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Thread: Old Gibson Mandolin

  1. #1

    Default Old Gibson Mandolin

    I inherited a vintage mandolin from my Grandfather. I have been wondering what I can find out about it. After some hours of searching it is a Gibson A4, can't really tell what year and that's what's confusing me. I was hoping for some expertise here.

    There is a number stamped on the back of the headstock, 2388, the label inside I can barely see a 2388, very faded and there seems to be another letter/number in front, could be a 3 or 8.
    There is another number, 3256, printed on a block inside, at the top where the neck meets the body.
    I didn't want to get carried away with pictures and such unless someone wants more info.

    Here's the part that confuses me the most, the neck has a truss rod and the logos look odd...
    Any thoughts? Thanks in advance
    Click image for larger version. 

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  2. #2
    Registered User John Rosett's Avatar
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    Default Re: Old Gibson Mandolin

    That headstock does look odd. The inlay looks too crude, and Gibson never made any mandolins with the inlaid tuners and a truss rod. The more pictures, the better!
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  4. #3

    Default Re: Old Gibson Mandolin

    I will take and post some more pics. My theory is it's a early model and the neck was replaced with one from the 20's as I read the truss rod came into play around 1921. Maybe someone tried to copy the inlay.

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    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    Default Re: Old Gibson Mandolin

    If the serial number is stamped on the back of the headstock, that suggests a factory reneck from the early 1960s. That might explain the crude inlay too.

    Factory order number of 3256 suggests a build date of 1915. The serial number 2388 doesn't compute; serial numbers began in 1905 at 3400. There is probably a missing digit before or after the 2388.

    The neck might be new but the tuners are original. Or maybe someone got the bright idea to install a truss rod in the original neck, which might explain why the headplate was replaced.
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  7. #5

    Default Re: Old Gibson Mandolin

    Very interesting and thanks. I have a friend that worked for Taylor back in the day and then repaired guitars for many years. He seems to think the neck was replaced too. I think the serial number has a number in front..it looks like a 3 but the whole thing is very faded. I don't know if the pics are helpful but here's a few more.Click image for larger version. 

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  8. #6
    Registered User William Smith's Avatar
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    Default Re: Old Gibson Mandolin

    Yes I'd say it was re-necked in the 50's-60's? Am I blind as I see truss rod screws but no Cover? Is there a cover?

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  10. #7

    Default Re: Old Gibson Mandolin

    Yes, there is a cover. It does not show in that picture. I didn't really notice that until you pointed it out. But there is indeed a "flower" "tulip" shaped cover.
    It is most possible it was re-necked as Grandpa played it pretty hard in his barn dance blue grass days.

  11. #8
    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    Default Re: Old Gibson Mandolin

    yes, 32388 would make sense as a serial number, indicating a shipping date of late 1915.
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  13. #9
    Registered User Eric Platt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Old Gibson Mandolin

    Another vote for a re-neck and when it was done, they put the tuners on upside down. Looks like they now work in reverse.
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  14. #10
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    Default Re: Old Gibson Mandolin

    The tuners are correct for the mid 1910's. The neck is not. A 1910's A-4 would have left the factory with a dark center strip in the back of the neck and a black veneer on the back of the peg head. And yes, the tuners have been installed incorrectly. I can't tell for sure, but the neck itself does look like it came from the Gibson factory at some point.

    I have seen extremely sloppy inlay work from Gibson in some mid 1930's instruments, but the A-4 was out of production by then. Very sloppy inlay work can also be seen in 1970's Gibsons. But although I have seen another re-worked Gibson that had a sloppy fleur-de-lis that looked very similar to yours, I will not venture any firm opinion on the origin of the inlay.

    The most that I can say is that it is probably a c. 1915 A-4 with a non-original neck that appears to have been made by Gibson. For now, I will say that the peghead overlay might or might not be poor quality Gibson work from the mid 1930's.

    I might be able to say just a little more if I could see front and back pictures of the complete instrument.
    Last edited by rcc56; Nov-17-2021 at 4:32pm.

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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Old Gibson Mandolin

    I would guess the tuners are on upside down because the plates would have shown from the front if they were correctly oriented. The neck overlays look very much like a '32 F2 I sold that had been re-necked by Gibson in the 60's. The inlay is rough because it was probably hand cut by someone that hadn't done much of that. Is there actually a truss rod under the truss rod cover?
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    Default Re: Old Gibson Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeEdgerton View Post
    Is there actually a truss rod under the truss rod cover?

    I don't think so Mike, it looks like the screws are there, but no cover. No sign of a truss rod either.
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  18. #13
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    Default Re: Old Gibson Mandolin

    If you brighten your screen and blow up the first picture, you can see the truss rod cover, which is mounted upside-down.

  19. #14
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    Default Re: Old Gibson Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post
    If you brighten your screen and blow up the first picture, you can see the truss rod cover, which is mounted upside-down.
    I do see it when I do that, but it's still hard to see. So truss rod is most likely there.
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  20. #15

    Default Re: Old Gibson Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeEdgerton View Post
    I would guess the tuners are on upside down because the plates would have shown from the front if they were correctly oriented. The neck overlays look very much like a '32 F2 I sold that had been re-necked by Gibson in the 60's. The inlay is rough because it was probably hand cut by someone that hadn't done much of that. Is there actually a truss rod under the truss rod cover?
    There is a truss rod in it. A friend of mine that repairs guitars took the cover off and adjusted the neck as well as restrung it.
    As far as the tuners go, could them being installed wrong be the reason it won't stay in tune for long?

  21. #16

    Default Re: Old Gibson Mandolin

    Here's a couple of pics of the full instrument.
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  22. #17
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    Default Re: Old Gibson Mandolin

    Yep, mid 1910's body with original tuners, tailpiece, bridge, pickguard, clamp, and case. The finish looks like it may have been overcoated.
    The neck appears to be factory work from a much later period, indeed possibly from the 1960's or '70's.

    Try moving the tuners that are on the bass side to the treble side, and vice versa. It will probably be easier to tune because the knobs will then work in the familiar direction. There should be a top brace located directly behind the sound hole. Make sure that it is present and that it is not loose at either end. If it is loose or missing, it should be attended to immediately by someone who is highly experienced with early Gibson mandolins. It is best to use hot hide glue for such repairs. If the instrument is still difficult to tune, it may have to "warm up" like a flute, clarinet, or old violin. Let it acclimate to room conditions for a couple of minutes after you take it out of the case, then tune it, play for a few minutes, and tune it again.

    If it was mine, I might consider having someone like Dave Nichols make a new peg head overlay with a better looking logo and fleur-de-lis.
    Last edited by rcc56; Nov-18-2021 at 2:03am.

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  24. #18

    Default Re: Old Gibson Mandolin

    Thank you all for your info and suggestions. Getting some insight as to it's physical state and origin is priceless. I will see about moving the tuners and will have the brace looked at. It's a family heirloom so I will prolly leave it the way it is in regards to the logo and fleur...kinda cool in it's uniqueness.

  25. #19
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    Default Re: Old Gibson Mandolin

    If you’re going as far as having a new peg head overlay done, it would also be worth having the holes plugged and re-drilled so you can fit the tuners the right way round. As it stands, you have the worst of all worlds - a head drilled and sized for worm over tuners - therefore you only have two choices; i.e. keep the tuners that are in it or change them for a set of Golden Age “Restoration” tuners.

    Re-drilling would enable you to at least fit them the intended way round (worm-under) or fitted with the modern hole spacing giving you a wide choice of (worm-over) tuners. If you’re not bothered keeping the Handel tuners, selling them might go a good way to pay for the work!

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    Default Re: Old Gibson Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Ray(T) View Post
    If you’re going as far as having a new peg head overlay done, it would also be worth having the holes plugged and re-drilled so you can fit the tuners the right way round. As it stands, you have the worst of all worlds - a head drilled and sized for worm over tuners - therefore you only have two choices; i.e. keep the tuners that are in it or change them for a set of Golden Age “Restoration” tuners.

    Not quite true. When I replaced the tuners on my 22 decades ago there were no other tuners with the correct spacing. Since I didn't want to modify my mandolin, I modified the tuners. Since the difference is minimal, cutting the tuner plate at the center of the mounting screw holes will allow the spacing to easily fall in range while allowing the screws to still firmly secure the tuners to the mandolin. Mine has been that way for more than 20 years. Can't remember when I did it, but more than 20 years ago. Doing this allows you to use any tuner that you like, not just the Stumac. I don't mind modifying something new.
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    Default Re: Old Gibson Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by pops1 View Post
    Not quite true. When I replaced the tuners on my 22 decades ago there were no other tuners with the correct spacing. Since I didn't want to modify my mandolin, I modified the tuners. Since the difference is minimal, cutting the tuner plate at the center of the mounting screw holes will allow the spacing to easily fall in range while allowing the screws to still firmly secure the tuners to the mandolin. Mine has been that way for more than 20 years. Can't remember when I did it, but more than 20 years ago. Doing this allows you to use any tuner that you like, not just the Stumac. I don't mind modifying something new.
    Or you could simply take up the banjo! As I’ve said elsewhere, I’ve never really understood why single rarher than “on a strip” tuners never seem to have caught on. I have a Fylde with individual tuners. Not my favourite mandolin but it’s the easiest one to tune.

  30. #22
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Old Gibson Mandolin

    Definitely looks like a refinish or overspray on the front; 'way too shiny for the vintage and the condition of the back.

    Wouldn't modify the Handel tuners; very valuable, and probably a good "accident" that Gibson didn't put a new set on when the mandolin was re-necked -- if Gibson did it.
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  32. #23

    Default Re: Old Gibson Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by allenhopkins View Post
    Definitely looks like a refinish or overspray on the front; 'way too shiny for the vintage and the condition of the back.

    Wouldn't modify the Handel tuners; very valuable, and probably a good "accident" that Gibson didn't put a new set on when the mandolin was re-necked -- if Gibson did it.
    I have no idea if Gibson did the re-neck and unfortunately can't ask Gramps. I had no idea it had been done until I started researching the age of it and found it had a truss rod. I don't even know if it was like that when he bought it, I always assumed from convo with him that it was in the 30's. He lived in Minn. so I can see him sending it to Gibson to fix.

    As a family heirloom I will prolly just check out some of the suggestions and leave it as is, it's kinda cool the way it is and I am kind of an odd bird myself...so it fits me...

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  34. #24
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    Default Re: Old Gibson Mandolin

    What's most important as that she sounds good and plays comfortably.

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    Default Re: Old Gibson Mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by Ray(T) View Post
    Or you could simply take up the banjo! As I’ve said elsewhere, I’ve never really understood why single rarher than “on a strip” tuners never seem to have caught on. I have a Fylde with individual tuners. Not my favourite mandolin but it’s the easiest one to tune.
    I agree individual tuners would most likely work better, but I think they would be heavier. An f model mandolin has a headstock that is usually too heavy already. I also like the looks of the plate tuners. I have Rubner on my Brentrup and they work great.
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