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Thread: Why did Gibson return to Paddleheads after Snakeheads?

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    Default Why did Gibson return to Paddleheads after Snakeheads?

    There's a question I've never seen asked. I searched the archives here but couldn't find it - let me know if there's a link to a past discussion...

    Gibson Snakehead As from 1923-25 are highly regarded and valuable in today's market. I'm curious if anyone knows why Gibson returned to the paddlehead design after the departure of Lloyd Loar? Snakeheads use less material, looked balanced with The Gibson logo, etc. Anyone know why they went back to the earlier flared-out peghead design?

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    Default Re: Why did Gibson return to Paddleheads after Snakeheads?

    Quote Originally Posted by KCNelson View Post
    Gibson Snakehead As from 1923-25 are highly regarded and valuable in today's market. I'm curious if anyone knows why Gibson returned to the paddlehead design after the departure of Lloyd Loar? Snakeheads use less material, looked balanced with The Gibson logo, etc. Anyone know why they went back to the earlier flared-out peghead design?
    If you are willing to accept some inspired guesswork in lieu of definitive truth, I’d suspect two reasons:

    1) Gibson was using up old stock after the collapse of the mandolin craze, and there were probably old paddleheads lying around waiting to be used.

    2) While snakeheads are “highly regarded and valuable in today’s market” as you note, such regard and value were not held in that time period but only developed subsequently.
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    Default Re: Why did Gibson return to Paddleheads after Snakeheads?

    Is there a mechanical reason that snakeheads would be better or worse? That is, on the snakeheads, there’s less of a sideways single after the nut slots on the strings. Does that impact tuning or stress on the peg head in some way?

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    Default Re: Why did Gibson return to Paddleheads after Snakeheads?

    Quote Originally Posted by pheffernan View Post
    2) While snakeheads are “highly regarded and valuable in today’s market” as you note, such regard and value were not held in that time period but only developed subsequently.
    I think this can't be ignored. What we prize and value today may be no part of how people valued things back then. The aesthetics have entirely changed.
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    Default Re: Why did Gibson return to Paddleheads after Snakeheads?

    Quote Originally Posted by Sam Schillace View Post
    Is there a mechanical reason that snakeheads would be better or worse? That is, on the snakeheads, there’s less of a sideways single after the nut slots on the strings. Does that impact tuning or stress on the peg head in some way?
    Some believe so. I just think that the snakehead is an easy visual cue for all of the other “advancements” (e.g. adjustable bridge, adjustable truss rod, more narrow neck profile, etc.) associated with ovals from that era.
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    Default Re: Why did Gibson return to Paddleheads after Snakeheads?

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    I think this can't be ignored. What we prize and value today may be no part of how people valued things back then. The aesthetics have entirely changed.
    Aesthetics don’t change but fashion does.

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    Default Re: Why did Gibson return to Paddleheads after Snakeheads?

    Quote Originally Posted by pheffernan View Post
    1) Gibson was using up old stock after the collapse of the mandolin craze, and there were probably old paddleheads lying around waiting to be used.
    That may have been true at first, but I seriously doubt they had 4-5 years' worth of stock on hand.

    I did a little spelunking in the Cavern of Confusion - ie, Gibson history - because I was curious about the exact Span of Snakehead and what models were affected. This report is by no means precise nor comprehensive, but it's in the ballpark, I reckon. My source is http://www.guitarhq.com/gibson8.html which has some gaps. But this may help narrow down the "what," if not explain the "why."

    If people have more expert knowledge, please correct this. Indeed, it would be better to copy the whole list, insert the corrections, and repost, so there's a complete, correct list for easy reference. Just the list, please. Thank you.

    There's a tradition here, that people use to excuse the unexplainable. It involves the shrugging of the shoulders, perhaps the rolling of the eyes, and uttering the phrase, "it's Key West." As if that is somehow supposed to explain ... anything. The mandolin equivalent seems to me to be, "It's Gibson."

    If I'm reading this right, The Snakehead Era ran from 1923 - 1927-1928. Even so, the Mandolin Archives displays some paddlehead mandolins from 1926, even 1925.

    1923 A: Snakehead peghead.
    1928 A: Standard peghead.
    A model discontinued 1933.

    1923 A Jr.: Snakehead peghead
    A Jr. replaced by the A-0 in 1927.
    A-0 discontinued 1934.

    1923 A-1: Snakehead peghead.
    A-1 discontinued 1927.
    1933 A-1 Re-introduction: standard peghead shape
    A-1 discontinued 1943.

    1923 A2-Z: Snakehead peghead.
    1927 A-2: Renamed back to A-2.
    A-2 discontinued 1928.

    1923 A-4: Snakehead peghead.
    1928 A-4: Straight "The Gibson" peghead logo [sic: logo, not shape]
    A-4 discontinued 1935.

    1923-1927 H-1, K-1: No peghead change (no snakehead shape).
    H-1 discontinued 1936. K-1 discontinued 1943

    A-3, H-2, K-2 discontinued 1922, unaffected by change.

    Note: This doesn't specify whether the A-0, A-2, and A-4 returned to the standard peghead (paddlehead). I don't see why they wouldn't.
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    Default Re: Why did Gibson return to Paddleheads after Snakeheads?

    Quote Originally Posted by journeybear View Post
    That may have been true at first, but I seriously doubt they had 4-5 years' worth of stock on hand.
    How many oval hole mandolins would you estimate that they sold during those 4-5 years?
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    Question Re: Why did Gibson return to Paddleheads after Snakeheads?

    Why (?) Would have to come from the Company , not the Spectators in the Bleachers .
    the question is often asked of those not making the decision ..

    But back to your various opinions .. Why is there Fashion ?
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    Default Re: Why did Gibson return to Paddleheads after Snakeheads?

    Quote Originally Posted by pheffernan View Post
    How many oval hole mandolins would you estimate that they sold during those 4-5 years?
    Hundreds. Maybe a thousand, maybe two thousand. Do you know? Then share your information. We're trying to answer a question here, not start an argument.
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    Default Re: Why did Gibson return to Paddleheads after Snakeheads?

    We do know a few things.

    We know that mandolin sales went way down in the 1920's. Spann's book provides actual production totals for 1925 through 1928. The number per year varies from 1194 to 1372 during those years. We also know that yearly production of all instruments from 1911 to 1919 varied from a low of 3100 in 1911 to a high of 6780 in 1919, and that the majority of instruments built during those years were mandolins.

    Production totals of all instruments dropped to 4000 to 5000 during the early 1920's, and with mandolins decreasing in popularity and banjos increasing. Then, by 1930, banjo sales were fading and guitars were becoming more popular.

    Gibson didn't build mandolins in large numbers after the 1920's until they acquired Flatiron in 1987.

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    Default Re: Why did Gibson return to Paddleheads after Snakeheads?

    Thanks for that. I was looking for an online version of Spann's or a pdf in order to formulate a more accurate estimate. There are some 300-400 A models in the Archive dating from this period, but of course that represents a fraction of total production. How large a fraction would be another estimate. Does Spann break it down by model numbers?

    As mandroid pointed out, it would take an insider from the time period to tell the real reason why. And that's not only why did they change in the first place, but then why did they change it back. My guess is they changed in the first place to a peghead that looked sleeker, less stodgy. I've seen it suggested that the string angle was better, and perhaps so, though I don't think by all that much. Perhaps they changed it back because they saw sales slipping, and decided to revert to the old familiar shape. They couldn't have known that the stock market crash was looming, and the boom years of the 20's were going to come to a screeching halt. And whatever they did, sales were about to plummet.
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    Default Re: Why did Gibson return to Paddleheads after Snakeheads?

    Quote Originally Posted by journeybear View Post
    Hundreds. Maybe a thousand, maybe two thousand. Do you know? Then share your information. We're trying to answer a question here, not start an argument.
    I’m not trying to start an argument. I made a statement, you expressed doubt, and I asked a question. It seems to me that it’s incumbent upon you to produce numbers.

    My understanding is that the mandolin craze was dying and that new management was hired with a directive to be more profitable, so the decision was made to use up the existing stock of parts.
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    Default Re: Why did Gibson return to Paddleheads after Snakeheads?

    I'd always assumed -- 100% guessing, but it seemed "obvious" to me (which doesn't mean it actually is obvious) -- that the paddle heads look more like the headstocks on the guitars, and somebody just decided for marketing reasons it made more sense for the mandolins to go back to resembling the guitars etc. Or, from a different perspective, to settle on "a look" as opposed to two looks. I've always preferred the snakeheads personally but the left hemisphere of my brain would have to fabricate a rationale why, and I've already fabricated one in this response.
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    Default Re: Why did Gibson return to Paddleheads after Snakeheads?

    Quote Originally Posted by pheffernan View Post
    I’m not trying to start an argument. I made a statement, you expressed doubt, and I asked a question. It seems to me that it’s incumbent upon you to produce numbers.
    And I did, sir, provide you with some numbers, derived from doing some research using the best of my limited resources. As I later stated, these are estimates. And I asked you if you have some information to back your assertion. Still waiting on that.

    Meanwhile, rcc56 provided us with some better-sourced information, for which I am grateful, even though they show my estimates to be low. Even so, it strikes me that it is not good business to get very far out ahead in terms of inventory, especially when sales are decreasing so rapidly. Going from 6780 in 1919 to the 1200-1300 range in six years is pretty dramatic. They would have had to slow down production to follow the trend. Yes, they would have had some overstock on hand. Thousands? It doesn't seem likely. Indeed, isn't it more likely they would have fashioned whatever they had on hand into the new shape headstock? It seems to me that would have been the most efficient use of their resources, in a cost-cutting, belt-tightening business climate. (Builders and repair people may know whether this was done. But it seems logical to this layman.)

    From what I've read around here, Gibson has had a rather haphazard history, in many aspects, but relevant here, their record keeping. For instance, I couldn't very well have taken a late snakehead's serial number and subtracted from it an early snakehead's serial number, and assumed that would represent the cumulative amount of production during that period. That said, I'm impressed to see that Spann determined what I assume are reliable production figures. I may have to break down (or is it step up?) and buy a copy; it depends on how long I sustain my interest. I'm just trying to figure out something, in answering a fellow member's inquiry, as it piqued my curiosity. And I'm doing what I can to provide some input into determining this answer. So I hope you'll indulge my efforts in this regard. That is, if you are willing to accept some inspired guesswork in lieu of definitive truth.

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Romkey View Post
    I'd always assumed -- 100% guessing, but it seemed "obvious" to me (which doesn't mean it actually is obvious) -- that the paddle heads look more like the headstocks on the guitars, and somebody just decided for marketing reasons it made more sense for the mandolins to go back to resembling the guitars etc. Or, from a different perspective, to settle on "a look" as opposed to two looks. I've always preferred the snakeheads personally but the left hemisphere of my brain would have to fabricate a rationale why, and I've already fabricated one in this response.
    This is more or less in line with what I said in Post #12 - they went back to the earlier shape as it was more familiar to customers, hoping to stem the dropping sales. Personally, I prefer the paddlehead look. Maybe that's because that's all I've ever owned. I think the snakehead is just a bit narrow, and squashes the logo somewhat. I admit my attitude may well change if I ever get to play one. Though it may well be that there will be other aspects of such an instrument that will be more likely to change my mind. The bottom line, though, is the sound, not the look, and that's what keeps me coming back to the instruments I own, these mid-to-late-teens oval holes.

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    Default Re: Why did Gibson return to Paddleheads after Snakeheads?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ray(T) View Post
    Aesthetics don’t change but fashion does.
    Well.... throughout history there have been many philosophers who have tackled different theories of beauty.

    But I know what you mean.
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    Default Re: Why did Gibson return to Paddleheads after Snakeheads?

    Someone once defined fashion as being something you wouldn't be caught dead wearing next year. (Probably not a philosopher.)
    But that's just my opinion. I could be wrong. - Dennis Miller

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    Default Re: Why did Gibson return to Paddleheads after Snakeheads?

    When I bought my snakehead, I had know real knowledge of the history of anything. I really lucked out. But the purchase was based on what I was attracted to at the time.

    The F style peghead looked to me like a silhouette of a big nosed guy with a cowlick. And so arbitrary a design.

    The paddle head just looked too wide for the instrument.

    Pure luck. That day I purchased a 1923 A-2 snakehead with tons of that thick creamer Gibsonesque tone, that I love to this day.
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    Default Re: Why did Gibson return to Paddleheads after Snakeheads?

    Journeybear, Spann does not break it down by model, but he does break it down by type of instruments.

    You won't find his info on a website or pdf, it's copyrighted; and his work represents several years worth of research. If you're that interested in Gibson, you should buy the book. It's loaded with information, and he worked long and hard on it and deserves the royalty.

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    Default Re: Why did Gibson return to Paddleheads after Snakeheads?

    Thanks for that. I agree with you - he certainly did yeoman's work researching, sorting, and compiling what must have been a daunting amount of material, and deserves compensation for his efforts. I meant no disrespect by mentioning an online or pdf version; I've recently found some amazing works this way over the last year or so, some of which were astonishing. I did see a few sites offering a pdf of the guide, as part of an offer of a free trial membership of varying lengths. I don't trust such outfits with my credit card info.

    In any event, my motive for engaging in this analysis was to provide data that might have shed some light on the original question in the hopes of finding an answer. We're really not that much closer to achieving that, sad to say. It may take input from someone who worked at Gibson, as surely stories about the old days abounded.
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    Default Re: Why did Gibson return to Paddleheads after Snakeheads?

    Quote Originally Posted by journeybear View Post
    And I asked you if you have some information to back your assertion. Still waiting on that.
    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...is#post1708021

    Quote Originally Posted by Darryl Wolfe View Post
    I am not going to argue the origin or validity of any serial number list. BUT, one thing us old timers now have to realize is that the sequence was not linear. The numbers between say 1912 and 1920 were reasonably linear as Gibson made instruments by the thousands that had not sold yet

    This all changed during and after 1923. Walters great book points out management changes and inherent business model methodologies that essentially prevented bankruptcy


    With this in mind, not some of us old timers are forced to realize that things changed. When Loar left the building in late '24, instruments did change overnight to lacquer finishes with gold part and white binding, and Loar did not break the molds resulting in different shapes to F5 mandolin tops.


    Gibson apparently spent several years using up pre-carved stuff to reduce overhead and survive. They used up things to save money and made hardly anything from scratch. So, most anything we attribute to 1925 and 1926 is likely later, especially if it looks different than 1924

    Additionally, Joe Spanns work bring much into focus. He and I agree on 98% of things except for this short period about 1925-1927. Joe maintains that serial number were assigned during the shipping phase and that FON's are the key to when it was made. I agree on this, but only with respect to instrument made after this odd period in time

    I maintain that serial numbers were already pre-assigned to closed up bodies, just like Martin did. With that in mind, it took Gibson years to need to make another F5 or many other low volume instruments from scratch.


    So, in closing, it's an enigma, but it took several years for the radical changes we see from what we thought was 1925-1927 to take place
    Quote Originally Posted by Darryl Wolfe View Post
    I agree with everything Walter Carter posted Several others here have made good points also.

    I would like to touch something that was also posted and relay my thoughts. Here is my theory, and evidence supports it. Try to draw a mental picture

    There is some sort of carbon copy tablet with pre-printed numbers in a corner. Just like an old school check register or purchase order tablet.

    --Somebody in a suit tells the shop foreman that we a run of 12 F5 mandolins
    --The next set of carbon pages in that book is numbered 11985
    --The foreman fill out the pertinent quantity and style information with any specific notes and distributes say two carbon copies to the work force via section supervisors or head carver etc.
    --The foreman retains the original
    --The 11985 FON number is stamped on parts as the are produced in order to keep things straight. The paper copy may even be taped to a cart with the parts in it
    --Now as the instruments become a single homogenous entity (an asset), with a neck in it, the serial numbers are assigned and written in the instrument by hand. Those serial numbers are also written on the original held by the foreman. No label is in the instrument

    --Now here is the catch. They really only need 8 F5's. And they know there are going to be bad parts and a few mishaps in construction. So 2 of them do not get bound and finished, and 2 others have a flaw and not assembled completely, and hence did not get a serial number. The 8 proceed through binding and finishing and are shipped with same FON and consecutive serial numbers

    --The other 2 are bound and shipped to meet another order and retain the FON and the consecutive serial number, but they look a bit different

    --The other 2 are finished years later with a different FON and a different serial number, but man, that thing has every carving nuance of a Loar and becomes Bobby Osbornes fern

    This seems to be the way Gibson did things up until some critical point in 1924 or 25 (maybe). This coincides with Walters information about significant layoffs, looming bankruptcy, management changes and the departure of Lloyd

    At this critical point, they quit carving new parts and use up all those leftovers from decades of crap laying on shelves to avoid going bankrupt.
    They build only as necessary and not on speculative sales. They invented new models to use said parts also (tenor lute, A2z)

    They fixed and repaired instruments with flaws.

    This is how Virzis got into early 23 Loars, gold parts got on a Jul 23 Loar, overspray was used to quick shine a shop handled instrument and worm over tuners got onto certain instruments seemingly too early

    And then and only then did serial numbers start making their way into the instrument closer to the ship date as Spann says. This was the change in business model

    Back to that original FON tablet. That sheet became a record of what was built, where the parts went and was used to back engineer what it cost them to build what. There is specific evidence that Gibson tracked every penny to establish prices

    That's my story, and I'm sticking to it
    Quote Originally Posted by walter carter View Post
    Lewis Williams, the g.m. who was a founding partner and the man who brought Loar in, was a music teacher and an evangelical salesman. Guy Hart, who became g.m.after Williams (and after an interim manager who left within a year), was an accountant. That's probably all that needs to be said to explain changes in Gibson's business practices. But to elaborate a little, Williams' grand plan - a new line of mandolins as well as a new line of banjos designed by Loar - had failed. I'm not sure that Hart had a plan - certainly not a grand one - other than to keep a closer eye on the bottom line. Gibson's business and production practices had to change. I think Darryl's date is right on the money.
    Quote Originally Posted by Hendrik Ahrend View Post
    This would make make sense, if Gibson started building instruments and left them on the shelves in various stages of completion. And in the case of the A2-z it would make extra sense, since it has been argued that the A2-z bodies started out as A3s, which were equipped with slender necks with snake heads.
    On the other hand, Spann, in the chapter on Back Inventory (pg. 189), mentions: "multiple eye witness accounts indicate that this practice resulted in "extra" instruments, which were kept in stock at the factory, sometimes for many years." And, "when an order reached the factory floor (...) the order would be slightly "overbuilt", which resulted in "hundreds of completed instruments of all types and models sitting around in the racks", according to a witness who worked there in 1938-40. Nowhere it says "instrument parts".

    Now, in October 1923, when Gibson faced a real financial disaster, Harry Ferris started working for Gibson and - according to Walter Carter - put an end to over production, as so much cash was tied up in those instruments in the racks. Apparently Ferris introduced production budgeting, older parts were used up &c. (At least for the time being, in the light the a. m. 1938 account.) Back in October '23 the shelves apparently were full of overbuilt complete instruments.
    Quote Originally Posted by walter carter View Post
    We know from Ferris's report to Gibson's board of manager in 1924 (just before he was fired) that he was able to increase sales and profits. It's a reasonable assumption - but an assumption nevertheless - to say anything specific about how he accomplished that. What I wrote (in Gibson: 100 Years of an American Icon) was that in a statement to stockholders a week after Ferris was hired, he said "There has been no coordination between and seemingly no understanding of the relation between production, sales and financing." In his only annual report to the stockholders, dated Feb. 15, 1924, he laid out plans that included: "Follow a production budget with a carefully planned schedule of purchases in order to maintain uninterrupted production." He also planned to increase efficiency by reorganizing the production management team and by firing inefficient workers.

    I think this further reinforces the general conclusion that we all seem to be heading to - that a change in the sales/ordering/production process occurred in and around 1924. To answer Jeff's question, I think the heart of the discussion is that we're looking for a window into Gibson production processes so we can figure out exactly when these mandolins were made.
    Quote Originally Posted by William Smith View Post
    I agree parts, partials, complete instruments were laying around or you wouldn't get the #'s thing like your very nice comparative# chart above, and by other #'s we've seen? Look at the new found F-5 that I passed on buying and sent to CJ #85202 FON#9411, its an early 27? shipped in 29? Well in the same batch of only 6 known thus far, #90476 has the same FON# but shipped in 1934 and is a short Fern with the Block inlays. That's what well over 400 instruments later.
    Quote Originally Posted by MikeEdgerton View Post
    Yup. I think that people lose site of the fact that Gibson was a manufacturing business first. What they did wasn't any different than any other business, they tried to be profitable. Look at the Gibson second lines from the early 30's and you realize they were pretty much sweeping the floor and using any parts they had to build those instrument. You'd see 20's era bridges on 30's guitars. This wasn't magic, it was logic. Darryl's explanation makes perfect sense in that context.
    Quote Originally Posted by Timbofood View Post
    I totally agree, the need for meeting production numbers and so on. It was a factory, they had to make money. Use what is there, make profit margin, minimize waste.
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  27. #22
    Professional Dreamer journeybear's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why did Gibson return to Paddleheads after Snakeheads?

    Well, thank you for that! I wish you'd offered it sooner, would have kept things cooler around here. I'm astonished they had that much in extra parts just - what, collecting dust? - doesn't make sense to get so far overextended. But I guess if sales are going gangbusters, as they were in the teens, the thing to do is keep producing to keep up with sales predictions. We still don't have numbers, beyond sales of finished instruments, but what you've provided, while anecdotal, is compelling. Thank you.

    But this raises another issue which I find troubling. Since this pertains to what was going on during the Lloyd Loar era, which produced the most-sought-after instruments, presumably the highest quality ... What exactly sets these instruments apart, puts them on such a higher level, if they have been assembled from sundry parts? Is it the craftsmanship involved in producing the finished products, or the quality control, or what? Is it just cachet, name recognition? I'm baffled. I prefer to believe these instruments actually are better, even the best, but is that really true?
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  29. #23
    That guy playing mandolin
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    Default Re: Why did Gibson return to Paddleheads after Snakeheads?

    Clearly if someone really wanted to create a proper Lloyd Loar copy, they'd need to get distracted workers, tools and supplies of varying quality, and as ecclectic a work environment as possible. Sort of reminds me of this comic about computer programming.
    In seriousness, maybe the aspect of mandolin design that set them apart was some ephemeral principle, some consistent habit or common practice that isn't just standard shop procedure today. It may be that it wasn't the exact thickness and curve of the top or the qualities of the finish that made the Loars so unique, but some unknown target that they were aiming for or goal they sought to achieve in building. Or, Bill Monroe played a Loar and so that's now what sounds best because quality, as all things in humanity, is based off of comparison and norms.

  30. #24
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    Default Re: Why did Gibson return to Paddleheads after Snakeheads?

    Perhaps the template for the snakehead pegheads was damaged, broken, or lost, and they went back to using the paddlehead template.
    Or maybe some exec just didn't like the look of the snakehead.

    I often get amused how serious people get and how much they argue about narrowing an instrument down to an exact year. When I got my first old instrument in 1980, a '46 Martin 00-18 guitar, all we cared about was whether an instrument sounded good and could be set up with reasonable action. The guitar cost me $750 and had a nicely re-finished back.

    At that time, nobody cared that the back had been redone, and it didn't have any effect on its market value. When I bought the guitar, the seller had three 00-18's in stock: the '46, a '52, and a '54; and they were priced within $50 of each other. I bought the '46 because it had just a little bit extra zing in the upper register. Otherwise, the instruments were nearly identical in tone and projection.

    The market has become picky and obsessive to the point of insanity. It was more fun in the old days.

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  32. #25
    Registered User lowtone2's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why did Gibson return to Paddleheads after Snakeheads?

    I doubt that more than a handful of people even gave those peghead shapes a thought prior to Andy Statman and his beautiful A2. That one had mojo. Mojo from Gibson is always an accident.

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