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Thread: Flatiron Signature Series F5 Master Model

  1. #1
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    Out of all the Flatiron Mandolins, before and after Gibson came calling, the one model that is rather elusive is the Flatiron Signiture Series F5 Master...I have always been interested in knowing just how many there are out there, that were made, Paula Jean Lewis said on a long ago post she thought "several dozen" but had no real idea just how many were made...
    This particular mandolin was Flatiron's highest model, with all the bells and whistles, 3-color abalone inlay, gold-plating, pearl tuner knobs and nut, best wood selection, large frets, triple binding, x-bracing, radiused fretboard, and so forth...

    If you have one, please reply, it would be interesting to see how many can be accounted for...please add the serial number if you don't mind and any other features your particular one may, or may not have...(THANKS goes to Ken Burner for this idea!!!)

    I'll start:

    Flatiron F5 Master, s.n. 95031134, signed by Bruce D. Weber, "Handmade in Bozeman Montana USA" label.

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    Registered User pickinNgrinnin's Avatar
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    Mass Street Music has one and you can see it on their website. It's been there for some time now. I was there a couple of weeks ago but it was being refretted at the time.

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    Registered User Ken Berner's Avatar
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    Joe, You might contact Stan Jay of Mandolin Bros. about his personal Flatiron F5 Master Model. It seems that Mass. St. Music has had a lock on these Flatirons lately. The 1990 pair (A and F) they had last year were one-owner and signed by Dennis Balian and have been purchased. They sold s/n 96011396 Weber-signed, and the F they have now is a 1991. This seems like more activity than you'd expect in a decade. The only other owners I know of are Dave Woodham (a '93) and Bill Van Liere (I've lost contact with both). I wish I could be of more assistance, but will continue to keep an eye out!

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    Given that there are not a lot of these around, the one at Mass Street seems like a decent buy. I had played it awhile back and it was very sweet. I also had a chance to play the matching F and A they had. The A sounded better to me than the F did in that set.

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    I am in the process of transferring ownership of my 1987 Master model to a customer in Tennessee. I bought it 5 years ago from Jim at Mass Street on an impulse purchase when I saw it hanging in his booth at Winfield Festival. You may have seen this mandolin in the classified ads, it's status is on hold. It is a great mandolin and I have always had compliments on the looks and sound. Anyway this is one more that could be accounted for. A side note, so much for the MYTH of great information from Sound to Earth folks. I sent an email to them asking a few questions about the Flatiron. I guess they didn't feel like responding.

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    Regarding STE, I don't ever bother sending them an email when 9 times out of ten, I can speak directly with Paula Jean Lewis and 1 out of 10 with Bruce Weber. They actually answer their toll free phone number. How quaint in this day and age #




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    In defense of STE... Gibson owns Flatiron, not STE. Okay, some of the Weber people used to work for Gibson building Flatirons. But is it reasonable to ask STE a detailed question about Flatirons when they aren't likely to have Flatirons business records? If you want to know about Edsels why ask Toyota?

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    Registered User Ken Berner's Avatar
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    I guess the reason we call Paula is because she not only is willing to help, but is probably as knowledgeable as anyone on earth, concerning Flatiron. She does have access to Steve Carlson, as well. If you owned a Montana-built Flatiron, would you send it to Gibson for repair?

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    I sent an inquiry to them because they evidently have been helpful to other members with their questions in the past. I sent email because I thought it might be less disruptive to their operations, (less annoying) than a phone call. Not meant to be a big deal one way or another. I still have enjoyed every Weber I ever played and told them so in my request for old history on my Flatiron. Maybe someone here knows about Dennis Balian. I was simply curious about the person that signed my label and wondering if he still works in the mandolin business.




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    It's true that STE doesn't own Flatiron, but the connection exists despite the changes in the business.

    A couple of years ago I needed to have some work done on a Montana built, Weber signed Flatiron. Some of the work was routine maintenance but there was a problem that needed to be corrected. I might have been able to get my local Gibson dealer to handle the repair, but I was going home to Montana anyway. So I called Paula Jean.

    Paula Jean and the crew at STE were great. Even though my mandolin was a Flatiron, Paula, Bruce and the crew made me feel like family. They agreed to do the work that was needed and made some recommendations to make it even better than it was.

    The folks at STE take great pride in the work they do and the work they've done in the past, regardless of the name on the headstock. This is a business model that more people should follow.
    You can't get there from here.

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    They are unique mandolins, the ones in the Signiture Series line, however,I thought I'd mention this...I found out that the Flatiron F5 Master Model, while being the "D-45" if you will, of the Flatiron line, they did make one more, just one more step up the ladder called "The F5 Elite"...I have never seen one, but received a private email stating it is basically an F5 Master with the "tree/vine of life" inlay all over the fretboard, with slight variations in binding.

    Hmm...learn something new everyday...

    Wonder how many of those got built...?

    Ken Berner...you ever hear of this?




  13. #12
    Registered User Ken Berner's Avatar
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    No Sir, Joe; even if I owned one, I wouldn't be able to play it without position dots in the binding (which it probably has). Can you imagine the confusion on the fret board?!

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    Distressed Model John Ritchhart's Avatar
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    Hey Ken, I own a Montana built Flatiron F5 Artist signed by Bruce that had some problems. I sent it to Gibson for repair. Email me if you want to know what happened.
    We few, we happy few.

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    Registered User pickinNgrinnin's Avatar
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    That's the first I've heard of an F5 Elite! Anyone have a picture? Something new everyday indeed.

    jbrwky- If I had a Montana Flatiron that needed repair and did not have a warranty, I'd be shipping it to Bruce Weber and Co. I may go the same route even if I did have the warranty. His outfit built them and many in the original group still work with him today.

    You have me wondering about your repair story.

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    Yeah me too...what's the scoop on that repair story?

    Anyway, speaking of Flatiron F's in general, I sure don't see them like I used to... high or lower end ones, man, they just have the mojo...




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    I do remember seeing a picture of the F-5 Elite on and old Flatiron catalog/brochure that was given to me from the mid 80's. #I don't think I have the catalog anymore but if I do I will post a picture of the Elite. #I have never seen one in person.
    If F-model mandolins have F-holes then why don't A-model mandolins have A-holes???

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    Distressed Model John Ritchhart's Avatar
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    If you guys email me I'll give you the scoop. It's all good.
    We few, we happy few.

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    Hello Flatheads

    I own a F-5 Master #88060327 signed by Dennis Balian. Where is Dennis now? I have seen a few Mandolins by him and really like the light color/finish.
    I purchased my Master new from Elderly, you know the year from the number. My friend Anthony Marsala at Elderly thinks there are about a dozen F-5 Masters made and probabaly less than 20. I plan to keep mine as the finish has really held up well and I think it is a great example of a later non Carlson signed Flatiron.
    This mandolin is well played in being my main instrument until about five years back. At that point my wife joined musical forces with me and complained that the Master was too loud. No problem honey, I purchased a Brentrup A model about a year back. In the mean time I played my 84 Flatiron A-5 Jr.
    In about 1994 I sent the F-5 Master back to Montana to have some work done. I wanted the bridge somewhat more rounded than what was standard and I asked Bruce Webber to take some of the bass response from the instrument. I recieved the instrument with exactly the changes I requested. This gave me a little cleaner sound at high volume levels. I can't say enough good about Bruce and Paula, they would still be my first call for major repair.
    Thanks Joe for starting this thread, this topic also interests me. And thanks Ken for mentioning my name, I hope this is of interest to you.
    Please post your serial numbers.

    Thanks

    BVL
    Bill

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    The one at Mass Street is also signed by Dennis. If there were 12-20 of these made, I wonder what percent were signed by Dennis or by Bruce. Yours is an 88, the one at Mass St. is a 91. Anyone know when they stopped making the Masters? Did they make them all the way up to the end? Perhaps not given the low numbers made.

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    Gibson still offered the Flatiron F5 Master on their website a good while after Weber started STE, but I don't know would have signed the labels...anyone know?

    It's cool they have their own cult following (for lack of a better word) but beyond that, they are a very fine mandolin indeed.

    I play mine...I don't baby it...that's not to say I don't keep it polished and clean, but I mean I play it...that is why it was made and it's intended use...
    I have never had to adjust the neck on mine since the first set-up it had when I got it new back in '95, and then once more after I fitted the Brekke Bridge that's now been on it for several years...and I'm not sure what kind of frets they used back then, but mine are just now getting some grooves...this after bunches of sets of J-74's and now Elixer Nano mediums and almost 10 years of constant, daily use...
    I can tell you what I like best about mine...that it does not change. Yep, I have heard some mandolins that sounded better, but I've always wondered if those mandolins have the reliability and consistency mine has, to go along with their sound...that dependability means alot to me... Kinda like you can hire the hottest picker in the world to be in your band, but if he's not reliable and you don't know whether or not he's gonna show up at gigs... Same way, you can buy the most expensive mandolin in the world, but if it's not reliable and dependable, what's the point?...Mine is dependable. Inside, outside, no matter where I play it, it don't change, it always maintains the same tone and does not "krap out" when I play it /hard/. The strings will break before the instrument reaches it's peak volume limit...
    Not every mandolin I have played has been like that...I've owned a few that sounded different, it seemed, one day to the next, some sounded different with seasonal changes. That consistancy thing is a big deal in my book...

    No wonder Gibson came a-callin'...

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    I got a private email from someone who (claims) to work at Gibson who asked to remain anonymous, <and actually mentioned they could get into trouble for letting this info out> (...what do Big Joe and Charlie do...flog their employees? I seriously doubt that)... Anyway, /according to them/, there were less than 20 F5 Master Models built and there were 3 F5 Elite Models. Two of the Elite Models were done in pearl in the vine/tree of life motif, one was done in abalone...the one done in abalone was pictured in a back issue of Mandolin Brothers catalog...they did not quote which issue, but you all check your old Mandolin Brothers catalogs if you have kept them over the years, and see if you can find it... They said there is a photo (black & white) of it in there. This one was apparently stolen at a show display (NAMM?) somewhere and never recovered. Also, the Elite was indeed just a fancied up F5 Master...I agree with Ken Berner, it'd be hard to navigate the fretboard with all that "vegetation" catching the eye, but I'd still like to see one in person some day.
    Lastly, again according to the email I received, each Master Model F5 that has either a Carlson, Weber, or Behlin label in it, was shaded //slightly//different, according to whoever signed the label... NOT the internal aspects of construction...the Carlson ones for instance, they said, have a small but definite yellow-greenish tint to them...the Weber ones have a subtle, gradual sunburst, unlike the Belin ones (like the one at Mass Street right now) that have a more bolder sunburst from light to dark.

    This was new info to me also...///PLEASE keep in mind you are getting this second hand, from a private email to me///...don't get mad at AeroJoe (me) if different facts emerge from all the haziness...cool? # Don't shoot the messenger...!!!

    Anyway, I think it would be a great idea if enough of us that have an F5 Master could get together somewhere, sometime, and swap notes, licks and info...it would be good to get a photos of all the mandos together and then several from each person that signed whatever label, and of course serial numbers, and compare them and put them thru their paces...
    The people that own Loars get together and do that, no reason why we could not...
    Just a suggestion.




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    Great idea Joe, a long shot but sounds like a good time.

    Northern Michigan is a popular vacation spot, unfortunitly not much for Bluegrass Festivals. How's things down your way? NC is it? I travel between Mi & Fla twice every year.

    Hey what's this about getting in trouble for letting information about Flatiron Mandolins out? Should be public info.

    Thanks again for starting this thread. More information was revealed about F-5 Masters this time around compared to about a year and a half back when this topic was brought up.

    Don't worry about coming up with bad info on my account. I own more mandos than guns.
    Bill

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    I emailed back the individual that emailed me with the info I posted above...I pumped him/her for as much info as I could, and knowing I had nothing to lose by simply asking...
    The person owns a F5 Master, s.n. 93071009...(and prefers it over the Gibson products he/she is invovled with... hmmm, that explains a few things)...according to him/her, "Gibson has the records of what Flatirons went out, at least to the point of aquisition of The Flatiron Company"...that is "privileged information" and "in my opinion, Gibson would like the Flatiron line to just fade away to a small footnote in their history"...

    Uh, yeah,...well ok... I'd like to know the reason(s) for that myself...I asked the person to post here on the Cafe...post under whatever imaginative name you want to call yourself, we don't care...but it'd be nice to have /accurate/ info from someone in the know, rather than second-hand emails/info posted here by me or someone else who is just an owner/player of this model. If it's accurate, we don't have to speculate anymore. Sure, the mystique can be fun for a while, but I'd rather have facts...
    What limited knowledge I and Ken Berner and a few others have is ok, but it seems to me there should be a person(s) out there of Darryl Wolfe's caliber and knowledge or better yet, someone who actually built and worked on the things, that could shed some real light on the subject...

    Steve, Bruce, Dennis...if your out there, chime in will ya?

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    Registered User Ken Berner's Avatar
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    Gentlemen, Looking back over all of this discussion, we have hit on no fewer than 9 Master Models (includes one A style). Although we don't know the present owners of all these instruments, it is surprising to me, that we know of the existence of half those supposedly built. I have no doubt that we will locate a few more, in time. Should we see any advertised, we might contact the owner(s) for all the information we can gather (original prices, serial numbers, signatures, where purchased, etc.) The information given on the three Elite models is worth pursuing, as well.

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    i have a 1994 F-5 Custom for sale,let me know if interested.
    Danny Clark

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