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Old 10-29-2017, 07:21 AM
HHP HHP is offline
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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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Old 10-29-2017, 09:02 AM
Mandobart Mandobart is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HHP View Post
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.
Sonny Morris still uses a single transverse brace on some of his oval holes. I'm sure there are other modern builders doing this as well.

On my 2010 hybrid F4 that he built for me I have an oval hole, transverse brace, elevated fretboard and 15 fret body join (vs 12 as is standard on "flat" fretboards. This is why its a "hybrid"). The point where the neck joins the body makes a big difference. Since the scale length is usually the same, the bridge moves up the body on a 15 fret join compared to a 12. This, combined with different bracing, neck construction and wood selection contributes to tonal differences.
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Old 10-29-2017, 09:39 AM
HHP HHP is offline
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Originally Posted by Mandobart View Post
Sonny Morris still uses a single transverse brace on some of his oval holes. I'm sure there are other modern builders doing this as well.

On my 2010 hybrid F4 that he built for me I have an oval hole, transverse brace, elevated fretboard and 15 fret body join (vs 12 as is standard on "flat" fretboards. This is why its a "hybrid"). The point where the neck joins the body makes a big difference. Since the scale length is usually the same, the bridge moves up the body on a 15 fret join compared to a 12. This, combined with different bracing, neck construction and wood selection contributes to tonal differences.
I wasn't aware of him. I'll have to look him up.
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Old 10-30-2017, 06:36 AM
fatt-dad fatt-dad is offline
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Mike Black and Bill Bussman (old wave mandolins) use the 12-fret, transverse, oval hole design also.

My preference? Just go buy a paddle-head Gibson! They are all over and (usually) worth the price!

I had an oval-hole hybrid and didn't like it at all! For the 15-fret neck joint, I'll just take f-holes!

I love my 1920 A3 and it's been a good friend for well over 30 years. I'm the second owner!

f-d
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Old 10-30-2017, 06:41 AM
HHP HHP is offline
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Originally Posted by fatt-dad View Post
Mike Black and Bill Bussman (old wave mandolins) use the 12-fret, transverse, oval hole design also.

My preference? Just go buy a paddle-head Gibson! They are all over and (usually) worth the price!

I had an oval-hole hybrid and didn't like it at all! For the 15-fret neck joint, I'll just take f-holes!

I love my 1920 A3 and it's been a good friend for well over 30 years. I'm the second owner!

f-d
Not sure I could resist a nice whiteface A3 if I see one.
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Old 11-22-2017, 12:05 AM
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Nice Gibson!
I have the same exact mando with original pick guard and original case!
Enjoy!
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Old 11-22-2017, 12:18 AM
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Ed-in-Ohio Ed-in-Ohio is offline
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Great thread! Thanks to the OP, and to all contributors.
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Old 11-22-2017, 04:48 AM
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One thing I've thought about since I got this instrument is who would have built it. Don't know how many employees Gibson had in 1919 but it occurred to me they could have included...

WWI veterans
People who personally remembered the completion of the transcontinental railroad
People who personally remembered, or may have participated in, the conflicts with the great western tribes.
People who personally remembered, or possibly participated, in the American Civil War.
People who only recently saw an airplane for the first time.

Strikes me that many of the tunes I play on it today would have been quite popular with the people who made it and that the very first owner may have played some of the same tunes when they first tried it out in the store.

Wish we had a way of doing "instrument DNA" that would detail who owned it over the years and what they did with it.
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Old 12-31-2017, 05:00 PM
varmonter varmonter is offline
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ah yes the aged vintage vs modern new.
what was not mentioned is the a5 joins the neck
at the 15th fret where as the vintage model is
true to a style and joins the body at the 12 th fret
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