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Thread: Where do the names F-style and A-style actually come from?

  1. #1
    Registered User TonyEarth's Avatar
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    Default Where do the names F-style and A-style actually come from?

    I've been playing a solid 11 years or something, so I feel a bit silly asking.

    In my head I tell myself that if I squint hard enough I can roughly see the shape of the letter A or F (this one less so) in the instrument, but... that can't be right... right?
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    Default Re: Where do the names F-style and A-style actually come from?

    The designations A and F for mandolins were first introduced in Gibson's first [?] catalog in 1902. Also introduced in the same catalog were the designations H, K, L, and O for mandolas, mandocellos, and 2 lines of carved top guitars.

    Why they chose those particular letters, I do not know.
    Conventional wisdom is that the F designation was derived from "Florentine," but there has been some recent debate about that idea.

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    Professional Dreamer journeybear's Avatar
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    Default Re: Where do the names F-style and A-style actually come from?

    I've heard or seen a rumor to the effect that "F" stands for "fussy" and A for "awright awright awright!"

    I've no idea if that's true, and the latter seems anachronistic, but that's how rumors are ...

    Post # 2 says about the whole story, AFAIK. But look for this thread to top 100 posts anyway.
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    Likes quaint instruments poul hansen's Avatar
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    Default Re: Where do the names F-style and A-style actually come from?

    ..
    Last edited by poul hansen; Jan-18-2022 at 7:27am.
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    Registered User Dave Hicks's Avatar
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    Default Re: Where do the names F-style and A-style actually come from?

    Short for fiduciary and ambulatory.

    D.H.

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Where do the names F-style and A-style actually come from?

    Quote Originally Posted by poul hansen View Post
    Could the F be half of an F key. That's was I was always told was the name of the soundholes on a jazzguitar?
    And A the body shape?
    Attachment 198860
    huh? Gibson mandolins were branded F and A early on way before there ever existed jazz guitars with f-holes and besides they all had oval holes until the advent of the F-5. I am not sure if Orville called them those letters or not. I think probably not.
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    Default Re: Where do the names F-style and A-style actually come from?

    Lost to time, it seems. Might have been interesting, like Frank Baum finding Oz on the lower drawer of the filing cabinet.

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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Where do the names F-style and A-style actually come from?

    I think that A stood for A and F stood for F. It wasn't until Gibson got into the banjo manufacturing that they had any letters that meant anything other than a model designation. RB, TB, GB, MB, etc. actually had a name associated with the letters. If you can explain to me why U = Harp Guitar I might consider changing my mind
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: Where do the names F-style and A-style actually come from?

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeEdgerton View Post
    I think that A stood for A and F stood for F. It wasn't until Gibson got into the banjo manufacturing that they had any letters that meant anything other than a model designation. RB, TB, GB, MB, etc. actually had a name associated with the letters. If you can explain to me why U = Harp Guitar I might consider changing my mind
    I suppose a capital "U" sort of looks like the frame of a lyre, and a lyre is sort of like a harp, so there you go!

    Makes about as much sense as any other explanation. 🤷🏻
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    Default Re: Where do the names F-style and A-style actually come from?

    Nomenclature for the lay-audience:

    A = A little guitar thingie

    F = Fancy little guitar thingie

    U = Uh, ya the weird looking guitar thingie
    Randal Scott

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    Default Re: Where do the names F-style and A-style actually come from?

    It might be baloney, but I was told years ago that A was for artist and F was for Florentine.

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    Default Re: Where do the names F-style and A-style actually come from?

    I always thought it was called an F because of the F-holes, and an A for similar reasons.

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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Where do the names F-style and A-style actually come from?

    Quote Originally Posted by rickbella View Post
    It might be baloney, but I was told years ago that A was for artist and F was for Florentine.
    You were told wrong. There's nothing to support that in any Gibson documentation. Up until the electric guitar age the only thing that was ever labeled Florentine was a banjo with scenes from Venice on the fretboard.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Where do the names F-style and A-style actually come from?

    I figured that if Orville's first model was designated the A style and eventually he got to the F style, what happened to B, C, D, and E? If in fact that was how this came to be and there is nothing to support that either, then I would suspect that in Orville's world pre the founding of the company that bears his name that he had virtually nothing to do with or control over that this might have had a letter.
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    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Where do the names F-style and A-style actually come from?

    Orville thought enough of it to feature it on his label as did Gibson but the company apparently never made one
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    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: Where do the names F-style and A-style actually come from?

    The word dreadnought points to a type of battleship.....orchestral model????
    Sorry, I am no longer suffering fools

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    Default Re: Where do the names F-style and A-style actually come from?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandobar View Post
    The word dreadnought points to a type of battleship.....orchestral model????
    Those are late comers.

    I thought Martin designated the Dreadnought and I think that was a nickname for a design they built for Ditson. Gibson built them later. There's a list here someplace of all the Gibson designations but there is one common Gibson related designation that nobody has ever been able to identify. What was Orville's middle name? He always listed it as as Orville H. Gibson but thus far I've never seen any documentation of what it stood for.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  24. #18

    Default Re: Where do the names F-style and A-style actually come from?

    I'm just saying, Mike, it's really anyone's game as to what those designations stand for. Although, look at the shapes. A style looks like a triangle, and an F looks a bit like an F style....just saying...could be....could all be math here folks
    Sorry, I am no longer suffering fools

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    Professional Dreamer journeybear's Avatar
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    Default Re: Where do the names F-style and A-style actually come from?

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeEdgerton View Post
    What was Orville's middle name? He always listed it as Orville H. Gibson but thus far I've never seen any documentation of what it stood for.
    Oh, now! Everyone knows (or should) it stood for "Mandola."

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandobar View Post
    The word dreadnought points to a type of battleship.....orchestral model????
    Somehow, recently, I ended up looking through C.F. Martin's and the company's history, having stumbled onto a fascinating in-depth article about it. In there was an explanation of the term "dreadnought," which was named for a class of World War I–era British battleships, “Dreadnought.” If I can find that article again, I'll post the link.

    OK, here it is. The dreadnought story begins on page 10, the history on page 11. BTW, the whole article is a great read, plenty of information on Martin history. More than you'll ever need or want.

    BTW, I've tracked down the designation for the mandolin-lyre.
    Click image for larger version. 

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    Last edited by journeybear; Jan-18-2022 at 1:08pm. Reason: just one more thing ...
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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: Where do the names F-style and A-style actually come from?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandobar View Post
    I'm just saying, Mike, it's really anyone's game as to what those designations stand for. Although, look at the shapes. A style looks like a triangle, and an F looks a bit like an F style....just saying...could be....could all be math here folks
    Perhaps we are looking for the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I do think it was about the math for Orville though. I do assume (again with no proof) that it was his first design, second design, all the way to his 6th design were designated by letters. Again just an assumption. That sense of order died after the company was established. At least he didn't do it like Henry Ford. His Model T was immediately followed by the Model A and B. Martin on the other hand with their designation based on trim level and price was able to adapt for a while. If there were names for Orville's designs there is no true documentation.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: Where do the names F-style and A-style actually come from?

    The earliest application of the term "Artist" model was applied to the F style mandolins. There is no reference to the word "Florentine" in the 1903 catalog.

    Gibson was a corporate venture almost from the very beginning. It was not very different from any other factory with a front office, management and sales people, and skilled and unskilled laborers with work stations who did the same job operation over and over again. Orville signed over the rights to the business in October, 1902, and by the end of 1903, was out of the company except for a pension.

    The choice of model names was probably a front office corporate decision for reasons that can't be determined. It is very possible that Orville was not involved. It might have been the first letters of the names of children, pets, or favored girlfriends of whoever was making marketing decisions.

    Anyone who is interested in Gibson's early catalogs can go here: http://www.acousticmusic.org/researc...ation/catalogs

    Lots of stuff there-- Gibson, Martin, Vega, etc.
    Last edited by rcc56; Jan-18-2022 at 2:56pm.

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    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Question Re: Where do the names F-style and A-style actually come from?

    Florentine? 'Almondine'?
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    Default Re: Where do the names F-style and A-style actually come from?

    Annie? Flora?

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    Default Re: Where do the names F-style and A-style actually come from?

    Oh, for God's sake -- this again?

    The letter prefixes were manufacturing/marketing designations, not "standing for" anything, as far as anyone knows. When the shapes of Gibson "A" and "F" model mandolins became templates for mandolins by other manufacturers, there arose much speculation among mandolinists as to why Gibson used those prefixes: musta stood for somethin', right?

    In the early Gibson world, guitars were "L," mandolas were "H," mandocelli "K," mando-basses "J," harp-guitars "U." When they started making banjos, they used more descriptive prefixes: "TB" for tenor banjo, "RB" for "regular" (5-string) banjo, "GB" for guitar-banjo, "MB" mandolin-banjo. The tenor lute did get a "TL" prefix.

    The suffix numbers also lost their original significance, which was the higher the number, the fancier and more expensive the instrument. The A-1 was fancier than the plain A, the A-3 and A-4 fancier still. Same for the F-2, F-4, and F-5 -- but then came the F-7 and the F-12, which were less fancy and expensive than the F-5. The rule of thumb, the higher the number the better the model, also applied -- but not consistently -- to Gibson banjos and guitars.

    The only mandolin Gibson called "Florentine," as far as I have seen, was the EM-200 (yes, "EM" for "electric mandolin"), a solid-body, two-point, F-style headstock model introduced in the 1950's. What was "Florentine" about it isn't clear. It does have a bit of hommage to F-model Gibson mandolins in the shape of its headstock -- Gibson put a similar headstock on their A-5's made about the same era -- but no scroll, no points, much different body silhouette.

    Whoever assigned the letter prefixes to Gibson product lines at the beginning of the last century, would surely be surprised that, ±120 years later, we're trying to read his mind and decide why he called some mandolins "A" and some "F." Probably he'd say "I dunno, we just needed to call 'em somethin'."

    On a distantly-related subject, sharp-pointed guitar body cutaways are generally called "Florentine," the more squared-off ones "Venetian." Not sure why.
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    Default Re: Where do the names F-style and A-style actually come from?

    Allen, what took you so long?

    I knew you'd come through.

    I finally found this. The late Paul Hostetter's possible explanation for why U = Harp Guitar.
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    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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