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Thread: Loar-era Gibson F4 -- Structurally Sound?

  1. #1

    Default Loar-era Gibson F4 -- Structurally Sound?

    I've recently turned my attention to a Loar-era F4 that's in the family. By all appearances a fine example -- VIRZI equipped, original case, and hardly a blemish. And it sounds good (getting better and better and better :-)! Upon closer examination of the top, however, I wonder if there might be structural issues. Maybe I'm just so accustomed to judging a mandolin top in the context of iconic F5 features, such as the raised fingerboard, bridge placement, and f-hole orientation that are associated with Loar's design evolution. I don't believe there is any critical structural damage -- it hasn't caved in or anything. But the undulations in the profile of the instrument, especially around the bridge, make me wonder how robust this mandolin is structurally. I'm not sure.

    Also, I found a bridge saddle in the case that might be the original? The cut is rougher and appears smaller than the one that's installed. I wonder then if the bridge base is the original.
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  3. #2
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    Default Re: Loar-era Gibson F4 -- Structurally Sound?

    I cannot judge from your pictures whether or not there is any serious top deformation. If you have any doubts, loosen the strings until you can have a repair person who know old Gibsons look it over.

    Some of these old F-4's will do ok with a modern medium gauge set of strings, some will do better if strung a bit lighter. I usually string them 10 1/2 - 14 - 24- 38 or 40.

    These instruments have a single top brace located directly behind the soundhole. Press on the ends of it and see if it is loose. If it is, immediately loosen the strings until they are very slack.

    The old saddle may indeed be an original in all of its rather sloppily made glory. An original base should have a patent date stamped into the wood; but replicas have also been made with the patent date.
    Last edited by rcc56; Nov-11-2021 at 12:18am.

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    Registered User John Soper's Avatar
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    Default Re: Loar-era Gibson F4 -- Structurally Sound?

    I'd agree with the advice to have the mandolin evaluated by a Mando-centric luthier for a loose brace before stringing it up with mediums. Otherwise, it looks to be in great condition. Congratulations on a family heirloom find! I wish my family had played more than radios back in the day!

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    Registered User William Smith's Avatar
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    Default Re: Loar-era Gibson F4 -- Structurally Sound?

    To me the top looks like its caving in! So it pry needs taken off-or the back and bracing added-tone bars or X bracing?

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    Registered User Glassweb's Avatar
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    Default Re: Loar-era Gibson F4 -- Structurally Sound?

    I see nothing wrong with this mandolin. Somebody seems to have fitted a new saddle to the bridge at some point, but other than that I see no signs of top sinkage... the reflections in your photos might be giving that impression, but I think this mandolin is fine and a very nice, original piece... rather rare features on it as well.

    At some point have a qualified mandolin luthier or repairman have a look at it. I say "qualified" because a friend of mine recently had his Loar F5 (yes, a real one) looked over by an unqualified repair person and he put scratches on the back and mis-diagnosed what he saw... as in he didn't have a clue. So make sure you take it to someone who has LOTS of experience with old Gibson mandolins...

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    Mandolingerer Bazz Jass's Avatar
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    Default Re: Loar-era Gibson F4 -- Structurally Sound?

    Quote Originally Posted by Glassweb View Post
    I see nothing wrong with this mandolin. Somebody seems to have fitted a new saddle to the bridge at some point, but other than that I see no signs of top sinkage... the reflections in your photos might be giving that impression, but I think this mandolin is fine and a very nice, original piece... rather rare features on it as well.

    At some point have a qualified mandolin luthier or repairman have a look at it. I say "qualified" because a friend of mine recently had his Loar F5 (yes, a real one) looked over by an unqualified repair person and he put scratches on the back and mis-diagnosed what he saw... as in he didn't have a clue. So make sure you take it to someone who has LOTS of experience with old Gibson mandolins...
    Agreed. Top looks 100% typical.

  10. #7
    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Exclamation Re: Loar-era Gibson F4 -- Structurally Sound?

    Better to take it, in person, to a professional than rely on the peanut gallery, here in the nose bleed seats way far away from seeing much..
    writing about music
    is like dancing,
    about architecture

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  12. #8

    Default Re: Loar-era Gibson F4 -- Structurally Sound?

    Thank you all for your replies.
    My primary mandolin is currently being setup by George Youngblood of Guilford, CT.
    He specializes in vintage instruments -- Martin guitars primarily. But I was planning on bringing the F4 in with me when I pick up my mandolin. The small team at his workshop seems to be exceedingly knowledgeable and competent in all things acoustic.
    I'll be sure to consult with him about.
    Thanks Again! Here are a few more pictures that try to capture the structure of the top.

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  13. #9
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    Default Re: Loar-era Gibson F4 -- Structurally Sound?

    I don't see any glaring problems. The brace should still be checked and re-glued if necessary. If there is any distortion that I can't see, it's not bad enough to worry about.

  14. #10
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Loar-era Gibson F4 -- Structurally Sound?

    Am I wrong in inferring that there's not a standard curvature for Gibson arched tops, but that it varied somewhat from instrument to instrument?
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    Registered User Hendrik Ahrend's Avatar
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    Default Re: Loar-era Gibson F4 -- Structurally Sound?

    That curvature seems quite normal to me. As far as I can see, that slight deflection is nothing to worry about.
    Back in summer of 2018 I ordered a 1923 F4 (#76599) from Tony Williamson (Mandolin Central); Tony packed it well and sent it over to my home in Germany. When it arrived, first thing I did - before I even strung the F4 up - was reach inside to check, if the brace had become unglued. (I have this habit of being suspicious and checkin an instrument out very carefully.) And sure enough, the brace was lifting on the bass side. I was able to reglue the brace and have been fond of that F4 ever after. It has a wonderful sound (on the brighter side, quite loud and with a super e-string), and the top is holding up well; no problem whatsoever.
    Joy Soldier, other than having it set-up properly, may I suggest to keep your F4 within reach and play it every day.
    Kind regards,
    Hendrik
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    Default Re: Loar-era Gibson F4 -- Structurally Sound?

    George is the man. He has seen, repaired, restored and sold instruments for decades.
    He will know.

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    Registered User William Smith's Avatar
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    Default Re: Loar-era Gibson F4 -- Structurally Sound?

    Yes I don't know what I was looking at but the top looks great! My BAD! Killer looking F-4 and with a Virzi! Thats a bonus right there! Please don't rip it out.

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  20. #14

    Default Re: Loar-era Gibson F4 -- Structurally Sound?

    Thank you all for your responses. This mandolin has sat in its case for about six years and is now finally seeing a lot of playing with my mandolin in the shop. The most remarkable thing I've noticed is that, as was said above, it absolutely loves to be played! The tone seems to improve minuet to minuet and builds upon itself day to day. It has a nice vintage tone with an especially strong G and E course (I especially love the clear bell like tone and consistency of the E string all the way up the neck without any hot spots). The D and A courses have a more superficial and less 'large' sound to them, something I've heard about Virzi mandolins. I know the mandolin as is--all original everything and tone producer--is the ideal state for such a vintage collectors instrument. But I secretly do want to rip out the Virzi and compare tone. I will of course not do that!

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