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Thread: Gibson Master Model vs Fern

  1. #1

    Default Gibson Master Model vs Fern

    I searched but can't find a succinct comparison of modern/current MM vs Fern beyond the Gibson spec sheets. I can see the important spec differnences seem to be red spruce top, finish and case style as the most apparent upgrades for the MM but seems like there should be a whole lot more for the pricing differential. What else sets the MM apart from the Fern of consequence? Something in construction and glue? Other materials not obvious?

    Apologies in advance if my search didn't turn up the obvious.

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    Default Re: Gibson Master Model vs Fern

    Imagine the difference between an automobile engine in a car on the dealer's lot and the "same" engine, balanced and blueprinted sitting in a NASCAR racer. They look pretty much the same. One's worth about 6 grand the other a quarter million.

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    Registered User Mike Snyder's Avatar
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    Default Re: Gibson Master Model vs Fern

    The Fern, signiture models, F5G and Goldrush are built with a modern glue. The MMs are built with hide glue. That is the extent of my knowledge on the subject. There are bound to be many other differences, hopefully some one with more info will chime in. The price point of the MMs keeps me from MMMAS, and the signiture models and F5G have strong tone and volume. The MMs are for pros and the wealthy. The ones I've heard sounded rich, anyway.
    Mike Snyder

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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Gibson Master Model vs Fern

    I'm waiting to find out the difference too.
    If it's just hide glue, red spruce and varnish, I'm not charging enough. (Maybe I'd better start balancing and blueprinting my F5s...)

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    Registered User Elliot Luber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Gibson Master Model vs Fern

    Quote Originally Posted by Gerard Dick View Post
    Imagine the difference between an automobile engine in a car on the dealer's lot and the "same" engine, balanced and blueprinted sitting in a NASCAR racer. They look pretty much the same. One's worth about 6 grand the other a quarter million.
    Maybe a 1923 "Master Model" is worth a quarter mil, but you can get a new MM for a lot less.
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    Default Re: Gibson Master Model vs Fern

    The two mandolins are really not that much different. Both are built to Loar specs. I think the MM costs so much more because Charlie designed to really to be very much like the Loar itself. The bottom line is that it is just way cool!!!! To me it is the new Loar. Nick
    ntriesch

  7. #7

    Default Re: Gibson Master Model vs Fern

    Quote Originally Posted by Santiago View Post
    Maybe a 1923 "Master Model" is worth a quarter mil, but you can get a new MM for a lot less.
    I think he meant the engine prices.
    Gunga......Gunga.....Gu-Lunga

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    Default Re: Gibson Master Model vs Fern

    I am blessed to have one of each....a November, 2000, Derrington MM and a December 2003 (Danny Roberts) varnish fern. To my ears, the varnished fern sounds enormously better than the lacquer ones I tried.

    In comparing the two, they are different but both very sweet. I would find it hard to put in to words how to describe their difference, but both good.

    Hope that helps.

    Doug in Montana

  10. #9

    Default Re: Gibson Master Model vs Fern

    I had a 2003 Fern (Lacquer) before I got my 2002 Derrington MM. There is without a doubt A huge difference in the two. The Fern was a great mando but the MM is extrordinary. The combination of Loar Specs, Red Spruce, and varnish makes the MM at a level well above the Fern according to my taste. The price difference has more to do with supply and demand than cost of labor and materials i am sure but I believe it is worth every penny.
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  11. #10

    Default Re: Gibson Master Model vs Fern

    One reason I am curious is Dennis at Mando Store just offered (and sold) a new lacquer MM for about $8K, which, at roughly the same price as a new Fern, would be a screaming bargain if the MM is substantially a differnent and better mandolin than the Fern and in the example, the only difference from a $18K standard MM is lacquer finish and tuning machines.

  12. #11

    Default Re: Gibson Master Model vs Fern

    Well the red spruce top would make it a different mando than the Fern But who is to say it would sound better. In my opinion the the real sound advantage of the MM over the fern is the combination varnish and red spruce. For 8G's i think it would be a great mando. Although I would would probably look for a used varnished Fern. they sell in the 6G to 7G range and I think they have more of a cutting sound than any lacuered Gibson wether it has a red spruce or a sitka spruce top. Like I said only my opinion.
    '02 Gibson master model #70327 02-01-02
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    Default Re: Gibson Master Model vs Fern

    There were several differences...I can only speak about the years I was involved, but certainly not the same animal. The woods were different. The Adirondack Spruce on the MM, better figured Maple in most cases, the carving was more carefully adhered to, the bracing was fit far more carefully, the sanding was done with far more care as well. The MM also used a different glue (hide) and used Macassar ebony for the neck support. The color was done in a different manner than the lacquer mandolins, which shows when you see them side by side. Less hands touched the MM in the build process. Each step was carefully overseen by Charlie and Danny. The headstock inlay is different. The points on the MM are made from fossil ivory, not bone. The necks are shaped with a bit more care and fitted as tight as possible. If the neck did not fit tight without adhesive it was not acceptable. The varnish finish was hand made to a very specific formula and then the french polish overlay was also a special formula and each of these processes were very tedious. When everything went right, we could produce about 1 1/2 a month average. That was in a good year. Some years is was only about 1 a month. The tuners (Waverly's) and the rest of the hardware were silver plated and the cost of the hardware was very high. No body gets a discount on Waverly tuners. Gibson paid the very same as you would if you order them. The bridge and pickguard were very high quality and were stamped just like the Loars. It took many, many, many more hours of labor to complete a MM than a Fern or any of the other mandolins.

    The MM was not a profit producing product as some might think. It was a product of love and devotion by Charlie...and the rest of the team as well. It was the result of a passion to build a particular mandolin a particular way and to make it the best it could be within the parameters sought. Only a very limited number of those built under Charlie and Danny exist. Under 100 I believe. That makes them more rare than the original Loar.

    The other Gibson mandolins are great mandolins, well built, good woods, great finish, hardware, etc. But just not the same animal as the MM. I am not trying to put any of that line in a negative spot. They were very carefully built, and each one of them was played and inspected by a team of people to ensure the quality of the product and the tone before they were allowed out of the facility. Of the hundreds of mandolins I played there, I was impressed in some way with each of them. The MM's were another animal all together though. They were the epitomy of what a mandolin could be and that was always a point of joy and satisfaction. While I have played a very good number of incredible mandolins, and I have owned a number of incredible mandolins, the MM was, to me, the peak of anything I've seen in the Post Loar years, and some of the MM's even beat some of the Loars I have seen and played. To me and many others, Charlie built a mandolin that exceeded that of the Loar era in many ways, even though the Loar was the prototype. Charlie would never have made that claim to anyone. He never wanted to see what he did as anything to boost his ego. Those of us who surrounded him were not as humble about what he did.

    Again, there are many good mandolins and great builders who make instruments that are just as incredible in what they do. The Derrington MM was to many the ultimate for that kind of mandolin. There may be some resemblence between the other products of that era from Gibson, but they were like the nice Mustang compared to the MM's being the Ferrari. This is certianly my opinion, but I think there may be many others who may agree.
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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Gibson Master Model vs Fern

    Quote Originally Posted by Big Joe View Post
    ...the carving was more carefully adhered to, the bracing was fit far more carefully, the sanding was done with far more care as well... The necks are shaped with a bit more care and fitted as tight as possible. If the neck did not fit tight without adhesive it was not acceptable.
    Let me see if I've got this right. It looks like you're saying Gibson mandolins other than MMs were sub-standard, because as far as I'm concerned, if the carvings aren't adhered to as carefully as possible, the bracing is not fit as closely as possible, the sanding is not done with ultimate care, and the neck joint doesn't fit nearly perfectly, the instrument is sub-standard.

    I don't think that was the case, however. I don't think Gibson was sending out multitudes of sub-standard mandolins, but it really looks like the difference between the MM and other Gibson mandolins are coming down to red spruce, hide glue, and varnish. Point protector and fingerboard extender materials are rather insignificant to the sound, "secret sauce" in the varnish, different inlay, fancier wood, that all sounds like a different paint job on the same ol' Mustang to me, not a Ferrari.

    Could it be that the MM costs so much more because it is made by the Gibson company and they are able to charge that price because they have the Gibson name, and the differences in the mandolins are really not that significant?

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    Default Re: Gibson Master Model vs Fern

    "Less hands touched the MM in the build process". I think this is the key to Big Joe's argument. The way I see it, the MM is a "small shop" mandolin, while the other Gibson mandolin models are the result of the Gibson "factory".

    This is an argument found on the Hamlett website: "A production setting frequently requires compromises in design to smooth out the production process, so the small builder has more opportunity to adapt and optimize his/her designs. Wood is inherently variable, and no two pieces of wood, even if cut from the same tree or board, are the same. Each piece needs to be worked as the individual piece that it is. The small builder has more opportunity to do this."

    Shouldn't the MM be judged by the same principle, since it's production is closer to the production of the mandolin made by a small shop builder?

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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: Gibson Master Model vs Fern

    Yes, if that was/is the case. I don't know what the difference in the process was/is between the MM and the standard Gibson line, only what I've heard and read, and I've read that the MMs are selected and pulled from production at some point and given MM appointments. I've never heard or read about a separate "division" or "area" or whatever where tops, backs and necks are selected for MM production, where a few guys at benches hand carve and hand build MMs. If that's the case, it's a small shop equivalent, but as I said, I've never heard of that.

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    Default Re: Gibson Master Model vs Fern

    Well, I've never heard of that either... just basing my assumption on Big Joe's words and his description of the production.

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    Default Re: Gibson Master Model vs Fern

    But how could the MM's be "pulled from the production" if they are the only mandolins with a red spruce top as standard?

    I do believe I've read that the best MM's gets pulled from the production to become DMM's though.

    And even if the MM's are pulled from the production of the regular Gibson mandolins, they still represent the best Gibson can offer... thus justifying a higher price.

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    Default Re: Gibson Master Model vs Fern

    As I said, I don't know what the "real" differences are, and that's the reason I'm in this thread. I'm hoping someone who really knows will lay it out for us.
    Big Joe probably has as much "inside information" as anyone on this board, but somehow I can't quite believe that he is saying all other Gibson mandolins are sub-standard, at least by the standards of a hand builder. It's like saying the MMs are done to the standards of today and the rest of the Gibsons aren't, so MMs cost more. That can't be what Joe meant in his post, but that's what the post says to me.
    So far, from this thread I've gathered that MM differences are red spruce, hide glue, varnish with "special sauce", and different cosmetics. That's not a whole lot to set them apart from the "run of the mill" Gibson, and that does not set them apart from the work of many hand builders. The name "Gibson" does, though.

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    Registered User Steve Cantrell's Avatar
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    Default Re: Gibson Master Model vs Fern

    I just got a mental image of some guy sitting a bench..."Hmmm, this neck is loose as a goose and seriously, this top thickness is all over the place. Who in the world made this one? Oh well. We'll mark this with an F...for 'Fern'."
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    Registered User Tony Sz's Avatar
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    Default Re: Gibson Master Model vs Fern

    I can't quantify the any difference between the MM and Fern that hasn't already been mentioned (well, the nut width is different), but I think that if you play both, many would realize a significant difference in feel and sound, at least I do. Who knows, you might like the Fern better, and someone else might like the MM, and some might not find a difference at all.
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    Default Re: Gibson Master Model vs Fern

    I think what Big Joe meant is that the specs were set tighter for the MM versus the Ferns on all aspects -- sure that builder always did his best but the tighter specs meant re-do's were required more often for the MM's.
    I think CLEARLY the biggest difference has to be the type of spruce (by far biggest factor?) and then the tighter build specs. (variable factor) and finally the glue and finish (very small factor?).
    Over the last few years I have finally had a chance to play an MM, a couple of DMM's and finally a real Lloyd Loar signed instrument. They were all outstanding mandolins but in a blind test I'll bet 95% of you could not distinguish them from my 2002 Fern.
    But I think they are worth the higher price they command because they are more rare then a Fern and they are GREAT mandolins as well.

    Add note: I forgot I also played a special model of the Fern (or maybe it was a "G") -- it as one of a lot of the special order models (ordered by a California music store I think) with a Adirondack spruce and varnish -- I did not think it was a good as my "regular" Fern. Opinions opinions.
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    Default Re: Gibson Master Model vs Fern

    Quote Originally Posted by sunburst View Post
    As I said, I don't know what the "real" differences are, and that's the reason I'm in this thread. I'm hoping someone who really knows will lay it out for us.
    Big Joe probably has as much "inside information" as anyone on this board, but somehow I can't quite believe that he is saying all other Gibson mandolins are sub-standard, at least by the standards of a hand builder. It's like saying the MMs are done to the standards of today and the rest of the Gibsons aren't, so MMs cost more. That can't be what Joe meant in his post, but that's what the post says to me.
    So far, from this thread I've gathered that MM differences are red spruce, hide glue, varnish with "special sauce", and different cosmetics. That's not a whole lot to set them apart from the "run of the mill" Gibson, and that does not set them apart from the work of many hand builders. The name "Gibson" does, though.
    The real difference is in what you hear. When you are standing 20 feet from a impromptu Jam and you hear a mandolin break that cuts through every other instrument , including the banjo, with a clear precise bell like tone that is not muddied and continues to ring and carry well after the next note is played , and the harder it is played the clearer it sounds, like it wants to be pushed, then you know the reason for the price difference between a fern and a MM. I have owned both a 2003 fern and now a 2002 Derrington and the difference is very apperent. when you sit at home on the couch they both sound like amazing instrument but when you need the drive, the Master model pulls through instead of sounding muddy or bogged down.
    As far as what construction differences justify the price differnce , who cares. if it performs at the top of the class. it is worth top of the class price to me anyways.
    Last edited by carleshicks; Apr-30-2010 at 7:07pm. Reason: spelling
    '02 Gibson master model #70327 02-01-02
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    Registered User Gary Hedrick's Avatar
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    Default Re: Gibson Master Model vs Fern

    Mr Hicks you are spot on from my vantage point......

  27. #24

    Default Re: Gibson Master Model vs Fern

    Mandolins is not exactly my field, but in my field, video postproduction, there are analogies to the Master Model. For example, when Sony made television monitors with tubes in them, they would select the best of the tubes off the assembly line, and put them in high-priced monitors that they called Broadcast grade (we're talking $15,0000-25,000 for about a 20-30" monitor). The tubes that didn't meet the criteria for broadcast monitors were put in what they call industrial-grade monitors for a fraction of that price. These tubes came off the same assembly line, it's just that some (a small number) turned out to be better than others.

    I wonder if the Gibson MM is like that? If an instrument looked particularly promising, it got selected?

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    Default Re: Gibson Master Model vs Fern

    Quote Originally Posted by carleshicks View Post
    The real difference is in what you hear. When you are standing 20 feet from a impromptu Jam and you hear a mandolin break that cuts through every other instrument , including the banjo, with a clear precise bell like tone that is not muddied and continues to ring and carry well after the next note is played....As far as what construction differences justify the price differnce , who cares. if it performs at the top of the class. it is worth top of the class price to me anyways.
    Everyone has their reasons. As to there being the differences you state -- if you hear it and you're happy -- then that is the instrument for you.

    That said, I have heard 1960's F-5's "cut through" as well.

    That registry site is very interesting.

    I will suggest that from a pure physics aspect I will guess that the average MM has less than 10% greater "projection" i.e., produces less than 10% more sound volume than the average Fern all equal (i.e., same strings, equally struck).

    But I could be wrong.
    Last edited by Bernie Daniel; Apr-30-2010 at 8:53pm. Reason: add something
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