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Thread: 1950s Gibson F5

  1. #1

    Default 1950s Gibson F5

    Ive been searching for information about 1950s F5 mandolins. Many posts / raves about LL models and info about newer models (last 30 years) but not finding much about 1950s instruments. Curious about specs at that time? Materials / build quality? General play / sound of F5s at that time?
    Im considering buying a 55 F5. Thanks. Dave

  2. #2
    Registered User Timbofood's Avatar
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    Default Re: 1950s Gibson F5

    Well Dave, the reason there isn’t a lot of information about those years is…the mandolins weren’t a top priority for the company for a long time and the quality went seriously down. There are no doubt “good ones” out there but, it might take some time to find one.
    Welcome aboard one of the most informative sites you will ever find! I’m sure someone will have more information but, that’s as much as I can offer at this point.
    Timothy F. Lewis
    "If brains was lard, that boy couldn't grease a very big skillet" J.D. Clampett

  3. #3
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    Default Re: 1950s Gibson F5

    You will need to play it and decide for yourself as with every other make, model, year they vary from one instrument to another. I have a '54 F-12 which I really like, others may not like it, that is what makes the world go round.

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  5. #4
    Registered User William Smith's Avatar
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    Default Re: 1950s Gibson F5

    Most all F-5's and 12's from the 50's and 60's can be quite killer instruments, they just need some re-working such as the internal re-graduation and new tone bars that aren't mini 2x4's! I have a 42 F-5 getting the treatment from Randy Wood-It was the worst vintage F-5 I've ever ran across! The top was over twice as thick as say a Loar, the tone bars were unshaped, and the neck was like a club! I expected that when I bought it though as being a 42 it's one of the last ones-it may be the last one. I'll have to check the #'s when I get it back. I know it's not in the archives yet.

    I had a 56 F-5 that got a new neck and the treatment from Randy and that one was awesome-Randy was really impressed with its outcome! It sounded as great as a pre-war F-5. It had a little different overall sound due to the Sitka top, but nothing bad at all about it!

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  7. #5

    Default Re: 1950s Gibson F5

    Agreed with all of the above statements about having to try it out before purchasing as they will all be different in one way or another from construction to attention to details to tone and volume. I traded a Weber mandola for a 1956 F-12 that looks really nice but sounded just OK after an hour of aggressive playing. You could tell there was something tonally good locked inside the heavily built body. It was a perfect candidate for Randy Wood's re-voicing treatment. When it came back from Randy, it was still on the heavy side but oh did it sound much louder and the voice was much more mature and it has only gotten better since then. Randy said it reminded him of Sam Bush's "Hoss" and I certainly concur.

    If you decide to get the '55 F-5, factor into your budget a possibly needed re-voicing treatment as that will make it sound the way a Gibson mandolin should sound imho.

    Len B.
    Clearwater, FL
    Last edited by lenf12; Apr-24-2022 at 10:25am.

  8. #6
    Registered User William Smith's Avatar
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    Default Re: 1950s Gibson F5

    Quote Originally Posted by lenf12 View Post
    Agreed with all of the above statements about having to try it out before purchasing as they will all be different in one way or another from construction to attention to details to tone and volume. I traded a Weber mandola for a 1956 F-12 that looks really nice but sounded just OK after an hour of aggressive playing. You could tell there was something tonally good locked inside the heavily built body. It was a perfect candidate for Randy Wood's re-voicing treatment. When it came back from Randy, it was still on the heavy side but oh did it sound much louder and the voice was much more mature and it has only gotten better since then. Randy said it reminded him of Sam Bush's "Hoss" and I certainly concur.

    If you decide to get the '55 F-5, factor into your budget a possibly needed re-voicing treatment as that will make it sound the way a Gibson mandolin should sound imho.

    Len B.
    Clearwater, FL
    I remember you mentioning your RW re-grad Gibby before, Did you have Randy put new tone bars in the correct Loarish position or were they just shaved? I love every RW re-grad mando that I've ever had done or played. I think its that magical old wood Well and the wood Randy takes out.

  9. #7

    Default Re: 1950s Gibson F5

    Yeah, all you have to do is have someone disassemble it, re-work it and re-assemble it for whatever that costs. Or maybe find a good sounding mandolin of which there are plenty of.
    That was the thinking 50 years ago when there weren't any other good mandolins.

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  11. #8

    Default Re: 1950s Gibson F5

    He ground out the old tone bars and replaced with Adi tone bars. Good move indeed to the correct location. Randy knows what to remove/replace and what to leave in place. NFI on my part just happy that Randy seems to still be doing it and there seems to be a new batch of luthiers doing it too.

    Len B.
    Clearwater, FL

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  13. #9

    Default Re: 1950s Gibson F5

    Speaking to the original question, the mandolins were built at a time when they were building some of the finest guitars ever produced. The archtops of the time were just stunning and very well crafted. While the original L5 dates from the era of the Loars they continued to evolve to meet the needs of jazz guitarists. However the mandolins of the Loar era didn't need to evolve. They were the pinnacle of design.
    In the 50's they were using the same construction methods for the mandolins as the guitars and they weren't nearly as nice as the mandolins of the 20's. They were built too heavy and the lacquer was too thick. And mandolins weren't the main focus. This is why the secondary builder market emerged.

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  15. #10
    Registered User f5loar's Avatar
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    Default Re: 1950s Gibson F5

    Ah, the controversial 50's F5s. You would think with Bill Monroe going strong by the 50's Gibson would have been overrun with orders. Many forget the F5 and the F12 were custom ordered instruments. Not made for stock. A dealer could order one for his stock, but mostly they were ordered by a customer who put a down payment on the order and then waited 6 months to 2 years to get one. Sometimes they found something else while awaiting their new F5 to come in (such as an old 20's F5 which at that time was the same price used or even less.) The price for the F5 in 1954 was $435 plus the case at $42.50. Custom orders usually didn't get much discount back then. Remember Monroe only paid $150 for his slightly used 1923 F5 in 1945. The 50s saw a rise in new bluegrass musicians like no other. And mandolin wanta be pickers only knew Monroe had a Gibson F5 model so that's what they went for (or the lessor priced F12) to follow in his footsteps. Did it sound like Monroe's now, well worn 1923 F5? Well no, but then Monroe could make any decent mandolin and make it sound great. So now consider the pros that did end of with these 50's F5 and F12 mandolins. To name a few: McReynolds, Webb, Osborne, Stoneman and White. Even the great Dave Apollon played a new 1956 F5 for a long time. I don't recall any of these guys careers going down the tubes because they played 50's Gibsons, nor did they alter them to sound better. I asked Dean Webb why he kept his 1956 F5 for so long (he bought it new and recorded every Dillards record with it). He told me he went in the Gibson store MO and there it was hanging up. He strummed it and that was all it took. Now Dean later on would buy a killer mid 20's Fern,but yet preferred his old 50's F5. Go back and listen to Bobby Osborne's 50's recordings with his F12. No problems there. Jesse McReynold's cross picked the crap out of mid 50's F5 and not one complaint. Donna Stoneman came out blazing with her new 1953 F5 and still plays it today. So you want to buy a 1955 F5. Only 16 F5s were made in 1955. To own one today would be a rare piece of Gibson history. If you want to pay another $1000 or more to get it sounding better, that's fine but it might just do the job without nothing more than a good set up and a new set of strings.

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  17. #11
    Registered User j. condino's Avatar
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    Default Re: 1950s Gibson F5

    A 1950s F5 might not be my first choice as a buyer but...

    I've played some of the finest mandolins in the world, including about 30 Loar signed F5s, the Griffith (my favorite), the snakehead mandola, all of the heavy price tag modern builders, hundreds of old guitars that cost almost as much as my house, and a ton of others.

    Guess what?

    None of them made me sound like any of the other guys; they all sounded like me....

  18. #12
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    Default Re: 1950s Gibson F5

    An old piece of stage patter:

    "Doc, I've never heard you play that any better . . .
    And that's a crying shame."

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Gibson was using decent quality materials in the 1950's. The finish and build is likely to be quite a bit heavier than a '20's model.

    It's been a long time since I've played a '50's Gibson mandolin, and I don't recall ever playing an F-5 from that period. As far as sound quality is concerned, I think that most of us can agree that a '50's model will not be up to the level of one built in the 1920's, but certainly better than a '70's model. That's not very much help, though.

    I see a '55 F-5 listed at one of the established vintage stores. It appears to be all original and in unusually fine condition. If that's the mandolin you're interested in, they have a 24 hour return policy ["longer, if you wish, by agreement"]. I would ask for 48 or 72 hours. If you don't like the instrument, you pay shipping both ways. I wouldn't order an instrument in that price range without a return policy.
    Last edited by rcc56; Apr-25-2022 at 3:06am.

  19. #13
    Dan Sampson mando_dan's Avatar
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    Default Re: 1950s Gibson F5

    Although I am by NO means a mandolin expert and have never owned a Gibson (just instruments that from companies taht Gibson bought and subsequently buried), I've read enough to come to my own conclusion about whether a mid-century mandolin is for me. While you might luck out and find an good or even great instrument, chances are you won't for two reasons- there aren't a ton of them out there and, most importantly, many aren't all that good. The Cafe if full of stories about people buying these instruments and hiring an expensive luthier to nip and tuck the tonebars or the extreme end, a complete retop with new frets and tuning machines. While I personally love "rescuing" old pieces of equipment, furniture and whatnot, that proclivity does not extend to mandolins. Rule of thumb- if it sounds poorly to start with, major work may greatly improve the sound or may not- it's a real risk. Major surgery is also very expensive, money that could have gone straight into the original purchase of an instrument that I can play out of the gate.

    If the Gibson name is an important aspect of your decision, great, enjoy the process and best wishes on finding one that makes your ear smile. Otherwise, for me at least, I'd look elsewhere. There are so so many great options available these days!
    1999 Buckeye #18 (Bucky)
    198x Flatiron pancake mandola (no name)
    2020 Kentucky 252 oval hole (Aurum)

  20. #14

    Default Re: 1950s Gibson F5

    F5loar, I've just been on a deep dive into the early evolution of bluegrass and what you said about Bobby, Jesse and Dean is so true. And I'd throw in Buzz Busby.
    First thing to remember is these guys were poor! Jesse and Bobby were right out of a hollow, literally. I haven't been able to find out what Jesse's earliest instrument was but Bobby was playing an early 50's A style like Buzz. You see him in later photos with the F-12. Also interesting that while Jesse was influenced by Monroe he was more influenced by Red Rector.
    So it was catch as catch can on their instruments and I doubt these guys are who were doing the custom orders at least early on. Love to hear more stories though.

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  22. #15

    Default Re: 1950s Gibson F5

    Out of curiosity, I did a google search and found dealers were asking $8-9000 for 50's F-5's! Wow, I guess I'm not up on things these days. From the low opinions of these on this forum, I would have guessed half that or less.....

    Agree with others, certainly other good choices in that price range.

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