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Old 10-29-2017, 07:21 AM
HHP HHP is offline
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Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: Indianapolis, IN
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Default Mandolin Design..1919 Versus 1999

Got a 1919 Gibson A2 mandolin this week and one thing that struck me is how different it is from a modern A style. As it happens, I also have a 1999 Flatiron Performer built by Gibson so its interesting to compare the two and see how things changed over 80 years.

Side by side, the two look pretty similar. The modern instrument has F soundholes that appeared on mandolins in the mid-1920's due to the influence of Lloyd Loar. The modern instrument also has what we recognize as a more or less standard sunburst finish. This is also a carryovers from the mid-20's. Early Gibsons were finished in Pumpkin, Sheraton Brown, Black, or White (in the case of the A3 only). The burst used on select Gibsons in the teens was a reddish-yellow color and reserved for only top of the line instruments. The only A style offering the finish was the A4.

Comparing the backs, you see more differences. The modern instrument uses highly figured flame maple while the old one uses a plain Birch. The 1919 is actually a little more "deluxe" as it has a bound back while the newer one is top bound only to save a little cost.

Note the necks. The 1919 is laminated mahogany and the 1999 is solid flamed maple. The 1919 is noticeably wider and note the shorter distance between the heel and the headstock. Worth noting that wider necks have recently become a popular custom option on mandolins.

One of the big differences between the two is the neck attachment.

This is the modern style, free floating fingerboard extension angling over the top.

They did it very differently in 1919.

People often say the old fingerboards are "flat to the top" but that isn't strictly true. If you look closely, you can see how the top is actually carved to ramp up to the fingerboard. This gives the old models a very complicated top carve. Gibson dropped this method in the 20's(?) and substituted a wedge fill the fingerboard-top gap and used the full floating style on the top line instruments.

The one thing that has not changed in 80 years is the tailpiece.

The biggest differences over the 80 years can't be photographed. The 1919 is much lighter than the 1999. Tonally, they are almost not the same instrument. The 1999 has what you expect in a mandolin, a loud, punchy, fundamental tone that really cuts through. The 1919 has an open, airy, ringing, sustained sound that is released by the lightest touch.

That is probably attributed to the bracing. Modern mandolins are either tone bar or X braced. Most modern oval hole mandolins us the X brace. The 1919 Gibson has a very light lateral brace that no one ( as far as I know) uses today.

Despite the light bracing, it does the job pretty well. Even thought the old Gibson has had a modern adjustable bridge added, I still have the original fixed bridge from 1919. The amazing thing is, both are exactly the same height so the top stability is pretty good for 80 years of play without a neck reset.

The old Gibsons have a unique and useful voice when compared to modern instruments. Be nice to see some modern builders offer these features for those who don't want to own 70-80 year old instruments.
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