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Thread: The dreaded black A2Z question. With a possible answer...

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    Default The dreaded black A2Z question. With a possible answer...

    Hi,

    We may be a step closer to solving the Gibson riddle. To start, I am no mandolin expert. I've written about and photographed vintage guitars for years and have a solid knowledge-base there. I mainly love and collect old Gibson and Martin guitars from 1927-1943. My real true love is Gibson acoustics from the 30s. And, man, are they odd. I have a 1932 L-00 12 fret that is translucent brown. Looks black. When you get it in the light, it's brown. My dealer friends have only found one other (same batch). It's all original. Even have a picture of the original owner's daughter learning to play on it! I have an early all mahogany 14 fret L-00 with an elevated fretboard (less rare, but rare) and have had banners with maple sides and a mahogany back- you name it. It was all fair game. I guess my point, and I'm hardly the first to make it, is that Gibson did things on the fly. They were trying to sell instruments and make them move. The idea of the scrap guitar (or mandolin) has been proven time and time again.

    So, I recently bought this black 1923 A2 from Charles Johnson. It sounds great. All parts are original. Sounds incredible. Played to DEATH. Plays great. He sold it as an A2 with all the A2Z features (but it has plain white binding around the top. Cool.

    Then, I looked at the label this morning (with my glasses finally on). Clear as day (a faded day): A2Z on the label with the serial number 74795. Now I remember hearing of another black a2z from this batch but never saw the label.

    The black finish has been authenticated by 3 of the most experienced vintage dealers that I know. Plus, it has the same exact look and character as another black A from the same period that I had. Everything from the headstock to the body phosphoresces the same way- nice glowing green (under blacklight). So, this is the finish it's been wearing since the factory.

    Of course, if you look at the arm wear area, you see a pumpkin top under the black (or some sealer coat before the black)! My pal Tom Crandall (TR Guitars) said this is very common (Statman's had this too, I think, but his label said A2). They pull a natural top off the line and paint it black if someone requested one. He's seen a ton of that from this period. I always wonder if they did a natural A2Z and found a wood flaw and painted it black to hide it. That's my guess.

    But, the top binding is white. So, A2Z features and label but white binding- Gibson! Maybe they wouldn't put black/white binding on a black instrument. Did they rebind it at the factory before shooting it black? Was it natural with white binding from the start?

    I guess that's what's so cool about the company and this era. Regardless, it's staying with me. Best snakehead I've heard (isn't that what we all say?!). And, I can now aspire to play as well as Mr. Statman (a guy can dream). Anyway, I'm sure the people with real knowledge will add their thoughts.

    Hope everyone is staying safe and keeping themselves sane with music!

    Brian
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    Registered User Mike Romkey's Avatar
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    Default Re: The dreaded black A2Z question. With a possible answer...

    Interesting. I have a blonde A2Z that is very wonderful. They are marvelous instruments.
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    Default Re: The dreaded black A2Z question. With a possible answer...

    Yours looks absolutely stunning.

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    Default Re: The dreaded black A2Z question. With a possible answer...

    It's a beauty, and I bet it sounds great.

    I haven't seen another with orange finish under black, so I scanned through the archive.. at least I can tell you that I don't have another one showing that sort of wear.

    Gibson was certainly full of curiosities at this time, there are plenty of instruments with mis-matched features for the label.

    That label though- I agree that's clear as day. I think it started out as a Z and had black finish over the orange top. I don't really see any lacquer checking either, so it has the right vibe for that 22-25 range. Could someone have carved up a pumpkin top A2z really fast? could it have been not only over-finished in black, but also re-bound? The latter seems unlikely. Gibson changing their mind and overfinishing it seems more likely.

    All that said.. I think "black A2z" has been problematic.. the catalog is pretty clear that the blonde finish is one of the selling points, and indeed I think it would take some nice wood grain to pull that off without exposing flaws or having grain lines "too thirsty" for finish or discolored.
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    Default Re: The dreaded black A2Z question. With a possible answer...

    Agreed. I think it was redone at the factory pre-shipping it out. There's a ton of precedent behind that idea. Very common. The white binding is a typical Gibson head-scratcher. Who knows? It's also factory for sure. The headstock finish phosphoresces exactly like the untouched headstock finish. So, the finish is all period. Pretty cool...

    I bet any black A2Z that surfaces went something like this. "Hey, I want a fancy black A." "Bob, go grab that A2Z with the pitch pocket/weird anomaly on the top and paint it black" Problem solved...

    The finish is period and original. It looks like any other of the piles of black mandolins I've seen (and owned) from the period. This has been around, for sure...

    Thanks for the input. I'm certainly not trying to make this into some kind of legendary mandolin. But, it is actually a documented black A2Z. And, that's cool. How it came to be, well that's the fun.

    Brian

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    Default Re: The dreaded black A2Z question. With a possible answer...

    “I see a pumpkin, and I want to paint it black”

    So sorry. I just couldn’t resist.
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    Default Re: The dreaded black A2Z question. With a possible answer...

    Quote Originally Posted by Bfisher690 View Post
    I always wonder if they did a natural A2Z and found a wood flaw and painted it black to hide it. That's my guess.
    That has always been my guess too, but I would think that flaw would have surfaced and that decision would have been made before the orange finish was applied.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bfisher690 View Post
    But, the top binding is white. So, A2Z features and label but white binding- Gibson! Maybe they wouldn't put black/white binding on a black instrument. Did they rebind it at the factory before shooting it black? Was it natural with white binding from the start?
    I would have to believe that #74791 is from the same FON (11991) and it has the extra body binding:

    http://www.mandolinarchive.com/gibson/serial/74791

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bfisher690 View Post
    I bet any black A2Z that surfaces went something like this. "Hey, I want a fancy black A." "Bob, go grab that A2Z with the pitch pocket/weird anomaly on the top and paint it black" Problem solved...
    I guess it’s possible that a black top was a demand-side issue in which a customer requested something particular, but my understanding is that Gibson reserved higher grade spruce (aesthetically speaking) for its A2-z’s and would be loath to cover it. Reading the tea leaves, I’d be more inclined to suspect that this mandolin was a supply-side event in which something happened between the completion of the instrument and shipment — a finish reaction? a physical scar? — that was more easily hidden with the black top.

    Cool instrument, regardless. I had looked at it many times, even linked to it in a recent post after which Charles listed it on hold. I wondered if I had played matchmaker but had no idea that the label would confirm my suspicions.

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...94#post1764794

    The closest I’ve come to a Black A2-z is the one I commissioned Mike to build for me.

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    It too has A2-z clearly inscribed on the label:

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    I guess we’re on the lookout for this one next!

    http://www.mandolinarchive.com/gibson/serial/79224
    Last edited by pheffernan; Apr-18-2020 at 12:53pm. Reason: added link
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    Default Re: The dreaded black A2Z question. With a possible answer...

    What do you experts think of this beauty? A2 (Z?) SN not readable FON 11999

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    Default Re: The dreaded black A2Z question. With a possible answer...

    Quote Originally Posted by yogiZ View Post
    What do you experts think of this beauty? A2 (Z?) SN not readable FON 11999
    That’s the same FON as #79224 that I linked above which is listed as simply a “Style A” on Mandolin Archive.
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    Default Re: The dreaded black A2Z question. With a possible answer...

    There are two 11999 FONs on the Archive. One is a blond A2-Z #79845 and the one you mentioned.

  13. #11

    Default Re: The dreaded black A2Z question. With a possible answer...

    Pheffernan, I totally agree. It could be very possible that an A2Z had a finish issue or a scratch and they covered it with black paint at the factory and moved it along. But, it looks liker there is another black one like mine with the white binding. So, it seems they at least did a few with solid white binding, which makes sense for a black guitar where you wouldn't see the multi color binding anyway. So, it's a mystery.

    It's like seeing a fiesta red Strat with a messed up sunburst underneath it in there wear spots. Typical but very cool. No one at the factory thought you'd wear through to the thing they were trying to cover up ; )

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    Default Re: The dreaded black A2Z question. With a possible answer...

    Quote Originally Posted by yogiZ View Post
    There are two 11999 FONs on the Archive. One is a blond A2-Z #79845 and the one you mentioned.
    I’m sorry if I was unclear. I’ve posted about #79224 previously as being one black Style A in a FON that otherwise seems comprised of A2-z’s. It would be interesting (to me anyway) if #79845 is another blacktop from the same batch.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bfisher690 View Post
    But, it looks liker there is another black one like mine with the white binding.
    Do you have a link for that one?
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  15. #13

    Default Re: The dreaded black A2Z question. With a possible answer...

    Oh, I was just referring to the link you posted of the A. That has the same features as mine, but who knows what that label says...

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    Default Re: The dreaded black A2Z question. With a possible answer...

    Quote Originally Posted by Bfisher690 View Post
    Oh, I was just referring to the link you posted of the A. That has the same features as mine, but who knows what that label says...
    It’s listed as a Style A, but it’s from a different FON and a later range of serial numbers.
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    Default Re: The dreaded black A2Z question. With a possible answer...

    Right. But maybe this happened through a range of batches. Maybe it was something Gibson did from time to time for a customer request or to two hide cosmetic issues...

    Maybe they got hip to the idea of the upcharge (not on the early ones) and put A2Z on a few (like mine) to charge more ; ) Who knows...

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    Default Re: The dreaded black A2Z question. With a possible answer...

    Quote Originally Posted by Bfisher690 View Post
    Right. But maybe this happened through a range of batches.
    I think that’s very possible and explains the range of blacktop instruments with A2-z characteristics (though yours is the first I’ve seen with A2-z on the label).

    Quote Originally Posted by Bfisher690 View Post
    Maybe it was something Gibson did from time to time for a customer request or to two hide cosmetic issues...
    I’m far more inclined to think the latter than the former.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bfisher690 View Post
    Maybe they got hip to the idea of the upcharge (not on the early ones) and put A2Z on a few (like mine) to charge more ; ) Who knows...
    My guess is that the blacktop would be a downcharge at the time, as it was associated with the “lesser” Style A (like mine) during that period.
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    Default Re: The dreaded black A2Z question. With a possible answer...

    All valid points. I am inclined towards the cosmetic cover, too ; )

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    Default Re: The dreaded black A2Z question. With a possible answer...

    My A2 has black lining on top which you can see where the black rubbed off
    Has black lining appeared on other mandos?

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    Registered User Dan Adams's Avatar
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    Default Re: The dreaded black A2Z question. With a possible answer...

    I remember in the 70s hearing that the black top models were a result of cosmetic flaws or wood inconsistencies? Im sure it falls in line with some of these current theories but whos going to strip off the finish to prove or disapprove the idea?

  22. #20

    Default Re: The dreaded black A2Z question. With a possible answer...

    Herr yogiZ. I have a blackface snakehead identical to the one you show (minus a few 'beauty marks'). The FON is 11999. The sn is 79212. According to Spann it was made in late 1923 "with a batch of A2Zs, and shipped in late 1925. Sold by Miles Music Store, a Gibson dealer in Knoxville TN. The label is clear , and it indicates Style A. Not A2, not A2Z. And yet it has the trim level of an A2Z, and sounds more like an A2Z than any simple A models that I have seen and played. The black is worn slightly on the bass side, and it has a natural or no finish underneath. What do you mean by "black lining on the top"?
    pheffernan notes that yours (and mine) are identical to sn 79224 in the Archives, and I agree with that.

  23. #21

    Default Re: The dreaded black A2Z question. With a possible answer...

    This all points in one direction for me. If you have an A2Z batch and something messes up the finish, you paint it black. In my case it got the A2Z designation, and in many cases they marked it an A (or A2?)...

    Seems fairly simple. Maybe if it was a wood flaw, you cover it in black with no other finish underneath. Maybe in the case of mine, a natural finish had an issue, and you shoot black over it like Fender did all the time. Maybe before that you rebind it with plain white binding like an A2...

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    Default Re: The dreaded black A2Z question. With a possible answer...

    The top has white binding all around, but on the spots where the black finish has gone you can see a black binding on the inner side of the white binding. Isn't typical for A2z and A3?

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    Epiphonist Masterbilt's Avatar
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    Default Re: The dreaded black A2Z question. With a possible answer...

    Quote Originally Posted by Bfisher690 View Post
    (...) Then, I looked at the label this morning (with my glasses finally on). Clear as day (a faded day): A2Z on the label with the serial number 74795. Now I remember hearing of another black a2z from this batch but never saw the label. (...)

    Brian
    Brian - wonderful looking mandolin! Question: What is the FON of your #74795? is it readable? (or did I miss it?)

    Felix

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    Default Re: The dreaded black A2Z question. With a possible answer...

    Quote Originally Posted by Masterbilt View Post
    Brian - wonderful looking mandolin! Question: What is the FON of your #74795? is it readable? (or did I miss it?)
    I guessed 11991 based on an A2-z in close proximity of serial numbers (#74791) on the Mandolin Archive.
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    Epiphonist Masterbilt's Avatar
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    Default Re: The dreaded black A2Z question. With a possible answer...

    Quote Originally Posted by pheffernan View Post
    I guessed 11991 based on an A2-z in close proximity of serial numbers (#74791) on the Mandolin Archive.
    I doubt it - because they have different style soundhole rings: Known examples with FON 11991 have two thin wooden soundhole rings, while #74795 has the wide ivoroid soundhole ring. From what I have seen, examples with the same FON have the same soundhole ring style.

    With A2-z models, serial numbers and FONs don't all line up chronologically.

    Felix

    P.S. Moreover, #74791 may possibly be a misquoted number - the same instrument is also in the Mandolin Archive as #74971 ! - see pic.
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