

    Default Re: old Flatiron, old guy, some thoughts

    Thanks to everyone who has chimed in so far. I really appreciate your shared thoughts. These most recent bits of advice make sense to me: clean it up, play it for a while, and then see if you still want to get more work done. When all else fails, listen to reason.

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  13. #11

    Default Re: old Flatiron, old guy, some thoughts

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeEdgerton View Post
    Now if he can only hang onto it for another 70 or 80 years there's a chance, a slim chance it might be valuable.
    Value was not foremost in my mind. The Loar reference was poorly chosen. Lets just say I'm very happy to have an all original 1913 A 1. No improved adjustable bridge, no replaced tuners, intact pickguard and hardware, slightly tarnished tailpiece. All of that adds a real world value of maybe $500, but to me it's priceless. In 70 years, someone will be very happy to have an original early Flatiron. Someone would be happy to have an original early Flatiron now.

    The OP can trade it for something that better suits what he really wants. Hundreds of mandolins for sale that would.
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    Default Re: old Flatiron, old guy, some thoughts

    I recently bought a 1984 Flatiron A5-1, Steve Carlson, all original with warranty card, case key. No corrosion anywhere, although there was some fret wear. I had Skip Kelley replace the frets with EVO GOLD FW 74, install a bone nut, fit a new Bruce Weber trad bridge and I replaced the tailpiece with a Silver James. Plays like a dream and sounds even better. So, I took a good, playable mandolin and fired it up to be the best it can be. It's nice to have a quality, fun-to-play A in the stable.

    Good luck with your A5-1.

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    Registered User CTH Man's Avatar
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    Default Re: old Flatiron, old guy, some thoughts

    I suggest give it a little TLC and play the snot out of it before you make any major changes.
    "The Flatiron" '83 A5-2 Steve Carlsons
    "wires an wood...man that's good!"

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    two t's and one hyphen fatt-dad's Avatar
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    Default Re: old Flatiron, old guy, some thoughts

    I sent my A5-1 to Lou Stiver and he did a radius and refret. Didn't take long. He did great work (he's done that for me on other mandolins).

    Not sure it really matters though. I also have a great time playing flat boards.

    I didn't really consider resale. I did resell it. They're great mandolins!

    f-d
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    Default Re: old Flatiron, old guy, some thoughts

    Here's mine, after the upgrades. A dandy little mandy.
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    Registered User Eric Platt's Avatar
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    Default Re: old Flatiron, old guy, some thoughts

    Am late to this, but get it cleaned up, maybe replace the nut (can't remember if those are corian or bone). And play it before deciding. Now, when I got my Collings did compare it to a Flatiron similar to yours. They were close. That day I picked the Collings. Another day might have gone with the Flatiron.

    That said, have been tossing around the idea of putting a James tailpiece on my Flatiron. Especially after changing strings again today.
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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: old Flatiron, old guy, some thoughts

    I have an '83 A5-2, just somewhat fancier than but from the same year as the OP's. I am the original owner. I bought it new from Mandolin Brothers. It is a wonderful mandolin. I have ever replaced anything on it and still don't need to. However, I agree with most of the folks here. Get it in shape to play, cleaned qnd set up properoly and see what actually does need replacing to to do so. Then play and enjoy it. If you want to upgrade anything, do so. Here's mine:

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Jim

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    Kelley Mandolins Skip Kelley's Avatar
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    Default Re: old Flatiron, old guy, some thoughts

    Quote Originally Posted by lostsailor View Post
    Hi folks,

    I recently came into a nice old Flatiron: an all-original 1983 A5-1, signed by Steve Carlson. A case queen: corroded strings, frets and tailpiece. Warranty card, strap, picks, pitch pipe (!) and key still in the case. No repairs. Few signs of playing.

    As you might expect, it sounds pretty good!.

    I thought I might have a fine luthier give it an up-to-date makeover: James tailpiece, Rubner tuners, radiused fingerboard, a re-fret. From reading on the Cafe, I know that at least a few early Flatiron owners have gone that route, with excellent results.

    But then I thought, well…maybe I shouldn’t. As it stands, it’s an unaltered bit of mandolin history from the workbench of one of our most respected luthiers. Maybe I should just Let It Be. If I really want a modern A5, a number of brilliant young builders are turning out beautiful instruments at a cost that even a regular guy might consider.

    I don’t know. What do you think?

    Fair winds,

    lostsailor

    I bet it’s a fine mandolin. Get someone to check it out and do a setup and you’ll be good for quite a while

  25. #19

    Default Re: old Flatiron, old guy, some thoughts

    Thanks to you all for chiming in. It's great to hear from so many folks who care about the early Flatirons. Stay safe, and happy picking.

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    Default Re: old Flatiron, old guy, some thoughts

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanN View Post
    I recently bought a 1984 Flatiron A5-1, Steve Carlson, all original with warranty card, case key. No corrosion anywhere, although there was some fret wear. I had Skip Kelley replace the frets with EVO GOLD FW 74, install a bone nut, fit a new Bruce Weber trad bridge and I replaced the tailpiece with a Silver James. Plays like a dream and sounds even better. So, I took a good, playable mandolin and fired it up to be the best it can be. It's nice to have a quality, fun-to-play A in the stable.
    I too just acquired an immaculate A5 - Artist, it plays, sounds, and feels perfect. A while back I had a less fancy Flatiron A. One day I opened the case and the tail piece had broken - strings everywhere. Others have described this tail piece failure as well. So a precautionary TP change might be a good idea. Bridges can tend to lean forward with age - so that is another possible useful change. Radiusing the fret board? Gosh - that can get expensive and not mandatory - so you really need to have a strong preference! By the way, does anyone know if the radius job requires new binding on the neck - and possibly a color matching issue?
    Click image for larger version. 

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    Last edited by Tim Logan; May-10-2020 at 3:40pm.

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    Default Re: old Flatiron, old guy, some thoughts

    I say do the work and save the original fingerboard, tuners, and tailpiece. I reckon there are way more than ~250 Flatirons floating around. If the modified features are ones you like, go for it! Seriously.

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